Sunday, September 30, 2018


I am flowing over with moral indignation, shame, fury ....
This is an AWFUL day in my life!

Today I got into my little car, for the first time since Easter. I have been wintering in warmer places.

I am not an accomplished driver, but, at 72.7, I am an extremely careful one. My memory (except for 1870s vocalists) is not what it was, so I had to ask Wendy which of the keys on my ring was the one for the car. Turned it on, it went backwards instead of frontwards. Fortunately at 1kph. But the reflexes gradually returned: I mean an automatic car only HAS 'stop', 'go' and bloody backwards. But he seemed to be making a lot of noise. Perhaps Ive got used the shiny Hankymobiles in Yamba, and Wendy's new limo.

Made it safely (oh my god, its kerb parking!) to the eye doc's and got my brilliantly clear new specs ('DON'T wear them except for the computer'), then to the doc doc for a check-up appointment (keep that little girl OUT of my car's way!), to AMI to insure said car ... and whew! Then home. 30kph, 50kph ... yes, as ever, they're re-re-making the Rangiora road system. Safely into the 80kph school area, and then on to the open road to Sefton.
Go faster, Kurt, or they'll start hooting at you. Its 100kph all the way along here. And there are wretched children running an official race on the road. Running? Jogging. With support vehicles ...

Keep your mind on your driving, keep your hands on the wheel, and keep your ** eyes on the road ahead. It's getting easier. Why is someone HOOTING at me. I'm doing EXACTLY 100 kpm. What's that flashing light in my newly re-adjusted wing mirror. ME???!??!????? No one's EVER flashed me ... he can't mean ME. So I carried on. And then, HORROR OF HORRORS! THE SIREN. So I pulled over. Maybe the car's tail was on fire ...

A far-too-handsome officer appeared at my window. Had I been drinking? I? Only of the fountain of relative youth. But has my reputation got even as far as the local POLICE? I've never been breathalysed before (what a stupid word). Needless to say, I was virginal. What had I done wrong? Well, our road, every single year, gets remade. Oh not neatly, wholly and tidily, but in little bits. Sometimes the speed limit changes every kilometre, until the next month when it all changes again. The 'restriction' boards go up ages before any work starts and stay there long after. So people ignore them.

I don't. I am a good little old man, and obey them to the kph. But it appears I missed one. After diligently doing 30 (and pissing everyone off) and the other lot of 50, I thought I was on the freeway .. but no.

Someone had thrown a few meters of 50kph in the middle of the 100 zone.

Well, it was my error. My first day back at the wheel, I was concentrating on the car. I'd even done the kerb park ... well, 50cm from the kerb and BACKWARDS.

Driving license? I can see that he is looking at that awful photo and dreadful signature. Taken two weeks after my stroke. Seven years ago. Ten questions. I don't know whether they were official questions or chummy questions, but my dentures curl up in the face of authority ...

And now I am mortified. I may never drive again (oh, come on, one is allowed a purple patch). But I can tell you if the handsome (and kindly) policeman came round now to breathalyse me, I'd be POSITIVE!!!!

Wendy, open another bottle for me! It seems that I am incapable of anything these days. Except, of course, writing.

Saturday, September 29, 2018

A Rose by any other name: a prima donna by any name at all


I don't know quite why this lady didn't make it into my Victorian Vocalists. Or, having not done so, hasn't yet been enshrined on my blog. Her story is a fascinating one. Anyway, this morning good old e-bay threw up a rare photo of her and jogged my arm  ...

BELL, Rose [BERDALLE DE LA POMMERAYE, Anna Céline] (b 16 rue de la Savonnerie, Rouen 23 November 1834; d Nice 10 April 1886)

Mlle Céline de la Pommeraye had a career in music and the theatre which took place in three parts, each of the three accompanied by a new name. And the third time she got it most decidedly right.

Mlle de la Pommeraye was born in Rouen, the daughter of a well-known couple of printers and lithographers, Pierre Adolphe Berdalle de la Pommeraye and his wife Anne Françoise Panthot de Longe (b Lyon 9 October 1801, m Paris 4 May 1824). She studied at the Paris Conservatoire, where after a third accesit in Opéra-Comique in 1853, she graduated with the first prize of the establishment in 1856, following a particularly successful final concours singing the role of Vaccai’s Roméo. ‘Une très belle personne douée d’une voix de mezzo-soprano très sympathetique’. She was promptly engaged for the Paris Opéra, and announced to debut in the well-established La Reine de Chypre of Halévy, in the role of Catarina Cornaro, created by Rosine Stoltz some 15 years earlier and, most recently, the property of Mme Tedesco. She followed behind the Parisian debuts of one Mlle Elmire, from the Brussels Theatre, another ‘mezzosoprano forte’ with a wide range, in the same role. Mlle Elmire was much liked. And thus Mlle de la Pommeraye, around whom their was some rustle of influence and newspaper jiggery-pokery, and who would have had to contend for newspaper space with the death and funeral of Adolphe Adam and of Fumagalli, plus an Imperial Decree about a revision of pensions for opera staff which took up all the front pages of the music press, was postponed. She was postponed. Frankly, until the same time next year.


La France Musicale chronicled the ‘début longtemps attendu’ of the ‘ex-premier prix du Conservatoire’ ‘La jeune cantatrice a resolument abordé le role de Catharina dans La Reine de Chyprealongside the habitual Roger and Bonnehée. La tentative n’est pas sans danger; hâtons-nous de dire qu’elle s’en est tirée avec bonheur et succès. Sa figure expressive et noble, sa taille élégante, son geste et sa démarche aristocratiques, lui onttout d’abord conciliée les suffrages du publique; sa voix et son bel accent dramatique on ensuite décelé, ou plutôt compléte la victoire .. ce début a été trop éclatante   Mlle La Pommeraye aura pour premier résultat de delivrer l’Opéra du règne des dictatures’.

