Tuesday, May 25, 2021

A Lost Angel or, where did my Hungarian basso profondo go ...?

I've decided it's about time I put some of my Victorian Vocalist articles ('in progress' for a decade) out into the world. Somebody just might see them, and fill in any gaps. This one definitely lacks a beginning and an end, but it sure has a healthy middle!

ANGYALFI, Alexander [aka ENGELSMAN[N], Adolf] [b Hungary, c 1839]

On 29 June of the year of 1866, the short-lived Kingdom of Hannover fell to the armies of Prussia, and its blind King George, a grandson of Britain’s King George III and a cousin of Queen Victoria, fled with his family to Austria. But some of his household, it seems, were ahead of him in their exodus, and some of these made Britain their immediate destination. Among them were several members of his court opera, including husband and wife singing team Galiza and Arthur Szepessi, who billed themselves as ‘prima donna and chief baritone to the court of Hannover’, a soprano named Mdlle Ulrich ‘from the Hannoverian capital’, and the Austro-Hungarian singer Adolf Engelsman, otherwise known by the Hungarian version of his German name as Angyalfi, and claiming, similarly, to be ‘principal baritone to the court of Hannover’.

Quite when ‘Alexander Angyalfi’ arrived in Britain I am unsure, but he was still in Vienna in January 1865, listed in the Fremden-Blatt as ‘opernsänger von Prag’, then cited as newly engaged for the Pest Nemzeti Szinház in February. He did a 2-performance Gastspiel at the Breslau Sommertheater, played at Königsberg, Hamburg and in October 1865 he is making a debut at the Woltersdorff Theater in Berlin: ‘Seiner Stimme und Gesangbilding sind viel Rühmliches nachgesagt’. And, yes, Wilhelm Tell at Hannover. This from Breslau:

Well, he was provenly in London as early as 24 June 1866, for on that date, at Old Church, St Pancras, Adolf Engelsman Angyalfi (sic), son of the late Markus Angyalfi, musician, was married to a Prussian bride, Hedwig Frederika Valeska Bauermeister, the teenaged daughter of lawyer Alexander Carl Bauermeister and his wife Anna Alberta Schuhardt (x 3 May 1848 ‘Jerusalem [Kirche], Berlin Stadt, Brandenburg’). The newlyweds’ first child, Katharina, was born in Hammersmith the following year (6 August 1867), so it seems reasonable to suppose that it was there that the couple settled, but apparently – unless I am missing something -- Angyalfi made his first British appearance as a performer rather further north than the suburbs of London.

The first engagement that I can find for him, some two months after his marriage, is in Leeds. And not in any royal opera house, but in a common or garden music-hall. On 27 August 1866, Alexander appeared at Thornton’s Music Hall, Leeds, performing operatic excerpts in a team with the house’s current prima donna, the Warwickshire music-hall soprano, Marie Tressillian. He was greeted as ‘a splendid singer, and his duets and operatic selections with Miss Marie Tressillian are really beautiful and a great treat’. When Miss Tressillian’s stint at Thornton’s was done, she was replaced by another allegedly Prussian import, a lady named Carlitza Schenning, ‘late of the Italian opera Berlin, Brussels, Hannover and recently of Her Majesty’s Theatre, London’ (but, I note, more recently of Vance’s concerts, Hull and the Alexandra Music Hall, Manchester) and then by a Thornton’s regular, a certain Miss Milnes. 

Angyalfi ended up staying for more than two months on the bill at Thornton’s. From Leeds, he progressed to Edinburgh and the Southminster Music Hall and, there, he paired once again with Frln Schenning. ‘Each evening introduces certain operatic selections which, being rendered with much spirit and no small amount of musical skill, meet with deserved applause’. He continued from Edinburgh to the Royal Music Hall in Glasgow, and the local Era critic waxed lyrical: ‘With that laudable desire to introduce a superior class of entertainment to his patrons which Mr Brown has many times shown himself to be possessed of, he some few weeks ago engaged (no doubt at considerable expense) the services of a Signor Angyalfi, said to be principal baritone to the deposed King of Hannover, and Madame Schenning, the German soprano, and, we are glad to say, he has no reason to regret having taken such a step, as the attendance has been most satisfactory since the commencement of the engagement. Their entertainment is principally composed of short selections from Italian opera, Verdi’s Il Trovatore having been their choice for last week. Madame Schenning has a very fair soprano voice, full in tone and with considerable power, but really, without at all deprecating the lady’s ability, it must be acknowledged Signor Angyalfi’s splendid voice and vigorously dramatic style of singing are the strong features in the entertainment. With the addition of appropriate dresses and suitable scenic effects the entertainment is undoubtedly far superior to anything ever brought out at the Glasgow Music Hall.’

