Monday, April 25, 2022

Sher Campbell: a Barihunk of the 1870s

CAMPBELL, S C [COAN, [Abra(ha)m] Sherwood] (b New Guildford, Conn 15 May 1829; d Chicago 25 November 1874)

One of the most notable American baritone singers of his time, ‘Sher’ Campbell had a career cast in two halves – the first in minstrelsy and the second in opera.

This makes it all the more odd that even some of the better American reference works get his name wrong. His surname was Coan. He was the son of Abr(ah)am Coan and his wife Eunice née Cooke (d New Haven 28 May 1859) of New Guildford, Conn. He was not ‘Sherman Cohen’, or anything Cohen, and he was not born ‘Sherry Campbell’.

The ‘Campbell’ came about when, aged nineteen, he stopped being a coach-trimmer, and became a professional vocalist. Now, tracking down members of early minstrel troupes, in the 1840s, is not easy. The troupes changed members frequently, and often the names of the players aren’t even mentioned. However, several diligent researchers of the past have more or less successfully collated the personnel of the rightly-named ‘only American theatrical genus’, under titles such as Burnt Corks and Tambourines, Monarchs of Minstrelsy et al. And in ‘Sher’s case, he was the subject of a very long and detailed obituary in the Clipper newspaper (reprinted in Britain’s Era) which gives every appearance of exactitude. Though, of course, they don’t quite agree, and they skate over certain parts … Still, the Clipper is, I think, pretty correct in its storyline, even if not in its dates.

So, to summarise: Sher was an amateur teenaged singer. One night, he attended a concert by the group known as George A Kimberly’s Campbell Minstrels and went, with his friends, afterwards to ‘serenade’ the singers. An audition for an audition. He was duly noticed by J A Herman, the tenor of the group, auditioned the next day and offered a job. Which his mother wouldn’t let him take. Why his mother, I don’t know: his father was very much alive in 1848, but an 1847 directory shows that Mrs Coan was running 109 State, their home, as a boarding house and father has no job. An invalid, maybe? He can be seen, again, with wife and four children but still no job, in the 1850 census. When Sher is still listed as a carriage-maker. Well, he was certainly, by this time, only a part-time carriage-maker, at best. Mother, says the Clipper, reversed her decision when a New York season was mooted and, in 1849, Sher joined up.

I don’t know precisely when Mr Kimberly started up his troupe. At one stage he claimed that it was 4 July 1840, and that it was the oldest group of its kind. Well, Campbell’s Minstrels ‘one of the oldest …’, run by Mr A Kemball, was going earlier … but at another stage, in 1854, Kimberly claimed he’d been touring six years. Which is pretty surely right. I spot him in Newark in March 1848. And my friend Betsy has dug up an advertisement in the New London Weekly Chronicle (Conn) for Campbell's Minstrels giving a performance at Washington Hall on June 14 1848. Part of it reads, ‘The Manager respectfully announces that since his last visit to New London, he has made several important changes in the company, and at a great expense, has added Messrs S C Campbell, I Howard, and S A Wells, formerly connected with the [J A] Dumbolton Serenaders, and more recently with the celebrated Christy's Minstrels, making the company complete in every particular...’. 

The New York season, at Barnum's American Museum, 348 Broadway, began 31 July 1848 and they ran at various venues till the end of October … so I guess this is the season the Clipper means, and it seems Sher had been four months a member of the troupe by then, along with Bob White, Luke West, Matt Peel, J A Herman, A H Barry, Lewis Burdett, Jacob Burdett, Charles Abbott and L H V Crosby.

Subsequently, in 1850, West and Peel (‘the nucleus and main attraction of the original Campbell Minstrels’), occasionally with Joe Murphy, put together a new troupe, and S C Campbell went with them. In 1852 Abbott’s song ‘The Colored Orphan Boy’ was published ‘sung by S C Campbell of Campbell’s Minstrels’. But when the team visited Louisville in September 1853, Sher was not with them. Minstrel companies were made of movable parts. I next spot him (October 1854) sailing (from where?) into San Francisco with a group headed by E P Christy, and in February 1855, he was playing in San Francisco with a partly different group, yclept the San Francisco Minstrels, and including Charlie Backus, Jerry Bryant and D F Boley. In August, some of this team headed, under Backus’s management, on the Audubon, via Honolulu, to Australia (23 October) where they played at Sydney's Royal Victoria Theatre ('will introduce his famous Tyrolean Imitations', 'We met by chance', 'Spirit Bride', 'Guinea Maid'), Melbourne (3 December), Tasmania (2 January, 'We're coming, Sister Mary', 'Ellen Bayne', 'She's black but that's no matter') and Geelong's Theatre Royal before returning to Melbourne and Sydney, and heading back to California.

There is a tale told that Catherine Hayes heard Sher, and invited him to sing at one of her concerts. His ‘Dermot Asthore’ encouraged her to urge him to train for the opera. Well, Miss Hayes was playing Melbourne while the Minstrels were at Coppin's Olympic, and it is recorded that she did go to a Backus show, their 'Farewell Concert' at the Royal Victoria Theatre in Hobart, on 28 January 1856. She would have heard Sher give ‘Melinda May’, ‘Down the River’, and his imitations of a cornet. And she did give a concert the next night, performing the entire Lucia di Lammermoor mad scene. And the next night the Minstrels played their last night. Sher sang ‘Ben Bolt’, ‘Poor Old Jeff’, ‘We come from the hills’ (the Tyrolean Echo Song) and a bit of La Sonnambula. Miss Hayes’s concert was reviewed in minute detail: the support vocalists were reported as being John Gregg and Charles Lyall. So … did he or didn’t he?

