FEDERICI, Signor [BAKER, Anatole Frederic[k] Demidoff] (b Florence, Italy 22 April 1850; d Princess Theatre, Melbourne 3 March 1888)
Poor Fred. Nothing in his life made him half so famous as the manner of his leaving it, at 37 years of age. His name is remembered in the 21st century only as a putative ‘theatre ghost’ at the Princess Theatre, Melbourne, whom journalists like to bring up, periodically, to fill an empty antipodean column or two.
There was never any secret but that the Signor, though born in Italy, was an Englishman, by name Frederick Baker. His wife put his date of birth on his tombstone, so we know that too. But nothing else. He was said to have belonged ‘to a good family’ ‘speaking four or five languages’ and to move with ease in social circles, but no-one, as far as I know, ever credited his parentage in print, or said what the Baker family was doing or did in Florence, Italy. Which was, of course, at that time in a state of war.
I wondered if he had anything to do with the Mr Baker, ‘pupil of Santley’, who made a first appearance at the Crystal Palace with Louisa Vinning in 1861 (16 February), or the Mr F Baker from Milan, singing bass in Dublin in 1864. Probably not, I now know.
We are not told where he received his musical education, or how and why he came to Britain, he just turns up at the beginning of 1872, and makes his first appearances in the London concerts, seemingly under the aegis of Julius Benedict. I spot him singing at the Schubert Society (‘a new song by Fabio Campana’), the Freemasons Tavern, at St George’s Hall for an ephemeral lady calling herself Augusta Rentini (‘Eri tu’), for Madame Puzzi, and the Chevalier de Kontski, and in the prospectus for Mme Sainton-Dolby’s concerts. A programme like de Kontski’s was staffed almost wholly by exiled French society singers – Mme Conneau, ‘Mme Abrek’, Valdec, the Comte d’Épineul – which has always made me wonder if Federici had spent some of his 21 years to date in France.
He turned out for Signor Scuderi, the Prince Poniatowki (that French and Italian connection again!), and joined Sims Reeves, Blanche Cole and Helen D’Alton in ballad concert at the Surrey Gardens, all as part of a well-furnished first London season. On 18 June, he put on a concert of his own, at the home of the Countess of Crawford and the guest list showed where his connections lay: Mme Conneau, Cora de Wilhorst, Rizelli and Tito Mattei, Prince Poniatowski, Benedict, Campana … He had to have a French connection.
The season over, Federici set out for the north and a series of appearances in Glasgow as part of the ‘Sims Reeves party’, prima donna Blanche Cole, which ended up performing two Saturdays and a concert of La Sonnambulawithout Reeves. The local press remarked ‘We welcome with pleasure Signor Federici to the present staff of British singers ... [he has] a good understanding of the music he interprets but should endeavour to avoid a tendency to throatiness...’.
Scotland evidently agreed with him, for after appearing in London in the Monday pops (‘Pietà signor’, ‘Ce que je suis sans toi’) and taking in a Messiahat Leeds, he returned to give The Messiahin Edinburgh and Glasgow, Samsonin Kilmarnock, Carissimi’s Jonahwith the Glasgow Choral Union, Jephthaat Paisley, to sing at the Burns Festival in the Glasgow City Hall, and in various concerts (‘The Outlaw’. ‘The Yeoman’s Wedding’, ‘Far from Mine Eyes’. ‘Why do the Nations’, Barri’s ‘Mizpah’, ‘A Song of the Sea’).
The following month he was in Ireland, for the Messrs Gunn, making ‘his debut in English opera’ in a company dominated by clients of Gunn’s friend Richard D’Oyly Carte. Federici (billed as ‘of the Opera, Milan’!) was one, as were leading lady Blanche Cole, and the other two bass-baritones of the group, Tom Aynsley Cook and Richard Temple. William Castle was the lead tenor. Federici played the King in Maritana, Rodolfo in La Sonnambula, Valentine in Faust, Arnheim in The Bohemian Girl, the Baron in Lurline, and took part in concertswith ‘a rich full voice, and a power of modulating it that few possess’.
