Hilary Summers


"The performance of […] Summers […] is simply outstanding."

Ramon del Buey Canas, bachtrack

"Contralto Hilary Summers is the soloist, her dark, plummy tones meshing perfectly with Nyman’s brassy-tinged textures."

Andrew Clements, The Guardian

"It was a wonderful performance, which Summers herself clearly enjoyed, made all the more riveting by her complete vocal command of the part."

Susan Doering, Vienna Review

"It’s almost invidious to pick out other names from either cast in what is such a brilliantly executed piece, but Hilary Summers is a formidable White Queen."

Andrew Clements, The Guardian

Download full biography

Born in South Wales, Hilary Summers is one of the world’s few genuine contraltos and has made over forty CDs spanning works from the early baroque period to the present day. She has sung in most of the major concert halls and opera houses of the world.

A specialist in contemporary repertoire, Hilary’s three-octave range has excited the attention of many composers.  Operatic world premieres include the role of Stella in Carter’s What Next? for Berlin State Opera, Madame Irma in Peter Eötvös’s Le balcon at Aix-en-Provence Festival, Miss Prism in Gerald Barry’s The Importance of Being Earnest with the Los Angeles Philharmonic and White Queen, Dormouse and Cook in Gerald Barry’s Alice’s Adventures Underground

In 2018 she created the role of Nell in Gyorgy Kurtag’s Fin de Partie at La Scala, Milan to great critical acclaim. Hilary has gone on to reprise the role for premieres at the Dutch National Opera, Opera National de Paris, Palau de les Arts Valencia, De Vlaamse Opera and the UK premiere at the 2023 BBC Proms with the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra under Ryan Wigglesworth.

Hilary worked closely with the iconic composer and conductor Pierre Boulez from 2004. With Boulez and the Ensemble Intercontemporain, she recorded his masterwork Le marteau sans maître, for which she won a Grammy Award in 2006.  Hilary went onto perform the piece worldwide. She also performed Le visage nuptial, Stravinsky’s Les Noces and Ligeti’s Aventures and Aventures nouvelles under his inspirational baton.

A greatly respected interpreter of Baroque repertoire, Hilary has long been in demand for Handelian roles. With William Christie she performed and recorded the role of Medoro in Orlando; with il Complesso Barocco the role of Idelberto in Lotario, and with Christian Curnyn and the Early Opera Company Hilary has recorded Juno in Semele, Disinganno in Il Trionfo del tempo; Rosmira in Partenope, Teodata in Flavio and Amastre in Serse.  On the concert platform she has given over one hundred performances of Handel’s Messiah.  Other favourite concert works include Elgar’s Dream of Gerontius, Rossini’s Petite Messe Solonnelle and Schoenberg’s Pierrot Lunaire.

Hilary has forged a special relationship with the composer Michael Nyman and has toured the world with the Michael Nyman Band. He has written many works for her voice including the opera Facing Goya and the song cycle War Work. Hilary has also collaborated closely with George Benjamin, who composed the contralto role in his first chamber opera Into the Little Hill for her. She has sung on several film soundtracks including The Claim; The Libertine and the Diary of Anne Frank (Nyman), The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (Joby Talbot), The Lord of the Rings (Howard Shore) and on TV The League of Gentleman (Talbot).

She works often with Christian Curnyn and his Early Opera company, recently performing Cornelia in Giulio Cesare at the Palau in Barcelona as well as singing Amadigi/Dardano for their latest recording on the Chandos label.  Other recent highlights include Handel’s Silla in Japan with Europa Galante and Fabio Biondi, Messiah at Schleswig-Holstein Festival under Richard Egarr and a tour of Mendelssohn’s Walpurgisnacht with Insula Orchestra under Laurence Equilbey.

Highlights for this coming season include further performances of Kurtag’s Fin de Partie in Budapest for the Hungarian premiere as well as at the Elbphilharmonie Hamburg and Kölner Philharmonie, George Benjamin’s Into the Little Hill with the Finnish Radio Symphony with the composer conducting, and a return to Opera de Paris to perform the role of Leonora Palma in a new Calixto Bieito production of Thomas Adès’s The Exterminating Angel.