The next few years were spent in and out of San Francisco, and ‘the favourite ballad singer and musical director’ of the San Francisco Minstrel troupe had the good fortune not to embark with others of the troupe on the Central America for New York in 1856. The ship sank, but Billy Birch and Sam Wells were saved. In 1859, he joined up with George Christy and R M Hooley, and, when those two dissolved partnership, he took over Christy’s share of the management for the nonce. His final engagement in the world of burnt cork was with Dan Bryant.

In 1862-3, he appeared in concert at Lafayette Harrison’s Irving Hall, where he shared a platform with Elena d’Angri, Gustavus Geary and with another transfuge from the minstrel world, best friend William Castle (aka J C Reeves). The two men also sang in Gottschalk’s concerts under Pedro de Abella (Mr d’Angri). Castle was Abella’s pupil. I imagine that Campbell was too.

4 January 1864 marked the beginning of Campbell’s operatic career. Gabriel Harrison of Brooklyn’s Park Theatre (and brother to Lafayette of Irving Hall) who had been giving matinées musicales with some success, mounted The Bohemian Girl at his Brooklyn headquarters. The experienced Marie Comte-Borchardt took the role of Arline, Castle was Thaddeus and Campbell played Arnheim. George Rea and Mary Shaw of the stock company supported. The production transferred to Niblo’s Gardens, as ‘the New York English Opera Company’ and there ‘subsisted for two months on The Bohemian Girl and Maritana … a motley but very pleasant crew’. The Gipsy Queen was now played by ‘Miss [Louisa] Myers, the poetry reader’. And the Devilshoof died.

Lafayette Harrison (‘the Harrison English Opera Troupe’) took the company on the road, with an improved personnel -- Edward Seguin as the new Devilshoof and Jenny Twitchell Kempson sometimes, now, as the Queen – with the two operas, and on 4 May at Philadelphia produced a third: J B Fry’s Notre Dame de Paris. Campbell played Frollo, Seguin was Quasimodo and Mme Borchardt the gipsy. Slowly, the company began to grow. Fra Diavolo was added to the repertoire, and 4 July a new New York season was opened at the Olympic Theatre, where The Rose of Castille was included in the programme for the first time. Campbell played Don Pedro. But the enterprise ended in financial failure.

Our baritone and tenor, however, took up the reins themselves, and soon after the closure, they put out a company of their own with Fannie Stockton, Walter Birch [eig Smith], Georgie Fowler, John Clark (‘Brocolini’ to be), William Skaats and Warren White, and musical director Anton Reiff, playing Faust, Lurline, The Lily of Killarney, The Bohemian Girl, La Sonnambula and The Rose of Castille.

Fannie Stockton

They toured for periods through 1865 and into 1866, with Fannie Liddell and Rosa Cooke succeeding to primadonna-hood, Zelda Harrison joining, as contralto, and finally merged their troupe with that of Caroline Richings, in what would become known as the Richings company and, for some years, the ruling English Opera Company in America. They played a season in New York at the French Theatre (1866), the Olympic Theatre (1867, The Rose of Castille, Martha, Maritana, Don Pasquale, Linda di Chamonix, La Sonnambula, Fra Diavolo, The Enchantress, The Crown Diamonds, The Doctor of Alcantara), Les Huguenots (St Bris) and the Academy of Music (1867-8) where they produced The Lily of Killarney (Danny Mann) and The Desert Flower (Casgan). Czar and Zimmerman, Norma, Crispino e la comare, La Traviata, Masaniello, Il Trovatore and Kreutzer’s A Night in Granada were all played – before the pair left Miss Richings to join up with another English opera troupe, the one which would replace the Richings one as the outstanding company of the time, genre and place: the Parepa Rosa company. It was not a pig in a poke, just a package. The boys had sung Elijah with Euphrosyne and Adelaide Phillips and the Boston Handel and Haydn Society, as far back as New Year's Eve 1865, with Sher as the prophet.

Life was easier with the Rosa company. Madame Rosa brought with her a baritone of her own, the highly capable, English ‘Alberto Laurence’. And ‘Alberto’ would stay in America, to share and, indeed, take the place of Campbell as the English opera’s most skilled baritone, before becoming one of New York’s top singing teachers. They shared the baritone roles in the Rosa repertoire for two seasons, and when Mme Rosa was not there, Caroline Richings came back on the scene to keep things going. Later, Tom Aynsley Cook was part of the company, and even Charles Santley played some performances, so baritone of class were not lacking.

Among the roles which Sher Campbell played with the Rosa company, and its temporary remake as C D Hess’s troupe, were Colonel Wolf in The Puritan’s Daughter (with Laurence as Clifford), Arimanes in Satanella, Figaro in The Marriage of Figaro (Laurence was Almaviva), the title-role in Don Giovanni, Caspar in Der Freischütz, Plunkett in Martha, Arnheim in The Bohemian Girl and Beppo in Fra Diavolo into which he interpolated a solo ‘Let all obey’ manufactured from a piece of Poliuto and usually popped into The Enchantress. Laurence, however, was clearly considered the senior, and Cook and Henri Drayton took their share of the spoils.

