TALBO, Ugo(aka TALBOT, Hugh) [BRENNAN, Hugh] (b Portobello Barracks, near Dublin 15 October 1844; d Detention Hospital, Stockton, Cal 31 October, 1899)
A middle-aged San Francisco Italian singing teacher died in Stockton’s Detention Hospital on the last day of October 1899, and the news made the national and even the international press. ‘The famous tenor’ ‘once well-known as an operatic tenor in the companies of Adelina Patti and others’, rattled on the obituaries, without getting too precisely factual. Signor Talbo had nurtured his myth well.
He wasn’t, of course, Italian. And, truthfully, he’d only intermittently pretended to be. ‘Famous’ he had never been. Not even for five minutes. And Adelina Patti? Not to mention ‘all the principal tenor roles with Titiens, Nilsson, Lucca, Albani, Trebelli and many others...’ as he had claimed on another occasion. Well, there was just a tittle of the truth in there. He actually had sung in Italian opera with Nilsson. And Trebelli. Also Gerster and Marimon and Marie Roze, not to forget Alwina Valleria, Deméric-Lablache and Helene Crosmond. And, yes, sometimes in principal roles. But not very often. And the rest? Hummm.
Hugh Brennan was born at Portobello Barracks, near Dublin, the son of one Edward Brennan and his wife Margaret. He is said to have been a youthful choirboy. Why not? But probably not in Ireland. For at some stage – and it was before the 1851 census -- young Mr Brennan and his parents and siblings relocated to London, and they can be seen living in Blewitt’s Buildings, Holborn – Edward 46 a pensioner and blind, Margaret 39, Elizabeth, Ann, Sarah, William, Hugh and Richard. The children were born in Gloucester, three different places (barracks?) in Middlesex, and the last two in Ireland. I suspect Edward had been following the flag (there’s one of that name in Chatham barracks in 1841). Maybe that’s how he was blinded.
By 1861, Margaret is a widow, living in 16 Thavies Inn, Farringdon, with her brood, and Hugh is described as a lawyer’s clerk. And it was while he clerked that he began his career as a tenor. An amateur tenor.
My first sighting of him is in January of 1868 when he turns up in a performance of Barnett’s The Ancient Mariner given by a group called the Westbourne Society at the Royal Institute of British Architects, and the second and third in May of the same year, when he can be seen at the Hanover Square Rooms, first hosting a concert for All Saints Convalescent Hospital, Eastbourne, and then in a benefit concert given by the dilettante group the Moray Minstrels for the City Orthopaedic Hospital. He is referred to as ‘one of the Moray tenors’ and it is reported that he ‘gave a song composed by Schumann and entitled ‘She’s of all that’s fair and lovely’’. He sang the same piece on 18 June at a matinee at St George’s Hall. Again, on 13 May 1869, at something like twenty-four years of age, he can be spotted at the Queen’s Rooms, Hanover Square, taking part in a Grand Amateur Concert for the same All Saints’ Convalescent Hospital, Eastbourne, alongside the Misses Connor, Mitchell, Tennant, and Richards, Lord Kilcoursie, the Rev William Henry Bliss Mus Bac and ‘a chorus of 80 ladies and gentlemen’. He is, of course, at this stage, still Mr Hugh Brennan. And still a gentleman amateur.
By the time of my next sighting, Mr Hugh Brennan is gone for good. He has disappeared into the northern part of Italy and metamorphosed into Signor Ugo Talbo. It is September 1872 and he is singing the Duke in Rigoletto at Treviglio near Bergamo. Then, in early 1873, he is mentioned as having appeared at Livorno in Faust, which seems to have been in 1871, as well as Alvaro in La Forza del destino, and later the same year someone inserted a little para in the press which was duly picked up by a bundle of those journals of the world with nothing better to fill their columns: ‘Milan is in ecstasies over the ‘beautiful and robust voice’ of a new tenor, Ugo Talbo’. Those other papers clearly took the piece at face value, but The Era was having none of it: ‘In London amateur circles he used to be plain Hugh Brennan’ it sniffed. The Musical Worldwas kinder with its description of ‘the former popular amateur tenor of the fashionable Moray Minstrels’.
