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BBC Music Day in Nottingham with Constance

16 June 17 words: Gav Squires

As part of BBC Music Day 47 blue plaques were unveiled celebrating local music legends. One of those unveilings took place at the Theatre Royal, in honour of Constance Shacklock OBE but who was Constance? We take a look at her life and her musical legacy...

Born in Sherwood in 1913, Constance went on to be one of the finest contraltos of her era but that nearly wasn't the case. She began singing with the choir at the Bromfield Road Methodist Church in Bulwell but her big break came while singing with the Nottingham Operatic Society. She was spotted in a performance of The Gondoliers and was offered the opportunity of a lifetime - to join the D'Oyly Carte. However, her parents thought that the stage was no place for her and talked her out of accepting the offer and so she returned to her day job of bookkeeping, which she hated.

 

Like all the best X Factor audition stories, a setback like that wasn't going to stop Constance and it was only a matter of time before she pursued her dream. Constance won a scholarship at the Royal Academy and would spend the Blitz performing in morale boosting shows for the troops and war workers, including demonstrating her ability to shatter glass with just her voice. After the war, she joined the Covent Garden Opera Company where she would go on to perform leading roles in operas such as Carmen, Tristan & Isolde, Der Rosenkavalier and Boris Godunov. However, she is probably best known from this time for singing Rule Britannia on the Last Night of the Proms on 10 occasions.

 

After more than 500 performances at Covent Garden where she never missed a show, her career took an unusual turn when the American composer Richard Rodgers invited her to audition for a role in the musical The Sound of Music. Initially she was wary about taking a role in a musical but after auditioning for Rodgers, producer Terry White and librettist Oscar Hammerstein, she ended up playing the role of Mother Abbess for six years. After retiring from performing, she returned to the Royal Academy to teach and was awarded the OBE in 1971.


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