Monday, April 30, 2018

Here's one I cooked before: 'Miss Warwick'

Here's one I cooked before... it's been sitting on a back burner for ten years ... and I thought it was time to bring it out ..

WARWICK, Giulia [EHRENBERG, Julia] (b 46 Warwick Street, St James 15 January 1857; d 12 Rathbone Place, London 13 July 1904).

The three musical Ehrenberg sisters were born in London, the daughters of a Polish-born tailor, Jacob Ehrenberg, and his wife Evelina née Elias. They were set to the piano at a young age, and Julia studied under the well-known pianist Sigismond Lehmeyer.

She appeared, at the age of twelve, at the Beethoven Rooms (16 June 1869), at a concert given by Lehmeyer, as one of four young lady pupils (‘the Misses Narghanay, Jackson and Ehrenberg’) playing 8-hand arrangements to close each half of the concert. She played at several more concerts, mostly for Lehmeyer and his star pupil Charlotte James, over the next years, before mutating into ‘Miss Warwick’ (allegedly named for her birthplace) and a vocalist, under the tutelage of Madame Sainton-Dolby [and allegedly Garcia] and the patronage of the Countess d’Avigdor and Baroness Lionel de Rothschild.

She and her sister, Annie, sang regularly at the Berkeley Street Synagogue, but my first sighting of ‘Miss Warwick’ on a public platform is 24 February 1873, all of sixteen years-old, singing the soprano music in a performance of William Jackson’s Isaiahwith the Kilburn Musical Society, before, later the same year, she was billed in the Covent Garden Promenade Concerts, and sang in August and September in the series, alongside Rose Hersee, the Siedle sisters, Clarice Sinico, Helene Arnim et al.
In 1873 (22 October) and 1874 (28 October), she appeared at the Albert Hall, with William Carter’s choir, singing the minor music in Elijah,and she repeated the assignment, along with Carter’s pupil, Miss Julian, on other occasions. I later spot her at Cambridge, singing the Mermaid in a concert version of Oberon (Miss Julian was Fatima).

In later 1876 she became ‘Miss Giulia Warwick’, to give several performances with the Carl Rosa Opera Company. She was tried first (7 October 1876) as Zerlina to the Don Giovanni of Frank Celli and the Anna of Cora Stuart at the Alexandra Palace (not, pace The Era and other articles, the Crystal Palace), and on 4 November she appeared as Arline in The Bohemian Girl, alongside Turner and Celli, in the regular Rosa season at the Lyceum Theatre. She repeated the role for the last night of the season (2 December) and apparently played a performance as Marcellina in Fidelio,vice Julia Gaylord, as well. When the company moved on to Liverpool, she paid a flying visit to that city for one more Arline.

Shortly afterwards, she was cast in a curious 5-act opera entitled Bjorn which was given a forced run at the Queen’s Theatre, but that engagement doesn’t seem to have stopped her taking part in a concert party tour with the violinist Wilhelmj, singing Israel in Egyptin Belfast, at Kuhe’s Brighton Festival, visiting Leeds with Wilhelmj (‘an excellent soprano’) or repeating her Carter Elijah. When Bjornhad been buried, she returned to the concert stage – the Crystal Palace, the Covent Garden and Agricultural Hall proms (‘attempted’ Elsa’s Dream), – until she was again hired for the theatre: and secured her place in the reference books.

She was cast, ‘of the Carl Rosa Opera Company’, to play seconda dama in a new opéra-bouffe at the Opera Comique: The Sorcerer. As Constance Partlett, the pew opener’s juvenile daughter, she was seen to have ‘something to learn as an actress’, but she did well enough that, when producer Richard D’Oyly Carte re-deployed leading lady, Alice May, to his newest show, and Mrs Ware had assured the interim, she was given the part of Aline for the remainder of the run. She also appeared in the forepieces Dora’s Dream and The Spectre Knight.

Giulia as Aline in The Sorcerer. The lower picture has often been misidentified as Alice May. Look for yourself ...

However, she did not continue with what would become the Savoy company. Her first engagement was her last. After the run at the Opera Comique ended, and various concerts had filled the interim, she rejoined the Carl Rosa, as a supporting soprano. Over some three years she appeared as Ann Chute in The Lily of Killarney, the Gipsy Queen in The Bohemian Girl, Clara in The Siege of Rochelle, Elena in Piccolino, Bianca in The Taming of the Shrew, Ritta in Zampa, Paquita in Carmen, the mother (!) in I Promessi Sposi, Donna Inez in Moro, Martha in Faustet al, to fair and usually brief notices, before ending her time with the company in mid-1882. 

She returned to concert singing – in 1883 (1 May), I see her at St James’s Hall singing with Willing’s choir, alongside younger sister Alexandra, who like Julia had switched for piano to vocals –before moving definitely into the field of comic opera and musical comedy. In 1884 (7 May), she was hired by Alexander Henderson for the second role of Jessamine (‘The Song of the Clock’) in Nell Gwynneat the Avenue Theatre, and subsequently went on the road for the same producer playing Edwige behind the Falkaof Tillie Wadman. She next took the role of Falka in the number 2 tour, run by van Biene and Lingard, and later at the Comedy Theatre, where she played the title-role in the show’s 1,000th performance, 8 April 1886. She went on to play Daphne in the short-lived Glamour, and was then engaged by van Biene to tour in Pepita and in The Old Guard, a series culminating in a return to the Avenue Theatre as Fraisette in The Old Guard and Princess Etelka, behind Marie Vanoni, in Nadgy.
In 1889 she toured as Frédérique in La Girouette, and in 1890 she took part in the Globe Theatre production of The Black Rover, replacing the composer’s insufficient wife in the large leading role of Isidora. In 1891, she went out at the head of the ‘Giulia Warwick Opera Company’ playing the complex title-role in the French musical-comedy Madame Cartouche, which found only medium success, after which she ended her time on the touring circuits.

In 1892 (29 March), she mounted a concert of her own (‘Tu fai la superbetta’), at the Prince’s Hall, with a fine bill including Valleria, Hilda Wilson, Ben Davies, Maybrick and sister Alexandra, and in the later part of the year took a turn on the music-halls singing (‘of the Carl Rosa Opera Company’) alongside Cora Stuart – now playing comedy – and some performing dogs and cockatoos, from the Empire Palace, Edinburgh to the Star Theatre of Varieties, Dublin.