Ah ha. A little politics. Perhaps because this was a Rosine Stoltz role? And the dictatrice par excellence, now performing the same role at Montpelier, had not so long ago had another attempt at the Opéra. But politics reigned in the Paris music press as well, and Mlle de la Pommeraye’s notices were – as in Le Figaro– elsewhere damning. La France Musicale had a second hurrah the following week, assuring the public that Céline ‘n’est pas restée au dessous d’aucune de ses dévancières’!  She was being put on a par with Stoltz and Tedesco. Mlle Elmire seemed forgotten. ‘On ne pouvait certes espérer un plus heureux resultat’. Simple and natural as an actress, real and passionate as a singer… destined to hold a high rank amongst our singers…’

The new singer gave a second La Reine de Chypre ..and then Mme Borghi-Mamo arrived in Paris, and there were other new artists to bring forward… and I spot her only being rather oddly hastened on, on one occasion to deputise for Borghi-Mamo, alongside Mme Lafon and Sapin, as a mezzo-soprano Azucena (‘Elle y a deployé d’excellente intentions dramatiques et le public ne lui a pas épargné ses encouragements’).

Mlle de la Pommeraye remained on the books at the Opéra for half a dozen years, but she doesn’t seem to have appeared on the stage there a great deal. I spot her taking over as Edwige in Guillaume Tell at one stage, performing the Eugène Gautier cantata Quinze Aout (August 1861) with Morère, and when Gounod’s La Reine de Saba was put into rehearsal, it was she, by particular request of the composer, who was cast in the mezzo role of Sarahil. But by the time the piece got to the stage (and flopped) Mlle Tenby had taken on that part.

The music press noted in 1858, ‘Mlle de la Pommeraye, qui a refusé tout récemment, pour ne point quitter l’Opéra, où elle finira bien par avoir la place qu’elle mérite, un magnifique engagement dans un des principaux theatres du département, fait à des rares intervalles, des apparitions dans Guillaume Tell. Le role d’Edwige, voilà son lot; il n’est pas brillant, mais la jeune artiste sait en tirer un assez bon parti pour se faire remarquer. Il serait temps de l’introduire plus largement dans le repertoire. Mlle de la Pommeraye a tout ce qu’il faut pour réussir; il ne lui a manqué jusqu’a ce jour que des encouragements de l’administration et de plus fréquentes occasions de se produire devant la publique..’

She didn’t get them. A few days later she was given an Azucena to sing, but then, it was business as usual. During her period under contract to the Opéra, she did however eventually play on the stage out of town (I note her at the Théâtre des Arts at Rouen in April/May 1859, taking over as Azucena and giving a ‘très moyen’ Leonore in La Favorita), as well as in the Paris concerts, often to fine reviews. When she appeared at Notre Dame des Arts, singing Alary’s Oratorio with Tamberlik she was dubbed ‘remarquable’ ‘il est impossible de mettre plus d’âme et de deployer une plus touchante voix’.

Finally, Mlle de la Pommeraye gave up on the Opéra. She became a soprano, she became Mlle Celina Pomerani, and she moved across to the Théâtre des Italiens where she was cast as Desdemona to the Othello of Tamberlik. Once again, her debut seems to have gone off fine, but once again she doesn’t seem to have been used during the one season she spent at the Italiens. Yet, later, on it would be called ‘a success’, and after she had left at least one concert reviewer sighed over one of her actressy performances in concert ‘she should be at the Italiens’. Well, she had been: but the girl who seemingly had everything, majestic height, striking looks, undoubted acting ability and a voice that had won her a premier prix and employment at Paris’s two principal opera houses, couldn’t make it. What was wrong?

Mlle Pomerani went into the bin after the Italiens engagement, and Mlle de la Pommeraye emerged again for mezzo-soprano engagements in provincial opera houses. And again the puzzle emerged. She gave her Leonore in La Favorita – an ideal role, it would seem – and was judged ‘faible’, a few weeks later she sang the role at Amiens and was lauded for both her singing and her acting. At Troyes, when she sang with the local Philharmonic Society, the local critic was amazed. Her talent, he professed, was completely transformed’ as he registered ‘a double success as French and Italian vocalist’.

Back in Paris, she gave a concert of her own at the Salle Herz, including Jules D’Aoust’s opérette L’Amour voleur (April 1866) in which, once more, her acting was especially praised, and, on the other hand, sang in a Pasdeloup production of Beethoven’s Messe Solenelle at Saint-Eustache (22 November 1866) where her talent in sacred music was once again noted. At a Polish concert at Salle Herz, she sang in Polish and also gave a song of her own composition.
Mlle de la Pommeraye was making her way. If sometimes it seemed that way was downwards, after a decade of work she was still at it. But not for long: Mlle de la Pommeraye was about to follow Mlle Pomerani into extinction.

In April 1867, Offenbach’s La Grande-Duchesse was produced in Paris and became the most extraordinary success that the French musical stage had witnessed in years. Provincial theatres hastened to mount their own productions of the show, too often with prime donne vocally unsuitable and, more importantly, lacking the burlesque spirit and acting ability so necessary to properly perform the role.

