Kurt Gänzl

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.

Wednesday, 09 August 2023

Madame Pompadour

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MADAME POMPADOUR Operette in 3 acts by Rudolf Schanzer and Ernst Welisch. Music by Leo Fall. Berliner Theater, Berlin, 9 September 1922.


The most successful of the postwar works of Leo Fall, and one of his most delightful, Madame Pompadour was written for the Berlin theatre and as a vehicle for its reigning queen of the musical stage, Fritzi Massary. Like those of many Operetten before and since, the amorous adventures of the plot had little to do with the historical Madame Pompadour, but were simply tacked on to the recognizable and title-worthy figures of France’s Louis XV and his mistress.

René, Comte d’Estrades, who has come up to Paris for a dirty weekend over carnival time, picks up a pretty girl in an inn. She turns out to be the Marquise de Pompadour (Massary), out on the town in disguise, and he consequently finds himself arrested and condemned to ... her personal bodyguard. His drinking companion, Josef Calicot (Ralph Arthur Roberts), a would-be poet who had been singing rude songs about the royal mistress over his beer, is, in his turn, sentenced to write the amused Marquise a play. The jealous King Louis and his police chief get into a fiendish muddle trying to catch the Pompadour out with her unknown lover but, after a series of bedroom-farcical incidents, the lady neatly extracts herself from trouble. The comical Calicot, who had ludicrously been under suspicion, is paired off with her maid Belotte and René, who turns out to be none other than the husband of the royal mistress’s half-sister, is packed off back to his wife, leaving the Marquise to her King, not to mention the remainder of her personal bodyguard.

The score followed one sparkling song with another. The tripping duet between Massary and Roberts ‘Josef, ach Josef’ was a comical highlight, alongside Calicot’s bouncing denunciation of ‘Die Pom-, Pom-, Pompadour’, whilst the leading lady made her entrance to the strains of ‘Heut’ konnt einer sein Glück bei mir machen’, dazzled through her showy ‘Madame Pompadour’ and encouraged René’s invitation to ‘Ein intimes Souper’ in her principal musical moments.

Bernauer and Meinhard’s Berlin production of Madame Pompadour was a splendid success at the Berliner Theater and then at their Komödienhaus before Massary took the piece to Vienna’s Carltheater. She starred there, alongside Ernst Tautenhayn (Calicot), Erik Wirl (René), Mimi Vesely (Belotte) and Ernst Rollé (King), for some 60 performances before Mimi Kott took over the star rôle and romanced first Willi Strehl and then Eric Deutsch-Haupt, with Ernst Arnold as Calicot, through to the end of the seven-month run. In Budapest (ad Zsolt Harsanyi) Sári Fedák played the Pompadour, whilst in New York, after producer Dillingham had sacked leading lady Hope Hampton on the road as ‘incompetent and insubordinate’, Wilda Bennett headed what was ultimately a disappointing production (ad Clare Kummer) which lasted only 80 performances on Broadway. 

A much more successful English version of Madame Pompadour was the one made for the British stage by Frederick Lonsdale and Harry Graham. It, indeed, turned out to be the longest-running Madame Pompadour of all. Mounted at Daly’s Theatre under Jimmy White’s régime, with Evelyn Laye as the merry Marquise, Derek Oldham as René, the old Daly’s favourite, Huntley Wright, as Calicot and Bertram Wallis (King Louis) and Elsie Randolph (Belotte) in support, it was an enormous hit, running for 13 months and 469 performances. Australia, too, welcomed this version of the show, with the Dutch soprano Beppie de Vries as its Pompadour teamed with Frank Webster (René) and Arthur Stigant (Calicot).

It took some years before Paris saw Madame Pompadour, but the Operette finally won itself a French showing in the wake of an extravagantly produced `Revue-Operette’ revival at Berlin’s Grosses Schauspielhaus in 1926. In line with that house’s reputation for botching, Massary had this time introduced the Arthur Guttmann/Julius Freund ‘Im Liebesfalle’, first heard in Die Herren von Maxim, adapted by Schanzer and Welisch as an additional solo. The French version (ad Albert Willemetz, Max Eddy, Jean Marietti, with the lady punctiliously rechristened Madame de Pompadour) was lavishly and successfully presented at the Théâtre Marigny by Léon Volterra. Raymonde Vécart, Robert Burnier and René Herent starred, supported (in deference to the fashion for things American, even in period France) by ‘les Merry Girls’ and ‘les Smart Boys’, as well as an orchestra of 40.

In more recent times, Madame Pompadour has been seen at the Vienna Volksoper which brought back a version of the show in 1976 in 1986 and, disappointingly, in 2012, at Budapest’s Katona József Színház (16 October 1992), at the Munich Gärtnerplatz in 1995, in Ischl in 2001, Leipzig (2019) and it holds a place on the fringe of the revivable and revived repertoire where it is looked at by musicians with particular favour. In 2023 the Revue-Operette version was resuscitated in Ischl.

The Pompadour has been utilized a number of times as a character on the musical stage, even if she has proved a touch more discreet than such other members of her profession as Madame Dubarry. An operatic Die Pompadour by Emmanuel Mór was produced at Cologne in 1902, and an Italian operetta La Pompadour by Costantino Lombardo to a text by Antonio Lega was produced at the Teatro Alfieri, Turin (25 September 1918).

A silent Madame Pompadour film, directed by Britain’s Herbert Wilcox after the success of the musical in London, and with Lillian Gish in its title rôle, could be said to have been inspired by the stage show rather than a version of it.

Austria: Carltheater 2 March 1923; Hungary: Fõvárosi Operettszinház Pompadour 28 November 1923; UK: Daly’s Theatre 20 December 1923; USA: Martin Beck Theater 11 November 1924; Australia: His Majesty’s Theatre, Brisbane 21 May 1927, Theatre Royal, Sydney 4 June 1927; France: Théâtre Marigny 16 May 1930

Recording: selection (EMI Electrola)

art fall madame de pompadour 13

Scene from the 1930 French production at the Théâtre Marigny in Paris. From Encyclopédia multimédia de la comedie musicale théâtriale en France 1918–1944


This text was first published in The Encyclopedia of the Musical Theatre, volume 2, second edition, Schirmer Books, New York, 2001, and is reproduced here with some additions by the author



KURT GÄNZL dons his deerstalker (or is that gardening gloves?) to discover more about the life and adventures of nineteenth century song-bird Lilian Tree. This article was first published in Kurt’s Kurt of Gerolstein blog.

Manchester-born Lilian Tree (soprano) was a well-known vocalist in, particularly, Australia, at the end of the nineteenth century.

I bumped into her, ‘prima donna [leggiera] of the Carl Rosa’, this week and thought, I don’t really know anything much about this lady, except that she sang the lead in A Moorish Maid, New Zealand’s early attempt at a light opera. Well, as you who have read my reams of discoveries about Victorian vocalists will know, I can't let pass by one of the species without at least having a go at identifying her or him ... so I started.

I started in the middle, which is a good way of finding beginning and ends. Sometimes.

On 10 October 1888 a Mrs. Tree (aged 39) and a Miss L. Tree (18) arrived at Adelaide. She had been hired by Martin Simonsen, along with a selection of Italian(ate?) vocalists for an ‘Australian’ opera company. The press assured that she had ‘sung for some nine months with Carl Rosa’. ‘Miss Tree’s voice, which is remarkable for its fulness and flexibility, embraces three octaves extending to F in alt. Besides this she is pretty, charming, graceful—and only twenty’. Twenty, eh?

Well name and date were both fictional. The name was easily unveiled, for she had made her first appearances under the name of Lily Crabtree. But she was not to be found in the British birth records as such. Nevertheless, she turned up for me at 16 Shakespeare St, Ardwick, Lancashire in the 1871 census. Father Alexander Crabtree, corn merchant from Oswaldwistle aged 41, wife Ada b. Sheffield aged 30, Alexandrina aged 6, Alexander jr aged 3 ...  so, the future Miss Tree was not born in 1870, or even 1868, but in 1864. And there she is ... Alexandrina Crockett, born Salford ...  Crockett?

However, by the time she was christened, 19 years later, she was known as ‘Lily’. And Crabtree. And her father was named as Alexander Crabtree. And he was deceased.

Tree 2

OK. This was not, it seemed, going to be straightforward. It wasn’t, but I got there. Ada Amelia Bendelow (b. Doncaster), a dressmaker from Sheffield, had been, since 1857, the wife of one Edwin Crockett and the mother of a little Bertha Eliza Crockett (1861).

Alexander Crabtree was also a father and had been, from 1848 until sometime before Lily’s birth, a married man. His wife, Hannah née Graves, may even have been the one who died in Manchester in January 1864. His daughter was Harriet Eleanor Ann Crabtree (ka Ellen), born in Liverpool 3 March 1849, who became the wife of schoolmaster Thomas Kilner in 1870. Ada Amelia was her witness.

Tree 3

Then came the history! Alexandrina was born in December 1864. Indubitably to widower Alexander, and the married Mrs Crockett. And, some months later, the parents were wed ...

Tree 4

Ada Amelia was, unsurprisingly, slightly unsure of her surname. She was pretty surely no widow.

Alexander wasn’t sure either. As witness another marriage …

Tree 5

Why? How? It all came to court, with Alexander charged with bigamy …

He was declared ... not guilty! Why?

Small wonder that daughter Lily grew up with a healthy disdain for the state of legal marriage.

Alex continued to cohabit with Ada, Jane sued for divorce. Ada had a son (6 May 1867) and, in 1875 (9 March), a daughter, Catherine Rhoda. And then Alexander died (17 June 1877). Ada took on the running of the Lloyd Hotel in Chorlton-cum-Hardy where she can be seen in 1881 with Lily (‘age 16’) and Alexander jr ..

And then the music started. In 1883 Miss Lily A. Crabtree, aged 18, of Manchester ‘a pupil of Charles Halle’ won a piano scholarship to the brand new Royal College of Music. She studied singing there, too. She was cast as Countess Almaviva in the college production of The Marriage of Figaro.

In April 1886, she took out the prestigious Parepa Rosa Scholarship at the Royal Academy of Music where she continued her piano studies with Randegger and her vocal ones to such effect that later that year she was engaged by Nelson Vert for the ‘London Symphony Concerts’ at St. James’s Hall (Meistersinger quintet). And got herself hired, though still a student, by Carl Rosa.

Lily Crabtree made her debut, as Micaela, to the Carmen of Marie Roze, at the Liverpool Royal Court, where she also sang at the Halle concerts alongside Joachim, being well received on both stage and platform. She later affirmed that she also sang in Nordisa, which I do not find.

In 1888 I see her at the Halle Concerts again, taking on no less a program than ‘Ocean, thou mighty monster’, ‘Non mi dir’ and ‘Volte la terra fronte’ in another program with Joachim, and at de Jong’s Free Trade Hall concerts, before she returned to the Rosa. Micaela was now sung by her erstwhile understudy, Kate Drew, and Lily was cast as Donna Anna in Don Giovanni, as Countess Almaviva ...

And then she was gone. Why?, I wonder. With a pretty good English career in view, why did she exile herself to deepest Australia and a company where the manager’s wife was the prima donna? I guess we'll never know. Although Lily would go into versions of the subject at length in later years.

Anyhow, she and mama set sail ... and lost a few years of age during the transit of the seas. Lillian (as she was now known) shrunk from 23 to 18. Mamma shrank from 44 to 39. ‘Mrs. Tree is a lady of means and she and her daughter have come more for the trip than anything else’ spake the Australian gossip columns. Ah! Journalism. Mrs. Tree was a pubkeeper.

She sang The Rose of Castile, The Bohemian Girl, Il Guarany, Rigoletto, Maritana, Faust, Satanella, Carmen (yes, Micaela again!) before it all fell to pieces, and Lilian rushed to the press with long stories about how she hadn’t wanted to come anyway, and was talked into it ... (Sydney Telegraph, 30 January 1889). Her engagement was, however, enlivened by the attentions of the Italian baritone Achille Ettore Torquato (ka Attilio) Buzzi (b. 1850; d. 27 June 1909). Buzzi, who had created the role of Shylock in Pinsuti’s operatic Merchant of Venice in 1878 was one of those brought out by Simonsen in 1886. Lilian soon declared she and he would settle in Melbourne ... they were ‘engaged’. Lily got ‘engaged’ quite a lot.

Through 1889 she (and he) appeared in frequent concerts, and contracted with John Solomon for a season at the New Opera House, where they appeared in The Bohemian Girl (with interpolations), Der Bettelstudent (Laura, ‘a perfect dream'’), Kowalski’s Moustique (Queen Venus), Maritana, Martha, La Sonnambula, Faust, The Sultan of Mocha, Nemesis, The Beggar’s Opera ...

Mother was still there, so was Buzzi, but Lilian—who had gathered loving reviews in the highly popular lighter works of the repertoire—was flinching. She ‘contracted typhoid fever’, was ‘off’ a lot, and would, she announced, return to England in the new year. But come the new year, she was still in Australia, playing the repertoire with what had now become Henry Bracy’s company. That company finally closed in mid-1890, and Lilian returned to the concert platform. I see her in October 1890 singing in The Seasons. Baritone: Signor Buzzi. 

Finally, she did head for Europe. Where mother had seemingly gone before. Back to hotel management at Gregg’s Hotel in Darwen. Buzzi didn’t. ‘After a short rest [she] journeyed to Milan where she stayed eleven months, [studying with Blasco] appeared on the stage there, and in February [1892] made an appearance with the Carl Rosa at Liverpool’ in the title part in Aida. Georgina Burns had been forced out of the role through illness, Marie Roze had taken her place ... but on 19 February Lilian ‘who has kindly undertaken the part at a few hours notice’ stepped in. ‘Her first appearance this season’.

She gave a second performance at a matinee 25 February while Mme Rose sang Trovatore in the evening and seemingly a third before the Rosa Liverpool season ended. And so did Lilian’s Rosa career.

In May 1892 she sailed back into Sydney, from Naples, on the Oruba. With a husband. An Australian husband. Or ‘husband’. The not-long widowed Dr. Arthur John Vause was the wealthy owner of the private mental asylum at Bay View, Tempe, and the couple, it seems, had met shipboard. The marriage or ‘marriage’ lasted some two years. Her absence from the platform was of no length at all (Stabat Mater, Her Majesty’s Sydney, 31 March 1893) but that from the stage, in spite of perpetual rumours, was to be longer.

In 1894 she was touted to visit America ‘engaged for the Metropolitan Opera House’. But she didn’t. Then, or any of the other times similar rumours were propagated. What she really did was scarper from Australia with a major (married) local personality, Dr. Harman Tarrant.