The Cole-Cook combination headed from Dublin to London, and thus, on 1 April 1873, the 22-year-old baritone made his London operatic debut in the new Crystal Palace theatre in Faust alongside the neophyte Joseph Maas. When Miss Cole moved on to play a series of performances at the Gaiety Theatre, he repeated Maritana, The Bohemian Girland played Father Tom in The Lily of Killarney.
He appeared in a ration of concerts, notably that of Prince Poniatowski (6 June 1873), at which the Prince’s opéra-comiqueAu travers du mur was mounted. Jose Sherrington, Haydée Abrek, Marius Audran and Jules Lefort were the other performers, so the work was obviously given in French. June also saw a repeat of his own concert, visits to the Crystal Palace and St George’s Hall, and he followed up by taking part in the Covent Garden proms (Stabat Mater, Smart’s ‘Poor Jack’, ‘The Manly Heart’ with Constance Loseby), visiting Margate, making a return visit to Glasgow (Plumpton’s ‘The Trooper’. ‘Honour and Arms’, Louisa Gray’s ‘Then and Now’) and another to Ireland (this time described as of ‘the Royal Italian Opera’) to sing with Mme Deméric Lablache at the Dublin Exhibition (Stephen Adams’s ‘A Warrior Bold’, ‘There is a Green Hill Far Away’).
In November he went out with a Carte concert party, supporting Carlotta Patti, and in December he accompanied Pauline Vaneri, Alice Fairman and J H Pearson in a concert and Messiahseries.
After two seasons of good exposure and a busy schedule, something curious happens in 1874. Signor Federici doesn’t disappear entirely, but his workload seems to shrink enormously. In the season, I can only find him singing at Miss Purdy’s concert (as each year), and on one Henry Leslie programme (‘Speed on my bark’, J C Ward’s ‘The Lives of great men’) in May, giving his own annual chez the Crawfords, and appearing with the French actress Marie Dumas in fashionable homes in June. Was he (looking at his later history) ill? Was he overseas? – I spot him in concert in Aix-les-Bains with Titens and Trebelli in August. Curious.
Suffice it to say, that by October he is back on the road, doing another Carlotta Patti tour, from some of which concerts he was obliged, through ill-health, to withdraw. But then he headed on to a Scots Christmas, and back to town for Madame Puzzi, and the Saturday pops. But come the season, Signor Federici seemed to have lost a little of his impetus. He returned to Henry Leslie, (‘Oh that we two were maying’, ‘Heart of Oak’, The Captain’s Song), to Miss Purdy, to Mme Sainton-Dolby and John Thomas, he visited the provinces with Jose Sherrington and Brignoli, and Nottingham for the premiere of Henry Farmer’s Mass in B flat, and he took part, as ever, in the Covent Garden proms, but it wasn’t right.
He lasted half of 1876, repeating his usual engagements but also singing the Landgrave Ludwig in Liszt’s The Legend of Saint Elisabeth and the Bach Mass in B Minor at St James’s Hall. He was clearly unwell in this last (‘knowing that he has for some time in indifferent health...’), and was replaced for the second performance. He dropped out, too, of the Lemmens tour of L’Ombre. In November, Madame Puzzi organised a Benefit for him, at the Marchioness of Downshire’s. And a week later he was off singing The Messiahand the McGuckin-D’Alton concerts in Ireland, traipising to Huddersfield, to Liverpool to sing The Legend of Saint Cecilia with Albani, Fairman and Lloyd, to Willis’s Rooms with Sophie Ferrari, back to Belfast for a Messiahwith Edith Wynne, and to Manchester with Titiens.