But the advent of opéra-bouffe as the entertainment of the moment here, as elsewhere, suddenly hurtled to the forefront new stars with the right combination of singing and acting ability, and a certain sex appeal, that the genre required. And, in France, one of the most outstanding of these (some averred the single outstanding one) was a certain Mlle Rose Bell.

line de la Pommeraye metamorphosed into Rose Bell some time during 1867. She’s still La Pommeraye when she sings at Ems in July. I think, unless I’ve missed something, that her first appearance in her new guise may have been at Amiens towards the end of the year. Mlle de la Pommeraye had sung in Amiens before and the local press were not slow to recognise in Mlle Rose Bell a singer whom they already knew (‘une belle jeune femme que nous avions déjà eu le plaisir d’applaudir dans un concert d’une de nos sociétés musicales...), they were also overwhelmed by her in her new metamorphosis.

L’Orchestre reported of a ‘cantatrice distinguée que l’on a entendu a l’Opéra et qui est de plus une comédienne intelligente’: then ‘[elle] vient de jouer à Amiens La Grande-Duchesse avec un succès éclatante. M Carrier dans le rôle de Fritz a partagé avec elle les applaudissements..’
The success was soon to be confirmed in the most brilliant manner. ‘Rose’ continued on to Liège, where she teamed up for 21 nights (4 December 1867-13 January 1868) with José Dupuis, the original Parisian creator of the soldier Fritz and the Paris of La Belle Hélène, and a native of that city. The local press was obviously occupied in welcoming home their triumphant star, but they saved some lines for his leading lady: ‘Mlle Rose Bell jouait à ses côtés, et nous aimons à constater qu’elle a détaillée le rôle de la Belle Helene avec une grande souplesse. Cette dame chante bien, possède une jolie voix, et ce qui ne gâte jamais rien, est une jeune et belle femme’, before warming up and crediting her ‘une comedienne consommé, voix agréable, élégance dans tous ses mouvements, richesse de costumes, naturel du jeu, tout le monde est d’accord pour lui reconnaître un talent inimitable et au dessus de tout éloge’ ‘une duchesse délicieuse. Elle chante, joue et débite son role avec une crânerie toute charmante. Il nous semble difficile pour ne pas dire impossible de mieux dire, mieux faire et mieux chanter. Mlle Rose Bell est simplement parfaite dans La Grande-Duchesse. La succès enthousiaste qui lui a été reservée en est la preuve la plus irecusable’. The journals even permitted themselves a little humour when the new star of opéra-bouffe did a half-turn and played the title-role in Mignon, alongside Cabel and Mlle Lagye. ‘Mignonne’ they grinned was scarcely a well-named role for such a tall lady.

Rose with Petit in ... what? The Phantom of the Opéra?

If Mlle de la Pommeraye had struggled for recognition and fameMlle Rose-Bell had her arms full in just a few performances, and that would be the way it would stay. Third time lucky, Mlle Bell succeeded where Mlle de la Pommeraye and Mlle Pomerani had not.

It is said that she sang at several other Belgian theatres, but I next pick her up at Marseilles, where the press got rather snotty about opéra-bouffe such as La Grande-Duchesse and Geneviève de Brabant being played instead of Meyerbeer or Halévy and judged the performances a failure, and then to the Théâtre Français, Bordeaux. Bordeaux was Liège all over again. Teamed once again with Jules Carrier, Rose Bell caused a sensation. ‘A phenomenal success’ trumpeted the local press, as journalists penned poetry to her and the theatre overflowed in a manner that the nights of Mlle Nantier in Samson et Dalila could not even approach.

Rose Bell and Carrier stayed in Bordeaux from 23 April until August, adding Barbe-Bleue, La Belle Hélène and Fleur de thé to their lists before the departure of one whom a poetic newspaperman had christened ‘la prima donna galbeuse’ and her leading man. They were departing, however, because they were other where engaged. They were headed to New York as the stars of Mr Jacob Grau’s troupe, which aimed to jump on the bandwagon of the first triumphant American performances of opéra-bouffe.

Grau’s company opened at the New York Théâtre Français on 5 October 1868, with Rose Bell (prematurely announced as Mlle Rosa-Belli) sharing the limelight with the young and rising Marie Desclauzas – destined to be one of the greatest stars of opéra-bouffe and -comique in France – and with Carrier. La Grande-Duchesse was given first and The Clipper was decidedly impressed: ‘a fine, stately lady and rather prepossessing. She made a decidedly favourable impression and all her songs were encored. She sang the sabre song with great skill was encored three times and it was repeated in the same exquisite style. Rose Bell has a splendid voice - now high and thrilling and anon low and voluptuous...’ Indeed, if Lucille Tostée had got there first, and the piece had stunned America with its display of the can-can, Rose Bell was as if in another class to her predecessor as a performer. Two weeks, however, was all La Grande-Duchesse was kept on – New York had, after all, seen it before, after which Genevieve de Brabant was substituted and this time the company – much intrinsically superior overall to its Bateman management predecessor – triumphed. Genevieve was a huge hit. There was just time left to stage Fleur de thé before the season ended 14 April, and the company (which had already done the traditional flying visit to Brooklyn) set off to the Academy of Music, Philadelphia (‘she is tall, handsome and possesses a clear, sweet, highly-cultivated voice, acting with a great deal of spirit and animation’), to the Mozart Hall, Cincinnati and to Crosby’s Opera House, Chicago. Rose had had a bit of time off for illness, so they didn’t get Chilpéric on, and she and Desclauzas took turns at playing the Duchess. But they added La Vie Parisienne and L’Oeil crevé to their repertoire, as they headed back to New York for a long week (29 May-7 June), before the company returned to France, wreathed in laurels. Rose actually stayed on a little while and appeared in concert at the Steinway Hall, but when she did leave she and Desclauzas left behind a memory of genuine French opéra-bouffe performed in the classiest fashion possible. None of the small throng of bouffers who followed – not even Irma, nor Aimée, nor Paola Marié nor Coralie Geoffroy – would ever outdo Grau’s twin prima donnas and their performances in America’s French opéra-bouffe theatre, ‘Rose Bell’ would go down as a phenomenon in American musical theatre history.