According to her, she travelled with him through Europe, where she sang Aida at ‘the Grand Opera, Milan’, then at Genoa, Naples, and Cracow, over a period of two years. I can’t quite fit ‘two years’ in here, and I have yet to exhume those soi-disant European performances from any source. Anyhow the couple ended up in England.

Lilian appeared in the Halle concerts (‘her first appearance since her successful Australian tour’), and then got involved in E.C. Hedmondt’s ambitious season of opera at Covent Garden, where she was cast as Brünnhilde in The Valkyrie and Santuzza in Cavalleria Rusticana. Her reception was diverse: one paper described her as ‘stout’ another as ‘pretty and petite’. Her acting, some opined, left something to be desired. Her physique was clearly not in her favour. And though the voice seemed to have been excellently maintained, and was generally described in favourable terms, one journo described her Santuzza as ‘not up to the average of an English provincial one’. It’s just a suspicion, but I think her ‘manager’, Dr. Tarrant may have been getting up some people’s noses. But other writers make Lilian the villain in the tale of a relationship which was pretty well ended before Tarrant’s death, in poverty and alcohol, 10 September 1900. The international press was favourable: ‘une belle voix, une jolie femme, et une artiste consciencieuse’.

One other important person, however, liked her performance. Augustus Harris hired her for his opera company at Drury Lane, and her Santuzza, there, was perfectly well received, although one paper worried that it was hard to imagine the tragic Santuzza ‘when uttered by such a bright, cheerful and handsome prima donna’. She sang Venus in Tannhäuser (‘sang with grace and refinement, looking the part of Venus to the very letter’) and repeated her Brünnhilde (‘deserved success’) where, once again it was noted ‘Miss Tree cannot be blamed because Nature has not endowed her with an Amazonian figure’ but her ‘excellent singing and dramatic feeling’, it was judged, made up for lack of Teutonic butchness. When Harris produced Hansel and Gretel, Lilian sang the mother, Gertrude. A range of parts which would seemingly have fitted her usefully into any major opera company.

But at the end of the season, it was back to the concert platform—the Queen’s Hall Promenade Concerts (where she sang the ‘Liebestod’, Beethoven’s Egmont, Robert le diable), the Glasgow Sundays, Samson in Edinburgh, more Halle concerts, a concert party tour (‘Mme Lilian Tree and party’) … and finally, in March 1897, she turned up back in London topping the bill at London’s Palace Music Hall. She sang ‘I dreamt I dwelt in marble halls’ and ‘The Children's Garden’. And then she headed back to the Antipodes.

Back ‘home’ she continued her music-hall experience at the Sydney Palace and the Tivoli with Harry Rickards (‘The Song that Reached my Heart’, ‘The Last Rose of Summer’, ‘Robert, toi que j’aime’) and subsequently toured with Rickards’ Biograph Company. She also continued her habit of giving lengthy newspaper interviews which didn’t always tally with verity ... ‘I shall be 25 at Christmas’. No, Alexandrina, you will be 33.

She was still, though considerably plumper, a star, and paragraphs regarding the offers she had refused for the Metropolitan Opera, NYC, Covent Garden et al hit the press regularly. As did such earth-shaking news as her sprained ankle, her intention to enter a convent, and the continuing propinquity of Mr. Tarrant.

When tenor Philip Newbury was added to the Rickards company, the Trovatore ‘Miserere’ was added to the program, on which Lilian was now featuring such as ‘Softly Sighs’, ‘Ernani involami’ alongside ‘Come Back to Erin’ and ‘Home, Sweet Home’. Such was her success, that she continued with Rickards through 1898. Then she returned to the stage for John Solomon. The opera was Carmen, and now Lily was no longer Micaela, but ‘a very substantial’ Carmen, supported by Jack Leumane and Ted Farley and a rather second-rate cast. It was agreed that she sang it well, but the bill was soon varied with Maritana and The Bohemian Girl.

At the end of the season, ‘Madame’ Tree advertised for pupils. And Tarrant, who had failed in his efforts to re-establish himself in the eyes of authority, in spite of heavy advertising, died. Back in Italy, Buzzi was said to have joined a Carthusian brotherhood.

Lily, who had not been spared in her paramour’s obituaries, advertised for vaudeville engagements, and soon returned to Rickards. It was not a success. She was no longer the public's darling.

She was sued for debt ... interestingly, as ‘Miss Lilian Tree’ spinster ... and shortly after quit Australia for, this time, New Zealand, where, in 1903, she was reported to have married one Charles Lund ‘well known in connection with the Lund line of steamships’. The records show that Charles John Gilbert Lund of Wellington married Lilian Margaretta Lancaster ... another husband, another name ... ? But she would be Mrs. Lund for the next two decades. She remained in Auckland, teaching singing from 15 Grafton Road, and giving concert opera with the locals, until Alfred Hill and J. Youlin Birch brought out their opera A Moorish Maid (26 June 1905). Lilian was starred in the leading role of La Zara at the head of a cast made up largely of amateurs for six nights at Auckland’s His Majesty’s. When the show went further, Lilian did not go with it. She had a ‘serious illness’.

In 1906 Mr. and Mrs. Lund voyaged to England. All sorts of rumours as to grandiose offers filtered back to the Australasian press, including one that she had been offered the role of Lady Jane in Patience. I see her only, in 1910, at a short-lived Brighton Festival singing Lola in Cavalleria Rusticana and the Verdi Requiem (4 February) alongside Watkin Mills ...

Tree 20

Lilian was now chopping 15 years off her age. And Charles was a ... hatter? What happened to the shipping line?

Come the war, he joined the airforce, and revealed his birthdate. 28 May 1886. That can’t be right. Married at 17? Elsewhere its 1881. Married at 22. Oh! Alexandrina! Now we see why you are shrinking your age so drastically!

Charles Lund died at Epsom, Surrey 1 September 1926 ‘aged 45’. He left £146.12.3d to his wife Lilian Margarita Lund of Furnival Mansions, 25 Wells Street, Marylebone.

I imagine that Lily was the Lilian Lund who died in Paddington in 1933. Admitting to 52 years of age. She was 68.

So, that tidies up the bits and ends of Miss Alexandrina Crockett ka ‘Lilian Tree’. There are a few left to sort out, but this is a pretty fair start. And I’m thinking what might have happened had she stayed in Manchester, with Halle, the Carl Rosa et al. A lady who could sing the Liebestod one minute, and ‘Robert toi que j’aime’ the next. But I suppose she did extremely well as a big fish on the other side of the pool. And had a good few ‘adventures’.


First published in Kurt of Gerolstein blog, 16 May 2023.

BOOK REVIEW: The Simonsens of St. Kilda: A family of singers by Roger Neill, Australian Society of Authors, 2023

Simonsens coverThe Simonsens of St Kilda. The cover features a portrait of Madame Frances Saville painted by Arthur von Ferraris. Australian Performing Arts Collection, Arts Centre Melbourne.This is a book that should have been (and almost was) written decades ago. I remember being ‘in’ on an early tryout ... some twenty-plus years ago ... when the late and sadly-missed New Zealand music and theatre scholar, Adrienne Simpson, first began to tie together the pieces of the puzzle. I was working on my Emily Soldene biography at the time, and we helped each other with little discoveries and bits of research, from our respective sides of the world. So much did I admire Adrienne’s work, that I commissioned her to write a biography of Alice May, for my series ‘Forgotten Stars of the Musical Theatre’ (Routledge, NYC).

Alas, soon after that, cancer claimed Adrienne, my Soldene mega-two-volumes were published, and I moved definitively into the 19th century and, largely, out of the world of the Simonsen family. Particularly generations two and three.

But, little did I know that the project had not died. Now, two decades later, this fine multiple biography, from the pen of Roger Neill, has finally appeared. I have just read it, greedily, in one long sitting, with only a wee break for a nice Thai lunch (no booze). Splendid. Both book and lunch.

OK, my Soldene opus may be 1,500pp plus in length, but it is the life story of just one subject. This opus may be rather less exhaustingly vast in size (372pp), but it is a triple header. A Cerberus biography of the prime donne known to me as Fanny I (Fanny Simonsen), Fanny II (Frances Saville) and Fanny III (Frances Alda): mother, daughter and grand-daughter. Something like a century’s worth of celebrated soprano Simonsens, taking in the operatic world of the 19th-20th century from Australia to Austria to America, from Belgium to Britain; bristling with lashings of famous and less famous names and events ... no wonder it has taken a time to come to fruition. The work involved! Three generations of knowledge and background with which an author has had to imbue himself. But now, in 2023, it is here for us, and for this we must all be extremely grateful.

The book falls naturally into three parts. One for each lady. Life is not long enough, as I have myself discovered, to study in huge depth the whole history of the world and all who sang in it, so one segment is always going to be more convincing than another. It is not difficult to guess which third appealed to me the most. And I have a feeling that it appealed most to the author as well. Of course, it is the tranche—the third—Fanny III—about whom I know (or, now, I should say ‘knew’) the least. Alda wrote her own memoirs (as did Soldene) but I can assure you, that doesn’t make her any the easier to research and write about. Weeding out the disingenuous, the ‘improved’ and the just plain mendacious from a memoir can be harder than starting from scratch. But I felt, when I had finished reading the Alda story, here, that I now ‘knew’ her. The author has done a first-class job.

By far the most difficult tranche to write was, surely, the first. Fanny I. Françoise Dehaes (?). And our author hasn’t pretended otherwise. Instead of bluntly ‘stating’ ‘information’ from dubious or unknown sources, he has clearly said when a ‘fact’, hitherto accepted or hinted at, is possibly not factual at all. And there are, inevitably, a fair number of these. Including such basics as birth- and marriage-dates. But how does one find such things, in Denmark, for example, especially when the lady’s birth name is not confirmedly known? Yes, it’s a whole lot easier now than it was 20 years ago, but ... folk told and tell such lies. Fanny’s education? Allegedly at the Paris Conservatoire. When? Under an improbable mixture of buzzword professors? How come, then, that she is not listed in the minutious Conservatoire records? There is no Françoise anybody, born Feb 1835, in the registers. Next, so it is claimed, she sang the Opéra-Comique. When? Again, performances are carefully recorded. And the author has (as I have) obviously checked. Very peculiar. Very suspect. Fanny I’s early life is difficult to decipher.

We can see that husband Martin Simonsen was ‘the Sacramento violinist’ in the early 50s, in Hong Kong in 1858, and I see them both sailing from St. Lucia, in 1861, with a valet and Willem Coenen ...  but otherwise ... Well, I think there is a fair bit of mythology floating about in those waters. How to filter it out?

Anyway, here, in this delightful tripartite volume, we have pretty well all the so-far known Fanny-the-First facts gathered together. There are still many, many more to find! But, until and unless we have yet more documentation, there are still as many questions to be elucidated as there are proven facts. Fannies II & III are much more straightforward. But no less interesting.

The tale of the Simonsens of St Kilda (and a lot of other places!) make up into an extremely worthwhile book. And an enjoyable book, too. With invaluable appendices of performances and recordings. All I can say is: Opera fans, Australian theatre fans, devotees of biography the way it should be writ: Buy it.

Grumbles? Picky as I am, I really can find nothing to get querulous over. I, personally, have grown to loathe footnotes and don’t read them. I feel they reek of an undergraduate’s homework. But they seem to have become a sine qua non in certain circles. There is the usual ration of typos and misspellings, but given the breadth and width of the subject, surprisingly few. So, ‘nothing whatever to grumble at!’.

Here we have another mighty step in the chronicling of Australia’s musical history. The bared bones of this fascinating family history have been definitively assembled for you here. So, who will pick up an ancient review of a concert in Brussels featuring Mdlle Dehaes? Or Mme Dehaes ... or a wed cert, or a birth cert ...from ... where? Roll on the next generation of Roger Neills and Adrienne Simpsons.

But the Simonsens, who they were and what they achieved, are now much better known than they have ever been, thanks to Mr. Neill ... and it’s a big YES from me!


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.

Thursday, 01 September 2022

Sara Flower: A flower from the north

KURT GÄNZL explores the life and career of the English-born contralto Sara Flower who spent much of her all-too-short career in Australia.

FLOWER, Sara [Elizabeth] (b. Grays, Essex 1820 x. 29 December 1820; d. 137 Victoria Street, Woolloomooloo, Sydney 20 August 1865)

Madame Sara FlowerOne of the few likenesses of Sara Flower. The image was published in The Australian Star (Sydney), 19 April 1902, p.3.Sara Flower has been a good deal written about, down the years, partly because of the remarkable and novel effect made by her extremely deep contralto voice, and partly because of her curious decision to quit Britain at the height of her career to establish herself as a performer and a teacher in Australia. However, although she has been written about, she has been written about in a pretty shallow fashion, and not without some basic errors.

We do not have a date of birth for Sara Flower. I suppose it is somewhere, in an Essex parish register, but neither I, nor anyone else who might have looked, has found it. It was said, and has been duly (correctly) repeated, that she was ‘the third daughter of William Lewis Flower of Grays, Essex’. William Flower was a grocer, who lived for half a century in Grays Thurrock in Essex. He married one Ruth Green, and produced a goodly number of children of whom we know of Sara and her singing sister, Elizabeth, plus Ellen, Thomas and the youngest, Anna (d. June 1850) who are still at home with their parents in the 1841 census. Mr. Flower didn’t make it to another census, dying on 27 September 1847, and although mother Ruth is visible in the next two censi, the only bit of apparent information we get is that Elizabeth [Hannah] (b.c.1814; d.1866) married (1847) barrister Timms Augustine Sargood (1815–1880) of the Bankruptcy and Insolvency Courts when she gave away singing. Mr. Sargood had, a few years earlier, been involved in ‘the extraordinary case of the abduction of Miss [Caroline] Wynne’, but that is another story.

Sara, I find not at all, and the only authority for guessing that she was born around 1822 is someone’s claim that, at her death in 1865, she was 43 years of age. I am pretty sure she was older, but, so far, haven’t found any way of proving it.

Brown and Stratton’s very iffy Dictionary of British Musicians claimed she was born in 1805.They then go on to say that our Flower sisters should not be confused with Sarah Fuller Flower (Mrs. William Bridges Adams), author of ‘Nearer my God, to thee’, and her musical sister, Eliza. Which, of course, is precisely what they have done. Mrs. Adams, born in 1805, died in 1848. And no-one could really confound her with Sara, the red-headed, raw-boned contralto, because, before Sara started her professional career, ‘Nearer my God’ Sarah was already not Miss Flower, but Mrs. Adams.

