Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Eighteenth century show tunes ....

Any collection of vocal music from the turn of the 18th century is going to include numbers from the most popular musical plays of the time, and my big volume is no exception. Storace, Shield, Linley are names that appear over and over again, and of their most durable works there is very little new to say. I don’t think I could rate the biggest favourites amongst the operas of the time from one to ten, but I think I would be safe in saying that the granddaddy of them all must be R B Sheridan’s The Duenna, or the Double Elopement, with songs by Thomas Linley, produced at the Theatre Royal, Covent Garden, 21 November 1775. The press reported that the piece pulled 6,000 guineas in its first season, giving the theatre its most successful term in history. And it went on from there. I have actually seen a version of this delightful piece on the London stage (unfortunately, fiddled with and remusicked) during my lifetime, so it has indeed proven durable.

 I am not going to attempt to summarise Sheridan’s plot. It is dizzying farrago of mistaken identity, strayed letters, plots, disguises and all the other devices that can keep young lovers apart for two hours. We have two pairs of juveniles (Clara and Ferdinand, Louisa and Antonio), a not really stern father (Jerome), an ugly but warm-hearted and marriageable Portuguese Jew (Isaac), an enabler (Carlos) and the unstarchy duenna of the title, all of whom are intricately involved in the plot, and all of whom get more or less music to sing.

 Personally, I have a preference for the character songs allotted to the elder characters, but it was the ballads and bravuras of the young folk which found their way on to a million British and colonial pianos and into a grand popularity – up to the top of the hit parades of the era.

 My book includes no less than four numbers from the sizeable score of The Duenna. The showy ‘Adieu, thou dreary pile’ a favourite song sung by Miss Stephens’, in the role of Clara, created by Mrs Cargill; ‘Ah! Sure a Pair’ ‘a favourite song sung by Mr Incledon’ as Carlos and his other main song ‘Had I a Heart for Falsehood Fram’d’ (the original Carlos was, curiously, the overtly Jewish ‘Michael Leoni’), plus ‘How oft Louisa hast thou said’, ‘a favourite song sung by Mr Broadhurst at the Theatre Royal, Covent Garden’ in the role of Antonio, originated by Dubellamy.

 These, we thus see, are much later examples than the original publications, which hit the music shelves within weeks of the show’s production, as rivals hurried to plagiarise, ‘parody’ and imitate the triumphant piece. I see the publisher Wilkie advertising ‘the songs, duets trios in The Duenna’ by new year’s day 1776 and The Convivial Magazine featured the piece in its pictorial pages alongside ‘a beautiful etching of the Tarring and Feathering of Three American Ladies’.

Salisbury Theatre plagiarises the show months after its premiere
We have a fair idea of the dating of this volume by now, thanks to Princess Charlotte et al, but Incledon and Miss Stephens (in what had become the principal roles, often with added songs) are no help. Incledon was already playing Carlos in the 1790s, Miss Stephens had succeeded Mrs Billington as Clara by the 1810s, and both played those parts long and often. I see them actually featured together in the show in 1813, with special mention for her bravura ‘Adieu thou dreary pile’ and for his ‘Had I a Heart’. Kitty Stephens was still singing Clara – to the Carlos of Eliza Vestris – in 1830. William Broadhurst, however, slims the timespan more than a little. I see him playing Antonio at Covent Garden in 1814, with Miss Stephens and Sinclair, and again in – yes! 1822 – in a curiously cast edition which featured the juvenile Clara Fisher as … Isaac the Jew!

 So it seems Mr Shade merely attached a famous and/or topical name to his publication of each piece of music, rather than those of a current cast: Incledon was well past his best when Broadhurst appeared on the scene. And Miss Stephens: well, ‘as sung by Miss Stephens’ appears on so many Shade music sheets … why not? I’m sure she sang all of the music credited at some stage, and there was no better reference than her name for a budding boudoir young lady with soprano ambitions and two spare shillings to spend.