Meanwhile, back in France, a promising young singer from the Opéra-Comique tried her hand at La Grande-Duchesse in the provinces. She will be pushed to efface the memory of Rose Bell, pondered the local press. Marie Roze (at that stage simple ‘Marie Rose’) would find other areas of the operatic world for her successes.

Rose Bell arrived back in France in October 1869, and immediately took up an engagement at Boulogne-sur-mer, playing Barbe-bleue, La Belle Hélène, La Grande-Duchesse. The reaction was stunning. If, as the press at first judged, she was a little more poised and elegant than Hortense Schneider, not quite so near-the-knuckle, and thus perhaps not quite so bouffe as the roles famous creator, they soon came round to superlatives, and not just for her ‘voix profonde, bien timbrée d’expressive’, and the public were there ahead of them. The line outside stretched down the street an hour before the box office opened, and ‘hundred were turned away’ quite literally. Rose was acclaimed ‘La Ristori de l’opérette’ and her combination with Vallée (Fritz) and Leers (Boum) in La Grande-Duchesse had Boulogne proclaiming that the show simply could not have been better done, in Paris, London, Berlin, Brussels or Vienna. And they may have been right.

In December, Rose Bell moved on to Anvers, in Metz she made the receipts rebound to unheard-of heights in a production in which her waiting ladies in La Grande-Duchesse were played by the rising Mary Albert and Anna-Céline van Ghell, and Les Bavards was on the programme. From Anvers, on to a ‘grand succès’ in Gand ... later in Nice in Fleur de Thé, in Chambéry, in Bordeaux and with the troupe of Monsieur Goby at Arcachon. I see her playing Le Petit Faust at Le Havre, La Belle Hélène at Avignon to a highbrow critic who found even Rigoletto unworthy of his opera house’s attention, and as Gabrielle in Les Cent Vierges at Marseilles. Rose Bell was the provincial prima donne par excellence of opéra-bouffe. But nobody brought her to town, it seems, until…

Rose Bell did finally return to the metropolis, for a long stay and perhaps the most glorious years of her stage career. But that metropolis was not Paris, but London.

Man-of-all-theatrical fingers in the pie, Edward P Hingston, had set uthe Opera Comique, London, as a house for opéra-bouffe productions, and had done reasonably well with his production of L’Oeil crevé with Julia Mathews and Pattie Laverne as his leading ladies. Come Christmas, however, Miss Mathews departed north for her lucrative pantomime engagement, and Hingston was obliged to recast the role of Fleur-de-Noblesse. He decided to bring Mlle Rose Bell across from France. And on 14 December 1872, Mlle Rose Bell opened in London, to a decidedly appreciative press and public. ‘She has a good voice, executes with spirit and brilliancy, and in personal appearance is most attractive’ nodded The Times.

Pattie Laverne

Unfortunately, Hingston’s next productions – Offenbach’s The Bohemians (Le Roman Comique) in which Rose was cast in pants as Enguerrand des Moranges, and Jonas’s Le Canard à trois becs in which she again took most effectively to trousers as Spaniello (‘she still finds our language a little troublesome’), did not come up to the first show in popularity, and unfortunately Mlle Rose-Bell was paired with a co-star in Miss Laverne with whom she evidently cohabited less happily than she had done with Desclauzas. When Miss Laverne was cast in a topical version of Offenbach’s ‘Ile de Tulipatan (Kissi-Kissi) as an afterpiece, and the afterpiece became the attraction of the evening, Mlle Bell moved on.

She moved on to the Alhambra, where large-scale productions of spectacular opéra-bouffe and opéra-comique were currently the diet, as leading lady. That is to say, as a leading lady. For if cohabitation with Miss Laverne had proven complicated, cohabitation with her Alhambra ‘principal girl’, Kate Santley, would lead to riots and the lawcourts.

Rose’s first production at the Alhambra was La Belle Hélène (16 August 1873)but she did not play Helen. The British public had shown a decided preference for the tall, leggy Miss Bell in tights, so whilst the flirtatious, overtly sexy Miss Santley took on the role which Rose had played so successfully in America and France, Rose was cast as Paris. The piece was a fine success, the two ladies were most successful in it, and it ran until it was time to produce the Christmas special. This was a pasticcio version of Don Juan, and Rose was cast again in tights in the show’s title-role. If possible, she was even more successful in this one. She made a great success of a song pilfered from Le Pont des soupirs and again in a number ‘Sparkling Wine’ written for her by the theatre’s conductor Georges Jacobi. Kate Santley was Haidée, here the principal of his abandoned ladies, equipped with a pretty song by Freddie Clay. Don Juan proved popular and successful, but during its run things came to a peak between if,not necessarily the two prime donne, then their supporters. For each of the ladies had attracted a team who rendered nothing to 21st century football ‘fans’. They crowded the theatre to cheer their favourite and to hiss the other lady, and finally the whole thing ended up with a lawsuit for ‘conspiracy’ against the Bell faction. Most of them had already fled. But Kate took two months off all the same.

Kate Santley

Rose and Kate, without their probably unwelcome ‘fans’, went on to play together in La Jolie Parfumeuse in which Kate played the title-role and Rose, for once, got into skirts as the ‘other woman’, Clarinde, but at the end of that show Kate Santley departed and Rose Bell remained assoluta at the Alhambra through productions of The Demon’s Bride (back in pants as Algar, a brigand) and Le Roi Carotte (Robin Wildfire), before taking time out to go to the Philharmonic Theatre to star as Feroza in a short-lived and otherwise poorly cast production of Les Géorgiennes and a season of La Fille de Madame Angot, playing Lange to the Clairette of the very young Catherine Lewis.
On 15 April 1876, she returned to her old place at the Alhambra to play Prince Caprice in a revival of Le Voyage dans la lune, but by June she was advertising that, come October, she would be finished at the vast theatre in Leicester Square. 