Cora Stuart

In 1894, she was appointed to the staff of the Guildhall School of Music in the department of ‘gesture, elocution and deportment’, but she had not yet finished with the stage. In 1896, the ‘very tiny woman, with a big voice and vivid personality’ was cast as Aunt Barbara, alongside star May Yohe, in The Belle of Cairo. Miss Yohe and the show turned out failures, and Giulia returned to the Guildhall. In 1896, following her sister’s death, she had succeeded to her post on the vocal staff of the institution, where she remained till a couple of years before her death at the age of 47.

Her two sisters had predeceased her. Eldest sister, Annie Ehrenberg (d 5 February 1897) who had not developed her musical career, married the music critic [Thomas] Percival [Milbourne] Betts. Younger sister, Alexandra [Leah], after studying under Randegger at the RAM, had a promising career as a mezzo-soprano, before ill-health led her away from the platform into teaching, and a post on the Guildhall staff. She died at just 33 years of age (2 September 1896).

Julia’s career has been much summarised, largely due to her brief Gilbert and Sullivan connection. Alas, it has been too often summarised rather incorrectly in its details: she did not study under ‘Maurice Garcia’, she never sang Leonora in Fidelio, or the title-role in Carmen… and so forth. It is about time Miss Ehrenberg’s biography was given a wash and brush-up, I feel. So …

Little Buttercup .... my best shot!

It’s Buttercup day. 8am on a glorious Yambanic morning and it’s time to put the tale of Harriet(te) Everard on paper …  yes, I know I promised it yesterday, but she threw up the odd hiccough and I spent most of yesterday failing to sort one of them out.

However, with ‘Miss Everard’s twenty years as an actress and a singer on the British stage, I have no problems, so here we go.

EVERARD, Harriet[te Emily](née WOOLLAMS) (b 96 High Street, Marylebone, London, 12 March 1844; d London 22 February 1882). The first child of John WOOLLAMS (b London 1 August 1816; d 66 Preston Rd., Brighton 28 August 1884) ‘builder and paper stainer’ and Harriet née GRAVES (married 1843).  Seemingly brought up by aunt Emily and her husband, goldsmith Frederic Aumonier (1801-1860) at 754 Old Kent Road, while father and mother were producing Adela Louisa, Percy Raynor, Walter John, Kate, Alma, Maude ..

It is said that Harriette began her stage career at Exeter with actor-manager Frederick Belton. Yes, I see that. But it is not quite evident when. Some say 1860. Belton opened his theatre 26 November 1860 with a company including the Misses Bella Vaughan (leading lady), Julia Leicester, Fanny Raynor, Annette Howell (dancer), Mrs H Somerville and Mrs Alcroft. A future star in Harry Beckett was amongst the ‘also’s. But the theatre seemed open mostly to let the military amateurs of the local Volunteers strut their stuff, and come panto time Harry Beckett and the two star ladies seemed to play the opening almost all by themselves. Belton plugged on through short or shorter seasons: I see Fanny Addison and a Mrs Bathurst taking a turn … For the winter season, Mr Belton scored a small coup: Charles Kean and wife came to his theatre, 27 November, for three performances. The brought three supporting players with them, but they played large plays, so Mr Belton hired his ‘winter company’ in consequence. First a ‘Miss Elise de Courcy’ was brought out, then the pantomime Aladdin and a Miss Plucknett and, amid a host of musical and burlesque performances, comes a notice for the ‘beautiful singing’ of Miss Everard in Guy Mannering. I spot her in Miss de Courcy’s Benefit (18 March 1862) before Mr Belton moves on to manage the Swansea Theatre for a season. And Harriet went too. I see her singing ‘My pretty Jane’ between the parts (‘in a style that commanded an encore’), and I see her playing in Rob Roy opposite the company’s first singing man, Maurice de Solla (‘the singing of Miss Everard is much admired’, ‘really a great favourite here’). From Swansea, she and de Solla continued to Plymouth, in October, to repeat their Rob Roy and remained there as part of the strong local company until Easter the following year (Pekoe in Aladdin, Abriocotina in Ruy Blas, Fortunio etc).

I don’t know what happened next. She was strongly established in a fine provincial company, there was talk of her going to Cave at the Marylebone … but for the rest of 1863 she is unfindable. Ill? Pregnant? Family problems? Or just unemployed?  Anyway, she surfaces in the new year, at the second-rate Surrey Theatre in Sheffield, singing ‘The Chink of Gold’ in Sinbad, something entitled 'Blacksmith', and giving Guy Mannering and Rob Roy  with de Solla. I notice among the alsos of the company a Mr Parry.

It is Mr Parry who is my timewasting problem. From Sheffield, Harriette progressed to Jersey’s Queen’s Assembly Rooms for a summer season. It wasn’t quite as end-of-the-pierish as it might sound, for the two principals of the affair were tenor Elliot Galer and his wife, known as Fanny Reeves. They were both well-known English operatic performers, but Galer had had a bad accident and they were now touring at Entertainment of two-handed operettas which they had recently been performing in London (Cousin Kate, The Haunted Mill, Blonde and Brunette etc). For their summer season they hired two supernumeries: Hariette and ‘Mr W Parry’.

Why do I insist on Mr Parry? Because Harriette insisted that she married him. They advertised together from Jersey … and then, unless he’s ‘Mr W Parry from Cirencester’ playing Whitebait at Greenwich at Gloucester … I lose him. Well, not totally. In the 1871 census, Harriette is back with the widowed Mrs Aumonier. She is Harriette Parry, and accompanied by an Arthur Parry, born Covent Garden, aged 34. Arthur begins with a W? And when Harriette later (re?)married, she did it the widow Parry. No. I’ve wasted enough time on this puzzle. Someone can check the Jersey registers …

After her holiday (honeymoon?) in the Channel Islands, Harriette returned to town and joined Sefton Parry’s (oh no!) company at the New Greenwich Theatre. I see her as Leicester in Kenilworth, Charlotte in The Stranger, Sybil in Jack in the Giant Killer, Apollo in Ixion ..,. (‘appeared after a lengthened absence’) … and then, dammit I lose her again, for all of 1865. I know Mr Aumonier was in his last year of life … but …

Harriette was still only 21 when she joined the company at the Olympic Theatre, along such rising gals as Nellie Farren and Amy Sheridan. She appeared as Prince Pecki in Princess Primrose (‘a skilful songstress w
ith a finely developed figure’ ‘displays talent as both a vocalist and an actress’, ‘so melodious a voice and with such brilliancy of expression’ ‘a decided success’), was the comedy relief as Cordelia Jemima in the drama Love’s Martyrdom and created the rather approximate version of Clémentine in the first approximate version of the opéra-bouffe Barbe-bleue. She was already marked out as the coming Desclauzas of England … at twenty-one!