Dwight’s Journal of Music summed up in 1870, after praises of Laurence: ‘Campbell, too, has improved, using his beautiful voice with very little of the unpleasant nasal element of which I complained last year, He also shows more ease of action, although I will adhere to my opinion that nature intended him for a Presbyterian preacher…’. Another paper found Laurence ‘too English’ and much preferred Campbell.

When Rosa and his wife returned to Britain, with the project of launching their opera company there, Mr Campbell and Mr Castle went too. They sailed for Europe 9 July 1872, allegedly going to Milan. I don’t know whether they went. At one stage, they were to be seen in Egypt, with Parepa, ‘for their health’. I think the health problems were, probably, both Parepa’s and Campbell’s … they each had little time to live.

Parepa was too unwell to play with the company bearing her name when it opened in Manchester on 2 September 1873, but Campbell was there, along with Aynsley Cook and the young Arthur Stevens (bass). However, Sher was still in his second bass-baritone spot. Rosa had hired a certain Francesco Mottino, a veritable Italian with good English, to replace Alberto Laurence in the main roles. However, the said Signor Mottino was in no way the equal of Alberto Laurence, and soon he was gone, leaving Campbell and Cook to share the bass-baritone roles. Campbell was Figaro, Don Giovanni, Arnheim, Mephistopheles, Rodolfo, Beppo (still with his extra song), Don Pedro … through Bradford, Sheffield, Bristol, Bath, Dublin, Cork, Limerick … the bulk of the initial tour of what would become England’s longest-lived English opera company.

His last performance was as Mephistopheles, on 31 January 1874, after which the company closed down. Madame Rosa had died some weeks before.

On 25 May 1874 the two men arrived back in America, together, on the ship Spain. Sher was engaged for the forthcoming tour of Clara Louise Kellogg’s company. He made it to the rehearsal venue, in Chicago … but he was ‘failing with chronic bronchitis’, caught a cold, and died there of ‘dropsy and a liver complaint’. The press reported 'His voice was fine, and his face expressive, but as for his figure, it was faultless'. A veritable barihunk.

I don't know from when his grave-marker dates, but it got his name back-to-front and his birthdate wrong..

Saturday, April 23, 2022

Caroline Richings and the childhood of American opera

RICHINGS, Caroline [REYNOLDSON, Caroline Mary] (b Beresford Street, London 13 May 1832; d Richmond, Va 14 January 1882)

Caroline Richings is remembered as the first important American prima donna to tour opera in English, and to promote native opera, in her home country.

In fact, Caroline was born in Britain, the daughter of playwright and actor Thomas Herbert Reynoldson (b Boston, Lincs 31 July 1807; d Hackney, July 1883), at that time playing good roles at Covent Garden, and his wife Caroline Louisa née Fairbrother (m Edinburgh 30 May 1831), but she left England, at the age of 8 months, when her parents emigrated to Pennsylvania (13 February 1833).

The Reynoldsons didn’t stay in Philadelphia. At some stage before 1838, they backtracked to London. In that year Mr R was to be seen at the Surrey Theatre. But they came home without their daughter. Caroline had been ‘adopted’ by the local theatre manager and his wife, and she now became Caroline Richings.

Mr ‘Richings’, just to complicate things further, was also English-born, and not as Richings. He was       Peter Puget (b Kensington, x 19 May 1798; d Media, Pa, 18 January 1871), the eldest son of Rear Admiral to-be Peter Puget (d Grosvenor Place, 22 October 1822) of Puget Sound fame, and his wife Hannah née Elrington (d 14 September 1849). He was educated at public school and Pembroke, Oxford (matric: 15 May 1816) and indentured as a law clerk. He clerked in Madras, came home when his father suffered a stroke, and joined the army in the East Indies. That didn’t please, so he came home again, married his Eliza (d Media, Pa 8 March 1880), returned to law, and then – smitten by the theatre world -- quit for good, and while his brothers went on to have honourable careers in the navy, Peter packed up and, 28 August 1821, crossed the Atlantic Ocean to America. Less than a month later he made his first appearance at the Park Theatre, playing Henry Bertram in Guy Mannering. He played for over a decade at the Park and, latterly, moved into management at the Holliday Theatre, Baltimore, and, after its destruction by fire, the Walnut Street Theatre, Philadelphia. Which is where he encountered the Reynoldson family and their – soon to be his -- little daughter.

The young girl was put to study music with Philadelphia teacher and composer Joseph Plich, and apparently made her first appearance (possibly as a pianist) alongside a Miss Sanson, Camillo Sivori and Henri Herz at the Philadelphia Philharmonic concert of 20 November 1847.

At 20 years of age (9 February 1852), she made her first appearance in opera, playing with the Seguin company and the tenor Tom Bishop in The Daughter of the Regiment at the Walnut Street. It was a role which she would play hundreds of time over the coming years. Less so, James Gaspard Maeder and Samuel Jones Burr’s Washington Irving musical The Peri, or the Enchanted Fountain, which was taken to the Broadway Theatre (13 December 1852) with Caroline (Fluvia), her father and Mr Bishop in the cast. It played twelve performances.

