Posts Tagged ‘Lucia Elizabeth Vestris’

Regency Personalities Series

In my attempts to provide us with the details of the Regency, today I continue with one of the many period notables.

John Ebers
1778 – 8 December 1858

John Ebers was born in Hertford, and was baptised there at St. Andrew’s Church on 24 July 1778. Around 1810 he took over his father’s bookselling business at 27 Old Bond Street, He seems to have been commercially successful, as he is described, at the beginning of his career as a manager, as ‘an opulent bookseller in Bond Street, who has been largely engaged in the interests of the holders of property-boxes for some years’. From this it would seem that he had acted as a kind of ticket agent.

In 1820 the London season of Italian opera at the King’s Theatre had come to a premature end, after its director had fled the country leaving the orchestra unpaid. Ebers, who had lent money to the theatre and had the assignment of several of the opera’ s boxes as part of his ticket-selling business, took on the task of theatre management, but relied on his musical director, William Ayrton, to bring matters into a more satisfactory state.

At first Ebers became the lessee of the theatre for one year only, and on 10 March 1821 the house opened with La gazza ladra, the first time that it had been heard in England. As compared with the former seasons, this year was eminently successful, although it seems to have been the general opinion that the manager’s promises with regard to the excellence of the singers had not been fulfilled. Violante Camporese, who appeared as Donna Anna in Don Giovanni with the greatest success, had been engaged at a salary of 1,550l. Giuseppina Ronzi de Begnis, her husband, the bass Giuseppe de Begnis, and Alberico Curioni seem to have been the only other singers whose performances gave unmingled satisfaction. Rossini’s Il turco in Italia was the only other novelty produced during the season; but in spite of this somewhat modest inauguration of his management, Ebers seems to have been commercially successful.

In 1822, Ebers ventured to take a four years’ lease of the theatre from a banker named Chambers, who owned the theatre at the time. Ayrton seems to have been uniformly unfortunate in his relations with managers, for the connection between him and Ebers was dissolved that year. A Signor Petracchi, conductor at La Scala, Milan, was summoned to succeed him, and a board of directors, consisting of various noblemen, was associated with the management of the undertaking. The strength of the company was increased by the addition of Maria Caterina Rosalbina Caradori-Allan and Pierre Begrez. The productions of the year were Rossini’s Pietro l’eremita (i.e. Mosè in Egitto) and Otello, Giuseppe Mosca’s I pretendenti delusi, and Giovanni Pacini’s Il barone di Dolsheim, both of which last failed. In spite of this, the season was on the whole successful. In 1823 the management was placed in the hands of a committee, under a certain guarantee to Ebers. Rossini’s La donna del lago, Ricciardo e Zoraide, Matilde di Shabran and Saverio Mercadante’s Elisa e Claudio were produced. Although the bad accounts of the season which are to be read in the ‘Harmonicon’ for 1823 must be taken with a grain of salt (Ayrton was the editor of the paper, which appeared first in that year), it is still to be perceived that the affairs of the theatre were in an unsatisfactory state. Lucia Elizabeth Vestris was the only addition to the company, and Violante Camporese retired at the end of the season.

Ebers now sublet the theatre for two years to Giovanni Battista Benelli, who had been assistant stage manager. In January 1824 the season opened with Rossini’s Zelmira with Isabella Colbran in the principal part, the composer himself being advertised to be present. He had undertaken to write an opera, Ugo, re d’Italia, but it was never finished. Pasta made her appearance on 24 April, and the season lasted, in spite of enormous losses, until 14 August, shortly after which Benelli decamped, leaving Rossini and the artists unpaid. The matter came before the courts, with Ebers appealing to the Lord Chancellor to put him again into the management of the theatre. The particulars of the actions may be read in the ‘Quarterly Musical Magazine,’ vi. 516–521. It was generally considered that the engagement of Rossini was unwise; but the patronage bestowed by the fashionable world had been so great that Ebers felt justified in announcing a new season, returning again to the directorship of Ayrton. The fact that the leases of the ‘property-boxes’ were to fall in at the end of 1825 gave a prospect of success. His prospectus is more or less apologetic, but he had secured the services of a fairly good company, and in the course of the season Pasta was prevailed on to accept a portion of the salary due to her from the previous year in lieu of the whole amount, and to return to London.

