Sunday, May 17, 2020

Cartesians: Oh! Oh! Antonio ...

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These past, crisp autmn days I've wandered from Carte-land to other places in Victorian England, but I'm recalled by a request from none other than Mr G&S Archive himself, David Stone ... Last time he asked me to look into someone, it was 'Geraldine St Maur' and I (like everyone else) failed in the quest to discover anything at all about her identity. This time, I've been altogether more successful. What could I come up with on Antonio Medcalf? Well, this time it helped that, surprisingly, it was his real name ...

Antonio Alfred MEDCALF (b Felixstowe 9 August 1866; d Islington 1921), son of William Alfred Medcalf and his wife Rosina Maria née Coppini. Yes, the Antonio  comes from mother's side. Rosina was born in Norton Folgate to an Italian father of whom she knew nothing and of whom her mother seemingly knew not much more. Shortly after Rosina's birth, 'Mary Copini' married an Italian looking-glassmaker by the name of Antonio Bianchi, had sons Antonio and Alfredo, and her daughter became Rosina Bianchi (1846-1921) until she wed Mr Medcalf. And had sons whom she named Antonio Alfred and Albert Victor. Name explained.

The Medcalf family settled in Woodford Essex, and there father William changed his profession. No longer a furniture dealer, he was now an 'operatic vocalist'. And there he is, singing at local concerts and even in a little opera programme, even after he'd reverted to being an 'estate agent'. It looks as if, at some stage, he may have been a professional chorister. 
Antonio was educated at Salcombe College, Loughton, musically by one Walter Latter, and in 1886 I see him singing in the school operetta The Flower Queen. And joiningthe Carte establishment. During the next years, while he sang at the Savoy Theatre, he continued to study: I see him at Edward Wharton's pupils' concert in 1890 


and at the Guildhall School (Don Jose in Maritana 'a full and powerful baritone voice') as well as taking part in a concert at Chelmsford for Mr Latter. In 1891, he was to be seen in Essex concerts, until he was hired for the Carl Rosa Carmen company, star Marie Roze. He sang Escamillo to Mme Roze's Carmen, Belamy in Fadette and Don Jose in Maritana with Edna Gray, Lily Moody and Wilbur Gunn/Durward Lely, but when the tour was over, he returned to Woodford, family and friends, local concerts and, in 1893, married a local girl, Alice Lichfield. In 1893 he took part, also, in an embarrassing piece named Peterkin, and launched the Antonio Medcalf Opera Company. Father played Thaddeus in The Bohemian Girl. Victor conducted. And frequent colleagues Jessie Browning of the Carte companies and a Mrs Eugenia Morgan took part. He would produce several little opera groups over the years, giving concert performances in small venues, as well as appearing with tiny opera troupes such as 'The Brescian Family's Opera Company' featuring the Hayward sisters, Walter Gray and C F Cooke in The Bohemian Girl, Maritana and Le fille du régiment. 
I spot him in 1898 at Tudor's Circus in Ipswich, for several summer seasons at Hornsea, and at Fields' Oriental Café, Bridlington singing with Victor's band, at Dover's Promenade Pier ... always with the Carl Rosa credit attached ..


But it was not a vanity. More than twenty years on, Antonio returned to the Carl Rosa company. It was no longer the kind of company that employed a Marie Roze, merely a touring English opera troupe of a fair standard. He played Laertes in Mignon, Wagner in Faust ...

Meanwhile, family life had developed. Alice had given birth to Norah, Doris Maria, Jeannette, Antonio Jack, Alfred Liston and Sylvia Marjorie, and they had moved from Woodford to Melcombe Regis, where Antonio had a tobacconist's and sweet shop. In later life, the girls would join Antonio in concert ...



Doris kept up her local singing, Norah became coach to the amateur dramatic society, Marjorie also played with the local operatics ...

Of course, having tripped hither to Carte-land, I had a hard time tripping thither away ... and before leaving I clocked up one of two more folk ...

