Wednesday, April 28, 2021

Summer Palace to Winter Palace: all smiles!


As soon as the Baroness Ardern announced to we land-locked inhabitants of the shaky isles who travel between New Zealand and Australia that the voyage would again be (for the meanwhile?) possible, I was on to Hello World Travel Agency in Rangiora. First direct flight Christchurch-Coolangatta, best ticket available ... spare no cost! ... bingo!

Nine days of breathless wait, hoping that some Rajah or Punka didn't make it all fall in a heap ... and, finally, the morning of 27th was about to dawn. It was actually pre-dawn when Wendy bundled me, my panoply of electronic gadgets (I've promised to learn to use them over the winter), a vast box of medications, my walking stick, voluminous documentation and three yellow singlets into the car and headed for the airport. I had been told to be at the airport 3 hours before my flight! And I was. Precisely.

The fashion of 2021: the yellow singlet

I wobbled up to the Air NZ help desk where the lovely Victoria helped me check in (not available on line), produced an instant super-comfy wheelchair, and telephoned the Koru Lounge to see if they were ready to receive me. They sort of were, but they couldn't. It was 6.15am. To get to the Lounge you have to go through Immigration and Customs. Those departments didn't start work until 7am. I sighed. Victoria trundled me across to a spot near the men's loo, and I sat there waiting for her to fetch me at 6.55. Alas, at 6.55, an attendant came to tell me that unfortunately Security didn't start until 7.30. So I had another half hour watching the comings and goings of a grubby-looking feller who looked as if he might be a stalker, but was probably Columbo in disguise or a sniffer-dog masquerading as a human.

Finally, Victoria came to get me and we zoomed through all necessary departments -- I think Security was the smiley lady who tested my bag 'for explosives' -- and into the comfort of the Lounge. From there on, things went swimmingly. A nice wee breakfast of beans and spinach, a cup of coffee, and the 50 minutes till my new trundler came to fetch me and trundle me to seat 2D went almost too quickly.  It was all hugely civilised, friendly and efficient. But different.

How different? Well, everybody had masks on. But the everybody ... were so much fewer! On the plane, there were only one or two passengers (or families) per row. Oh, that it were always so!

The staff were delightful, the little second breakfast dead right, light and tasty, and the lady in charge didn't even bronch when I opted for a large whisky ansd soda instead of coffee or tea with my meal. I had, I explained, been up since 3am: this was not breakfast, it was past lunch and very nearly cocktail time!  Soon, the in-flight wifi came on. Brilliant! I would not be forced to dig into the 'Entertainment'. Some zombie thinks that 'Classical Music' includes Katharine Jenkins, Alfie Boe, André Rieu, Hayley Westenra, whatsisname Bocelli ... and ??Oscar Peterson!!! And there have been superb sopranos since the buzzword Maria Callas.

Grand flight, wind behind us, arrived early, transported to earth in bucket, zoooooooomed through incoming formalities ... well, there weren't any really. If I hadn't been a devotee of TVs 'Border Security', I could have brought some of the pansy seeds I collected in the autumn from Gerolstein's patios for my wee garden ... but I didn't. I will buy some here. No luggage, out into the half-deserted 'area' and there was dear Veronica waiting for me. Into the car, Rod pointed it south, and .... down the new highway ...

A fine, fine journey, if you don't count the hour and more outside the men's loo. 9/10 Air NZ.

The Cove is looking very nice. Gardens lush, paint sparkling ... if only those one or two penniless folk on the second floor would replace their sea-air-rusty Air-con units the building would look and be remarkable for a 20 year-old block. 

My apartments were looking pretty spick-and-span. Nothing the odd new curtain and TV-set won't bring up to the 2020s ... well, I've replaced just about every other moving part in the years I've owned them!

I had a flush of irritation when I saw that the furniture in my carefully laid out living room had been rearranged in a rather vulgar fashion (everything pointing at the television). The first thing I did, before even unpacking the panoply, was to shift it all back into its correct arrangement. Then came the unpacking of the wheelie boxes and cupboards full of stuff which which to re-stock kitchen, bathroom, office ...   The packing had been done to last six months. Covid has decreed that it has been eighteen months. Some things had to be abandoned as way past their used-by date. Then to find where stuff I had left out had disappeared to. And then ... clothes.

I don't know why I bother about clothes in Yamba. My uniform is shorts, singlet and soft shoes. Or else a djellaba. I looked at the greyish mass of materials. For a moment, I envisaged chucking the lot and starting from scratch. But, today, the washing machine and dryer have been called into action, and quite a bit of the heap is salvageable. If, that is, things still fit. I am now a vast, bulbous and couldn't-care-less 100kg, and long past the days of wearing tight trousers ... they will have to go!

I battled on till limit-time, then abandoned the chaotic mess at no7 and went to join Rod and Veronica and a bottle of iced French rosé on the balcony at no 3.  Veronica had made a luscious pot of her celebrated chicken soup ... and the pink moon was out ... heaven!  

photo by Todd Brewer

Then, at 8pm (which was my 10pm), I suddenly deflated. I fell into the fresh sheets of my Winter Palace boudoir ...  Ten hours later, when I awoke, the covers had barely moved ...

But it was time to arise. Wednesday in Yamba is Market Day. And the Yamba Farmer's Market is not any old market ... Down the hill we caracoled -- all the old friends, still there, headed by Warren the Dorper Lamb Man ... the home-smoked salmon and trout stall ... big, underripe tomatoes from the tattooed lady . .. Wendy's favoufrite avocado man, the jumbo egg-ladies ... the orchid man, who had two pansy plants left ... and I couldn't resist a baby orchid ... real farm bacon .. the wonderful sourdough bread sold by the chap with the super smile  ... omigosh 8am and half his shelves are already empty!  Oh dear, the veggie men are having a week off ... but I couldn't carry any more, anyhow ...