Now, whether Signor Ugo was giving Milan ecstasies as a student or, already, as a fully-fledged performer, I cannot be sure. I lean to the latter. He was nearly thirty, it was surely way past time to be beginning. Later he would claim to have sung all round Europe alongside just about any star soprano you care to pick during the mid-seventies. Was that what he was doing? I spot him in late 1873 and early 1874 doing a run of operas at the Italian opera of Nice, where he sang Rigoletto et al alongside the Borghi-Mamos, mother and daughter, and back there again in 1875 in concert (‘Une charmante voix de ténor, son succès a été complet’) but that’s all. A fellow singer who later worked with him on a number of occasions commented that Talbo had ‘sung in Italian opera in Europe and one season at Her Majesty’s Opera, London’. The second half of that story (and the chap was there!) is wrong, so is the first half any more likely to be true? And if he was being a primo tenore in Europe between 1872-6 why was it never reported in the music journals? Give or take a Rigoletto at Treviglio. And likewise why, when he finally returned to Britain and the Italian opera there, was there no ‘of the principal theatres of Italy’ or even something more specific attached to his name in the traditional fashion.
That return to Britain happened in 1877, when Ugo Talbo drew the prize that every British tenor sought: a contract as a principal tenor at Her Majesty’s Theatre. Mapleson’s Italian Opera. I imagine, from what followed, that it was a five-year contract, even though it eventually fizzled out before five years was up.
The 1877 Italian opera season at Her Majesty’s opened on 28 April, and the featured tenor of the early part of the season was the very appreciable Giuseppe Fancelli who appeared as Pollio, Faust, Alfredo, Roberto il Diablo, Edgardo in Lucia and Riccardo in Ballo in maschera in the space of its first weeks. Gradually the newcomers made their appearance: the diminutive Carrion as Gennaro, Millet Cabero as Manrico, Gillandi as Faust, and finally on 4 June Ugo Talbo as the Duke in Rigoletto. The new Irish tenor shared the limelight with Canadian Alwina Valleria (Gilda), French Zélie Trebelli (Maddalena), and Irish-American Brocolini (Sparafucile) with only the baritone Galassi in the title-role maintaining the kosher Italian element in this performance of Italian opera. And he apparently did all right. The Era dubbed him ‘a new tenor of considerable merit’ and continued ‘Signor Talbo may be congratulated upon the possession of no ordinary qualifications for the post of first tenor. He has an excellent voice, of good compass, and sympathetic in quality. It is brilliant and effective especially in the upper portion and what is to be mentioned with satisfaction is that Signor Talbo does not indulge in the vibrato which so distresses the ear of the auditor and wears out the voice of the artiste. Signor Talbo has, besides, a good stage presence and his acting is characterised by earnestness. Altogether the new tenor made a decidedly satisfactory debut.’
The Times was a little less sure, as it welcomed‘another new tenor, an English gentleman who under the assumed name of Signor Talbo gave a very fair representation of the adventurous Duke of Mantua.’ ‘Signor Talbo has a very pleasing tenor voice and in his opening air ‘Questa o quella’ satisfied the audience so well that he was called upon to repeat it. The impression left by his performance generally, however, was that, though manifesting decided promise, and not forgetting the encore accorded to ‘La donna è mobile’ or that accorded to the quartet in the last act, with which his delivery of ‘Bella figlia dell’ amore’ had unquestionably something to do – Signor Talbo has much to learn, and can only be regarded, at present, as a first class amateur ’.
Doesn’t sound as if he’s been running around Europe as primo tenore to Adelina Patti and co, does it?
