Lady Viola Tait, an unsung Life Governor but a soprano in professional life

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Lady Viola Tait, an unsung Life Governor but a soprano in professional life

April 27, 2019

Lady Viola Tait AC is one of the Association’s unsung Life Governors. A soprano, champion of new and emerging talent, and a theatre historian, she became a Life Governor of the Old Colonists in 1952.

Lady Tait is one of many Life Governors of the Old Colonists Association, the majority of who are well-known figures through the years including historian Geoffrey Blainey, and businessmen Sir Arvi Parbo and Brian Blythe.

Little is known about her relationship with the Association. However, one can speculate that she was drawn to it because of her role – and husband Sir Frank – in the establishment of theatre and the performing arts in Australia.

She arrived in Australia in 1939 after being invited to join the Australian Gilbert and Sullivan Opera Company as a principal for a year-long tour of Australia and New Zealand.

Three years later, after a matinee, Viola donned a pearl white satin gown with a draped neckline, a diamond brooch and a coronet covered in filmy tulle and orange blossom and went off to Toorak to marry the widowed managing director of the JC Williamson theatre company, Frank Tait.

Lady Tait’s zest for life was an inspiration. As an adjudicator for The Mobil Quest in 1950, Viola was instrumental in launching Joan Sutherland’s career.

Another of her loves was writing and researching theatre history. She wrote several books including, ‘A Family of Brothers: The Taits and JC Williamson’, and ‘Dames, Principal Boys and All That: A History of Pantomime in Australia’. She was a friend of many artists over decades, from Yehudi Menuhin to Barry Humphries.

When Viola’s death was announced, the illuminated sign outside the Theatre read, “Farewell Lady Tait, Star”.

The Tait Memorial Trust continues to support Australian performing artists in the UK, the National Library of Australia holds Lady Tait’s remarkable archives and the Performing Arts Museum was the recipient of a collection of 300 Victorian and Edwardian era costume designs from the JC Williamson collection.

Photo:  From the Viola Tait collection. NLA.
[Viola Wilson in character as Elsie in Gilbert and Sullivan’s The yeoman of the guard, 1940?] [picture] / S.J. Hood

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