My favourite stall: Warren the shepherd!

Wendy's favourite stall

The Haul!

Paulie's favourite stall

One can't visit the Market without having a cup of coffee. It is one of my favourite coffee places. I enjoyed it so much I forgot the cardinal rule: when you are 100kg don't get photographed in profile!

I'm sure I have bought too much ... but the stuff at Yamba Market is enough to tempt a saint from his wayfaring ...

Back home, lot three of washing. Rod has fixed the wrenched door of the dryer, and changed the dead lightbulbs, and we've shuffled TVs back and forth between the two apartments to see what we need to buy this afternoon, before which I need a nap.

Oh. It's raining. Super. You can have too much heat. And to think that we had the log fire burning at Gerolstein earlier in the week!

Friday, April 23, 2021

EMILY or, Baby Takes A Bow ..

 This is Emily ..

An early autumn morning, and Kelly Edmonds is harnessing her up for her Big Day. Her first trip to the workouts. No more tripping around joyfully in circles with good buddy Sam, today she is having her first try at being a racehorse. Nothing too hefty ... after all, she is only a little girl of two ... but a six-horse 'learners' trot at Motukarara, Bank's Peninsula.

So, what are we doing with another racehorse, five years down the track from my largely disseminated declaration of deserting a sport which had become a fairly crooked business, rotten as compost, poorly run ...

Well, things seem to have improved, slightly, in some aspects of the 'game', and, well ... I did miss it. And then, you see, Emily is family. 

Her great grandmother, Gwen (Gee Whiz-Lady Robinson), was the first racemare I ever owned. She had her first start 4 January 2000 at Nelson ...

Gwen was a glamorous black lady, with impeccable breeding, but limited talent as a racehorse. She managed one win and a few placings in a much-photographed but short career, and was retired to stud. There, she gave birth to one crazy lady and two dubious babes, none of whom made it to the races, and then, sent to the unfashionable ministallion, Wrestle, produced the excellent Seppl who went on to win eight races on the two sides of the Tasman, Montmorensy who gathered three NZ wins and Great Fantasy, two. And poor D'Arcy de Gerolstein, one of NZ's earliest Love You colts, for whom we turned down a good offer and who collapsed and died on Richmond racetrack.

Gwen's first daughter, La Grande-Duchesse, joined her mama in the breeding barn after a public display of Unacceptable Behaviour in Motukarara carpark, and she in her turn produced seven babies, of whom one died, one became disabled, and the other five ... all won! Not frequently, in fact four of them, like grandma, won just one race, but two showed signs of great promise in short careers -- the splendid The Soldier Fritz, Jewels finalist and Group race placegetter, and the interesting Ruth Celeste Petite. The one who managed two wins, however, had a career of ups and downs through 22 starts... 

Douchelette (she was born in a shower of rain) was a lovely baby ... but she was no longer mine. After Ian's death I disposed of my mares and set off round the world to recover and, on my mother's instructions, find a few partner. Huh!

With both missions accomplished, and life looking more promiseful, I started watching a little racing again ...

And one day, up it came on some website ... for sale: Douchelette's yearling daughter. I'd never heard of the sire, Ultimate Count .. but who had heard of Wrestle when I bred Seppl?  I picked up the phone and called Murray Edmonds, my trotting trainer of forever. Would he go and have a look at her? Go? No need. She was already at his place. He'd gone to the stud to look at another horse and ...   Done! Wendy and I joined with Frank and John (who had been partners in Ruth Celeste Petite), and Emily was ours.

Emily? Named for my book EMILY SOLDENE and Paul's new CD based on the poems of Emily Dickinson. And a deliberate reaction against names like Imaflickinbuzzard and Divine Dentures. 

I'm off to my Winter Palace by the sea in three days. I didn't expect to see little Em'ly on the track before then, but this morning, Wendy, 'Auntie' Faye and I turned up chez Edmonds (over an hour's drive away) at half-past nine ...

There's been a lot of Canterbury racing recently, so the workouts programme was small and our five co-runners were all three and four year-olds, so hardly what one would call 'learners'! All at least a year older than our little lass. But, as it turned out, a grand field for a 'tryout': nearly all of them trotted! Including wee Em! She gasped for two strides when the tapes flew back under her nose ('eeeek! what's THAT?') but was quickly into stride and chasing up the quick beginners ..

She sat in third place, while the 4 year-old (in blue) and the already qualified 3yo (red arms) led the dance ..

Round the turn, and she was still there, not far behind the leaders ... and we were smiling broadly ... then suddenly (Murray told us that he gave her a little whistle) she launched herself into a gap (yes!) on the rails .. well, it was damned close! But I saw her stick her little neck out and ... I'm sure she came 2nd, but workouts results are strange things. I don't think they went fast, but a good average speed. We don't know yet, because Mot doesn't put its results up till the day (or days) after ... but anyway, that wee button you can see, finishing on down the inside? That's Em'ly!!!!!

What a delightful morning. I remember how I always preferred the workouts and trials to the actual races. Faye snapped the happy owners (Wendy was videoing from the upper stand)

Well, Emily, a heart-warming beginning. I drove your great-grandma, attempted to train your grandma, gave birth to your mama in that shower of rain ...  I'm so glad you've come home!

