Soprano's Costume Makes Auction Debut

6th November 2019

Chinese costumes belonging to the opera singer that brought Puccini’s Turandot to life are being sold at auction in Salisbury.

The three 19th century Chinese robes and circular peacock feather fan which belonged to Dame Eva Turner are being sold at Woolley and Wallis together with a signed photograph of the dramatic soprano and two signed programmes of her 90th birthday celebrations.

Dame Eva Turner, DBE was born in Oldham in 1892 and trained at the Royal Academy of Music in London, making her operatic debut in 1916. She was twice the subject of This is Your Life, first in 1959 and then in 1983 (at the age of 91), and after she had retired from singing taught other notable sopranos including Dame Kiri Te Kanawa.

Turner is perhaps best known for her role as Turandot, the Chinese princess in Puccini’s opera of the same name, which she performed first in 1926 but was to go on to perform the role several times, earning herself a reputation as the definitive Turandot. Despite Puccini’s use of traditional Chinese music and his aim to achieve an authentic Asian air (as with Madame Butterfly) the opera was banned in China for many years until the late 1990s, until September 1998 when it was performed as Turandot at the Forbidden City, using soldiers from the People’s Liberation Army as extras.

“Dame Eva had a great love of the flamboyant while still being very down at earth,” said head of Asian Art at Woolley and Wallis, John Axford. “Her favourite meal was said to be fish and chips, so despite performing across the globe in opera’s most famous roles, she never lost the common touch. It’s an honour to sell these robes that may very well have helped her to find inspiration with one of the parts that made her a household name.”

Turner’s influence in the world of opera continued after her death in 1990 at the age of 98, as her will made provision for a scholarship in her name to help the training of British-born sopranos of particular talent. Recipients in recent years include Samantha Clarke, Lorna James and Catherine Foster, the latter having played Turner’s role of Turandot in 2007.

The Chinese robes have been consigned by her niece and are being sold on Wednesday 13th November as part of the Asian Art auction. They carry an estimate of £200-300.

For more details of the sale please click here.

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