Wednesday, June 3, 2020

One family .... nine D'Oyly Cartesians!

Eight children from one family, plus (at least) one spouse .. who knew? I didn't.

And what was the surname of this amazing Cartesian family? It was Tacagni. Yes, Italian. Father Pietro Tacagni was a farmer's son from Stazzona, near Lake Como. Pietro became a cabinet-maker, emigrated to London, married an optician's daughter from another Italian family, Elena (Ellen) Angelinetta (b Worcester) in 1859, and settled down at 39 Mortimer St, Downham Rd, Kingsland, where the couple began producing swathes of vocalists.

Here are their children. I don't think I've missed any ..

Pietro Johan Carlo (Peter) 1859
Luigi (Louis) 1860
Paul 1863
[Martha] Margaret [Magdeline] 1865
Rocco 1867
Lorenzo ([John] Lawrence) 1869
Anthony (Antonio) 1870
Mary Victoria (Marie) 1872
Benedict 1875

Only Pietro, the eldest, would eschew showbusiness. He is described on his marriage certificate (1885) as a mercantile clerk. But he nevertheless made the news occasionally as a sportsman with the Canonbury athletic and cycling club.

The first of the family to make a little mark in the musical theatre was, believe it or not, the baby, Benedict. He was cast (I wonder how), aged five, to play the little midshipman -- under the umbrella pseudonym Fitzaltamont -- in the original children's HMS Pinafore. Alas, he did not survive the run (d 26 March 1880)..

The insanitary conditions backstage at the Opera Comique (which had, allegedlly, brought other illnesses and deaths) were blamed.

However, music was already stirring in the family ..

Margaret (of whom much more anon) would have been, in this September 1878, thirteen years of age. I like to imagine that this is how the Tacagni family first came into contact with Sullivan ... but that's just imagination.

Around this time, the children stopped being 'Tacagni' and inexplicably took on the name 'Presano'. As such, at least five of them took part in the children's Pinafore. I haven't a programme any more, but Rocco (13) was Bob Becket and Antonio (11) played Bobstay, Lorenzo (14) was in the chorus and Marie played the midshipmite .. I see the three boys in touring digs in Dundee, along with Willie Phillips (12) in the 1881 census. Margaret later said that she had been in the production too, but I suspect in town.

At this stage, Paul was working as a plate glass silverer, but it wouldn't be long before he and brother Luigi joined the D'Oyly Carte touring companies as choristers. I spot Luigi (d 1897) in the Patience cricket team in 1883, Paul (d 1918) in the Princess Ida team in 1884. In 1887, Paul is with the Ruddigore team, and in 1889 with the London Paul Jones team. The brothers seem to have, both, had difficulty, as lowest order batsmen, in not getting out for a duck. They must have been better on stage. In 1889, I see Paul singing in Falka, in 1891 in small parts with the Carl Rosa with Luigi also in the company, and touring for van Biene as van Slous in Rip van Winkle. In 1899-1907, he was in a road company playing Bill in The Lady Slavey. Good heaevns! Here he is, in a bill from the great Leeds Playbills site, still playing his role in 1913!

Marie, who had advertised as an 8 year-old 'serio-comic, step dance and skipping rope' married a photographer (1891), Rocco (d 1906), Lorenzo (d 1938) and Antonio (d 1899) continued a career as 'musicians' of what type I know not.

Margaret apparently shelved her violin and had, initially, not wholly taken on board the family name change. She appeared in pantomime at Christmas 1883 as a vocalist Mdlle Tacagni Presano. But it was she, as Rita PRESANO (b 1865; d 18 September 1935) who was to be the family's success. And father (d 1910) and mother (d 1919) were there to see her whole career. And her little 'misfortune'.
Given the family's connection with HMS Pinafore, it is hardly surprising that Rita, like Luigi and Paul, joined the Carte companies as an adult.

In 1882, she can be seen playing Dolly in Claude Duval and Lady Ella in Patience. However, she then moved on to the Carl Rosa management, and I see her as Poussette in Manon, in The Beggar Student, in the larger role of Georgette to the Fadette of Marie Roze, as Echimona in L'Eoile du nord, and as Frasquita to the star's Carmen. In 1887-8 she appeared at the Alexandra Palace in opera. In 1889, she moved to Valentine Smith's company, where she played Arline, Maritana and the like, and in 1891 to play Florence St John's role of Marguerite in Faust-up-to-date and Isabella in Ruy Blas and the Blasé Roué. She remained with the Lingard and van Biene management to play, over the following years, the star roles in The Old Guard, Pepita, Falka returning to Lingard for The Chorus Girl, Pepita, Madame Favart, Olivette as late as 1888-9.

