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Late Belfast soprano Heather Harper to make final journey home

Husband of renowned global star to scatter ashes at Cushendun

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Renowned: Soprano Heather Harper singing in Belfast with the RTE Symphony Orchestra in their concert at the Queen’s Festival in 1978

Renowned: Soprano Heather Harper singing in Belfast with the RTE Symphony Orchestra in their concert at the Queen’s Festival in 1978

Heather Harper and her husband Eduardo

Heather Harper and her husband Eduardo

Renowned: Soprano Heather Harper singing in Belfast with the RTE Symphony Orchestra in their concert at the Queen’s Festival in 1978

The husband of the late opera star Heather Harper is making an emotional pilgrimage to her native Northern Ireland to scatter her ashes.

Eduardo Benarroch will travel to Cushendun in Co Antrim on Thursday for the ceremony. He said it was important to bring his wife "home".

It will take place in the grounds of Rockport House, where her family were evacuated from Belfast during the Second World War.

Ms Harper died in April last year aged 88, after a long illness.

In her prime she was one of the greatest sopranos of her generation, and performed with the world's best orchestras, conductors and opera singers.

She graced the stage of all the top opera houses, including La Scala in Milan and London's Covent Garden as well as the Teatro Colon in Buenos Aires, where Mr Benarroch, as an opera lover, was a devoted fan of her musical talent.

They later developed a friendship which led to their marriage in May 1973. Her first marriage to Leonard Buck ended in divorce in 1972.

It was after her death last year that Mr Benarroch decided to return her ashes to Northern Ireland.

Speaking this week, he said: "I had intended to do this on the first anniversary of her death, in April this year, but there were delays due to the pandemic.

"However, I will be in Cushendun next Thursday to scatter Heather's ashes and in one sense to bring her home.

"It will be very informal and we are aiming for a time around 11.30am.

"Some of the people who knew her in Northern Ireland will be there.

"However, I will be happy for anyone else who knew her to come as well.

"Heather would understand this, as in her career she was a very public figure.

"Because of her illness towards the end of her life we were not able to discuss these things in detail, but I feel that I am doing the right thing. I believe that Heather would have approved also."

They first met in the 1960s after Mr Benarroch, who was born in Argentina, and a friend, saw her performing in operas in the Teatro Colon.

He recalled: "My friend and I invited her out to see more of the city and its outlying area, and this developed into my close friendship with Heather. Later we decided to get married.

"By that stage I was a scientist with PhDs in geology and geophysics but I decided to devote my time to Heather.

"She had been travelling around the world for so many years all alone as a professional opera singer, and I felt that it was up to me to look after her and take care of her.

"She was a lovely person with a great sense of humour, and she was someone who called a spade a spade. That came very much from her Ulster background."

In the later years of Heather's career, Mr Benarroch also became her manager.

He said: "The last time we were together in Northern Ireland was at the opening of the Waterfront Hall.

"Afterwards we took a couple of days off and we visited several parts of the province, including Cushendun which, of course, she remembered very well."

Heather was born and brought up in Belfast. Her father Hugh was a lawyer and her mother Mary was from the Robb family which owned the famous Robbs department store in the centre of Belfast.

She was one of four children, and two of her siblings also became professional musicians.

Stratton Mills, who hopes to attend the ashes scattering ceremony this week, said: "We were neighbours on the Circular Road in Belfast and I remember in our early teens riding bikes with her in their large garden.

"When I was chairman of the Ulster Orchestra she was always very supportive and the local audiences were always most keen to hear this Belfast girl who had become such an international star."

She quickly made a huge impression in the musical world as an outstanding soprano, with her Glyndebourne debut in 1957.

But she made her name internationally in 1962 when she stepped in at short notice to replace the Russian Galina Vishnevskaya in the first performance of Benjamin Britten's War Requiem.

Despite her enduring fame and celebrity, Heather never lost her Ulster roots and she was known to stand no-nonsense from world-class conductors who sometimes tried to impose their views on how she should perform.

She retired in 1994, and is still fondly remembered by many people in her native Northern Ireland.

Belfast Telegraph


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