Edith Coates

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Edith Coates OBE (31 May 1908 – 7 January 1983) was an English operatic mezzo-soprano. A highly gifted actress with a striking stage presence, Coates initially found success in larger dramatic roles before transitioning into portraying mainly character parts in the 1950s. She began her career with Lilian Baylis's opera company at the Old Vic in 1924. She stayed with the company when it moved to the Sadler's Wells Theatre and remained with them up to 1946. Coates career was put on hold while the London stages were closed during World War II. There is no doubt that the war limited her career as it occurred during her prime singing years; though she was also said not to have been excessively ambitious. In 1947 Coates joined the Royal Opera, London where she remained until her retirement from the stage in 1967.


Coates studied singing with Ethel Henry Bird at the Trinity College of Music in London and later with Clive Carey, Dawson Freer and Dino Borgioli. She began her career in 1924 with the Vic Wells Opera, first as a member of the chorus and then in smaller roles. When the company moved to the Sadler's Wells Theatre in 1931 she became the company's leading mezzo-soprano, notably singing in the UK premieres of Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov's The Snow Maiden (as Lel) and Rimsky-Korsakov's The Tale of Tsar Saltan (as Tkachikha) in 1933. She also had a tremendous success with the company as Princess Eboli in Giuseppe Verdi's Don Carlos in 1937. On 7 June 1945 she portrayed Auntie in the world premiere of Benjamin Britten's Peter Grimes at the Sadler's Wells Theatre.

In 1937 Coates made her Covent Garden debut, but did not become a member of the company until a decade later. In 1947 she returned to the house to portray the title role in Georges Bizet's Carmen in the company's first full-scale production since the house was closed during World War II. She remained a member of the Royal Opera for the next two decades, initially portraying leading roles like Azucena in Il trovatore, Fricka in Die Walküre, and Amneris in Aida. She eventually gravitated to character roles in the 1950s.

While at the Royal Opera, Coates notably sang in several world premieres, including Madame Bardeau in Arthur Bliss's The Olympians (1949), the Housewife in Britten's Gloriana (1953), and the She-Ancient in Michael Tippett's The Midsummer Marriage (1955). She was also highly praised for her performance of the Countess in the first English-language production of Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky's The Queen of Spades (1950). She later portrayed 'Grandma' in the world premiere of Grace Williams’s The Parlour at the Welsh National Opera in 1966.

Coates retired from the stage after the conclusion of the 1971 opera season. In 1977 she was made an Officer of the Order of the British Empire. Her husband, Powell Lloyd, was a tenor who later had success as an opera producer and set designer. In 1982 she was among a number of artists on stage at Covent Garden who congratulated Dame Eva Turner at a gala for Turner's 90th birthday.


  • "Edith Coates, 74, of British Opera", The New York Times, January 9, 1983.
  • Harold Rosenthal. "Coates, Edith (Mary)", New Grove Dictionary of Opera, edited by Stanley Sadie (1992). ISBN 0-333-73432-7 and ISBN 1-56159-228-5