A few days after Hugh’s debut, Mapleson rolled out the tenorial big guns of the season. Wachtel as Raoul to the Valentine of the well-liked Caroline Salla, and the ageing Tamberlik as Rossini’s Otello. So it wasn’t until 26 June that Signor Talbo got his second performance. But then, on 13 July, like Carrion (Il Barbiere di Siviglia, Roderigo in Otello, Tamino, La Figlia del Reggimento), and unlike the other two newcomers, he was allotted another role. Ugo Talbo was given a crack at the title-role of Faust (2 July ‘his third appearance’, 13 July, 25 July). Marguerite: Christine Nilsson, Mephistopheles: J-B Faure and Siebel: Zélie Trebelli. After Nilsson came another great prima donna for Ugo’s scalp-belt. Etelka Gerster arrived and succeeded to the role of Gilda and on 24 July Signor Talbo appeared as Mantua alongside her and the splendid Rigoletto of del Puente.
The Times encouraged while criticising: ‘Signor Talbo is somewhat overweighted in the important character of the Duke, being young, inexperienced and as yet unable to turn to best advantage a voice that, when he has obtained complete control of it, may serve him to excellent purpose. At present he is rather too apt to force it and thus to deteriorate its quality, besides imperilling that most essential of requirements, correct intonation. Nevertheless, persevering study may do much and we have good hopes of this young English singer’.
Three Rigolettos, three Fausts and one act of Rigolettoat the Crystal Palace (21 July) on the occasion of Mapleson’s Benefit. Nowhere in the league of Fancelli (who had played Lohengrin in the last days of the season), nor indeed of Carrion – the established Wachtel and Tamberlik. of course, being hors concours – but no disgrace either. The Musical Times was not convinced, and – having earlier praised his Rigoletto (‘a really good tenor voice, and a very fair stage presence, the ‘high C’ being as usual the passport to the favour of a large portion of the audience’), summarised at the season’s end ‘Signor Talbo must be mentioned as a vocalist who has gradually worn out the welcome accorded to him on his debut’. ‘Signor Talbo’, however, continued his upward soar, and in August he went on a two-months concert tour in Denmark, Sweden and Norway with Trebelli, Conrad Behrens and Alwina Valleria.
But when the Mapleson company – without its international stars -- went out on tour, Signor Talbo was not included in the team. Fancelli shared the tenorial duties with Bettini and Francesco Runcio. But he did play one performance. While the team was in Dublin, the tenor took a sickie. Marthawas due to be played and it appears the other tenors were unable to cover it. Signor Talbo was summoned, and the hometown critic cheered for ‘Mr Brennan’ on his ‘first appearance in his native country’ ‘by his performance on Tuesday evening Mr Brennan has proved himself facile princeps amongst the tenors of the present company’. Better than Fancelli? Bettini? Even Runcio? Or was this just chauvinism?
The company returned to Her Majesty’s Theatre for further performances and there was still no Signor Talbo to be seen, but on Boxing Day Mapleson swapped his Italian opera for a season of English opera, played by a group of singers most of whom could not normally have aspired to the heights of a Mapleson company. George Perren was the most consequent of the tenor team, alongside Talbo, Edward Cotte and Dudley Thomas. Rose Hersee, Mathilde Bauermeister (normally a supporting player), Helene Crosmond, a striving Irish soprano who called herself Anna Eyre, Manchester’s Carina Clelland, Pauline Rita, Elizabeth Purdy and Bessie Palmer were amongst the ladies of the company, Signor Franceschi (ie Frank Barrington Foote), Frank Celli, Henry Pope and George Fox the other principal men.
