After beginning her career as a soprano, Felicity Palmer began to attract the attention of many leading conductors and was assigned important roles for live performance and recordings.
Although appealing in works of the Baroque and Classical periods, Palmer came to evidence increasing strain in the top register. This factor prompted her to move to mezzo-soprano roles, a process that gave her singing a previously unexplored freedom and tonal sheen. Subsequently, the singer enjoyed an even greater breadth in the repertory she was engaged to perform and demonstrated a healthy longevity, singing Wagner at the Metropolitan Opera in her late fifties. After entering London's Guildhall School of Music in 1962, Palmer studied at that institution until 1967, following which she worked with soprano Marianne Schech at the Hochschule für Musik in Munich. Thereafter, she studied privately with Vera Rozsa at her studio in London. At first, Palmer was a choral singer, performing with the John Alldis Choir and London's Purcell Consort. When she won first prize in the 1970 Kathleen Ferrier Memorial Scholarship competition, however, she found herself launched upon a solo career. After appearing in a performance of Purcell's Dioclesian at Queen Elisabeth Hall in London, she made her operatic debut singing the same composer's Dido in a 1971 production with the Kent Opera. By 1973, she had made her American debut singing the Countess in Le nozze di Figaro with the Houston Opera. Two years later, she appeared with the English National Opera in London as Pamina. Within the decade following her debut, Palmer had amassed performances with such prominent conductors as Pierre Boulez, Andrew Davis, Colin Davis, Lawrence Foster, Bernard Haitink, Raymond Leppard, Charles Mackerras, John Pritchard, and Karl Richter. Subsequently, Palmer has won affirmative notices for her broad repertory, extending from Bach to Gilbert & Sullivan, from Handel to Wagner. Engagements made her an international artist, taking her to most of Europe and the United States, the Mideast, and South America. She appeared at the 1985 Glyndebourne Festival as Florence in Britten's Albert Herring. At Salzburg, she appeared for the first time as alto soloist in Handel's Messiah in 1992. Palmer has sung with success at the Lyric Opera of Chicago, making an especially strong impression as a touching Baba the Turk.