'Extraordinary' Norfolk soprano Jane Manning dies aged 82

Jane Manning in 1969.

Jane Manning, a Norfolk born and bred soprano with an extraordinary vocal range and international reputation, has died at the age of 82. Pictured here in 1969. - Credit: Archant Library

A Norfolk born and bred soprano with an extraordinary vocal range and international reputation has died at the age of 82. 

Jane Manning was known as a great supporter of contemporary music. She performed in more than 400 world premieres and frequently returned to her native county singing at festivals and concerts. 

Jane Manning in 1975.

Jane Manning in 1975. - Credit: Archant Library

One leading national critic, Michael White, described her as “irrepressible, incomparable, unstoppable... Life and soul of British contemporary music”. 

Made an OBE in 1990, two years earlier she had formed a musical ensemble, Jane’s Minstrels, with her composer husband Anthony Payne. It encouraged young versatile players into contemporary music, and especially British music of all styles. 

Jane Manning in 1969.

Jane Manning, a Norfolk born and bred soprano with an extraordinary vocal range and international reputation, has died at the age of 82. Pictured here in 1969. - Credit: Archant Library

Jane Manning with Alberni Quartet before a concert in Norwich Cathedral in 1973.

Jane Manning with Alberni Quartet before a concert in Norwich Cathedral in 1973. (left to right) Berian Evans, Howard Davis, Jane Manning, Peter Pople and Gregory Baron. - Credit: Archant Library

Born on September 20, 1938, in Norwich to Gerald Manning (then head of accounts at the Norfolk News Company, later Eastern Counties Newspapers, now Archant) and Lily 'Queenie' Manning, she was always musical. She made her debut aged 17 singing soprano solos to her father’s Elijah in a Catton Choral Society production. 


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She studied piano from the age of five, and sang in the choir of Christ Church, New Catton and Catton Choral Society, aged 10, and later joined Hellesdon Operatic Society.  

Jane Manning c.1989. 

Jane Manning c.1989. - Credit: Archant Library

At Norwich High School (for Girls), she was auditioned by Roy Henderson, who had trained Kathleen Ferrier, who urged her to train as a singer. 

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Studying at London’s Royal Academy of Music, she graduated in 1958. Later, she taught music at Aylsham Secondary Modern School and even sang at Norwich Prison. 

She studied in Switzerland with the famed Frederick Husler after which she moved to London and sang on a full-time basis. 

Her London debut came in 1964 at a Park Lane Group concert and her first BBC broadcast was in 1965 – singing Schoenberg’s Pierrot Lunaire. Her performance of his melodrama received widespread critical acclaim and is still regarded as a benchmark recording of the work. She performed Pierrot more than 100 times in her career and again at the Assembly House in February 2014. 

Jane Manning at The Assembly House in 1979.

Jane Manning at The Assembly House in 1979. - Credit: Archant Library

Many roles were written for her including Judith Weir’s one-woman opera King Harald’s Saga in 1979, as well as works by Harrison Birtwistle, Colin Matthews, Richard Rodney Bennett, and James MacMillan. 

Jane Manning with Richard Rodney Bennett in 1979.

Jane Manning with Richard Rodney Bennett in 1979. - Credit: Archant Library

Jane Manning with Anthony Payne in 1981.

Jane Manning with Anthony Payne in 1981. - Credit: Archant Library

She wrote a two-volume book, New Vocal Repertory, and a follow-up, Vocal Repertory for the 21st century, was published last year. Her book on the performance and history of Pierrot Lunaire was published in 2012. 

In a preface to her 65th birthday concert at London’s Wigmore Hall in 2003, a critic wrote: “She is an artist of astonishing gift – and one of the great performers of Schoenberg’s Pierrot Lunaire.” 

Another wrote: “For many people, Jane Manning is simply the voice of contemporary classical music in this country. Anyone who took an interest in this burgeoning area of music in the 1970s and '80s grew up with the sound of her astonishing voice in their ears. It’s instantly recognisable.”

She sang at the Henry Wood Promenade Concert in 1972 and regularly performed at the Norfolk and Norwich Festival over the years. In August 2008, she headlined at the North Norfolk Music Festival. 

In the late 1970s, she appeared at St Andrew’s Hall for a triennial concert, singing Benjamin Britten’s Our Hunting Fathers. Her performance with the Royal Philharmonic conducted by Norman del Mar was so impressive that I’ve never forgotten it, wrote the EDP’s music critic, Christopher Smith.  

A visiting professor at the Royal College of Music, she had an honorary chair at Keele University and was later also visiting professor at Kingston University. She had lectured widely in the United States including at Harvard, Yale, Princeton and was four-times visiting professor at Mills College, California. She also taught singers and composers around the world. 

In 2007, she and her husband were awarded an honorary doctorate by Durham University – the first time the university had honoured a married couple with such a degree. 

She had married Anthony Payne at St Margaret’s Church, Old Catton, in 1966 having become engaged while singing at the Aldeburgh Festival. 

She died on March 31, leaving her husband, a nephew and two nieces. Her older brother, David, predeceased in 2012. 

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