And all those amateur almost-tenors who strove to be Incledon …

Friday, March 2, 2018

The Debut of Mr Dynamite


Last night was the night that really wasn’t supposed to happen. Dynamite Paul (ka ‘Mister B’) stepped on to a real racetrack at a real race meeting …

I gave up racing some seasons ago and, for two years, my lovely Elena’s young son stood, unqualified, in a Gerolsteinian paddock eating grass. Retired before even starting. I’ve told the story of how a chance word resulted, last spring, in his ending up at Murray Edmonds’s barn to be tried as a trotter. But he didn’t want to be a trotter. Wendy and Chris McDowell had trained him as a pacer. Well, it seemed silly to waste all Murray’s preparation, so we decided to give him a go as a pacer, after all.

Baby B
Things have gone quickly since then! A learner’s heat, a qualifying trial (qualified), a maiden heat (easily won), an open heat … and whammee! Straight to the races.

I wasn’t going to go. I don’t much like Addington raceway at night. And Mister B had been placed in the very last race, at 10pm, at which hour I am normally in my bed, asleep. And, then, so much could go wrong! It was our boy’s first glimpse of a nighttime racetrack, first sight of the floodlights, first standing start from in the field (drawn 6) … but if all those things did go right. I had a big afternoon nap, the drizzle stopped, and at 8pm Wendy, Jen and I loaded into Jen’s car and headed for Addington.

Addington wasn’t too bad. The horses from the first seven races had done their thing and gone home. So those ear-piercing crashes from the box-chains were minimal. We popped in to see Mister B and, blow me down, he wasn’t a shivering wreck at all, but calm as a cauliflower! Good oh!

But what was this? He was paying only 16-1 and had even been tipped on the telly! Oy oop! We had a modest $5 each way, just in case.

The time finally arrived and the horses came out on to the track. The lights didn’t seem to worry him at all, the unfamiliar surroundings either … and then the big test. The start. Well, it was a copybook start. No one played up, there was no hanging about, and my goodness he did it! When the tape dropped, he glid away like an old professional!

The pace was fair, if not super fast, and Mister B sat peacefully mid-field, on the outside (hurrah!), and I felt very happy. He was going to make it around without doing anything wrong! Who could ask for anything more …

Round the home turn, the odds-on favourite well in control, Mister B and my soft-boiled egg silks umpteen widths wide and running on delightfully. 

He finished an unhoped-for third. Beaten 1 ½ lengths. Yes, it was being announced … Dynamite Paul, by Rob Roy Mattgregor out of Elena de Gerolstein. I must tell Elena: her name once more on those same speakers that once told tales of her wicked rodeo-ish behavior, but also her only win.

Elena wins at Addington
Our $5 each way returned us $19 too!

Well, it looks as if Wendy will have a fun autumn and winter with ‘P G B, the horse’ while I am sunning myself on the Australian seashore. Let’s hope he continues as he has begun. And let’s hope HRNZ schedules enough standing start races, NOT over sprint distances, for him to run in. And not at 10pm!

So here’s thanks to all concerned in making Dynamite Paul a racehorse. Wendy and Chris for his early days, Murray and all who sail with him for getting him to the races and around in one piece, and a special thought for the late Bob McArdle, who sold me Elena all those years ago, and who gifted me her service to Rob Roy Mattgregor. Bob, if you’re listening, I seem to be back in harness racing, and it’s all your fault!

Bob, Elena (aged 1) and Kurt

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Too many Roses for Rosina


The little two-act musical piece entitled Rosina (its text fills but nine small-print double columned pages in my libretto, 46pp in the original, with all the cuts opened) was first produced at the Theatre Royal, Covent Garden on New Year’s eve 1782, as an afterpiece to a production of Henry II. It was a sticky-beak night at the Garden, for the part of Rosamund in the Shakespeare was played by Mary Robinson, the recently cast-off mistress of the very young Prince of Wales. Her notices were not likely to be good (‘the rantings of a strolling company’), and indeed the ‘gentlemen’ of the press rightfully neglected Henry II in favour of its afterpiece.