If Sara Flower was indeed born in 1822, she began singing at a very young age, for I am pretty sure that I spot her out on the concert platform as early as September 1836, at the London Choral Institute. I definitely spot ‘the Misses Flower’ on 20 October 1837 at the Aldersgate Institute, in a concert with Edwin Ransford, in 1838 at Uxbridge, illustrating a set of lectures by Charles Purday, and again with the Choral Harmonists. In a July concert, Sara is referred to as ‘Miss Flower of the extraordinary voice’.

Sara Flower would, when the time came for biogs and eulogies, be referred to as ‘a pupil of Crivelli and Mazzucato’ (she advertised herself as such), but neither of those gentlemen came into the picture for a good while yet (and the latter only briefly, anyway). Sara’s early teacher was the ubiquitous Tom Cooke, master, amongst others, in his time, of Sims Reeves, the Williams sisters and Miss Rainforth, and in her concerts, the ‘deep contralto … younger sister’ was billed as such. For, although the ‘Misses Flower’ appeared regularly as a pair, Sara was, on occasion, engaged alone. I notice her in 1839, singing at Miss Galbreath’s concert at the London Tavern and again at Charles Mangold’s on 10 June of the year. The sisters sang together, at the end of the year, when they made their ‘debut in Oxford’, but Sara also sang solo. And what did she sing? The baritone aria ‘Vi ravviso’ from La Sonnambula. Sara brought outVi ravviso’ on a number of occasions, but she could do better. In 1842, in a concert at Southampton, I note her singing no less a basso profondo classic than ‘Qui sdegno’ (Il flauto magico).

On 25 March 1840, the Misses Flower presented their own concert, at the Store Street Music Hall, with the Misses Woodyatt, Lanza and Bassano and Messrs Bennett, A. Giubilei, Purday and Stretton as the attractions. All that I can find related is that they sang a notturno by Blangini ‘nicely’.

But Miss Flower was beginning to attract serious attention. Oxford reckoned on a second hearing that Sara ‘bids fair to be, with strict cultivation, one of the finest voices of the day’ whilst a critic who attended a concert at the Western Institute, where the Misses Flower gave ‘I know a bank’, wrote ‘One of the young ladies possesses a sweet soprano voice the other a fine full contralto and both are extremely well schooled’.

By this stage, a good half dozen year since that first sighting at the Choral Institute, Sara Flower had become a student at the Royal Academy of Music, where she moved to the tuition of Crivelli. She would stay at the Academy through until 1844, by which time her career was well and truly under way.

Sara Flower was brought out on the operatic stage at the alleged age of twenty-two, at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, in a hacked-around version of La gazza ladra (7 January 1843), playing Pippo to the Annetta of another debutante, Sabilla Novello, alongside Phillips, Stretton and Allen. Her exploits in concert had evidently gone unnoticed by the opera-house patrons, and ‘she completely astonished the audience by the depth of her voice’. ‘One of the finest contralto voices with which we are acquainted’, cried the Musical World, whilst The Times went on at greater length and with a little less emotion: ‘The young lady who played Pippo acted with such ease, confidence and smartness, that we looked twice at the announcement that it was her first appearance on any stage before we could believe our eyes. The only test that was given her musical powers was the celebrated duet with Annette in the last act of the opera. In the few introductory notes of recitative her notes were so exceedingly full and rich, her articulation so admirable, rare qualities in an English singer of recitative, that the audience were literally taken by surprise and uttered loud and continuous applause, which was frequently reiterated as the very superior quality of her voice was exhibited in the course of the duet. Her voice is a mezzo-soprano of singular volume, with some excellent contralto notes, which she touches with firmness. She was not always just in tune, but with an organ of such good natural quality she must be looked upon as a vocalist of considerable promise’.

Miss Flower moved promptly to a different level in the concert world, and on 3 April 1843 she was billed, with Miss Rainforth, at the concert of the Philharmonic Society. The two women gave ‘Ebben a te ferisci’, Sara sang ‘The Lord is mindful’ (St Paul), and the press followed up ‘With more cultivation than she has at present, Miss Flower may take a very high position as a vocalist. She has a full, clear voice which is completely unrivalled, being in fact a kind of female tenor’. The Musical World modified its original rapture ‘[Miss Flower] is improving, if she will just refine her style, her splendid voice will work its own triumph without forcing…’

A fortnight later, Sara Flower came out in a new ‘debut’, this time at the Princess’s Theatre. The opera selected was Tancredi, and the result was not perfect. ‘Miss S. Flower with her magnificent contralto voice, with her extraordinary depth, has not yet acquired sufficient facility of execution to make a satisfactory Tancredi. In her song at the Philharmonic concert, when the power of the voice was more called for than the skill of the artist, the impression she made was most unequivocal, but in Tancredi, where so much depends on a high degree of cultivation, the case is widely different. Her fine deep notes, full and rich and clear as they are, told whenever they were uttered as they always must, but the performance as a whole was unequal and crude, and the encore of ‘Di tanti palpiti’ was not instigated by the soundest judgment. It is to be hoped that Miss Flower, with that superb voice, which should raise her to a high position in the profession, will not run the risk of missing that position by an attempt to take it too soon. The audience, we should record, testified their approbation by two or three large bouquets, which they flung towards the young vocalist…’

Since the new tenorino, Belton, was not a success, and Miss Turpin was a deputy as Amenaide, the Princess’s Theatre Tancredi left something to be desired, and thing went better when the bill was switched to La gazza ladra with Sara playing opposite Emma Albertazzi.

The interest provoked by Sara’s voice meant that plenty of concert engagements were forthcoming, but although many of them were for her alone, the ‘Misses Flower’ duet act was still on wheels. The sisters made their annual visit to Oxford together, duetted ‘We come to thee, Savoy’, like every other set of singing sisters, at the Bridge Tavern, performed at Ransford’s concert at Covent Garden, and in a performance of The Messiah at Rochester in February 1844, they took the soprano and contralto solos respectively.

Sara was a feature of the West End concert scene over the next two seasons, appearing in dozens and dozens of concerts—from those, large and fashionable, of Julius Benedict, Josef Staudigl, Louis Lavenu, Madame Dulcken or Theodore Giubilei, or the Concerts of Ancient Music to those of young artists such as Moriatt O’Connor, the Misses Lyon, Miss Spence or Miss Steele, writers including Brinley Richards and W.T. Wrighton, and the brigade of Italianate concertisers—Magghioni, Cittadini or the Signor Gallinardi who billed himself, anguishingly large, as ‘the nephew of Rubini’. Her repertoire was not always of the most conventional—at Madame Dulcken’s she sang ‘Ah! Perfido’ in a boldly transposed down version—but her voice was now well enough known and understood that ballad writers were able to write to order for her, as Brinley Richards did with the glooming ‘Lost Hope’.

The last months of 1845, Sara Flower spent in Milan, and I assume this was when she added Signor Mazzucato to the tableau de chasse of her singing teachers, but she was unwell during a good part of her Italian sojourn and, on 10 January 1846, she returned home to number 57 Welbeck Street, before heading off to Dublin for her first concerts of the year. She spent the early part of the year singing in the London concerts, before in October opening a new operatic season at the Princess’s Theatre. The feature of that season was a new opera composed by Edward Loder, based on the story of Giselle, and entitled The Night Dancers. Emma Albertazzi was cast as Giselle, Allen as her hero, and Sara was cast as Bertha, the Queen of the Night Dancers, equipped with a rolling aria ‘Peace to the Dead’. The Musical World enthused: ‘We doubt if a more perfect contralto exists at the moment’.

The Night Dancers was a considerable success, and would be the keystone of the Princess’s season, but the other offerings of the season were not all negligible. On 19 December, a piece entitled The Seven Maids of Munich, or The Ghost’s Tower, with a score by Rodwell, was produced and Sara was cast as the heroine of the piece with an aria descriptive of ‘Yon ruined tower’. It was not The Night Dancers, but it did for a while. Much more substantial and suitable was a production of Anne Boleyn (January 1847) with Sara cast as Smeaton alongside the operatic debut of Louisa Bassano in the title-role.

On 3 March, the theatre put up The Merry Wives of Windsor in which Sara Flower played Mistress Page, and more The Night Dancers were scheduled, with the young Anne Romer taking the part created by Albertazzi. Miss Romer was also featured in a production of an Auber piece (April 1847) entitled Barcarolle in which Sara played ephemerally, and when A Midsummer Night’s Dream was given, Sara was Oberon to Miss Romer’s Titania. Miss Romer and Miss Flower, Allen and Bodda, then headed the Princess’s company out on the road to repeat the successes of the season plus, in Dublin, The Barber of Seville (Rosina).

During her operatic season, Sara Flower continued to sing in concert – on occasion alongside ‘her pupil Miss L. Marshall’, who was also a player in the Princess’s company—but, oddly, when she sang at the Adelaide Gallery, with the Pyreneean Singers, in December 1847 she was billed as being ‘of the Nobility’s Concerts’, as if ‘of the Princess’s Theatre’ was a secondary consideration.

Sara returned to the Princess’s Theatre once more, in February 1848, to play alongside Anna Thillon as Donna Olympia in The Young Guard (‘You chide me well’, ‘I’ll try to think with thee’), but the other items of Thillon’s repertoire apparently held no roles for her, and The Young Guard was her last role at the theatre where she had confirmed her place as a valuable member of the London English operatic corps. It would also be her last appearance on the London stage.

Through 1848 and into 1849, Sara Flower appeared only in concert. Perhaps her novelty value had waned a little, but these concerts were, I think, not quite of the level of the best in which she had been featured up till now. Then, in April 1849, she visited Liverpool for a ‘short operatic campaign’ under the management of Howard Glover. She played Macheath in The Beggar’s Opera, Count Almaviva in The Barber of Seville and the Gipsy Queen in The Bohemian Girl, alongside Anne Romer and Delevanti, and was said to be preparing to create Glover’s opera Aminta, which had originally been scheduled for the Princess’s with Abertazzi in the title-role. But Miss Flower became ‘indisposed’, and Aminta was again abandoned. It would, finally, be created three years down the line by Louisa Pyne, and made little effect.

The company moved on to Edinburgh, where Lucia di Lammermoor was played, and Sara Flower spared the role of Edgardo by the manager, who went on and sang it himself.

Back in London, I spot Sara Flower one more time on the concert platform, duetting Donizetti’s ‘Nel tasso’ with Evelina Garcia at the Hanover Square Rooms.

And then she was gone.

It is said that the musician, Stephen Marsh, was the person who persuaded Sara Flower that there was a future for her in Australia. It seems surprising that she didn’t think there was one for her in England, but maybe she knew something we don’t. Maybe what looked like a lull in her rise through the musical ranks over the past couple of seasons was something more than a lull. Certainly, in Australia at the time, there was no contralto singer who could come near to matching Miss Flower in ability, and she could and would have the field—such as it was—unchallengedly to herself.

She arrived in Australia in February 1850, and made her first appearance at the Mechanics Institute in Melbourne on 28 February 1850, at a concert mounted by Thomas Reed (father of German Reed). She was immediately successful, and Reed presented her in a series of concerts at the Theatre Royal and at Geelong with a typical mixture of songs: ‘Thou Art Gone from my gaze’, ‘The deep, deep Sea’, ‘The Cavalier’, ‘By the Sad Sea Waves’, ‘Terence’s Farewell’, ‘The Wishing Gate’, ‘Jeannette and Jeannot’ but also the English bass classic ‘The Last Man’ and Henry Russell’s picturesque ‘The Maniac’, before she moved on, in April, to Sydney.

There the Marsh brothers mounted a rather more lavish concert at the Royal Hotel (3 May). Sara swapped her ballads for Mercadante’s ‘Nume che feci mai’ (Nitocri), Schubert’s ‘The Wanderer’, ‘The Swiss Girl’ and the ‘Rataplan’ from Fille du régiment, on a bill with the Howson brothers and Mme Carandini, and the Australians, used to being fobbed off with vastly puffed, second-rate English singers, cheered that, this time, their hopes were ‘fully realised’.

Sara posted her shingle as a teacher in Sydney, and continued to give concerts in the city and environs, mostly with the same colleagues, delivering Donizetti, Rossini and Bellini, as well as ‘The Old Arm Chair’ or ‘Dermot Asthore’, and a flurry of new-to-Australia songs, which were printed and sold ‘as sung by Miss Sara Flower’.

On 1 May 1851, Sara took a Benefit at the Royal Victoria Theatre and made ‘her first appearance in the colonies in an operatic character’. She played Cinderella ‘with the whole of the music arranged by Mr. Gibbs’ and Emily in The Captain’s Not A-Miss. The Howsons supported, and Mr. Gibbs inserted ‘When a Little Farm We Keep’ for Sara and Frank Howson, ‘Tenor Trombone’ for John Howson, and loads of dances. And thus, presumably, left some Rossini out. But there was such a demand for tickets, that the Benefit had to be repeated the next night. And then again. And Sara was ‘engaged for the season’ at the Victoria.

On 29 May, she appeared as Lazarillo in Maritana alongside the Howsons and Mrs. Guerin, then in her role in The Night Dancers, as Stella in The Enchantress, as Diana Vernon in Rob Roy (with Carandini as Obaldistone), Rosetta in Love in a Village, Julia in Guy Mannering, Zelinda in The Slave, Pepino in The Devil’s Opera, Susanna in The Marriage of Figaro, and as the hero of The Daughter of the Regiment and of the burlesque of Don Giovanni, Hecate in Macbeth … Mr. Gibbs must have been kept busy transposing. She also appeared in concert giving such as the solos from La Sonnambula and ‘Bid me discourse’!

And on the 20 December 1851, Sara married the actor ‘Sam Howard’ (Samuel Howard Taylor).

She continued at the Victoria, without a pause, playing The Philosopher’s Stone and the favourite pieces of the previous year, and, on 16 February 1852, gave Australia’s first Norma, with Carandini as her Adalgisa. Norma became one of the most popular items of the theatre repertoire. For her Benefit she played the role of The Female Massaroni, and she also appeared in several plays.

In 1853 The Exile (Elizabeth), Inkle and Yarico (Narcisse), Joan of Arc (Florine), Cramond Brig (Marion), Family Jars (Emily, with songs), King Lear (Fool), Richard III (Lady Anne), A Winter’s Tale (Paulina), The Honeymoon (Zamora) were among the pieces played, and when not giving her Norma, her Lazarillo or her Stella, or performing as an actress, Madame Flower was nightly featured in ‘a favourite song’ between the pieces. For her husband’s Benefit, she appeared as Edward, the page, in Charles the Second and also sang ‘Casta Diva’.

