by Michael Burgess

There have been many fascinating personalities among the members of the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company, but Evelyn Gardiner, who played the heavy contralto roles in the 1930's, was surely one of the most remarkable. A vivacious redhead, born in London of Welsh-lrish descent, she was educated privately in London and Paris, and was introduced to Rupert D'Oyly Carte while selling Remembrance Day poppies at a London theatre. She asked him for an audition, was accepted for the chorus, and made her debut during the London season on Boxing Day 1921.

Three months later she began understudying Bertha Lewis. In January 1925 she left the Company to have further training for her voice and to go into straight plays, pantomime, and variety, and played in several silent films. In the theatre, she toured in "S.O.S.", playing the part originally created by Gracie Fields. She then joined the J. C Williamson Company in Australia as principal contralto, and made her first appearance in Melbourne in July 1931 as Lady Jane in "Patience" (her favourite part).

For several years she toured with the Company, visiting South Africa and New Zealand - where she experienced an earthquake - as well as Australia. During this time she became interested in flying, and was the first actress in the country, and the second in the Empire, to gain an 'A' licence air pilot's certificate. She was planning a flight from Australia to England in 1936, but cancelled it when she was asked to rejoin the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company for an American tour.

At this time Evelyn Gardiner claimed to be 'the only living Savoyard to have played the operas in five continents", and to have taken the operas more than 100,000 miles, including twice round the world.

Until she left the Company on the outbreak of war, Evelyn proved herself well able to wear the mantle of her distinguished predecessors, and received excellent reviews from the press wherever she went. Of her performance as Katisha the Manchester Guardian wrote '"A capital voice, both smooth and telling. She acts with confidence." Her Duchess was "full and formidable", her Fairy Queen "dignified and highly commanding... revealing a good sense of fun". It is evident from press cuttings that she was extremely popular, both on and offstage, and clearly delighted in giving interviews.

She was apparently an accomplished horsewoman, enjoyed trout-fishing and big-game hunting (including crocodiles!), painted in pastels, and was a very good cook.

From 1949 to 1952 the Tait and Williamson Opera Company presented a season of Gilbert and Sullivan in Australia, and once again Evelyn was a member of the company. She was married to Lieut.-Col. R. L. York, D.S.O., and she received the M.B.E. for her work in Australia.

She died suddenly in Honolulu in April 1970 at the age of seventy-six, having led a full and interesting life.

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