All Savoy-lovers who saw Dorothy Gill playing the principal contralto roles will remember what a fine singer and actress she was. She brought to her parts the gifts of a rich voice, superb diction, stately presence and a keen sense of humour.
Her career as a singer has been long. She entertained the troops in France during the First World War, and then in the early 1920s she sang in Nigel Playfair's celebrated production of "The Beggar's Opera". She joined the D'Oyly Carte No 2 Company (often referred to as "the small company") in January 1926 as principal contralto.
When that company was disbanded in June 1927 Miss Gill went to Australia and New Zealand where she played the same roles. She then rejoined the D'Oyly Carte Company in 1931 after the tragic death of Bertha Lewis. It cannot have been easy to follow Bertha, but Dorothy succeeded triumphantly, establishing herself as an artist in the true tradition, with a fine voice, impeccable diction, stage presence and sense of character.
In 1934 the D'Oyly Carte Company paid its first modern visit to New York. Dorothy Gill made a tremendous impression upon New York audiences, so much so that a book of tributes to the company, "Nothing But Toffee", was dedicated to her. There was, understandably, great regret in 1936 when left and did not go with the company on its second visit to New York. A petition was organised as evidence of her popularity in America.
To meet Dorothy Gill was to meet a Personality. After a few minutes' conversation, one could sense her innate kindness and friendliness; one can see how she retained her love of the theatre and one could enjoy her keen wit. A few years ago she and I, and another friend, went to Oxford to see two operas. How we laughed over the story of the front stall enthusiast who wrongly accused her, all those years ago, of misquoting Gilbert's words.
Afterwards she went back stage. Happy old haunts, for Dorothy Gill was always popular with Oxford audiences. She met her then successor, Gillian Knight, and found, so gratefully, how her name is still treasured by the company as a D'Oyly Carte "Old Favourite". She died in 1969.
G & S Recordings
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