This biography is for information only and should not be reproduced.

The Exterminating Angel, Leonora Palma

Opéra National de Paris, February 2024

Among the singers, all excellent and brilliantly meeting the demands of writing that favors ensembles... the very embodied mezzo of Hilary Summers/Leonora Palma

Michèle Tosi, ResMusica

Hilary Summers embodies this troubled character by covering the entire expressive spectrum of her sometimes deliberately buffoonish contralto voice, particularly when she falls prey to a delirium of persecution.

Julian Lembke, Forum Opera

Hilary Summers (Leonora) … also made an exceptional impression.

Nicolas Blanmot, Opera Magazine

Hilary Summers (Leonora Palma) explores the lower range of her range, with a dark and soft timbre that draws one of the most fascinating characters in opera.

CJM, Olyrix

...the female roles dominate: sumptuous voice, through the density of the bass and the mobility of the line, the contralto Hilary Summers embodies a Leonora subject to sudden attacks of paranoia as to dark meditations haunted by Wagnerian memories.

Jérémie Bigorie, ConcertoNet

Special mentions finally to Hilary Summers, accomplice of Pierre Boulez, who treats us to his contralto in a haggard interlude (Act III, scene 3)

Pierre Brévignon, Première Loge

The twenty soloists, among whom the distinguished Hilary Summers stands out...

Gilles Charlassier, La Terrasse

CD: ’Circus Dinogad’ with the Dudok Quartet

Zefir ZEF9701, November 2023

Summers runs the gamut of her unconventional but highly expressive three-octave range. In her haunting unaccopanied opening ballad, ’I will give my love an apple’, she is a countertenor, sexless and aethereal; later, she blooms into a gorgeously sensuous high mezzo in Purcell’s ’Sweeter Than Roses’. She relishes words, caressing and projecting every syllable, and brings theatrical panache to the ’Seven Deadly Sins’, 40-second vignettes threaded through this musical medley, bitingly arch and hilarious.

Ashutosh Khandekar, BBC Music Magazine (Performance*****, Recording*****)

CD Review: Handel's Amadigi

Early Opera Company / Chandos Records / October 2022

Hilary Summers brings her richly rounded contralto to bear effectively on Dardano

Brian Robbins, Opera Magazine

the distinctive steel-cored contralto of Hilary Summers as his false friend Dardano

Erica Jeal, The Guardian

With her strong, no-nonsense contralto, Hilary Summers makes a compelling Dardano, who, typically of Handel, does not entirely forfeit the audience’s sympathy.

Richard Wigmore, Gramophone Magazine

Fin de Partie, Nell

Opera de Paris, May 2022

Nell, played by Hilary Summers peeks her head out of her dustbin to the sound of a snake charmer's music [...] The contralto deploys her deep, sweet, legato voice, very tenderly intoned and articulated.

'Nell incarnée par Hilary Summers sort la tête de sa poubelle au son d'une musique de charmeur de serpents. [..] La contralto déploie sa voix grave, douce et longue, très tendre, vibrée et articulée.'

Charles Arden, Olyrix

Kurtag's Fin de partie, Nell

Palau de Musica Paseo de la Alameda (November 2020)

The performance of […] Summers […] is simply outstanding.

5 Stars

Ramon del Buey Canas, bachtrack

Barry's Alice’s Adventures Underground, White Queen

Royal Opera House (February 2020)

It’s almost invidious to pick out other names from either cast in what is such a brilliantly executed piece, but Hilary Summers is a formidable White Queen.

Andrew Clements, The Guardian

Handel's Jephtha

Scottish Chamber Orchestra BBC Proms (August 2019)

Her portrait of maternal despair was vivid.

The Times

Hilary Summers, as the hero’s mother Storge, brought velvet smoothness to her forebodings.

The Scotsman

These photos are available to be downloaded.
Right click on a desired image and select the "Save Link As" option.