Post scriptum: Anna de Gerolstein, the 'disabled' filly has, at length, discovered her vocation. She is at Wai Eyre Farm, in foal to One Over Da Moon ... the family continues!

Yoho! And today at the track I met a darling old friend ... he too drove Gwen, two decades ago ... before digital cameras and things

Rickster, weren't those days fun!?


Wednesday, April 21, 2021

Publicising A New Book: the hows and errrrms

It's not like it used to be. When I was a young author, the marketing division of my publishers issued flyers, advertisements and suchlike, pre-publication. I gave interviews on BBC radio, and to various magazines, even on television a couple of times ... well, I was writing about a very visual 'art form' ... and quite a bit of so forth. I even made a full-colour page in Women's Weekly. Folk in the musical theatre knew my books were coming, or had come out. And I worked, too, at making sure my books were in the public eye... and, thanks to the marketing departments of Macmillan and Basil Blackwell, I was awarded the Roger Machell Prize, the McColvin Medal and other citations from both Britain and America.

Now it has all changed. The last flyer I had was for my FORGOTTEN STARS OF THE MUSICAL THEATRE series, twenty years ago ...  We are in a new era, where publishers (who have seemingly, not coincidentally, stopped paying advances) simply wallop a great chunk of your text on to googlebooks in seventeen languages and think they have done their job. 

All this prelude not to a moan (although I might have a moan or at least a reportage and comparative study of marketeers, later), but to an absolute hurrah. And the recipient of the Hurrah! is my brother's since-forever publisher, the crême de la crême of international poetry publishers, the Carcanet Press.

John's latest poetic volume L'Exstasie isn't officially published until today week. But ... it has been circulated where it counts ... and this week one of its elements was named Poem of the Week in no less a publication than The Financial Times. Well done John, well done Carcanet, well done FT  ... grin, I got grand reviews in the FT twenty plus years ago .. 

Classy page, eh. I might have to subscribe to the FT. Fascinating piece about the art collectors. I could never quite find a British newspaper which suited me. 

Anyway, this is not about me. Only by association. Fraternal. 

Bravo, Carcanet!  That's the way to run a publishing house. That's the way to publicise a book. All that effort for a book that retails at 12.99 ...   so, BUY IT, instead of having that extra bottle of wine ..! 

PS I am happy to announce that I have jumped on the adelphic bandwagon ... and John's next work from Carcanet is a collaboration with .. hehe .. ME!

Sunday, April 18, 2021

Lydia Howard: a starlet at two years, a has-been at twenty


After the marathonian chase after 'Madame Savelli' and 'Signor Brennelli', I was hoping for an exercise a tad less effortful today. Just a tad. Well, a tad was all that I got ...

Ebay turned up this charming bit of ephemera, and I realised that, although I had been familiar with this little lady's exploits since forever, I had never really investigated her story. 

Tales of talented tots aren't really my thing, but years ago, à propos of the most wonderful of them all, Louisa Vinning, I wrote:

'The nineteenth century world, even more than the twentieth, had a curious fascination with (extremely) juvenile prodigies of one kind or another, and the musical and theatrical world was probably the most visible – not to say the most peculiar -- shop window of that fascination. 

There were child actors and actresses – from such as the mini-Shakespearian Master Betty and Master Burke or The Young Roscius to such later and slightly less pretentious examples as Percy Roselle and the babyish Lydia Howard, ‘the fairy actress’. There was, through the years, a huge list of more or less virtuoso child performers, on all sorts of musical instruments, presented before the public, from which the ill-fated boy pianist George Aspull was a famous example. Another example was the ‘Infant Lyra’, an allegedly four year-old harpist from Cork who flourished (twice daily at the Apollo Saloon, 94 Pall Mall in 1825) in the mid- and later 1820s, until she was no longer an Infant. In retrospect, a record was claimed for the organist, William Crotch, for ‘having played the National Anthem in public at the age of two years’. Given the limits of the human voice and its development, ‘baby’ vocalists of any real quality were and are a less common species than actors and instrumentalists, but it was nevertheless precisely one such who must go down in history as the most remarkable super-juvenile performer of the nineteenth century, if not, indeed, of all time: ‘The Infant Sappho’.'

Well I have covered the story of 'The Infant Sappho' (Louisa Vinning) in detail in my book Victorian Vocalists. She went on from 'prodigy' to adult success in a remarkable fashion. Most (as today) didn't.

Lydia Howard (and it appears to have been her real name) lasted till adulthood ... but that was a career of nearly 20 years. 

At her earliest appearances, in mid 1865, she was advertised as 'the baby actress' 'one year and ten months old' ... likely? possible? precise? Not quite precise, if my researches are correct. Lydia was the daughter of a small-time performer named Alfred [William] Howard and his wife (?), who seems to have followed the same trade. It seems that Alfred (from Brighton) had been a carpenter before taking to performing. 

As for the wife ... if such she were ...  Anyway, Lydia gave her birthdate, many years later, as 29 June 1862.  Which would make her the Lydia Edith Howard, born in Kensington that year, and three at the time of her 'debut'. Father made great efforts to prove his child's 'babyness' and no-one, except a handful of rubbishers of all performing tots, seems to have questioned it.

What was originally his Entertainment, very quickly became HER Entertainment

What did the infant do? Well, as you may read, a bit of everything. Probably not enormously well, as Miss Vinning did, but with an evident joyfulness and personality. Her notices were splendid.

Now creeps in the first imponderable. In 1867, a Mr and Mrs Alfred Howard took their entertainment to Guernsey, and Mrs Howard got seasick and died. Now, by that stage little Lydia was a starlet. But her name is not mentioned ...  however, by the next October, Alfred and a Mrs Howard were playing their entertainment down in Hampshire ... Had the results of mother's death been grossly exaggerated, or had Alfred found a double-quick take-over?

