Nancy Argenta

Nancy Argenta (b Herbison). Soprano, b Nelson, BC, 17 Jan 1957; B MUS (Western Ontario) 1980. She spent most of her childhood in Argenta, a small settlement north of Nelson, where her mother taught piano and her father taught at the (Quaker) Friends' School.

Argenta, Nancy

Nancy Argenta (b Herbison). Soprano, b Nelson, BC, 17 Jan 1957; B MUS (Western Ontario) 1980. She spent most of her childhood in Argenta, a small settlement north of Nelson, where her mother taught piano and her father taught at the (Quaker) Friends' School. She studied voice in Vancouver with Jacob Hamm and at the University of Western Ontario with Martin Chambers. In 1980 she won the S.C. Eckhardt-Gramatté Competition and received the first of three Canada Council grants to study in Europe, initially in Düsseldorf with Jacqueline Richard (1980-81), then in London (1981-3), where her principal mentor was Vera Rosza. While studying in London she adopted the surname Argenta to avoid being mistaken for another Canadian soprano, Nancy Hermiston.

Argenta's first major international engagement was at Aix-en-Provence, France, in 1983, in Rameau's Hippolyte et Aricie directed by John Eliot Gardiner, with the English Baroque Soloists and the Monteverdi Choir. Since then she concertized, recorded, and broadcast extensively throughout Europe, drawing praise for the clarity, lightness, and agility of her voice. In November 1989 she made her Wigmore Hall recital debut. She also performed in the Middle East and Japan.

Argenta was associated particularly with the period instrument movement, and worked with virtually all of the leading ensembles and conductors in the field including - in addition to the English Baroque Soloists and Gardiner - the Academy of Ancient Music (Christopher Hogwood), the Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra (Ton Koopman), Les Arts Florissants (William Christie), Frans Brüggen, Alan Curtis, the English Concert (Trevor Pinnock), the London Classical Players (Roger Norrington), La Petite Bande (Sigiswald Kuijken), Tafelmusik, and the Theatre of Early Music with counter-tenor Daniel Taylor. She appeared at the Aix-en-Provence, Aldeburgh, Bath, Göttingen festivals, and the Holland Early Music Festival. Argenta also performed in the Songmaker's Almanac series (London), and with England's Trio Sonnerie.

Argenta's success came largely through her interpretations of baroque repertoire, but she did not consider herself a specialist; she had a substantial 19th- and 20th-century repertoire that included Stravinsky's Les Noces (Geneva 1989), Britten's Les Illuminations (Vancouver 1989), Orff's Carmina Burana (Toronto 1990), and Brahms' Requiem (Cologne 1990). In opera, she sang in Purcell's The Fairy-Queen and Handel's Tamerlano, as well as in Mozart's Figaro and Haydn's L'infideltà delusa. Although she moved to London, England, in 1981, she continued to perform regularly in Canada with Tafelmusik and also with orchestras such as CBC Vancouver Orchestra, the MSO, NACO, the TS, Les Violons du Roy, and in recital (eg, at the NAC). Her US appearances included Lincoln Center, NY (with The English Concert, 1989), Atlanta (with Robert Shaw), St Paul (1989), and a California tour with Tafelmusik (1990), followed by later appearances in Chicago, Ann Arbor, and other cities.

In 1990, Argenta won the Canada Council's Virginia P. Moore Prize; a 1992 recording with Tafelmusik (Handel, Excerpts from 'Floridante') won a Juno award. Her 1995 recording of Purcell songs (O Solitude, EMI) received a Classic CD award. She gave master classes at London's Guildhall School of Music, and regularly at Nelson Summer Song Fest. Urjo Kareda reported (Globe and Mail, 18 Jan 1997) that, "Argenta's voice possesses a bell-like clarity, but the tone has a natural, unforced lyricism ... Feeling is released with simplicity, and no undue archness or artifice interferes with her appealing directness of manner."

