Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Dorothy Jane (Thea) Phillips (1892–1960)

by Jennifer Hill

This article was published:

Dorothy Jane (Thea) Phillips (1892-1960), soprano and teacher of singing, was born on Christmas Eve 1892 at Dorchester, Dorset, England, daughter of David Phillips, clothier and outfitter, and his wife Emma, née Chapple. Dorothy made her operatic début at Manchester before she was 20, studied singing with Emma Molajoli at Milan, Italy, and sang at Naples with Tullio Serafin. On 18 July 1916 at the register office, King's Norton, Birmingham, she married Robert Alfred Clement Pike, a 39-year-old divorcee and a lieutenant in the Army Ordnance Department.

After the birth of their three sons, Dorothy embarked on a professional singing career, leaving her husband, from whom she was to be divorced in 1935. Her early engagements included revues and seaside concerts, but she later worked in opera and oratorio. In 1930 she caught the attention of Sir Thomas Beecham and made her London début as Agatha in Der Freischütz to excellent reviews. Concert and opera engagements followed in London and the provinces, but the highlight of her career was her appearance before the royal family in May 1932 at Covent Garden, when she replaced Lotte Lehmann as Elisabeth in Tannhäuser.

'Thea Philips', as she was by then known professionally, arrived in Australia in 1934 to perform with Sir Benjamin Fuller's grand opera company in a six-month Melbourne-Sydney season. She sang both lyric and dramatic soprano roles in Il Trovatore, Rigoletto, Faust, Die Walküre, Lohengrin, Tannhäuser, La Bohème and Die Fledermaus. Although overshadowed by Florence Austral, she was well received. Further engagements extended her stay to more than three years. She performed in a 1935-36 season of studio broadcast operas, and toured for the Australian Broadcasting Commission and its New Zealand counterpart.

Philips made the first of nineteen appearances as soprano for the (Royal) Melbourne Philharmonic Society in September 1935. In the following year she was soloist in Verdi's Requiem with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra. She returned to Britain late in 1938 and sang Marguerite in Faust at the Royal Albert Hall, but was back in Australia before the outbreak of World War II. Her professional life for the next decade consisted mostly of appearances in oratorio and recitals, with some adjudication and teaching. She sang with leading Victorian choirs and appeared in Sydney for the A.B.C. At the Congregational manse, Kew, on 4 December 1941 she married Claude Mackay Wallis, a 53-year-old widower and an accountant.

An imposing, well groomed and attractive woman with dark hair and large brown eyes, Philips had a strong, 'theatrical' yet genuinely warm personality and abundant charm. In April 1944 she gave her first solo public recital in Melbourne; three others took place in 1945. She performed works by local composers, took part in two recitals (1941 and 1945) of songs by Edith Harrhy and founded the short-lived Thea Philips School of Opera in March 1947. Partiality to alcohol impeded her career. As her public performances tapered off she took on more private pupils. While in Sydney to play a non-singing role in The Merry Widow, she died of heart disease on 15 November 1960 in a Goulburn Street hotel and was cremated with Presbyterian forms. Her husband survived her, as did two of the sons of her first marriage.

Select Bibliography

  • P. Game, The Music Sellers (Melb, 1976)
  • A. Gyger, Opera for the Antipodes (Syd, 1990)
  • Australian Musical News, Apr, June, Oct 1944, Feb 1947, Mar 1949, June 1951
  • Music and Dance, Dec 1960
  • Herald (Melbourne), 23 Sept 1935
  • Sun News-Pictorial (Melbourne), 4 Apr 1942, 13 May 1943, 24 Apr 1944, 3 Feb 1948, 16 Nov 1960
  • Age (Melbourne), 16 Nov 1960
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 16 Nov 1960
  • private information.

Citation details

Jennifer Hill, 'Phillips, Dorothy Jane (Thea) (1892–1960)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2000, accessed online 17 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 15, (Melbourne University Press), 2000

View the front pages for Volume 15

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Nallis, Dorothy
  • Pike, Dorothy

24 December, 1892
Dorchester, Dorset, England


15 November, 1960 (aged 67)
Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

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