In November 1853, Mr. and Mrs. Howard (‘the Australian Nightingale’!) visited Rowe’s Circus and the Theatre Royal (‘the Jenny Lind of the colony’) in Melbourne, proceeding to Geelong and Bendigo, and returning in mid-1854 to Sydney.

Catherine Hayes arrived in town, and Sara sang with her in concert, Miska Hauser arrived and Sara sang at his concerts, and 19 December 1854, the Royal Victoria began a new opera season. And they began it with The Night Dancers. Mrs. Guerin was again Giselle, Sara repeated her original role and ‘Peace to the Dead’, and a little English girl, Miss Julia Mathews, did a solo dance. The Waterman was given, and Sara played Tom Tug (‘with exquisite vocal powers’), and when the first Australia Lucia di Lammermoor was given (13 February 1855) she was Edgar to the Lucy of Mrs. Guerin.

Miss Hayes returned to Sydney in August and Sara was hired to support her. She gave Lisa in Sonnambula, Adalgisa to Catherine’s Norma (and stepped into the title-role when the star was ill) and the Gipsy Queen to her Bohemian Girl. And when the Irish lady left, she stepped back into her prima donna roles, until it was time to head for Melbourne and become seconda donna again. Or sometimes a primo uomo. Sara was cast as Edgar to Hayes’s Lucy, Pollio to her Norma, the Gipsy Queen, Polly in The Beggar’s Opera, Maffeo Orsini, Pierotto in Linda di Chamonix and even Theresa in La Sonnambula.

In the New Year Mr. and Mrs. Howard again went on the Bendigo-Geelong circuit, for an extended period, but 1857 found them back in Sydney, and Sara back in the opera. With Anna Bishop at the Princess’s, Melbourne. This time she was Adalgisa again, for Mrs. Bishop had engaged a tenor, Walter Sherwin. She gave her Maffeo Orsini, sang Isabelle to Bishop’s Alice in Robert the Devil, and when Ernani was given, she played the King! During her time in Melbourne, Mrs. Bishop also took part in the first Australian performance of Elijah at the Exhibition Building 24 June 1857. Sara sang the contralto part.

And then it was back to Sydney and the Royal Victoria Theatre. Mrs. Bishop had postponed her departure again, and was playing 18 performances in Sydney before quitting the colony. Sara gave her Orsini, Pierotto, Adalgisa, Lisa, Nancy in Martha, and took part in the concerts—which included the Stabat Mater and Mozart’s 12th Mass.

When Mrs. Bishop’s season ended, Sara returned to the Victoria to play Don Giovanni in the extravaganza The Ladykiller. But Mrs. Bishop still didn’t go, and next thing Sara was playing Ännchen to her Agnes in Der Freischütz (5 September). Then Adalgisa again. The Sydney Philharmonic Concerts … Then concerts in New South Wales and Victoria, and the title role in the burlesque The Invisible Prince and Queen Graciosa in The Yellow Dwarf at the Sydney Prince of Wales Theatre. When the house produced Macbeth, Sara was no longer Hecate: she was Lady Macbeth! When they did Rob Roy she was … Osbadistone. Her husband was Major Galbraith.

In June 1859, the Prince of Wales’s staged an opera season, and Sara got to play Azucena alongside Carandini and Sherwin.

In the 1860s, Madame Flower kept up her fervent schedule of concert appearances, singing much in oratorio, in festivals as well as in the concert hall, performing alongside such newer comers as Lucy Escott and Henry Squires. But nary a contralto to eclipse her. Mr. Marsh had been right. However, in these years she suffered much ill-health, and became increasingly unable to fulfil her engagements and her teaching duties.

She died ‘of rheumatism’ at her home in Sydney in 1865, at the stated age of 43. She was survived by her husband.

Sara Flowers tombMadame Sara Flower’s tomb. From Evening News (Sydney), 28 December 1895, p.1.

A chance find on eBay prompted KURT GÄNZL to take another look at Jennie and Louise Arnot, two sisters who spent some time in Australia as members of Marsh’s Juvenile Comedians in the 1860s.

ARNOT JennieJennie Arnot. Photograph by Bourne & Shepherd, India.

The brain of my computer is bulging with Stuff. Unfinished and abandoned books and projects, sketched articles and fun research going back to the days before computers were invented. Many, many thousands of pages of diggings from closed-down mines.

My own brain, happily and however, is still sufficiently functional to remember vaguely what is stored away in the tailings of my working life, and sometimes and for some reason I go back and quarry in one heap or another. Today was one such.

Amongst a pile of non-theatrical Victorian cartes de visite, I came upon one labelled ‘Jeannie Arnot’. Photographed in India. The brain went ‘click’ ...


Some years ago, I researched and half-wrote a little book on the Lydia Thompson ‘British Blondes’. Then I was asked to do a piece for a learned Franco-German journal, so I gutted my Blondes book and published its heart of some 30 pages. The left-overs still sit amongst those tailings, and they include a biographical sketch of ‘Miss Jennie Arnot’ and her sister Lou. So I snipped out the section, updated it, and here it is, twinned with its relevant photo.

Talking about the American girls who joined the Thompson troupe:

Amongst the newcomers were two American sisters. Amazing how often there were sisters …

This pair were a somewhat better bargain than the multiple Logans, and they had been in show business with some success since an early age. They called themselves Louise and Jennie Arnot, but their real name was McLaughlin and they had begun their theatrical careers in the 1850s as members of the Marsh Children’s Comedians troupe ‘every one under 13 years of age’. Louise, who was with the company from 1854, latterly wasn’t under 13, but ‘Little Jenny Arnot[t]’, who seems to have joined up in 1859, was. In the 1860 census, when the troupe is playing Nevada, she is listed as 8 years old to Louise’s 15. Tut! Her date of birth was 11 July 1850.

Well, they were born in Rochester, NY, the daughters of and Irish boatman by name John McLaughlin and his wife Mary Jane. The McLaughlins were trusting parents, for their daughters traipsed off, in the care of Mr. and Mrs. Marsh, not only to New Orleans, Nevada and San Francisco—where Louisa played leading lady, from burlesque princes to Lady Macbeth, opposite the Marsh’s hugely puffed young son—but thence to Australia and New Zealand, where they stayed for a number of years.

The troupe of children, the ‘Arnot’ girls at their head, was highly successful, but Mrs. Marsh proved less than efficient as a duenna. In 1863, Louise climbed down an alleged knotted sheet, provided by her little companions, into a carriage occupied by a handsome star wire-walker, and zoomed off to get married. The wire-walker and all-round acrobat was a man of some notoriety who called himself ‘Henri (or Henry) Bartine’. The Australian records tell us he was actually named Mahan[y] or something approximating that, and that he couldn’t decide whether he was English or American. I see he actually arrived in Australia (‘equestrian’ ‘aged 24’) along with the Stoneham family, travelling steerage, in 1862. The previous year he had been, for three weeks, a 2nd Lieutenant in the New York Infantry. And I do see a record for a Henry Mahan and a Mary S. McLaughlin getting wed in Sydney in 1863. I think that might be Mary L.

Anyway, Henry and Louise had a daughter, Jennie Mahany (b. Fitzroy, 18 February 1864), and a son, Henry James ?Mahony Bartine (1865), who died aged one, before Henry apparently caught Louise in a seeming infidelity, whacked her, and she fled, in 1868, to a ship which was heading back to America. Bartine had her luggage unloaded, Louise went to court and got it reloaded … End of marital chapter, but not of her career.

‘Little’ Jennie apparently stuck with Louise, and we are told that she, too, acquired a brief Australian husband before they finally did quit the country. By 1869, they were back in San Francisco with the forgiving Mr. Marsh and his son and the latest version of the troupe. By the 1870 census, the two siblings, all husbands shed, can be seen in New York: Miss Louise Arnot (26) and daughter Miss Jennie scribble (6), plus Miss Jennie Arnot (20) and Mary Arnot (48), who I guess was mother. Doesn’t quite tally with the Nevada ages, but I guess when you are a member of a kiddie troupe you chop years off your age, and when you are a teenaged once-married mother you might add some on.

And their adult careers are about to begin. It is 1870 when I spot the two girls joining up with the Lydia Thompson troupe. Louise had been a leading lady with Marsh and in Australia, but as a full-blown performer she had to retreat to supporting roles behind somebody such as the Queen of Burlesque. Jennie had specialised in sprightly soubrette parts both in the juvenile troupe and, from her early teens, with such as Emily Jordan in burlesque: she carried right on playing the same sort of parts with the best burlesque troupe in the country. For both girls were decidedly useful. Marsh’s training had covered all aspects of theatre: acting, singing, dancing. The fine-looking Arnot girls could play in the burlesques, in the supporting comedies, sing and or dance solos, and Louise, with her strangely ‘mannish’ and deep voice was a natural for pants parts.

The troupe opened at Wood’s Museum, with Jennie cast as Cupid in Paris, Ochobrand in The Forty Thieves, and Brunette in St George and the Dragon, before heading out on the road.

In January 1871 the company presented Paris, Sindbad, Richard III or Bad Dickey and Lurline at New Orleans. Behind Eliza, Lizzie Kelsey, Minnie Walton and Kate Heathcote, Louise took the part of the heroine’s attendant, Wavelet, originally played by pretty Nellie Hope, but since by none other than Willie Edouin in travesty. ‘She is justly becoming a great favourite with our people’ commented the local press. She played William in Black-Eyed Susan and five characters in In and out of Place, appeared as the Sultan in Sindbad and Jupiter in Paris, and later took up the part of the Count to Jennie’s Lady Una in Lurline as the company went through its usual changes of personnel. She ‘possesses the happy facility of doing everything she touches well’ agreed the newspapers.

‘The captivating’ Jennie played in the afterpieces, supporting Lydia in A Day in Paris. The tour ended in June, and so did the Arnot girls’ time as Blondes. Lydia and her husband headed to England to stock up on ‘real’ British blondes, and the girls moved onwards to the next part of their long career.

That was where my original piece stopped. But not my curiosity. So when the photo of Jennie surfaced on eBay, I reactivated my search for the whatever happened to of the Arnot girls.


Louise quickly found a new husband. Quite when and where she acquired him I haven’t yet tracked down, but in February 1870, already, the Clipper states that she is the wife of John Wilson, a well-known Scots circus proprietor. Even though Tony Pastor seems to have continued to bill her as ‘Louise Bartine’. Wilson died in Hamburg in 1876, and Louise subsequently became Mrs. Thomas Patrick Gunn, wife of her much younger partner in her vaudeville sketches and sometime ‘stage director of the Lafayette Theatre’.

I have found her will. She died in Manhattan 19 August 1919 and her legatees were husband Thomas (b. 30 December 1872); daughter Jane or Jennie originally ‘Bartine’ or Mahanna (!), later Gunn, in 1860 Mrs. Edwin Frank Mayo (eg. Maguire, son of the actor Frank Mayo), at some stage ‘wife of Frank David of the Conried Co.’, then, it seems, Mrs. Jane Rasmussen (d. Brooklyn, 10 January 1929); and sister Jennie Bebus ...

I have also found a marriage listing for 10 May 1920 for Thomas P. Gunn and Jane Rasmussen! Marriage with deceased wife’s daughter??? Well, she was nevertheless, a decade older than he.

After her putative divorce from her mysterious Australian husband, Jennie married the actor, Davenport Bebus (b. 1848; d. NYC, 10 July 1897). Bebus was a gambler, convinced he could break the bookmakers’ bank, and when his losses got too great, he threw himself terminally into the North River at 81st Street ...  he was buried by the Actors' Fund. There were a daughter, Edith (b. NYC, 6 January 1887; d. Dunellen, 1960, Mrs. Schaefer) and a son Davenport (b. NYC, 2 October 1888; d. Bridgewater, NJ, 1959), from the marriage. Jennie Elizabeth Bebus aged 65 can be seen in the 1915 census of New York living in Church Avenue, Kings, listed as ‘mother’ of either one L.P. Kerr or his wife Daisy. Odd. In 1920 she’s in Franklin, NJ, then, till 1931, in Dunellen, Plainfield NJ where she died in the April at the age of 81.

Well, that’s the facts and figures all tied up pretty neatly. Both girls had plenty more career after their spell as Lydia Thompson satellites, but little to match those glory days. Louise was touring the vaudeville circuits with a company in sketches (Fun on the Bristol, Coon Hollow, Regan’s Luck, My Friend from India) up till 1907 and her sixties. Jennie seems to have retired in the 1880s after her (re-?) marriage and motherhood.


Writing in the Territorial Enterprise (Viginia City), 13 January 1864, Mark Twain, the noted writer and humourist, offered the following account of Jennie Arnot:

Before the Legislature begins its labors, I will just mention that the Marsh Troupe will perform in Virginia to-morrow night (Thursday)—at the Opera House of course—for the benefit of Engine Company No. 2. They played here last night—Toodles, you know. Young George Marsh—whose theatrical costumes are ungainly enough, but not funny—took the part of Toodles, and performed it well - performed it as only cultivated talent, or genius, or which you please, or both, could enable him to do it. Little Jenny Arnot (she with the hideous—I mean affected—voice) appeared as Mrs. Toodles. Jenny is pretty—very pretty; but by the usual sign, common to all those of her sex similarly gifted, I perceive she knows it. Therefore, let us not speak of it. Jenny is smart - but she knows that too, and I grant you it is natural that she should. And behold you, when she does forget herself and make use of her own natural voice, and drop her borrowed one, it is the pleasantest thing in life to see her play. 

Continuing his exploration of lost nineteenth century Victorian singers, KURT GÄNZL takes a look at the career of Annetta Scasi, the daughter of an West End furnitue merchant, who changing her name from Isaacs to the more Italianate Scasi, enjoyed some success in the UK and Australia in comic opera.

unnamed CopyAnnetta Scasi, 1870s. Photo by London Stereoscopic Co.SCASI, Annetta [ISAACS, Hannah] (b. ?9 Phoenix Alley, Longacre, Covent Garden, c.1847; ??d. Australia)

IN 1871, the New York Clipper inserted a little article amid its gossipy pages.