Her next engagement was a couple of steps further from the Paris Opéra: she appeared as Mujd Pasha, the robber chief, in Open Sesame (a version of the Ali Baba tale) at the suburban Standard Theatre for Christmas, and on 13 March 1877 ‘Mlle Rose Bell, the Alhambra Queen’ made her debut on the British music-hall stage, in an act in which she (and her costume) deftly mixed masculine and feminine elements. She found music-hall engagements plentiful, and began by playing 9pm at the Sun, 9.45 at the Canterbury and 10.45 at the London Pavilion, before at Whitsun switching to the Royal, Holborn, where she sang selections from Le Voyage dans la lune, and Le Pont des soupirs, followed by a season in Manchester. 

In November 1877, she returned to the stage, in a second-rate touring light-opera company playing the page in John of Paris, Fra Diavolo and Lange alongside Miss M L Vincent, Henry Hallam, Francis Gaynar and Juliette Piemonte in productions which really had a scent of end-of-career to them. She took over from Pattie Laverne in the unsuccessful Richard South tour of the British opéra-comique Pom, returned once more to pantomime as principal boy in Jack and the Beanstalk at the Park Theatre (‘It’s nice’ and ‘The nightingale’ ‘encored five times nightly’). The Park Theatre then gave Pom a bit of a try, and Rose Bell repeated the role of Trainette.

In 1880 (20 December) the Alhambra produced a revised edition of Le Petit Faust under the title Mefistofele and the nearly fifty year-old Rose was cast as Siebel. It was her swansong, so it was fitting that it should be at the Alhambra.

Twenty-three years on from La Reine du Chypre at the Paris Opera, and after a dozen years as ‘Rose Bell’, Céline de la Pommeraye announced her retirement. She was, it was written, going to devote herself to her two children.

I have never been sure to whom (and if) ‘Mlle Bell’ was married. T Allston Brown in his splendid, and sidelight filled, work on the New York stage says that she was, during her time in New York the wife of Monsieur Gambogi, the chorus master of the Grau company. And, indeed, they travelled across to New York on the St Laurent, 23 September 1868as – damn them – Monsieur Gambogi Bell and Rosa Bell. Yet she continued to appear and to be written about as Mademoiselle. Now, it appeared, she had another husband. And, from somewhere, children. Could perhaps the Hippolyte Gambogi who died in Wandsworth in 1879 be the first one … was he one of the Paris music publishing family, Gambogi (Edouard-Hippolyte and Charles-Jean) frères..  or is he the Hippolyte Gambogi ‘younger brother of Peppe’, ‘sometime of Nantes’, whom I spot in 1855 giving singing lessons in Paris and composing songs, one of which has just been sung by Wartel, another by Bonnehée, Gardoni, Miolan-Carvalho .? I think I’m warm.

However, once she leaves the Alhambra in 1881, I lose track of Rose Bell by any other name. I cannot find her in the census of 1881, when she was still playing in Leicester Square, and I cannot find mention of her in the French press thereafter until in April 1886 the papers pick up the fact of her death, in Nice.
I can’t even get her death certificate (as I did her birth one), because I don’t know what her name was by 1886. I suppose there’s always a chance that it could have still been de la Pommeraye.

The Berdalle de la Pommeraye family produced another celebrated scion, Céline’s brother, [Pierre] Henri [Victor] Berdalle de la Pommeraye (1839-1891) who became well-known in Paris as a journalist and conferencier. In the early days of the Franco-Prussian war, he can be seen (‘Secretaire de la Société des Gens de Lettres de Paris, Officier au 115 Battaillon de Guerre’) lecturing at the Hanover Square Rooms on The Siege of Paris.

His son, Pierre, left his mark on the artistic world when he served as the model to Renoir for the painting ‘Child with Punch doll’.

The New York Times obituary of Rose also confided that she was ‘a relative’ of the murderous Dr Edmond Desiré Couty de la Pommeraye or De Pommerais, a homeopathic doctor who was guillotined in 1864 for the murder by digitalin of his mistress. I think there is a bit of a leap of the imagination there.

Thursday, September 27, 2018

The Scottish Nightingale of the Bouffes-Parisiennes

For the past thirty years, Miss Augusta Thomson of Glasgow has been a curious item in my collection of Victorian Vocalists.  I had never even succeeded in tracking down more than a line drawing of the lady. And then, this morning, up popped a photo of her on e-bay. It looked nothing like the drawing ... but it needed to be enshrined on my blog, and it got me thinking about Augusta once more ..

THOMSON, Augusta (b Glasgow 11 December 1836; d 141 Cambridge St , Pimlico 14 March 1877)

Augusta Thomson seems to have been a should-have-been. But her apparently determinedly curious career didn’t turn out that way.