She remained with the Seguin team for a while longer – singing the leading roles in L’Elisir d’amore, La Sonnambula, Linda di Chamonix and surprisingly Norma, but in October Miss Richings put her name above the title for a season of English opera and comedy, featuring The Postillon de Longjumeau, America’s first Louisa Miller and another native work, Mrs Sheridan Mann’s Florentine, or the Pride of the Canton. The lady’s opera was given twice. Over the next years, she appeared in often adventurous opera, comedy, drama -- Ninka in Auber’s La Bayadère (The Maid of Cashmere), Stella in the play The Prima Donna, endless performances of The Daughter of the Regiment varied by Luisa Miller, or Linda di Chamonix, L’Etoile du nord, a season of Italian opera for Maretzek singing Marie, Amina, Elvira (Masaniello), Adalgisa – and apparently in an emergency Azucena – alongside prima donna Mariette Gazzaniga in Philadelphia. Peter Richings was stage director for the season.

The Enchantress was soon added to the list of favourites, and dates at the Walnut, with church choir and concert engagements round the state, a season under the Boucicaults at Burton’s Athenaeum, dates with Leavitt and Allen at Albany, or with Mrs Bowers at the Academy of Music.

In 1859, the Richings went out as stars, playing The Daughter of the Regiment and The Enchantress round the country. They made a first Boston appearance at the Museum in February 1861, and got involved with a little scandal when someone started the rumour that Miss Richings had sung a secessionist song and trampled on the country’s flag. When enough publicity had been culled, Caroline came out with a song ‘The Union Right or Wrong’ (‘her great song’ 'Our Boast is the Union') and the fuss duly faded.

In 1861 she played Auber’s La Circassienne at the Walnut, and in 1862 she returned to New York and Niblo’s Garden (14 April) with the Richings family version of Balfe’s Enchantress (which allowed Caroline to sing ‘Merce diletti amici’ and a whole lot of bits by the show’s md), Auber’s The Syren and The Daughter of the Regiment, The National Guard (which was Auber’s La Fiancée, but got in ‘The Star Spangled Banner’, ‘La Manola’ and a bit of Betly) and, finally, a drastically slimmed The Night Dancers. When they produced Satanella in Buffalo in October 1862, it, similarly, was judged ‘not exactly as Balfe wrote it, but a very fine operatic spectacular drama’.

In 1863, they hit disaster, when their scenery and props were lost in the destruction of Ford’s Theatre, Washington, but they carried on and delivered their repertoire to Philadelphia and dates beyond. 6 April 1863 they produced another new work, The Rose of Tyrol by local composer Julius Eichberg. It might not have been entirely new, as the libretto featured a heroine named Grittly and a hero named Frantz, which would mean it was a remusicked (partly?) version of Le 66. It was voted ‘sprightly and amusing’ and stayed around for a number of years in Caroline’s repertoire.

After two months of starring tour, they returned to Philadelphia with their shows – to which The Bohemian Girl had now been added, and 17 February 1864, another Balfe work, Diadeste.

In 1864, the Richings visited San Francisco for a season at Maguire’s Opera House. The Enchantress was given first (‘Miss Richings’ vocalization fairly took the audience by surprise … we have seldom listened to equal exquisite strains’), and then La Traviata, followed by Satanella, Il Trovatore, and Ernani. At her Benefit she appeared in an allegorical tableau entitled Washington, in which Peter represented Him, and Caroline ‘the Goddess of Liberty’. The general opinion of the season was that the star was fine, the support (including the Bianchis) poor, and the degree of botching of the operas unacceptable. But she stayed on and played on, moving to the Maguire’s Academy of Music with a strengthened company for Lucia di Lammermoor, La Sonnambula, Ernani, The Bohemian Girl, Linda di Chamonix, Norma, Martha, Fra Diavolo, Don Pasquale, another extension with some plays, and then 10 October another opera season, when The Crown Diamonds, Dinorah, Luisa Miller were played, and a new opera by musical director Mr George Evans was announced but, I think, not performed.

The San Francisco episode was apparently a success, and they did not return home until the beginning of the year, for a new season of their repertoire (including The Rose of Castille) at the Arch Street Theatre.

By 1866, Richings had seriously upmarketed his company. He and his star daughter needed better support. William Castle, Sher Campbell. Edward Seguin, Henry Peakes and Zelda Harrison-Seguin provided that support, and the Richings Opera Company could now be dubbed ‘the best organised English Opera troupe we have ever had in this country’, when it returned to Broadway’s Academy of Music 30 December 1867 with The Crown Diamonds, Maritana, Fra Diavolo, Martha, Don Pasquale, The Doctor of Alcantara, Cinderella

Sher Campbell

As ever, ambition was not lacking, as Miss Richings secured the rights to Victorine, Blanche de Nevers, The Desert Flower, The Lily of Killarney … and neither, allegedly, was success: in September it was reported ‘they have cleared over $35,000 in 2 seasons while in England Harrison has failed to make English Opera pay and is reduced to a Benefit’ . 

She was not always so clever when it came to hiring artists. Blanche Ellerman, brought from England, sued her after being dropped for lack of talent. And Miss Laura Waldron did the same. Both won. A little more care was taken thereafter, and the Richings banked on second ladies such as Edith Abell and above all, Rose Hersee. 

