Born: September 21, 1920
Died: January 5, 2012
Funeral: Christ the King Anglican Church, Toronto, January 11, 2012
MARJORIE Probyn-Lee had an inner strength that enabled her to do remarkable things.
Boasting an angelic singing voice, Marjorie performed in dozens of operas and did solo broadcasts for BBC radio and television in London in the 1950s.
Later in life after the birth of her two children, she migrated to Australia, eventually settling in the Lake Macquarie suburb of Toronto, where she used her overseas experience and flair to educate a generation of vocal students at the Newcastle Conservatorium of Music.
Sadly, Marjorie died on January 5. She was 91.
Marjorie was born in Crewe, Cheshire, England, on September 21, 1920, the daughter of Henrietta and Albert Shires and the younger sister of Gerald and Elgar.
She attended St Michael’s Church of England School at Crewe Green and sang in the church choir. At the age of 20, she embarked on three years of study at the Royal College of Music in Manchester.
Throughout World War II she worked as a full-time ambulance driver in Crewe.
In December 1945, Marjorie joined the chorus in the Sadler’s Wells Opera Company in London and became their principal soprano in 1950.
Over the next two years she performed in 15 different operas, including favourites La Boheme, The Marriage of Figaro and La Traviata. She sang many light operas and did solo broadcasts for BBC radio and television.
Marjorie was a soloist in the ‘‘Prom Concerts’’ at the Royal Albert Hall, London, and during these years performed with Kathleen Ferrier in the Messiah and with the young conductor, Charles Mackerras.
She became good friends with well-known sopranos Elsie Morrison, June Bronhill and Rita Hunter, with Rita once telling Marjorie’s daughter, Evelyn, ‘‘You know, your mother was one of the best Violettas that I have ever seen.’’
Marjorie is also listed in Kobbe’s Book of Opera for her ‘‘outstanding performance’’ in Schwanda the Bagpiper.
Her talent was well summed up by a newspaper critic in 1947 following her performance as Gilda in the opera Rigoletto.
The journalist wrote: ‘‘She was so self-assured in her acting and sang with such fine fervour and expressive freedom that one wondered why the artistic directors in another place should scour the continent (and even America) when we have such an excellent Gilda in our midst.”
In 1949, Marjorie met and fell in love with John Probyn-Lee, an Australian baritone who had joined Sadler’s Wells.
They were married in Crewe Green Church in 1951.
Marjorie and John had two daughters, Linda and Evelyn, and in February 1959 they migrated to Australia.
The family settled in Toronto and John, and later Marjorie, became employed at the Newcastle Conservatorium of Music where they taught a new generation of vocal students.
They played a significant part in the cultural life of Newcastle in the 1960s and 1970s by producing, directing and performing in operas.
Marjorie began attending the Christ the King Anglican Church, Toronto, where she became superintendent of the Sunday school and played piano for up to 90 children.
In the late 1980s John suffered a severe stroke. Marjorie taught him to speak again and became heavily involved with the Toronto Stroke Recovery Club.
John died in 1990 and a little over a year later Marjorie suffered another great loss when her daughter Evelyn, also a well known soprano, died of cancer.
Marjorie became involved in the formation of a new choir at her church.
Over the years her daughter, Linda, asked several times how she coped with leaving her family to travel to Australia, knowing that she might never see them again.
Marjorie said she loved her John so very much that she would have followed him to the ends of the earth.
Marjorie’s strong faith in God and love of her family, the church and the parish family helped her throughout her life.
Marjorie is survived by her daughter Linda, her sons-in-law Rick and Bruce, her grandchildren Tracey, Adam, Amelia and Eloise and her great-grandchildren Abbie, Maxwell, Callan and Ella.