Augusta was born in Glasgow in 1836, the daughter of musician and composer Andrew Thomson and his second wife, Isabella (née McKinlay). Most of Thomson’s first family followed their father into good careers in music – Joanna (Mrs Rodwell, Mme Ferrari) (qv) as a vocalist, pianist and more importantly a teacher, James as a pianist, and Jessie Millar Thomson also as a teacher and songwriter. 
Augusta was at first trained by her half-sister, Joanna, and she appeared in public for the first time at the age of seventeen in a concert given by Signor and Madame (sic) Ferrari at the Hanover Square Rooms 19 May 1854. She sang ‘Sull’ aria’ with her sister. She put in another appearance at Joanna’s 1855 (16 May) concert, and then went off to France to study at the Paris conservatoire. She was awarded an 3rd accessit in her first year, and followed up by taking the 1er prix ‘à l’uninamité’ in July 1858. The press spread itself over her ‘soprano of magnificent volume and of unrivalled purity and flexibility’ as displayed in the Huguenots aria ‘O beau pays de Touraine’ and back home in Glasgow the local paper printed a Scotsman in Paris notice: ‘one of the rewards was carried off by a young lady from Glasgow, the sister of one of your most talented professors of music. Possessing a voice of extraordinary power, as well as of the most classic purity and flexibility, the singing of Miss Augusta Thomson was much applauded, and offered a most favourable contrast to the florid and tremulous style of vocalisation so prevalent here..’.
As a prize-winner, Miss Thomson had to make herself available to the French national theatres and, although the Conservatoire records that she went, logically, to the Opéra-Comique, in fact she didn’t. She went straight to the Paris Opéra. The knowledgeable British press was immediately on it guard. Miss Thompson, the young English vocalist who carried off the first prize at the late examination of the Conservatoire, has been engaged for the Grand-Opéra, and will make her début as Mathilde in Guillaume Tell on the occasion of the rentrée of M Gueymard on the 1st of October— that is, if the same influence be not exerted against her as was made use of against Miss Birch some years ago — which must be fresh in the recollection of our readers. Miss Thomson, however, appears ‘with a difference’ on the French stage. Miss Birch was taught in England, where, of course, they know nothing of singing. Miss Thomson, on the other hand, is a real pupil of the Conservatoire. It is curious to perceive how the Parisian press glorifies MRévial, the master, and says little of Miss Thomson, the scholar; as if teaching— French teaching— was everything, and genius, intellect, powers, accomplishments, energy, application, resolve, and bias, nothing. This is the invariable mode of criticising in the most polite capital in Europe’.
If the paragraph sounded rather nationalistic and neurotic, there was nevertheless truth in it. The power struggles at the Opéra were notorious, and Miss Birch – one of the great sopranos of the era – had indeed been disgracefully treated there. Augusta didn’t do much better. 

It seems that the debut actually took place 12 January 1859. Gueymard was Arnold, and Belval, Bonnehée, Mme Altès-Ribault and Mlle de la Pommeraye were the other principals. I can find no reviews. Odd in a country where a debutante at the Opéra got incommensurate coverage The press merely commented ‘Mlle Thompson a reparu cette semaine à l-Opéra dans le personnage de Mathilde de Guillaume Tell. La debutante a bien dit sa romance ‘Sombre forêts’; son duo avec Arnold et le beau finale du troisième acte lui ont également valu des applaudissements’. But she did not follow up as Marguerite in Les Huguenots. She went home.

Her first British appearance after her return was in no less a venue than the Philharmonic Society 16 May 1859: ‘the event of special interest was the debut of Miss Augusta Thompson a young lady who has achieved extraordinary success at Paris where she has attained the highest honours of the conservatoire, and made a most promising appearance at the Académie’. She caused a sensation. She sang ‘Reviens ma noble protectrice’ (La Part du diable) and her William Tell duet with Belart and the press responded ‘She has a magnificent soprano voice, while her powers of execution are consummate’. ‘[This] foreshadows an amount of reputation for her in this country second to none’. ‘A Louisa Pyne en herbe’. Buckingham Palace responded by commanding the young singer to perform there the next Friday.

She continued home to Scotland, on a wave of publicity. But Scotland was annoyed at the special increased prices and only enthused mildly (‘Merce dilette amiche’, ‘Quanto amore’, ‘Carno nome’, ‘Comin’ thru the rye’, ‘A Mile from Edinboro Town’). On her return to town, she appeared first at the New Philharmonic concerts (‘Pensa alla patria’,’Robert toi que j’aime) and the critic opined that French music suited her far better than Italian. He was clearly right and Augusta leaned away from the Italian somewhat thereafter.

And there was plenty of thereafter. In 1860, Augusta Thomson was seen frequently in the West End concert rooms during the season singing ‘Sombres forêts’, ‘Jours de mon enfance’ (Pré aux clercs), L’Etoile du nord, ‘Take thou this cup’ (Lurline), ‘Ah me, he comes not’ from Barnett’s Fair Rosamond, ‘Il Bacio’, Berger’s ‘Ave Maria’ et al. She appeared again with the Philharmonic Society, in the Royal Society of Musicians Messiah, at the Vincent Wallace concert at Crystal Palace, at Her Majesty’s Theatre for Mrs Anderson, sang Sidney Pratten’s music at his concert, and took part in countless personal concerts (Frederick Chatterton, Marie Rieder, Emma Busby, Lucy Leffler, Harold Thomas, F Scotson Clark, Mr and Mrs Tennant, Susanna Cole, Edmond Depret, Louisa Vinning, John Thomas, George Russell, Mr Willing, Aguilar, Augustus Mann etc etc). In August, she appeared at Mellon’s concerts at the Floral Hall where she shared the soprano music of The Messiah with Parepa, in December she made a debut at the Monday Pops (Haydn’s ‘Fidelity’, ‘My pardon, dearest treasure’) and she ended the year with a Messiah at Aberdeen.

