When, a dozen years ago, I first started this little article on one of England's finest Victorian mezzos, I had no beginning nor end to my story. Her career was clear enough, but ... who was she? And what became of her? I moved on to other subjects, but I kept my eye cocked ... and finally, finally I winkled out the answers I was seeking ...
Alas, no photographs. Yet.
ANGELE, Elena [ANGELL, Ellen] (b Pall Mall, London 11 September 1834; d New York 2 March 1913)
In May 1864, an advertisement appeared in the London concert listings, standing up among the announcement of Madame Sainton-Dolby’s Annual Grand Concert at St James’s Hall, Howard Glover’s latest monster star-drenched concert, Kate Gordon’s matinées musicales (with fourteen high society sponsors) and a showcase by a Mr William Richardson Dempster ‘(from America)’ of his compositions The May Queen and The Idylls of the King at Collard’s Rooms:
‘Mlle Elena Angele has the honour to announce her FIRST SOIREE MUSICALE at the Beethoven Rooms, 76 Harley Street. Tomorrow, May the 18th, at half past 8. Vocalists: Miss Banks, Mlle Elena Angele, and Miss Messent, Mr Brewster Wylie from the Conservatoire, Paris (his first appearance) and Sig Nappi. Instrumental artists – Mr Boleyne Reeves, Giulio Regondi, Herr Lidel and Mr Charles Halle. Conductors Mr C J Hargitt and Signor Fiori. Single tickets 10s6d to admit three 21s. May be had of Mlle Angele, 14, Margaret Street, Cavendish Square; at Messrs Cramer, Wood & Co’s 201 Regent Street, and at Messrs Cock, Hutchings & Co’s, New Bond Street.’
A respectable programme, at a secondary but respectable venue, on a date a little before the fashionable part of the season, and offering some recognisable and appreciable artists, from sopranos Sophia Messent and Ann Banks to pianist Halle. But Mlle Angele? Who, pray, was Mlle Angele? The advertisement offered no clues. If the Scots vocalist David Brewster Wylie was decorated with his education at the Florence (?) Conservatoire, Mlle Angele offered nothing in the same line. No ‘pupil of’, no ‘from the principal theatres of’, nothing. Just this half-Italian, half-French name which, to the suspicious and the curious and me, surely signified that she was neither. And she wasn’t.
It took me a very long while to dig up the verity of ‘Mlle Angele’. I don’t know why, for the obvious inference was that she was in truth a Miss Ellen Angel or Angell. Which she was. And I finally uncovered her, as such, in the depths of the 1871 census, at 45 Manchester Street, a ‘professor of singing’ aged 27, living with her widowed mother, Charlotte (b Hertford). And from there it unrolled.
Ellen (who was not 27 – she had allowed herself to age 6 years and 5 years respectively between the two previous censi and was actually 36) was the daughter of one Thomas Clifford Angell (b Fulbeck, Yorks, 11 September 1798; d Marylebone, 1856), glover, and his wife, Charlotte Read née Elson (1801-1876) from Hertford Town (m Marylebone 11 September 1820).
The Angells seem to have been a considerably large family if, as I suspect, it is they who show up in Friday Street, Cheapside in the 1841 census: Thomas hotel-keeper, Charlotte, and sons Henry and Goulding. It is, in any case, definitely him ‘general dealer of St Mary le Strand Place, Old Kent Road’, in court in 1844, and in the Queen’s Prison for debt (‘liquid sugar refiner of Kennington Lane, Vauxhall’) in 1850. And it is definitely them in 1851 at Frederick Place, Kennington, where a now liberated Thomas is still refining sugar, alongside Charlotte, 29 year-old Thomas William and 18 year-old J G. No Ellen, but I suspect it is she at school in London’s Hanover Terrace ‘aged 16’.
If so, by May 1864, ‘Mlle Angele’ would have been 29 years old. Except that in 1861, living now alone with her widowed mother at 81 Oxford Street, she says that she is 22, which would make her 25 in 1864 ...