In 1867 she played a season with Miss Marriott at the Victoria Theatre (Jeannie Deans, The Hunchback, Hamlet, The Broken Sword, Raymond and Agnes, Tricks of the Turf) and then visited Liverpool, for another at the local St James’s Hall with Maria Simpson. She was Mopes the maid in Pygmalion, Princess Bariatinski in Ton Taylor’s The Serf, Mrs Raby in Miriam’s Crime and created the elderly, flirtatious Marchioness in a burlesque of La Fille du régiment, La Vivandière, by one W S Gilbert.

Then, after a brief return to Greenwich, she was hired for the Queen’s Theatre: manager Alfred Wigan. Only, Wigan was but a front. The Queen’s Theatre was a lust-gift from Henry Labouchère to his married mistress, the actress Henrietta Hodson of historical infamy. Miss Hodson played endless juvenile leads at the Queens, and either enormously cannily or blithely unaware that she was being acted off the stage, surrounded herself with a most amazing company: Li Brough and Johnny Toole as chief funmakers, the young Henry Irving, John Ryder, even for a while the delicious Polly Markham and the rising Kate Santley. And Harriette as comic soubrette and old woman. She played her Marchioness in Gilbert’s burlesque again (‘cleverly represented without too much exaggeration’), was Mrs Corney to Brough’s Bumble, ‘an intriguing lady of a certain age’ in The Gnome King, Mrs Spriggins in Ici on parle français, Polly in Not Guilty, Mrs Fielding in Dot, Mrs Subtle in Paul Pry … in the eighteen months that she stayed at the Queen’s ..

Henry Irving, Miss Everard, Charles Wyndham, Ada Dyas, John Clayton, Henrietta Hodson, Toole and Lionel Brough in Dearer Than Life at New Queen's Theatre.

She fulfilled a season at the Royal Alfred Theatre in 1869 (Hecate in Macbeth, Blouzabella in The Invisible Prince) before she landed another substantial engagement, in Mrs John Wood’s company at the St James’s Theatre and on tour. Mrs Wood played a good repertoire (Milky White, Bombastes furioso, The Heir at Law, Paul Pry, To Oblige Benson, the burlesque Vesta) but her trump card was the burlesqueLa Belle Sauvage. Matilda Wood, of course, played Po-co-han-tas (as John Brougham’s piece had originally been named) but the show had been rewritten since its first productions  and was now a burlesque of the hit play School. Harriette was the schoolmistress Kros-as-can-be: ‘one of the most genuinely grotesque parts on the modern stage. A sort of French bonne in German style …’. She all but stole the show!

She returned to Ms Hodson for The Last Days of Pompeii, she joined an aspiring Edith Bertram at the Royalty Theatre for a month as a garrulous landlady in Bohemia and Belgravia and Mme Deschapelles in The Lady of Lyons and even joined the cast – alongside such as Lionel Brough, Mrs Billington and Mrs Howard Paul, no less, for the disastrous spectacular Babil and Bijou at Covent Garden.

In 1873 she appeared at the North Woolwich Pleasure Gardens, and then moved to the Princess’s Theatre where she appeared as the Spirit of Memory in Undine, The Will of Wise King Kino, Griselda., The Sleepiong Draught, as the Fairy Minette, Queen of Catland in Little Puss in Boots singing ‘How nice to be a fairy’ and voted ‘one of the best things in then pantomime’ ‘a very buxom and substantial fairy’.. When Mrs Rousby guested she also played the Duchess of Norfolk in Twixt Axe and Crown.

She was cast to the hilt, again, when French opéra-bouffe with its unequalled combination of burlesque humour and fine singing raised its head. When Charlie Head floated an English Giroflé-Girofla at the  poor old Phil, with the starry Julia Mathews in the dual title-role, Harriette was given the superb ‘heavy lady’ role of Aurore, and won enthusiastic notices. Unfortunately, the following La Fille de Madame Angot didn’t have an equivalent role available – Desclauzas had still been not quite too buxom the make a triumph of the star role! Harriette was not exactly Rubensesque … more short and plump! When the Phil did The Waterman, she was Mrs Bundle.

In 1875 she appeared at the Charing Cross Theatre in comedy (Mrs Toodles, Mrs Wellington de Boots etc), played Mrs O’Kelly in Lodnon’s first The Shaugraun at Drury Lane, in 1876  played in Gilbert’s Pygmalion and Galatea at the Alexandra Palace and returned to the Charing Cross to play Mrs Winkle in Young Rip van Winkle and Mrs Grimley in 20 Pounds a Year. She toured with Joseph Eldred, played with the Strand Theatre co ..

And then she was hired to play Mrs Partlett, the pew opener, in the new British ‘opéra bouffe’ at the Opera-Comique. It was a triumph for her (‘Miss Everard was excellent as the pew opener’,‘the incomparable pew opener of The Sorcerer)’ but it was also probably the death of her.

There is no need for me to repeat the tale of Harriette’s career from here on in. It is too well known. From The Sorcerer and its companion The Spectre Knight, she went on to the role of Little Buttercup, especially written to feature her (Mrs Howard Paul was intended to have been Hebe, and Buttercup the second character lady) and wrote herself into history.  And then came The Pirates of Penzance. 

The role of Ruth was played originally (in America) by Alice Barnett. Miss Barnett was very tall and decidedly Amazonian. In London, it was to be played by lovable, roly-poly Harriette. It wasn’t, of course, because she suffered the rehearsal accident which effectively ended her career and maybe her life. 

What would have happened had Miss Everard lived? She was ‘A’ team. Would the Savoy character ladies have been modelled on her rather than on Miss Barnett?  Lady Jane, Fairy Queen, Katisha? The Savoy Operas might have been somewhat different in layout and form to those we know.

We’ll never know.

