Winifred Lawson (15 November 1892 – 30 November 1961) was an English opera and concert singer in the first half of the 20th century. She is best remembered for her performances in the soprano roles in the Gilbert and Sullivan operas as a member of the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company.
Life and career
Lawson was born in Wolverhampton, England. She started out as a concert singer; after a 1918 concert, The Times wrote, "It is becoming rare nowadays to hear a high soprano who sings perfectly in tune, with a flexible voice and without tremolo, and the pleasure is all the greater when it does come." She made her first appearance on the London opera stage in 1920 as the Countess Almaviva in The Marriage of Figaro at the Old Vic. She went on to appear in The Magic Flute, as Marguerite in Faust, and as the Princess in Prince Ferelon. She also sang in the Cambridge performances of Purcell's Fairy-Queen.
D'Oyly Carte Opera Company
Lawson made her D'Oyly Carte Opera Company debut as a guest singer in 1922 at the Prince's Theatre in London, playing Princess Ida in Princess Ida. She then joined the company as principal soprano. Lawson regularly appeared as Phyllis in Iolanthe, Elsie Maynard in The Yeomen of the Guard, Casilda in The Gondoliers, Patience in Patience, Josephine in H.M.S. Pinafore and Yum-Yum in The Mikado.
She toured in the role of Lili in Lilac Time before rejoining the D'Oyly Carte company the 1929-30 season, adding the role of Aline in The Sorcerer to her repertoire, and during the 1930-31 she appeared for the first time as Rose Maybud in Ruddigore. Lawson left D'Oyly Carte in June 1931 in order to look after her mother, who was unwell. However, on her return to the company in February 1932, she appeared as Patience, Phyllis, Ida, Yum-Yum, and Casilda, until June of that year when she left the company for the last time.
With the D'Oyly Carte, she recorded five of her roles, Princess Ida (1924), Gianetta (1927), Elsie Maynard (1928), Phyllis (1929), and Patience (1930). She also recorded the Plaintiff in Trial by Jury (1927), though she never played the part on stage.
On the death of her mother in 1933, Lawson returned to the stage, appearing for two seasons with the Sadler's Wells Opera in Pagliacci, Faust, The Marriage of Figaro, Così fan tutte, Don Giovanni, The Magic Flute, and La bohème. In 1935 she toured Australia and New Zealand, appearing in many of the Gilbert and Sullivan soprano roles with the J. C. Williamson Gilbert and Sullivan Opera Company.
On her return to England, she reprised the role of the Countess in The Marriage of Figaro at the Open Air Theatre in London's Regent's Park in 1938. This was to be her last appearance on the London stage. During World War II, she sang in many concerts and toured the Middle East for ENSA, and after the war she took part in the 'Life of Gilbert and Sullivan' radio broadcasts for the BBC, when she sang popular songs from the operas.
Lawson was elected Vice-President of the Gilbert and Sullivan Society in 1944 and regularly joined Society meetings and events. Her autobiography, A Song to Sing-O!, with foreword by Sir Malcolm Sargent, was published by Michael Joseph in 1955.
She died in London at the age of 69.
- "M. Vigliani's Concert", The Times, 20 March 1918, p. 9
- "Mozart at The 'Old Vic'," The Times, 17 January 1920, p. 8. The anonymous reviewer wrote that Lawson was one of three singers who "made us all feel the truth that there is nothing in the world quite so beautiful as Mozart's airs for the soprano voice".
- Lawson at the Memories of the D'Oyly Carte website
- Lawson at the WhoWasWho website
- Ayre, p. 201
- Description of A Song to Sing-O!
- Lawson, Winifred, A Song to Sing-O! (1955) Michael Joseph
- Ayre, Leslie (1972). The Gilbert & Sullivan Companion. London: W.H. Allen & Co Ltd. Introduction by Martyn Green.
- Lawson on the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company website
- Lawson in the 1928 'The Yeomen of the Guard'
- Photos of Lawson at the G&S Archive
- Photos of Lawson at the Memories of the D'Oyly Carte website
- Drawing of Lawson as Patience
- Information about Lawson's Princess Ida recording with a photo of a recording session