Obituary for Harry Jay (Jake) Gardner
Harry Jay (Jake) Gardner
November 15, 1947 – November 2, 2021
Harry Jay Gardner, known by all as “Jake,” age 73, died unexpectedly at home on November 2, 2021 at 6:15pm from a heart attack after a 6-month private battle with brain cancer. Jake was born in Oneonta, NY on November 15, 1947. After growing up in Earlville and Johnson City, NY, Jake discovered his passion and talent for singing in Binghamton, NY with The Tri-Cities Opera (TCO), studying with long-time mentors, Peyton Hibbitt and Carmen Savoca.
Boasting a 50-year career of performances with major opera companies and orchestras worldwide, bass-baritone Jake Gardner often referred to himself as a journeyman and became one of the opera world’s most sought-after singing actors. His operatic repertoire was extensive and included major works by Verdi, Puccini, Tchaikovsky, Shostakovich, Weber, Donizetti, Rossini, Mozart, Massenet and Wagner as well a host of operatic world premiere pieces. He gained national attention with his performance of Giorgio Germont in Verdi’s La Traviata with Virginia Opera in 1975 and sang for a decade as principal baritone with Oper der Stadt Köln in the 1980s under the baton of James Conlon. His long and distinguished career has included performances with such notable companies as Wiener Volksopera, Dresden’s Semper Oper, Glyndebourne Festival, De Nederlandse Opera, Edinburgh Festival as well as Lyric Opera of Chicago, San Francisco Opera, Los Angeles Opera, Houston Grand Opera, Washington National Opera, New York City Opera, Florida Grand Opera and a host of excellent American regional companies. Career highlights include a world tour and film of Peter Brook’s Le Tragédie de Carmen; a landmark production of Mozart’s Così fan Tutte with Trevor Nunn and Simon Rattle at the Glyndebourne Festival, and the world premier of William Bolcom’s A Wedding directed by Robert Altman commemorating Lyric Opera of Chicago’s 50th Anniversary season.
Equally at home in the operetta and musical theater traditions, Mr. Gardner appeared in productions of Annie Get Your Gun (Buffalo Bill) and The Music Man (Mayor Shin) with the Glimmerglass Festival, Merry Widow (Baron Zeta) with Los Angeles Opera, A Little Night Music (Frederic) with Hawai’i Opera Theater, Die Fledermaus (Frank) and HMS Pinafore (Sir Joseph Porter) as well as a critically-acclaimed portrayal of Judge Turpin (Sweeney Todd), all with Virginia Opera. He returned to the role of Judge Turpin in recent seasons with Houston Grand Opera, Mill City Summer Opera as well as Eugene Opera where he also made a triumphant debut in the role of Prince Gremin in Eugene Onegin.
The last years of his career were spent singing opera’s greatest buffo roles and teaching and mentoring young singers across the country with his wife, soprano Jill Gardner, with whom he co-founded A Singing Actor’s Studio in 2004. His love of singing was only matched by his passion for golf, fishing and cooking for those he loved. He is preceded in death by his father, Clifford Ivan Gardner, of Garrettsville, NY; his mother, Gladys Stanhouse Gardner, of Johnson City, NY; and his sister, Natalie Bollerud (Ken), of Saratoga Springs, NY. He is survived by the love of his life, his wife of 19 years, Jill Bowen Gardner, of Kernersville, NC; his son, Quinton Ross Gardner (Angela), of Portland, OR; his grand-daughter, Llewella Viola Kathleen Gardner, of Portland, OR; his brother, Gary Gardner (Sandie), of Carbondale, CO; his sister, Nadeen Gardner Callan (Micheál) of Greenville, SC and many beloved nieces, nephews and cousins as well as two devoted fur babies, Bear and Frida.
A Musical Memorial Service to celebrate the life and legacy of Jake Gardner will be planned for the Spring/Summer 2022. Memorial contributions may be given to any of these American regional opera companies with whom Jake and his wife, Jill had rewarding artistic and personal relationships: Hawai’i Opera Theater, Glimmerglass Festival, Virginia Opera, Arizona Opera, Piedmont Opera, Eugene Opera and Maryland Lyric Opera. Contributions may also be given to First United Methodist Church of Martinsville, VA whose congregation lovingly supported Jake and Jill through his illness. Jake will always be remembered and loved for his talent, his warmth, his humor, his modesty and his kindness. He was a mensch and a prince among men. He truly will never be forgotten. Go, sing now with the angels, dear Jake, and be at peace.