Lovely of face and figure, Valerie Masterson established herself as an important artist early in her career, making special claims on areas of the French repertory, in the works of Gilbert and Sullivan, and as an engaging interpreter of songs from popular musical theater.
Her slender, slightly acidulous voice proved well suited to such roles as Manon, Marguérite, and Micaëla. After studies at the Matthay School of Music in Liverpool and at London's Royal College of Music, Masterson traveled to Milan to work with Adelaide Saraceni, a former soprano who was remembered especially for the asperity of her lyric instrument. Masterson's debut was made at the Landestheater in Salzburg in 1964. There she sang works in the Italian, French, and German repertories, all lighter lyric parts such as Frasquita, Nannetta, and Fiorilla. Also in 1964, Masterson was invited by Malcolm Sargent to perform at London's Proms, once in Gilbert and Sullivan. Later, Masterson was engaged by England's D'Oyly Carte company, serving as leading soprano from 1966 to 1970. Her Gilbert and Sullivan heroines were appreciated by audiences and critics alike; several were subsequently recorded. In 1971, Masterson joined Sadler's Wells (later the English National Opera), becoming one of the company's most cherished artists. Among her successes there were Adéle in Rossini's Le Comte Ory, Manon (exquisitely sung and acted), Cleopatra in Handel's Julius Caesar (sung in English, as were other E.N.O. productions), and Violetta (subsequently recorded). At Aix-en-Provence, beginning in 1975, she undertook a variety of leading roles from Handel to Rossini (a memorable Matilde in Elisabetta, regina d'Inghilterra). In 1978 she made a successful debut in Paris as Marguérite. Masterson's 1980 American debut took place in San Francisco when she presented her fragile Violetta. Earlier that year, she had sung Konstanze at Glyndebourne in an over-elaborate production that forced her to compete with the singing of live birds on-stage. At Covent Garden, she became a valued artist, performing such varied fare as Gounod, Sallinen (The King Goes Forth to France), Monteverdi, and Henze (We Come to the River). Among Masterson's recordings are her English-language Cleopatra (with Janet Baker's ardent Caesar) and Violetta, a stylish French aria recital, some Gilbert and Sullivan heroines, and several pleasing recitals of Broadway standards.