Friday, June 30, 2017

Melchor, the mini-Kiwi tenorino

Many years ago I investigated the modest career of an early 'New Zealand tenor'. I wrote him up, and put him aside ... alas, there doesn't seem to be a New Zealand music magazine in which to publish this sort of thing any more..
Today, what was my surprise to come upon a photograph of the gentleman. So, since his was a singular story, I thought I'd give it to the world anyway. With the famous picture. So here goes ...

WINTER, Melchor  [WINTER, Thomas William] (b Hereford 13 December 1826; d Christchurch, New Zealand 28 August 1920)

The tenor who called himself 'Melchor Winter' was but briefly before the British public as a professional vocalist, but his is a colourful tale.

‘Melchor’, as he chose to call himself once he determined to take on a musical career, was born to anything but music. For his father, rightly named Thomas Winter, was the landlord of the Castle Tavern at 25 High Holborn, and, under the pseudonym of ‘Tom Spring’, he was also one of Britain’s most celebrated fist fighters. Born at Fownhope in Hertfordshire in 22 February 1795, into a family of butchers, Tom Spring had – unlike his brothers William and Richard -- eschewed the cleaver for the pump and for fisticuffs.

On the way to fame, he had married Elizabeth Griffin or Griffiths (St Peter’s, Hereford, 26 June 1821), and Thomas William – to be known as Melchor – was, in theory, the first fruits of that marriage.
Tom Spring was dead (Castle Tavern, Holborn, 20 August 1851) and Melchor was himself married, to Ann(ie) Elizabeth Ratton (b Colchester, c1827) (Ross, 5 May 1853), daughter of Joseph Lewis Ratton ‘of Tavistock Place, St Pancras’ and Pheby née Blake, and the father of a daughter Ada Charlotte (b Holborn 14 January 1854), before he devoted himself to music, and attempted to make a career as an operatic tenor.
In this attempt, he had two major handicaps, summed up, years later, by one of his colleagues: ‘[Winter] had studied for the operatic stage and possessed a voice which, though of excellent musical quality, was as diminutive in power as the tenor was in physical proportions…’. Little man, little voice.

For the record, I quote the Musical World of 1842, concerning the local organist’s concert on 3 October at Tonbridge: ‘Mr Winter, a promising young tenor new to the public, sang ‘In Native Worth’ and Beethoven’s ‘Adelaide’ very pleasingly’. Could it be he? A 15 year-old tenor?

If not, Melchor was seemingly already in his thirties when he first ventured on to the public platform, towards the end of 1859. I spot him at a concert in Bath on the first day of December singing ‘M’appari’, and a few weeks later he is up in London, delivering the same aria (to an encore) in George Genge’s concert at the Freemasons Hall. Alongside such established tenors as Donald King, George Perren and the popular Genge himself.
Concert engagements soon followed (Augusta Manning, Edwin Ransford, Peckham Concerts, the van Noordens, ‘Il mio tesoro’) and on 28 May 1860 Melchor joined with the flautist Benjamin Wells to present a concert of their own at the Hanover Square Rooms. Willoughby and Georgina Weiss, Charlotte Sainton-Dolby, Mahlah Homer and Marie Chipperfield made up the programme:
‘Mr Melchor Winter who has recently entered the profession as a tenor singer has a voice sweet and of some extent ... [he] sang with great feeling and intelligence Wallace’s ballad ‘Home of my heart’, ‘Under the linden tree’, ‘The Death of Nelson’ and, with Mrs Sainton, the duet of ‘Di conforto’, and ‘Sulla tomba’ with Miss Chipperfield, in all of which he received very great applause’. The two Weisses and the former Miss Dolby joined him in the Rigoletto quartet to finish.
Winter’s operatic ambitions soon came to fruition. After a whirl round some small provincial dates with Marian Pyne Galton (‘primo tenore of Miss Marian Pyne’s Opera Company’) he was hired to appear in the operatic season at the Eastern Opera House. The prima donna for the season was Florence Lancia, the star tenor was Augustus Braham, the second William Parkinson, and then there was Melchor who, it was announced, would sing Pollio in Norma. In the event, Braham sang Pollio, but Winter was undeniably given his chance. He appeared as Alfredo to the La Traviata of Madame Lancia and as Thaddeus to The Bohemian Girl of Fanny Ternan, and for his Benefit night joined Lancia in a performance of Il Trovatore. And the results were encouraging. Although the press allowed that he was ‘evidently somewhat new to stage business’ they judged him to be in possession of ‘a voice which though not of any great power is of agreeable quality, particularly as regards the higher notes, and he sings the music correctly and with intelligence’. The higher notes being just what an audience, and especially an East End audience, ‘most doat upon’ in a tenor – especially when, like Melchor’s, they are delivered from the chest and not, as was the fashion with even some, nay many, of the day’s most famous singers -- in falsetto, the little primo tenore went down all right. Alas for the talk and the confidence thus engendered.
Shortly after this, the great soprano Hermine Rudersdorff found herself in an embarrassed state. She was to give the annual Christmas operatic season at Cork – perhaps the most consequent Irish operatic season of the year -- and she was short a tenor. So she engaged – surely, sight unseen – Melchor Winter of the Eastern Opera House. Madame Rudersdorff was a large woman. Stout rather than fat, but very tall and very angular. Mr Winter was short. Noticeably short. Madame Rudersdorff had a vast dramatic soprano voice. Mr Winter had a fine top B in chest, plenty of delicate skills and touches, but decidedly limited lungpower. They were scarcely a good match.
The Irish operagoers, who’d just seen Mme Rudersdorff play opposite Elliot Galer and Tito Palmieri, couldn’t take the new combination. It wasn’t just the height thing, it was the voices. One night, so it was reported, when Melchor started to sing, a smart fellow upstairs called out  ‘Ah then Micky what is it? Is that fellow singing or is it the gas?’ and the house collapsed. After the incident, recognising the poor tenor’s real abilities, the audiences treated him better, but, before the end of the season, Galer had been recalled, and Melchor Winter bowed out from off the operatic stage for good.
Which didn’t stop him advertising himself, when he went back to England, as ‘the principal English tenor of Mme Rudersdorff’s opera company’.

