Just who was this charming singer and delightful actor, who spent three decades on the stage of London's theatres ... I have started the search, charted the facts, but will we ever know the whole truth?
DURUSET, John [DUROUSSET, John Baptiste William] (b London 5 April 1793; d 13 Panton Street 6 November 1843).
‘Though not a star in his profession, he was always a favourite with the public’.
Jack Durousset only narrowly qualifies as a Victorian vocalist, for the most significant part of his career took place in the years before Victoria came to the throne. However, he is, and apparently was, a very pleasant character – both on the stage and off it – and I deem deserves his place in my collection.
‘As a singer he possessed a pleasing organ and was an accomplished musician, and as a performer, where the opportunity was afforded, always displayed a degree of quiet humour which was highly entertaining. He carried this vein of playful humour into society…’
Jolly tales of angling and hunting, and of chop-suppers with the lads, featuring our friend, Jack, pop up in a good number of C19th memoirs, but it is his career as a singer that has earned him a place in the reference books.
Jack was registered as born in London, probably at number 13 Panton Street, Haymarket, where his father, John Baptiste Durousset (d 19 May 1823) long had a shop, as a print merchant and picture dealer.
As a boy, he was indentured to Domenico Corri, and he made his first appearances, on the stage and in concert, as a boy soprano. Again, folk cannot agree on where these first appearances took place – Drury Lane and Sadler’s Wells are both credited, and his teacher’s opera The Travellers cited (he is not among the boys in the original cast list) – but I spot him, first, on 14 November 1807 at the Adelphi Theatre (Sans Pareil) playing ‘a woodman’ in Miss Jane M Scott’s grand serious operatic spectacle, Ulthona the Sorceress (she played the title-role) and, subsequently, with Flexmore, as Yanko in the pantomime Monkey Island, or the faithful Negro, and as the old farmer, Corizi, in Valdevina the Cruel. He also appeared, during the run of these three highly popular pieces, giving ‘two Negro songs by Master Durousset, written by Miss Scott’. Miss Scott was the theatre-owner’s daughter.
The Sadler’s Wells engagement – Charles Dibdin’s A[c]quatic Theatre, Sadler's Wells – began at Easter. An 1840s paper claimed that Master Durousset’s debut there was as a sailor, in a piece named Pipe all hands. Well, I haven’t found an entertainment by that name, but Jack was evidently there from the beginning of the season, at Easter, because I see his name apparently listed to play in an aquatic romance, The White Witch, or the Cataract of the Amazonia (18 April 1808). I think, perhaps, the 1840s paper is muddling up with Grimaldi’s July pantomime Harlequin Highflyer, or Off she goes! in which young Jack, as a sailor, was featured with a number, alongside the clown’s hits ‘O, my deary’ and ‘Call Again Tomorrow’. His season culminated with ‘a new acquatic Persian melodramatic romance' The Magic Minstrel, or the Fairy Lake (August 1808), in which he was cast as Oberon, alongside Mrs C Dibdin, Messrs Pyne, Broadhurst and Grimaldi. He made a hit, during the season, with a Dibdin ditty about ‘The saucy little powder-monkey, Pete’, presumably as the sailor, rather than as Oberon.
Later in 1808, he made his first appearance at Drury Lane in an unsuccessful piece entitled The Siege of St Quintin, or Spanish Heroism.‘Masters Durousset and Huckle, pupils of Corri’ interpolated the famous duet ‘All’s Well’, originally sung by Incledon and Braham, in the latter’s opera The English Fleet in 1342, into Hook’s score .‘The part of the vocal performance which excited the greatest applause was a beautiful duet between Masters Durousset and Huckle which was rapturously encored’. Another juvenile performer, in the same short-lived play, was one Master Wallack.
The two singing boys were featured again in Venoni, or the Novice of St Mark, where Jack was the soloist in Monk Lewis and Michael Kelly’s glee ‘Ply the boat, fisherman’ (aka ‘Ply the boat, brother’), and, the following season, Corri took the pair of lads on a concert tour, in a party including Mrs Corri and the bass singer Higman (later to be the original Gabriel of Guy Mannering). Jack sang 'The Death of Abercrombie', 'Slow broke the night', 'The Bay of Biscay', 'My Heart with Love is Beating', Corri’s 'Victory', and the boys joined in the Venoni glee, and 'All's Well' 'as performed, with universal applause, for 70 nights last season at Drury Lane'.