Rose Hersee

One hiring however had a happier ending. Tenor Pierre BERNARD [BERNHARDT, Peter] (b New York c 1837, d White Sulphur Springs, Va 15 August 1883) and Miss Richings were married in Boston 25 December 1867.

These years were the peak of the Richings company’s achievement, as an all-round fully competent cast introduced Zar und Zimmermann and Crispino e la comare (both adapted by Miss Richings herself), and Das Nachtlager von Granada, but now serious competition emerged in the form of England’s Parepa-Rosa troupe. Miss Parepa was novel and brilliantly talented, Rosa productions were of an excellent standard, and some of Caroline’s key singers deserted to the opposition. Parepa was ‘in’, Miss Richings was old hat, and her operatic rearrangements provincial. She struggled on, until Parepa and Rosa left to return to England, when she recouped her strayed cast, but the motor seemed broken. America had seen Rosa, and no longer rushed to Richings.

For the 1870-1 season, Richings joined forced with the reputable operatic manager Clarence D Hess, and went out with a company of predominantly English principals. They played Les Huguenots, Oberon, The Marriage of Figaro, Bristow’s Rip van Winkle and Lurline alongside their usual repertoire, but on 18 January 1871 Peter Richings died after a carriage accident. The company faded away in the following months, and in May, Bernard and Mrs Bernard were declared bankrupt to the tune of $33,000.

They went to work for other managers. Caroline sang Fidelio with William Castle, Alice in Robert le diable with Karl Formes, then teamed up with James Wallack to play Rosalind in As you like it, Clara in Money, Hortense in The Iron Mask, Diana Vernon in Rob Roy, Henry Dunbar, Daisy Farm, Oliver Twist and Ophelia to Wallack’s Hamlet. She played Rob Roy with Henri Drayton, tried The Enchantress in Boston with a feeble company, tried drama with a stage version of Anna Cora Mowat’s The Mute Singer and, while Bernard went bust a second time, she turned to Old Folks concerts and more weakly-cast essays at her old operas.

In 1875, the couple were hired by Hess, but she was soon back managing herself, and trying to revive The Rose of Tyrol. In 1877 she took a company to California. It was a last hurrah.

Thereafter, the Bernards stayed home, and played largely in Baltimore and in Philadelphia. They performed Les Noces de Jeannette together, Caroline guested for Ford as Little Buttercup in HMS Pinafore and they played in two new little pieces, The Electric Light (25 August 1879) and their own The Duchess (30 July 1880). This latter was played in Richmond, Va, to where the couple had moved to teach music. They appeared at the local Mozart Hall for C L Seigel in some of their lighter repertoire (Les Noces de Jeannette, HMS Pinafore, Billee Taylor, Cox and Box, Doctor of Alcantara, A Night in Rome).

At Christmas 1881, Caroline sang in her local church, but a few days later she was struck down by a virulent strain of small pox, and she died ten days later. Pierre Bernard stayed on in Richmond, but the following year he succumbed to heart disease.

A great deal has been written about Caroline Richings because of her place in the scheme and history of opera in English and the American musical stage. Her life and career were not complex, so it is irritating to find gross errors in published books and, of course, on the web. Especially as the fine historian, Allston Brown, took care to provide a detailed and impeccable obituary of the lady to the Clipper, in 1882, and reprinted it in his own history of the New York stage.

What not a great deal has been written about is her actual performance. Brown tells us she was correct but cool on stage. Which would make her little threat to Parepa. And partially explain her sudden eclipse. The other part seems to me as if it may have something to do with the organising talents of Peter Richings. But I’m guessing. Though Brown makes the same comment. And as far back as 1865, a Californian critic, writing about Adelaide Phillips, had said ‘she excels in that magnetic power wherein Miss Richings so signally failed’.

Caroline and Pierre allegedly had a daughter who became a contralto church singer. I can find no evidence of this child (she is not with her parents in the 1880 census), just a squib in a newspaper announcing Miss Caroline V Bernard singing in a Philadelphia church. So she remains to be proved.

Marie Monbelli or, Madame takes the Minister of Justice to court!

MONBELLI, Marie [née RABOU, Marie Désirée Françoise] (b Vincennes 19 May 1845; d Cannes 8 January 1913).

‘Madame Monbelli’ had a short, highly successful, and extremely odd musical life of just half a dozen years as a public vocalist. Effectively, her career came between two high society marriages, the stories of which would make up, with ease, into a novel or a moving picture.

Usually, such ‘aristocratic’ and Jewish careers and lives are documented minutely, especially when those concerned have been involved in scandal and court cases, but Marie Rabou has got the compilers of the world’s reference works into a total muddle.

Marie’s parents were Louis Marie René Rabou (b Orleans 9 August 1798), a well-known lawyer, and his wife, Victorine Pierrette Royer de Montbé (m 6 September 1834), and Marie was born … well, that’s what the pundits don’t agree on. One says she was born in Caen, Baker and Kutsch and Riemans and the thousands whom have copied them say she was born in Cadiz, for heaven’s sake, on 15 February 1843. But her first marriage certificate (Caen, 12 November 1860) retails, in good, accurate French mairie detail, that she was born at Versailles, 19 May 1845, and that she was fifteen years old when she married Adolph Gustave Crémieux (b Paris 20 October 1831; d Nyon 17 January 1872), double her age, and son of Isaac Jacob Moïse Adolphe Crémieux, sometime lawyer, politician and French Minister of Justice. By which time her own father was Procurer générale of the Court of Caen. So we are dealing with the rich and the powerful here.