In March the two proceeded to Birmingham and Holder’s Music Hall: ‘A great treat has been given to the lovers of singing by the engagement of Signor Angyalfi, baritone, and Mlle Schenning, an accomplished soprano… in the selection from Il Trovatore [they] have produced such an impression that they have been re-engaged ... Signor Angyalfi and Mlle Schenning the favourite operatic vocalists are in high favour’.

By the time he got to the Alexandra Hall, Manchester, in February 1867, he had dropped the double-act, and was simply billed as 'the prince of baritones', alongside George Leybourne and Fanny Harrison 'serio comic'.

My first sighting of Herr Angyalfi (the provincial ‘Signor’ having been thankfully dropped) in London is also at a music hall, on February 11 1867, on the occasion of Messrs Loibl and Sonnenhammer’s Benefit at the London Pavilion. The only review I have seen makes no comment about his newness, so maybe he had indeed been seen in town before. But, for this occasion, he dropped the operatics, and gave instead Willoughby Weiss’s famous bass song ‘The Village Blacksmith’.

In March and April he appeared on the bill at the Marylebone Music Hall, and it was, apparently, here that he achieved the hitherto unheard-of feat of introducing German Lieder, in the original language, to an audience more used to comic singers, saucy soubrettes and the odd acrobat. It must have gone down all right, for after a first stint of more than a month he was briskly re-engaged. And all this time, the German registers have him listed as a member of the company of the Hoftheater, Hannover, the Centralhalle, Hamburg (md: Mr Wheeler), in Königsberg ..!

Then, on 7 May 1868, at the Store Street concert rooms, Alexander Angyalfi launched himself with a concert of his own. ‘Herr Alexander Angyalfi who, some time ago, did his best to civilise a Music Hall audience by singing to them the songs of Franz Schubert, gave a concert at the Store Street Rooms on Wednesday last. Against Herr Angyalfi’s voice and musical knowledge we having nothing to say, in fact he sings German songs in a sound and artistic way, but why he should have surrounded himself with such an array of eccentric vocalists and instrumentalists passes comprehension.’ Indeed, the bill he had put together was one containing barely a recognisable name, and the only person of pretension, the experienced Mme d’Anterny (English, née Miss Condell) ‘of the Paris Opera’ who delivered ‘Una voce poco fa’, sang it to her own accompaniment after hearing ‘the elephantine efforts’ of the official pianist.

By August, he was on the bill at the top music-hall in London, the Oxford, with the topm music-hall performers of the time: Charlotte Russell, the Miss Fitzhenry who would become Emily Soldene, Kate Santley, Félix Bury ... and The Era commented, when he gave 'Der Wanderer' at the Pavilion 'A bass singer, one Herr Angyalfi, has recently joined the London Pavilion company. We can pay this gentleman no higher compliment than to call him an artist, and sincerely acknowledge his courage and true feeling for music in introducing Franz Schubert's song 'The Wanderer' to the audience of an English Music Hall. Such a song is an oasis in the barren desert the London and Provincial Public are content to traverse from year's end to year's end. Herr Angyalfi has, peradventure, to learn that the exquisite compositions of a musical genius are thrown away on the frequenters of London Music Halls', going on to paint a picture of a superannuated floozie chattering to her Lothario through the song. 

But he still appeared in regular concert. On a very 'bass' bill at the Pimlico Rooms, while Joseph Lander gave 'O ruddier then the cherry' and 'The Star that lights the sailor home', Alexander 'of the Royal Opera, Hanover' gave Zaccaria's aria, 'D'Egitto la sui lida', from Nabucco and .. 'The Village Blacksmith'.

It was musical director August Manns who was largely responsible for Alexander Angyalfi’s change of direction. Away from the halls and onto the conventional concert platform. In October of 1868, the director of the Crystal Palace Saturday concerts hired the singer for his 24 October concert. It was a classy bill. Helen Lemmens-Sherrington sang ‘Robert, toi que j’aime’ and the waltz song from Roméo et Juliette (‘she has never sung more brilliantly’), Vernon Rigby gave ‘real expression’ to an Italian romanza by Benedict and a ballad by Frank Mori, but the palm – perhaps, just a little, because of the novelty element -- went to Herr Angyalfi ‘a fine bass voice with a sonorous lower E that any singer might envy. In the quaint song of Schumann upon Heinrich Heine, with its odd burden of the Marseillaise, Herr Angyalfi accompanied by Mr Beringer obtained an encore.’ The song was Schubert’s ‘Die beiden Grenadiere’, and the low E came in the bass singer’s veriest warhorse, Mozart’s ‘In diesen heil’gen Hallen’. He repeated 7 November ('einem tiefen Ungarsichen Bassist') alongside the deep Bavarian conralto of Anna Drasdil.