On 12 June 1809, the two youngsters had a Benefit concert at the Freemasons' Hall in which Mrs Dussek, Mr and Mrs Corri, Miss Bellchambers and the London debut of Higman were featured (‘Beware of Love’ and ‘Victory’ from The Travellers, ‘All’s Well’). They continued on to Cheltenham, where Jack played Patrick to the Norah of Mrs Corri and the Darby of Huckle in The Poor Soldier, and gave ‘The Death of Sir Ralph Abercrombie’ in concert. ‘A fine, mellow volume of voice, which he manages with much taste and discretion. His ear appears very correct, and his voice well answers it. We rarely hear so easy a transition from the natural to the feigned tones’. On 21 July, they repeated their concert at Edinburgh, at Birmingham, Liverpool and Newcastle (‘excellent singing’), 11 August they are at York where Jack added Braham’s ‘On this cold, flinty rock’ (Kais), 15 September ‘Corri and his pupils’ were at the Chester Theatre Royal, 10 October back at York, where Jack’s contribution to the programme included Braham’s ‘Said a smile to a tear’ (False Alarms) ‘accompanied by himself on the grand pianoforte’, 18 October at the Northampton Theatre …
I see him (1 June 1810) back at Northampton and he is still billed as 'Master', in a concert given by Mr Lacy at the King's Theatre on 5 July 1810 on a bill with Mme Feron, Mrs Dickons and Incledon.
Evidently, at some stage, Master Duruset (as he eventually became spelled), soprano, had turned into Mr Duruset, tenor, and for several years – even though it was asserted that he ‘went to Covent Garden in 1810' -- I could not see his name in the bills. Maybe, I thought, because he was playing insignificant parts, which seemed a little odd considering his juvenile stardom. And then, there was a portrait [allegedly] by Henry Pickersgill [allegedly] of ‘Master Dourousset of the Covent Garden Theatre’ that was exhibited as number 426 at the Royal Academy in 1811. Oh .. Unless he is the ‘Mr Droset’ in the small letters of the 1810 pantomime. And the Mr Droset in the chorus of pilgrims in the opera Gustavus Vasa.
I think I see him as Pindarus in the Kemble Julius Caesar in 1812. But in 1811, on a playbill for Timour the Tartar, forty-seven male actors are credited. Not he. But – ah! -- there is ‘Master Dros[s]et’, though, cast as Warder, leading the Soldiers’ Chorus, ‘Gallant liegemen’, in The Knight of Snowdoun, and playing in the chorus of Spahis of Bluebeard…. OK. He was there from 1810 … but under a different name, and carrying a spear in minuscule type.
By 1813, he was a more visible member of the Covent Garden company. I see him playing Lindoff in The Miller and his men, ‘a prisoner’ in Douglas, Pompey in The Way to Keep Him, something in The Students of Salamanca, and, at Christmas, taking part as what looks like 'Sir T Upity' in the pantomime Harlequin and the Swans, or the Bath of Beauty, in which he performed ‘The Oyster Song’ (‘An oyster cross’d in love’) as a duet with Grimaldi.
In 1814-5, I notice him singing in the Covent Garden oratorios, and appearing as Bacchus in Midas, as Belville in Rosina with Miss Stephens, as the Footman in The Devil to Pay, starring Incledon and Emery, as Vincent in the first English performance of Boieldieu’s (and Bishop's) John of Paris ('The Maid my Heart Adores' ‘parfaitement chanté’), the title-role of Artaxerxes with Miss Stephens, as well as alongside Miss Foote in the petite pièce The King and the Duke, as the Constable of France in Henry V, the Huntsman in The Siege of Belgrade, as Barnardo in Bobinet the Bandit, and as Malic, singing the glee ‘When the sun thro’ the cypress grove’ in the melodrama Zembuca or the Net-Maker and his wife, as the singing Spirit in Comus, but it seems to have been in the revival of Garrick’s Cymon (20 November 1815) that he made his greatest mark, in the comic title-role, singing Michael Arne’s ‘You gave me last week a young linnet’ (The celebrated Linnet Song). ‘[He] sang well and played the very foolish part allotted to him with sufficient vivacity’ reported the press. 'He is rapidly advancing to the top of his profession', ‘a rare union of vocal accomplishment and histrionic ability’.
His talent for comedy would be more and more displayed in the years to come, both in singing and non-singing roles – when he appeared in the frankly comic role of Sidi in The Mountaineers, a reviewer commented ‘The attempt was a respectable one and, amongst the group of our popular vocalists of the same sex, where could we be expected to select an individual of whom we could say the same thing?’
But Duruset also appeared regularly as romantic jeune premier – in the off season, 1816, he appeared at the Haymarket as hero Harold in Peeping Tom -- and as a popular vocalist, with a voice of sufficient quality that he was on occasion cited alongside Braham amongst favourite British singers. At Covent Garden, he played alongside Miss Stephens, as Captain Clifton in The Slave (12 November 1816), and when he took part in the Concert of Ancient Music, for which he was engaged as a tenor singer in 1816, he joined in duet with Madame Camporese.
