Tuesday, May 8, 2018

From Messiah to Mikado ... via Madame Melba

BOYLE, Frank (b Barnstaple, Devon 13 August 1857; d 7 Hill View Terrace, Barnstaple 6 February 1892).

Frank Boyle died young, after a fairish career, but he won himself a lengthy obituary in The Era, and a preposterously detailed entry in Brown and Stratton’s British Musical Biography ... Why? Probably because it made a good story. Promising young tenor, deps for Sims Reeves a few times, great things possible … suddenly leaves the concert and oratorio world for the comic opera stage ... and after a pretty undistinguished career therein, dies aged 34, ‘broken down in health and voice’.
Why, broken down? How broken down? Disease or dissipation? Or what? No-one ever says. But they say a lot else which, faute de preuves or the opposite, I suppose we just have to accept.

Boyle was born in Devon, the son of William Boyle (1829-1923), a butcher and, apparently, an amateur church alto, and his wife, Martha née Moore (1829-1890). We are told that he sang in the church choir as a boy, had music lessons from his father and others and ‘entered a newspaper office, singing at time at local concerts’. So maybe he did.  

 He first appears to my eyes when, after some hometown spelling-bees and concerts he was enrolled as a pupil at the newly founded (1876), and short-lived, National Training School for Music, principal Arthur Sullivan, and became a pupil there of J B Welsh, alongside Annie Marriott and Frederic King. When he sang Sullivan’s ‘I will arise’ in a students’ concert (16 October 1878) he was noticed: ‘his voice, while still wanting cultivation, is of good quality and well produced’.

His first public appearance was made, with the other senior pupils, at Welch’s concert at St George’s Hall 11 March 1879, and more professionally at the Covent Garden promenade concerts, where he sang in an HMS Pinaforeselection with Mary Cummings, Aline Osgood and Dyna Beumer and gave The May Queen with Anna Williams.

He appeared in concert at St James’s Hall (Henschel’s, Burns Night, Rosina Isidor), Stratford, and made what appears to have been a first appearance in oratorio at Swindon in Elijah with Edith Wynne, Mary Cummings and Thurley Beale. A few days later, he sang in the Good Friday Messiah at the Albert Hall. But not, as his potted biogs blithely suggest, as lead tenor. That was Sims Reeves. Boyle had the bits.

He went out with a little concert party, teamed with Clara Samuell, D’Alton and Bridson, and in the autumn with another, headed by Janet Patey, and occasionally featuring an extra star, such as Nilsson or Albani. The provinces found ‘a fair tenor voice, but he did not impress the audience greatly’ or ‘[he has] ‘a clear tenor voice with some power, pleasant to listen to, but his style is capable of much improvement’, as the team varied their concerts with performances of such as Elijah in Derby or St John the Baptist in Oxford. 

However, he had impressed someone, for when the group returned to town, Boyle was engaged for the Boosey Ballad concerts. He introduced F Birch’s ‘Sullivanesque’ ‘I am waiting’, which had sung in the proms, and which would become his most popular song.

Engagements now came fast and furious: In December, he visited Scotland for a Creationin Glasgow, and Messiahs at Dundee, Aberdeen, Peterhead, Glasgow etc, visited Hull in concert and was back in London for another Boosey concert, before sallying north again to sing Macfarren’s Josephin Leeds. The Burns concert this year saw Boyle get another boost. Part of the programme was Glover’s cantata Tam o’Shanter with Sims Reeves as its solo tenor. But Mr Reeves decided not to sing it all: just the beginning and the end … and instead of handing the other bits to his striving son, he gave place to Boyle. Once again, as in the Reeves-Maas episode, it seems to have been a pre-planned ‘illness’, and, as with Maas, it did Boyle no harm. 

He appeared as vocalist at the Monday pops, then headed to Huddersfield with Miss Samuell (‘Salve dimora’, ‘Home of my heart’), Liverpool with Miss Marriot (‘Where e’er you walk’ ‘if [his voice] is deficient in volume it is of agreeable timbre’), Glasgow for the Theatre Royal Proms (‘Ah! let me like a soldier fall’, ‘I am waiting’) and to Belfast (‘Mr Boyle’s tenor is trustworthy and pleasing and he uses it with good effect’).

Back in London, he visited St Matthias Church, Earl’s Court, where he had been employed since his student days, and made a Crystal Palace debut with Mrs Patey, and then, on 10 March, the august Philharmonic Society scheduled Berlioz’s Roméo et Juliette with Reeves and Mrs Patey as soloists. And Reeves cancelled. So Mr Boyle went on, in his place, again and he did well enough that when they repeated the piece, although Reeves was actually on the bill, Mr Boyle – who had a few days earlier covered for Reeves once more at the Crystal Palace -- was given the part again. 