Dudley [Powell] JEPPS (Brixton 1864; d Billesdon, Leics 1929), was the son of Henry Charles Jepps (1845-1902), 'average adjustor' of Powell son and Jepps, and his wife Helen Amelia née Bateman. They removed to Sunderland in the 1880s, and Dudley had his first stage experience there in amateur operatics (A Cup of Tea, Gobo in Les Cloches de Corneville), while studying music with G F Vincent, playing the organ, and turning out a number of published songs. He played with the Carte between 1896 and 1898, while at the same time supplying Maurice Farkoa with 'The Little Story'. After a venture into a Sunderland Dick Whittington (as 'the Demon'), he turned his attention largely to song writing and conducting, and for his next panto, at Edinburgh (1899, starring Jessica Lait) he was involved as composer and assistant director, under the name of Dudley POWELL


In 1900, he had a considerable success with his score for the provincial musical The Dandy Doctor, produced at Sunderland, and toured widely thereafter, but he did not follow up, writing in the fifteen years that followed, mainly songs for pantomimes, sketches (Fred Karno, Fred Kitchen's All Eyes and comic singers, and conducting -- after a stint with Florodora -- for many years at the Exeter Hippodrome. His surviving numbers include 'The Three Trees' (which had my little brother and I in fits as infants 'she stabbed herself between three trees'), 'Good old Yorkshire Pudden' with Kitchen, and 'I Always Have a Glass of Milk'.




Eleanor JENKINS I am rather defeated by. Well, there are so many of the down in Welsh Wales. Ours came from Llanelly. Was she related to Richard Charles Jenkins RAM who ran the Cambrian Vaults Hotel in Llanelly while acting as a choral conductor, an Eistedfodd Judge, and a vocalist (Blodwen 1913)? I've failed to prove it.
Anyhow, I spot Eleanor taking out the 1gn prize at an 1885 Eistedfodd, in 1887 billed as RAM, in 1890 'of the Castle Street Chapel' singing at London Welsh gatherings with Ben Davies and Eleanor Rees, before she joined the Carte companies as a leading lady for the years 1892-1897. Thereafter, however, she did not pursue a theatrical career. Or, indeed, much of a career at all. I see her at the odd Eistedfodd, at Castle Street, and at Chelsea Town Hall (21 April 1898) in a concert of her own, before she fades out of sight into the rest of her life.

Edith JOHNSTON (b Park Road, Birmingham 16 August 1871; d Bournemouth 23 July 1931) was the daughter of William Morley Nicholls Johnston 'commercial traveller' and his wife Helen or Ellen née Ellis. Yes, in spite of what some folk say, that is our Edith. Now, there are a number of Edith Johnstons about so one has to be careful (as already suggested). Is she the teenager who acted and sang Ophelia with Benson in 1886 ('a lovely face, a sweet and tuneful voice and undoubted dramatic ability'. I suspect so. 



Between 1892-1895 she appeared in the Carte companies, and was then hired to play the Dewman in the production of Hänsel and Gretl in both London and New York. On her return, she was lavishly featured in The Daily Sketch, played more Dewman (and a page in Rigoletto) for Harris, Miss Edith Byng in The Little Genius with Annie Dirckens 

Dirckens in Der Wunderknabe


then Allan a Dale in the Brighton Babes in the Wood, Violet Delamere in The Yashmak, in Le Périchole and at the Tivoli at Whitsun 1898 ... and got married (31 May 1898, witness Wentworth Croke).
Her husband was Harold Browne, of apparently good and even marginally theatrical stock, they had five children (Harold Johnston, Helen Marion, Edith Patricia, Felicia Mary and William Herbert Charles) in quick succession, and then separated. The elder children went to William and his family and their 'governess'  little William to his mother ... There was no divorce, so no cause or blame was publicised. The reason I insist on the family, is that one of them made a 'name' for herself in an area now fashionable, and thus is splattered over the internet. Felicia Mary was a communist, lesbian (?) activist (and painter) who involved herself in Spanish politics, and got herself blown up early in the Spanish Civil war. How fashionable can you get! If Frida Kahlo is worth a film, surely she deserves at least a TV miniseries. Brother William died in the same fighting, brother Henry had been killed in France in the Great War, but they don't attract the same attention.
After the separation, Edith returned to the stage. She played in a number of pieces including A Kiss for Cinderella and Dear Brutus by her friend J M Barrie. I see a letter from Barrie to her which sold on the web a couple of years ago: 
'Barrie (James M.) Autograph letter signed (‘J.M. Barrie’) to Miss Edith Johnston, reading “There might be a chance – I am not certain- of them wanting you to underst[udy] the elderly Scotch woman, Nanny, in the revival of “The Little Minister” and “Walk On”. If you would care for this, do you think ...'
Walk on and understudy? Alas.
Edith was spared the Spanish war and its wasteful foolishnesses. She died in 1931. Harold had died in 1924.