When he appeared at Bath, in 1817, for Loder’s Benefit, as Carlos in The Duenna and Cheerly in Lock and Key, a critic commented ‘Poor Pearman has been thrown most lamentably into the background by this cursory view of Mr Duruset’s superior powers’.
When he sang at Sola’s concert at Southampton, 2 October 1819, he was billed as ‘principal singer of the Theatre-Royal, Covent Garden’.
Jack Duruset stayed at Covent Garden for over twenty years, filling a vast list of roles operatic, comic, Shakespearian and even pantomimic. When Charles Kemble played The Libertine/Don Giovanni, Duruset was Masetto, and palliated the star’s vocal deficiencies by singing ‘La ci darem’ for him. When A Comedy of Errors was given, he was Antipholus of Ephesus (‘Beauty’s Valuation’), to the Syracuse of Jones (the press commented on their notable dissimilarity of physique!), when The Devil to Pay was staged he was now Sir John Loverule, in place of Incledon. He sang Florian (‘Weary is the wanderer’s lot’) in The Devil’s Bridge, duetting ‘Rest, Weary Traveller’ with Braham, he sang Fiorillo in the Bishopped The Barber of Seville, Rodolph, the Wolf in Boieldieu’s Little Red Riding Hat, William Fairly in A Friend Indeed (‘two or three sweet airs’), Duke Sigismund in Bishop’s The Gnome King (‘The Gabres' Glee’, ‘They who with hearts sincere’),
the tenor role of Jocoso in Clari, took over the mistakenly-cast part of Sherasmin in Oberon, played Lovel in Bishop’s The Antiquary, Sir Maurice de Bracey in Ivanhoe or, the Knights Templar, Gervais in Henri IV or Paris in Olden Times, and continued, throughout, in the role of Captain Clifton, in the highly successful musical drama The Slave. He was Fabian then Sebastian in Twelfth Night, Hippolito inThe Tempest, Ubaldo in Two Gentlemen of Verona, Lorenzo in The Merchant of Venice ('in a stile of great sweetness and simplicity'), Amiens in As You Like It, Arviragus in Cymbeline, Oberon in A Midsummer Night’s Dream (with extra Acis and Galatea music),
as the Interpreter in The Critick, he was Isidor to the Valentio of Macready in The Conquest of Taranto (‘The White Rose of Honour’, ‘If Fortune’s Smile’), Duke Sigismund in Isabella, the Earl of Menteith in Montrose (glee, 'Green Grow the rushes, O'),
Florence in The Curfew, Marcello in My Native Land, Captain Agib in The Law of Java opposite Miss Stephens, Florian in The Devil’s Bridge, Ganem in The Forty Thieves, gave a couple of songs in The Battle of Bothwell Bridge, and played in the classic musical repertoire – Osbaldistone in Rob Roy, Leander in The Padlock, Macheath in The Beggar’s Opera, Belville in Rosina, Winlove in Fontainbleau, Lorenzo in The Cabinet, Don Fernando in The Castle of Andalucia, Ferdinand in The Duenna et al.
He created the leading role of Don Sylvio in the successful opera Brother and Sister, sang the title-role in Artaxerxes with Miss Paton, with Braham, and took another comical turn as Edward the page in Charles the Second, or the Merry Monarch (‘Mr Duruset played the page with much freedom archness and humour. We did not know that this clever singer had so much comic talent...’ ‘Love, One Day’). However, his singing was always prominent. When he appeared in the spectacle Cortez ‘written for horses and abounding in songs’, including a prized duet for Jack and Miss Paton, ‘Stay, Amazili, stay!’, The Harmonicon critic wrote ‘Mr Duruset pleases us more than any male singer at this theatre; were his voice equal to his taste he need not shrink from rivalry’. Only rarely was a quibble to be found: when he played Don Luis in Love’s Victory or, the School for Pride a smart fellow quipped ‘Mr Duruset sang a song which, being in the fifth row, we had not the pleasure of hearing…’
Amongst the many new pieces which came and went at Covent Garden in a handful of performances during the later 1820s, Duruset’s happiest creation was the part of the young farmer, Delorme, in the little musical farce ‘Twas I, in which Vestris scored a personal hit, and the pair secured a long future for the play.