Rosina was a simple little piece, penned – book and lyrics – by a Mrs Frances Brooke (née Moore), with a story allegedly adapted from the Book of Ruth (‘Palemon and Lavinia’) telling of the orphaned daughter of an officer, raised by his servant, and toiling as a gleaner on the lands of the local squire, who wins his heart and hand, in spite of the machinations and money of his military brother. To this more than conventional tale, Mrs Brooke added, in conventional operetta fashion, a pair of soubrettes to lighten the sighing with some sprightly bickering and songs. The comic gleaning-maid, in fact, became the preferred role of many stars.

Mrs Martyr, the original Phoebe
Mrs Brooke has become fashionable in the present century. Academics have devoted regular articles to her and, in particularly, the novels that she penned. Someone has even called her America’s (!) first female novelist, because she spent a little part of her life in Canada whence her clergyman husband was seconded. She was pureblood English. Nobody, as far as I know, has dubbed her the first female to write a hit musical, which is surprising, because her ‘fashion’ these days is very largely her sex. Women’s studies, and all that.

The few bits on Mrs Brooke that I have read (I couldn’t face them all), however, seem to miss out dealing proportionately with the lady’s greatest success by far. Rosina outdid all her novels, and was performed all round Britain for a century, a standard piece in every stock company’s repertoire and played by just about every touring prima donna.

 Why? It simply caught on. After its first showing with Mr Bannister and his wife as the sweethearts, Mrs Kennedy (in trousers) and Mrs Martyr as the comedy couple, and Mr Brett as the baddie, it was praised: ‘The dialogue is easy and agreeable and the airs in general are not destitute of poetical merit … All Mr Shield’s music gave great satisfaction and we congratulate Mr Brookes (sic) upon the success of her piece’ (Town and Country Magazine). It was a thoroughly agreeable, digestible end to an evening’s theatre-going, and it went on to join The Beggar’s Opera, No Song, no Supper, The Quaker and their ilk in the class of ‘the most played musicals’ in the English-speaking world. In 1966 it was recorded by Decca with Robert Tear and Elizabeth Harwood.

William Shield ought to have a book written about him. Maybe he has. His list of successful operettas, musical comedies and light operas includes some of the most famed and durable of his time: Rosina, The Poor Soldier, The Castle of Andalusia, Lock and Key, The Farmer, The Woodman, and his songs some of the most memorable of the era: from the tenor ‘The Thorn’ to the great basso dramatic scena ‘The Wolf’.

William Shield

So, what got me on to Rosina, Mrs Brooke and Shield? My famous volume includes two pieces of sheet music, published by Mr Shade, ‘from Rosina’. One of them is ‘The Bud of a Rose’ (otherwise ‘Her mouth which a smile’) a little ballad sung by our hero at the dawn of admiration. 

The other is another Rose piece: ‘A Rose Tree full in bloom’. Sic. And this is very odd. Because that duet actually saw the light of stage in Shield’s next musical show, The Poor Soldier (Covent Garden 4 November 1873), featuring many of the same cast, and its lyric is not the work of Mrs Brooke, but of John O’Keeffe. It was exceedingly popular, so its seems unlikely (or does it?) that Mr Shade would make such a basic error. Was Mrs Kennedy (in trousers again) and Mrs Bannister’s duo interpolated into Rosina as a tenor solo at some stage?

 Mrs Brooke’s text and Shield’s music were ‘revised’ by John Oxenford and Joseph L Hatton in 1874, as Rosina continued its career through England and beyond, but The Poor Soldier also had many years of a more modest life… would it have been disembowelled to swell the more popular work?

I can’t find any evidence of such a twenty-first century mishmashing, so until any future discovery I lean towards a fault on the part of Mr Shade!