The feature of this ‘short winter season’ was the production of an English version of Flotow’s L’Ombre otherwiseThe Phantom (12 January 1878).Miss Bauermeister (Vespina), Mr (sic) Talbo as Fabrizio, Fox (De Mirouet) and Miss Purdy (Gina) were the featured players, and the first named was apparently the only one perfect in her part. But the tenor was well enough liked and The Era volunteered: ‘Mr Talbo, the young English tenor who was recently a member of Mr Mapleson’s Italian company, appeared with considerable success as the hero. When he has made himself completely familiar with the opera he will be a very satisfactory representative of the character. He looked the part well, and sang with much grace and expression the pretty tenor music, the romance in the third act evoking hearty applause, the last verse having to be repeated. Mr Talbo in unquestionably an acquisition in English opera and appears likely to become a favourite’.
L’Ombre didn’t prove to be much of a favourite, but was played half a dozen times, and Talbo had more joy when he picked up his old role in Faust (25 January). The young Helene Crosmond, as Marguerite, attracted the bulk of the attention, but The Times nodded ‘Mr Talbo’s Faust exhibited marked improvement. He too has a voice seriously worth cultivating’. The Era dubbed him ‘passable’ and commented ‘more refinement would certainly have done greater justice to Gounod’s lovely music’.
When the season at Her Majesty’s was done, Talbo went back on the road. Mapleson’s 1878 road company used Bettini as its principal tenor and Runcio and Talbo in support. Talbo was given the part of Carlo in Linda di Chamonix and Manchester nodded ‘a tenor new to us acquitted himself well as Carlo’.
The prospectus for the 1878 town season included Signor Talbo amongst the tenors of the company, but it doesn’t seem as if he actually appeared on the stage of Her Majesty’s Theatre during its course. Fancelli and Bettini were still there, and Runcio was given La Traviata, but Mapleson had also hired the ringing Marini (who took Rigoletto) and Campanini, who not only sang Faust but also the brand new Carmen. Signor Talbo was one tenor de trop, and his season was limited to the odd opera concert with the Mapleson team at the Albert Hall and a performance at the Crystal Palace (20 July) for Mapleson’s Benefit, when he appeared as Don Ottavio in Don Giovanni alongside Valleria, Trebelli, Crosmond and del Puente.
And that Don Giovanni seems to have been Signor Talbo’s last performance under his Mapleson contract. In the next twelve months I have spotted him singing in the odd concert – one for St Katherine’s Home (23 May 1879) where he is still billed as ‘by permission of Mr J H Mapleson’, another giving his ‘M’appari’ for the harpist John Thomas (26 June), but otherwise it appears that he sat around – like so many of Mapleson’s long-term-contract but no-more-needed players – doing nothing, until he was released or loaned out.
When Signor Talbo turned up again, however, he had regressed to being ‘Hugh Talbot’. For he had been released or loaned out by Mapleson to Mr R D’Oyly Carte to create the principal tenor role in the successor to the wildly successful comic opera HMS Pinafore, The Pirates of Penzance. He also turned up on the other side of the Atlantic, for the production of Gilbert and Sullivan’s newest piece was to take place in New York. It appears that he owed his new job to his Faust partner. Helene Crosmond had been offered the role of Mabel and, according to a letter from Carte to Sullivan which survives in Britain’s Theatre Museum, had failed to come to financial terms with Carte ‘but she recommended a tenor, Hugh Talbot, who sang under the name of Talbo. He wants to go and would be cheap. I know of no one. Power or anyone like that w[oul]d not be listened to in New York. Helene Crosmond says that Talbo is the best Faust she has ever played with.’ So he wanted to go, did he. I wonder why. Anyway, thanks a heap Helene. And I wonder what your other Fausts – Bettini, Gillandi and Campanini himself – would have thought of that comment.
Carte and most of his cast crossed the Atlantic on the Galliaarriving in New York on 10 November, and they opened initially with a performance of HMS Pinafore directed by Gilbert and conducted by Sullivan. This production was, in theory, to show Americans how Pinafore, sadly mutilated in many of its local productions, should be done, but by and large America refused to be impressed by it, or by the leadings players Blanche Roosevelt (‘Mme Rosavella of the Royal Italian Opera and Opera Comique, London), Hugh Talbot (‘Signor Talbo of Her Majesty’s Opera, London), music-hall comic singer J H Ryley and concert contralto Alice Barnett. The Clipper bid ‘Mr Talbot’s singing as Ralph was quite unsatisfactory – his voice is a small tenor, not without sweetness, but of so limited a range that he is unable to cope with the upper notes of his score’. This of a man who had sung Mantua at Her Majesty’s Theatre and been encored?