In the wake of this success, it was now no longer a case of music hall engagements but of classical concerts. He repeated the same two numbers at the Grand Turnverein concert (13 November) alongside the most important German artists in town -- Rudersdorff, Drasdil, Erna Steinhagen – he sang at Mme Collard’s concert at Westbourne Hall billed as ‘the Hungarian bass singer who lately achieved quite a success at the Crystal Palace concerts’, giving Meyerbeer’s ‘The Monk’ alongside Florence Lancia, Vernon Rigby and Signor Caravoglia. ‘The large compass and deep tone of Herr Angyalfi’s voice were heard to great advantage’. In the new year he went out on a concert party tour with Helen Lemmens-Sherrington, the new tenor Nelson Varley and Irish mezzo Jennie Meenan, which covered Britain in the course of three busy months, performing in almost nightly concerts, but also taking the solo roles in Messiahs and other oratorios with the various local provincial societies.

The group returned to town in May, and Angyalfi took part in the opening concert of the new Crystal Palace summer season alongside such veterans of the Palace platform as Mmes Sherrington, Carola and Drasdil and Vernon Rigby. He appeared in a number of the better West End concerts in June, and then, on 1 July 1869, he mounted his first own concert since that rather peculiar one of a year earlier. The difference between the two bills showed the different way in which he was now regarded. The venue this time was the Queen’s Rooms and there was barely an unknown name on the programme; Rose Hersee. Anna Drasdil, Luise Liebhart, the young and glamorous Louise Beverley, Vernon Rigby, Nelson Varley, and a selection of eminent instrumentalists. He sang the buffo aria 'Tell me, good friends' and 'was warmly applauded'.

Alexander Angyalfi was not, however, one to be satisfied with what a British vocalist would have regarded as a conventional career. From Messiahs and Judas Maccabaeuses (with Mme Lemmens), Schubert and Meyerbeer, ‘Der Wanderer’ or ‘The Monk’ in the vastness of the Crystal Palace or St George’s Hall, he turned to an engagement at the Polytechnic. At the Polytechnic, Professor Pepper gave scientific lectures with a popular flair, and he had recently scored the hit of his career with the illusion known as ‘Pepper’s Ghost’. ‘Pepper’s Ghost’ had since been ripped off by half a hundred imitators, but Pepper could always go one better. Now he produced an entertainment called The Mysteries of Udolpho, which not only boasted a display of multiple ghosts but used them to make effects that others could not reach. Music was inevitably a part of the Polytech’s programmes, and the music for Udolpho consisted of suitably ghostly songs between the bits of action, sung by … ‘the justly renowned basso profondo’, Herr Angyalfi.

In December Angyalfi took time off from Udolpho and headed north, to Middlesborough, with Madame Lemmens for a double header of The Messiah and what seems to have been his first Elijah, and then he headed back to town for his first genuine theatrical job since his arrival in Britain. The Mansell brothers had mounted Hervé’s scintillating opéra-bouffe Chilpéric at the Lyceum Theatre, and the show and the genre had become, the one and the other, the rage. The show had now been running for a couple of months, and the gentleman named Lapierre who played the burlesque druid of the piece had come to the end of his time. To replace him, in this very particular role, with its plumbing low notes and its parody of Norma’s Oroveso, someone extremely on-the-ball chose Alexander Angyalfi. The piece could not have suited him better nor he the piece. Angyalfi played Divitiacus the druid for the final two months of the show’s memorable run.

When Chilpéric was over, however, he returned to the world of the ‘entertainment’. This time, however, it was on a slightly larger scale. A Mr Morris was showing at the Holborn Amphitheatre something that he described as the American Ethescope ‘an illusory olio entertainment embracing almost every variety of optical illusion on a much larger, pleasing and effective scale than any heretofore witnessed…’. In other words out-Peppering Professor Pepper. Mr Morris’s subject was Faust and he illustrated his series of scenic effects and illusions with music from Gounod’s opera. Burlesque soprano Sara Nelson of the Nelson sisters was Marguerite, George Loder from the halls was Faust, and Herr Angyalfi sang Mephistopheles. Faust, followed by Lurline and something called Dreamland, lasted in the vastness of the Holborn Amphitheatre for a couple of months.