For the next few years, Lydia and father appeared all over the country, including a visit to London's Weston's Music Hall, and in 1869 plugging papa wrote to the press ... 

Mlle Beatrice didn't make much of an impresion as the titular Marie, Lydia was noticed as 'playing prettily' but the critics of the drama had dismissive words: 'She speaks the words set down for her carefully, but labours under the disadvantage of all serious children on the stage -- that of exhibiting a ludicrous disparity bewteen the gravity of language placed in her mouth and the insignificance of the speaker'. Quite so. But she got more column space than anyone except Vining and Beatrice! After the show was done, Alfred was quick to capitalise

Father, stepmother and child appeared in sketches and burlesques mostly round Southern England (Jenny Wren, her scene from King John, Bombastes furioso, Red Riding Hood, Tom Tough), with Lydia giving a series of recitations 

Tiens! Which 'Mrs Alfred Howard'. Another one? A temporary one ..?

You will note also that, like father Vinning, Mr Howard is touring merchandise. A shilling for a carte de visite. And plugging the charitable key, ensuring the mayoral presence, with all his councillors, on first night ...

Following the troupe gives one a headache. 'Mrs Howard' vanishes. Then 'Mr Howard' is replaced by 'Alfred Stirling', who I believe is simply papa with a new name. Then comes the 1871 census, and I catch them in Edinburgh. Alas, the beastly Scots archives are open only to the wealthy, but the transcription tells us that Alfred Howard (45 wot!, b Brighton) and Hannah Howard (38, b Swansea) and little Lydia 'aged 7' are in town. No mention of Mr Stirling or Miss Power. Hannah was certainly at this time at least the de facto Mrs Howard, but she was actually Hannah née Lewitt the widow Thorp. She didn't become Mrs Howard until 1871. 

I sha'n't go into detail of the next decade. It was basically more of the same, with a few visits to the courts of the nation, although little Lydia did go back on the stage in 1877 to play a boy in The Lyons Mail at the Lyceum. I last spot the three of them together in March 1880 at Ryde ...  and by 1881 census Lydia's (?step)mother is calling herself Lydia (b Swansea), and a widow. So I guess Alfred was gone. His last appearance on a bill seems to be at Ryde 21 March 1880. I would have thought the trade press might have noted the fact!

Lydia did the odd job thereafter. Pantomimes. Well, she was in her twenties now ... no more novelty value. And she walked away. Mother had become a registered medical nurse. Lydia took up the same job. They can be seen living together in their longtime home in Southsea in 1911 ... both 'nurses'. (?Step)mamma seems to have died (as Hannah) in 1916. Lydia (who never married) lived on and on .. in 1939, she is 'midwife, retired medical nurse', still at 49 Wisborough Rd, Portsmouth, and if I'm right, she died aged 93 on Christmas Day 1956 ...

But no one seems to have noticed. Maybe the fairies did ....

PS I read somewhere that in 1872 she was introduced to 'Lewis Carroll' as an ideal stage Alice ... I seriously wonder why it didn't happen. 

Yayyyy! Steve Bray turned up a photograph!!!!!

Friday, April 16, 2021

'Signora Savelli': a very large soprano mystery

You can only try for so long. And I’ve tried to winkle out the ultimately rather sad story behind ‘Signorina Elisa Savelli’ for many, many years. As you can see – no dates, no name – I haven’t wholly succeeded.

‘Elisa Savelli’ turns up for me, for the first time, in Milan in June 1868, as Lisetta Savelli, ‘singing in private circles’, and next in Voghera playing in Le Domino Noir of Lauro Rossi, ‘the star of the evening being a young English prima donna, La Signora Savelli, who admirably played the difficult part of Estella. The audience were most enthusiastic in their applause, and repeatedly called the young lady before the curtain. It is thought that a brilliant career is likely to await this young artiste…’

The Italian press reported ‘Gli amici e ammiratori inglese seguono Elisa Savelli nei vari teatri italiani con intenso interesse. Non accade troppo spesso che una donna inglese giunga a far sentire la sua voce e a farsi applaudire dal pubblico italiano. Come già sapete, il di lei nome inglese è Sewell’.

The English press: ‘Eliza Savelli has caused quite a furore at the Theatre Rossini at Lugo, Italy. The young lady, who possesses a beautiful and sympathetic soprano, is engaged for the autumn to appear in three new operas, as prima donna, at the theatre of Ferrara…’ I see her at Ferrara in Ferrari’s Il Menestrello and Don Pasquale with Ernesto Leva, the at Rimini and at Modena (Il Birraio di Preston, Le Educande di Sorrento) and at Chios playing with ‘beau succès’ in Il Barbiere di Siviglia. Back home, they reported that she had played La Traviata and Martha in Milan, but I haven’t found that. And the papers, in both countries, kept repeating that she was an Englishwoman and her real name was Sewell.

So maybe it was. But the British papers seemed to make the repetition in such a way as to make it sound as if she were, even if only a little, known back home. Not to me. I have searched and searched, and the only musical Sewells I have found round the time were a Dr John Sewell of Rotherham, Yorks Mus Doc and his four daughters. And in the 1871 census they all seem to be at home or married. Result: I have no inkling who ‘Mdlle Savelli’ was.