Now, in 1885 Mr Federici gave an interview to the American press. He said that ‘in the spring of 1877’ he had run away from his creditors and joined the 15th Hussars. And that he had stayed in the army till late 1879, when he returned to singing. The only problem with that tale is that, all throughout 1877 and 1878, he can be seen fulfilling engagements as a singer, from one end of the country to the other. So … fantasy or faulty dates?
He performed with Mme Lemmens-Sherrington in her concert and oratorio group, singing the Stabat Mater and St Matthew Passionto the provinces, he sang at Dannreuther’s concert of his settings of classic verse, he gave the Creationat the Crystal Palace, he took part in Gustave Garcia’s presentation of The Legend of Melusina, singing the role of Count Raymond, and fulfilled all his usual concerts and a few more. In October 1877, he took an extended contract at Arthur Sullivan’s Royal Aquarium, singing in concerts (‘Hurrah for the fortunes of war’, ’There is a Green Hill’, ‘Speed on my bark’) and momentarily playing in Trial by Jury with Pearson, James Fawn, Kelleher and Kate Rivers. When The School for Scandalwas played, with Marie Litton, Federici sang ‘Here’s to the maiden’.
It was in early 1878 that his affairs imploded, and he was allowed a ‘liquidation by arrangement’. But he didn’t stop working. He continued at the Aquarium, and the Sullivan-Cellier connection served him well. He was engaged to play the Sultan in a revival of Cellier’s The Sultan of Mochaat Manchester, preparatory to the production of the composer’s new comic opera Belladonna(Juanito). Back in town, he taught singing, performed at the Covent Garden proms, the Langham Hall, the Marble Club Tuesday pops, at the Exeter Hall national concerts, at the Brighton Dome, and at the Saturday pops (13 January 1879). And then it stops. So is this when the alleged army affair happened?
Well, there is a bit more confusing evidence on that subject. In a court of law, in January 1880, Mr R E Villiers of the London Pavilion referred to ‘Mrs Frederici (sic), the wife of the celebrated baritone known on the music halls as Mr Butler’, whose husband had enlisted in the 16th Lancers. ‘I had known him for nine months, ever since he was in my company, under the name of Butler, singing at public concerts’ said Villiers.
The only trouble is, there was no official ‘Mrs Frederici’ until October 1879. And ‘Mr Butler’? When?
Federici himself says that, while he was in the army, he saw HMS Pinafore at Canterbury, with his wife in the chorus. Which is possible. Anyway, he came out of the army, and joined up with his old mentor, Arthur Sullivan, and his old agent, D’Oyly Carte’s, hit show, in the role of Bill Bobstay, and shortly afterwards, while the troupe was in Huddersfield (28 October 1879), married 21 year-old Jane Eleanor Finili (‘Lena Monmouth’) (b London, 1858). For more than half a dozen years, the couple toured together stalwartly in Carte’s provincial companies. Fred played Bill or Corcoran in Pinaforeand, as the new shows succeeded in the repertoire, he added Samuel and the Pirate King in The Pirates of Penzance, Colonel Calverly in Patience, Strephon in Iolanthe, Florian in Princess Ida, the Counsel, and the Mikado. He played the Mikado for Carte in America and in Europe, and returned to America to appear as Sir Roderick in Ruddigore.
The Federici family (Lena now had two children) then proceeded to Australia where Williamson, Garner and Musgrove were running the most successful comic opera company of the continent’s history, featuring largely the Gilbert and Sullivan repertoire. They arrived in June 1887 aboard the Chimborazo and Federici was soon seen on the colonial stage as the Pirate King, Colonel Calverly, Strephon, Dick Deadeye, the Mikado, Florian, as the Marquis de Pontvert in Erminie, Harry Sherwood and Squire Bantam in Dorothy. Lena took small parts such as Lady Betty (Dorothy)or Celia in Iolanthe.
In March 1888, the company produced Faust, and Federici was cast, now, not as Valentine but as Mephistopheles. On the first night, while leaving the stage on his final exit, he suffered a heart attack, and died in the theatre green room.