‘Some little while ago there appeared at the Globe Theatre a lady singer named Miss Coralie D’Auban. A great splash was made in regard to her début by her indulgent friends, and every fence and wall in town duly broke out with the name of D’Auban who was represented as a foreigner of high birth and illustrious connections. A shower of little innocent paragraphs artfully inserted in the journals invited the public to this belief. When Mdlle D’Auban turned up at rehearsals at the Globe Theatre, Mr Hughes instantly recognised the ‘distinguished foreigner’ as Miss Solomons, a clever young Jewish maiden whose father kept a furniture shop hard by the theatre. She had been absent from London some three months on the continent and had returned to the paternal roof with her voice well cultivated and her mother tongue proportionately dislocated. At rehearsal Hughes remarked what a strange havoc a quarter of a year’s difference had made with her English ... [She complained about the ‘feelthy English climate’ and coughed a lot and finally Hughes decided] the lady was pushing her affectations too far and determined to put her up. ‘Come, come, Miss Solomons’, said he ‘I’ll tell you what to do for your cold. Go round to your father’s shop, swallow half a pail of furniture varnish and rub your chest with passover cake. I think that will bring you round’. From that moment on Miss Solomons instantly recovered.’

Names had been changed to ‘protect’ those involved, but C** D’A*** was obviously—to me—meant as Cornélie d’Anka, and ‘Mr Hughes’ was either Alfie St Albyn or Willie Worboys, and I said so, in my biography of Emily Soldene. But this crafty journalist had done a mixture. The furniture merchant’s daughter from Drury Lane was indeed in the cast of Falsacappa at the Globe Theatre, but she was not ‘Miss C d’A’. She was a lady by the name of ‘Annetta Scasi’. And her nom de théâtre spelled backwards told all. It was not Solomons, it was Isaacs.

Miss Isaacs’s father was Lewis Isaacs, a successful furniture dealer of 117 Drury Lane and subsequently 3 Queen Street, the father, with his wife Phoebe (née Davis), of a large family of which Hannah was one of the younger members.

Marguerite Debreux 1Marguerite Debreux, c.1871. Photographer unknown. Victoria & Albert Museum, LondonShe would later claim that she had trained at the Royal Academy of Music, at Paris and in Milan. Of these claims I have no supporting evidence. But I suppose it could be she, the ‘Mdlle Scasi’ who made a debut at the Théâtre des Italiens in November 1869, singing La Sonnambula and provoking the review: ‘Mlle Scasi is not a decided acquisition to the troupe’.

‘Mdlle Scasi’ first appears to practised eyes in an opera buffa troupe mounted at the Lyceum Theatre in January of 1871, with a repertoire including Bottesini’s Ali Baba, Crispino e la comare, and also Il Barbiere di Siviglia. Amalia Colombo, Enrichetta Bedetti Fuollo and Maria Callista were the leading soprani, and Mlle Scasi appeared briefly: ‘the little part of Berta was allotted to a Miss Scasi who strove earnestly to give effect to the quaint little air which is Berta’s sole chance of distinction’. Apart from a participation in conductor Tito Mattei’s Benefit at the end of the season (1 March), that seems to have been her contribution.

Soon after, she must have appeared at the Crystal Palace, for her press advertisements announces that she was ‘of the Royal Italian Opera Buffa, Lyceum Theatre, and the Crystal Palace’.

My next sighting of her, however, is in a Good Friday Concert at the Holborn Amphitheatre, singing ‘From Mighty Kings’ with ‘a pleasing command over the florid passages’.

After which, she was hired for the Globe Theatre, to sing the jeune première role in the first London performances in English of Offenbach’s Les Brigands (Falsacappa). Marguerite Debreux, from Paris, who had made something of a sexy hit in London’s Le Petit Faust sang Fragoletto, and Alfie St Albyn, a fine and versatile tenor with comic spirit, was the title bandit.

The production was only mildly liked, but Mlle Scasi—in spite of her apparent backstage antics—came out of it all right, being judged ‘a vocalist of considerable ability’, ‘the Signora Annetta Scasi whose accent is nevertheless decidedly English, has a good voice, sings fairly and acts with spirit’ (Daily News) ‘her surname spelt backwards could not sound more English than her accent … but [her] voice is pleasing, while her acting, though crude, is not wanting in spirit.’ Later on, the Daily News would claim Mlles Scasi and Debreux (the latter more known for her sex appeal than her voice!) as the best vocalists in the show.

Apparently backstage must have flared up again, for before the run ended, Mlle Scasi announced that she had ‘seceded from the company’.

An engagement of similar importance would take a while to come, but Mlle Scasi continued on, advertising ‘for opera, opéra-bouffe or burlesque, town or country’ and appearing in concert at Margate’s Hall by the Sea,  at Liverpool’s Theatre of Varieties, playing the little The Rose de l’Auvergne with William Terrott and J.A. Shaw, and playing Queen Barleysugar (‘with songs’) in the pantomime The King of the Peacocks at the Surrey Theatre.

In 1872, she spent some time on tour with L.J. Sefton’s London Comedy Company, singing the part of Graciosa, alongside Helen Maxse, Ambrose Perrini and T.B. Appleby in King Kokatoo (L’Ile de Tulipatan), but when the company took out a second tour, she had been replaced.

This time, however, it was not her backstage behaviour, it seems, that caused the change. Mlle Scasi had been cast in the star role of Robin Wildfire in the spectacular production of Offenbach’s Le Roi Carotte at the Alhambra.  Her ‘animated acting and brilliant singing’ apparently suited the hall, the vastly spectacularly produced grand opéra-bouffe-féerie suited it even better, and the result was a long run, and over 150 performances by Mlle Scasi as a star at the Alhambra.

But, once again, she did not follow up. She vanished, returning a year lady from what she announced had been her ‘tour of France and Italy’. Of this, I have yet to find trace.

Her first engagement back in Britain was at the Dublin Gaiety, where she played opposite Charlotte Saunders in the burlesque, The Good Woman in the Wood. After opening night, the local press wrote: ‘Mlle A.S. who is concerned chiefly with vocalism possesses a contralto of considerable richness and range and, while playing with skill, is still superior as a vocalist. Indeed, the lady would succeed better with a Dublin audience if her manner were less foreign and more pliant; if she were verbally audible and easier in attitude, if she were more inclined to sing songs than contrive effects ... as Prince Achmed’. Mlle Scasi was off on nights two and three. She went on to team with Miss Saunders in Rumpelstiltskin (into which she interpolated Bellini’s ‘Son Vergin vezzosa’).

At Christmas ‘billed as late of the Alhambra, the Lyceum, Globe and the principal Continental Theatres’, she played Morgiana in the pantomime The Forty Thieves at the Surrey Theatre (‘The Scasi Waltz’ by Amy Weddle), and sang at the Surrey Gardens in a production of the little Le Rajah de Mysore (‘acted with great animation and sang brilliantly’, in a tenor role).

In 1876, she took over briefly the management of a little company playing The Sleeping Queen, Fortunio’s Song and The Wedding Night, and at Christmas of the same year she played Romance in the Sanger’s Amphitheatre production of Gulliver on His Travels, alongside four elephants, two dromedaries, 2 camels, a heap of horses and 300 children. Needless to say, she ‘carried away the chief vocal honours’.

Thereafter, I spot her only at the Foresters Hall, doing a double act with Annette Solomon as ‘the Operatic Mimics’, singing duets with half of the Hartridge Sisters at the London Pavilion, and appearing with J.A. Cave at the Marylebone Theatre in his own piece The Burgomaster. The promising career of Mlle Scasi seemed to have foundered. In any case, in England it was finished.

In 1878, Phoebe (20 April) and Lewis Isaacs (22 April) both died, within forty-eight hours of each other. Their obituary notice in the Jewish papers remarked that they were the parents of barrister David Lewis Isaacs, and Mrs C Mordaunt Matthews, wife of a physician, but it did not mention Hannah. It just noticed ‘Australian Papers Please Copy’. Not without reason.

At some stage, she had left for Australia.

Mlle Scasi started her Australian career well, singing opposite Clara Thompson in the pantomime Alfred the Great (1878), at the Melbourne Academy of Music and, later in the year, when she appeared in Lallah Rookh at the Sydney Theatre Royal, the critic rather over-enthusiastically announced her ‘the best opéra-bouffe and burlesque artist we have had here’. She went on to play in burlesque, but once again, she seems not to have followed up. Or so I thought.

In 1886, a local paper reported of her performance that season at the Alhambra, Sydney: ‘when I first saw Miss Scasi—if you read her name backwards you get her real one—she was a burlesque artist with a big screw and an awful temper. Three years ago, I wandered into the Academy of Music, Sydney, and to my great surprise found an old friend greatly altered in vesta amor. She had evidently gone back to the old name now.’ She shows up in several concerts (‘Bid me discourse’ etc) in Sydney, and in 1888, I spot her in Brisbane, singing operatic arias between the plays at the local Opera House, while also took part in plays there—playing, amongst others, the role of the scolding wife in the Australian play Grif.

In 1891, she announced her return to Brisbane after ‘two successful years in the north’, and my last sighting of her is later that same year, taking the role of Josephine Corkarm in an HMS Pinafore burlesque entitled Mil Dew Ba (1 October 1891).

So did she end her career in Australia? And her life? Is she the Annie Isaacs, daughter of Louis of London and Dunedin, who died in Redfearn, Sydney 22 January 1918. It seems she was not, for a whole other story has emerged to fill in the gaps.

In The Grenfell Record and Lachlan District Advertiser of 14 December 1917, I find a mention of ‘Madame Scasi’ ‘who organised entertainments here and kept things on the move’ ‘one relic of [her] palmy days was an eighty guinea sealskin coat which she brought from London to Grenfell and which was viewed with considerable respect’. And it also tells us that she was the wife of John Craddock Towle. ‘Was’. Mr Towle, who operated as a doctor and/or chemist, was a widower from the Isle of Man, via Parke NSW. And he had died in Walgett, NSW in 1902 of ‘paralysis of the heart accelerated by intemperance’. So, when did she marry him? Goodness! 11 March 1878 … at St Mary, Lambeth, London! And the couple arrived in Australia 15 July 1878. With a ‘Master Lewis Towle aged 3’ in tow! In 1880, a George William Craddock Towle was born, and in 1882 the Grenfell press reported that Hannah was going back on the stage. Surrounded by press puffs about Drury Lane, Covent Garden and even La Scala, they visited New Zealand in 1884, and in 1886 a warrant for Towle’s arrest was issued for desertion. By the 1890s he was up in Queensland wanting a divorce and fathering a Mona Gladys and a Victoria May on one Margaret McBride.

Hannah didn’t keep little George. In 1890, aged 10, he was found living in a brothel in Sydney. The case came to court, and a stout motherly Mrs Ryan recounted that ‘Doctor’ Towle and his wife had separated three years ago and the boy had been entrusted to her care by the mother. She didn’t say what he was doing in a ‘house of ill-fame’.

As for Lewis Towle (it seems, né illegitimately Isaacs), unless he was the 5ft 2 chappie who became a jockey and ended up in jail …

In 1892, Towle sued for divorce, and the Townsville newspaper reported the gory details of his and her lives. Yes, she had a bastard before they married but he didn’t know that (strange, when the child travelled with them weeks later), she had worked as a barmaid and ... a prostitute … and she had had another illegitimate child … The doctor was brought into court to witness the fact. Other aliases surfaced. Mr Towle, of course, was white as snow.

In 1900 (‘dentist and chemist’) he went bankrupt, two years later he died of the drink, and in the meanwhile Hannah …?

Well, I spot her singing at a rugby club do at Gunnedah in 1895, and thereafter I see ‘Mrs J.C. Towle’ and ‘Madame Scasi’ no more. Perhaps she did go back to being Annie Isaacs and died in Redfearn. No. The gravestone in Rookwood cemetery reads ‘eldest daughter of the late Lewis Isaacs of Dunedin NZ’. Dunedin? I think not. Eldest daughter, no. Died 22 January 1918.

So Madame Scasi’s last resting place remains to be found. Sounds as if it may have been a gutter.

As KURT GÄNZL discovers, British tenor Walter Sherwin spent most of his short-lived career in Australia and New Zealand. Despite losing his arm in a shooting accident in 1866, he continued to tour, visiting California, China and Japan with Madame Marie Carandini.

SHERWIN, Walter [SHICKLE, John] (b. St Peter’s at Hungate, Norwich 17 April 1828; d. St Vincent’s Hospital, Darlinghurst, Sydney 22 September 1881).

Walter Sherwin SLVWalter Sherwin, c.1868. State Library Victoria, Melbourne.‘Walter Sherwin’ was born in Norwich, one of the numerous family of James Shickle, a plasterer and bricklayer ‘of 22 Prince’s Street’, and his third wife Mary née Dickinson (m. 4 May 1817). After James’s death, in 1833, Mary moved to London, where she can be seen in 1851, working as a dressmaker at 18 Soho Square, with her four youngest children, Charlotte (1826-1904), Adelaide (1830-1908, Mrs George Cunningham), Frederic (1833-1888) and John, who, the census tell us, is 22 and ‘a musician’.

I don’t know what he was doing in the musical world, and where. He wasn’t the Mr. [John Blythe] Shickle (1825-1876) of Norwich leading E.J. Loder’s orchestra at the Manchester Theatre Royal between 1852 and 1870; in fact I don’t see his name anywhere—as Shickle, Sherwin, or even Sherwin-Shickle—until 1855, when he pops up on the bill at the Canterbury Music Hall as ‘Mr Sherwin’. The only London credits I can find for him thereafter are illustrating Thirlwall’s lecture on popular music at the Deptford Institution (February 20, ‘Mr Shickle’) and as a soloist in the concerts given by Picco, the blind Sardinian Minstrel, at the Adelphi Theatre (17 March 1856). These were to be his last, and seemingly only, solo appearances in the London theatre. Three weeks later, he sailed, with Australian theatre manager John Black, and a little group of rather more experienced vocalists, on the James Baines for the southern hemisphere: soprano Julia Harland, her husband, actor William Hoskins, basso Robert Farquharson Smith and the Hoskins’s accompanist Linley Norman. Only Farquharson would return.

It seems that Sherwin made the trip alone. His wife, Sarah Emma née Amos (m. 27 May 1852) and his children, Charlotte Sarah (b. 6 March 1852) and Frederick John (x. 21 December 1856), apparently joined him later on.

The team arrived in Sydney on 30 June 1856, and on 8 July they opened in La Sonnambula, with locals Richard Stewart and Kate Ward in support. All three of the vocal stars were billed as being ‘of the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane’, which in Sherwin’s case—unless he had been a chorister—seems most unlikely. But he was judged to have a ‘rich tenor of good compass, flexibility and sweetness’, and to be the tenor of the moment. The tenor who had, apparently, never sung in opera followed up with leading roles in Lucia di Lammermoor, The Bohemian Girl and Maritana, before the trio moved on to a few performances at the Melbourne Lyceum, then to Adelaide, before returning to Melbourne and its Theatre Royal for more opera—notably The Mountain Sylph—and for a Messiah, in which the trio were joined by a Mrs McDougall (late Miss Rose Joseph) ‘of the Liverpool Concerts’.