The month’s season of Pinafore, however, served principally to get The Pirates of Penzance on to the stage, an exercise which did not go without hiccoughs, no little thanks to Mr Talbot. John Brocolini, who played the Pirate King, recounted many years later. ‘He was [good]so far as his singing went, but he was an indifferent actor and as for his committing the lines of his part to memory, it seemed to be an impossibility. It came to the day before the performance of The Pirates at the Fifth Avenue Theatre, New York. The other principals had been ‘letter perfect’ in their dialogue for a week, and had discarded their manuscript parts days before, but Talbo still clung to his and had to refer to it in nearly every speech. We all began to feel anxious as to the result, and Gilbert, who had evidently been doing his best to control his temper, could stand it no longer. Talbo stopped in a speech and then consulted his manuscript. Gilbert got up from the table at which he was sitting, conducting the rehearsal. ‘Mr Talbot’ – he never called him Talbo – ‘are you ever going to know your lines?’ ‘I hope so Mr Gilbert but this is new business for me and I suppose I am rather slow at it’. ‘We are to play this opera tomorrow night and you know no more of your lines than you did on the first day you got them’.
Talbo was a quick-tempered Irishman, and Gilbert’s brusque manner irritated him. He looked up and replied with a dangerous flash in his eye. ‘Suppose we go on with the rehearsal, Mr Gilbert, and we can talk it over later’. The rehearsal was resumed but, in a few minutes, the same trouble with Talbo occurred again, and as he stopped to read his lines from the manuscript Gilbert’s patience gave way. Throwing his hands up over his head he exclaimed: ‘Great heavens, when God made a tenor he spoiled a man!’
Talbo threw down his manuscript and made a rush at Gilbert with his fists clenched and in a towering state of anger and with threats that he would smash his Scotch head in. The women shrieked and ran to the back of the stage, but the men jumped in between the maddened tenor and the author of the libretto, who stood quietly looking down at his antagonist with an immovable countenance. Several of us got Talbo away at last and with an apology to the women for his display of temper, he turned and calling out to Gilbert, ‘You can get another tenor to sing your opera’, left the theatre and went home.’
They were obliged to cozen him back or postpone the production, and in the end Brocolini and Ryley learned his lines and eased him through the first night. But he did not go down well. A seemingly measured review in the Clipper, which was devoted naturally more to the new work than the players, found everyone except the tenor and the soprano ‘deserving of praise’ but shook its head ‘Mr Talbot impresses one most unfavourably as to his capabilities either as an actor or a singer’. The Daily News reported ‘The tenor, Mr Talbot, was the one weak member of the company’. The New York Dramatic Mirror let loose with pure abuse accusing him of ‘effeminate bearing and [a] simpering manner that no doubt would be charming in a young miss straight from the confines of a select boarding school, but on the stage they are loathsome and disgusting’ and of a ‘weak, uncertain voice of nasal quality and limited volume’ as well as of not knowing his lines. Perhaps it was first night nerves, for by the time the company – a couple of weeks into the season – played a flying matinee at Brooklyn’s academy of Music Talbot was credited with ‘a fine, light tenor voice ... he had many excellent numbers and sang them all handsomely’. However ‘it is rather singular, however, that after so many performances he should have tripped in his lines’.