Winter had now recognised that a career on the large stage was not for him, but he also realised that there was a place for him and his lovely but little voice in the concert room. And the public recognised it too. On 6 April 1861 he appeared at the Peckham Musical Union and the audience and the press went wild at his ‘Ecco ridente in ciel’. ‘[he] astonished the audience not only by his florid execution but by the tremendous B natural from the chest with which he finished ... his voice has wonderfully improved in power, and he never resorts to the falsetto.’
On 30 April he put on a concert of his own at the Myddelton Hall. Rose Hersee, Emma Heywood, Julia Elton and her sister and Theodore Distin appeared and Mrs Melchor Winter, ‘pupil of Dr Sterndale Bennett’, made her first London appearance as a professional pianist.
In June, he put together what he called a ‘Boudoir Opera Company’ giving concert performances of opera in the suburbs. He sang his Manrico to the Leonora of Fanny Thirlwall, the Azucena of Emma Heywood and the Luna of Borrani, and sang it under conditions more favourable to himself. Then he took the company on a wee tour to Ludlow and Wrexham.
But engagements were still limited. He sang with Mrs Paul, Augusta Thomson and Grattan Kelly at the Glasgow Saturday Evenings and in 1862 I spot him at Godalming and at Peckham again with Rose Hersee, and, with his wife at the piano, at the Whittington Club with Herman Slater and at the Great Western Society in Camden Square, but that was it.
Melchor Winter obviously realised that he wasn’t going to make it. Not to where he wanted to be. In the later part of 1862, he packed up his worldly goods, including the valued memorabilia of his father’s career, boarded a ship for Australia, and, while Madame Winter continued to deliver her well-liked piano concerts to the London public (with guest vocalists of the calibre of Parepa, Campanella or Emma Heywood), her husband scouted out the more inviting parts of the southern hemisphere.

He finally chose New Zealand, and in 1864 the Winters emigrated to Christchurch.

In 1864, the burghers of Christchurch had heard few singers of Melchor’s calibre. And, as residents, the Winters – both of them – were musicians of a kind of which the country was much in need.  They would live on there, performing when they would – Melchor visited Australia in 1872, ‘the Auckland tenor, formerly of London’, and sang in concert in Melbourne (‘Thou art so near and yet so far’), he sang in 1876 at the opening of Christchurch’s Theatre Royal – teaching as they would, to a very ripe old age.

Madame Winter died in Christchurch on 27 January 1919, and Melchor in 1920, at an age that was reported to have been in excess of a hundred years. The local press gave his birth as 28 October 1818, which by no means tallies with the 1851 census and also makes him illegitimate! He was, in fact, a not negligible ninety-five.