After a season in Ballarat, Sherwin and Farquharson went to the Melbourne Princess’s to support Anna Bishop in Norma, then Sherwin and Miss Harland visited Hobart and Launceston with Norma and their regular repertoire. In November 1857, the theatre where they were performing was burned down during the night. In 1858 they played at Geelong and Beechworth, adding The Elixir of Love to their programme, and returned once more to Melbourne, where they gave Fra Diavolo and the first Australian performances of Il Trovatore (21 October). The casting was, however, not quite what may have been expected. Sherwin was cast as Lorenzo while Fra Diavolo was played by Maria Carandini in travesty, and the same lady played Leonora to the Manrico of Anna Bishop’s tenor Mons Laglaise. Julia Harland was Azucena, and Sherwin sang … Ferrando! When Laglaise moved on, he dropped the bass part and took up the tenor, to general approval (‘has raised himself to a previously unattained position in the favour of the public’).

From 1858, he linked up with Mrs Carandini in an opera and concert troupe, including, at periods, Edward Hancock and his wife, Maria Chalker, Henry Wharton, the Howsons et al, and I spot them in the early 1860s at  Bendigo, Melbourne, Ballarat, Maryboro, Avoca, Carisbrook, Wangaratta, Beechworth, Chiltern, Tarrengower, et al. In 1863 they visited New Zealand.

In 1866 Walter lost a forearm in an shooting accident, but he continued to perform in concert in Australia and New Zealand, and in 1871 Maria Carandini, Sherwin and a bundle of her singing daughters visited California. At various times, Sherwin was reported to be married to Madame, or her daughter Fannie, but Sarah Shickle Sherwin and her children were still there in Melbourne. Sherwin was ‘the manager of the Carandini company’ and that was all. If it were all.

They toured indomitably through the 1870s, suffered shipwreck, visited China and Japan, but on their return from Asia, in 1881 Sherwin was taken ill, and he died soon after in hospital in Sydney.

Hid obituarist wrote ‘one of the most cultivated and thoroughly legitimate tenor singers heard in the colony. Possessing as he did a fine voice, of the robust order, of extensive compass in the upper register and being both an experienced singer and a well-trained musician…’ and reckoned that Henry Squires and Carmini Morley were the only tenors to compare with him. It was Squires, of course, as much as his accident, which had persuaded Sherwin from the stage. With the coming of Squires, he was no longer the top tenor in town, and he wisely did not court comparison.

His son, Frederick John Shickle-Sherwin (b. London 6 November 1855; d. Bondi, Sydney 27 March 1917) became a director and one of the business heads of the music business, W.H. Paling and Co., George-street. Daughter Charlotte became Mrs John B.J. Gwynne.

Sarah Shickle lived to the age of 83, and died in Oranjezicht, Capetown on 13 January 1911.

It may be that music went back one more generation. In the chorus listed for the 1824 Norwich Festival can be spied the name of ‘Mr. Shickle of Norwich’ (tenor). Right alongside the name of ‘Mr. Clabburn of Norwich’. Both forebears, or at least relations, of members of my thousand Victorian vocalists.


KURT GÄNZL continues his survey of nineteenth century vocalists by looking into the life and career of Julia Wallack. A member of one of America’s most celebrated theatrical families, she performed firstly as Julia Wallack, then as Julia Harland, and as the wife of a successful actor, was also known as Mrs William Hoskins.

Mrs HoskinsMrs William Hoskins, c.1860s. Private collection.HARLAND, Julia [WALLACK, Julia Susannah] (b. Washington, USA c.1819; d. 8 Hanover Street, Fitzroy, Victoria, Australia 19 August 1872)

Tracing the ‘who were they’ of so many Victorian singers can be an enormous (and not always successful) kind of ‘treasure hunt’. But with ‘Julia Harland’, there is very little problem. Why? Because her parents, her siblings, her cousins and, perhaps, even her aunts, were all much more celebrated members of the theatrical profession than she. Once you know that ‘Julia Harland’ was, for much of her career, a stage-name for the young lady born ‘Julia Wallack’ all is easy. Or should be. In fact, there are a couple of annoying odd details which don’t pop out as smoothly as I would like, plus the usual amount of reprinted third-hand rubbish, so there is still digging (and a cleaning of the internet stables) left to do here, for someone.

The Wallack dynasty of players descends from actor William Wallack (1760-1850) and his actress wife, Mrs Elizabeth Granger née Field (m. St Paul’s Covent Garden 8 July 1787), apparently formerly the wife of one Dr John Granger (m. Ayr 17 August 1776). Thanks to their descendants, they have been much written about over the years, and as usual the writers don’t seem quite to have been able to agree on the facts and figures. Mr William Winter, the dubiously correct biographer of Richard Mansfield, in Brander Matthews’s work on British Actors and Actresses, has gone about things in a precise way, but since he falls into error in his first few lines one clearly cannot trust him.

He states categorically that the couple had four children, two sons and two daughters, all of whom would go on the stage. Mary (‘Mrs Stanley’, ‘Mrs Hill’) and Elizabeth (Mrs Pincott) both have a place in historical recountings, but it was the two sons who were the stars of their generation, the sons known, on both sides of the Atlantic, as James William Wallack and Henry Wallack. Both sons were said to have been born in Lambeth, London. In Hercules Buildings, so it is recounted. James William is variously cited as being born 14 August 1794 and ('estimated' on his gravestone) 24 August 1795. Henry, who is the one who interests us, if he is Henry John Wallack, by William out of Elizabeth, was born 22 October 1792. And he was christened a month later, at the Nonconformist Church in Newcastle Upon Tyne.

Now, the acting Wallacks made numerous trips across the Atlantic during their busy theatrical careers, so they declared with great regularity their origins and their ages. Not, of course, being theatricals, that one expects them to have necessarily told the truth. Or even to be consistent. After all, James made one voyage out describing himself as ‘tragedian’ and came back labelled as ‘comedian’. But …

The trip that interests me is the voyage of the William, out of Hull, in 1821. It includes amongst its passengers one William Henry Wallack, comedian, aged 28, his wife (no name seemingly given) aged 24, a son James W. aged 3 and a daughter, Julia, aged 2. Our Julia. But ‘William Henry’? Yes, I have looked very closely to see if it could be ‘Mr’ Henry, but it isn’t. The William Henry Wallack who married Frances Jones 20 November 1814? That would fit, for the list looks like Frs rather than Mrs. So, they are the William Henry and Frances (m. 20 November 1814) who gave birth to James William who was christened at Hull 16 March 1818 …? William Henry, not Henry John. But it has to be the same person … so was Henry just assuming the name of William? It is very curious.

And it seems to run in the family. When James William (the first) married [Georgiana] Susannah Johnstone, 12 March 1818 at St Paul’s Covent Garden, he registered himself as James Richard Wallack. Susannah eh? Oh, what a load of Wallacks!

Julia Susannah Wallack was, so she said, born in Washington. That means that we have no way of finding out what her birth certificate says. But she is evidently (to me) the daughter of Henry Wallack (by whichever name he then chose) and Frances ka Fanny née Jones, who appear to have tarried a few years after their marriage before launching into children. But in 1819, Henry Wallack and his wife were indeed in America, having clearly popped across there with baby James in arms, and Henry was making his first appearances on the stage in Philadelphia and Baltimore ('a new star in our dramatic firmament'). And, thus, Julia Wallack first saw the light of day in America, as did her younger sister Fanny (b. ?1822; d. Edinburgh, 12 October 1856).

The Wallack marriage, however, was a distinct failure. The ‘graceful and delicate’ Fanny began to fall apart, the couple were divorced in 1833 and, a few years later (10 April 1836), she died, in New Orleans. In 1839, Wallack—as Henry John this time—remarried, his second wife being the vocalist Maria Turpin (b. Hawk St, Liverpool 18 June 1807; d. London 19 June 1860), and fathered further children, George (b. Kennington 1840; d. ?1873), William Henry James (b. Prince’s Place 21 April 1841; d. Brookwood February 1861) and Augustus Charles (b. Covent Garden, x. Norwich 15 November 1844; d. Brookwood February 1861).

Brother James was put on the stage as a child, but apparently Julia and Fanny were given more time. When they appeared at their father’s Benefit at the New Chatham Theatre on 23 December 1839, playing The Hunchback, with Julia as Julia and Fanny as Helen, it was announced as their first appearance on the stage. On 31 December, they took a Benefit of their own at which The Honeymoon was placed, with Julia as Juliana and Fanny as Violante.

During 1840, the ‘Misses Wallack’ were ‘walking ladies’ for Burton at the new National Theatre, where Julia appeared in supporting roles in opera (Zaida in Il Turco in Italia), and Fanny went on from there to make herself a considerable career as an actress, up till her marriage with comedian Charles H. Moorhouse and her subsequent early death. Julia, however, had inherited her mother’s talent for music and, on 13 April 1841, she made what seems to be a first operatic appearance, playing the part of Donna Elvira with the Seguin opera company, at the Park Theatre, alongside Miss Poole and Manvers. Later the same year, she was seen at Niblo’s, singing ‘Queen of the flowers’ and ‘Zephyr spread thy pinions high’ in the burletta Flora and Zephyr, playing with Chippendale in The Ladder of Love, and taking the role of Aldegonda, with the same company, in Horn’s short-lived opera Ahmed el Kamel, the Pilgrim of Love (‘Mild as the moonlight’). When Niblo’s staged ‘the laughable burletta’ The Valet de Sham, she interpolated the song, which she had made the hit of the opera, into the role of Miss Marchmont.

During 1842, the Wallack family was in England, where Henry played at the Theatre Royal, Covent Garden. James was at the Haymarket. I think that Julia must have been engaged at Norwich—for William Hoskins of the Theatre Royal company and his brother, lawyer Horatio Huntley Hoskins had written a play, De Valencourt, which was produced there and at Lynn, and Julia is listed in the printed copy as having played ‘Florinda, a waiting woman’. On 24 August 1842, Julia became the wife of the handsome Mr W. Hoskins.

William Hoskins hailed from Newton Solney in Derbyshire and was a son of a family of note. His grandfather, Abraham Hoskins (d. 1805) had been a solicitor in Burton-upon-Trent, and also a land speculator who had purchased the Newton Solney estate and, there, built Newton Park. He had had Sir Geoffrey Wyatville develop the so-called Bladon Castle, which his father, another Abraham, had converted into a home. Abraham junior produced nine children, spent his money liberally, constructed freely, but ‘through lavish hospitality, the breeding of greyhounds and, above all, by building Bladon Castle, found himself by 1836 unable to maintain either house and sold them and the estate to the Earl of Chesterfield ...’ His sister did better. She married the head of the Bass brewing firm.

William (b. 17 February 1816), having passed by Cambridge University and a legal career, was already on the stage, where his good looks more than any great acting ability would give him a respectable career in Britain before he headed to less competitive pastures in the southern hemisphere.

The couple crossed to America soon after their marriage, and on 21 October they appeared at the Park Theatre, Hoskins playing Felix in The Wonder, and Julia performing The Loan of a Lover. She was better liked than he was, but the experience evidently didn’t please and, quoting a ‘financial panic’ in New York, they quickly reversed back to England and the Theatre Royal, Norwich. Julia was seen in the protean role of Jenny Transit in Love’s Sacrifice, in which she ‘sang two new popular American songs’, as Gertrude in Loan of a Lover et al.

In August 1843, Henry Wallack took on the management of the Theatre Royal, Covent Garden, and he opened there 2 October with a company including son James and Mr Hoskins (‘a provincial actor’). However, the season was a quick failure. Although she was not apparently billed, I wonder if Julia had, in fact, also done something at Covent Garden. For when she went on to her next job, with the Bath and Bristol Theatre company she was billed as being ‘from Covent Garden’. She was not, by the way, the ‘Miss Wallack’ who appeared as Lisa in La Sonnambula at Southampton in October. That was Fanny ('we have not for years seen such a good Juliet').

In the last part of 1843 and the first months of 1844, she played at Bristol and at Bath mostly in drama and comedy (Flora in The Wonder, Chonchon in Linda the Pearl of Savoy, Abigail Holdforth in My Poll and Partner Joe, Kate Plowden in The Pilot, Nancy Spigot in The Double-Bedded Room, Christine in Stella Rittersdorf, Liska in Timour the Tartar, Miss Arlington (with songs) in The Hundred Pound Note etc), after which she and Hoskins turn up at Taunton in plays (Richelieu, Money &c), at Swansea and, in September, at Brighton where The Barber of Seville was amongst the pieces mounted. Julia sang Rosina to the Figaro of George Horncastle.

During 1845 and 1846, I spot the couple rarely. At Bath with the Keans, and husband and father are billed at the Manchester Theatre Royal in Shakespeare, but I finally catch up with them in late 1846, playing at Sadler’s Wells Theatre, where Julia is playing Loan of a Lover (‘very young, very pretty, and full of arch vivacity and rustic humour’). When she gave ‘Bid me discourse’ at a Benefit, the press wrote: ‘This young lady is in possession of a rich and melodious voice … her voice is clear, powerful and harmonious, but requires tuition..’. It was apparently what needed to be said. And it was the end of Julia Wallack. I spot her in February 1847, playing Pauline in The Lady of Lyons at the Newcastle Theatre Royal, back at Sadler’s Wells in March and April, playing in a musical interlude, The Rival Sergeants, with Mr Scharf and Mr H. Mellon (‘several incidental songs’), in Is He Jealous? with Hoskins and in Shocking Events and, in July, down at Gravesend for the season, but what she was mainly doing was taking singing lessons.

Henry Wallack had now moved his sphere of operations to the Princess’s Theatre, where a mixture of plays and operas was the bill of fare. The principal tenor of the establishment was a very fine vocalist, Henry Allen, and it was to him that Julia and her voice were entrusted.

Come November 1847, Allen was not to be seen in his accustomed place at the Princess’s. He was in Dublin, where he had engaged to sing a season of opera with a new soprano, ‘Miss Julia Harland’. Exit Miss Wallack, enter Miss Harland.  On 30 October 1847 Julia Harland played her ‘first performance in the lyric drama’ as Amina in La Sonnambula, with Allen as her Elvino and locals Henry Corri (sic) and Miss Mason in support. The next morning the Dublin press reported: ‘The debutante possesses most of the requisites for success on the stage. Without being strictly beautiful, she has a fine expressive face, a graceful figure, and an easy and elegant movement. Her voice is a mezzo-soprano, the range not very extensive; she is a little defective in the florid ornament of the Italian school, but she sings conscientiously and well. In the finale, ‘Do not mingle’, she was rapturously applauded and had to sing it three times. Her acting is particularly pleasing; she seems instinctively to have attained that familiarity with stage business which others gain by long study; every movement is easy, graceful, natural; in fact, as far as acting is concerned, we have seldom seen a gentler or more prepossessing Amina’.