You can see why I had problems with this lady. She evidently couldn’t count. She was 31.
What she could do, however, was sing. And she had, in fact, been singing for some years, under her natural name, before popping up on the London concert platform. As far back as September 1860, she can be seen singing alongside Mme Guerrabella at a Garibaldi Concert at Bristol’s Victoria Rooms ‘Miss Angell, whom we heard for the first time, has a nice mezzo soprano voice and, although a young artiste, sings with promise. She was very nervous in Wallace’s ‘Cradle Song’ with which she opened, but gained confidence as she proceeded and sang very nicely in Rossini’s Gazza ladra duet with Guerrabella (‘Ebben per mia memoria’)’.
On 27 November of the same year Miss Angell mounted a concert of her own at the same venue, and brought down Parepa and Giuglini for the occasion. She sang Leduc’s ‘Praise the Lord’, duetted her Rossini with Parepa, and took part in the Rigoletto quartet. From this time on, she appeared regularly at the Victoria Rooms, and on 15 November 1861 she produced her second ‘annual’ concert, with Titiens and Giuglini topping the bill. In 1862 (27 October) her guests included Madame Gassier and Joseph Swift (‘O mio Fernando’, ‘When silvery moonbeams sleep’). But she also appeared on less ritzy programmes, with mostly local artists. I also spot her in Dublin, at the Philharmonic Concerts (16 November 1863) on a bill with Thalberg: ‘Miss Angile, a lady possessing an agreeable mezzo-soprano voice and a cultivated style, sang a romance from Gounod’s Faust ‘Se parlate d’amor’ with excellent effect, hardly escaping an encore’. She followed up with Braga’s ‘Santa Lucia’ and Balfe’s ‘Write to me’.
Mlle Angele’s first London soirée musicale didn’t draw a lot of attention from the press, nor did an appearance at Lansdowne Cottell and Kate Gordon’s concert (21 July) on a programme featuring a number of the gentleman’s pupils, but the new contralto began, gradually, to make her way. In September she can be spotted, alongside Brewster Wylie but also Luise Liebhart and Chaplin Henry, at the Glasgow Saturday Evening concerts, and in December at the Brighton Pavilion, with Arabella Goddard, singing ‘Di tanti palpiti’, Virginia Gabriel’s ‘The Ship Boy’s Letter’, Randegger’s ‘Oh, would I were a village girl’ and a piece by Adolphe Schlösser and H B Farnie, ‘My love is an olden story’, allegedly ‘written expressly for her’ but sung previously by Julia Elton, and mostly thereafter by baritones.
Over the next couple of seasons, ‘Mlle Angele’ and her ‘clear and resonant contralto’ were seen out on the London concert stage on regular occasions: I notice her in 1865 singing her Schlösser song at the Beethoven Society, I spot her at the Hanover Square Rooms with Florence Lancia, Georgina Weiss and Bessie Palmer, singing at a Fancy Bazaar and at Eleanor Armstrong’s concert, and she turned out also for such artists as vocalists Herbert Bond and Augusta Manning, the guitarist Sokolowski and the pianist Mlle Peschel. In 1866 she can be seen singing Benedict’s ‘Rock me to sleep’ at Willis’s Rooms, appearing in concert at Brighton, and in London at the concerts of Aguilar, Henry Blagrove, Emma Charlier, Kate Gordon (‘Ben e ridicolo’) and others. She also mounted, each year, her own concert at the Hanover Square Rooms: on 5 June 1865 with a bill including Mathilde Enequist and delle Sedie (‘Only a ribbon’) and on 2 July 1866 with Luise Liebhart, Edith Wynne, Ferranti, Ciabatta et al (Benedict’s new ‘The dark lady’, ‘Rock me to sleep’, John Thomas’s ‘The Ash Grove’ ‘the audience was large and more demonstrative than is usual at a musical matinée’).