But Britain was soon to hear her. ‘Signorina Elisa Savelli, prima donna assoluta soprano has returned to London after a brilliant and successful career of four years in Italy, singing in Milan and other principal cities … engaged from Milan to represent the Principal Part in the Opera Le Roi Carotte … apply, Mr Carte’. Well, she had been engaged as principal girl in the Alhambra’s spectacular opéra-bouffe alongside Cornélie d’Anka, so ‘the Principal Part’ might have been a slight exaggeration, but she was agreed to be ‘a capital representative’ of Rosée du soir’ ‘who was literally overwhelmed with bouquets for a charming and plaintive air’. In fact, when the very-vivacious Kate Santley came in to replace d’Anka, the press commented ‘It may be possible to match, but it were scarcely possible to outshine the popularity that Madlle Elisa Savelli has acquired …’ But Kate would have managed. Elisa had a crack though. When Annetta Scasi was off, in the principal boy role of Robin Wildfire, she went on ‘and created what we may truthfully call a furore’.

‘She is specially engaged for the part of the Princess in The Black Crook …’. And she was.

The Black Crook, which had nothing in common with the pasticcio American melodrama of the same name, was simply a remake of the famous French féerie La Biche au Bois, done in the Alhambra’s own oversized and decorated style. Mdlle d’Anka was back to play the fairy of the title, Julia Seaman was the black villainess, Kate Santley had the scene-stealing soubrette part, and Elisa didn’t come out of it so well this time: ‘Madlle Savelli who plays the imprisoned Princess has a good voice, almost ruined as to method by a persistent use of the wretched vibrato. To such an extent does she carry this abuse of her natural gifts that scarcely on note is given with any pretension to steadiness’. ‘This lady is unfortunately one of those who, failing in most of the very first requisites of her art, is clearly profoundly convinced that she has little or nothing to learn…’. She stayed but a little time, and Mdlle d’Anka took over her role.

Elisa returned to Italy, and I spot her appearing in Le Domino noir in the lesser Teatro Gerbino in Turin, but when she returned to Britain in 1874, and lined up for the Manchester Prince’s Theatre proms, under Rivière, she was now billed as ‘prima donna La Scala Milan and the Italian Opera, Paris’. She apparently sang there on 14 April (‘Parlate d’amore’, ‘Merce, dilette amiche’), and the local critic noted ‘Mdlle Savelli is a bravura singer, with a very fair voice but somewhat hard in style’.

But Carte was doing his job, and a fortnight later she opened (now ‘from San Carlo, Naples and Les Italiens’) at the St James’s Theatre, London in what was announced as a version ('cruelly treated’) of Offenbach’s Vert-Vert. It was an amateurish affair, provoking ‘jeers and laughter’ and ‘the curtain fell to a miserable fiasco’. ‘Miss Savelli, a really talented young singer, was the sole redeeming feature of the entertainment, if such it could be styled’; ‘when her songs are in the range of her voice she sings them very pleasantly, but…’. But, as it turned out, she wasn’t the redeeming feature. Vert-Vert, instead of closing down, had a sort of a run, when word got round that it included a dirty dance. Soon the press was able to report ‘Mdlle Savelli is nightly encored in ‘The Love Waltz’ as the piece was shrunk of remaining plot a dialogue to a virtual music-hall evening.

When its time in London was done, Elisa and the Riperelle dance routine headed for Manchester, Liverpool, Birmingham. And also to court. Producer Fairlie sued journalist Henry Pottinger Stephens for writing that his show was the most incompetent and indecent of the time. Madame (?) Savelli’s name came up several times and even Carte – her agent – didn’t really say that more than that she had been the best of a bad lot.

I don’t know where Elisa went next. Back to Italy, I guess. Or … is it she singing Donna Elvira (‘debut’) at the Salle Ventadour with Therese Singer and Emma Albani in March 1877? I don’t catch up with her until mid-1877, by which time she is leading (‘prima donna drammatica assoluta’) a Compaña Lirica Italiana, with Adriana Kortene (contralto), to Caracas. What they did there, and for how long, and where Elisa went next goodness only knows.

But in 1885, ‘Miss Saville’ (what!?) arrives back in Britain. She advertises as ‘prima donna soprano drammatica’ and ‘a member of the Italian opera company’ (which one?) and she is in tandem with a bass going by the name of Signor Enrico Brennelli. The Signor was the son of a [deceased] dentist, Daniel James Moodie, and his [deceased] wife Elizabeth Cecilia née Moodie ‘daughter of Afleck Moodie, late Deputy Comissary General, Van Dieman’s Land’ and he was by birth-name William James Afleck Brenneis (b 23 Henrietta Street, London 30 September 1855). Uppingham educated, he had decided to go in for music. He had evidently done time in Australia, America and Italy (I see him at Rovigo in 1882), and in 1883 he was in Ireland singing Sparafucile and Bide-the-bent in an underpowered opera company. Then in the odd London concert.

The two appeared together in concert at Brighton and Clifton (‘Convien partir’, ‘Stella Confidente’) 17 September 1885, and I next spy them on 27 February 1886 opening in the Italian opera at Her Majesty’s Theatre. Elisa sang Leonora on the first night: 'Those present last night when the '’house of amber curtains' reopened its door with a performance of Verdi's Il Trovatore would scarcely have felt inclined to declare that Italian opera was a thing of the past unless some bright, particular star condescended to brighten it with her presence, for a large and friendly audience had gathered together to hear this old and hackneyed work, who certainly were not attracted by any particular bright star, seeing there was nothing of the sort upon the premises. ... The heroine was, vocally speaking, well rendered by a Madame Elisa Savelli, who, if we are not mistaken, some fifteen years or so since was known as a Miss Sewell. Time has, however, not improved her personal appearance, as she is now considerably too broad for her length, and, in the bridal dress of which satin, bore a curious resemblance to Miss Minnie Warren, the wife of General Tom Thumb. Being accommodated with a tall, stern lady as a maid of honour (Mdlle Corona) made this lack of symmetry all the more apparent. ...', ‘In Saturday's representation Madame Savelli was cast for Leonora, and Signor Fernando for her ill-fated troubadour lover; ... In her performance as Leonora Madame Savelli displayed considerable vocal and dramatic power in the declamatory portions of her music, with an occasional tendency to exaggerated effort and a strained use of her upper notes. She was favourably received throughout, especially in the great scenes with Manrico and the Count. ...'