Young Madame Crémieux produced a daughter, [Amélie Mathilde] Louise (b Le Havre, 4 March 1862; d Paris, 26 January 1925), and apparently a son, before something went wrong. What it was must be documented somewhere in the French judiciary records, because, in 1867, the young wife and mother succeeded in obtaining a legal separation from her husband. Plus 50,000 francs and the return of her dowry. But the Crémieux family dug in when she asked for a pension alimentaire as well, and took her twice to court, complaining that her father was rich and could support her.

Sides were taken vehemently in the press, but nobody seemingly said (or asked) just why Madame Marie Crémieux had taken the huge step of taking on the Minister of Justice and his family in court. And winning her freedom. ‘Separée corps et biens de son mari par jugement du tribunal du Havre’. Odd, if there were not something scandalous or unsavoury to hide. I wonder what Adolph[e] had been up to …

Marie Crémieux, however, had a second string to her bow. A singing pupil of Eugénie Garcia, she had discovered a beautiful soprano voice, and now determined to use it. The announcement appeared in the press: ‘Une jeune femme du monde, artiste depuis longtemps par le talent, et élève de Mme Eugénie Garcia, est engagée à l'Opéra-Comique, sous le nom de Mme Monbelli, et doit y débuter dans l'opéra qu'achève M. Auber’. The work in question was Le Premier Jour du Bonheur.

The Crémieux family flung frantic injunctions at Marie and at the theatre. Yes, the Code Napoléon allowed a separated woman to earn her living, but the Minister thought that he and the dreadful stage should be exempted from the Code. The courts upheld Marie (with costs against her husband), but the family didn’t give up pulling every string in sight, and, come February 1868, the Opéra Comique gave way, and it was Marie Cabel who created the role of Hélène in Auber’s decidedly successful opéra-comique.

If her husband’s family – after eighteen months of machinations -- had somehow been able to prevent her from going on the stage, they could not prevent her from singing in the salons of Paris, and, equipped with her outstanding voice, a decidedly pretty face and form, and two years’ worth of notoriety (‘la grande célebrité du jour’), Madame Monbelli (the name taken from her mother’s ‘Montbé’ and, also, from a star singer of the 1820s) was launched on fashionable Paris. And with what success, what rave reviews (‘la nouvelle Sontag’, ‘elle fait sensation à Paris’, ‘l’étoile nouvelle’)! I spot ‘la gracieuse et très remarquable élève de Mme Garcia’ first chez la Comtesse Anaïs Perrière-Pilté, singing that lady’s songs and the aria which would become her passe-partout, ‘Una voce poco fa’; at the Salle Herz for Mélanie Waldor (Roméo et Juliette, ‘Una voce’, Lucia di Lammermoor), at the Salle Pleyel, chez Mons Guzman, for the pianist Marmontel (Barbiere duet with Agnesi), de Beriot (L’Elisir duet with Géraldy, Philemon et Baucis duet, ‘Zingara’, ‘Una voce’, Boléro de Desssauer) …

In the season, she headed for Baden, where she gathered more laurels (Vaccai Roméo et Juliette, ‘Una voce’, Mignon duet with Troy) and even shared a platform with Viardot Garcia, with whom she duetted La Gazza ladra. Back in Paris, the superlatives continued, with only the odd critic complaining of her lack of warmth (‘elle chante comme on doit chanter en paradis’, ‘superbement belle, mais c’est une statue de neige’ .. ‘l’étoile brillante de tous nos concerts’, ‘elle aurait pu, si elle eût été libre, occuper une très belle place aux Italiens’), as reports of engagements for Moscow, St Petersburg and London flourished. ‘Exilée du theatre par autorité de justice et vengée par les succès de salon’, she tripped to Lille and Arras with Bonnehée, and sang La Sonnambula at Mme Garcia’s concert ‘just like her teacher at the age of 23’.

In May of 1869, Mme Monbelli arrived in London, well-boosted by the Parisian mega-critic Jules Janin, and she triumphed all over again. She made her first appearance at the Philharmonic Society, alongside Gardoni (17 May 1869) with her inevitable ‘Una voce’, and ‘created a sensation’. ‘Her voice is a genuine soprano of rich and mellow quality and her execution is as fluent as her phrasing is natural and expressive…’.

Society leaped for her – she and Gardoni were whisked to Lady Dashwood’s home 48 hours later with the Philemon et Baucis duet and ‘Una voce’ at the head of their repertoire, she appeared at the Crystal Palace (22 May) where ‘her bright voice rang through the great area of the concert room and roused the audience to the greatest enthusiasm of the day’ in ‘Una voce’ and the Rigoletto quartet, she joined Gardoni, Santley and Christine Nilsson in the same quartet at Mrs Cooper’s, adding her aria and her other favourite, Yradier’s ‘Juanita’, and ‘repeated her triumph of the previous concert’ at the Crystal Palace (‘Come per me sereno’, ‘Dove prende’ with Verger, ‘Dunque io son’ with Gassier). The engagements piled up for the soprano ‘who has suddenly become a great favourite in London’ – Madame Puzzi’s gala, the French plays Benefit, the Newspaper Press Fund, the New Philharmonic Society, a repeat appearance at the Philharmonic Society with Verger (‘Caro nome’ ‘in her exquisitely clear soprano’), more Crystal Palace (‘Qui la voce’, ‘Bel raggio’), Ganz’s, Benedict’s, Kowalski’s, Arditi’s, Tito Mattei’s, Ciabatta’s concerts, and a command performance at Buckingham Palace alongside Titiens, Patti, Trebelli, Santley et al (23 June) with her ‘Una voce’ and the Lucrezia Borgia trio.