The board of works declaring the King’s Theatre to be unsafe, the Haymarket Theatre was taken for a time, from the beginning of March until the middle of April. Rossini’s Semiramide was brought out on 20 June, and Giacomo Meyerbeer’s Il crociato in Egitto on 23 July, for the first appearance of Giovanni Velluti, the castrato, who was one of the great attractions of the year. At the end of the season Ayrton again retired, possibly on account of a difficulty which the management had had with Manuel García, the correspondence relating to which is published in the ‘Quarterly Musical Magazine,’ vii. 188–91. In November, Velluti was appointed director, and the new season was announced to begin on the last day of the old year. It began on 7 January 1826, when great dissatisfaction was caused by the substitution of many inexperienced orchestral performers for those who had played for many seasons. Francesco Morlacchi’s Tebaldo ed Isolina was produced without success on 25 February. In May Pasta appeared, and drew large audiences. Velluti’s voice began to give out at the end of the season, and Ebers’s choice of Rossini’s Aureliano in Palmira for his benefit, 22 June, did not add to his popularity. He got into trouble concerning the pay to the chorus on this occasion, and the matter was decided against him in the sheriff’s court. On 12 August the season came to an abrupt end, several performances being still due. In the next season Carlo Coccia, the conductor, resigned his post, and after considerable difficulty his place was taken by Nicolas-Charles Bochsa, who had undertaken two seasons of oratorios at the King’s Theatre without any success, was now appointed director, and on 2 December the house opened with Gasparo Spontini’s La vestale. Pacini’s La schiava in Bagdad and Coccia’s Maria Stuarda were produced, and on 7 August the theatre again closed prematurely. At the end of the year Ebers, being unable to pay the enormous rent demanded of him by the assignees of Chambers, became a bankrupt.

In 1826, the young Harrison Ainsworth, having qualified as a lawyer, joined Ebers’s bookselling business as a partner. Ebers had earlier published Ainsworth’s first novel (Sir John Chiverton, written in collaboration with J. Ashton). In October 1826 Ainsworth married Ebers’s daughter Anne Frances (Fanny), and the couple moved in with Ebers. Ainsworth almost certainly assisted Ebers in writing his memoirs , Seven Years of the Kings Theatre (1828). However he quit his business partnership with Ebers in 1829.

Messrs. Chambers at first intended to carry on the undertaking themselves, but they ultimately let the theatre to a certain Laurent, who was also lessee of the Théâtre Italien in Paris. After a year he was succeeded by Pierre François Laporte. In 1828 Ebers published his Seven Years of the King’s Theatre, a book put together with some skill, and in its way an entertaining history of his career. He lays before the public all his accounts, in order to justify his own position, and on the whole it must be admitted to be a valuable contribution to the history of the Italian opera in England. After his failure as a manager, he resumed his business as a bookseller and stationer. His name appears in the directories as the proprietor of the business at 27 Old Bond Street down to 1830; in 1831 the style is John Ebers & Co., and from 1836 onwards the name is given as S. Ebers & Co. An Emily S. Ebers, who may have been his daughter, carried on the business, being called in the directory ‘opera agent,’ until 1863.

Ebers died on 8 December 1858 in Kensington, London, and was buried in Kensal Green Cemetery.

Read Full Post »

Regency Personalities Series
In my attempts to provide us with the details of the Regency, today I continue with one of the many period notables.

Charles James Mathews
26 December 1803 – 24 June 1878


Charles James Mathews

Charles James Mathews was born in Liverpool the son of Charles Mathews. After attending Merchant Taylors’ School, Crosby, he was articled as the architect Augustus Charles Pugin’s apprentice. For some years, Mathews worked at this profession.

His first public appearance on the stage was made on 7 December 1835, at the Olympic Theatre in London, as George Rattleton in his own play The Humpbacked Lover, and as Tim Topple the Tiger in Leman Rode’s Old and Young Stager.

In 1838, he married Madame Vestris, then lessee of the Olympic, as her second husband. That year he also toured the US, to lukewarm reviews. In 1856, Mme Vestris died.

The following year Mathews again visited the U.S., and there in 1858 he married Mrs A. H. Davenport, whose son Charles Willie West assumed his stepfather’s surname by deed poll.

