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Obituary: Helen Landis

Helen Landis

The contralto Helen Landis died peacefully in the entertainers’ rest home Denville Hall on March 22, just two days after reaching her 92nd birthday, following a struggle with dementia.

Helen’s long and illustrious career began as a mezzo-soprano singing leading roles with the Carl Rosa Opera Company before appearing in the West End and beyond in operettas and musicals for three decades, ranging from Robert and Elizabeth (New Theatre, Bromley, 1968) to The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (Phoenix Theatre, 1980) and Bless The Bride (Sadler’s Wells Theatre, 1987).

In 1951, she was the first British singer to play Bloody Mary in the original Theatre Royal, Drury Lane production of South Pacific, which led to a long association with Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein in their West End and Australian runs of The King and I, Carousel and Flower Drum Song.

She toured Australia with a trio of Gilbert and Sullivan works with the JC Williamson Company in 1962 and South Africa in 1964 in Ivor Novello’s Lilac Time.

Helen was equally well known, and much loved, as one of the five D’Oyly Carte Opera stars who toured the UK, North America and Australia in the legendary Gilbert and Sullivan For All company for more than 20 years. With them, she recorded most of the ‘heavies’ – the scorned character roles that Gilbert was so fond of portraying as battleaxes.

Helen broke new ground by recording these roles on the then newly available video format, and went on to appear several times at the Hollywood Bowl and the Sydney Opera House with Gilbert and Sullivan For All.

For Worthing’s Connaught Theatre, she sang the Mother Abbess in The Sound of Music (1984) and Ernestine in Perchance to Dream and Lady Thiang in The King and I (both 1965).

Her final performance of distinction, before retiring to Denville Hall in 2007, was to record a concert performance of her beloved Ivor Novello’s operetta, The Dancing Years, for BBC Radio 2, having also starred as the singing teacher Madame Kurt in Gerry Tebbutt’s 1984 staging at the Wolsey Theatre, Ipswich, when The Stage praised the “impressive authority” of her performance.

Helen Landis was born in Bolton, Lancashire on March 20, 1923, and died, aged 92, on March 22.