At the end of the season, she headed again for Wiesbaden’s Casino and for Baden where she sang in Félicien David’s ode-symphonie Christoph Colomb and made her stage debut – safely on the right side of the border – in La Sonnambula. The operatic offers from France quickly followed, but legal snarls from husband and father-in-law were immediately forthcoming, and the operatic offers which Mme Monbelli accepted were those from Britain.

In fact, Crémieux fils was already in a nursing home in Switzerland, in prey to the disease that would soon kill him (he died, officially, ‘of pneumonia’), and which I suspect may have had a little something to do with the grounds for the separation, so it seems that the objections and interdictions came not from him, but from Monsieur le Ministre. But M le Ministre had no power outside France.

Marie Monbelli made her next stage appearance, under the management of Wood, at Glasgow, 7 March 1870 as Rosina in Il Barbiere di Siviglia to delighted reviews (‘we cannot remember a performance of the part equal to Mme Monbelli’s’) alongside Gardoni, and followed up as Cherubino and Papagena, then, on 19 April, repeated her Rosina at Drury Lane. The notices were a bit mixed. Not for her singing, but some grouched she has ‘no pretensions as an actress’. ‘… very successful appearance of Mme Monbelli, whose delightful concert room singing had already attracted great attention. That Mme Monbelli rivalled upon the stage her success in the concert room cannot fairly be said, but her acting was not without promise and her singing was as charming as ever’. ‘The charming concert singing of Madame Monbelli (daughter-in-law of M Crémieux, the Minister of Justice of Republican France at Tours) had led to the expectation of a triumph for her on the stage, but her acting was most disappointing’.

She repeated her Papagena to delighted notices, and her Cherubino (‘refined and artistic singing’ ‘musically perfect’) and ‘sang most beautifully’ and now ‘acted with saucy grace’ as Fatima to Trebelli’s Abu Hasan.

During the season, she kept up her concert singing at the Crystal Palace, the Philharmonic, at the fashionable concerts, including Madame Sainton Dolby’s Farewell, and various royal occasions, including another State Concert (6 July 1870).

The summaries of the operatic season were critical of her stage deportment (‘as coldly correct as Mme Lucca is impulsively incorrect’), but agreed that ‘she threw something like animation’ into her Papagena. Next season, they would be calling her ‘a brilliant success’ in the part, under Gye at Covent Garden. 

Her roles in 1871 included Inez in L’Africaine and Prascovia in L’Étoile du nord. And it was agreed she was ‘fast improving’ as an actress and that her Inez was ‘an attractive and successful effort’, although one tenacious critic insisted ‘Madame Monbelli made no progress as a stage singer; she was superseded in the Étoile du Nord by Fräulein Liebhart who, with a far inferior voice and less-refined method, made much more of the part of Prascovia than the French artiste.’

At the end of the London season of 1871, Marie was engaged by the impresario Ullman as prima donna for an extensive concert tour in Europe, and specifically in Germany. The ‘patriotic’ Figaro was outraged. How dare she, a Frenchwoman, sing to the Prussians, and above all given the name of her father-in-law! The less one-eyed pointed out that it was as much her name as his, she was billed as Monbelli, and the Figaro was still selling in Germany.

Marie toured on, in the company of Sivori, Anna Mehlig et al, through Berlin, Schwerin, Hamburg (‘her voice and style captivated all listeners’) and was in Hungary when, with the help of the grim reaper, she was permanently freed of Monsieur Crémieux. Onwards then, to the Netherlands, amid rumours that she was about to debut at Cologne’s Thalia Theater as Rosina.

1872 saw her add Countess Almaviva to her Covent Garden list, and none were found to say nay (‘nothing could have been purer’, ‘charming and sympathetic’, ‘in excellent voice and more charming than ever’), and undertake further concert tours for Ullman, and 1873 found her playing Diana to the Cattarina of Patti in Les Diamants de la Couronne. Her secondary role, famed, nevertheless, for its duet bolero ‘Dans les défilées de la montagne’, was enlargened by the interpolation of an aria from La Neige.

Later in the season, she appeared in her third role in Le Nozze di Figaro, when she was cast as Susanna to the Countess of Albani and the Cherubino of Smeroschi. She ‘acted with a refinement and propriety for which we were not altogether prepared’. It was to be her last London role. There were rumours, this time, that she was to accompany von Bulow to America, but it was to Europe she returned, to sing Amina and Marguerite at Strasbourg and at Halle … and, a few weeks after the Halle engagement, she retired from the stage. And remarried. And her new husband loved her singing as much as the first (and his father) had disliked it.