I’d better tidy up the ends. Harriette married (again) a gentleman – well, a commission agent -- seven years younger than she, by name George William Darley Beswick. The marriage was, of course, of short duration. He remarried after her death, but died himself 6 July 1904. I can’t find him (or her) in the 1881 census. But I haven’t looked hard.

As for the brothers and sisters, the Woollams family were the delight of the Hammersmith, Brook Green and Richmond amdrams for years, before both Percy and Walter turned professional. Adela didn’t, but after a curious marriage (yes, another) to a chap called Paul Xavier Hubert who was supposed to be a naval attaché from Livorno, but seems to have been the son of a Woollams Wallpaper employee, second-wed one William Lauderdale Maitland. Mr Maitland was a florist of Irish sources, and he too had been involved in showbiz. Under the pseudonyms of ‘the brothers Mansell’ he and brother Richard had been responsible for bringing the ground-breaking opéra-bouffe Chilpéric to England! The story of which I have told at length elsewhere ..! Oh, William was the smart brother who got out of the theatre and back into flowers. Richard was the mad one ..

Saturday, April 28, 2018

Who WAS 'Little Buttercup' ?


When I got up this morning, it was my intention to write just one more article to top off my little spurt of Gilbert and Sullivan biographies. 

You know how you get favourites among people you’ve never seen or heard or met? I check the international tennis results first thing every morning to see how Quentin Halys, Calvin Hemery and Manon Arcangioli are doing! And the cycling results for Lilian Calmejane and his team. 

Well, during my 40 years wandering in the Victorian musical theatre, I developed a devotion for, among others, the lady who called herself ‘Harriet Everard’. And, bit by bit, I put together a record of her career, culminating, as everyone knows, with her creation of the role of Little Buttercup in HMS Pinafore.

So, today, I would write up Harriet, that ‘plump and pleasing person’.

Now, anyone who has read my biographies … in my Victorian Vocalists and on my blog … knows that I do not just reel off a list of credits. Oh no. I like to investigate the background of the artist, his or her life out of the theatre, their family …

So, before I started in on ‘Miss Everard’, I did a morning’s digging. And so fruitfully did I dig, that the article on her darling career never got written. Instead, here comes some fascinating detail on her background! Well, fascinating to me!

Everybody knows that ‘Miss Everard’ or later ‘Miss H Everard’ was actually born Harriet(te) Emily Woollams. I can’t remember whether I was the first to reveal that, a hundred years ago, but anyway it is true. And attached to the bald facts, daughter of John Woollams – variously described as a builder and a decorator – and his wife Harriet née Graves. Doesn’t sound particularly interesting, does it? But it is.

‘Builder and decorator’ sounds like a local handyman. No. No way. Mr Woollams was a shining star of the British wallpaper world. His father was the biggest star. William Woollams of 31 Wigmore Street … ‘paper stainer’ … and he seems to have been around since the beginning of the 19th century!

I won’t detail his importance. If you are interested, there is a splendid book on the web detailing the Woollams influence on wallpaper:

William married a Huguenot-descended lady by name Mary Ann Aumonier … and, well, it all gets genealogically vast after that … but they seem to have had a bunch of sons (see 1841 census) all but one of whom went into wallpaper. That one was the youngest, David Woollams, who started life as a ‘carver and gilder’ but apparently became a singer ‘in the Opera’. Whatever, he died a rich man, so I suspect he had a day job.

The highway and byways of the Woollams and Aumonier families would fill a book. After grandad’s death, the next generation took up the wallpapering – son William at 110 High Street Marylebone, and a John at 69 Marylebone Lane – I think, maybe, William with rather more success. They won prizes at the Great Exhibition and other trade fairs … yes, well, the book tells all. Even if it is sometimes difficult to sort out the Williams and the Johns!

So, enough of that. Let’s get on to Harriet[te]. 

Harriet was the first child of John Woollams and his wife Hariet[te] née Graves. They would have a heap more. Which is perhaps why Harriet appears to have been brought up by her aunt, Emily, who just happened to have married, in his later life, the much older goldsmith Fredéric Gibson … Aumonier, who died in 1866. Anyway, Harriet can be seen chez Aumonier in the 1861 census … 

Well, I’ll do the career tomorrow. Or maybe not. John Woollams sired several theatricals … had I better cover them? 

Oh, as a final touch: I suppose Miss Woollams isn’t a doozy as a stage name. I’ve always supposed that Harriet became ‘Everard’ because it sounded aristocratic. Never presume. I now find her grandparents were Jean Aumonier and Marie … Everard!

Career, husbands and all that jazz,  tomorrow!

Thursday, April 26, 2018

The third wish: or, Pish Tush Bah!

It’s the one that always goes wrong, isn’t it. And it seems to have gone wrong for me. Unless the two men here pictured are one and the same person, a few decades apart. They have the same name … and not a common one … but we’re talking theatre, so names mean nothing.

David Stone’s third labour for this Hercules was to solve the mystery over the appearance, disappearance, and identity of Frederick Bovill. Not something I’d ever thought of investigating. Mr Bovill’s career can be fitted (and has been) into a few lines.  Comes from nowhere to be featured as Pish Tush in The Mikado. Plays it through the run at the Savoy Goes on the road with the J W Turner and Henry Walsham Opera troupes, playing the baritone roles of Don Jose, Arnheim, Devilshoof, Luna, Danny Mann for eight months (‘too much vibrato’ ‘lacking in incisiveness’), then disappears for a while, surfacing to take tiny parts in the Carte productions of Ivanhoeand La Basoche. And that is effectively it.

Not many clues in there. Was he, I wondered, an amateur with something of a voice, fulfilling a desire to go on the stage? A friend of a friend of someone? But surely, then, he’d turn up in amateur productions. There must be a Reason for Mr Bovill, who couldn’t even sing the role adequately and had to hand over his part in the madrigal to one with a better range, being cast in The Mikado apparently with no previous experience.

And then name? Could it be real? I checked out the Fred Bovills of Britain. A grocer in Kingston. The Rector of Eggington. Mr F W Bovill of Harrow and New, classics scholar from Dorking (not he, he’s still at Oxford in 1886), a fish sauce and picklemaker …

I took another angle. After his little turn at the English Opera House, I see Fred performing twice. 12 May 1892 in Edgar Brightwell Skeet’s dramatic and humorous recital at Steinway Hall and then in the one performance of Alec Nelson’s operetta A Hundred Years Agoat the Royalty with Mr Smallwood Metcalfe. The two occasions have something in common: Mr Skeet and Mr Metcalfe are the chief tutors at Gustave Garcia’s stage school. And the operetta was composed by the conductor of the other concert: Mr Henry J Wood. So is there a connection between Bovill and the school, or even Henry Wood. It’s just a thought.