Then it was back to the concerts. If not quite the best concerts. Westbourne Hall with ‘Madame Dela from the Italian Opera, New York’, Store Street with Curt Schultz’s Grand Zither Concert (‘Much interest lies about Herr Angyalfi whose recent efforts to sing in English have been meritorious’). He sang Schubert’s ‘The Wanderer’ in German and then the Martha drinking song in English, and The Era nodded ‘The Herr’s English is now very good’.

It was the Chilpéric connection (not to forget the Oxford Music Hall) which got Alexander his next job. Emily Soldene, ex-Miss Fitzhenry, who had been connected with the Lyceum during the opéra-bouffe season, was now queen bee at the Philharmonic Music Hall, Islington, and she was staging a potted opéra-bouffe Chilpéric in twenty-five minutes as part of the Phil’s re-opening programme. She, of course, played the King. No-one in London understood opéra-bouffe better than Emily Soldene, and she knew what she was doing when she asked Alexander Angyalfi to play the part of the plotting Siegebert in her production. Unfortunately he didn’t get to play it for long. For the jealous theatre mangers threatened to have the Philharmonic crew hauled into court for illegally playing ‘a stage play’ in non-licensed premises, and producer Charles Morton quickly withdrew Chilpéric. For the moment.

Similar problems had hit the Alhambra, which had had its dancing licence withdrawn and been obliged to cancel its famous ballets. Frederick Strange had fallen back on promenade concerts, but he had found a wrinkle. As the Franco-Prussian war raged, he staged a scena of National songs. ‘La Marseillaise’, ‘Rule Britannia’ ‘Wacht am Rhein’. This presentation caused a patriotic sensation, and half the music-halls in town leaped to follow where Strange had led. Including Charles Morton and the Phil. But Morton gave ‘Wacht am Rhein’ to Charlotte Russell.

Others were wiser. The London Pavilion grabbed Angyalfi and … guess who? … the mysterious re-appearing Fräulein Schenning to be the hissed-and-howled-at Germans in their set of songs, and when the original ‘Wacht am Rhein’ team left the Alhambra, the big-voiced Hungarian bass was taken up to Leicester Square as their replacement. He was also cast in the Alhambra’s big end-of-the-year-1870 pantomime spectacular, a scenic creation called Superba in which he sang and mimed the part of the Mephistophelean villain of the affair. But, again, not for long. The theatre boys jumped on this one as well, and Superba had to be withdrawn.

Come Easter, Angyalfi moved on to the Cambridge music hall where he delivered the operatic bits and pieces he’d purveyed in the provinces, five years earlier, in the company of a durable music-hall prima donna by the name of ‘Ada Hermine’, and then, in June, he got another splendid opportunity. Alfie St Albyn, cast in the roaring lead tenor role of Falsacappa in the London version of Offenbach’s opera-bouffe Les Brigands was forced to drop out of the show by illness. Angyalfi replaced him. He replaced him for all of a fortnight. Then the American baritone who insisted he was ‘Signor Bordogni’, and who had also been a part of the Alhambra war songs, took over. Why? I’d love to know. Obviously it was vocally a weird bit of casting, a basso Falsacappa!, but Bordogni was not a tenor either. Why? For after that, Alexander Angyalfi is no more to be seen on English shores. Where did he go?

Arthur, Hilde and Kate

We know that, during his years in England he did return to Germany. His second child, a son, Arthur, was born in Breslau 23 October 1868. And another, Irene, 17 June 1872. I see him, again, guesting in Hamburg, and on 27 April Madame Gayette-Georgens of the ‘Angyalfi’schen Concertgesellschaft’ is singing in Berlin. His third child, Hildegarde, was born back in Hammersmith on 13 February 1870. Another, Rosa Berta, 31 January 1876, in Berlin. Did he go there now? It looks like it. In March 1873, I find him back at the Nemzeti Szinház singing the title-role in Der Fliegende Holländer to the Senta of Frau Balasz. The local press notes he has been ‘engaged since last September, but only now appears’. In August 1874, he is singing at Gleichenberg with Frln Marietta [von] Erdelyi, in 1875 he shows up in the Gross-Becskerek (‘Seit einigen Tagen weilt der vom Budapester National-Theater rühmlichst bekannte Opernsänger Herr Alexander Angyalfi in unserer Mitte. Abgesehen davon, daß ihm ein so guter Ruf begleitet …’), later in Königsberg, and in Göthenburg billed as ‘from Budapest’ (1877). I pick him up again in September, when the British press notes that ‘the world-renowned Schubert singer’ is in town for a short while (c/o Cramer). But I don’t see that Cramer got him any work.

