Opera queen's rise from farm to worldwide fame ; Constance Shacklock is the most famous name to graduate from the stage of the Nottingham Operatic Society. Andy Smart traces her career
SHERWOOD-BORN opera star Constance Shacklock was something of a pioneer in her day. World-renowned as a mezzo soprano, having spent 10 years with the Covent Garden Opera Company, she surprissed many of her fans by making the crossover into musical theatre.
In 1961 she took the role of Mother Superior in the original London production of The Sound of Music at the Palace Theatre.
She was making one of her many visits to Nottingham just after the show opened when an Evening Post reporter caught up with her at her parents' home to ask her about the new venture.
Do you miss the opera? the reporter asked of one of the finest Wagnerian heroines of her generation.
No, replied Constance. It [Mother Superior] is a wonderful part with a tremendous range.
The show may run for three years -- and I hope it does. I am really enjoying it.
In fact, it played 2,385 performances over a six-year run.
Constance co-starred throughout with Jean Bayless as Maria and Roger Dann as Captain Von Trapp.
James Bond actress Eunice Gayson was also in the cast.
Constance also featured on the original cast recording and there was talk of her taking the role in the 1965 film version which starred Julie Andrews.
It would be wonderful, she told the Evening Post, but I don't know whether I will be chosen.
There is another company doing the show in America you know.
In the event, America actress Peggy Wood was given the part.
Although she became world famous, Constance Shacklock never forgot her roots. Born a farmer's daughter, her singing career began with the Broomhill Road Methodist Choir in Bulwell and, despite her international schedule, she never missed a chance to return to the scene of her earliest triumphs. She quickly became aware that her voice was a very special instrument and began to follow her dream of being a opera singer.
She joined the Nottingham Operatic Society while working as a secretary for the Nottingham Co-operative Society to save enough money to fund her musical studies.
It took her 10 years to achieve her ambition. In 1939 she won a scholarship to study at the Royal Academy.
During the Second World War, she sang for the troops and in factories and when peace came she began to give recitals and concerts to much acclaim, leading to a call to audition for Covent Garden.
She was up against 400 other hopefuls and came out on top. It was while at Covent Garden she met Eric Mitchell, the man she married in 1947, and they settled in East Sheen. Among her most famous roles was as Carmen, a performance described by one critic as 'full of wanton vivacity... shows how a thoroughly nice Nottingham girl can submerge her personality in that of one of opera's most scandalous heroines'.
Constance struck out as a solo artiste after 10 years at Covent Garden and following her long run in The Sound of Music, she became a teacher at the Royal Academy of Music.
She also made several appearances at the Last Night of the Proms.
She ended her concert career in 1967, appropriately, in St Mary's Church, Bulwell, dueting with Lillian Clarke, the woman who gave Constance her first singing lesson at the age of 15.
She was supported by the Bestwood Male Voice Choir and Charles Jones was the accompanist.
Although it was the end of Constance Shacklock's concert career, she continued to be heavily involved in the world of music for many years.
In 1988, she returned to Nottingham to present trophies at the city's music and drama festival and as always, acknowledged that she would always be a Nottingham girl at heart.
I still look upon Nottingham as my second home, she said.
Down-to-earth, fun-loving, friendly and charming, Constance Shacklock was a queen of the opera.
She died in 1999, at the age of 86, leaving no immediate family, and is still remembered fondly.
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