Saturday, June 9, 2018

Mademoiselle Clary: Sparkeion of Croydon

For a century and more, one of the puzzles which has troubled folk interested in the C19th musical theatre – and Gilbert and Sullivan in particular – is, who in the tarnation was ‘Mdlle Clary’ who was such a success on the London stage in the early 1870s, starring in opéra-bouffe and creating leading trouser roles in two interesting local musicals, in the early years of the modern British tradition? None of us had the faintest idea. She came from Belgium, made her hit, and vanished. Back to Europe, we supposed. But, oddly, she didn’t ever show up in a theatre again. 

There was simply nowhere to start, so we didn’t really try. When it came to writing a little note on her for my Encyclopaedia of the Musical Theatre, I simple grouped her in with some of the other myriad ‘Mlle Clary’s of the C19th – from the Opéra to the Comédie Française – and wrote:

‘One Mlle Clary (née Poirel-Tardieu), equipped with ‘a remarkably graceful figure, easy movements, a nice soprano voice and a very handsome face’ and billed as being ‘of Saint-Petersburg’, went to Britain as a member of Eugène Humbert's Théâtre des Fantaisies-Parisiennes company which played at the Gaiety Theatre in 1871 (Hélène in La Belle Hélène, Roland in Les Bavards etc) and stayed on, pleading in court, when Humbert tried to force her to return to continue her contract in Belgium, that she suffered too heavily from sea-sickness to make the crossing. Her court performance must have been convincing, for she remained in Britain where she created the rôles of the Grand Duke in Jonas's Cinderella the Younger (1871) and Sparkeion in Sullivan and Gilbert's Thespis, and played Naphtha in a revival of Hervé's Aladdin II, all at the Gaiety, as well appearing as Alexandrivoire in London's L’Oeil crevé (1872), Méphisto in Le Petit Faust at Holborn, and as La Belle Adrienne in Offenbach’s The Bohemians (Le Roman comique, 1873) at the Opéra-Comique. She then vanished from London and, as far as can be seen, from theatrical annals.'

I then turned to the next Mlle Clary, who came along a decade later… and trotted back to my next English singer. But my friend Sam Silvers more or less challenged me, yesterday, in response to my articles on Miss Tremaine and Miss Jolly of the Thespis cast, to sort out Mlle Clary, so this afternoon I thought, well, I may as well have a shot. So I did. And: ‘bullseye’. Oeil crevé.

Madeline (yes, she was called Madeline) was born in about 1846, in France, the daughter of Pierre-Etienne-Emile Poirel and Jeanne-Marguerite-Adelaide Tardieu. Maybe they weren’t married, or maybe the hyphenation was just an affectation, but she was officially plain Jeanne-Marie-Madeleine Poirel.

She made what was called her debut on the Paris stage in the hit comedy Mille Francs et ma fille at the Théâtre Déjazet in April 1868 (‘[elle] joue avec aisance et naturel la piquante Césarine. Elle est jolie et possède une voix agréable, qu’elle sait conduire’) and then I suppose came the Russian bit, the Belgian bit, the British bit, and the disappearing act.

Well, Madeline disappeared for the most common of reasons. No, not death. Marriage. On 24 January 1875, she became the wife of Pierre-Marie-Augustin (ka Auguste) Filon. The marriage took place at Rosière-les-Salines in the Meurthe-et-Moselle area of France, so I imagine that either his family or hers hailed from there. 

Their son, Louis-Napoléon-George Filon was born in France, but they later moved, in comfortable circumstances, back to Britain and settled in Croydon. In the 1901 census they can be seen at Godwin House, 68 St Augustine’s Avenue. The elders are living on their own means, and Louis is a maths teacher. They have a cook and a housemaid … By 1911, Louis has married a Swiss lady, and has two children, Madeline and Sydney, (and two servants) of his own, and is Professor of Mathematics at London University.
The Croydon dynasty continued as the grandchildren wed … and, well, Sophia Florsted Filon if you are still in Croydon, you are 20 years younger than my colleague Andrew Lamb, and you could have bumped into him on the railway station or in the supermarket … if only we had known!
So, there we are. All these decades we’ve been thinking ‘Mlle Clary’ had disappeared into the darkest Moselle, or a mausoleum, and she was, until her death, 30 December 1930, just down the road at Godwin House, Croydon …
A short career, but a delicious and memorable one. And now, at last, we know!

1 comment:

ss said...

Thank you Kurt. I (and many, many others) have long been curious about Miss Clary, who delivered "Little Maid of Arcadee" so well that the song became the only solo from the show to be published.

If anyone has never heard it, here it is sung by the excellent NYC-based baritone Richard Holmes (brother of Rupert Holmes):

Sam Silvers