Thursday, May 17, 2018

Cartesian couples: No 1 the prima donna and the tenor



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I  have been frolicking around for the last day or so amongst the early stars of the D’Oyly Carte touring companies. Mr Clowes alerted me to the fact that I really didn’t know a whole lot about these folk, who, after all, were playing leading roles in major cities for, sometimes, hugely extended periods: as much the backbone of the worldwide explosion of the popularity of the works of Gilbert and Sullivan as were the Opera Comique team.

Well, I daresay if I should live through the winter, I’ll get to them all, in time. But today I started in Torquay. Why? Because that’s where the Carte tour was playing on 1881 census night. And I lighted on Mr John W Beckwith and Mr George W Morgan, conductor Patrick Halton (of blackmailing memory), and the performers Mr George B Browne (‘born America, 28’), and Mr and Mrs King … all in the same hotel. Well, that was enough to start with. I would ‘do’ the very newlywed Kings, and … well, Mr Browne married (yes, actually married) a company member the following year, so two pairs …

Two pairs that could not be more different. One clear, correct, honest, monogamous, fruitful … the other, oh! What a tangled tale of lies, fakes, intrigues and weird fortunes.

So, of course, we’ll start with the straightforward pair. Would you believe it – the tenor and the leading lady! ‘Ethel McAlpine’ has a very special place in Cartesian history. From the moment that she, a widow lady of 27, took to the stage as deliciously soprano Josephine in HMS Pinafore until her ‘retirement’, as a komische Alte, 27 years later (Lady Vernon in Haddon Hall, Barbara in The Belle of Cairo &c), she worked widely as a singer and actress in the British musical theatre, to largely splendid reviews. Her husband, ‘James Sydney’, was not as durable, but he too was a long-time member, as performer and company manager, in the Carte companies.


Once again, I’m going to refer you to the David Stone pages for the details of the pair’s careers, but we’ll just tidy up my ‘who was?’ department.

‘Ethel’ never made any secret of the fact that she was born Edith Jane Murray, 2 February 1853, in Rutland Street, London, daughter of William Murray (professor of music) and his wife, Eliza Ann née Sanderson. What she didn’t explain – why should she? – is why and how, in 1874, she married Captain (to be) James Robert Yule (b Inverleith 24 February 1845) of the East India Company, in Edinburgh. Mr Yule, ‘one of the Udn[e]y Yules’, had been employed, like so many of his family, by John Company since 1859, but he seems to have spent sufficient time in the mother country. Whether Edith went to India with him, I know not, but the marriage was not destined to last. James died in London, 22 March 1878, aged 37. And Mrs Yule went from being an army wife to being a stage performer (Asbestos, a pirate in Liverpool's Robinson Crusoe) and then a comic opera leading lady. And, pretty soon (2 April 1881) she married her tenor. They had a son Sidney Graham Murray in 1882, and a daughter Edith Margaret 4 April 1884 …

And here David steps in with his lengthy career details …

‘James Sydney’ was Sidney James King, son of Thomas Graham King (1814-1896), silk warehouseman, of Teddington, Mddx. I see in the 1851 census that he was 3 months old, so he was born circa 1850-1851. His career began before 1876, at which time he was advertising ‘having just returned from America … agent Mr D’Oyly Carte’. I see him appearing in Carte’s Happy Hampstead with Kate Santley in 1877. From there on he was muchly with Carte’s companies.

Sidney died at just 48, in 1898. A death certificate at 10 quid would tell us why. And Edith trouped on for another decade before settling up Blackpool way …

Son Sidney did a stint in the Carte chorus, and later switched to the management side. I haven’t looked for daughter Edith …
Edith-Ethel died in her son’s house at Lytham St Anne’s 6 January 1933, aged 79.


So, that’s the straightforward couple. As for the baritone and the contralto ..,. oyyyyyy! ... they can wait till tomorrow … I’m bracing myself …











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