Perhaps the reviewer was genuinely unaware that ‘Miss Harland’ had been more than half a dozen years on the dramatic stage, but his comment was one that would be often repeated during Julia’s operatic career. Whatever you thought of the voice, she was one of the country’s very best acting sopranos.

Suffice it, her Dublin debut was a success, and Sonnambula was duly followed by The Night Dancers, Lucia di Lammermoor and Maritana, before they headed off to Carlisle and dates beyond (‘the intention of Mr Allen is to perfect Miss Harland in the provinces previous to her making her appearance on the London boards…’), returning in March to Dublin, now with another pupil of Allen’s, a basso rejoicing in the noble name of Henry Percy, in tow. La Sonnambula, The Night Dancers and Lucia di Lammermoor were given again (even though Dublin had just had Miss Rainforth singing the repertoire), and I Puritani, Anna Bolena and The Young Guard, from the Anna Thillon repertoire at the Princess’s Theatre were added. 6 April 1848 they visited Cork, and at Easter Manchester, before, come 3 October and the opening of the new season at the Princess’s, Julia Harland made her London debut, at five pounds a week, alongside Allen, Weiss and John Gregg, in Lucia di Lammermoor. The debut was taken very seriously, and discussed at length in the press:

’as far as acting went, the best first appearance we have ever seen on the English stage’ voted one paper, but found nevertheless that she had perhaps been too ambitious in starting off with Lucia, ‘not without considerable promise … an uncertain singer, but she acts with some cleverness and has spirit and energy’.

The Era summed up: ‘her debut was highly satisfactory ... her voice is of considerable compass and good quality excepting in some few notes which require more management … Miss Harland displayed great ability, judgement and good taste … an agreeable countenance and a good figure...’.

It seemed that Miss Harland would be a useful member of the company at the Princess’s, but something went wrong. If the press liked her, manager John Medex Maddox soon decided he did not. Mlle de Roissi was sent on as Lucia, Captain Rafter’s The Heart of Midlothian, in which she had been cast, seemingly adeptly, to play Madge Wildfire, was postponed, and a fairly feeble piece called Marie or The Foundling of the Lake, with a ground up score of Hérold and Loder, substituted. Miss Poole played the title role, Miss Harland the second role of Emilie. Marie was a flop. Mr Maddox tried to trick her into missing a performance of The Waterman, but an actress working with her husband noticed her name up for the night’s bill, and so Julia turned up, only to be told that certainly she could go on as Wilhelmina, but her songs were all cut. Julia, in consequence, refused to go on, and Maddox gleefully sacked her. The Hoskinses promptly sued, the whole mucky affair (in which Allen’s name, noticeably, did not appear) was spilled out in court, and the affair cost Maddox—who claimed that the performer’s ‘incapability’ had caused the postponement of The Heart of Midlothian and been responsible for the failure of Marie—36 pounds 13 shillings plus his dignity. When The Heart of Midlothian did get on, Madge Wildfire was most oddly cast with the Americo-French soprano Dolores Nau, and it too was not a success. Julia couldn’t be blamed for that one.

Relations with Allen, who remained at the Princess’s seem to have been now severed, and Julia went off to take lessons with Emmanuel Garcia instead. At the same time it was announced that she had been engaged as ’leading singer at the Eagle Tavern’! From Lucia di Lammermoor to the Eagle Tavern? In fact, this was to be the best possible engagement for Julia Harland, and during it she would do some of the best and most appreciated work of her career. The Eagle Tavern was not just a hostelry or a beer garden: it had an ambitious and well-run theatre, known as the Grecian Saloon, attached to it, and the Grecian Saloon, manager Mr John Rouse, ambitioned productions of grand opera.

And thus it was, 3 November 1849, that Julia Harland opened once again as La Sonnambula, with an Elvino of the first rank—John Frazer—singing opposite her. The production was a full-blown success and she was a success in it. ‘Miss Harland is young, of good figure with well formed and striking features capable of much expression without having recourse to the ‘trick of face’. She has a good voice, something of a mezzo-soprano of excellent quality and more than ordinary compass and flexibility. Her execution is excellent, so also her musical education. From the beginning to the end of the opera she was not once out of tune’. Her acting was praised again as ‘graceful and natural, void of all attempts at point-making or straining after effect…’

Julia Harland and Mr Frazer (who also directed the productions), supported by the baritone Baldwin, a long-time employee of the place, Charles Horn, Eaton O’Donnell, Misses Crisp, Mary Ann Atkinson, and later Pat Corri, E.L. Hime and others, maintained the Grecian Saloon as a popular operatic house, through a long run of performances and productions. La Sonnambula was followed by The Syren (‘she did not lose a jot of the triumph she achieved as Amina’), Boisselot’s Touch not the Queen, The Crown Brilliants (sic), La gazza ladra, John of Paris, The Bohemian Girl (‘she has become an immense favourite’), Cinderella, Fra Diavolo, Don Pasquale, The Elixir of Love, Boieldieu’s Little Red Riding Hood, The Maid of Judah, The Daughter of the Regiment, Ma Part, Amilie, and, following Frazer’s departure, some less demanding pieces such as Clari the Maid of Milan, Brother and Sister, Guy Mannering, Midas, The Fairy Lake, The Duc d’Olonne, and A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Julia played Oberon), before changing to the extravaganza with Nobody in London (‘she ‘looked Venus admirably and sang as bewitchingly’), Planché’s The Sleeping Beauty in the Wood and Jason and Medea. By the time Julia Harland closed her association with the Grecian (which had, in the meanwhile, changed manager as well as fare), she had been there for two full years.

At Christmas she returned to Dublin, playing a mixture of traditional touring star’s musical playlets and burlesque extravaganza, during 1852 she was seen at Sadler’s Wells and at the Surrey in burlesque (Sir Lionel of the Silver Shield in The Three Perils of Man, or the Knights of the Round Table) and drama (Lestelle in The Flying Dutchman ‘with the original song’), and in June she joined Sims Reeves for a series of operatic performances at Drury Lane. When Reeves did La Sonnambula, Clara Novello sang Amina, and she was Lisa, and extremely well liked (‘Miss Julia Harland proved quite a card by the effectiveness of her Lisa. This young lady has histrionic powers of no common order, we are satisfied that she is not known at present in proportion to her merits’), when The Beggar’s Opera was done, Mrs Sims Reeves was Polly Peachum, and she scored again as Lucy Lockit. Over the next two years, Reeves would call regularly on the services of Miss Harland, to play alongside him in everything from La Sonnambula and Fra Diavolo (Lady Allcash) to The Waterman, Guy Mannering and Rob Roy, both in London and in his provincial and touring dates.

In between times, Julia appeared in London concerts (at Hoskins’ Benefit at Sadler’s Wells she delivered Rode’s fearsome ‘Air and Variations’), in an entertainment with Hoskins entitled Leaves from the Life and Lays from the Lyre of William Shakespeare, she sang at Drury Lane in a balletic piece entitled The Spirit of the Valley and in an ‘insipid’ role in a drama entitled St Marc, and played The Swiss Cottage at the Lyceum, The Beggar’s Opera at the Marylebone with Harriet Gordon as Macheath, and Lucy Bertram in Guy Mannering at the Haymarket, proving herself yet again a thoroughly attractive all-round artist.

In April 1854, she revisited Dublin to play a season with Harry Webb at the Queen’s Theatre playing mostly the standard provincial repertoire (A Roland for an Oliver, Giralda or the Miller’s Wife, The Camp at Queen’s, The Young Guard, The Foundling in the Forest, No!, The Swiss Cottage, The King’s Gardener, Midas, The King’s Wager, Villikind and his Dinah, The Water Man, Bluejackets, Loan of a Lover, Twas I, Ganem etc), and continued on to the Prince’s, Glasgow, where the repertoire was varied with the inevitable Rob Roy, before being recalled to London and some more Sims Reeves performances, including this time, The Bohemian Girl, in which she played the Gipsy Queen.

In 1855, Julia Harland went out to the provinces as the leading lady of Henri Corri’s English Opera Company, playing the standard repertoire alongside Corri, Eliot Galer, Fanny Reeves and Oliver Summers. Once again she gave her Lucia, her Sonnambula, The Bohemian Girl (now as Arline), Maritana, Cinderella and Norma, as the company toured lengthily through the year and into 1856.

And then Mr John Hall Wilton came into the Hoskins’s lives. Mr Wilton was a worldwide wanderer cum Mr Fixit who claimed, amongst many other things, to have negotiated P.T. Barnum’s famous deal with Jenny Lind. He had ended up in Australia, having apparently brokered the trip of Gustavus Brooke to the colonies and, his agency with Brooke ended, he advertised his return to Europe in the Australian papers, seeking commissions. Amongst the references he cited, apart from Barnum, Brooke and Miss Lind, were Tissaud, Charlotte Cushman, the Distins, Professor Anderson, Jullien, E.T. Smith and Mr J.W. Wallack.

So Mr Wilton and Mr John Black of the Melbourne theatres headed for England, and in England they engaged the backbone of an English Opera Company for the colonies. The prima donna was Julia Harland. It would later be said that it was Hoskins, whose career as a supporting actor in London had somewhat stalled, who was anxious for the opportunities that Australia offered, but whatever the truth of that tale, on 7 April 1856, Mr and Mrs Hoskins sailed for Australia on the ship James Baines in the company of Messrs Wilton and Black, Walter Sherwin, a music-hall tenor, the skilled bass Robert Farquharson and musical director Linley Norman.

The four musicians made their first appearance in Australia at Sydney’s English Opera House (ex-Prince of Wales Theatre) on 8 July in the inevitable La Sonnambula, and followed up with Lucia di Lammermoor. The performances went down well.

‘Miss Harland’s voice is a soprano of great power; she is a good musician and her execution is brilliant and correct. In the celebrated mad scene in Lucia she received the well merited applause of the audience and her rendering of the character was throughout given with excellent effect…’

They gave The Bohemian Girl ‘in its entirety for the first time in the colonies’, scenes from Don Pasquale, The Mountain Sylph, Maritana and in between times they gave concerts, but they did not draw, and panicky management did not help. They advertised ‘last performances’ when they had barely started, pretended they were closing and then stayed on, but still the public did not come. On 1 September they opened at ‘Our Lyceum’ (ex-Queen’s Theatre) in Melbourne, and John Gregg formerly of the Princess’s Theatre and Mrs Fiddes once Harriet Cawse joined to play supporting roles. Julia was liked ‘[her voice is] is superior certainly as regards freshness to that of any of her predecessors on the Melbourne boards’, ‘an actress of extraordinary calibre..’. The most recent soprano visitor to Melbourne had been the ageing Anna Bishop.

They traipsed on to the Victoria Theatre in Adelaide, returned for the official opera season in Melbourne during which they gave Masaniello … but the word was around ‘the opera troupe is a dead failure everywhere’.

But William Hoskins and Julia Harland stayed in Australia. Julia sang opera when there was opera to be sung, sang in concerts and in the occasional oratorio, trouped the diggings in every kind of entertainment and, generally, made do. ‘Making do’ was often what it was, and casting was not quite what it had been at the Eagle. When Mme Carandini sang Leonora in Trovatore, Julia was cast as Azucena (they later swapped), when Fra Diavolo was done ‘for the first time in the colonies (21 September 1858), she got to sing Zerlina, but the brigand was played not by Sherwin, but by Mme Carandini. When Eugenio and Giovannina Bianchi visited Australia and played Italian opera, Julia sang Adalgisa, Maffeo Orsini, Lisa and Flora in La Traviata, behind Mme Bianchi, as well as the leading roles in  Lucia and L’Elisir d’amore.

After the Bianchi season in 1861, Julia seems to have slid from the operatic scene, and she was seen for a while in burlesque (King Thrushbeard, The Bride of Abydos) and, often alongside her husband, in comedy (Lady Teazle was a favourite) and in Shakespeare (Ophelia, Tempest vocals). She also put on a great deal of weight. I last spot Julia Harland on the stage in a burlesque of the same La Sonnambula which had, so many times, been her ‘debut’ piece, at Sydney’s Prince of Wales Theatre in 1868. In burlesque fashion, of course, she played the boy part.

From 1869, Julia settled down as a vocal teacher in Fitzroy, Melbourne, advertising herself as ‘a pupil of Garcia’, but three years later, at the age of 51, she died ‘of dropsy’.

Hoskins remarried, his second wife being the Tasmanian actress known as Florence Colville (Mary Florence Rice, m. Christchurch, New Zealand, 27 January 1874). He was involved with theatre management on both sides of the Tasman and did not quit the stage until 1884. Two years later, he died (29 September 1886), at the age of seventy-one. He had been right to come to the colonies, for he had established himself there as one of the great characters of the Australian and New Zealand stage. Whether the relocation had been equally as good a move for Mrs Hoskins, is less certain.



With thanks to Allister Hardiman for his help with the photographs of Julia Harland and William Hoskins

Once again KURT GÄNZL delves into the life and career of a Victorian vocalist who deserves better recognition. Madame Lucy Escott was an American soprano who achieved success in her home country of America, even greater success on the stages of Europe and the UK, and spent some eight years in Australia with W.S. Lyster's opera troupe.

ESCOTT, Lucy [Evans] [EASTCOTT née GRANT] (b. Springfield, Mass 4 January 1829; d. Paris 26 November 1895)Escott SLNSWLucy Escott, 1863; photograph by Edward Dalton, Sydney. State Library of New South Wales, Sydney.

Lucy Escott probably has the best claims, in retrospect, to be considered the ‘first American prima donna’ to make a successful career as an operatic soprano on the international stage.

A rather self-conscious article in the American press, in 1860, surveyed the field and came up with contenders: Madame Biscaccianti of Boston, Miss Withers of New York, Mrs Eastcott of Massachussetts, Miss [Maria Scovill] Brainerd of New York, Miss Wessler of Philadelphia, Miss Rosalie Durand of New York … Such as Mrs Sutton and Elisa Hensler didn’t even rate a mention. Anyhow, it was no contest. Only the career of Miss Withers aka Cora de Wilhorst approached that of Lucy Escott in quality, in success, and in travels, and by the time Cora made her debut Lucy was already wowing Naples with her performances.

