One of England's leading opera singers, the soprano Susan Chilcott, was born on 8 July 1963 in Timsbury, Somerset. She began singing lessons when she was six years old, studying with Mollie Petrie, who remained her singing coach and advisor.
After studying at the Guildhall School of Music in London, she made her professional début with Scottish Opera in 1991 as Frasquita in Carmen. The first big break in her fifteen year career came in Brussels in 1994, singing Ellen Orford in Britten's Peter Grimes, for Antonio Pappano at La Monnaie, and this led to a series of engagements in Europe.
She was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2001, but was able, in remission, in April 2002, to make her début at New York Metropolitan Opera as Helena in Britten's Midsummer Night's Dream, and in June 2002 she sang as Lisa alongside Plácido Domingo and Josephine Barstow in Tchaikovsky's The Queen of Spades, making her Covent Garden début. In 2003 she sang Jenufa at Welsh National Opera, her last major role.
Susan Chilcott's cancer returned, and she died on 4 September 2003, aged only forty, at her home in Timsbury. Although she made few recordings, The Gift to be Free, her final CD, consisting of Copland songs, with her friend, the pianist Iain Burnside, was released on the Black Box label in Autumn 2003. For her WNO Jenufa performances she received, posthumously, the 2004 Royal Philharmonic Society Singer Award. The Susan Chilcott Scholarship (also known as the Chilcott Award) is administered by the Royal Philharmonic Society and awarded every two years.