Gillian Knight as Ruth in The Pirates of Penzance

Gillian Knight (1959-65)

[Born Redditch, Worcester 1 Nov 1934]

Gillian Knight spent five years at the Royal Academy of Music studying and appearing in opera. While still at the Academy she also appeared in concerts, oratorio, and on television with the Linden Singers. She joined the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company in August 1959, succeeding Ann Drummond-Grant as principal contralto upon the latter's death in September of that year.

During her less than six years with the D'Oyly Carte she became a popular favorite. She appeared in all the leading contralto roles in the repertoire during her tenure:Little Buttercup in H.M.S. Pinafore, Ruth in The Pirates of Penzance, the Lady Jane in Patience, the Queen of the Fairies in Iolanthe, Lady Blanche in Princess Ida, Katisha in The Mikado, Dame Hannah in Ruddigore, Dame Carruthers in The Yeomen of the Guard, and the Duchess of Plaza-Toro in The Gondoliers. She also recorded Little Buttercup (1960), Lady Jane (1961), the Queen of the Fairies (1960), Dame Hannah (1962), Dame Carruthers (1964), and the Duchess (1961) while with the Company. Miss Knight married D'Oyly Carte master carpenter Trevor Morrison in 1960, and left the Company in April 1965, shortly before the birth of their daughter.

Although she never rejoined the original D'Oyly Carte, she frequently returned to Gilbert & Sullivan. She was Kate in a 1966 BBC radio broadcast of The Pirates of Penzance, and was the voice of Dame Hannah in the 1967 Halas & Batchelor cartoon version of Ruddigore. She went on to appear as Lady Jane with Sadler's Wells Opera in their 1969-70 production of Patience.

In 1970 she made her Covent Garden debut with the title role in Bizet's Carmen:a role that brought her international acclaim and several performances opposite Placido Domingo. Other Royal Opera engagements have been in Rigoletto, Il Trovatore, Otello, Falstaff, Die Meistersinger, Semele, The Fiery Angel, Salome, and Wagner's "Ring" cycle. In her grand opera career she has sung at Paris Opera, at the Tanglewood Festival, in Pittsburgh, in Frankfurt, in Basel (world premiere of Faust by Luca Lombardi), and with Scottish Opera, Opera North, and the New Israeli Opera.

But she was always in demand to return to Gilbert & Sullivan. In 1982 she was Ruth in the Brent Walker television production of The Pirates of Penzance, and in 1988 played Dame Carruthers and the Queen of the Fairies in New D'Oyly Carte Opera productions of The Yeomen of the Guard and Iolanthe. In 1989 Miss Knight sang seven lead contralto roles in a BBC radio series of the operas--Lady Sangazure in The Sorcerer, Buttercup, Jane, Fairy Queen, Katisha, Lady Sophy in Utopia Limited, and the Baroness von Krakenfeldt in The Grand Duke. In 1993 she was Ruth in the Welsh National Opera recording of The Pirates of Penzance, in 1997 she was a soloist in a BBC 2 G&S concert broadcast from Cheltenham, and more recently she has toured in several Gilbert & Sullivan productions with the Carl Rosa Opera Company. Miss Knight may be seen and heard as Katisha on the Carl Rosa 2001 video and CD recordings of The Mikado, and also heard as a soloist on the Symposium CD recording of Sullivan's The Martyr of Antioch from the 2000 Buxton G&S Festival. She returned to Gilbert & Sullivan yet again in 2004 with Lyric Opera of Chicago as Ruth in The Pirates of Penzance.

Page modified July 27, 2011 © 2001-02 David Stone