1861 continued on much the same bases. More Monday Pops(‘Zuleika’, Mozart’s ‘The Very Angels Weep’, Macfarren and Dussek songs), and various concerts where she displayed her new favourite, the aria ‘Le Pouvoir de chant’ from Auber’s La Circassienne), plus yet another return to the Philharmonic (‘Miss Augusta Thomson, who is steadily making way, gave one of the loveliest airs from Spohr's Jessonda with real expression’ Le Comte Ory with Gardoni). When Francesco Berger staged a Don Giovanni selection she sang Zerlina, she took part in the concerts of Mme Rieder, Miss Busby, W G Cusins, Louis and Adolph Ries, Pratten, Madame Puzzi, Howard Glover, Mrs Anderson, Ganz and others, and towards the end of the year she was featured in Prince George Galitzin’s proms, where she performed his music and also that of Howard Glover and others more classic, and visited Leeds for an unfortunate production of Benedict’s Undine ([she was] the only redeeming feature’). Finally, she made ‘her accustomed annual visit’ to Glasgow were they were more generous to her this time: ‘a beautiful soprano voice of extensive range, clear and sweet, and her brilliancy and fluency of execution were amply shown in ‘Qui la voce’ and ‘Could life’s dark scene’ from Glover’s Ruy Blas. 

From Glasgow, however, she did not continue back directly to London. In the company of Alexandre Billet (piano) and Guillaume Paque (’cello), she headed for Geneva where she was rousingly received (‘voix ravissante’) and to France, and when she did return to England it was only for a handful of concerts.

‘Miss Augusta Thomson, who has been for some time missing, having disappeared from London at the moment when she was beginning to be of value … is engaged at the Bouffes-Parisiennes in Paris—by which it would seem as if she intends to work out her career in foreign opera. ...’

On 23 February 1863 she appeared at the Bouffes playing the principal girl, Inès, alongside Delphine Ugalde and Lucille Tostée in the first Paris production of Nuitter and Offenbach’s Les Bavards. The production has made it to Wikipedia where Augusta in just mentioned as ‘Thompson’. She wasn’t liked by the Univers Musicale: ‘A part une debutante qui a failli compromettre son rôle, la demoiselle Thomson qui serait mieux placé dans le genre sérieux car elle manque absolument de gaîeté, l’execution laissait rien a desirer’. The Bouffes closed for demolition in April, and the troupe headed for Ems.  I imagine Augusta went with them. But when the new theatre opened in January 1864, she was not there. She was back in Scotland, singing ‘Quand tu chantes’ and Scots ballads at the Glasgow Saturday Concerts. Up till now, the stage had not been very favourable to her.

As Ines in Les Bavards

She made a first appearance in Manchester in February 1864 in the Halle concerts, and then she made a surprising switch. On 3 April she opened at the Manchester Theatre Royal in the title role of the burlesque Ixion. Then, later in the year, I see her playing in a version of Leah (with ‘Sing Birdie Sing’ and Faust interpolated), Ixion and The Child of the Regiment at Nottingham, Jeannette’s Wedding and the burlesque Perdita with Lydia Thompson at Liverpool and at Christmas principal girl in the pantomime, The Jolly Miller of Dee at Birkenhead.

17 April 1865, however, she was brought back from burlesque and the provinces. She opened at Drury Lane cast as Sabrina in the masque Comus and once again was praised to the skies. But Comus over, she joined up with Terrott, Bartleman and Annie Leng in a ‘Royal English Opéra-Comique Company’ playing The Sleeping Queen, Violet’s Playthings, Once too Often, La Serva Padrona etc, adapted by herself) in polite venues.

But she was brought, again, back to London to appear at the Gallery of Illustration where she gave London a taste of the Offenbachian with her performance in Ching-Chow-Hi (Ba-ta-clan). No one, this time, complained of a lack of gaiety.

In September, she was recalled to Drury Lane for more Comus and at Christmastide she was principal girl in the Lane’s pantomime Little King Pippin.

After the festive season, she returned to Liverpool and burlesque, in July to the Princess’s for drama (‘she sang and acted with great vivacity’) and at the end of the year The Invisible Prince (Abricotina). The Princess season folded, but Augusta returned to Drury Lane where she and Tom Whiffen took over the roles in the panto curtain-raiser Terrible Hymen (Avant la noce).

But from Drury Lane, she continued to the very suburban Marylebone Theatre where ‘the great English vocalist from the Theatre Royal, Covent Garden ‘ ‘the Queen of English songsters’
played in a version of the Daughter of the Regiment, before starting on a reasonably downmarket series of productions: a remake of Auber’s Manon Lescaut written by herself as Sunshine and Shadow, The Colleen Bawn with music from The Lily of Killarney, Violet’s Playthings, The Muleteer of Toledo with music from The Rose of Castille, the pasticcio The Burgomaster’s Daughter featuring bits of Auber, ‘Sing Birdie Sing’, ‘The Hunters Horn’ et al, Violetta, a for the suburbs La Traviata, and extravaganza fashioned from Rob Roy, a Maritana in the same mould, then a reasonably un-deconstructed The Black Domino and The Slave, and a burlesque of Lucrezia Borgia with Augusta as Orsini … and then she was ill. Again.

She was engaged for the SurreyTheatre, and presumably more of the same, but fate and John Russell of Covent Garden intervened. Augusta was hired to play Wanda in what was to turn out to be the important production of La Grande-Duchesse, alongside William Harrison and Julia Mathews. Her experience of things French and of real opéra-bouffe served her well, and Augusta was hailed as perfect in the part. La Grande-Duchesse, as history tells, only played four weeks in this initial season, and Augusta went off to play The Fair One With the Golden Locks at the Surrey, but come the season Russell remounted his hit, and sent it on the road. Mrs Howard Paul was now the Duchess and the piece was as popular in Liverpool, Leeds and Manchester as at Covent Garden. 20 June 1868 it came to the Olympic Theatre for a second London season.