'Her Majesty's Theatre was re-opened last night for a season of Italian opera at cheap prices. ... The Leonora was, curiously enough, taken from the Alhambra, where she sang some years ago as Mdlle. Savelli, the foreign equivalent of her own English name of Miss Sewell. Although still in fairly good voice the lady has now attained well night the physical proportions of a Titiens and Parepa combined, and her appearance in bridal costume was irresistably comical. ...'

‘Without ranking ourselves with those unimaginative individuals who cannot overlook certain personal disqualifications for a role when its rendering is illuminated by genius, we must say that we had to ''make believe very much'' indeed to accept a portly, matronly lady of Madame Savelli's physique as an ideal Leonora. There is something cruel, to our thinking, in calling upon a person of Madame Savelli's liberal proportions and limited dramatic and vocal acquirements, to face a London audience in such a part. No one felt more keenly than ourselves the failure of the singer to reach the higher notes of her role, and to embody the emotional characteristics of the heroine; and no one sympathised more with the lady in her difficulty in assuming kneeling and falling attitudes. The fault, we felt, was not so much hers as that of those who permitted her to appear in a wrong position - literally and metaphorically...’

The message was clear, and it was most succinctly put by the scribe who wrote ‘[she has] a waist to drive about which would be almost a shilling cab fare’.

Monsieur Carillon’s opera ‘season’ folded pronto.

Later in the year, the pair can be seen giving operatic arias at the Trocadero Music Hall, but then Elisa disappears. I assume she isn’t the Mrs (widow) Elizabeth Goult whom ‘Enrico’ married in 1889. Oh! Divorce Court records. 1888. Mrs Brenneis the previous (Isabel Mary Parsoné) sues for divorce stating ‘since the month of September 1884 [her husband] had lived and cohabited with a woman named or passing by the name of Madame Elisa Savelli or Madame Brennelli and that he has habitually committed adultery with her at divers places..’. One of those places was apparently an Italian restaurant. Maybe she was Mrs Elizabeth Goult!

Could she, I wondered, be the Sgra Savelli singing Nedda in I Pagliacci at the San Carlo, Naples in January 1893? And Mimi in La Bohème in Trieste in April 1897 and Genoa in November … and 1898 in Lisbon as … what Mme Stuarda-Savelli? Mlle Savelli as Charlotte in Werther at the Costanzi in Rome in 1900 … impossible. Ah! Signorina Giuseppina Savelli prima donna mezzo-soprano… I was not fond of the idea of a shilling-cab-ride sized Mimi!

As for Enrico, he appeared in the press and the courts regularly. Three English divorces (and troubles of the kind in Italy, too) in five or six years, two bankruptcies in three years, all sorts of bludging charges, under both his names plus those of Duca de Brianza and Baron Gioconda which he assumed, and finally, in 1904, Count Enrico Brennelli was sent to jail for eight months for gaining money by false pretences. I see he was also hauled up before the beak in 1897 for deserting the wife, Emma née Richmond, whom he wed in 1891… if Elisa had been Elizabeth, that marriage hadn't lasted long!

'Enrico' was still alive in the 1911 census .. widower …  but thereafter I lose him. And 'Elisa' ... well, maybe one day I'll know ... 

TWENTY-FOUR HOURS LATER: Bryan Kesselman has come up with two great bits of evidence.  

"Mlle Savelli' singing at the Haymarket in 1867 with Lucy Fosbroke ...

and 'Miss Sewell' in Cambridgeshire in 1866 ...

Here goes today!  A problem shared can often be a problem solved .. 26 September 1866 'Miss Sewell of Cambridge' singing 'Let the Bright Seraphim' at Over, and I'll bet it's she singing 'Beautiful Moon' at the St Giles and St Peter's Penny Readings, and later 'The Nightingale's Trill' and 'The Minute Gun at Sea'. January 1867 at the Workmen's Hall, Barnwell ('The Meeting of theWaters', 'Home Sweet Home') and at the Trinity Parish Schoolroom, then giving the Messiah airs 'with a sweetness that elicited repeated applause' at the Albert Institute .. and here we are! Miss Sewell is a pupil of Mr Henry James Brown and daughter of the overseer of the machine department ...'. She's still appearing in local concerts in February 1868 ... and what? In December? But she's in Italy. Worrisome.

So off to Cambridge, 1861 ... but disappointment!  Very few Sewells. James a boot and shoemaker with daughters Margarett (b 1840) and Emily Jane (b 1839), a servant girl from Haddenham, an 80 year-old. A widowed compositor from Lowestoft ...  There's Mr Brown 'organist' with wife and six children ... Oh! Hang on! Compositor? The Pitt Press .... Joseph Lawrence Sewell ... 1861 living with widowed sister-in-law Susan Grear and niece Matilda Grear aged 23, draper's assistant, remarried 1861 tailor's widow Jane Tuffill, stepdaughter Amelia Elizabeth Tuffill (b 1853) ... he died in 1872 ...  oh dear ...