Amongst the revivals, he played in Colman’s Bluebeard (Selim/Shacabac), The Duenna (Ferdinand or Antonio), he Country Girl (Belville),The Recruiting Officer (Worthy), Lionel and Clarissa (Harman), Hamlet (Guildenstern), As You Like It ('Mr Duruset is a very delicate and touching singer. We could hear him sing ‘Under the greenwood tree’ twenty times a day and rise up, at last, without fatigue’), Rob Roy (‘sang his ballad ‘The red, red Rose’ with the elegance of taste and expression which are so perfectly at his command’), Figaro nowadays in The Marriage of Figaro, Careless in The School for Scandal, and, amongst the nearly new pieces, he took the part of Albert de Malvoisin in Rophino Lacy’s rehash of Ivanhoe as The Maid of Judah.
The arrival of Joseph Wood in the Covent Garden company meant that many of the tenor roles now went his way, but, in the 1830s, Mr Duruset was still omnipresent, whether playing Henry Dunderford in the hit comedy Teddy the Tiler, Paris in Romeo and Juliet, Pembroke or the Dauphin in King John, Demetrius in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Felix in Presumption or, the fate of Frankenstein, Count Wintersen in The Stranger with the Kembles, Seymour in The Irishman in London, Bonnivet in Francis the first, Percival in The Kentuckian, Count Lindor in Raymond’s Robert the Devil, Wilford in The Hunchback, or Charles Hart in Douglas Jerrold’s Nell Gwynne. He sang in Masaniello (Alphonso), The Night Before the Wedding (Jocelyn), Lovinski in Yelva, Stroloff in Auber’s Lestocq, Ali Coumourgi in The Siege of Corinth and Gustavus III (Bjelke) and when Fidelio was sung in English for the first time, with Maria Malibran in the title-role, Duruset was cast as Jacquino and ‘he rendered the trifling part of Jacquino highly amusing by the quaint humour he threw into the character’. And indeed, the comic was now clearly Duruset’s area, for he played Dandolo in The Corsair, Yanko in The Bronze Horse, and laid his claim to two roles which he would play, over and over, till the end of his career: Lord Allcash in Fra Diavolo and Alessio in La Sonnambula.
In 1837, Duruset moved from Covent Garden to Drury Lane, where he gave many more Alessios and Lord Allcashes, repeated Fidelio and Masaniello, and was seen as Peter in Cinderella (‘exceedingly outré and not a little entertaining’), as Isaac in The Maid of Palaiseau, and the Chief of the Canton of the Schwyz to Braham’s William Tell, and a range of others for four seasons. In 1841 he was engaged at the English Opera House, as a secondary tenor in mainly comic character roles in such as The Deerstalkers (‘Lowland Mary’), A Day Near Turin, Il Paddy Whack in Italia, The Handsel Penny and as Christie in The Mountain Sylph.
It seems to have been, at something like fifty years of age, his last engagement.
He died a little more than two years later, ‘after an illness of a few months’ and a wholly successful career of some 35 years.
In 1824, when he published a set of vocal solfeggios, arranged from the works of Crescentini, Paer and Pellegrini, he was described as ‘Member of the Royal Academy of Music and of the Theatre Royal, Covent Garden’. His work won high praise, and he himself was described as being ‘known to the public as a tenor singer with a sweet voice, of good taste and of a modesty which is rare enough in these days of universal pretension …’
So, there are the fact of Jack’s career. I would have liked to fill out the ‘person’ a little better. Apart from the jolly tales, I don’t know much more of Jack Duruset’s personal life. Apparently, he was married – a very terse entry in the 1841 census shows J Duruset and what is, presumably, his (unnamed) actress wife, living in Panton Street. But there are a couple of things that I should like to sort out …
Firstly, Jack’s presence at Covent Garden was apparently patroned-sponsored by the (6th) Duke of Devonshire. It doesn’t seem to have been a secret of any kind, the fact featured in many an article, and one newspaper, handing out a bad review, called on the Duke to take him home to sing in his parlour rather than inflict him on the theatre. The young ‘Bachelor Duke’ (only two years older than Jack) seems to have been a splendid fellow, of forward ideas, and grand interests – notably in the realms of building, horticulture and book collecting – but not, notably, of the theatre. I wonder how and why he became the virtual ‘protector’ of a young actor. Well, here is one version of the tale, purveyed by the gossips of the Garrick Club …
‘[he was] said to be the natural son of the late Duke of Devonshire, to whom his parents were gatekeepers. He bore a very strong personal resemblance to the present Duke, who patronised him in the outset…’
Gatekeepers? What about the print shop in Panton Street …
Similarly, the Royal Academician Pickersgill, noted largely as a portrait painter to the rich and famous. What inspired him to paint (if he did) a 19 year-old chorus boy? Well, the old Duke died in 1811 …. so, maybe …
Some years later, Jack appeared on my radar again. So I delved a little more ... Loads of further theatre credits, but nothing about the man. I'll keep trying. Alas, there were no photographs in 1843.