Gilbert and Sullivan history says that Talbot was sacked from the Pirates of Penzance company after arguments with Gilbert and/or Carte. But although this was certainly envisaged – and a letter written by Sullivan soon after opening night confirms already that ‘we shall have to get rid of him’ -- if he was, it wasn’t yet. He did, however, quit the Fifth Avenue Theatre, as he was deployed to the B company, introducing the piece to Philadelphia at the South Broad Street Theatre Philadelphia (9 February), and then to John Stetson’s company, which was presenting the Boston premiere at the Globe Theatre (8 March) with the whole original Broadway cast of principals. The Mirror nodded‘although a little awkward [he] worked into the music and business with considerable cleverness. His voice is not very strong, but it is consistent with itself and sufficient for the general demands upon it here made’. However, at the end of the month it was reported that ‘Hugh Talbot of the Piratescombination is at the Parker House. A third-rate tenor is attempting the part of Frederick with the co vice Talbot.’ But it wasn’t the end. In the week of 19 April both Talbot (‘the favourite tenor’ New York Dramatic Mirror) and Miss Roosevelt were back in their ‘original parts’ and the said Mirror, which had so damned the tenor on opening night in New York, turned volte face with the sort of extravagance that makes one so doubtful of theatrical criticisms around this time and place: ‘Mr Talbot has long been recognised as one of the leading artists in Europe… has sung all the principal tenor roles with Titiens, Nilsson, Lucca, Albani, Trebelli and many others. This is the first season of Mr Talbot in such pieces as The Pirates and Pinaforeand his acting is full of dash and vigor which have made him so popular in the old country’. The Boston season of Pirates ended 8 May and ‘Hugh Talbot of the Pirates comb will rest at City Point for a few weeks before his departure for Europe.’
But he didn’t. A month later he was advertising ‘primo tenore in English opera’ … ‘will rejoin Mapleson’s Opera Company in January 1881… in the interval he will accept engagements in English opera, oratorios, concerts...’ His advertisement trumpeted that he had a repertoire of 52 operas, had actually played in 28 of them, and alleged that he’d played La Traviata, Martha, Rigoletto, La Sonnambula, Don Pasquale, Don Giovanniand Normaat Her Majesty’s Theatre. Address c/o his new friends the New York Dramatic Mirror.
Talbot didn’t rejoin Mapleson. Mapleson, who’d been touring America very happily with Campanini and Runcio as his tenors, obviously didn’t need him. In fact, he never again returned to Britain. But he did return to the opera, to give at least a handful of those 52 roles in his repertoire. His first engagement, in the later months of 1880, was as principal tenor with a little troupe organised by the baritone Tagliapetra featuring the young Marie Litta as its lead soprano, Signor Baldanza and Anna Rossetti as its alternates and L H Gottschalk as its bass. Columbus, Ohio, credited him with ‘a clear, pleasing voice’ in Il Trovatore, Faust and Martha. But elsewhere the press reported ‘The people of Memphis did not like Ugo Talbo’s singing, but they hold on to his private baggage with a fond attachment’. Tagliapetra’s company ground to a halt in New Orleans in December, just in time for Talbot to head back to Boston and Blanche Roosevelt.
Miss Roosevelt had spent some of her time during their last Boston date chatting up the aged poet Longfellow, and as a result she was producing (after several earlier announcements) an operettic version of his The Masque of Pandora with music by the Carte conductor Alfred Cellier. Blanche of course played Pandora. Hugh Talbot (sic) was Epitmethius. The piece came out at the Boston Theatre on 10 January, following a record week by Mapleson’s opera with its new tenor Ravelli, and it was an unqualified non-success. Ugo was condemned as ‘almost as lifeless as he was as Frederic’. The most work he seemed to have done was chatting about himself and the Tagliapietra disaster to the press.
