Thursday, 01 December 2022

The Tenor Henry Squires: From Albany, America to Australia ...

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KURT GÄNZL takes a look at the life and career of American tenor Henry Squires, who having enjoyed success singing in America, England and Europe, visited Australia with the Lyster Opera Company in 1861–1868.

Henry Squires NMMHenry Squires, 1861. Photo by Montagu Scott, Melbourne. Australian National Maritime Museum, Sydney.SQUIRES, Henry [Buckley] (b. Bennington, Vermont 7 May 1825; d. Burlington, Iowa 14 January 1907)

Henry Squires was (probably) the first, and also probably the best, American tenor vocalist to make himself an international career and reputation in the Victorian operatic world.

Squires was born in Vermont, one of the numerous children of Buckley Squires and his wife Lucretia née Norton. Mr. Squires senior appears to have been involved in the lumber business, but was in any case a worthy and respected church-going citizen of Bennington.

The first recorded appearances of Henry as a vocalist come in 1844, when Bennington was alive with the Presidential election campaign of Henry Clay, and its slavery issues. The campaign’s music was fronted by ‘the Vermont Minstrels’, Henry Squires and Mr. Whitney, who caused something of a small sensation at the Whig Convention, in October, where it was declared, following their rendition of the campaign song, that they ‘may bear comparison with the Hutchinsons’.

When the election had been run (and lost), Squires went to study singing in Boston, and the Albany press reported in November 1847: ‘Mr. H. Buckley Squires, a young Bostonian of great musical talent has, we understand, been giving concerts at Bangor and other eastern cities and towns with very flattering success’, referring to the ‘sweet tones of his voice and his quiet, gentlemanly deportment’.

The Boston experience, however, doesn’t seem to have led to anything, and by late 1849, he was back in Troy and Albany studying with George William Warren, and performing in local concerts, the operatic performances staged by J.G. Maeder (Fra Diavolo) and at St. Paul’s Church, Albany, where he formed a solo quartet with Lucy Eastcott, Mrs. Courley and Whitney. The quartet hit the music-sheet covers when they introduced Warren’s successful ‘Rock of Ages’.

The ‘pale, gentle, blue-eyed’ tenor essayed several professional attempts at ‘ballad entertainments’ and ‘short tours’ with Warren, sang at Mrs. Eastcott’s Albany concerts (12 November 1850) and seems to have made a first New York appearance, 20 January 1851, under the aegis of Mrs. Emma Gillingham Bostwick, a lady said to attract ‘the largest and most fashionable audiences of any one now singing’, in concert at Niblo’s Concert Room. He was billed simply as ‘a gentleman amateur’ and sang Rossini’s ‘Cuius animum’ and joined Mrs. Bostwick in a duet from Linda di Chamonix.

The following season, Henry was no longer a blushing amateur, and when Mrs. Bostwick mounted her next musical soirées at Niblo’s, the ‘new American tenor’ came out under his own name (23 January 1852) for his ‘first appearance in New York’. He sang Loder’s ‘Three Ages of Love’, ‘Young Agnes’ from Fra Diavolo, and joined in two trios by Maeder. The next week he was back again with Montgomery’s ‘I will love thee till the last’, Wallace’s ‘Star of Love’ and Lee’s ‘Can I my love resign?’, while at the Dodsworth concerts, he performed an excerpt from George Bristow’s as yet unfinished Rip van Winkle.

He swiftly joined up with the concert party organised by Vincent Wallace, featuring his wife Helene Stoepel and the soprano Rosa Jacques, and—billed as ‘the distinguished vocalist whose brilliant triumphs at the celebrated musical soirées at Niblo’s, NY and other places have gained for him the proud title of the Great American Tenor’—he ‘drew frequent rounds of applause’ with Wallace’s ‘Star of Love’, ‘The Flag of our Union’ and ‘The Song of the Exile’, varied with Balfe’s ‘In this Old Chair’, ‘Can I my love resign?’, ‘O Would I were a boy again’ and duets with Miss Jacques (Glover’s ‘What are the wild waves saying?’).

Chicago acclaimed him: ‘Altogether Mr. Squires is superior as a vocalist to any gentleman we have ever had before a Chicago audience’.