Mathews started managing the Olympic Theatre soon after his marriage to Mme Vestris, but did not succeed financially. Despite introducing innovations of more realistic and detailed scenery, his following management of the Theatre Royal, Covent Garden, and the Lyceum Theatre also had limited financial return. They did have quite a success with their production of the Victorian farce London Assurance (1841), commissioned for their company and written by Dion Boucicault. This was Boucicault’s first major success.

As an actor in England, Mathews held an unrivalled place in his unique vein of light eccentric comedy. He had an easy grace combined with “imperturbable solemnity”, a combination which amused people; his humour was never broad, but always measured and restrained. It was as the leading character in such plays as the Game of Speculation, My Awful Dad, Cool as a Cucumber, Patter versus Clatter, and Little Toddlekins, that he especially excelled.

After Mathews’ return to England with his second wife, in 1861, they gave a series of “At Home” tabletop reviews at the Haymarket Theatre. These were nearly as popular as those of his father had been.
Charles James Mathews was one of the few English actors who successfully played French-speaking roles. In 1863 he appeared in Paris in a French version of his play Cool as a Cucumber, and was received with praise. He played there again in 1865 as Sir Charles Coldcream in the original play L’Homme blasé (English version by Boucicault was known as Used Up.)

At age 66 in 1869, Mathews set out on a tour round the world, including a third visit to the U.S. He made his last appearance in New York at Wallack’s Theatre on 7 June 1872, in H. J. Byron’s Not such a Fool as He Looks.

After his return to England in 1872, he continued to act until within a few weeks of his death. His last appearance in London was at the Opéra Comique on 2 June 1877, in The Liar and The Cosy Couple. At Stalybridge he gave his last performance on 8 June 1878, when he played Adonis Evergreen in his comedy My Awful Dad.

Mathews died June 24, 1878.

Read Full Post »

Regency Personalities Series
In my attempts to provide us with the details of the Regency, today I continue with one of the many period notables.

Lucia Elizabeth Vestris
January 1797 – 8 August 1856


Lucia Elizabeth Vestris

Lucia Elizabeth Vestris January 1797 – 8 August 1856) was an English actress and a contralto opera singer, appearing in works by Mozart and Rossini. While popular in her time, she was more notable as a theatre producer and manager. After accumulating a fortune from her performances, she leased the Olympic Theatre in London and produced a series of burlesques and extravaganzas for which the house became famous, especially popular works by James Planché. She also produced his work at other theatres she managed.

She was born Elizabetta Lucia Bartolozzi in London in 1797, the first of two daughters of the highly regarded German pianist Theresa Jansen Bartolozzi and Gaetano Stefano Bartolozzi. He was a musician and son of the immigrant Francesco Bartolozzi, a noted artist and engraver, appointed as Royal Engraver to the king. Gaetano Bartolozzi was a successful art dealer, and the family moved to Europe in 1798 when he sold off his business. They spent time in Paris and Vienna before reaching Venice, where they found that their estate had been looted during the French invasion. They returned to London to start over, where Gaetano taught drawing. They separated there and Therese gave piano lessons to support her daughters.

Lucia studied music and was noted for her voice and dancing ability. She was married at age 16 to the French dancer, Auguste Armand Vestris, a scion of the great family of dancers of Florentine origin, but her husband deserted her four years later. Nevertheless, since she had started singing and acting professionally as “Madame Vestris”, she retained the stage name throughout her career.

In 1815 her contralto voice and attractive appearance gained Madame Vestris her first leading role at age 18 in Italian opera in the title-role of Peter Winter’s II ratto di Proserpina at the King’s Theatre, where she also sang in 1816 in Martín y Soler’s Una cosa rara and performed the roles of Dorabella and Susanna in Mozart’s operas Così fan tutte and The Marriage of Figaro. She had immediate success in both London and Paris. In the French capital city she occasionally appeared at the Théâtre-Italien and various other theatres, and legend has it that she even performed as a tragic actress at the Théâtre-Français playing Camille opposite François-Joseph Talma in Corneille’s Horace. Which however has turned out to be untrue. The mistake derived from a misreading of Talma’s Mémoires where the actor narrates an episode in which a ‘Madame Vestris’ – not Eliza Lucia Vestris, who was born several years later.