In this latter year began what to me is a curious phenomenon. I’m sure there is a reason, a connection somewhere which would explain it, but, so far, I have failed to find it. ‘Mlle Angele’, the London lassie with the Yorkshire father, the Hertfordshire mother and the Frenchified nom de théâtre, began appearing in concerts with a Welsh connection. Already, here, she has struck up a propinquity with Edith Wynne and ‘The ash grove’, and she would go on to build an even closer professional relationship with the harpist, John Thomas, at whose annual concert she appeared on 21 June 1866 and for years thereafter. In July, she, Thomas and ‘The Ash Grove’ are all on display at Miss Forbes’s concert and, when Thomas founded the Welsh Choral Union, Mlle Angele was a regular soloist. On one particularly Welsh occasion, the press was even led to remark on the fact that Mlle Angele was the only performer among the participants who did not hail from the principality. There must surely be a reason, but I don’t what it was.
During this period, I also notice Mlle Angele operating as a singing teacher, and in 1865 she took over from Georgina Stabbach as a vocal teacher at the ambitious Holland College for young ladies in Notting Hill. The engagement seems to have lasted until about 1869 and the school, in its pristine state, seems to have lasted only a little longer.
Up to this time, Mlle Angele had filled a modest position on the British concert scene, but, from 1867, her presence became very much more noticeable, and the unassuming vocalist with her ‘charming mezzo-soprano voice bordering on the contralto...’, her ‘simple and unaffected style and fine contralto voice’, ‘expressive in the highest degree’ and singing ‘with true feeling and compassion’ began to be much more frequently and widely seen and heard. In concert, she was almost always to be heard in English ballad music – such pieces as Benedict’s ‘Rock me to sleep’, Edward Land’s ‘When the night is darkest’, Henry Smart’s ‘The Lady of the Lea’ and ‘Priez pour elle’, and others best known as part of Mme Sainton-Dolby’s repertoire, such as Henry Leslie’s ‘The Fan’ or the famous contralto’s own ‘Out on the rocks’ – and only very rarely in anything operatic (the occasional performance of a scena from Vaccai’s Romeo and Juliet notwithstanding).
However, during 1866 she also began to make appearances in another field: as a singing actress. That is not to say that Mlle Angele performed in a theatre – that, she would never do – but she began to be seen in English opera di camera productions, appearing in the Gallery of Illustration repertoire at Robertine Henderson’s Benefit (Countess de Berg in Widows Bewitched) with that lady and Thomas Whiffen, and in a performance of the same piece, with the same cast, sponsored by herself (9 March). Her rendition of the Countess (with an interpolated hunting song) was done ‘with ladylike grace’ and her performance as Lisette in Too Many Cooks ‘enlisted the sympathy of all her hearers .. [she] acted with much sprightliness’. She took to the drawing-room stage again at a fashionable charity evening, under Julius Benedict, at St George’s Hall, singing with Miss Henderson, and Whiffen (and alongside Mr Thomas, harp) in Benedict’s The Bride of Song and Virginia Gabriel’s The Lion’s Mouth, and again with Susanna Cole’s London Bijou Operetta Company as Bertha in W Chalmers Masters’s The Forester’s Daughter. She apparently showed up with ‘an attractive face and figure’ and ‘much intelligence and vivacity’ and, if she displayed ‘a less striking voice’ than the severely soprano Miss Cole, her performance in this last was judged very pleasing.