Opéra-bouffe was becoming the rage, but did Augusta stick with it? No. She returned to burlesque and the her collection of song-studded plays. She took them to Scotland, and Scotland was notimpressed with her versions of The Flowers of the Forest, True unto Death, The Maid and the Magpie, The Prisoner, A Border Marriage et al. When she starred in panto (The Long Pack) at Newcastle, it was a flop and had to be removed. But she continued with her dramas with arias, and took her own company to West Hartlepool with a bundle of them. Her version of The Muleteer of Toledo not only helped itself to items from The Rose of Castile but also from La Périchole.
At the end of the year she joined Mrs Liston at the Olympic Theatre, singing Jeannette’s Wedding and Little Emly as a forepiece. But 4 January 1870, Mrs Liston produced the burlesque The Princess by W S Gilbert, and Augusta was cast as Prince Cyril.
John Russell recalled her to opéra-bouffe, to replace the upwardly-mobile Emily Soldene in Barbe-bleue, but as soon as that tour ended it was back to burlesque with Francis Fairlie and with W H Swanborough. When she played Marchioness in Little Nell the press enthused ‘she displayed an amount of talent as a character actress that we had not hitherto given her credit for’.

21 March 1871 she returned to the opéra-bouffe stage as Zanetta in Henry Leslie’s Liverpool production of La Princesse de Trébizonde (‘her voice is peculiarly suited to Offenbach’s light, merry music and she is a great favourite’..) This production was to tour for a very long time, but Augusta, typically, did not stay long. She switched to play Frédégonde in a tour of Chilpéric, from which she retired in August ‘sick from overwork’ and, I suspect, from her friend and business partner, Estelle Bodenham.

When she returned, she joined Swanborough again, playing burlesque at the Crystal Palace (with Manon Lescaut’s ‘L’Eclat de rire’ and Bishop’s ‘The Pilgrim of Love’ interpolated), and then moved to the Royalty Theatre to where J E Mallandaine had brought his ‘musically complete’ provincial production of Chilpéric. Alas, he brought it without its drawing star, Miss Emily Soldene, and although Augusta gave her impeccable Frédégonde in ideal style, the run was not long. Mallandaine then staged his Paquita with Augusta in the title-role. It played 13 performances, and Miss Thomson was soon back with Swanborough, playing Rochester in Violet’s Playthings and a cut-down revised interpolated-into version of Ixion. ‘A superb soprano voice and exquisite acting ... we can not recall any vocalist obtaining a similar reception since Miss Louisa Pyne..’

The Swanborough connection bore West End fruit, and Augusta Thomson, billed big, appeared (27 November 1871) at their Strand Theatre. She played the title-role in Ivanhoe, and in Burnand’s Arion, then in Brough’s Pygmalion, before quitting the company and going out on another Chilpéric tour (24 March 1872) with W H Tilla – the King who had failed to fill the shoes of Soldene – as her leading man. Before long, the producers cried enough, and Augusta and Tilla took their place as managers. Cox and Box was played as an afterpiece to the opéra-bouffe: Augusta played Box. By August, however, she was weakening and was off, ill, again. They added a selection from the Soldene hit, Geneviève de Brabant to the repertoire, but by September they had shuttered and Augusta was at Bristol playing the Earl of Leicester in Little Amy Robsart.

Another opéra-bouffe engagement soon raised its head. 18 November 1872, Richard Mansell produced The Bridge of Sighs at the St James’s Theatre with Augusta in the splendid prima donna rôle of Catarina Cornaro. It had a rocky ride, closing in disarray when Augusta got ill again, then being remounted the following February in a cut version. It still failed.

30 June 1873 she was cast in Prince Moselle in Snae Fell at the Gaiety Theatre, but typically she abandoned the Gaiety to return to Henry Leslie, back in her old role of Zanetta, for the last weeks of his tour, before heading back to Liverpool. At Liverpool she played La Grande-Duchesse, a new and short-lived extravaganza Lothair, the pantomime The King of the Golden Valley and Clairette to the Lange of Lennox Grey in the latest opéra-comique megahit La Fille de Madame Angot.
Her Clairette was noticed, and she was soon back with Hollingshead and the Gaiety company, touring with Nellie Farren and J G Taylor as Zanetta in La Princesse de Trébizonde, Morgiana in The Forty Thieves and in Offenbach’s The Great Metropolis. 
She ended 1874 touring with the Liston company and playing Little Red Riding Hood at Glasgow, and in 1875 went out again with the Gaiety Company before recreating her Wanda, for Charles Morton, to the Duchess of Cornélie d’Anka for a season at the Opéra-Comique.

And now things began to shrink. Her next engagement was touring with a certain Albert Montgomery’s troupe playing in the musical comedy Loo, and then in Karl Meyder’s operetta company playing little 1-acters. She also got mixed up with a fairly hopeless type who called himself George D’Arcy (real name Willie Yelland), Estelle Bodenham’s widower, who joined in the remaking and pasticcio plotting with very little talent and advertised Offenbach and Augusta large.

At Christmas 1876 she appeared as principal boy in Open Sesame at the East-End Standard Theatre. Her principal boy was Alhambra ex-star Rose Bell, once Mlle de la Pommeraye and a member of the cast of that Guillaume Tell at the Paris Opéra, eighteen years ago, when anything had seemed possible for the ‘girlish, little’ Augusta Thomson.

It was her last stage appearance. Augusta died a few months later of ‘brain disease (one month & fourteen days) and paralysis (7 days)’. She had worked steadily all her career, except during her frequent illnesses, sometimes in splendid, classy companies and for most of the best musical-theatre managers in Britain. And sometimes in some very poor vehicles and places, for some less than notable managers. She had never again ventured into the opera. Perhaps wisely. But she had proven herself a perfect opéra-bouffe and opéra-comique leading girl … why, oh why …?