His theatrical death attracted a considerable press, and quickly became spattered with much corroborative detail tending to add colour and drama to the circumstance. Some details rang more convincingly than others. It was, for instance, related that he had suffered heart problems for years (how did he get into the army?) and carried nitro-glycerine tablets in his pockets. The theatricality of the Mephisto-dies-as-he-descends-to-Hell episode was obvious meat for the spiritist brigade, and Fred’s ghost was said to have been seen by some interested folk in the years that followed.
Lena and her two children, Marguerite [Elissa Anita] (1880- 1936) and Louis [Wallace Horace] (b Brighton 22 November 1881), left 3 June on the Orisabafor England. She can be seen in the 1891 census, living with her father, Luigi Finili, a plaster-figures-maker from Lucca, along with her daughter. I don’t know what had happened to little Louis. He seems to have ended up in Mandalay.
In 1894, Lena re-married, a retired civil service clerk, Walter Edward Scott, somewhat older than herself and went to live in Chale, in the Isle of Wight. She died in 1937.
Lena’s younger sister Blanche also performed for a while with the D’Oyly Carte companies, before becoming wife to surveyor George Stokes.
In the search for Frederick Baker’s origins, and, believe me, I searched long and hard, I had little evidence. His son’s name? Louis was evidently for Lena’s father, but Wallace and Horace?
And then I came upon a little piece, in an Australian newspaper. ‘Signor Federici was really an Englishman named Baker’, it confided, ‘and a brother to the celebrated ‘Baker Pasha’’. Well, I had to investigate. Hum, both General Valentine Baker (‘Baker Pasha’, 1827-1887) and his elder brother Sir Stanley White Baker (1821-1893), were sons of Samuel Baker – shipowner and sugar merchant. They had two other brothers, James and John, but no Frederick. And hardly at the right time. I wondered if Fred might not have been connected in some way to that lofty and world-hopping family. He never claimed it, as far as I know. And the same Australian Paper tried to connect Leonora Braham to John Braham, so.... no cigar.
Dig deeper. And longer. And eventually you find. Social? definitely. International? Widely … found!
Anatole Frederick Demidoff Baker was the son of Mr Eric(k) Thomas Baker (b Deal 25 December 1810; d Bentinck Terrace, London 26 September 1882), himself the son of Admiral Sir Thomas Baker KCB, and his wife Georgina Barbara née Crossman. Georgina was the daughter of a British clergyman, George Brickdale Crossman, ‘late of St John’s Withycombe’, who died in 1854, and is buried … in the English cemetery in Florence. The ‘unusual’ domestic arrangements of the Crossmans, in Bellosguardo, have come under the investigation of Browning students, owing to some friendly connection.
So, there seems a possibility that Mr Baker (sr) and Miss Crossman were married in Italy. But why was Eric(k) there, in the first place? Well, to start with, he was a bit of an aristocratic wastrel. He had gone glaring bankrupt at the age of 24. Was he one of those who fled the English legal system and/or English moral disapproval to sunny Florence? Well, he was in England in 1843-4 (‘eldest son and heir-at-law’) when his landed father was declared lunatic. But the following year the Admiral died. So …
And remember Horace? Well, Eric had a brother named Horace (so I was right!), but he also had a son named Horace. Fred’s brother. Horace George Spencer Eriksson Baker, (1848-1914). Born Stockholm, Sweden. Where his grandmother – apparently a Swedish minor noblewoman had hailed from.
So international and social, definitely.
The name of Eric Baker, surprisingly, surfaces in the music world too. He penned a ballad sung in 1859 at St James’s Hall (‘who is Eric Baker?’ queried the press), and in 1876 he wrote some lyrics which were set by Charles Gounod (‘The Veiled Picture’).
So, we know now where ‘Signor Federici’ came from. But I’d still like to know something about those first 20 years!