But Squires, at the end of the tour, returned to Troy and Albany, where he sang his Wallace songs, his Irish ballads and the odd bit of opera (‘Spirto gentil’, Don Pasquale) or of Maeder, along with Warren and Mrs. Bostwick, in local concerts. On 21 October 1852, the three played a Benefit for Squires at Albany (Maeder’s ‘Better than Beauty’, ‘Proud and Wide’, ‘Never Despair’, Il Pirata, Fra Diavolo, Don Pasquale), at which he featured Wallace’s ‘Adieu, fair land’. And so singing, he took the word for the deed, and left America to study further in Italy.

He seems to have done so with remarkably little fanfare, and he made his way not to Milan, but to Naples, where he studied with Michele Ruta. Now, there was an American connection here. Another American artist had left home, with extreme fanfare this time—Mrs. Emily Sutton—and Mrs. Sutton and her singing daughter were installed at Naples. But maybe that was just a coincidence. What seems to have been less of a coincidence was that Mrs. Eastcott also found her way to Naples.

Squires’s progress in Italy was charted, from time to time, by Dwight of Boston, whose music journal noted him at Caserta in concert, at St. Theresa’s Church and at the Teatro Fiorentini singing ‘Quando le sere e placida’ alongside Giuglini (‘For quality I have never heard a tenor who pleased me more’). He made a stage debut in Il Trovatore at the lowly Teatro San Ferdinando (‘his reputation with an Italian audience was won’), and followed up by appearing with the Suttons in Ruta’s opera Leonilda (23 March 1854). ‘The other American artist in Naples is Mr. Squires, who has not changed his name into Squirini, but comes out like a man at the San Ferdinando as Mr. Squires the first tenor. He has received great applause in the Trovatore and in a new opera by a new master Signor Ruta, Leonilda … Mr. Squires did ample justice to the new composer’s music. The quality of his voice is very pleasing and with more study he will become a money-making artist in our country.’ Apparently he also played in La Sonnambula at the San Carlo later that year.

He ‘took a year off’, allegedly to perfect his Italian, but was noticed singing in concert in Sorento, and in 1856 at the concert of the flautist Caravoglia, alongside the operatic stars of the town: ‘Sig Enrico Squires … if, as a novice, he wants that freedom in singing which comes from long practice in the art, and that readiness of Italian pronunciation ... [he] is furnished nevertheless with a most beautiful voice’. In 1856-7 he sang at the theatre in Syracuse, in such pieces as Moscuzza’s Stradella but, now, his Italian adventure was at an end.

Lucy Escott (ex-Eastcott), who had been with Squires in the choir at Albany, and preceded him at Naples, as well (indeed, although she was a married lady, they were vaguely mentioned as a couple), was now touring successfully in the British provinces with the substantial ‘National Opera Company’. She must surely have have had a hand in the arrival of Mr. Squires in that troupe, to share the tenor roles with Henry Haigh in the company’s season at London’s Surrey Theatre. For that is where he went.

Squires made his first appearance (14 July 1857) at the Surrey as Manrico to Escott’s Leonora, and though it was agreed that his ‘proficiency as an actor is not equal to his accomplishments as a vocalist’, The Times summed his effectiveness: ‘He has a chest voice of great compass, well suited to the gentle strains of the romantic troubadour, which he sings with taste and feeling, though he lacks force for the more violent demonstrations of passion. His masterpiece is the air in the famous ‘Miserere’ in which the quality of his organ and his power of expression are displayed to perfection …’

He followed up as Elvino in La Sonnambula, and when they went on tour (with Squires nominally as primo tenore, although Haigh seemed to be at least equally prominent) added the leading role in Esmeralda, as the company mutated into the ‘Lucy Escott Opera Company’.

After the tour ended, in June 1858, Escott, Squires and baritone Durand briefly hawked concerts on the south coast, but before long the British interlude, too, came to an end and the team headed for America, and – in conjunction with George Loder—opened for a three-months season at Burton’s Theatre with their Trovatore. They lasted a week, before William Burton closed them down. Escott’s husband sued … but it was no use. It would take five years for them to be compensated, by which time they were at the other end of the world.

Tenor and soprano went their separate ways, and on 29 November, Squires appeared in concert back in Albany. He gave his ‘home town’ ‘Fra poco’ and the like, and the local press commented: ‘His Italian studies have added much finish to his style’ but noted that his local audience liked his ballads best and would ‘probably like more the old ‘Harry’ than the polished vocalist he has become’ ending: ‘At any rate, he is gloriously good warm-hearted and thoroughly enjoyable singer ...’.

