Wednesday, March 3, 2021

'Mademoiselle Pauline Rita' . Winkled out ...

While I was answering my morning mail, the name of 'Pauline Rita' came up. With www references. Not including me. What! So I did a little checking and ... well, I think I ought to publish the full and correct version of her life and career .... so here goes ...

RITA, Pauline [GLENISTER, Margaret] (b Bourne End, Bucks 1 June 1842; d 38 Perham Rd., West Kensington, London 28 June 1920).

 Many years ago, while writing my book Emily Soldene: In Search of a Singer I took time out to delve into the tale and identity of ‘Madame Pauline Rita’. This is what I wrote:


‘Pauline Rita has long been a bit of a musical-theatre mystery. I can tell you now, with all the satisfied feeling of a successful treasure-hunter, that it took me something like ten years to find out what the real surname of this lady with the curiously pan-European nom de théâtre was (her first name was, I was able to discover from her easily uncoverable death certificate, not Pauline at all, but the decidedly British Margaret), and whence she came. For, when she later became, reasonably briefly, one of the West End’s top musical-theatre stars, the various biographies of her that were given in the press were rather difficult to reconcile. It looked as if Richard D’Oyly Carte had been around again, faking up the singer’s ‘background’ for publicity purposes, as was his wont. She was, of course, said to be ‘daughter of a gentleman’. ‘Born in London’. One c.v. had her spending ‘ten years studying at the Conservatoire in Milan’, another trotted out that oh-so-overused lady vocalist’s tale about originally having just sung as a ladylike amusement, but having been forced to go on the stage professionally when her family lost their money. It was said, with some verisimiltude, that she had at first had a violent vibrato, which spoiled her singing, but that she trained with Duvivier in London and got it under control. Presumably when she wasn’t in Milan. Anyway, there were no complaints about her singing in the 1870s.

Well, ‘Pauline Rita’ was indeed, I eventually and unsurprisedly discovered, no kind of a Mademoiselle at all. The lady was born at Bourne End, near Wooburn, Bucks, on 1 June 1842, the daughter of a leather-worker called William Glenister (‘gentleman’?!) and his wife Elizabeth Anne née Burdock, and she was christened plain Margaret Glenister. By the time she made her opéra-bouffe début on the Doncaster stage, she was actually Margaret Phillips, for she had been married in 1863, in the City of London, to a certain Thomas Phillips, 'merchant', borne him two children, and just the previous year been widowed. The ‘family money’ she had lost the support of prior to going on the musical stage was evidently not a father’s, but a husband’s. If there had ever been any. I haven’t yet discovered what Mr Phillips did for a living, or where…’


I then went on to give the paltry bits about the lady’s performing life which I had, then, discovered. 

Well, since then I’ve found quite a few more. I have also found out via the census that father Glenister was more precisely a shoemaker, and, from the music press of the same year, that the bit about Milan was at least partly true. The Musical World reported that ‘an English girl about eighteen years of age’ by the name of Miss Glenister had appeared in a Benefit for Castellani at Ivrea, near Milan, singing pieces from Lucia di Lammermoor and I Masnadieri. ‘Those who have heard Persiani’, went the paragraph, ‘assure us that the young singer is not in the least inferior’.

However, the ‘ten years’ is nonsense. For in the 1861 census Margaret is in London, living with her aunt Jemima and her husband, Mark Taylor, a quarry owner, in Marylebone. And she is again in the city of London in late 1863 for her marriage to Mr Phillips. I will admit that from then until 1869 I have no trace of her, either as Mrs Phillips or Mme Rita (I wonder who dreamed that up, and when), except that her sons Herbert Tom (b Beacon Hill, Holloway, 8 November 1864) and Edward Stanley (b Finsbury 18 November 1866; d February 1957), were born in Britain…

I also know that, as of 1869, Pauline’s singing teacher was not Duvivier but Charlotte Sainton-Dolby, and since she was already performing professionally, age 27, in that selfsame year, she hadn’t yet lost anybody, or presumably any putative family fortune. 

I do wonder, however, as I have done in other similar cases, how an 18 year-old shoemaker’s daughter from Buckinghamshire gets to go to Milan and study, with all the expenses there involved, but maybe the quarry owner helped out.


What I had underestimated, however, was the extent of Pauline Rita’s experience before she made her first comic opera appearance in the West End of London. If she had started her career late – age twenty-seven, it seems, unless she’d previously used another name – she had certainly made up for that by several busy years in the music world.

In 1869, Charlotte Sainton-Dolby mounted a Farewell Tour of Britain with a concert party featuring Edith Wynne, Elena Angele, Cummings, Byron, Maybrick and Madame Pauline Rita and the music of the Messe Solennelle to which she had secured the British rights. The tour began in late September and ran right on it to the following January. Pauline was pointed out by the reviewer of the Musical World: ‘Madame Rita, whose name is new to the musical public, created a highly favourable impression .. Mme Rita’s voice is a pure soprano, light and flexible in quality, and that it has been trained in a correct manner was shown by her facile execution of Rossini’s ‘Una voce’. The lady is young, of prepossessing appearance… I understand she is a pupil of Mme Sainton …’

During 1870, I spot her only singing the soprano part in St Paul at Cirencester, but when the Italian opera season of 1871 opens, she is there as a supporting member of the company ‘allotted such parts such as Flora in La Traviata, Countess Ceprano in Rigoletto, ‘the peasant girl with a few phrases to sing in the last act’ in I due giornate or Teresa in La Sonnambula.’. She subsequently went on tour with Mapleson’s company, but took just one week out to go to Doncaster and sing Frédégonde to the Chilpéric of Emily Soldene. The following April she began a second season at the Italian opera.

