Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Isabel Jay

Isabel Jay (1879-1927)

Brief details:
  • Born 17th October 1879 - Wandsworth, London (England).
  • Died 26th February 1927 - Monte Carlo.
  • 1902 Married African explorer Henry Cavendish (later divorced).
  • 1910 Married theatre manager Frank Curzon.
  • First winner of the Gilbert R. Betjemann medal for operatic singing.

Isabel Jay was born in Wandsworth, London, on October 17, 1879. She was the daughter of John Wimburn Jay, an Insurance Officer, and his wife Isabelle Clara (Wicks). Hailing from a musical family, her grandfather had been a musician and she had a great-aunt and uncle who were composers, Isabel started singing in public at the tender age of twelve. She was, from the start, an accomplished vocalist and in 1895 she was accepted into the Royal Academy of Music where she came to be the first winner of the Gilbert R. Betjemann medal for operatic singing.

On leaving the Academy in 1897 she signed a three-year contract with the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company performing Gilbert and Sullivan's comic operettas. Her professional debut was in a week-long trial at The Savoy in London singing the part of Elsie Maynard in 'The Yeoman of the Guard'. Her superb clear singing voice instantly won her a place as principal soprano in the touring 'B' company and in the following months she sang such classic parts as Phyllis in 'Iolanthe', Yum-Yum in 'The Mikado', Princess Lucilla Chloris in 'His Majesty', Aline in 'The Sorcerer', and Mabel in 'The Pirates of Penzance'.

Following the disbandment of the 'B' company, Isabel returned to join the main company at The Savoy in August 1898. Initially as understudy to but before long being given the first lesser role of her own, as The Plaintiff in 'Trial by Jury' (for which she received a favorable review in The Sunday Times).

Her big break came unexpectedly a little over a year later. When former lead Ruth Vincent was given a comparatively minor part in the new production of 'The Rose of Persia' to make way for newly signed American soprano Ellen Beach Yaw to sing the lead Sultana Zubeydah she rebelled and left the company. Isabel at first took over Miss Vincents role of Blush-of-the-Morning, but then when Miss Yaw proved unequal to the title role which required performing a high-note cadenza night after night and was released from the part that left only Isabel to step into the breach. That she did with some aplomb. She was an enormous success and would remain the company's leading soprano until she left in order to marry the African explorer Henry Cavendish in April 1902.

Cavendish had been a wealthy man until he signed away control of his estates to spiritualist tricksters, and was at the time fighting a sensational court battle to win it back (see my separate article). The following year Isobel gave birth to a daughter, Cecilia Claribel (Cavendish) on June 11th, 1903. Her stage career was by no means over however, and after only an eighteen month absence from the stage she joined the company at Daly's taking over the soprano role in a presentation of Lionek Monckton's 'A Country Girl' in October 1903.

Still in her early twenties, Isabel was now in the full bloom of her womanliness and standing on the very pinnacle of her stage career. She was not the most accomplished actress of her era, but she was a beautiful young woman with a fresh talent and bright clear voice that made her much loved by her audiences.
She was now constantly in demand and starred in one hit West End production after another. On 5th January, 1905 she was invited to sing before King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra at Chatsworth, where the Queen presented her with a brooch. 

Later that year she was signed up by Frank Curzon (former actor and now leading theatre manager) who would become a central figure in her life from that time forward. Her first role was Curzon was to star in the long-running hit production of 'The White Chrysanthemum' that opened at The Criterion in August 1905.

Both Frank and Isabel had already achieved numerous notable successes, but their partnership was destined to bring them many more. 

Unfortunately for Isabel, whilst her professional career was a towering success her marriage was not, and by the end of the following year she had broken from her husband.

For the next four years she starred regularly in Curzon's West End productions and he became an increasingly important part of her life on and off stage culminating in their marriage on July 28, 1910. The following year, after the last performance of the long-running 'The Balkan Princess' which closed on April 29, 1911, Isabel announced her retirement from the stage.

On September 20th, 1915, gave birth to her second daughter, Pamela Stephanie. Unfortunately, Isabel would not survive to see her second child achieve maturity. As the years went by her health began to deteriorate, and she passed away, aged only 47, in Monte Carlo on February 26th, 1927, having been on a cruise with her husband.

An illustrious career had brought her stardom in the comic operetta's of Gilbert & Sullivan, in modern opera, and in musical plays. In recognition of her talents, the Royal Academy of Music two years later instituted the Isabel Jay Memorial Prize.

"Reproduced courtesy of Don Gillan (Copyright),"

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