Then something strange happens. The 11 July 1880 Era carries an advertisement for Mr A[lexander] Rudolf, the celebrated basso profundo from the Moore and Burgess Minstrels. He is finishing a three-year contract with the troupe in September and is advertising for engagements in tandem with a soprano calling herself ‘Miss Katy Amigo’ (Miss Amigo is ‘an English lady’) Who, in Olympus, is SHE? Anyway, it’s our man. The address confirms it. Moore and Burgess Minstrels, eh?, ‘Rudolf’s Black and White Harmonic Company’ musical director C W Horton advertises ‘the whole year round in and around London. I don’t know about that, but on Boxing Day the show opened at the Crystal Palace … It was a veritable Black and White Minstrel Show (blacked men, white girls) with Adolf as its star. He sang his arias from Die Zauberflöte and Das Nachtlager in Granada, the rest of the company of fifty joined the selections and also sang some of his compositions. I’m not sure for how long. But by April Madame Amigo and Mr Rudolf were advertising for work again. I see that they performed ‘a sentimental duet which was sung in good style’ in John H Stokes’s Benefit at the Queen’s in Poplar.

In May 1881 he turns up under his usual name again. He’s billed for the opera company at the Alexandra Palace with Blanche Cole as prima donna, and the brothers Furneaux and Aynsley Cook as the basso department. I see he played the part of Bide-the-Bent in Lucia di Lammermoor alongside Miss Cole, Frederick Packard and James Sauvage. But when Faust was done, John Furneaux Cook got to play Mephistopheles. In July 1881, I spot him at the Athenaeum, Goldhawk Road, with Katy, tenor Reed Larwill and locals, giving a Benefit Concert (for him). He sang ‘It is enough’, duetted Die Zauberflöte and trio-ed Das Nachtlager, while a Madame something sang his ‘Dearest Home’. And then, nothing. Except that his home at 36 Cathnor Road is up for auction, with all its furniture on 11 August.

1881 in London is, of course, census time and, if you can decipher what the IGI insists is Angqualfe, you can see Adolf-Alexander living at the said 36 Cathnor Road, off the Goldhawk Road, with his three children – Kathy, Arthur and Hilde – and his wife. Named Jenny, aged 28, and born in Pickhill, Yorkshire. ‘Katy Amigo’? We seem to have lost Hedwig. He’s still a ‘vocalist’.

Hedwig in 1890

I think little Hedwig (5ft 1in) is in Berlin, with her youngest child. Anyway, she lived on, for her descendants have posted a photo of her as an old lady, with the adult and married Irene. And the Hamburg shiplists show her, in 1912, aged 64, voyaging to New York from her home in Berlin. I wonder if she was the Frau Hedwig Angyalfi of Friedrichstrasse 123, ‘der erste weibliche Fremdenführer in Berlin’ (1888ssq)! Holidays for Ladies and families. Or the Witwe Hedwig Angyalfi in a flat in Sigismundstrasse in 1920. It is definitely she at 12 Lutherstrasse, ‘Zeitschrift ‘Ich dien’’ in 1916 and in 1915 at Friedenau. Not yet a Witwe. Or is she, as I strongly suspect, all of them. Which signifies that, barring fibs, our errant basso died somewhere between 1916 and 1920. Oh, I see she was already claiming 'widow' in 1912. 

1895 ad from a medical magazine

Alexander Angyalfi, by any other name, may have ended up in America. All the children did. Their details are enshrined in the IGI and on ancestry.com, with spouses and children, and photographs in a splendid tree by Susan Chilcutt, and the Sheet Music Warehouse’s catalogue even vouchsafes that Arthur (b Breslau 23 October 1868; d NYC 4 June 1937) tried his hand as a writer and a songwriter. In the 1910 census he was a ‘newspaper printer’. He also got mixed up in a rather shady affair, promoting from Berlin a directory of the high society of America. You had, of course, to pay to be in it.


But Alexander? Well, the same IGI tells us that a Frank R Angyalfi was born in Hoboken 14 January 1882, of a father Alex R Angyalfi born in Hungary and aged 44, and an English mother … unreadable (but definitely not Hedwig, maybe Jenny?) … could it be him (Alex R is probably Alexr = Alexander but maybe Alexander Rudolf?). I would very much like to know what became of him. And more about what he did in those years when the British musical scene knew him not. He was a genuine character of the Victorian vocal scene in London, even if he stayed there for far too short a time.

Daughter Katharina

Daughter Hildegarde

PS: I am not the only one to have lost him. His name appears in the Fahndung nach Verbrechern und vermissten Personen at the Landesarchiv Baden-Württemburg.
And the poste restante of The Era in 1891 asks for "Herr Rudolph Angyalfi".
And when daughter Irene died, in 1943, her death certificate confirmed ... last heard of in America ... one lost Angel-man ..

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