For thirty years, maybe nearly forty, the name of Richard Cummings decorated the programmes of the British and, briefly, American stages. And, for much of that time, it was accompanied by that of his wife, Theresa. Comic opera, pantomime, grand opera, operetta … their names popped up everywhere as performers, and Richard on several occasions tried his hand as a provincial manager, as well.
Except on those self-produced occasions, the couple rarely (usually in an emergency) appeared in leading roles, but they were clearly of that most desirable (to managers) breed – the ‘very useful company members’ who could and would play whatever they were asked and always with capable and well-liked results.
This breed, of course, is not really likely to attract biographers and, had they not entered into the service of Mr D’Oyly Carte, I imagine that even I wouldn’t have spent all of today on them. But their names have become old friends to me over the last 40 years, so when, yesterday, J Donald Smith sent me a photograph of Theresa … and another, unidentified, which I am fairly certain is Richard … I decided the time had come. And here is the result.
So first, who were they?
|I havent yet PROVED this is Richard but I'm fairly certain|
Richard Cumming (no ‘s’) was born at Ryde in the Isle of Wight, the fourth of four sons of James Cumming (1809-1865), innkeeper in Ventnor’s High Street, and his wife, Sarah née Bird. George William (1838), Walter James (1840), Harry (1844) and Richard (1846).
By 1861, they have moved to Fulham: father has become a builder, George has become an architect and wed and bred, and Richard is 14 years old. However, by 1871 it is just George, wife, children and mother. Richard is a 25 year-old schoolteacher down in Kent with – what! – a wife, Emily Anne née Walker. Yes, married 1867 … Cumming with no ‘s’… died Kensington 1872. Oh dear. Well, I guess that was the end of Richard’s first life. Pretty soon, he’d be on to the next bit, the theatrical bit.
|Richard's birthplace. Educated at a public ... house!|
|Theresa as a decidedly young and pretty Hebe|
Theresa Baetens was born in the Netherlands and she, unlike Richard, was of decidedly musical stock. Her father was the well-known viola player and composer Charles Nicholas François Baetens who, when Therese (b Hague, c 1849) was an infant, shifted his wife Maria and family to Lancashire and became for many years principal viola with the Halle orchestra. You can read all about Charles on the website http://harmonicorde.com/baetens.html. Theresa made her debut as a singer in 1869 at the Manchester Gentlemen’s Concerts (‘Voi che sapete’, Gumbert’s ‘Ye happy birds’).
By 1871 the family has shifted to Camberwell: Charles, born Leyden, Mary plus Theresa ‘vocalist 25’, Louisa, Charles and Francis … all from the Hague.
For, the following year Mr R Cummings (with the ‘s’) and Miss R Cummings were on the comic-opera road, with Mrs Liston’s La Fille de Madame Angot company, he playing Louchard and she very little until star Pattie Laverne was off and Therese was promoted to the star role of Clairette. Very useful person!
At Christmas they went off to play Demon King (‘uses his fine bass voice to advantage’) and ‘Nancy’ in Robinson Crusoe at Leicester, then returned to Mrs Liston as the Pirate Chief and Pedro in Giroflé-Giroflà for five months, and took part in a season of Geneviève de Brabant at the Park Theatre …
And here is the moment to post a warning. There are TWO Richard Cummingses around. Do not mistake the one with snooty academic pretensions for our one. Alas, I did so in my Soldene book, and I was wrong. The Park Theatre Richard is our one.
The engagements followed thick and fast: Vance’s Varieties, Leicester’s Temperance Hall, Richard South’s comic opera company, supporting Alice May, Amy Grundy, Ted Beverley et al in La Fille de Madame Angot, La Grande-Duchesse and La Belle Hélène, a season in town at the Royalty Theatre where Richard played the Burgomaster in Kate Santley’s production of La Marjolaine, while Theresa went to sing at Liverpool …
In 1878 the duo were cast in the first touring company of The Sorcerer. Theresa was Constance, Richard was the Notary and also played Counsel in Trial by Jury. When HMS Pinafore was added to the repertoire, Richard was Bobstay and Theresa was Hebe. While Theresa took time out to give birth to daughter Clara Adelaide (1879-1894), Richard Bobstayed on playing Pennyfather in After All until his wife returned, to complete what seems to have been, surprisingly, her last employment with the company.
Christmas brought Cinderella at the Liverpool Prince of Wales, with Richard as another Demon King, then another Cinderella at York, and then a tour with Mr Hughnott’s company in Der Fledermaus. Richard was Falke, Theresa was Ida, and the show not at all liked: ‘The union of a poverty-stricken and impure libretto with music more remarkable for inequality than ingenuity does not constitute a comic opera ... (the artists) strove but with little success to give the thing buoyancy enough to keep its head above water’. It didn’t, for long.