I hope he forgave the gaseous Irishman. He should have, for otherwise he might have spent painful years in small touring opera companies around the British provinces, instead of becoming as appreciated and happy in New Zealand as David Miranda did in Sydney.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Today is the first day of the rest of my life…


It might sound silly to say that at the age of 71, but it’s true.

Tomorrow, having got up and headed, with my big glass of Cole’s fizzy water (73 cents a bottle, and better than Perrier), to my computer to catch the overnight mail and the other-side-of-the-world tennis and cycling results, I can if I wish go and lie in the sun with a book. Or walk down the hill and paddle in the ocean. All day, if I want to. For the first time in many, many years.

Explanation. In 2007 I published the two-volume EMILY SOLDENE: IN SEARCH OF A SINGER. It had been a long time in the making, partly or largely because my days in the early 2000s were mostly spent caring for my dear dying Ian (1919-2006). But Emily had been long finished before she made her bow, and to fill the aching days I started on a new and vast project. VICTORIAN VOCALISTS. Biographies of.

And it grew. And it grew. And, like Topsy, it just grew. Until last year it reached the vast total of 900 lengthy articles. More megabytes than was decent. And I just pressed on. It was fascinating. It was also a reason to get up in the morning. I mean, no one could ever publish it. It would be ten large volumes …

So, I thought I would try to place it as a database. I didn’t want money, just that all this ground-breaking research and writing should be saved for the future and made generally available to those interested. Well, you would have thought I was a Greek bearing a gift. Academics and their institutions clearly feared I was taking ‘their’ ground (I only have an MA Hons, and wouldn’t accept a University post to save my virtue) and … well, you get the picture. No footnotes, no referencing, no index just … pages and pages of writing! Horror!

Anyway, I shrugged all that off and just carried on. And … well, there’s none who finds so well as he who no longer seeks ..

In October or November 2017 a selection of 100 of my articles will be published by Routledge of Oxford, England, under the good old title of VICTORIAN VOCALISTS. Big book. Very big book. And getting it ready for the press has been a major exercise.

The last seven weeks have been spent, along with Caroline my beloved editrice of forever, 10 hours a day proof-reading the endless pages … and today we finished. The final copy and its illustrations, captions and prelims went off to Routledge at dawn. It’s done. Finished.

So, tomorrow morning – after the fizzy water and the tennis – what do I do?

 Well, I suspect that sooner or later I’ll start another. But tomorrow Paulie arrives from Berlin, and it’s ‘nephew’ Harry’s 21st, and  ... so maybe not just yet. We’ll see how I like a life without work …

Not much, I think.

Monday, June 12, 2017

An Historical Fix or, EPNS 1, PYHS 0.

This week I am feeling historical. So I have been delving into the Yamba past. It's not very far to go to the beginning, the town dates only from 1864.

But I then discovered that others had delved before, notably the father of my Yambanic friend, Robert Lee, who wrote two books on the subject. Available from the much-publicised local Museum. At the 'Flat' end of my street. (My end is 'The Hill'). Open Tues-Thurs 10-4. They should have the original town plans, and some old photos too …

So,  this soggy-blue, windruffled morning (Tuesday) at 11am, having squelched through the puddles via the bit of our street, between the Hill and the Flat, to where someone has transplanted the last climb of the Alpe d'Huez, I arrived at the museum to find…

CLOSED while we prepare exhibition. Knock. So I knocked. And Knocked. And KNOCKED. Nothing. So I couldn’t buy my books, I couldn’t join the society, I couldn’t look at the plans and the photos…

It just remained for me to climb the Alpe d'Huez homewards without my fix of history. BUT...! As I crossed the greensward, under the old Pilot Hill flagpole, and bent to pick up a big shard of bottle-glass (as I do), I noticed something else in the grass ... my antiquarian senses quivered ... Look!

My history for today! An ancient silver (or is it EPNS) aboriginal spoon! And it’s even got traces of ancient aboriginal caster sugar on it! What do you mean, don't taste it?

Well, back to the proofs of the new book I suppose ... MENGIS, MESSENT, MIRAN ....

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

ART MAKETH THE HOME ... or Home is Where the art is

What a day. WHAT A DAY. How to turn a house into a home …

But let’s start from the beginning.

When I met, and soon went to live with, my wonderful Ian, somewhere back in the 1970s, I entered one world (amongst others) of which I knew little or nothing. The world of pictorial art.