Her new husband (Passy May 1874) was the General Henri Jules Bataille (b Bourg L’Oisans, 6 September 1816; d Paris 10 January 1882), at the time, General of the 5th corps at Orleans, and who had been a prisoner-of-war while Crémieux languished in his Swiss sanatorium. So ‘Madame Monbelli’ became ‘Mme la Générale Bataille’ and left the stage. She did not, however, cease to sing. She was to be heard in the salons and charity concerts of French society in Paris, in Orleans, where the couple made a home, and as late as 1888, widowed once more, I see her appearing in the charity production of an opérette, Barberine, by Mons St-Quentin, at the Legation de France in Brussels.

The widowed Marie later founded a singing class, and finally removed to the South of France, where she died in 1913.

Marie’s daughter, Louise, was to go on to make as much of a stir, and even more of a mark in Paris society, than her mother. Actress, singer, playwright (La Repudiée, about divorce), feminist, activist, the dedicatee of Ravel’s L’Heure espagnole, she married lawyer and politician [Charles Marie] Jules Cruppi, a cabinet minster under Clemenceau.

Oh, by the way, Mons Crémieux sr – the baddie of this story -- got a state funeral when he died in 1880. I hope the theatrical profession which he so despised boycotted it.

May his bones lie uneasily ... and as for his very peculiar son ... 






Friday, April 15, 2022

WILDE: Reconstructing a deconstructed family album


I 'got into' all this genealogy and picture-identifying through my books. Trying to track down stories and pictures about the actors, actresses, singers and other theatre folk about/of whom I was writing. And that is still my main focus. My first morning dip into ebay is always a search for the latest theatrical photos and folk. And it doesn't always lead me where expected!

Today this fellow responded to my call for 'cdv actor'

Well, he was thus labelled by his French vendor. Fortunately, he or other had labelled the photo, front and back, will his full, flowing name, and my suspicions were quickly confirmed. No actor he. 

Reginald Pearson THACKER (b Liverpool 1852; d Leamington Spa 23 December 1901) was the second child of Robert Pearson Thacker, newspaper proprietor in Exeter and later Liverpool (Liverpool Standard) and his wife Betsey or Elizabeth Catherine née Wilde.  The vendor has hopefully suggested that mama was of the Oscar Wilde family. Robert (d Birkenhead 4 July 1895) gave up newspapering and became and oil and tallow merchant and chemical manufacturer in Litherland and Toxteth Park. There were three children of the marriage: Florence Katherine (b St Sidwell, Exeter 1848; d Bournemouth 2 October 1919) who stayed at home with mother, Reginald, who seems to have started out clerking but faded into being a 'gentleman' and fancy dress, and Ernest Robert (b 26 February 1860) who fades away as a child in France.  

Lets put the full stop to Reginald first. He actually married (1885, Emily Kate Morecroft) but things were evidently in some way not what they should have been ...

End of story? Perhaps. But not end of article. For, on my unbendable principle 'revisit the scene', I visited the French store whence came the 'actor' photo and found ... a whole dismembered photo albumn belonging to the Thacker-Wilde family ...

Here's Reginald, aged 30  

And here is sister, Florence Kate 

Here is papa the chemical manufacturer

and mamma Kate née Wilde (d Birkenhead 18 July 1900)

and, goodness, here is little Ernest. Photographed in Cannes? Perhaps he didn't come home? (Post scriptum: he didn't, he died Cannes 25 April 1873, aged 13)

So, is this the Thacker family album?  No. It is from the Wilde family. Because there are more photos still, and they are labelled, in a very shaky hand, with reference to William Gilley Wilde, his brother John, and above all, Rodney. 

Rodney was Colonel Edward Thomas Rodney WILDE (b Bloomsbury 24 July 1842; d South Kensington 15 November 1920) the son of said William Gilley Wilde (1808-1890) and, thus, a nephew of Kate Thacker ..   The 'Colonel' (VD) was of the volunteers (Tower Hamlets Rife Brigade), and this troop seems to have taken up much of his life.  One wife, no children.

And here are his sisters ... Adelaide Elizabeth (b Henrietta Street, Bloomsbury 5 January 1844; d Regunter Rd, South Kensington 8 November 1919, twice) and Helen Mary (b Bloomsbury 16 July 1849, Mrs Richard Hemming) with her husband

And here is the man himself ... WGW! With wife Elizabeth Miller née PROSSER .... who is labelled on the back 'my mother' ...

My mother. Choice of four. The Colonel, unmarried Adelaide, married Helen or the fourth (surviving) child, Eugenie Annie Catherine (b Bloomsbury 16 April 1856, d Brondesbury 26 November 1940, Mrs Hutchinson Stewart). 

So, who was William Gilley Wilde? The Nantesian vendor calls him a 'theorist'. Oh dear. I'm not sure what that is, but it sounds mumbo-jumboish!  My first sighting of him is in 1839 where he is seemingly chucking in farming in Herefordshire 

From 1828 to 1841, he is a tanner 'of Ross'. And bankrupt in 1843. And again in 1851? Then suddenly he is 'gentleman', 'proprietor of houses'.  And living in St John's Wood ...

Oh well. 

I wonder why the family album found its way to Nantes . Eugenie and her bank manager husband spent some time in Melbourne, Australia (three sons) .. but Nantes?

Just one more peep to see if there are any more leaves from the dismembered album ...

Yes! Just one.

This is Annie née Ferguson, wife to John Thomas Wilde, younger brother of WGW. 

Widow, eh. So the inscription in post 1877 ...

I shall watch for more ...

Addendum one. Thank you Gina Ambridge ...!