Richard continued to Manchester’s Theatre Royal to create the role of the Marquis de Brabazon in the new opera The King’s Dragoons, before they spent Christmas 1880 at Hull in Little Red Riding Hood. He was the Wolf, she was the Spirit of Good Humour, and the production featured the debut of one ‘Elsie Cameron’.
1881 saw them touring as Casimir and Zanetta in the successful Joseph Eldred production of The Princess of Trébizonde and supplying the vocal values (Sir Peregrine Peppertop, Eulalie Duchess of Perpignan) to the low comic acrobatics of the Milton Ray troupe in a perversion of Les Cent Vierges entitled Blighted Bachelors. They took time off to play Babes in the Wood at Liverpool before rejoining the Milton-Rays, visiting Liverpool briefly for more Angot and a Benefit Trial by Jury (Richard as the Usher, this time), before Richard launched himself, seemingly for the first time, into management, in partnership with tenor W H Woodfield, with a musical entitled Innocents Abroad. Having seemingly got a taste for management he then produced La Fille de Madame Angot and Blind Beggars, and Theresa brought out her Clairette to the Lange of Duglas Gordon for a few dates.
They joined Eldred again for La Grande-Duchesse (General Boum) and he played Demon King at the Theatre Royal, Manchester, before, in 1883, Theresa produced another child, Richard. Father Richard rejoined Carte, touring again as Bobstay and as Samuel in The Pirates of Penzance for a few months.
Another Manchester panto, then they set out on tour with Gertrude Cave-Ashton, after which Richard mounted a Cloches de Corneville company: Theresa played Serpolette and Richard was Gaspard!
In early 1885 he apparently deputised on occasion at the Savoy, in The Mikado, but in October he was back on the road, playing Spread Eagle in The Noble Savage with Alice Barth, and touring with Theresa in a production of Fun on the Bristol, before the couple joined up with J W Turner’s English Opera Co. I see Richard playing Lord Allcash in Fra Diavolo, Devilshoof in The Bohemian Girl, and giving Operatic Gems at the Winter Gardens, Morecambe Bay. The company played at the Crystal Palace and the Standard Theatre in September 1886, and Theresa replaced Lucy Franklein as Lady Allcash in a comic team with her husband. In 1887 the company mutated into the Arthur Rousby troupe.
However, on the London revival of HMS Pinafore (12 November 1887),Richard returned to the Savoy Theatre to take up his old part of Bobstay. He was much liked -- ‘Nothing in the whole representation is better in its way than the Bill Bobstay of Mr R Cummings’ -- and followed up with more Samuel in The Pirates of Penzance (17 March 1888) and then as Pish Tush in The Mikado (7 June 1888) before being shipped off to America to succeed Fred Solomon as Shadbolt in Rudolph Aronson’s tour of The Yeomen of the Guard for a couple of months. I see that he also appeared for Aronson as the Chevalier de Brabazon in Erminie (1889).
Back at home, he put The Doctor of Alcantara on the road, played his umpteenth Demon King at Sheffield, toured with ‘Ilma Norina’, sent out another and then another Angottour with Theresa now a forty year-old Clairette, with time out for pantos at Glasgow, Bootle and Liverpool…
And then he returned (with Theresa to start with) to the Turner Opera. Monterone in Rigoletto, Montefiore in Maritana, Don Florio in The Rose of Castille, Devilshoof then Florestein in The Bohemian Girl, Hortensius in Satanella … I think she dropped out quite soon. He didn’t. He remained a comprimario bass with the company for ten years.
Maybe there was more. But my last sighting of him is 16 March 1903 playing Don Florio at Crouch End. Although in the 1911 census, boarding in Ashton under Lyne, the couple both still list themselves as ‘operatic vocalists’. Son Richard ‘musician’, his wife Elizabeth ‘vocalist’ and their 4 year-old Patricia are down the road. Oh my gosh, there’s Richard with the Turner company at Coventry in … 1911!
And now, that little set of photos. Theresa as Hebe with Madge Stavart as Buttercup and Nellie Duglas Gordon as Josephine, Ryley as the Admiral … when in 1879ish did that lot all appear together … if I can find THAT out, then the four unlabelled photos ought to be identifiable… the photographer had studios in London, Manchester, Liverpool, Wrexham, Wigan, Bootle and Stoke-on-Trent. So I guess that’s our choice …