We are deeply saddened to hear of the passing of Isobel Flinn who was a highly valued and respected part of the National Opera Studio for over thirty years. Donald Maxwell, Gerald Finley OC, CBE and Susan Bullock share their memories and tributes to Isobel below:

Donald Maxwell

For a remarkable thirty years Isobel Flinn was a constant in the life of the NOS. 

Her connection started in the late 1970s in the early days of the Studio, initially as assistant to Martin Isepp. She was then Head Of Studies for many years but retiral from that post didn't mean the end of her Studio connection as she continued to coach in Wandsworth. These bare facts don't however give proper credit to her important contribution to the Studio, or her influence on a generation of trainees.

Isobel was a perceptive and supportive coach, but long before the world of spreadsheets or even computers she was also the queen of scheduling. Not just the day-to-day calls, but the overall planning of the year, the devising of repertoire lists, and the negotiation of the patchwork of rooms that was Morley College. Scheduling implies precision and there is no doubt that Isobel had high standards and also definite opinions.  Trainees were left in no doubt that schedules and preparation weren't just idle aspirations. Schedules were there to be followed and followed punctually. That cultivated an important sense of professionalism and discipline, which many singers and repetiteurs truly appreciated once they had ventured out into the world of employment. 

Opinions can be easily dispensed but Isobel's were never flippant. She gave good advice and you listened to what she said. She also had great integrity and if she was in your corner, you could rely on her unwavering support. That consistency over the years was important. Professional engagements meant that whilst many of the staff came and went throughout the year, Isobel was always there for the trainees and was committed to supporting them. 

Talk of standards and discipline might imply that Isobel was a dry 'enforcer'. Not at all. She had a keen sense of humour . Although it was always unwise to interrupt the staff at lunchtimes, those lunch meetings often had a lot of laughter as a welcome release from the relatively serious business of opera. Isobel also had style. She was always immaculately dressed , a trait she tried (with varying success) to instil into many trainees over the years. She was once on a Studio trip to Leeds when the hotel fire alarm went off. Everyone tumbled out in various stages of undress, apart from Isobel who emerged at three in the morning as if she had just come out of the hairdressers. Musicians always enjoy a good party and Isobel was no exception, appreciating a nice glass of wine and enlivening many social events with her distinctive ultra-dry sense of humour . 

NOS was a major part of Isobel's life and career but her interest in coaching and young performers was wide ranging. Not only did she have 'my privates', but she was a long serving and much appreciated coach with British Youth Opera, and for many years was a highlight of the Clonter Opera Prize with her pithy introductions.  In her early years Isobel was based in Manchester where she was a contemporary of the great soprano Elizabeth Harwood. She maintained that connection and latterly moved back to Manchester, coaching at the RNCM and very efficiently administering the Harwood memorial award at that college.

When Isobel retired as Head of Studies, we had a very happy little soiree in Wandsworth. A large number of alumni and staff wanted to acknowledge their appreciation of her, at times, exacting standards, but also to thank her for her care and concern over the years. In her memory we do that again now, and remember with gratitude her important place in the story of the National Opera Studio.

Gerald Finley OC, CBE

I met Isobel when I was a participant in the National Opera Studio during the 1987-88 intake. Then, the Studio was headed by Richard Van Allen, she was Head of Music and Martin Isepp was on its staff of brilliant coaches.  Apparently Glyndebourne thought I was worth investing in, and they had guided me to audition. Her great sense of knowing the repertoire meant she was highly respected.

Isobel knew from the beginning that my vocal stamina was perhaps not as strong as it could be, and she cleverly assigned me roles to learn that drew out my dramatic instincts like Golaud in Pelleas, Eugene Onegin, Nick Shadow, Almaviva in Figaro, and Enrico Ashton.  I looked forward very much to all her coaching sessions. She would occasionally look over her glasses as if to say “did you really mean it to sound like that?” and begin the phrase again. She also guided me to Yeletsky’s aria from Queen of Spades, which I fell in love with and I began to use it in auditions. After a few auditions, she said that perhaps I should come back to it in a few years. She was right. After a vocal reboot at the age of around 30, I found that all these roles lay very happily in my new strength and form.

She seemed to be able to manage all the young singers in similar fashion: encouraging where potential lay, challenging where appropriate and showing compassion when singers were low. Her intelligence, kindness, and unrelenting positivity made her a fundamental in the preparation with what was to come. I value her part in my development very highly. There’s a bit of Isobel in all the Studio’s graduates. We are all very fortunate to have known her.

Susan Bullock

It was with great sadness that we heard about the death of Isobel Flinn.

Isobel…Izzy.. was a wonderful coach and worked with so many singers and pianists over many years, at the RNCM and at the National Opera Studio which is where I met her. Together with Martin Isepp and Michael Langdon she  was part of a fantastically talented trio who were the mainstay of NOS for many years.

Izzy was exacting, a perfectionist but also very practical and helpful.  She really cared for singers and pianists and continued to support them long after they left the institutions where she worked. In my case I recall her coming to Lisbon to support Ronald Samm and me in Graham Vick's production of Die Walküre…as she herself put it “ I’ am just making sure you are not doing anything daft”

Always immaculately dressed and very elegant, she  had a great sense of fun and enjoyed a glass of good red wine.

The number of singers and pianists who have expressed their sadness at her death is a testament to how widely loved and respected she was. 

Her wisdom and wit will be keenly missed. 

RIP Izzy and thank you from the countless artists that you helped.