I wasn’t getting anywhere. Either he wasn’t really a Bovill or …
One last look. Dates-wise only one of the Freds seemed to fit. Yes, I’m afraid it’s the pickler … and during the years 1885-91 when our Fred was er ‘flourishing’, the pickler had three children. Each birth certificate confirms him as a ‘merchant’ … Claude Hardwicke Knight Bovill … what a name! Hang on! I KNOW Mr C H Bovill …. librettist and lyricist to the British musical theatre of the 20th century! Oh but wasn't he Charles Henry ... oh, I dunno.

Coincidence? Red herring? Maybe there’s an interview saying ’Daddy was Pish Tush’. Or Daddy was a pickler.
Anyway, that’s Daddy’s photo above … below our Fred.

My efforts have really discovered nothing. Mr Bovill will have to go into the UNSOLVED box for the meanwhile, to keep company with the biggest Gilbert and Sullivan identity mystery of all … WHO WAS ALICE MAY?

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

David Stone's Three Wishes: Number Two .. granted!


BENTHAM, George [Buchan] (aka BENTAMI, Giorgio) (b Clifton, York, 9 December 1843; d Strand Palace Hotel, London 25 March 1911)

George Bentham was born in York in 1843, the son of Captain (later Lieutenant-Colonel) John Bentham, (d Torquay 9 October 1858) variously of the 6th dragoon guards, 52nd Light Infantry and the 3rd East Lancashire Militia, and the son of an army General, and his Leeds-born wife Emma Sophia née Ikin ‘youngest surviving daughter of Thomas Ikin, Esq of Leventhorpe House’ (m Brotherton, 7 February 1839). The family was well-connected, and in the 1851 census John and Emma, with daughters Harriet Mary Considine Bentham (10) and Caroline (9), and son George (7), can be seen living with Emma’s widowed brother, Thomas Bright Crosse, ‘magistrate and deputy lieutenant’ and some time MP for Wigan, at Shaw Hill, Whittle le Woods, Lancs, in a household which also includes a governess and nine servants inclusive of two nurses, a nurserymaid and a governess. The Crosse family ‘of Crosse Hall, Chorley’, as well as being of ancient lineage, were decidedly well off.

The young George took employment in the war office. Having discovered an attractive tenor voice, he also got involved in the amateur music-making which was a feature of high society life in London, and by 1866, the date of the first concert programmes I have dug up in which his name appears, he had won his way to the top of that particular tree.

The earliest is a concert in January 1866 given by the Margate Volunteers at the local Assembly Rooms. George performed that veriest chestnut ‘The Message’, Mrs Talfourd, the widow of the well-connected playwright Francis Talfourd and another prominent amateur singer, gave the florid ‘Carnival of Venice’ variations, and the two joined together in the duet from Rigoletto. Mrs Talfourd’s singing teacher, Emmanuel Aguilar, also took part. Maybe he was young Bentham’s teacher too, but it is never said. Anyway, the press raved: ‘Rarely do concert-goers hear such a tenor as Mr Bentham... his singing of ‘The Message’ was something superb.’

A couple of months later, he is at Torquay, singing at a concert given by ‘some members of the Wandering Minstrels’. The Wandering Minstrels was the foremost gentlemen’s amateur singing club in Britain, and it appears that George Bentham had, at 22 years of age, already risen to be a soloist with them. Later in the season, he and Mr Whitworth Jones (the former very appreciable professional opera basso known as ‘Henry Whitworth’) were the soloists in a very high-society concert given by the group at the West London School of Art.

At the end of March, he featured in the concert of the Civil Service Musical Society at the Hanover Square Rooms, and this time the London critics added their praise: ‘he has a beautiful tenor voice which was heard to much more advantage in Mr Frederick Clay’s very graceful song ‘The Shades of evening’, accompanied by the composer, than in the not very interesting air (balata) by Donizetti ‘Il pescatore’. Besides possessing a voice to excite envy, Mr Bentham has real musical feeling and sings with expression as true as it is unaffected.’ Along with his ballads, George also tackled opera, joining a Mr Swain in a duet from Mercadante’s Eliza e Claudio.

In April he visited Canterbury for a concert given by the professional vocalist Eleanor Armstrong. He gave his ‘Shades of Evening’ and won a double encore for his rendition of ‘Spirto gentil’, and the critic nodded ‘[he has] a very good tenor voice and sings somewhat after the sweet manner of Mr Hohler..’

The magic name. It had to come. For indeed, the two men were drawn from one and the same well. Both came from a wealthy and high-social background, and both had fine, true English tenor voices with, it seems, true upper class English enunciation and pronunciation. Both had been stars of the Wandering Minstrels. Both had been civil servants. But Thomas Hohler was a particular case.

Rare it was – and, indeed, I can think of no other previous example -- that a society amateur should quit the amateur ranks and take on a full-sized career as a professional vocalist. Most didn’t want or need to. Singing was a pleasurable and social activity not a job. But just a few years earlier Hohler had done it, and done it with more than a little success. George Bentham would follow where he had led.

Quite where and how he started his transformation, I do not know. He is still there in May of 1866, singing at Civil Service Society concert (‘he created quite an effect with the audience’), but he then disappears from my view for the whole of 1867. Studying in Italy? And mythology (on the say so of the Musical World) credits him with his having ‘made his operatic debut in Brussels Théâtre Italien du Cirque under the name of Bentami in 1869’. Which is certainly not right.

My first sighting of the remade Bentham is in 1868, when a correspondent of the Musical World writes from Copenhagen in to report on ‘a new English tenor’ who is appearing there in Il Trovatore ‘a great surprise… a soft, sonorous, sympathetic voice ... intonation as pure as the sound of a silver bell’. When he sang Rigoletto, alongside Pantaleone and Mlle Calisto, the local music press credited him with ‘eine hübsche Stimme, aber kein Spiel.’ By October, the reports are coming from Amsterdam where he is ‘primo tenore in the opera of the city’. ‘He has just signed an engagement as primo tenore for the Royal Theatre at Stockholm for ten weeks’. After that, it seems, he proceeded on to Italy. For, when he finally made it back home, he was billed as being ‘of the principal theatres of Italy’. It is always a suspicious bit of terminology, that is, and the truth of the matter is usually that the unnamed principal theatres are nothing of the kind, if indeed they exist at all. But anyway Bentham was on his way in his new career, and good tenors being as hard to find in the C19th as they are in the C21st … it is likely that he found gainful employment wherever he may have been.