He soon found a new primo tenore post, this time with Strakosch’s touring troupe with prime donne Cora de Wilhorst and Teresa Parodi, and over the next couple of years he covered America, sometimes appearing in opera (14th Street Theatre, Boston Theater), sometimes in concert, notably with Little Mary McVicker, until in April 1860 he was engaged, with Escott, by the brothers Lyster for an operatic season in California.

They opened 19 May at Maguire’s Opera House, San Francisco, with Lucia di Lammermoor, and scored a marked success. ‘He possesses a well-cultivated voice, singularly sweet and remarkable for its compass and volume. Its natural quality is fresh, pure and powerful—he has the appearance of a young man, and wins favour at once by a neat handsome figure and easy graceful manner’.

La Traviata, Maritana, Il Trovatore, I Puritani, Lucrezia Borgia, Ernani, The Rose of Castille, La Sonnambula, Rigoletto, Der Freischütz, La Favorita, Martha, Norma and The Bohemian Girl followed, varied by a range of concerts and selections, as the troupe moved into a second season, with Squires—the only tenor—having a night off only when such as Le Nozze di Figaro was scheduled. On 2 November 1860 the company introduced Lurline, ‘in a manner not to be surpassed by any troupe in the United States’, to America.

Then, on 8 January, their successful time in California done, Squires, Mrs. Escott and their colleagues boarded the ship Achilles which carried ‘the first American opera company to visit Australia’ out of San Francisco. It was, indeed, the most consequent group yet to visit the Australian colonies, and from their arrival 1 March, and their first performance (Lucia di Lammermoor) in Melbourne on 25th of the same month, for some eight years, the Lyster opera company, Escott and Squires ever at their head, their repertoire swelled with works such as Les Huguenots, Oberon, Masaniello, Le Prophète, L’Africaine, and Robert le diable, played opera throughout Australia, establishing themselves as the most celebrated operatic performers of their time and place, and making themselves into key figures in the history of opera in Australia. ‘Unquestionably the greatest artist that ever visited Australia … Squires has ripened into a magnificent actor and singer’, lamented the local press when one of the many premature announcements of their departure appeared.

After an umpteenth ‘last performance’ in concert at the Sydney Prince of Wales Theatre on 24 August 1868, the troupe finally sailed back to San Francisco, opening at the Metropolitan Theatre 21 December 1868 with their grandiose production of Les Huguenots. Their Australian success was not repeated and, in August 1869, Squires was seen back in Vermont. ‘Mr. Henry Squires, a native of Bennington and a tenor singer of considerable celebrity, returned home on Saturday after an absence of eight or nine years in Australia and California where he has been connected with an opera troupe’. An opera troupe! 

He was soon connected with a different kind of troupe: replacing Theodore Habelmann in Strakosch’s concert party tour, headlining Carlotta Patti. That tour came to an end in April 1870, with a farewell series of concerts at New York’s Steinway Hall, after which Squires and Escott went on a ‘professional tour through the state of New York’.

Soon after (21 June 1870), Henry Squires married Lucy Escott. Since the lady’s husband was still alive, presumably some sort of arrangement was arrived at. But singer-gossip columnist Blanche Roosevelt referred firmly to ‘Mrs. Henry Squires, our great prima donna, the first American to sing in Naples, and her husband Henry Squires the Albany tenor …’ and the press in Paris, to where the couple moved their home, noted the presence, singing in the Parisian salons in 1874 of ‘M. et Mme Henry Squires, deux chanteurs de bonne école’.

After years of continental travels (chronicled in the Australian papers), M. et Mme Squires settled permanently in Paris, where they lived until Lucy’s death in 1895, when Henry returned to America. He died there, after a stroke, in 1907.

Read 299 times Last modified on Saturday, 17 December 2022
Kurt Gänzl

Kurt is one of the most important chroniclers of the world’s history of music and theatre. His numerous works on the subject include The Encyclopedia of the Musical Theatre (1994, 2001), The British Musical Theatre (1986), The Musical: a concise history (1997), Gänzl’s Book of the Musical Theatre (1988), Victorian Vocalists (2018) and biographies of such artists as Lydia Thompson (2002), Willie Gill (2002), Emily Soldene (In Search of a Singer, 2007), and Gilbert & Sullivan, the Players and the Plays (October 2021). Forthcoming works include an update of the 2007 University textbook, and a translation of the Rapsodies of Petrus Borel with his brother, poet John Gallas.