Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Lisa Walton: why, wherefore and whence?


WALTON, Lisa [WATKIN, Elizabeth Isabella] (b Newcastle upon Tyne, 5 December 1857; d 11 Priors Terrace, Tynemouth 26 August 1879)

Lizzie Watkin didn’t really have a career. She didn’t have time. But whereas some artists with long and solid histories are forgotten, ‘Lisa Walton’ survives in the memory of some. And for reason.

Lizzie was born in Tynemouth in 1857. Her father was Robert Watkin (x Tynemouth 6 February 1831; d 3 Hood Street, Newcastle 15 June 1860) and her mother Mary née Craig. Robert died when Lizzie was two, and her brother John Craig but a baby – Mary and her infants can be seen in the 1861 census – but, by the time 1871 comes around, John is being cared for by his grandmother, and Mary and Lizzie are gone.

When Lizzie surfaces again, in is 1876, London, she has become ‘Lisa Walton’ and is the prize pupil of vocalist and teacher Gustave Garcia.

Garcia put the eighteen year old Lizzie up in public for the first time 28 June 1876 at his own concert, alongside Marie Roze and Thekla Friedländer and, in November, the pair of them went on show at the Royal Aquarium concerts alongside another northerner, Carina Clelland.
The following year, I spot her singing at Exeter College Hall, Oxford, at the Covent Garden Proms, and performing Hoffmann’s The Legend of Melusine at one of Garcia’s concerts, She was praised for her ‘care and precision, although she appeared to be lacking in dramatic force’.

She made a first appearance at Crystal Palace (1 December 1877) tackling ‘On mighty pens’ and Beethoven’s ‘Neue Liebe’ and although her ‘fresh and sympathetic quality’ was liked, a certain ‘throatiness’ was criticised. From a Garcia pupil?

She sang at the Albert Hall holiday concerts, and at Irish night in Manchester, and then came the engagement for which she is remembered. Arthur Sullivan’s comic opera The Sorcerer was running better than had been hoped for at the Opera Comique. Leading lady Alice May was being switched to another (and hopefully even more successful) show, and Giulia Warwick was being upped from the ingenue role of Constance to take over the principal part of Aline. And the totally untried Lizzie was cast as Constance. She played the role, as well as the Plaintiff in Trial by Jury, for four months, till the end of the season.

Following the closure, she went on to appear with Garcia in concert, and then disappeared from the scene. A year later, the news came in a brief newspaper notice. Lizzie Watkin had died, aged just 21, back in Tynemouth.

I don’t know who lived at 11 Priors Terrace. Father and, seemingly, mother had predeceased her … maybe I’ll find out one day. It seems to have been the local MP. Maybe I’ll find out why she died so young, too, if one of the world’s Gilbert and Sullivan enthusiasts feels like splashing out on a death certificate. But I make them a present of the facts, free. Now they know why Lisa Walton didn’t play again for Mr D’Oyly Carte.

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