In the meanwhile, she had sung at a number of concerts – I spot her at Margate with Mrs Talfourd, at the Horns Assembly Rooms with George Perren, at St George’s Hall, and during the 1872 season in Monsieur Sainton’s series, in two concerts for Arditi (‘Sing Sweet Bird’), at Alice Mangold’s, Florence Lancia’s, and Michel Bergson’s, as well as in further trips to the country – a concert Sonnambula at Dundee, Elijah at Preston, Gade’s The Erle King’s Daughter at Bath, and in concert with Vernon Rigby at the flautist Radcliff at Swindon. In 1873, she ranged from Judas Maccabaeus at Exeter to The Messiah at Lichfield, a Plymouth Israel in Egypt in which she sang the entire female music when the contralto fell ill. She sang at the Cramer concerts at Brighton and de Jongh’s concerts at the Manchester Free Trade Hall as well as Rivière’s Covent Garden promenade concert series (‘Lo, here the gentle lark’, ‘C’est l’Espagne’, La Fille de Madame Angot selection). On 4 June 1873, she mounted her own concert at Cromwell House, South Kensington, with Rigby, Santley, Maybrick, Julia Elton and Mme Deméric-Lablache billed alongside fellow Sainton-Dolbyite, Julia Wigan.

In the new year, she went out with a concert and oratorio party organised by D’Oyly Carte, alongside Mme Deméric-Lablache, Pearson, Frank Celli and Radcliff. Given the presence of Mr Carte, now her agent, and her recent success performing French opéra-bouffe and comic opera material, it was not surprising that Pauline Rita ended up being cast in a production of that type.


On 22 August 1874 she opened at the Opera-Comique in the role of the Princess Marguerite in Serpette’s The Broken Branch, in what was billed as her ‘first appearance on the stage’. Well, apart from Doncaster and two seasons at Her Majesty’s Theatre. Her florid singing won very high praise (‘wonderfully improved since we last heard her in the concert room’), although she was criticised by some for ‘reediness and a tendency to tremble’. The Broken Branch was followed by Les Prés St Gervais, in which she played the Prince of Conti, and confirmed herself as an opéra-comique star of the first order, but she dropped out of its successor, Giroflé-Giroflà for ‘a few weeks at the seaside’. Not for the first time, Mme Rita’s health was letting her down.

Back in the saddle, she starred in La Fille de Madame Angot at the Opera-Comique, in Cellier’s new Tower of London at Manchester, as Gustave Muller in The Duke’s Daughter at the Royalty Theatre, the little Dora’s Dream at her Benefit at the Princess’s Theatre, and went on tour with a Carte repertoire company, to repeat her role in The Duke’s Daughter. When co-prima donna Selina Dolaro walked out, she had also to go on in some performances of La Fille de Madame Angot. Her ‘faultless singing and captivating manner’ won the provincial critics.


On 1 March 1877 she took the role of the Plaintiff in a starry production of Trial by Jury, mounted at Drury Lane for the Compton Benefit, but she was notably absent from the comic opera scene. The answer came in November when Carte was able to advertise that she was ‘recovered from her severe indisposition of 18 months’ and available for work. The work she got was back with Mapleson, but not with the Italian opera this time. She was cast to play Betly in The Swiss Cottage in a season of English performances at Her Majesty’s Theatre. But she didn’t make it. Helene Crosmond stepped in, and Mme Rita’s reappearance was delayed. She went down to Brighton for concerts at the Aquarium, and Carte then cast her as Aline in The Sorcerer for the first tour of Gilbert and Sullivan’s successful comic opera. Once again, however, she could not last the distance, and soon had to hand over the role to Duglas Gordon.

In 1879 she advertised ‘having arranged to stay in town for the season [she] is prepared to give singing lessons in English, French or Italian’. Now care of Napoleon Vert.

Pauline Rita was seen once more on the London stage. She played some performances as Josephine in HMS Pinafore in the ‘rebel’ production at the Imperial Theatre, now advertised as ‘after four years of illness’, and that was it.

For a good number of years now, Pauline had been the companion of the (married) flautist, John Richardson Radcliff (1842-1917), and in the early 1880s the pair decided to quit Britain for Australia and New Zealand. They gave concerts, and Pauline even went back on the stage in performances of Acis and Galatea and Trial by Jury. And in Ascot Vale, Melbourne, on 23 January 1884, they got married. I presume that Radcliff’s wife was no longer in the picture, but nothing is certain in Victorian Australia.

The couple returned to Britain in 1886, and gave performances of a programme entitled From Pan to Pinafore (St James’s Hall 12 April 1888). They appeared once more in the Covent Garden proms, and Pauline brought out her ‘Lo, here the gentle lark’ at Benefit performances. She also gave singing lessons, until her eyesight began to fail her.

In spite of their late start, and in spite of the poor health from which Pauline Rita had suffered much of her life, the couple had more than thirty years of married life. Radcliff died in 1917, and his wife three years later.

Her son, Edward Stanley Phillips, was a Westminster Abbey choirboy, before going on to be a clergyman, rector of Bow, latterly in Devon.

Well, I see that I wrote that in 2017. Part of my Victorian Vocalists collection which didn't make it into the published book. I'd probably find more details now ... but I thought I'd blog this 'work in progress (?)' anyhow ..

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