He returned to the Crystal Palace, and Covent Garden for the Proms, he sang at concerts, frequently with Frederic King, with Mrs Patey, with Clara Samuell or with Anna Williams, he visited Scotland in the winter, and when Halle gave the Berlioz a hearing at Liverpool (3 January 1882), Boyle repeated ‘his’ role.
1882 was as busy as the previous year had been. Boyle turned up at the Albert Hall (The Martyr of Antioch), the Boosey Ballad concerts (Diehl’s ‘My Darling of Old’), the Philharmonic Society (Choral Symphony), the Crystal Palace (Creation), Liverpool (The Martyr of Antioch, The Seasons, The Messiah), and with a Mapleson concert party in the provinces; at St James’s Hall, once more depping for Reeves, and in September he was engaged as a supporting tenor behind Edward Lloyd for the Hereford Festival. In spite of an accusation that he had ‘a habit of bleating rather than singing’ -- he looked to have a comfortable career ahead of him.
But 1883 was different. After the end of his concert party tour, he is scarcely to be seen. I note him only at Swansea in Eli and depping for Bernard Lane in Bristol, before in 1884 he resurfaces in a different form. Still connected with Sullivan, who had championed him from his schooldays, but no longer on the concert platform: on the stage.
What was the reason for changing direction in a promising career? Had he been ill, or ‘ill’ already? That mystery for the moment remains just that. But the data had changed a little. Frank Boyle had married in 1882. His wife was Jessie Shirley, the sister of his NTS contemporary, Ellen Shirley, who had played Mabel at the Opera Comique. Jessie too was a singer. And soon after the marriage the mother of a daughter, Gwendoline Shirley (b Dorchester Place 25 November 1882; d Sunbury on Thames November 1938, Mrs Albert Gurney)
Frank’s first engagement with D’Oyly Carte’s companies was touring in the role of Cyril in Princess Ida (Jessie played Psyche)followed later the same year with the tenor parts in Patience, Pinafore and The Pirates of Penzance. Followed, at the end of the year, by another daughter, Gladys (1884-1926).
And shortly after that, the Boyle family climbed aboard the Potosi and set sail for Australia. For the salubrious climate? Or …?  On 6 March they reached their destination, and Frank’s first professional engagement seems to have been on 3 April, in a Good Friday concert at the Melbourne Theatre Royal. 

His first appearance on the Melbourne stage was as Lord Tolloller in Iolanthe for Williamson and MusgroveOn 4 July, he appeared in the violinist Kruse’s concerts (manager: Musgrove) in Sydney (‘Sweethearts’, ‘Annabel Lee’, ‘The Sailor’s Grave’, “Goodbye’, ‘Love’s Request’, ‘Tom Bowling’) and duetting with his fellow soloist, a certain Mrs Armstrong from Melbourne. His songs were judged ‘carefully and pleasantly rendered’. ‘A sweet, fine voice with occasionally too much tremolo’. And at the sixth concert he broke down.
Mrs Armstrong, who was also making her Sydney debut, would, of course, go on to fame as Nellie Melba.

When the Sydney opera season opened, Boyle appeared as Boisvillette in La Petite Mademoiselle, and went on to be seen as Frederic, the Duke of Dunstable, and as Nanki Poo in Australia’s first Mikado. At Christmas, he sang The Messiah with the Sydney Philharmonic and Mrs Armstrong, but when they returned to Melbourne, where he was due to repeat his Nanki Poo, he was again ill. For some weeks, he was ill, only returning at the end of the run, and to play Iolanthe, Patience and Trial by Jury.
Adelaide found him ‘a young man with a nice tenor voice, a good idea of acting, and does full justice to the role he maintains’. He seems to have played his last Australian date on 31 July at Rosina Carandini’s concert at the YMCA Hall.
I have no idea where he went then. Sick?  ‘Sick’? But ‘Miss Jessie Shirley’ is in London already, playing Constance in an amateur Sorcerer. What was going on there? Was it she who was making him ill? Strange.
Boyle turns up again, in 1888, back with the Carte companies, touring in The MikadoThe Pirates of Penzanceand, finally, in The Yeomen of the Guard, into 1889. Jessie is elsewhere, playing the title-role in Redfearn and Rousby’s very long running tour of Dorothy.
After finishing with Carte, Boyle joined up with ‘Signor Ristori’s English Opera Co’ alongside Albert McGuckin, Rosa Hyde and Arthur Salvini (September 1889), and in 1890 he was billed for the Turner Opera Co. I’m not at all sure he ever played with them.
Soon after, he was apparently in the North Devon Infirmary.
In the 1891 census, the widowed William Boyle is living in Barnstaple with his spinster daughter, Catherine. Jessie and the two girls are with her parents in London. Frank is unfindable.
He died at his father’s home less than a year later. Brown and Stratton say that it was of a burst blood-vessel in a lung.
I don’t suppose we’ll ever know, but I am quite, quite sure that there is more to this tale than meets the eye …
Jessie worked for a while as a performer in mostly third class tours. When Boyle died, she was on the road with the downmarket musical comedy Flashes. A 25-year old Liverpudlian actor, Frank Adamson, joined the company and Jessie married him. When the tour was over, they appear to have gone their separate ways.
Jessie, after years of My Sweetheart and pantomime, teamed up instead with an older man, widower John Joseph Wilson, architect and surveyor, and this time she lived happily ever after. Wilson died 27 August 1927, leaving a tidy seventeen thousand pounds, Jessie outlived her two daughters and died – as Jessie Adamson Wilson -- in Surbiton 20 January 1947. Her will was probated at a very, very tidy 34,000 pounds.

Rich. But she hadn’t sung duets with Melba.

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