Dame Janet Abbott Baker (born 21 August 1933) is an English mezzo-soprano best known as an opera, concert, and lieder singer.
She was particularly closely associated with baroque and early Italian opera and the works of Benjamin Britten. During her career, which spanned the 1950s to the 1980s, she was considered an outstanding singing actress and widely admired for her dramatic intensity, perhaps best represented in her famous portrayal as Dido, the tragic heroine of Berlioz’s magnum opus Les Troyens. As a concert performer, Baker was noted for her interpretations of the music of Gustav Mahler and Edward Elgar. David Gutman, writing in the Gramophone, described her performance of Mahler’s Kindertotenlieder as “intimate, almost self-communing.”
With the English Opera Group at Aldeburgh, Baker sang Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas in 1962, Polly (Benjamin Britten’s version of The Beggar’s Opera) and Lucretia (in Britten’s The Rape of Lucretia). At Glyndebourne she appeared again as Dido (1966) and as Diana/Jupiter in Francesco Cavalli’s La Calisto, and Penelope in Monteverdi’s Il ritorno d’Ulisse in Patria. For Scottish Opera she sang Dorabella in Mozart’s Così fan tutte, Dido, Octavian in Richard Strauss’s Der Rosenkavalier, the Composer in Ariadne auf Naxos and the role of Orfeo in Gluck’s Orfeo ed Euridice. The latter was considered her signature role; she sang it everywhere and a videotaped performance from Glyndbourne is available.
In 1966, Baker made her debut as Hermia at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, and went on to sing Berlioz’s Dido, Kate in Britten’s Owen Wingrave, Mozart’s Vitellia and Idamantes, Cressida in William Walton’s Troilus and Cressida and the title role in Gluck’s Alceste (1981) there. For the English National Opera, she sang the title role in Monteverdi’s L’incoronazione di Poppea (1971), Charlotte in Massenet’s Werther, and the title roles in Donizetti’s Maria Stuarda and Handel’s Giulio Cesare.