Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Cartesian couples: no4 Change for a (dud) tenor ...

I wrote this a few years ago. I’m not quite sure why. If I were writing it today, I should turn it round. The (second) wife was the star … the husband was something of a mediocrity …

COVENTRY, Gerard  [REYNOLDS, Alfred] (b Nottinghamshire c 1849; d Westcliffe, Whitstable 1928)

‘Mr Coventry studied at Milan under the elder Lamperti…’
Did he? So many British singers claimed a Milanese education or experience which they never had. If he did go to the Milan Conservatoire, it would have been for a decidedly short  term,because Mr Alfred Reynolds first comes before my eyes in 1873, singing in the school concerts staged by George Lansdowne Cottell, to display his pupils to the public. I spot him on 19 November at the Eyre Arms on a bill topped by pianist ‘Juanita Prytherique’ (Miss Harriet Jane Prytherch, a doctor’s daughter from Ruthin) and 10 February 1874 with another pianist, the Australian-born Maggie Okey (later to be Marguerite de Pachmann) and a selection of ephemeral singers.

In 1874, Mr Reynolds married Miss Prytherch, and decided, like her, to give himself a more romantic nomenclature. He became ‘Gerard Coventry’ (so was he born in Coventry?). Mr and Mrs Coventry appear on the bill for another singing teacher, a certain Signor Torretti, in May 1875, but by the time he is engaged at Liverpool, next up, he is ‘of the Milan Conservatoire’. Well, maybe. For the odd week.

In the years that followed, he appeared occasionally at the Royal Aquarium Concerts (‘Once Again’, ‘Come into the Garden, Maud’, Ignace Gibsone’s ‘She sleeps, my lady sleeps’), at the Polytechnic, at various church concerts and in the Langham Hall recital of Glover’s The Deserted Village, and ventured onto the stage in the unfortunate operatic Bjorn, playing a Norwegian earl.

In August 1878, Wilfred Esmond, playing the role of Alexis in D’Oyly Carte’s The Sorcerer tour, caught cold. Was it the Aquarium connection? Mr Coventry was summoned, ‘studied the score on the train on his way from town in the afternoon’ and played that night at Sheffield. He didn’t get to keep the role, but when a single matinée was given at the Opera Comique, 24 August, he was again called upon, to play with most of the original stars. He would later claim to have played ‘in the original run of the show’, which I suppose technically he did. Was he some sort of a standby?

He appeared at Parry Cole’s concert, in Fridolin at Brixton, sang Fleetwood in The Puritan’s Daughterat the Alexandra Palace with Blanche Cole, at the Blackpool North Pier, the Polytechnic and a number of times at the Aquarium. He also sang in a semi-professional Lord of the Islesat Wickham Park, before landing his best engagement to date, playing the singing role of Amiens in Marie Litton’s production of As You Like It at the Imperial Theatre at the Aquarium. On 16 June 1880 he staged his own concert at St George’s Hall, with a modest bill featuring Alice Fairman and G H Snazelle.

In October 1880, he returned to the Carte management when he was given the part of Frederic in The Pirates of Penzance on tour, playing opposite the talented and already established young soprano, Laura Clement – they can be seen, already, sharing digs in Leeds in 1881 --  and in 1882, when Miss Clement was cast in the new and successful Les Manteaux Noirs at London’s Avenue Theatre, playing alongside Henry Bracy; Coventry and she played The Sleeping Queen as a curtain raiser.

On 2 August 1882, Harriet Reynolds-Coventry died, at the age of 33, and early in 1884, ‘Gerard Coventry’ married Laura CLEMENT (real name, b Brixton 1858; d Bronx, New York 4 November 1932 as ‘Laura Coventry’).

 In 1883, Coventry again stepped in, this time for John Child, in the touring Pirates of Penzance, after which he and Miss Clement joined Andrew Melville at the Birmingham Grand playing little pieces such as The City Guard and At the Seaside. In 1884, they toured for Harry Jackson in Nell Gwynne, Coventry initially in a small role but later taking over as principal tenor. At Christmas, they returned to Birmingham and played in pantomime, after which they joined forces with Howard Paul for a tour of holiday resorts (Locked Out, The Rose of Auvergne).

In 1885, the couple went to America, and Coventry advertised himself c/o D’Oyly Carte, at the Fifth Avenue Theatre. It was, however, only Laura who was engaged by Carte for New York. Instead, Coventry went to Washington to play twice-daily G&S, to Brooklyn in summer season and appeared in New York in Koster and Bial’s version of The Pirates of Penzance. In 1887, the pair went to California with a troupe starring Alice Harrison, and Laura was engaged to play at the popular Tivoli Theatre. Coventry, who had now virtually renounced performing, did some stage directing. One of the productions was a musical version of She written by a company member and musicked by W W Furst, with the beauteous Laura cast in the title-role. Al Hayman took the piece to Broadway, and Laura repeated her role to admiration there.

In 1889, Coventry produced Genee’s Nanon, a decided hit in America, in England, with Laura starred and himself as director. He launched the piece at the Birmingham Grand (16 September 1889) and it closed on the road, taking his investment with it.

Back in America, while Laura kept the family flag afloat with a fine run of successful comic opera roles, and repeated seasons of She, Coventry slowly launched himself as a director of burlesque and extravaganza (Off the Earth, 1999) and hit gold when he was hired to restage The Belle of New York for what turned out to be its memorable London transfer. For the next half dozen years, he navetted between America, England and Australia, restaging the London hit A Chinese Honeymoon for the Shubert Brothers at the Casino Theatre, Broadway’s Dolly Varden in London, lending a hand with the out-of-town closure Winsome Winnie, and initiating two shows for Broadway: The Runaways (which was restaged by Fredrick Ranken after an unpromising opening) and the successful Piff Paff Pouff (1905). He is said, in his potbiogs, to have restaged other pieces such as the very successful The Burgomaster, Madame Sherry and The Pink Lady, perhaps for the touring circuits, and … well … perhaps not at all.

This seems to have been his last effort in New York, for he then headed off to Australia where he re-staged The Merry Widow for its local premiere (1908) and established himself as ‘the Prince of pantomime producers’. In 1911 he returned to America and was reported to be ‘living in retirement on a farm in Long Island’.

He had long divested himself of the successful Laura, who remained in America, working as a singer and an actress, into her fifties, and had instead paired up with a new ‘Mrs Coventry’ by name Jessie Beatrice Hall (b Soho 6 July 1874), a singer and the daughter of a London builder, whom he ‘married’ in Washington DC in 1895, and by whom he had at least one child.

They settled at Whitstable in Kent, where Mr Reynolds-Coventry died (as Gerard Coventry) in 1928. Jessie is visible in 1935, living in Red Lion Square, and in that same year is registered as ‘insane’. She seems to have died in 1968.

Coventry’s two partially successful careers, maybe, made up into one satisfying one. Reynolds’s second wife, however, can be credited with a wholly successful professional life as a vocalist and actress, although apparently (she lists herself in 1915 as ‘single’) not a personal one. In 1930, she is censussed in the New York Actors Home, aged 72, and professing ‘widow’, and died two years later.

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