Sunday, February 24, 2019

Forgotten Savoyards ...

It was Lilian La Rue who did it.

I was dabbling amongst my plethora of nineteenth-century opera and concert singers, sorting out the ‘mysteries’ – those folk of whom I knew nothing, save about their professional careers – and lit on the ephemeral Miss La Rue. Well, as so often, you could tell by the nom de théâtre that she was sailing under false colours. So I sought out her real identity. It was a bit of a triumph. You can read the story on my blog here.

Lilian LaRue

Well, I am by no means a Real Gilbert and Sullivan Scholar. My brief was and is ‘Victorian Vocalists’, and my first volume of a hundred biographies is there to prove it. But, you know, on thing leads to another, and I got sidetracked down Savoy Lane. And there, to my amazement, I found that, in spite of the vast amount of detailed work that has been done on the Savoy canon, and on all those folk who sailed even anywhere near it, there were gaping chasms of knowledge concerning the singers and actors who created and played in the ‘Savoy Operas’ in the nineteenth century. Oh, not insofar as what they played and when: but what is the use of knowing that Tilly Bloggs played Pitti Sing in the original production of The Mikado, if you haven’t the faintest idea who Tilly is? Where she came from, what else she did before and during her Pitti Singing, on and off-stage … Well, I have an aversion to meaningless names in books and articles and especially theses, so ‘bound to a chair is a sunny room, like Andromeda tied to a rock’, I have dug. And I have found the mostly previously unrecorded identities and or/lives of such as sopranos ‘Pauline Rita’, ‘Duglas Gordon’, ‘Emilie Petrelli’, ‘Ethel McAlpine’, ‘Esme Lee’, ‘Ethel Pierson’, ‘Lisa Walton’, ‘Isabel Reddick; mezzos ‘Madge Stavart’, ‘Lilian La Rue’, ‘Kate Talby’, ‘Kate Forster’, ‘Elsie Cameron', baritones ‘Edward Clowes’, ‘Signor Olmi’, the singing grocer ‘T J Montelli’ tenor ‘Henri Laurent’ and his paramour ‘Blanche Corelli’ … Oh, I’m not a magician! Some still so far elude me. Geraldine St Maur grrr! But I plug on, down among the middle and lower regions of the cast lists … and I’m getting to the really hard ones, and those whose professional careers in Cartesian companies may be proficiently recorded but whose personal life and identity are not.

The trouble is, having no intention to write up whole articles on these folks, I’ve got notes on them spread all around my computer, and have made no effort to correlate them. But this week, George J Low Esq, one of the world’s very utmost custodians of G&S-related details, sent me a wee list of puzzles. I love other folks’ puzzles, so I got out my C19th spade … and here are what results haven’t disappeared into the black hole of my computer’s diffident memory, concerning such Cartesian players, largeish and small, as I have exhumed …

MARCHMONT, Herbert [SUMMERS, Francis Herbert Mayne] (b Hull 9 March 1863; d 33 Wharcliffe St 14 December 1942). Son of a Hull lawyer and civic worthy Francis Summers and his wife Anna Maria née Mayne, Francis jr was, like his brother Charles, articled to his father’s legal office. However, he abandoned his office stool to become a singer, and joined the Carte company as a chorister for The Mikado. He made his first mark by scoring 27 runs to lead the Thespian cricket team (D Lely 7, J B Brockbank 4) to victory at Norwood a couple of months later. He would continue his athletic feats in cricket, rowing and above all cricket-ball-throwing, as he worked his way up from depping for Frederic Bovill as Pish-Tush into principal roles with the Carte touring companies. He played with the Carte companies in roles larger and smaller until 1898, when he retired from performing and took up directing small amateur productions of the Savoy operas around Britain. Unmarried, he lived his later life back in Hull with his unmarried sister and brother.

Herbert Marchmont

WYATT, Agnes [Theresa Mary Josephine] (b Clapham 1866; d Wandsworth 2 March 1932) and her elder sister Ellen Bird WYATT(b Portsmouth 1863; d ?) both performed with the Carte companies for a number of years. They were the daughters of one Richard J Wyatt, a singer from Portsmouth whom I have spotted singing with Mrs Alexander Newton and little Miss Blanche Cole in 1860 on home ground. The 1881 census shows that the family is trying its luck in London, but Nellie and elder sister Mary are working as mantle-makers. However, in the later 1880s, Agnes and Nellie both took to their father’s profession, and joined the Carte companies. Agnes showed up first at the Savoy, when she took over the role of Josephine 7-10 January during a temporary absence of Geraldine Ulmar. Nellie was on the road with one of the touring troupes.

A few weeks after her stint as prima donna, Agnes married John Ernest Hill, a rising stockbroker from Banbury, and 13 July 1889 gave birth to her first child, Dorothy Charlotte. She later returned to the Savoy to appear in several roles, including that of Gianetta, in The Gondoliers, but a second daughter, Marjorie Agnes was born 17 April 1892 and she appears then to have renounced the stage for a comfortable home life.

Helier Le Maistre

Contralto Nellie married within the company, and consequently stayed with it for over a decade. Her husband (m 13 April 1889) was Jersey-born baritone Helier St Jersey LE MAISTRE (real name, b 25 August 1866; d Lymington, Hants 1915), a fifteen-year veteran of the organisation. After leaving the Carte organisation, Le Maistre toured in senior role in such musical comedies as The Cingalee, The West End and The Country Girl and succeeded to Fred Emney's role of Joseph in The Girl from Kay's. Ellen appears in the 1911 census as a ‘ladies’ companion’. Of their children Frederick Wyatt Le Maistre (b 1891, d Springwood, NSW 1 March 1939) also became a baritone vocalist in musical comedy in London, India and Australia, under the name of ‘Eric Masters’, and was latterly attached to the Australian Broadcasting Commission; while daughter Phyllis [Harriet] (b 24 May 1896; d 1971) also worked as a singer.