Through the next half dozen years, the years that constituted the heart of her career as a public performer, Elena Angele continued to vary her career as a concert vocalist with appearances in (and occasionally productions of) operetta: in 1868, I spot her at the Gallery again in Virginia Gabriel’s A Rainy Day and with Edith Wynne, taking the part created by Miss Poole, in a single performance of Jessy Lea, and at Oxford playing Edwin Aspa’s The Statue Bride; in 1870 she produced two performances of Randegger’s The Rival Beauties with Miss Wynne, Cummings, Maybrick and Marler which won sufficient success at the Gallery to be repeated at the Crystal Palace; in 1871 she introduced Alfred Plumpton’s little What Is She? on the occasion of her entertainment at the Gallery and in 1872 she played in a production of Schira’s The Earring at Madame Puzzi’s concert and, again, at the New Philharmonic Society. In 1873 she appeared once more with Miss Wynne in The Rival Beauties, alongside W H Cummings, J G Patey and, in a rare acting role, Lewis Thomas, on the occasion of Miss Wynne’s concert at St George’s Hall.
However, it was as a concert singer that Mlle Elena Angele made the bulk of her career, and in the late 1860s she was seen fulfilling some of the more fashionable and prestigious engagements available to a mezzo-soprano singer of English songs. In January 1867, I spot her singing for Charles Halle in Manchester, in April she shares with her frequent collaborator, Robertine Henderson, the vocal duties at Mrs Macfarren’s well-considered lecture-concerts (‘I would that my love’, ‘Two merry gipsies’ &c), in October she appeared both in Edinburgh and at the famous Glasgow Saturday Evening concerts to such effect that she was re-engaged, in November and again the following February she appeared for and alongside Mme Sainton-Dolby in that lady’s concert at St James’s Hall, and in December she shared with Anna Drasdil and Julia Elton, two of the country’s outstanding concert and oratorio singers, the contralto music in the Festival staged for the opening of Brighton’s new Concert Hall (The Legend of St Cecilia, Stabat Mater etc).
In 1868, Mlle Angele was featured vocalist in the Saturday and Monday pops at St James’s Hall (Sullivan’s ‘Will he come’) and at the Crystal Palace, alongside Mme Rudersdorff (Romeo and Juliet, ‘Rock me to sleep’), and took part in several of the Boosey Ballad Concert series, performing ‘When the pale moon’, ‘My lodging is on the cold ground’, John Thomas’s song ‘The Guardian Spirit’, ‘The Legend of the Avon’ and the seventeenth-century ‘Golden Slumbers kiss thy eyes’ in which the press reported she was ‘received with rapturous applause’. She also appeared in a long run of personal concerts – for Emma Busby, J Balsir Chatterton, Mrs Raby Barrett (performing the Rigoletto quartet with that lady, Whiffin and Distin), Mlle Mariot de Beauvoisin, Mr Thurnan at Reigate, Miss Clinton Fynes (Masters’s ‘Wicked teasing love’, ‘Why art thou saddened’, Maillart’s ‘I saw a bright blue flower’), Sidney Naylor, Augusta Mehlhorn, Lindsay Sloper, Benedict, Kuhe, Edith Wynne – very often in the company of Misses Wynne and Henderson and, most particularly, that of Mr Thomas, whose harp accompanied a number of her favourite songs. She also continued with her own concert presentations: a matinée at the Hanover Square Rooms (23 March 1868) in which she broadened her repertoire with Proch’s Wanderlied, Lady William Lennox’s ‘The Appeal’, ‘Peaceful Slumber’ and Stanton’s duet ‘One Word’ as well as teaming with Thomas in the inevitable ‘Guardian Spirit’; and an evening concert (1 May 1868), in which she gave her numbers from Widows Bewitched and Romeo and Juliet, Nicolai’s ‘Dis-moi un mot’ and, of course, the ‘Guardian Spirit’ and won the accolade ‘she has won by legitimate means an enviable position among the young vocalists of the time. To this position she is fairly entitled by the superior quality of her voice and her thoroughly artistic style of singing’.
Just occasionally, she stepped out of her regular ‘zone’: I note her at Gravesend on 3 November 1868 giving not only an ‘exquisite execution’ of ‘The Hawthorne Spray’ but also ‘Una voce poco fa’, in December taking the contralto music in The Messiah in Peterhead and, in February 1869, appearing in oratorio in Liverpool, and as second contralto to Madame Sainton-Dolby in Elijah in Joseph Barnby’s oratorio concerts at St James’s Hall. Her ‘Woe unto them’ was noted for its ‘purity of style’.
