International opera star Ann Howard has died at the age of 79, writes Jon Sharman.

The singer, most famous for playing the title role in Carmen 250 times, including opposite Placido Domingo in America, lived in Surbiton and still worked as a singing teacher.

Born Pauline Ann Swadling in Norwood, south London, she performed around the world in shows ranging from The Marriage of Figaro to HMS Pinafore.

In 1954 she married Keith Giles, an amateur pianist who would help shape her career, aged just 19.

He played accompaniment for her in the audition, which started her on the professional singing road.

Mr Giles died in 2004.

Howard’s biographer and neighbour, Susan Higgins, said: “She did have a lot of friends and she was a very outgoing personality.

“A very talented, hardworking person in her job.

“When she was busy she was incredibly busy. There was a lot of travelling, but she always came home to Surbiton.”

But there was no drama of the kind that fills celebrity magazines, Mrs Higgins said.

She said: “She never had any of that – she kept a very even keel and I think that was a lot to do with her husband and the home that she always came back to.

“She enjoyed family life.”

Howard’s final professional performance came in 1999, in Peter Grimes with the Welsh National Orchestra.

Mrs Higgins said: “All through her career she scarcely took any time off because she was always in rude health.

“She didn’t mind what she did on stage, she just loved the stage.

“Very sadly she was very disabled with arthritis, but in herself she was still the very feisty lady that she always was.

“She was still full of plans. It was a terrible shock. It was so sudden.”

Ann Howard was born on July 22, 1934, and died on Wednesday, March 26, 2014.

She is survived by a daughter.