Dwight of Boston had come to the same conclusion four years earlier: ‘She is, I believe, the only bona fide American prima donna who has appeared with continued success ...’.

Lucy was born Lucy Evans Grant, the daughter of Luther Grant of Springfield, Massachusetts, and his wife Lorinda née Williams, in 1829. Not 1832. She appears in the 1830 census. She was educated to music, and, as a teenager, was already a successful music teacher in Springfield. At the age of seventeen (24 March 1846) she married another local musician, the British-born Richard Eastcott (b. Broadwood x 15 October 1817; d. Springfield 19 August 1880), who had studied at the Royal Academy of Music from 1834 (and, allegedly, played at Victoria’s coronation)   before emigrating to America in 1839. He taught piano and violin in Worcester, Mass, and performed in concerts (‘a jolly and dapper little Englishman’) at the local Brinley Hall. I spot him, in 1843, playing in the orchestra at the Boston Handel and Haydn Society. ‘Miss Grant, pupil of E. Hamilton’ is to be seen concertising with him in 1845, and ‘Mrs Eastcott’ appears beside him, in concert, the month after their marriage.

The following year (while La Biscaccianti was, in her turn, making her first public appearances) she sang with Henri Herz and Camillo Sivori (11 October 1847) at the Tabernacle, NY, taking the part of Zerlina, alongside Mme Fleury Jolly, when they gave a selection from Don Giovanni. She followed up on programmes featuring the young pianist Richard Hoffman and the violinist Joseph Burke, from New York to Boston via Rochester, Albany and Syracuse (‘… a superb singer. Her voice is exceedingly deep and rich and she reminds us much of Mrs Bishop … we have had no such singing here since Mrs Bishop visited us…’) to their most recent home in Providence, RI. When she gave three concerts at Albany’s Bleeker Hall (12 November 1850, ‘Qui la voce’, ‘Non fu sogno’) the local press avowed ‘We have heard the best vocalists of this country but must acknowledge we have never witnessed a more splendid display’. 

Albany was the next place where they posted their shingle as teachers, and, there, Lucy became the soprano of St Paul’s Church, teamed with the young tenor, Henry Squires. Mr Squires would henceforth be part of her life, in one capacity or another, for as long as she would live. He appeared with Lucy in concert in New York where she sang on a number of programmes at Tripler Hall (Zorer’s ‘Joy and grief’, ‘Una voce poco fa’ as ‘Tyrant, soon I’ll burst thy chains’, Jenny Lind’s Song of Home, ‘O dolce concerto’), but the future team was sundered temporarily when the Eastcotts took the plunge and set off for Italy, where Lucy might further her studies.

They apparently settled on Florence, and an American abroad wrote back in August of 1852: ‘Mrs Eastcott, of Albany I believe, has been studying vocal music here and in Bologna for the year past. Mrs Eastcott has an organ of great power and compass—a soprano—remarkably sweet and pure in the upper notes. She has been very assiduous in her studies and her execution of the most difficult passages wins the heartiest applause, not only from those present, but from a large crowd of outsiders on the street below. She speaks the language with fluency and her style of singing is purely and thoroughly Italian … If Mrs Eastcott preserves her strength and voice, she is sure to make a sensation in the musical world.’

In April the following year, another report followed: ‘[Mrs Eastcott] formerly of Springfield, Mass, made her debut some months ago at one of the theatres here in the well-known letter scene from Il Barbiere. I witnessed it, and can testify that her success was very decided …  she is now singing as prima donna at one of the theatres in Naples…’

And indeed she was. Lucy had been taken on as prima donna at the Teatro Nuovo in Naples, where she had become a decided favourite. It seems she made her first appearance there, in a complete opera, on 10 January 1853, in the role of the heroine in Mercadante’s Violetta, and won sufficient success to allow it to be played 32 times. On 8 May 1853 she followed up as Emilia in Lillo’s new comic opera Ser Babbeo (‘giovane cantatrice americana che già piacque citanti’). She also played in the previous season’s hit Elena di Tolosa, Angiolina in Petrella’s Le Miniere di Freimberg, Il Barbiere di Siviglia, Il Trovatore, Norma, L’Elisir d’amore, Battista’s Ermelinda and, in January 1854, Giovanni Moretti’s Il Festino. She encountered the Draconian methods of the Italian theatres when she declined to play in Sarra’s Carmosina, which was written in Neapolitan dialect, and found herself in hot water.

The Morning Post reported from Naples on the sudden increase in striving Americans in the town and of their shining example: ‘In Naples we have an American lady, Mrs Escott, who draws every night at the Nuovo, and has really succeeded …’

And later: ‘The last thing one would expect of the Americans is that they should come and sing with success on the Italian stage. Nevertheless we have two examples in Naples at the present moment. Mrs Escott is an American lady who for more than a year has ‘drawn’ at the Nuovo. She came to Italy knowing nothing of the Italian language and only possessing such musical education as can be picked up in the United States, and yet within a few months she became the favourite at the Nuovo, a theatre which has schooled some of the best living artists. She has acquired the Italian school of singing and made the most of a delicate organ. With an unusual talent for acting, she has surpassed most Italian artists in dramatic excellence. She now leaves Naples for America where no doubt she will coin her fame into gold.’ The other American success, at a lesser theatre, was Henry Squires.

And Lucy, perhaps because of the vagaries of Italian pronunciation, had become definitively ‘Escott’.

The Escotts did not return to America. They progressed instead to England, where ‘a Madame Lucia Escott’ appeared at Helen Taylor’s concert at the Hanover Square Rooms in June. The English press commented ‘Her style is earnest and dramatic but not remarkable for finish’.

They then descended to the village of Antony, in Cornwall, where Richard’s family lived, and at Antony Farm, on 2 December 1854, Lucy gave birth to a son, [Louis] Edgar (d. Coos, Oregon 12 July 1940).

She came back to singing the following year, starting off with a concert at Plymouth’s St George’s Hall (‘Una voce, ‘Com’è bello’, ‘Lo, Here the gentle lark’,’ Charming May’), and appeared at Giacinto Marras’s concert in London, in June, with her Trovatore aria, and at the downmarket Newman Rooms, in music from Lucia di Lammermoor, with Allan Irving, before she was snapped up by E.T. Smith for the last nights of his Drury Lane opera season.

The opera chosen for her debut was La Donna del lago, in which she played alongside Fanny Huddart, Armandi, Flavio and Hamilton Braham. She scored a distinct success. ‘Her appearance in youthful and pleasing, Her figure is small and slight but very elegant; her features are delicate and feminine and her voice, a high soprano, is remarkably clear and flexible without that vibrating quality which conduces greatly to expression. Her intonation is beautifully true, and her execution and style those of a highly finished artist … her whole performance, full of refinement, spirit and sensibility was a continued triumph’.

On 10 July she took up the role of Lucia (previously played by Mme Gassier), before Smith’s season ended. But Lucy stayed right where she was. Joseph Stammers was the next tenant, playing an English opera season, and Lucy was hired as prima donna. She appeared on 21 July opposite Elliot Galer, as Arline (‘We have seldom seen a more agreeable representation of the gentle Arline’) and following up as Maritana, as Aeolia in The Mountain Sylph, Amina in La Sonnambula, and, when J W Wallack guested, sang one of the witches in his Macbeth. As the season stretched on, she caused ‘a furore’ as Galatea in Acis and Galatea, Adina in L’Elisir d’amore and sang her Lucia again, this time in English. At her Benefit, she introduced a new patriotic song ‘Victoria’ (S.W. New/Renton Nicholson) ‘dedicated to the forces of the Crimea’ and was praised as she  ‘not only sang the song exquisitely but acted every line of it’.

After the opera season, she repeated her Galatea at St Martin’s Hall, and appeared in concert from Covent Garden (Venzano waltz ‘with dashing facility’) to Greenwich to Carlisle and Islington, before returning to the theatre for a series of Stammers performances of The Bohemian Girl and La Sonnambula at Covent Garden. Stammers was succeeded, at Easter, by J.H. Tully and Frederick Kingsbury, and the Bohemian Girl performances were overtaken by the first English-language production of an opera which Lucy knew well from her Italian days. And thus, Lucy Escott became the world’s first English-language Leonora in Il Trovatore (24 March 1856). Lloyds newspaper summed up the situation: ‘Leonora is a difficult part, because it is less known and has fewer traditions than any which Miss Escott has yet attempted’, but ‘she sang and acted with her wonted energy and thoroughly entered into the spirit of the part’. ‘Madame Escott acquits herself with singular dexterity in the part of the heroine, the music of which, so profuse in the florid volubilties of the Italian school, she delivers with uncommon energy and freedom. We could not desire a more adequate executant of the ‘Tacea la notte’ or someone more decisive and vigorous in style’.

Once again, Lucy’s acting performance got the notices, but it was taken for granted that (apart from a dicky trill in Handel) her vocal talents were impeccable. America had sent a worthy ‘first American prima donna’ across the Atlantic.

The Mountain Sylph was revived (‘The cast has … probably never been excelled’) and on 30 June 1856 the company produced the Esmeralda of the ‘very Neapolitan’ composer Vincenzo Battista, which Lucy was said to have performed, improbably, 100 times in Naples. The press found it ‘trite and vulgar … below criticism’, but the cast drew appreciative notices. On the season’s 100th night Lucy contributed her ‘Miserere’ and the last act of The Enchantress.

In August the ‘National Opera Company’ (manager: Tully) went to the provinces, with Il Trovatore as its main offering, but with Maritana, Lucia di Lammermoor, Esmeralda, The Bohemian Girl, Cinderella Norma, Lucrezia Borgia, and, as the tour moved on, La Traviata, or the blighted flower amongst its baggage, until 1 June 1857 they came to rest at London’s Surrey Theatre:

‘The opera company which designates itself ‘National’ and has been singing in most of the English provinces has found its way to the Surrey Theatre where during the past week it has been playing La Traviata under circumstances of considerable force and efficiency. Miss Lucy Escott sustains the principal character and gives a very able and affecting version of the unfortunate heroine ... Her acting in this as in every opera she undertakes betrays great earnestness as well as a remarkable power of dramatic exemplification, while her singing is that of a clever and experienced artist’.

Lucy, tenor Haigh and baritone Durand, plus seconda donna Lizzie Dyer, still formed the backbone of the troupe, but Fanny Huddart was replaced by Rosalia Lanza, and a new tenor was added: Henry Squires.

After the Surrey season, the flourishing troupe hit the road again for another extended tour of the main centres, adding Loder’s The Night Dancers to their repertoire, in which Il Trovatore was still the main attraction, Rigoletto a novelty, and in which Esmeralda stayed stubbornly an item. They spent the festive season in Cork, where the local critic remarked ‘Lucy Escott’s reception was in the highest degree flattering, the audience displaying an amount of enthusiasm reserved only for prime favourites’ and finally came to a halt at Newport in June 1858.

In mid-September, Lucy, her husband, son Edgar and the members of her ‘National’ company: Emma Heywood, Charles Durand, Aynsley Cook and consort and Brookhouse Bowler, boarded the Prince Albert and sailed for America.

There, things went wrong. They were booked for three months, apparently through the agency of George Loder, for a season of their operas at Burton’s Theatre, following his Italian opera season with Pauline Colson and Gazzaniga. They opened with their celebrated Trovatore, which by now had been thoroughly done in New York. As the city echoed to the coming of Piccolomini and her ‘naughty’ Traviata, Burton immediately schemed to break their contract and closed them in a week. Richard Escott sued, and would eventually win $4,000, but the company’s New York season was finished.

For more than twelve months, Lucy and the remnant of her company wandered from concerts to small operatic performances around America. She teamed with the English tenor, David Miranda, in an opera company which finally came to grief in Cincinnati in early 1860. No fault, the press assured, of the prima donna ‘one of the best lyric actresses in English.’

But salvation from what looks severely like poor management was at hand. Mrs Escott was, as was Mr Squires, booked by the Lyster brothers for a season of opera in California.

It did not look like an outstanding company. Rosalie Durand, Georgia Hodson, the ill-fated Irishman John Haig aka Juan de Haga aka Camoens, or Fred Lyster were scarcely comparable with Charles Durand and the Aynsley Cooks as artists. But it worked.

The reaction of California was splendid. The troupe opened at Maguire’s Opera House with Lucia di Lammermoor (19 May 1860) and Lucy triumphed: ‘her style of singing is brilliant and enthusiastic the charm of which is increased by expressive features a pretty face and a good figure ... She sings easily without affectations or any of the assumptions which are generally the evidence of weakness. Sweetness of tone and purity of utterance are her great vocal merits. From first to last she was applauded to the echo … surpassed herself ...’. Never have artists been more cordially received in San Francisco’.

Lucy Escott had been something of a star in Naples, she had also conquered Drury Lane and Britain, but the epoch of her career was still coming, and the season in San Francisco was its beginning. The company played La Traviata, Maritana, Il Trovatore, I Puritani, Lucrezia Borgia, Ernani, The Rose of Castille, La Sonnambula, Rigoletto, Der Freischütz, La Favorita, Martha, Norma, The Bohemian Girl, Lurline and others in California, with two lengthy seasons in San Francisco, Lucy singing almost every night and—alongside her gentlemanly tenor—indubitably the star of every show.

Then, on 8 January, their successful time in California done, Mrs Escott, Squires and their colleagues—after many a rumour as to their plans—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 versions of such works such as Les Huguenots, Oberon, Masaniello, Le Prophète, L’Africaine, Robert le diable, and Un ballo in maschera, 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 English opera, indeed of opera tout court, in Australia. And Lucy Escott into its virtual founding prima donna.

After an umpteenth ‘last performance’ in concert at the Sydney Prince of Wales Theatre 24 August 1868, the troupe as now constituted finally sailed back to San Francisco, and opened at the Metropolitan Theatre 21 December 1868 with their grandiose production of Les Huguenots. Their Australian success was not repeated and, when Lyster returned to Australia, Lucy and Henry remained in America.

Soon after (21 June 1870), Lucy Escott became Mrs Henry Squires. Since her husband was still alive in Massachusetts (where he died of the syphilis in 1880), presumably some sort of arrangement was arrived at. But singer-gossip columnist Blanche Roosevelt referred 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 (duly chronicled in the Australian papers), M et Mme Squires settled permanently in Paris, where they lived in retirement until Lucy’s death in 1895. Henry returned to America, and died there, after a stroke, in 1907.

It had been quite a life and one hell of a career.


This article was first poublished in Victorian Vocalists by Kurt Gänzl, Routledge, 2018

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