In September 1869, Charlotte Sainton-Dolby put together a concert party for an extended ‘farewell’ tour of Britain. It was a larger group that was normal, featuring Miss Wynne and Pauline Rita (sopranos), Arthur Byron and W H Cummings (tenors), Michael Maybrick (baritone), Lewis Thomas (bass), and, alongside Mme Sainton, Mlle Elena Angele (contralto). The tour, which extended right through until the early part of 1870, included concerts, in which Mlle Angele featured her song of the season, ‘O my lost love’ by Alfred Plumpton, and occasional performances of oratorio. Thus, Mlle Angele appeared as principal contralto in The Messiah at Dunfermline, and took second to Mme Sainton at Bristol. When Mme Sainton-Dolby gave her London ‘farewell’ concert on 6 June 1870, the bill was a rich one, with Nilsson, Trebelli, Lemmens-Sherrington, Monbelli and Sims Reeves amongst its stars. But Mlle Angele was also included on the programme. A few days later, a newspaper reviewing Frank Elmore’s concert remarked ‘now that Mme Dolby has left the concert stage we have no doubt some of that lady’s popularity will fall to her share’. He was not the only one to make parallels between the two singers, parallels which were only exacerbated on such occasions as Julius Benedict’s concert, later the same month, when alongside the glittering arias of the stars of the Italian opera, Elena Angele contributed an English ballad from the pen of … Madame Dolby.
In 1871, the Welsh content of Mlle Angele’s programme became visibly larger. When John Thomas founded his Welsh Choral Union, she appeared as the only non-Welsh performer in the inaugural concert, and became a regular soloist in the group’s concerts thereafter. She sang at concerts given by Brinley Richards, by harpist-pianist Mrs Henry Davies, by John Thomas, in concerts of Welsh Music at Store Street and in Wales itself, and mostly with Mr Thomas at his harp. However, she was still to be seen regularly on occasions with no Welsh connection: in 1871, for example, she sang at the still fashionable concert of Madame Puzzi, shared with Michael Maybrick the vocals in the London concert given by the Waldteufel sisters, turned out for Eleanor Armstrong, for J Pasquale Goldberg (singing his ‘The Prisoner’s Last Song’), for Mrs Scott Siddons (performing the Midsummer Night’s Dream music with Annie Sinclair), and on several occasions with Wilhelm Kuhe, both at his prestigious London concert at St James’s Hall (Sullivan’s ‘Looking Back’) or in his Festivals at Brighton, where she sang contralto the soprano of Lemmens-Sherrington in the Stabat Mater.
From 1872, Mlle Angele was a little less seen in public. She still appeared on Welsh occasions, in the occasional operetta, and at such events of the season as Madame Puzzi’s concert. She took part in what was billed as the first British (concert) performance of Petrella’s Ione at St George’s Hall, sang at Florence Lancia’s farewell, and gave her latest ballads (Molloy’s ‘Don’t be sorrowful, darling’, Louisa Gray’s ‘My White Rose’) at selected concerts – Miss Armstrong’s, Trelawny Cobham’s, Mlle Bartkowska’s. She gave an Elijah at Windsor (25 April 1876) and took part in a Benefit performance of George Fox’s cantata The Jackdaw of Rheims (29 June 1876). When she produced her own concert in 1873 (13 May) she billed the patronage of The Duchess of Cambridge and Princess Mary Adelaide, and gave it not at the Hanover Square Rooms as of yore, but in a private home in Portland Place. Gardoni and Florence Lancia topped the bill alongside such society favourites as Nita Gaetano and Trelawny Cobham.