Well, I guess Amelia Elizabeth Tuffill is our leading contender ... but no, she died in 1935, a spinster .. a longtime ironmongers cashier ... What about her sisters Priscilla Jane (b 1847) and Julia Hannah (b 1849) ... Priscilla died 1868. Julia married a local lad ...
Oh dear... I'm getting nervous ...
Just when I thought I was getting there .... a yellow brick wall ... 

And I was right to be nervous. Right to worry about that last December concert .... Miss Sewell from Cambridge has turned out, after more sterling digging by Bryan, to be a red herring.

Today, he discovered that a family historian has posted this item on an Australian tree .. '[her mother] pursued a dazzling career as an opera singer under the stage name of 'Lisetta Savelli' ..'  Well, 'dazzling' is a bit overstated ...

Miss Elizabeth Sewell, daughter of Henry Thomas Sewell, born about 1847 ...  married at about 18 to a tutor from Hove, by name William Nettlingham. Daughters Lillian (?) and Florence Mary (1867). At the time, she is 'of Pimlico', but I can't find her there. Nor can I find father anywhere, unless he is the HTS who was a Lt Engineer in the Indian Army who died in Lahore in 1856.  Or the upholsterer from Worcester? On her very scrappy marriage certificate, Elizabeth has left the 'father's occupation' box pointedly black.
Well, 'Elisa' swanned off to Italy in 1868, and I see, in the 1871 census, the children are farmed out with the bootmaking in-laws. Tiens! and there are three. Charlotte born Ascot (6), Elizabeth born Brighton (4) and Florence Mary born Reigate (2). The marriage fizzled out, there was apparently a divorce, William scooted off to Australia and found consolation with Emily Anne Matthews, apparently ran pubs in Grafton, Maitland et al and died at Wee Waa in 1903 (19 March)...
Florence took the Downunder trail at some stage, and when she married Mr Benjamin Harvey Payne of Brisbane in 1885 she was described as 'only daughter of Mr William Nettlingham, late of Tiaro'. Yes? I think so. Mr Nettlingham headmaster of the school 1880-1884 ...  but who, then, is Florence Emily Mat[t]hews daughter of William Nettlingham of Grafton who became Mrs Studdert?  Honestly, this family!

And Madame Savelli ... ? Well, at that time she was getting ready to return to the British stage and her 'cab-ride' review. The family historian says that after 1875 she 'stayed in Europe with her elder daughter'. So be it. They don't seem to turn up in Britain after the Italian opera and Brennelli fiasci ...

Well, maybe we'll find the answer in another decade or so.

Wednesday, April 7, 2021

Balletic emoluments or, sign for your salary


Recently, I came upon some receipts, signed by members of the London Italian Opera of the 1830s. I thought I might be able to decipher the names on the documents ... then match them up with the salaries ... could be interesting?

Here they are. I'll start with the least impossible one.

Mademoiselle and later Madame (Fanny) Copère was a very, very long-serving member of the King's Theatre/Her Majesty's Theatre companies. She came from France, and the Paris Opéra, in 1818, apparently after having got into some tricky company, returned to London in 1824 as a premier sujet behind the visiting stars, and remained in that function until she became, in the mid-1830s 'Madame Copère', moved into character roles, and ultimately to the ballet and later operatic costumery departments as supervisor of the dressmakers. 

1836. A hiccough.

What became of her? I am entirely sure she was not the Madame Copère (contralto vocalist), with family Joe and Annie who covered the nations music-halls thereafter. Ah! Fanny Copère (spinster), daughter of Peter Copère, born Annuit, naturalised British subject, married the 70 year-old Hon Rev Henry William Stanhope, widower, son of a General ... 12 August 1862 ...  He died 1872. I guess it is she who died 1886 in Chelsea, 'aged 85'. Oh goodness, that is the chap who previously married Grace Aguilar ...  

Number Two. Harder.

Strange signature. Its the ballet again, because this lady has received her monies, on behalf of her son, on date unrecorded, from Mons Deshais or Deshayes, the head of the ballet department. And who is this lady? At first glance, I see Veuve Vatille-Malavergny or Malavergne with the usual theatrical vast squiggle. Well, Deshays was another very long server at the King's and ballet-master 1821-1842, so he isn't much of a clue. Malavergne ... yes. Pierre Frédéric Malavergne (sic, since his mother spells it thus) was the dancer known as 'Mons Frédéric' (1810-1872) who was to become, latterly, extremely famous in Russia. So this receipt is clearly from before 1831, the date of his Russian beginnings. And yes, there is the teenaged Fred dancing at the King's Theatre in 1828 and 1829 ... featured in La Vestale alongside Gosselin and Coulon ... so I guess this is he. And his mum.

The other two have so far defeated me. The first, I thought would be easy. My eye immediately saw 'De Muynck'. Well, Italian opera ... deMuynck = the great Caradori. But 31 March 1836? Caradori was already Mrs Allen. 'Mr Lumley, treasurer of the King's Theatre, Italian opera .. 60 pounds sterling for .. what .. of the two engagements contracted with M Laporte for this season ...  

IS it 1836? Is the D an initial or a particle? The mess at the end is, I fear, another operatic or balletic squiggle. Is this a payment in advance, or for services rendered? 1836 was the year of the Laporte bankruptcy .. could be the former...