The career of Tom Hohler had been launched, in April 1866, by Mapleson of the Italian opera and the experiment had been a success. Now Mapleson put the newest civil service tenore under contract, and George Bentham was able to return to Britain with a three-year contract for the Italian opera house in his pocket.

He began the British part of his professional career in Scotland (March 1871), where Mapleson’s company was playing a pre-London season. Glasgow voted his Almaviva ‘manly and musicianlike’, Edinburgh reported that as Elvino, to the Sonnambule of di Murska and of Sinico, ‘his tasteful vocalisation elicited hearty applause’, and as the company headed south Birmingham approved his ‘voice of agreeable quality … ‘ though finding ‘his acting and singing somewhat amateurish’.

He made his London debut playing the role of Carlo, opposite Ilma di Murska, in Linda di Chamonix (20 April 1871) and the critical response was fairly satisfying. But only fairly. The Times opined that ‘he must abide his time and acquire experience. That he possesses a voice to be envied none can dispute; moreover, he has talent into the bargain’ and added that he was much less nervous on the second night;another print referred to him as ‘a cultivated English amateur’ and compounded ‘… a nice tenor voice of the tender rather than the robust order and of these there is always an ample supply. His manner is quiet and modest, and his style careful, neat and small, more suited for musica di camera than the area of the Grand Opera’. The Musical World commented on what it considered to be nervousness, but continued ‘there was however much to commend …’ and ‘that he possesses a voice to be envied is beyond dispute’.

The ‘new tenor’ was much in demand. On the 20 May he appeared at the New Philharmonic concerts in a concert version of Idomeneo alongside Therese Titiens, two days later he shared the vocal duties with Clarice Sinico at the real Philharmonic Society, giving ‘Un aura amoroso’ and provoking the review ‘ .. a delightful tenor voice but much to learn’. It was a refrain he would hear often in the years to come.

On 24 May Idomeneo was repeated, on 25 May he joined di Murska, Edith Wynne, J G Patey and Janet Patey, Sims Reeves, and Sig Foli as soloists with Henry Leslie’s choir, and in the early days of June he appeared with some of his opera confreres at the Crystal Palace, took part in Mr Aptommas’s concert singing Donizetti and joining in ‘Un di se ben’ (‘he improves’), Wilhelm Kuhe’s concert, Wilhelm Ganz’s concert at St James’s Hall, sharing the vocals with Titiens, Natalie Carola, Vernon Rigby and Jules Lefort, and at Henry Leslie’s concert with a large portion of the opera company. When he appeared at the Royal Dramatic College concert on the stage of Her Majesty’s Theatre, he exhumed an old friend and ‘charmed the audience with a pretty song by Frederick Clay called ‘Shades of Evening’’.

And in the midst of all this activity he launched into a new role at Her Majesty’s, featured as Idreno to the Semiramide of Titiens, alongside Trebelli, Agnesi and Foli. ‘A tenor part only to be completely filled by an intelligent singer ... [he] added to the general efficiency’. And then, on the occasion of Mapleson’s Benefit in July, he was put forward as Lionel in Martha. The press commented‘years back petty jealousy and prejudice would have given a young English tenor no such chance as that which has favoured Mr Bentham’.

The concert engagements continued on till the end of the season, and in the interregnum between the London opera season and Mapleson’s provincial tour, George snared another top job: an engagement at the Gloucester Festival, sharing the tenor music with Vernon Rigby and Edward Lloyd, and alongside Titiens and Foli (Elijah, selection Azor e Zemire). Presumably he didn’t sing on the last day of the Festival, 8 September, for that day he was in London, at All Saints Church Kensington, tying the knot with twenty year-old mezzo Cecile Fernandez.


The newlyweds duly crossed to Dublin, where George stepped in to deputise for Vizzani in Il flauto magico and Cecile scored a success with her Smeaton in Anna Bolena. But Mr Bentham took umbrage when Zélie Trebelli was then given the role of Smeaton, refused to allow Cecile to go on in Il flauto magico, flaunted off with her to sing in Halle’s concerts in Manchester and booked them for Brighton in defiance of their Maplesonian contracts. As then the troupe proceeded on to Liverpool and dates beyond, Bentham was still with them, but he doesn’t seem to have done much. It seems he may have been suspended. Anyway, his manager sued him claiming he had ‘violated his contract by singing at the Gloucester Festival and at Dover last Sept without consent’.

And so, it was back to the concert halls -- the Crystal Palace with ‘Il mio tesoro’, ‘Ah si ben mio’ and the like, Ganz’s Saturday evenings with ‘O cara imagine’ -- and to reviews ranging from ‘there is little doubt that he will ultimately become one of our most popular tenors’ to the too familiar ‘he ought to do more than he does with so much voice as he possesses’.

And then they were up and gone. Mr and Mrs Bentham quit England and headed for Italy. News seeped back to Britain of their performing – one, the other or both – in Udine, at the Pergola in Florence, at the Teatro Bellini in Palermo. In January 1873 he sang Faust and she – for heaven’s sake – Marguerite in Malta to enthusiastic reviews, and in June he was reported singing Don Pasquale in Saenza. She was doing Rosina in Ferrara. When, that is she was not giving birth, in Florence, to a little Jack A Bentham (24 March 1873). Later, he turns up at the Teatro delle Valle in Rome (L’Ombra).

I don’t know what happened to little Jack, but something seems to have happened around about this time to George and Cecile. Like, he returned from Italy and she stayed. Playing at the Teatro Malibran in Venice. And when she does return, they are no longer working together, as they so often were before. And, according to the censi of 1881, 1891 and 1901, neither are they living together. She still bills herself much of the time as Madame Bentham-Fernandez, or Fernandez-Bentami or other suitable variation. But sometimes she is just Cecile Fernandez. It does seem as if the marriage may have had a very short effective life.