Lithgow JAMES [SMITH, James] (b Pulman's Yard, Barnard Castle 1846; d Queen St, Barnard Castle 27 February 1900) was unlucky. He seemingly had everything. Talent, a fine voice, acting ability, good looks, 6ft 4ins  ... but in the end he remembers best known for having married and justifiably divorced a 21 year-old widow named Maggie ('Jack') Greig. Maggie was to become England's 'Queen of Comic Opera' as Florence St John.


James was born in Barnard Castle to William Smith, whitesmith, and his wife Mary née Lithgow, and, while his brothers took up the family trade, he started his working life as apprentice to an iron founder. However, he soon swapped life in the foundry for music, and by 1871 I see him in Westminster's Purbeck Place billed as 'musician'. I don't know if and what he had done to date (I did look round the Yorkshire concerts .. but James Smith, oy!), but 12 November 1872 I spot him on a programme at the Albert Hall, alongside no less a star than Ann Banks, supplying the musical illustration to poor Julia St George's reciting of The Tempest. Then As You Like It. I don't see him again till 1875, when he surfaces in the Crystal Palace opera season (Il Trovatore, Un ballo in maschera), then singing The Creation at the Sunday Evenings for the People, with Katherine Poyntz and Bernard Lane (7 November), before joining the Durand Opera Company as a principal baritone alongside Annie Tonnellier, Sophia Mariani, William Parkinson and ... Florence St John. He sang in Dublin and Liverpool with a company headed by Parkinson and Blanche Cole, and at Ashton under Lyme he married Mrs St John.
They toured together -- concerts in Edinburgh, opera with the Blanche Cole company, opera at the Crystal Palace and on the road with Rose Hersee, the Manchester pops, a 5-week season at Cork over the holidays, all in 1877. He gave his Malatesa at the Alexandra Palace and the Crystal Palace, then went out on the road again playing Henri to Jack's Germaine in Les Cloches de Corneville, played the Brighton panto with her ... all seemed well. Then, after appearing in the little Nicette, he advertised for work. 'No objection to overseas'. What, without the wife? Well, the wife had changed in status. After that Cloches tour, Alexander Henderson had called to play her role in town, then cast her in the title-role in Madame Favart. She had caused a veritable sensation and was on her way to becoming London's biggest musical-theatre star.
So James joined Carte, and as soon as that engagement finished he did, indeed, sail for America, on the SS Greece, to join Emma Abbott's company (1880-1). When he came home, it was to find that Mons Marius, musical comedy star and his wife ... big James ended up in court when Marius took refuge in the law. James had threatened him, and told him to keep away from Mrs Smith. And the he went back to America! Through 1881-3 he found plenty of work: La Mascotte (Pippo), The Snake Charmer, Patience for Comley-Barton and for Haverley, The Merry War (Umberto Spinola), a 6ft 4 Private Willis in America's first Iolanthe ... but the spies back home had been taking notes, and in 1882 he sued Mrs Smith for divorce, citing Marius as co-respondent. Their relationship was 'un secret de Polichinelle' and he won his case. They errant pair (re)married for a while ... James never did.



He rejoined Carte for a few months playing Corcoran and the Pirate King ('looked the part to the life and acted and sang splendidly') then headed back to America, on the maiden voyage of the Oregon. He sang with a Strakosh concert party, appeared as Arac in Princess Ida in Boston, but then returned home, where he just appeared in concerts around Sunderland. He visited America again in 1887-8, bit then returned home for good. It seemed his career had ended. But fellow Barnard Castellian, Valentine Smith, co-opted him for his staunchly-touring opera company and Lithgow was seen for several years more singing, Luna, Don Jose, Plunkett, Devilshoof ('the requisite physique, abandon and voice') or Arnheim ... In the 1891 census he can be seen sharing a home in Queen St, Barnard Castle, with his unmarried sister, Alice, labelled slightly prematurely 'retired vocalist'. He didn't make it to the next census: he died there in 1900. He left his 2,111 10s 6d to Alice.
For Florence ... see my Encyclopaedia of the Musical Theatre ... except for the bits about her misbehaviour during her marriage with Marius (and his), their subsequent divorce, her subsequent re-marriage ...



Well, that's taken a bite out of letter 'J'. I may return thence when I've tidied my desktop of the other unknown Victorians awaiting my attention. 7.30pm on a Sunday night. Should be able to bag a flight of 'em before bedtime ...


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