Kirkby-Lunn, Louise

English contralto, 1873 - 1930

(courtesy of Charles B. Mintzer)

Biographical notes:

She was born in Manchester and studied with J.H. Greenwood, afterwards with Alberto Antonio Visetti in London. Further studies with the renowned Jacques Bouhy in Paris (Louise Homer was also a student of him). She made her early debut as Margaretha in Schumann’s Genoveva at the Drury Lane Theatre in London. Later she appeared in Délibes’ Le Roi l’a dit (!). She considered her real debut as  Nora in Charles Standford’s opera Shamus O’Brien. She also sang at the Harris Opera Theatre and at the Carl Rosa Opera Company. From the very beginning she loved to sing on the concert platform. After her marriage in 1899 she had planned to terminate her career, but in 1901 she continued singing and signed a contract with Covent Garden. She was an important member at this famous opera house until 1914 (and again in the season 1921/22). She participated in some first  opera performances: Massenet’s Hérodiade, Saint-Saëns’ Hélène and Gluck’s Armide. In 1902 she was invited to the Metropolitan where she debuted as Ortrud. Within the next two years she also sang Brangäne and Amneris. She toured America in 1904 where she was heard as Kundry (first performances of the opera in English) and this role was one of her greatest achievements. She created the role of Dalila in Saint-Saëns’ opera Samson et Dalila in the first English performance at Covent Garden. Despite her great success on stage she made many concert appearances and she became even more popular on the concert platform than in opera. She became THE great British oratorio contralto besides Dame Clara Butt. She was not only heard at the festivals of Birmingham, Sheffield and Norwich but also toured widely (USA, Australia and New Zealand). Her last opera appearance (as Amneris) took place in 1922 at Covent Garden. She continued to give concerts and recitals. At the end of her career she became a renowned singing coach.


(courtesy of Charles B. Mintzer)


“A singer with a glorious voice and an even tone throughout a compass of well over two octaves, a singer with whom I never found fault in so much as a quaver all the years I worked with her, and who never sang out of tune. Her Brangäne at Covent Garden, her fine acting and singing as Kundry in America, and a marvellous rendering of Isolde’s Liebestod ... are among my most cherished memories of her”

Sir Henry Wood, conductor


As Dalila - a role she sang in the first British  performance at Covent Garden in 1909



Recital (Arias by Mozart, Verdi, Ponchielli, Bizet, Gounod, Saint-Saens, Wolf-Ferrari. Arias from Messiah and Eliah)

Preiser - CO (LP)

Covent Garden on Record Vol. 2


Souvenirs from Verismo Operas Vol. 2


Emmy Destinn - A selection of her very finest recordings


Mike Richter’s Opera Page: The Record of Singing Vol. 1


John McCormack - Acoustic Victor and HMV Recordings 1912 - 1914



As Dalila, Covent Garden, 1909


As Louise Homer to Ernestine Schumann-Heink , Louise Kirkby-Lunn was exposed to direct and strong competition to Dame Clara Butt. In the books by Scott and Kesting you will find comments that her singing lacked vividness, emotion and expressivness. And in her case, I partly do agree.

Her Orfeo (Gluck) is sung as an oratorio peace (in a “pathetic” manner so usual at her time, but what a glorious contralto voice!). In the Dalila arias you can enjoy a sumptous, “dark-creamy” voice with a prominent chest register which was so characteristic for many English contraltos. The most passionate singing comes from her recording as Adriano (Rienzi). I share the opinion with some other music friends that this is perhaps her best recording.

There is some fine duet singing opposite Emmy Destinn and John McCormack.

 Gerechter Gott (Adriano in Rienzi / Wagner / HMV 1915)



“She has become the greatest artist on the lyric stage, and the most accomplished English singer I have ever heard”

Sir Charles Santley


My warmest thanks to Charles B. Mintzer