In between, she played Grist in Jaunty Jane Shore, and a quasi-annual pantomime, a series which culminated with an engagement as second boy to Nellie Stewart at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane. Over the next decade, she played the provincial circuits in leading roles in pieces such as The Ladies' Paradise, The Lady Slavey (Flo Honeydew), A Country Girl (Nan), The Duchess of Dantzig (Catherine), and Mr Popple of Ippleton (La Boléro) before making a trip to Australia and New Zealand to play Aurelia in The Chocolate Soldier (1911).

Now securely fixed, in her mid-forties, in character roles, she returned to appear as Madame Blum in A Quaker Girl, in The Dancing Mistress and as Mrs Chalmers in the clumsy remake of The Girl from Kay's as The Belle of Bond Street at the Adelphi Theatre. After which she surfaces in Violette (1918) ...

Ah. The little misfortune? In her D'Oyly Carte days she had got mixed up with a 'swell' -- a heavily married father of several -- named William Thomas Fraser. This is he. Looks a wimp, I reckon.

The result was a small Rita (7 November 1884). The baby was taken on by a couple named Robbins, Fraser's wife divorced him, he went on to other ladies, and Rita sr remained single. Officially. I see in the 1901 census she is the 'wife' of Scots violinist and conductor Alfred Ernest Print. They officially wed in 1924. Maybe he was previously 'spoken for' (see clarification in comment, below). There were no children.
I am wondering why the Tacagnis didn't take baby Rita in. They had already adopted one 'niece', Rosa Scetrini. Or was it two? No, the second was a real niece, the daughter of Pietro's strange brother, Lorenzo (1841-1888). Ah well, who knows.

I said that there was one extra Cartesian in the Tacagni family. One by marriage. Paul married singer and actress Amy [Florence] Augarde in 1891. In the 1911 census, Paul puts a determined trait through the 'marital status' , so I guess all did not go well. In that same census, Amy is with her mother and her future no2 husband, saying she has been married 22 years (er.. officially only 20) and has -- oh! -- one child living! Oh, goodness, is she the other Tacagni niece, Ella? The family historians, who have made a royal mess of this family, say she is a daughter of brother Lorenzo. Wow! Spermbanks! He died 2 years before her birth! Oh. I see. Born 1890. Pre-marital. That's why all the clucking. Well, Ella stayed with the father-family, and is living with them in 1911 aged 21. With a 3 year-old Dorothy Bouffler ... oyyyyyy! whose baby is she?? Anyway, Ella 'stenographer' 'student' seems to have departed for Saskatoon and a new life in 1913 ...

I sha'n't go into details on Amy because (without knowing she was a Tacagni) I have covered her in detail and in picture in my Encyclopaedia of the Musical Theatre (pub Schirmer, USA, price no idea nowadays. They haven't paid my royalties in many years, and they blank you when you enquire, AND they have my Amy Augarde photos). We shall just add her as a temporary theatrical Tacagni, and leave her there ...

Because, what you will, eight from the same father is still a D'Oyly Carte record.


Iain Fraser said...

Rita Tacagni and Alfred Print did not marry until 1924 as Alfred’s wife Elizabeth Louisa Jones, well known in the Midlands as actress Lizzie Bateman or Lizzie Montague, died in 1923. Find her in Sheffield in the 1901 census with theatrical manager Frank Bateman. You’ll find this and other records in my Ancestry tree which I believe you have previously referenced for this blog and that about Margaret Campbell Fraser. Both very interesting, thank you.


Hi Iain,
I don't think I referenced you tree. I usually do my research from the ground up. A lot of Trees are very 'imaginative' although sometimes good for the odd pointer or tip. I shall have a look now. Thanks for the feedback and the corroborative detail adding verisimilitude to the story! Cheers Kurt


Ah! I see I did do a round of 'family history' trees ... possibly yours! Are you related? Should you have Margaret's letter ..?