Winifred Lawson as Princess Ida in Princess Ida

Winifred Lawson (1922-28, 1929-31, 1932)

[Born Camberwell, London 15 Nov 1892, died London 30 Nov 1961]

Winifred Lawson was a successful concert and festival artist who made her first appearance on the London Stage as the Countess Almaviva in The Marriage of Figaro at the Old Vic in January 1920. Over the next two years she sang often at the Old Vic as the Countess, as well as in The Magic Flute (as one of the three genii), Faust (as Marguerite), and Prince Ferelon (as the Princess).

She made her D'Oyly Carte Opera Company debut at the Princes Theatre, London, on January 23, 1922, as guest artist in the title role in Princess Ida. Rupert D'Oyly Carte soon asked her to join the Repertory Company as principal soprano, replacing Helen Gilliland who was leaving after the London season to pursue a career in musical comedy. When the Repertory Company had a brief holiday in April, Miss Lawson trekked to Keighley in the north country where she joined the "New" Company for a week, appearing as Phyllis in Iolanthe, Elsie Maynard in The Yeomen of the Guard, and Casilda in The Gondoliers. Upon rejoining the Repertory Company in Manchester, she assumed the roles of Elsie, Casilda, and Patience in Patience, in addition to Princess Ida. Phyllis went to Elsie Griffin at that point.

In July 1922 Miss Lawson added Phyllis to her regular assignments, and the next year picked up a share of Yum-Yum in The Mikado:a part she would share with Elsie Griffin until July 1926. From July 1923 until December 1926 she played Patience, Phyllis, Ida, Elsie, and Casilda (occasionally filling in as Gianetta in The Gondoliers).

In December 1926 Elsie Griffin left the cast to join her husband with the "New" Company. Irene Hill joined the Repertory Company as the second principal soprano and the roles were shuffled a bit. Miss Lawson took over Griffin's parts of Josephine in H.M.S. Pinafore, and Gianetta, while sharing Yum-Yum again:this time with Miss Hill, who also took Casilda.

During the 1927-28 season Winifred Lawson appeared as Josephine, Mabel in The Pirates of Penzance(shared with Irene Hill), Patience (shared with Miss Hill and, later, Marjorie Eyre), Phyllis (with Misses Hill and Eyre), Ida, Elsie, and Gianetta.

In September 1928, six weeks into the new season (in which she played Patience, Phyllis, and Gianetta), Miss Lawson left the Company rather than go on an eight-month tour of Canada and the United States. During her hiatus from Gilbert & Sullivan and the D'Oyly Carte she toured Britain as Lili in Lilac Time with fellow Savoyards Henry Millidge and Gertrude Wolfle.

When the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company returned from North America in May 1929, Miss Lawson happily rejoined them picking up where she left off as Patience, Phyllis, and Gianetta. During the 1929-30 season, Princess Ida and The Yeomen of the Guard were restored to the repertoire, and she reclaimed the Princess and Elsie. Miss Lawson would also take on a new role as Aline in The Sorcerer, which was revived for the first time in seven years. During the 1930-31 season she would add yet another part to her repertoire, appearing for the first time as Rose Maybud in Ruddigore, though she shared that role (as well as Phyllis in Iolanthe) that season with Rita Mackay.

Miss Lawson would leave the Company again in June 1931 to care for her ailing mother. She returned in February 1932, appearing as Patience, Phyllis, Ida, Yum-Yum, and (once more) Casilda, until June of that year when she left again for the last time.

In 1933 (after the death of her mother) Winifred Lawson returned to the stage, appearing for two seasons with the Sadler's Wells Company in Pagliacci, Faust, The Marriage of Figaro, Cosi fan tutte, Don Giovanni, The Magic Flute, and La Boheme. In 1935 she accepted an invitation from the Tait & Williamson organization and toured Australia and New Zealand in many of her G&S soprano roles.

Upon her return to England she played the Countess again in The Marriage of Figaro at the Open Air Theatre in 1938. It was her last appearance on the London Stage. During World War II she sang in many concerts and toured in the Middle East for E.N.S.A. After the war she participated in the "Life of Gilbert and Sullivan" broadcasts on the BBC, in which she sang various selections from the operas.

During her tenure 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.

She was elected Vice-President of the Gilbert & Sullivan Society in 1944, and often attended Society meetings and events. Her autobiography, "A Song to Sing-O!," with foreword by Sir Malcolm Sargent, was published by Michael Joseph in 1955.

Page modified February 17, 2014 © 2001 David Stone