Her first hits in English were in 1820 at age 23 at the Drury Lane in Stephen Storace’s Siege of Belgrade, and in Moncrieff’s burlesque Giovanni in London, where she performed the male title-role of no less than Don Giovanni: the succès de scandale of this breeches performance in which she showed off her fabulously perfect legs, launched her career as a scandalous beauty. Thenceforward she remained an extraordinary favourite in opera, musical farces and comedies until her retirement in 1854. At the King’s Theatre she sang in the English premieres of many Rossini operas, sometimes conducted by the composer himself: La gazza ladra (as Pippo, 1821), La donna del lago (as Malcolm Groeme, 1823), Ricciardo e Zoraide (as Zomira, 1823), Matilde di Shabran (as Edoardo, 1823), Zelmira (as Emma, 1824) and Semiramide (as Arsace, 1824)”.

She excelled in “breeches parts,” and she also performed in Mozart operas, such as Die Entführung aus dem Serail (Blonde) in 1728, and later, in 1742, The Marriage of Figaro (Cherubino), in a complete specially crafted English version by James Planché. She was credited with popularizing such new songs as “Cherry Ripe”, “Meet Me by Moonlight Alone” (written by Joseph Augustine Wade), I’ve been roaming,” etc. She also took part in world premieres, creating the role of Felix in Isaac Nathan’s comic opera The Alcaid or The Secrets of Office, (London, Little Theatre in the Haymarket, 1824), and, above all, that of Fatima in Oberon or The Elf King’s Oath, “the Grand Romantic and Fairy Opera” by Carl Maria von Weber, which was given at the Theatre Royal, Covent Garden on 12 April 1826.

In 1830, having accumulated a fortune from her performing, she leased the Olympic Theatre from John Scott. There she began presenting a series of burlesques and extravaganzas—for which she made this house famous. She produced numerous works by the contemporary playwright James Planché, with whom she had a successful partnership, in which he also contributed ideas for staging and costumes.

She married in 1838 for the second time, to the British actor Charles James Mathews and accompanied him on tour to America. She aided him in his subsequent managerial ventures, including the management of the Lyceum Theatre and the theatre in Covent Garden.

Mme Vestris and Mathews inaugurated their management of Covent Garden with the first-known production of Love’s Labour’s Lost since 1605; Vestris played Rosaline. In 1840 she staged one of the first relatively uncut productions of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, in which she played Oberon. This began a tradition of female Oberons that lasted for 70 years in the British theatre.

In 1841 Vestris produced the highly successful Victorian farce London Assurance by Dion Boucicault, with possibly the first use of a “box set”.

She also introduced the soprano Adelaide Kemble to the theatre in Bellini’s Norma and La Sonnambula. A daughter of John Kemble, actor-manager and one of the theatre’s owners, and niece of Sarah Siddons Adelaide had a sensational but short career before retiring into marriage.

About her time in charge at Covent Garden, a note by the actor James Robertson Anderson reported in C.J. Mathews’s autobiography, says:

Madame was an admirable manager, and Charles an amiable assistant. The arrangements behind the scenes were perfect, the dressing rooms good, the attendants well-chosen, the wings kept clear of all intruders, no strangers or crutch and toothpick loafers allowed behind to flirt with the ballet-girls, only a very few private friends were allowed the privilege of visiting the green-room, which was as handsomely furnished as any nobleman’s drawing-room, and those friends appeared always in evening dress….There was great propriety and decorum observed in every part of the establishment, great harmony, general content prevailed in every department of the theatre, and universal regret was felt when the admirable managers were compelled to resign their government.

Another contemporary actor George Vandenhoff in Dramatic Reminiscences also bears testimony to the fact that: ‘To Vestris’s honour, she was not only scrupulously careful not to offend propriety by word or action, but she knew very well how to repress any attempt at double-entendre, or doubtful insinuation, in others. The green-room in Covent Garden was a most agreeable lounging place, from which was banished every word or allusion that would not be tolerated in a drawing-room.’

Her last performance (1854) was for Mathews’ benefit, in an adaptation of Madame de Girardin’s La Joie fait peur, called Sunshine through Clouds. She died in London in 1856.

Read Full Post »