I mean, we’d had nice pictures on our family walls as children. Mostly scenic ones, from Austria. I still have one or two. The Matterhorn. Salzburg. Halstattersee. 

But this was something else. Ian’s walls were full of, you know, Art. Sutherland, Derain, van Dongen, Marie Laurençin, Cecil Beaton (!), Larionov, Sidney Nolan (I put them in the loo), and other Australians of all ranks from Drysdale to Fred Jessup to Sainthill to Hockey, and even way back to Conrad Martens..

 So, I … a young man who had never bought or owned a Real Painting …  had my eyes opened.

Fast Forward. 2006. Since Ian’s death, I have left our house and especially the pictures, absolutely as he arranged them. We even, in latter days, included the couple of New Zealand pictures (Heffer 1901, and Strong 1991-ish) in his arrangement…

Result: I live, when I am in New Zealand, surrounded by art. The horsey photos are relegated to the kitchen, my gold medals and certificates to the second bathroom … and the walls of my dressing room are a gallery of heteroclite paintings which didn’t make it to the drawing room. There are some lithos … but no prints. It’s all Art.

Chapter Two. Yamba. I bought my little Yamba home two years ago. It’s one of those apartments that you let out when you are not there, so it was decorated (art-wise) with that peculiar brand of print which fills hotel and motel walls inoffensively … for a few nights …

I live here from Easter to September holidays. I love this place. Just as I love Gerolstein. But I can’t feel At Home with motel-wall prints.

So ten days ago I went in search of a local artist who might make me a lovely me-type painting to display over my couch. None of my local pals came up with a suggestion, so I went on a www search. So many artists these day putting out stuff in the violent, scissor-edged colours of commercial and computer ‘art’. Couldn’t live with that sort of thing. And then … found!

Today, a young man named Michael Augustine drove down from Caloundra, Qld bearing a load of paintings, from which I might choose the one I liked best. He’s just left … well, his load is lighter on the way home. I’ve bought seven. No, I’ve just re-counted .. eight!

Yes, I know. I sha’n’t eat for a month. But, well, when you find a shirt or a pair of shoes you love, the rule of thumb is ‘buy five’. So I bought eight. And, do you know what? Those pictures have changed the whole feeling of my flats. Now I feel I’m among ‘my stuff’, ‘at home’. Apart from which, they are darling. Beautiful, warm, throughly ‘local’ paintings. Bush, sea, rocks, water .. cool, warm colours … Just the thing for a beachside home that is washed in sunshine 300 plus days a year.

Mike Augustine (yes, he’s Mike now, after a Guinness on the terrasse and a hugely thank-you hug), thank you so much and get your painting arm into gear, because when my friends and visitors see these … well, Kurt the casting director and discoverer of goodies just might have done it again!

So here they are: three for my living room, two for my bedroom, and the remaining three for my big 'investment' flat opposite. Number 3.
Number 3 actually got the prize-winning painting. It just suited that (larger) wall better ... so down with the print (it will be relocated in the loo or somewhere) ...

 and up with "Quiet"

Up with "Round the corner", on the other side of the room ... out of the direct sun ..

and, oh migosh, there's the most vile pretend picture in the hallway. Glued to the wall! Prised off with a stanley knife and hurled into the skip the workmen are using ... we'll have a nice little gum instead

There, that's the guests taken care of. Now me. Flat 7. Bedroom first. Gleefully take down the psychedelic fishes from above my bed ... I know what's going there! I've known since I saw it on the Internet


But when you are in bed, and 'lying awake with a dismal headache and repose is tabooed by anxiety ...', you can't see the lovely picture above your head. So another is needed at the foot of the bed. There!

And now, the grand finale. My living room. Cum office. The room in which I spend 80 percent of my waking hours. It's a delicious room. My desk looks out across my big patio through a whole wall of glass, I have nature for my art in the daytime. But my office opens at 5.30am. And closes well after dark ... and something needed to be done in the non-office part...  and that's what set this whole exercise in motion. The gapingly bare wall. So, art came calling to me ...

And, having answered my call .. the paintings which had called the first and the loudest ended up where I had hoped they would

Ah. That's better ...  Thanks to the artist and his art I now have a home that feels like a home. A week or two living with my new pictures, an inch up, an inch down, left or right  ... and it'll be set for my lifetime.

PS can anybody use some second-hand psychedelic fish?