Mlle Angele had been on the bill for the ‘farewells’ of Mme Sainton-Dolby and of Florence Lancia. Now, on 14 March 1877, not in London but in the salubrious surroundings of Cheltenham, she announced her own Farewell. The centrepiece of the occasion was a performance of the cantata The Legend of Dorothea, sung by Edith Wynne, Miss Angele, Edward Lloyd and Michael Maybrick. The cantata was the work of Madame Sainton Dolby. She ‘sang with her usual success, a success which is due to the expressiveness of her singing rather than to the power of her voice...’ read the almost ‘epitaph’ to what had been a thoroughly worthwhile, if perhaps rather unshowy career.
The reason for the dimunition, and then the closure, of the career of Elena Angele was never stated. Maybe it was, simply, the natural end of a singer’s public life – after all, although she was sporting a heavily false age, she was now 43 years old.
However, perhaps this disappearance has something to do with the fact that Charlotte Angell, the now aged mother with whom Ellen had shared her life for the last decades, died in 1876. I notice, just two months after the ‘Farewell concert’, an advertisement in the press for the sale of the considerable contents of the house at 11 Bryanston Square, Portman Square, where the two ladies had lived. And, after that, of Miss Ellen Angell otherwise Mlle Elena Angele, Britain knew nothing.
Maybe, I thought, that combination of facts is just a coincidence. But, whatever the reason, Ellen Angell’s farewell was indeed a final one. Where she went, I knew not. She was not to be found in the 1881 census. .. nowhere.
Originally, this article ended ‘No, she just disappears. Into death, marriage, the world beyond Britain … I don’t know. But I hope I will find out’. And I did. By one of those hazards, from an unscheduled visit to the Canadian Dictionary of Biography, I learned that an ‘eldest’ sister of hers, Mary Jane (x 22 February 1827, father’s occupation: glover) who was, for some reason, adopted by a certain Major David Campbell of the 63rd Regiment, had made her life in Canada. Could Elena have gone there? So, I looked. And the answer was indeed in Canada. The marriage schedules for the county of Northumberland, Canada, record the marriage at St Peter’s Church, Cobourg, on 29 November 1877, of Belper-born Alexander Stanley Hancock of Montreal, age 40, physician, son of John Webster Hancock ‘a well known barrister’ and his wife Jane, with Miss Ellen Angell of England, daughter of Thomas Clifford and Charlotte Angell aged ... what? … twenty-nine!! She was forty-three. But it is she.
And look! There they are, Doctor Hancock and his wife in the American census of 1880, in Buffalo, NY, he a surgeon, she a music teacher (now admitting to aged 30), and here again in 1900, ‘married 1878, to the United States 1879’, twenty-two years into married life (and Ellen insisting still that she was born in September 1847), living at number 18 East Tenth Street.
The Directory of Deceased American Physicians (believe it!) tells us that Hancock, ‘allopath’, died at 339 East 19th Street, New York 28 February 1903 of throat cancer. Alas, it doesn’t tell us what became of his widow, but the New York Times does. On 5 March 1913, it carries a funerary notice: ‘Hancock, Ellen Stanley, beloved wife of the late Dr. Alexander S Hancock. Funeral services 1:30 P M, March 5, from G W Kelley's Funeral Parlors, 308 First Av. Interment Evergreen'.
So, Elena Angele lies in Evergreen Cemetery, under a stone bearing the legend ‘died 2 March 1913, aged 64’. She evidently never did learn to count: she was, veritably, 78.
During my long wanderings in search of the whatever-happened-to of ‘Mlle Angele’, I tracked down, incidentally, Ellen’s eldest brother, Thomas (b Mortimer Street x 23 July 1823; d Milverton Cottage, Whitchurch Oxon 5 October 1892). He was appointed in 1854 ‘assistant postmaster to the army in Turkey’ became ‘postmaster of the SW region of London’ and, an amateur artist himself, married the watercolourist Helen Cordelia Coleman (1847-1884), sister to another painter W S Coleman. Their daughter, Ethel Elizabeth carried on the painting tradition.