DE PLEDGE, George [James] (b Eastbourne 1862; d Sydney, Australia date unknown) is somewhat of a continuing puzzle. Not only to me, but to the lawyers and detectives of two continents. His birth is registered, but after that I spot him not again until 1885, singing in a concert at Battersea's Albert Palace. He seems to have takn to the stage in March 1887. The occasion in the production at Johnny Toole’s Theatre of a burlesque of Ruddigore, in which the deep-voice Mr de Pledge played a parody Arthur Sullivan. Apparently the Savoy took no offence, because within a few months the young man was playing Go-To in the Mikado, on tour. He remained with the Carte organisation, in town and country, for some four years, deputising in principal roles in The Yeomen of the Guard and The Gondoliers and playing Barnabas Bellows-to-Mend in Haddon Hall, before joining such other Savoyards as W H Denny and Jessie Bond in the cast of Poor Jonathan at the Prince of Wales. He moved on to roles in King Kodak and in the disastrous Eastward Ho! in which, however, he scored a personal hit singing ‘I am the Great I am’ in the roles of Muley Mustapha. As a result, he went on the halls featured in the basso scena Dr Jameson’s Last Stand and was cast as King Rat, alongside Maud Holland, in Brighton’s Dick Whittington, before, in 1897, launching a successful double-act with a lady named ‘Ruby Neilson’. The Devil in Love, with George as Mephisto was their best sketch, which they varied with The Red Cross Nurse, with time out for pantomime heavies.
Who was ‘Ruby’? I don’t know. George had married, in Savoy Theatre days, Miss Maggie Letitia Smith of Stepney. Was she a performer? The 1891 census says she was a ‘draper’s assistant’, her father a retired cheesemonger. 26 November 1893, a daughter, Elsie Marguerite, was born. She too would go on the stage. Was Maggie ‘Ruby’? Anyhow, the story would come to an abrupt end. In June 1900, George and Ruby were performing at Nottingham, in June 1901 in Wales. Then they vanish from theatrical annals. George is still around. In the 1901 census, he, Maggie and Elsie are living with her family in London. But then 16 August, George sets sail, alone, for Sydney, Australia. And he never returned. And his fate is still unlearned. Maggie remarried, Elsie didn’t, and, when she died 11 November 1951, a search for a blood relative was launched. Failing to find one, Officialdom finally concluded that George had died in 1902 in Australia.

BARNARD, [Walter] Cecil (b Canonbury 10 August 1866; d Savage Club, London 30 November 1897), in contrast to de Pledge, has a life, and most notably a dramatic death, thoroughly documented in a large obituary in The Era. Son of Hornsey silversmith Walter Barnard ‘of Edward Barnard and sons’ and his wife Ellen, née Rutt, and ‘nephew of Fred Barnard, the celebrated artist, and of the late Professor Faraday’ he was educated at University College, but preferred a life as a pianist, organist and composer to one in commerce. In 1889, he joined the Carte touring companies in some capacity, and was variously called upon as an accompanist, a conductor, and as a performer, deputising for Cairns James as Jack Point and, according to the obit, also as Ko-Ko. In the same year, his musical sketch The Popular Composer was published, and in November 1890 he gave a London concert, playing piano and performing his comic songs. 7 January 1891, he was summoned to replace Frank Wyatt, who had sprained an ankle, as the Duke of Plaza Toro at the Savoy Theatre. Wyatt’s indisposition was more than brief, and Barnard played for three weeks and later for several weeks more. Thereafter he was billed as ‘of the Savoy Theatre’ as he did the rounds of the suburban concerts and institutions, the seaside resorts and home counties towns and villages with his ‘society entertainment’ at the piano (‘an entertainer of the Grossmith type’) and the sketches Breaking Up, Constancy or Two Blighted Lives, Song and Sandwich, Topsyturveydom, Functions and A Perfect Opera. After leaving the Savoy, in 1892, he toured with erstwhile colleagues Adeline Vaudrey, Cissie Saumarez, Broughton Black et al in a group billed as The English Opera Singers, performing his sketches, imitations and coster songs (‘My Old Dutch’)and playing the piano: ‘Ta-ra-ra-boom-de-ay’ as a Bach fugue, ‘Daisy Bell’ as an andante religioso, Mendelssohn’s Wedding March metamorphosed into ‘Knocked ‘em in the Old Kent Road . He became a regular at the Clarence Pier, St Leonard’s Pier, the Cheltenham Rotunda, and played dates from Llandudno to Belfast, Dublin to Colchester, Knaresborough to Hornchurch and a vast series of dots from Great Totham to Holsworthy, in a manic schedule of touring, which took him in 1895 to the Transvaal and in 1896 to New York. 

Cecil Barnard
30 November 1869, aged 31, he threw himself from the upper window of his second home, the Savage Club.

‘He was of a most mercurial disposition, full of animal spirits and was an immense favourite with all the younger men of his profession ..’ wrote the obituarist. This is supposed to be unopinionated history, but I read that as ‘a bipolar homosexual’.

Well, there, courtesy of George, is a little sample of ‘forgotten Savoyards’. I see there’s another email in my inbox. Maybe I’ll try some more…

No comments: