The distinguished Irish soprano, Heather (Mary) Harper, was born and trained in Belfast. She was trained as a concert pianist at Trinity College of Music in London, taking singing as a second subject. She also took voice lessons with Helen Isepp and Frederic Husler. She sang in BBC Chorus.
Heather Harper's first professional appearance was as Lady Macbeth in Verdiís opera, in 1954 at the Oxford University Opera Club. She was a member of the English Opera Group from 1956 to 1975. Principal roles followed at Covent Garden, Glyndebourne and Sadlerís Wells, putting her in the foremost ranks of operatic sopranos. She created Lucie Manette in Benjamin's Tale of Two Cities, London (New Opera Company at Sadlerís Wells) in 1957. Sang the Woman in first Britain stage production of Arnold Schoenberg's Erwartung, 1960. Her Glyndebourne début was in 1957 as First Lady in Die Zauberflöte; Her Covent Garden debut was in 1962 as Helena in A Midsummer Night's Dream. Her debut in 1967 at the Bayreuth Festival as Elsa in Lohengrin received international acclaim. In 1977 she made her New York Met as the Countess in Le Nozze di Figaro. Her roles encompass Mozart, Verdi, Wagner and 20th century works. Outstanding roles including Elsa, Arabella in Strauss's opera, Ellen Orford in Peter Grimes, and the Governess in The Turn of the Screw.
Heather Harper was also a concert artist of supreme accomplishment. Her fame in this area was based on a series of highly successful tours of North and South America, Australia, the Far and Middle East (including Israel), Russia, Czechoslovakia, Scandinavia and Europe. She has given first performances of many works. Sang in the first performances of Britten's War Requiem at Coventry Cathedral in 1962, and Tippett's 3rd Symphony in 1972. Other works dedicated to her are Three Leaves of Grass by the Finnish composer Leif Segerstram, and Chambermusic by Antal Doráti. She created Mrs Coyle in Owen Wingrave, televised 1971. Heather Harper retired from stage 1984, but sang Nadia in The Ice Break at Proms 1990 (a role she actually created).
In 1965 Heather Harper was made Commander of the British Empire for her service to music, and in 1966 the Queenís University, Belfast, conferred on her an honorary degree of Doctor of Music.
From 1985 Heather Harper was a Professor at the Royal College of Music in London. From 1986 she was also director of singing studies at the Britten-Pears Scholl in Snap, and the first visiting lecturer-in-residence at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music in Glasgow (from 1987). Although already retired she sang with Simon Rattle and the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra at the Londonís Proms in 1994.