Selected Discography

Bach Mass in B Minor. English Baroque Soloists, Monteverdi Choir, John Eliot Gardiner conductor. (1985). 2-Archiv 415-514-1

- Cantatas BWV 106, 118b, 198. English Baroque Soloists, Monteverdi Choir, Gardiner conductor. (1990). Archiv 429-782-2 (CD)

- Cantatas. Ensemble Sonnerie, Monica Huggett. (1993). Virgin Veritas x2 7243 5 61644 2 0

- Christmas Oratorio. English Baroque Soloists, Monteverdi Choir, Gardiner conductor. 1987. 2-Archiv 423-232-2 (CD)

- Lutheran Masses. Purcell Quartet, Michael Chance countertenor, Mark Padmore tenor, Peter Harvey bass. 2000. CHAN 0653 Chandos

- Magnificat; Cantata No. 51. English Baroque Soloists, Monteverdi Choir, Gardiner conductor. (1985). Philips 411-458-1

- St. John Passion. English Baroque Soloists, Monteverdi Choir, Gardiner conductor. 1986. 2-Archiv 419-324-1

Beethoven Choral Fantasia. London Classical Players, Schütz Choir, Tan fortepiano, Norrington conductor. (1990). EMI CDC-7-49965-2

Blow Venus and Adonis. London Baroque, Medlam conductor, Argenta (Cupid), 1987. Harmonia Mundi HMC-901276 (CD)

Damsels in Distress: Woeful Soprano Arias. Tafelmusik. 1993. Sony Masterworks MDK 53962

Gluck Iphigénie en Tauride. Lyons Opera Orchestra, Monteverdi Choir, Gardiner conductor, Argenta (1st Priestess). 1985. 2-Philips 416-148-1

- Orfeo ed Euridice. Tafelmusik, Kammerchor Stuttgart, Bernius cond. 1992. SX2K 48 040 Vivarte

Handel Israel in Egypt. Taverner Choir and Players, Parrot conductor. (1990). 2-EMI-CDS-754018-2

- Floridante (excerpts). Tafelmusik, Curtis dir. 1990. CBC SMCD-5110

- Solomon. English Baroque Soloists, Monteverdi Choir, Gardiner conductor, Argenta (Solomon's Queen). 1984. 3-Philips 412-612-1

- Tamerlano. English Baroque Soloists, Gardiner conductor, Argenta (Asteria). 3-Erato NUM-75278/3-Erato ECD-88220 (CD)

Haydn L'Infedeltà delusa. La Petite Bande, Kuijken conductor, Argenta (Vespina). 1987-8. 2-Deutsche Harmonia Mundi RD-77099 (CD)

Monteverdi L'Orfeo. English Baroque Soloists, Monteverdi Choir, Gardiner conductor, Argenta (Ninfa). 1985. 2-Archiv 419-250-1

Mozart Le Nozze di Figaro. Drottningholm Court Theatre O and Chor, Östman conductor, Argenta (Barbarina). 3-L'Oiseau-Lyre 421-333-1

Portrait of Love: Early 18th-Century Music for the French Court. 2001. HXC 3957081 Harmonia Mundi

Purcell The Fairy Queen. Les Arts Florissants, Christie conductor. 1989. 2-Harmonia Mundi 901308-09 (CD).

- O Solitude : Songs and Airs. 1994. 7 59324 2 Virgin Classics

Scarlatti Cantatas. Chandos Baroque Players. (1991). EMI CDC-7-54176-2 (CD)

Scarlatti Dixit Dominus - Vivaldi Gloria. English Concert, Pinnock conductor. 1987. Archiv 423-386-2 (CD)

Schubert Der Hirt auf dem Felsen. Tan piano, Hoeprich clarinet. 1990. EMI CDC-7-54175-2 (CD)

Theatre Music: Handel - Purcell. CBC Vancouver Orchestra, Huggett conductor. 1988. CBC SMCD-5091

Zelenka Missa dei Filii , Litaniae Lauretanae. Tafelmusik, Kammerchor Stuttgart, Bernius dir. 1989. Deutsche Harmonia Mundi 7922-2 (CD)


Further Reading

  • Judy, Stephanie. 'Silver-toned soprano,' Classical Music, April 1993

    Comins, Jayne. 'Jayne Comins' Firing Line: Nancy Argenta,' The Singer, Jun-Jul 1999

    Boisvert, Richard. 'Nancy Argenta,' Montreal Le Soleil, 2 Feb 2002.

    Chan, Wah Keung. 'Nancy Argenta live and up close,' La Scena Musicale, 31 Jan 2003

    New Grove Dictionary