Back in London, George began to work. He took part in the Monday pops (‘O cara imagine’, Mendelssohn song) and replaced Vernon Rigby in the London Ballad Concerts delivering ‘The snow lies white’ and his faithful ‘The Shades of evening’, he insisted on ‘Salut, demeure chaste et pure’ at the British Orchestral Society (‘Mr Bentham proved his advance as a vocalist but to be frank he has yet much to learn in point of style’), returned to sing with Henry Leslie’s Choir and appeared in concert at the Albert Hall (‘When other lips’). And then, on 27 April, he reappeared with Mapleson at Her Majesty’s Theatre.

Faust was the vehicle chosen, with Marie Roze as Marguerite, Rota as a splendid Mephistopheles, de Reschi as Valentine and Trebelli as Siebel. But the result was the same: ‘Mr Bentham having been absent three years has improved the time by study so that many of the faults that were but too patent before have vanished. To be frank, there is yet something to acquire and something to discard ere Mr Bentham will take that position which his excellent voice should enable him to do ultimately. But every sign of advance should be welcomed and the young tenor had no reason to complain of the coldness of his audience, for kindly applause followed every effort.... perhaps most successful in the third act. The ‘Salve dimora’ was a little beyond his powers, but his rendering of the music was creditable and the duet especially showed him at his best..’

A Faust for whom ‘Salve dimora’ is beyond his powers?

When Faust was on the bills again, Italo Campanini and Christine Nilsson took the star roles. I suspect George Bentham may have been hired as a spare tenor or a general tenor understudy. However, later in the season he was given a Tamino to play. ‘His chief fault was his lack of animation’. There was always a fault of some kind, it seems. When he again played Tamino on tour, the Liverpool critic grumbled that he was ‘scarcely equal to the demands of [the part]’.

But engagements were not lacking. In September he returned to the Gloucester Festival, singing in the Rossini Stabat Mater with Titiens, Trebelli and Agnesi, Weber’s The Praise of Jehovah, Rossini’s Messe Solenelle and the tenor music in Elijah (‘beautiful voice and faulty intonation’), and, when that was done, he continued on to the Liverpool Festival (29 September) where the other tenors engaged were Sims Reeves and Edward Lloyd. On 14 October he joined Campanini and Lloyd as the tenor department at the Leeds Music Festival (‘an agreeable tenor voice … not always free from errors .. painfully flat’), and in November he travelled to Edinburgh for a performance of Benedict’s St Peter.

In the early part of 1875 he sang another Elijah, teamed with Marie Roze, Antoinette Sterling and Myron Whitney, at the Albert Hall, and yet again there was complaint about his intonation. Not something that had ever been a problem before.

In 1876, George Bentham returned to the operatic stage. But this time it was not the Maplesonian opera. Those days were gone. He joined up with something called the Imperial Italian Opera Company, a touring outfit of dubious stability, run by the ambitious Scottish baritone who called himself Enrico Campobello. It had a limited life, during which George sang Alfredo to the La Traviata of Emma Howson.

In the early part of 1877 he, however, returned to Mapleson. Not for opera this time, but for a very superior concert party tour which featured Titiens, Alwina Valleria, Agnes Bonn, del Puente, Brocolini and Borella. And in Manchester the press was able to report ‘he has seldom been heard to such advantage..’, ‘he has an exceptionally fine voice under perfect control and his singing was thoroughly artistic’. No faulty intonation? No lack of energy? No ‘voice on legs’? All those faults which George Bentham had seemingly had since day one, and of which he had apparently never succeeded in getting rid, had they all disappeared at last? Would and could his career, at 33 years of age, finally take off like Hohler’s.

The job that George Bentham got in the last part of the year 1877 was precisely the one that could and should have suited him to perfection. That could and should have allowed him to achieve that take-off. He was cast in the leading tenor role of Alexis in Mr W S Gilbert and Mr Arthur S Sullivan’s brand new English comic opera The Sorcerer. It should have been a doddle. Ideal casting. The music was exactly right for his not too robust English tenor voice. And act? He didn’t have to act. He simply had to play himself. With a certain amount of burlesque humour, of course, or at the least of understanding of burlesque humour.

Well, the often-told tales of the events surrounding the creation of the various Gilbert and Sullivan operas have told us that it wasn’t a doddle. George Bentham wasn’t bad as Alexis. He just wasn’t good. It seems that the humour of the thing escaped him. That even acting himself didn’t make him act convincingly. And that the languidness which had apparently always affected him as a performer was still there.

George Bentham played the role of Alexis for the opening months of the run of The Sorcerer, and then, when the show’s initial touring company was sent on the road, he was redeployed to play his original role in the provinces, whilst another upper-class – nay, aristocratic -- English tenor, George Power, took over at the Opera Comique. George Power would go on to create the tenor roles of HMS Pinafore and The Pirates of Penzance during his handful of years in the professional theatre. And George Bentham? Once the tour of The Sorcerer ended, he simply and quietly removed himself from a musical profession in which he seemingly could find no suitable niche. No place where he could sing Freddie Clay’s ballad, and little else. Age thirty four.

George Bentham ‘of independent means and no fixed abode’ was 67 when he died at the Strand Palace Hotel in 1911. Fatty degeneration of the heart for unnumbered years leading to a sudden heart failure. He had been ill, reported his death certificate ‘for a few minutes’.

The still official Madame Bentham didn’t come to register his death. ‘A T Crosse, cousin’ did the honours. ‘No fixed abode’ seems to have described this lost, vaguely talented man rather well.

The third little maid

 When I sent my little Fred Clifton ‘discovery’ off to David Stone, the ‘Father of All D’Oyly Carte Biographers’, for our mutual rejoicing, I casually tossed off a ‘right, who next?’. I mean these things can’t be left as ‘don’t knows’ forever, after all, I’m getting greatly on in years, and who is the next nosy Gänzl? …

Well, he selected three for me to have a crack at, and one of them was the lady whom we know as Sibyl or Sybil Grey and whose memory, unfairly, lives on solely for having created the part of Peep Bo, to the Yum Yum of Leonora Braham and the Pitti Sing of Jessie Bond in The Mikado. Well, I’d never looked into Sibyl or Sybil before, and wasn’t aware that there was any mystery about who she was, although it was very ev-i-dent, from the variation in the spelling of her name, that she was no Sibyl or Sybil. So, who was she?