However, if Mapleson didn’t need Signor Talbo, his main American rival, Max Strakosch did. Strakosch and Clarence Hess had been touring an English opera company around the country with some success and more quarrels. And with Mrs Mapleson, otherwise Marie Roze, as one of its prime donne. Arthur Byron and Johnnie Perugini were the tenors. Neither of them seemed to appeal to the critics, and neither of them seemed to appeal to the other. Eventually it came to tenor versus tenor fisticuffs, and to the departure from the company of Perugini. Ugo Talbo and his 52 operas were hired as a replacement. Since Marie Roze had departed as well, the company was now headed by the very appreciable Ostava Torriani, with Laura Schirmer as second lady, Lizzie Annandale as contralto and George Conly as bass. Talbo got to give his Faustand Mefistofele and probably one or two more roles for a few weeks, before the company faltered at Akron, and Strakosch did a hasty up-class of his team, before the important date of Philadelphia. Signor Talbo was replaced by Campanini and Brignoli!
In August of 1881 Signor Talbo headed west to San Francisco to join another opera company, one under the direction of Inez Fabbri, which was announcing the first Californian production of Carmen in English. A certain Fiorenza d’Arona was to be the Carmen, and Signor Ugo Talbo would be Don Jose.
Mme Fabbri’s rate of success as an impresario was not impressive, but she got this one on, even though in, apparently, a palpably under-rehearsed state. The Mirror assures us that there was ‘a large and fashionable audience’ for the premiere (‘Signor Talbo … a clear strong voice which he used with excellent effect but his acting was scarcely up to standard’), but for the second performance so few customers turned up that she cancelled the performance. She summoned in Laura Bellini to do Lucia, she announced Il Trovatore with the other tenor of the affair, Montegriffo, as Manrico, she announced La Dame blanche with Signor Talbo, and then she closed down ‘for the meanwhile’. ‘Attendances have been very poor’. ‘The opera season is a failure’. So Madame Fabbri swept up her company and put them aboard a ship for Oregon. They limped back a few weeks later ‘with more glory than gold’ and the last that was heard of the affair was that the unpaid singers were suing Madame for the wages she had never paid.
Hugh Brennan’s introduction to California might have been disastrous, but in the end the Fabbri engagement turned out to be a good thing all the same. For ‘Signor Ugo Talbo’ as he decided to remain, and he stayed for the whole of the rest of his life in California, living sometime in Stockton, but mostly in San Francisco. He gave concerts from time to time – I have spotted him in a Philharmonic concert at Platt’s Hall on 3 February 1882, and it appears that he was well liked. ‘Ugo Talbo’ reported the Examiner‘who followed with the recitative ‘Ye people rend your hearts’ and the aria ‘If with all your hearts’ from Elijah was enthusiastically encored. The gentleman sings with considerable taste and is possessed of a voice of good quality. His rendering of the aria was in good style and he displayed some feeling, but in the Preghiera from Stradella which he sang later in the evening he displayed to the full his chief fault of vocalisation, that of straining after effect by forcing his voice.’ The Chronicleon the other hand decided that ‘Mr Talbo has never displayed that genuine vocal power he possesses so well as in the Stradella selection. His full, sympathetic tenor is beginning to ring through our social circles and he is fast acquiring a pleasant popularity.’
The ‘social circles’ proved decidedly useful allies, for, in the years that followed, Talbot established himself, alongside a genuine ex-star of the opera stage, the much older Karl Formes, as a fashionable west coast singing teacher, and his name lives on (insofar as it does) as one of the earliest teachers of the San Francisco-born baritone Dennis O’Sullivan.
Ugo Talbo found the respect in California, and as a teacher, that he had rarely found in the rest of America and as a singer, sufficient indeed to have his death reported in the newspapers of both coasts of America. And what reports! ‘He was a noted singer in England thirty years ago and has prominent relatives there. He was once an officer in the English army…’ ‘a celebrated tenor and leading man for Patti. He was well connected in England…’
Well connected? Elizabeth was a milliner, Anne a draper’s saleswoman, Sarah a schoolmistress, Richard a teacher…
Heigh ho. Those same newspapers who had, and who have, so often, missed the passing of so many a sometime genuine star of the stage and of music, got him. Bully for Mr Brennan.