Jill Gomez, Countess of Northesk was born in Guyana to a Hispano-Trinidadian father and British mother and was raised in Trinidad and Tobago. After studying briefly at St Joseph’s Convent (Port of Spain) in Trinidad and dominating at the islands’ biennial Music Festival, she moved to England at 13, where she studied at London’s Royal Academy of Music and Guildhall School of Music and Drama. She has made her career primarily in the United Kingdom.
She made her stage debut as Adina in Donizetti’s L’elisir d’amore with the Glyndebourne Touring Opera in 1968. She then created the role of Flora in The Knot Garden at the Royal Opera, London in 1970 and that of the Countess in Thea Musgrave’s The Voice of Ariadne at the Aldeburgh Festival in 1973. She also appeared in productions by the English National Opera (Governess), Scottish Opera (Elisabeth, Pamina, Anne Truelove, Leïla), Oper Frankfurt (Cleopatra), Kent Opera (Tatyana, Violetta, Aminta, Donna Anna), Glyndebourne (Mélisande, La Calisto), Grand Théâtre de Bordeaux (Fiordiligi), Wexford (Thaïs and Rosaura) and Teresa at the Berlioz Festival in Lyon.
She worked closely with Jonathan Miller in La traviata for Kent Opera (Edinburgh Festival and UK tour), and Eugene Onegin and The Turn of the Screw (with ENO). She also played the Governess with the English Opera Group with the composer, Benjamin Britten, present.
Gomez was outspoken about the “international opera circus” and had no ambition to sing at the largest houses, preferring smaller venues such as Zürich where there is sufficient rehearsal time. She appeared in Jean-Pierre Ponnelle’s production of Lucio Silla there, conducted by Nikolaus Harnoncourt. She also sang Arne cantatas with Jaap Schröder Concerto Amsterdam. She took part in Mahler’s Symphony No. 2 with the Israel Philharmonic under Solti. As well as recording of Ravel, with Boulez she performed the Webern Opp. 13 and 14 song cycles.
In 1995, Gomez created the lead role of the Duchess of Argyll in Powder Her Face. Her recording of the latter role was nominated for a Grammy Award in 2000, and in Allmusic Erik Eriksson wrote: “Gomez’s portrayal is a tour de force, alternately opulent and unhinged. She achieves the difficult task of making a figure of ridicule into a person who evokes sympathy from the listener.” Alongside The Knot Garden and The Voice of Ariadne, she was also in the premieres of Miss Julie (William Alwyn, 1979) and Maddalena (Prokofiev, radio, 1980).
Her TV debut was in the series Music Now produced by John Drummond in 1968-69, and other TV and film credits include the French film Une Femme française, and television programmes A Ladies Knight! (1987), Rattle on Britten (1985) and a BBC programme Opera in Rehearsal: The Marriage of Figaro Act 2 with Anthony Besch (1973).
In an interview with caribbeanbeat.com, Jill shared “When people see my passport, they give me very odd looks because it says Guyana – New Amsterdam – British. I was virtually born in the bush, on a sugar estate in what was then called British Guiana, where my father was working.