It wasn’t too hard to discover. She was born Ellen Sophia Taylor, 3 January 1860, in London’s Conduit Street West, the second daughter of a linen draper, Henry Taylor and his Exeter-born wife Susannah. ‘Sybil Grey’ was the name of an aristocrat, a racehorse, a novelistic and dramatic heroine (Marmion) … thus, just the sort of nom de théâtre for a young lass …

David Stone tells of her earliest career on the stage in detail:
‘Sybil Grey was a chorister and understudy during the original London production of The Pirates of Penzance at the Opera Comique in 1880, going on in the role of Kate for a short time in July. During the run of Patience at the Opera Comique her duties appear to be limited to the chorus, though she may well have understudied the part of Lady Saphir. Shortly after Patience was transferred to the Savoy (November 1881) she was given the non-singing role of Jane in the Desprez & Faning curtain raiser Mock Turtles.
When Iolanthe opened on November 25, 1882, she was given the small part of Fleta. She continued to play Jane in Mock Turtles until March 1883, when a new companion piece, A Private Wire, was inserted, with Miss Grey in the part of Mary, the maid. In October 1883, Miss Grey moved up (slightly) to Leila in Iolanthe, playing both Leila and Mary until both operas closed in January 1884.  She then created the part of Sacharissa in the first performance of Princess Ida, playing the role throughout the run, and when The Sorcerer and Trial by Jury were revived in October 1884, she was the First Bridesmaid in the shorter piece. For the initial production of The Mikado, she created the part of Peep-Bo, the third ‘little maid from school,’ playing it throughout a run of 672 performances, ending January 19, 1887.’

But there was much more, and much more of consequence to come. Miss Grey had another decade and more to spend on the stage, and in more than one hit show.

Well, I could give chapter and verse, but suffice it to say that her years with Carte done (she would return for some more Peep Boing, and to play Lady Amathis in Gilbert’s Broken Hearts and Leila in his Wicked World, but that was all), Miss Grey moved in the right direction: to the new hero of the London musical stage, George Edwardes. After a short tour with May Holt’s company, she was hired for the Gaiety Theatre, to play in the richly-cast burlesque of Frankenstein. In the role of Vanilla she was but one of four decorative ladies – the others were, no less, Jenny Rogers, Jenny M’Nulty and manager’s sister-in-law Emma Gwynne – who led the chorus of ‘bandits, villagers, soldiers and shepherdesses’. Frankenstein was not the hit counted upon and Miss Esmeralda was issued as a matinee item. Once again, Sybil featured as a gipsy of whom ‘pretty looks and an arch bearing’ were all required. When the play Lot 49 was added to the bill, she also appeared in that, the part of Polly the maid.

Her return to the Savoy Theatre ended, Sybil moved on to another monument of the British theatre: the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane. It was Christmas pantomime time, the show was The Babes in the Wood with Harry Payne, Dan Leno as dame, and Harriet Vernon as Robin Hood. Sybil and Maggie Duggan headed the merry men.

Sybil and best-friend Rosina Brandram appeared in a musical version of Newport (‘The Song of the Looking Glass’) in a vanity production at Devonshire House, as Sybil continued on at Drury Lane (Deborah Wood in The Royal Oak ‘flitted about gracefully’, Royal Housemaid in Jack and the Beanstalk, King of Diamonds in Beauty and the Beast), but Mr Edwardes had other plans for her.

He placed Sybil, as a takeover, in the successful ‘triple bill’ production which ran at Terry’s Theatre and then Shaftesbury and Toole’s, and then the Court Theatre, and she remained with the company through a run of many, many months, playing at various times the different roles in the three playlets and the title-role in Nan, the Good-For-Nothing. She also appeared in a single tryout matinee of an unsatisfactory farce, Our Doctors (24 March 1891).

When the triple bill ended, she appeared as Sally in W J Hill’s old comedy vehicle, Crazed with C P Little and Robert Nainby, as a forepiece to The Guardsman, and the press commented on ‘a clever and experienced actress who, one imagines, would do well at one of our ‘improved’ music halls’. But Sybil wasn’t going there. George Edwardes had other uses for her. He imported her into the cast of his new hit musical comedy, The Gaiety Girl,and then into a second hit London musical An Artist’s Model, where she would later take over Lottie Venne’s prominent role of Madame Amélie. The third little maid had become a veritable leading lady.

And as if the racehorses and Marmion weren’t enough, Sybil now had to put up with Hilda Spong arriving at Drury Lane with her play The Duchess of Coolgardie. Miss Spong took the star role of … Sybil Grey!

But Sybil had another of her long runs coming up. She was engaged at the Vaudeville Theatre where the English adaptation of the famous farce L’Hôtel du libre Échange(A Night Out) was being produced. Again, it seems to have been a case of  understudy and/or take-over, but by August 1896 she is billed for the leading role of Mme Pinglet (originated by Fannie Ward). During the run she appeared also in a number of try-out matinees (Nurse Edith in Solomon’s Twins, The Swell Miss Fitzwell, A Ward of France) and, again, she remained with the production through the run.
When Edwardes produced the comedy Jalouse (The Dovecot) at the Duke of York’s Theatre (February 1898) with Seymour Hicks and Ellis Jeffries, Sybil was cast as the scheming servant-girl Durnford through the 100 plus nights of the run. The cast also included … Miss Leonora Braham.
She joined Horace Lingard’s Strand Comedy Company as Mrs Smith in another French comedy Why Smith Left Home, toured for Edwardes in A Night Out, but at the turn of the century and the arrival of the age of forty, she seems to have changed priorities. In the 1901 census, she can be seen (with Rosina) listed as 34 and ‘actress and masseuse’.
She seems to have done more massaging than acting in the following years. While Rosina plunged on with her celebrated career, I see Sybil announced to play in Three Little Maids (she was not one of the little maids, however, but Miss Deare, the postmistress)and in 1907 touring for Edwardes one more time as Poo-See in See-See.
70 year-old Sybil-Sibyl appeared alongside Misses Braham (77) and Bond (77) at a Mikado reunion in 1930. That must have been unpleasant. Miss Braham (centre) died the next year. Peep-Bo seems at that stage to have become a rather big little maid.

Ellen Sophia Taylor lived latterly in Lordship Lane, Dulwich. She died at the age of 79, in the nursing home at Ivy Bank, Queen’s Road, Taymount Rise in Forest Hill, 20 August 1939.  What she did in those last thirty years, I have no idea, but she’d had twenty enjoyable if not exactly starry ones in the theatre.