And this signature is illegible. I think the pair of buttocks in the middle of it is just a squiggle.  So what does that leave? Lonn? Lion? Léon ...  1830 .... month of June ... forty pounds and 19 shillings? Looks as if four pounds 1s has been deducted ...  Well, it's is French rather than Italian, so I think once again we are in the ballet... good grief, is it St Léon? No, he'd be only 10 years old ...

Seems there are more of these, but I've only happed on these so far.  To be investigated further.

Sunday, April 4, 2021

Ancient Epistles, or old letters


Yesterday, when I chanced upon that amazing Haymarket Theatre letter, with its character-assasination of old John Marks Jolly, I looked a little further down the listings and lighted on a few more fascinating old letters ..

This one caught my eye instantly, because, once again, it concerned music-making in Victorian days.

24 August 1821. Before the invention of the postage stamp. Sadly, there is no addressee. But I have managed to winkle a bit of history out of this little page.  

"Miss Martin" -- presumably a vocalist, but there were a good few Miss Singing Martins -- is finishing an engagement at Vauxhall and is available for another ...

Firstly, it is not the celebrated Vauxhall Gardens in London at which Miss Martin is singing. It is the sort-of-equivalent in Bath, known better as the Sydney Gardens. At this stage in their existence of some 25 already years they offered mainly pretty promenades and Special Occasions. The names of the entertainers weren't generally publicised except on such occasions ... the illuminators got the billing!

'Vauxhall' 1800

But by the 1820s, the musical director Matthew Patton (1781-1854), the local Loder family were predominant as vocalists, with Mallinson providing the comic songs...  I can't see Miss Martin anywhere, but I guess she must have been there. And, for some reason, so must have been young Mr Harris. In the orchestra perhaps? Anyway, his letter is franked "Bath" (see top right corner).

I know rather more about John Thomas Harris than I do about Miss Martin. He was, in 1821, but twenty years old. He was born on 9 January 1801, son of one George Harris (1778-?1824) and his wife Elizabeth Lucy née Robbins (m 4 January 1795), and he comes to my attention on a playbill first in 1824 (3 March), playing the organ accompaniments in a rather ritzy concert series at the King's Theatre. Why? Well, it seems had got the job of chorus master at the Italian Opera!

He had also got himself a wife, Miss Sarah née Lloyd (21 September 1823), who had started producing children at a prodigious rate: James Thomas (1824) and Sarah Elizabeth (1826) at 50 Strand, Isabella (1827), Fanny (1829) and Emily Carolina (1830) in their new home in Holborn, George Henry (1831), Maria (1833) and Ellen Lucy (1834) at the next home at the address in Judd Street, Brunswick Square which was already theirs in 1821 going by the letter!

In 1827, he is chorusmaster at the English Opera House, in 1828 he is fulfilling the same office at the Lenten concerts stage by Henry Bishop at Drury Lane and Covent Garden, and with William Hawes for Cosi fan tutte at the English Opera House. The opera was aletered and adapted by Hawes, which I guess is why Harris was needed. When John Braham had a Benefit (8 June 1829) and a barrage of famous vocalists joined to sing 'Tom Bowling' in nautical dresses on the deck of a scenic man o' war, Mr Harris accompanied them all on the organ. In 1831 he was again chorus master for Bishop at Covent Garden, in 1832 at Drury Lane .. whenever a chorus was involved at London's two principal English operatic theatres, Mr Harris was in charge. In 1836 he organised the choruses for Bochsa's grandiose concerts, and for the Royal Musical Festival in Westminster Abbey  ... I see him last doing The Messiah in March ...
On October 10 1836, he died. One line seems to have been his lot in the obituary department. He died at Judd Street, of unreported causes. Aged 35.

Three of his young children had already perished. In the 1851 census, Sarah 'annuitant' was caring for Isabella and Fanny 'professors of music', George 'solicitors clerk', 18 year-old Maria, and mother-in-law Elizabeth Lucy. What became of them all? All I know is that George gave up the law and took to making false teeth. He married, had children, and died in 1893. He had acted as executor for his youngest sister who had died, unmarried 27 December 1890. The rest ...? Go, see ...

1861. Coincidence or George?

As for Miss Martin ... maybe I'll bump into her one day ....

Letter number two is not theatrical. Its historical. A letter to wealthy Lancashire businessman ... of course, I didn't know he was a wealthy businessman when I squinted at this letter ..

July 1854. Mr Peter Whitehead, Hollymount, Rawtenstall. 

From Samuel Blacksquiggle of Manchester, clearly an agent or subordinate of some kind.

Mr Whitehead is apparently trying to secure marble for a highly-polished mantelpiece or mantelpieces, and Mr Blacksquiggle is assuring him that his friends Mr Knowles and Mr Pattison have the good stuff ...

Peter Whitehead

Mr Whitehead, along with his brothers, Thomas and David, were large and important cotton millers. 'Holly Mount' a grand triplex mansion, housed the three and their families between 1835 and 1855, during their business partnership, at which time the brothers went each his own way in business (Peter built the Ilex Mill, extant today) but still shared a home. 'Holly Mount', sadly, has suffered the fate of so many Victorian buildings in the 21st century ...

At the time of the 1841 census the brothers can be seen in their tripartite mansion

The family has been much written about, and thoroughly and meticulously investigated by a descendant, Peter Osbaldeston. I hurried to alert him about his ancestor's letter ... alas, he died some months ago.

Peter Whitehead died 10 October 1866, aged 78.

I wonder who Mr Blacksquiggle was. I shall chase him up. Also the marble merchants [John] Knowles and Pattison. Just for fun ... or maybe someone else would like to?

I'll go dig up another letter or three ...

PS the photo of Hollymount today is from the flickr page of Robert Wade.