Thursday, July 20, 2017

CINDERELLA WOZ HERE

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·         I live on top of a lovely hill overlooking the Pacific Ocean. Opposite me is a green, bird-filled cliff-top park, which I have to cross to get to the steep slope leading down to ‘the flat’ where most of the shops arein this day and age.

·       The other night we had a storm. The loudest, strongest tropical storm I have ever experienced. The noise of it actually knocked me to my knees as I raced to shut the front door. But in fifteen minutes it was past … leaving wrecked telephone and internet facilities in its wake.

·       Come the morning, I stepped out into the white sunshine, off to do my shopping. Everything was washed spotlessly clean. And there, on the park railings, was a pair of ladies’ shoes. Not jandals or beach shoes, proper extremely-high-heeled slippers … Odd. Had someone gone for an early morning bathe in everything but her footwear? Oh well.


·       Next morning they were still there. I couldn’t see a suicidal Cinderella floating in the ocean … Odd.
    
     Next morning they were still there. They clearly weren’t going to go away. A fat female person of daunting aspect walked by: ‘They yours?’. Cheeky tart. Imagine me in silver slippers with the heel five inches higher than the toes. I, who can barely walk in sandals!


·       Finally, today, I brought them home. I don’t know why, they just looked so dramatically silly there. No, I’m not going round all the size 10 damsels in Yamba looking for one who fits … by of Cinderella likes to send a pumpkin with four white horses this way, she can have her shoes back.

Monday, July 10, 2017

A LETTER FROM A FRENCH COURTESAN …

I’m cleaning out. One does after age 70.Who is going to want all those musical-theatre birth and death certificates ... hundreds, from all round the world … they cost me a heap, but had to be had, for the ENCYCLOPAEDIA. And now?
Who is going to want a vast set of Viennese operetta Theaterzettel? And who … omigosh, this….

A folder of letters and autograph documents … From Robert Planquette to Tim Rice and John Hollingshead, and … Hyacinthe to Guy Bolton to Anna Neagle, Lillian Gish and Boo Laye ... who all three sat together on our couch and I didn’t take a photograph! Ivan Caryll, Louis Alter, Pradeau, Percy Greenbank … How did I get these? The old ones: flea-markets, mostly.

When we lived in St Paul de Vence, Ian and I took a weekly bus jaunt down to Nice for a stroll through the splendid Monday flea-market and lunch at the wonderful Acchiardo restaurant (about an undevalued pound a head … delicious!). Ian searched for musical theatre recordings, I searched for simply anything paper-made to do with my subject. Programmes, sheet music, ephemera. I remember I got the complete works of Meilhac and Halevy in umpteen volumes for about 30 quid. And amongst a folder of junky old stuff I found a selection of letters. Pradeau, Hyacinthe, Julia Baron … well, who apart from myself would, in the 1980s, have known even who they were. A few francs apiece. Bought them. Now that I know so much more, decades later, I’m sure that I left some 1860s treasures behind.

Julia Baron. Just a name. All I knew was the she had created the role of Dindonette in Hervé’s L’Oeil Crevé. And this was a simple note, arranging a rehearsal. But 6 francs ..? So I bought it, and it has sat on a shelf, with the others, for 30 years. But today a photo of said lady surfaced on my radar. Hmm. Luscious lady. So I got fascinated, and thought I’d research a little.

JULIA BARON
I didn’t find anything about her birth and early life. I can’t believe one would choose ‘Baron’ as a stage name, given that there was a dynasty of Barons in the French theatre ... but anyway French encyclopedias skip around that and just say born c1836. And what emerges thereafter falls into three categories. (1) Her huge success as Dindonette (2) her renunciation of opéra-bouffe for the comedy of the Palais-Royal and (3) her colourful side career as one of Paris’s top courtesans. She was following in the footsteps of the three-years-older Hortense Schneider (of whom she was touted as the ‘successor’) not only as performer on the stage but as a performer off the stage.

Hortense Schneider
Her career ON the stage can be summed up pretty briefly. It was almost entirely successful.  She began small. At the Bouffes-Parisiens, it seems. (Not Italy as one source says: that was Clara Baron). Until Hervé took a fancy to her and hired her for a featured role in his 1865 remake of the famous féerie La Biche au bois for Marc Fournier at the Porte Saint-Martin. Hervé himself played the Prince, house star dancer Mariquita was Robin, and Julia was voted ‘ravissante’ in the saucy part of Giroflée. The show ran an entire year.

Mariquita
From there, Julia returned to the Bouffes, where she can be seen as Juno in the famous Cora Pearl (for 12 nights) edition of Orphée aux enfers. ‘Elle est bien la reine d’Olympe’ sighed the press. But one or two saw past the beauteous face and deliciously plumpish form and decided ‘Julia Baron avec sa voix ferme et mordante, son jeu vif et intelligent, avait mis le rôle de Junon au premier plan’.

But Hervé wasn’t about to let his star go. When his new crazy opéra super bouffe L’Oeil Crevé  was staged at the Folies-Dramatiques he imported Mlle Baron from the Bouffes to star as Dindonette. She rocked Paris. ‘Jamais Hervé ne trouva interprète aussi parfaite pour le rôle ultra fantaisiste de Fleur de Noblesse’ elle ‘fit courir tout Paris’, ‘Mlle Julia Baron avait assumé une grande responsabilité dans l'Oeil creve et, rendons-lui justice, avait obtenu une grande part du succès…’

The newspapers, which had but little featured Julia’s high-society sex life alongside more starry others of her ilk, such as Schneider and Léa Silly, moved, now that she was a star, into full flight. An Englishman, it was reported, had asked her to ‘make him happy’ and she had responded ‘on the 100th night of the run’. The journalist continued: L’Oeil crevé has just passed its 300th night, so we suppose he has been ‘made happy’ three times.


Her name was linked with a ‘gold refiner’ who was said to have bought her a house, with the libertine Saint-Cère, with Prince Anatole Demidoff, whom she allegedly shared with her understudy Mathilde Lasseny, although his children were by a third actress-singer Céline Montaland …  she was listed prominently in Arsène Houssaye’s piece on Les Courtisanes, and followed only Cora Pearl and Giulia Barucci in a colourful list entitled Les Highlifeurs in 1868. One paper dismissed the whole bunch as ‘cocottes’, not to be compared with grand ‘courtisanes’ of earlier times, but they seem to have done their job effectively enough. Another, more susceptible, spent half a page comparing the off-stage talents of Baron and Lasseny. Julia came out as ‘classier’.

Mathilde Lasseny
But she was top of another list too. No-one, insisted the press, time and again, could play and sing the crazy works of Hervé with such verve and ease and effect as could the delicious Julia Baron.

But she threw it in. Hervé had written the role of Frédégonde in Chilpéric for her, the Folies-Dramatiques had scheduled her for Le Canard à Trois becs (both to turn out huge hits), but Julia walked, and followed where the older Schneider had led to the Palais Royal. She would stay there for the six years of her career remaining. She sang Métella and later la Baronne in La Vie parisienne, Schneider’s role in Les Diables roses, created the part of Castagnette in the international hit Le Carnaval d’un merle blanc (Nemesis) and in 1871 starred in the premiere of an even bigger hit as Fanny ‘Bombance’ in Tricoche et Cacolet. Engaged for three years at the Palais Royal, she remained for five, after which….

It is said she went to Russia. For the second time, she had cut in the blossom a major career…

Marie Cico
I don’t know what became of her. Neither, seemingly, did the French press. But as her fellow highlifeurs and good-time-girls — Marie Cico, Blanche d’Antigny et al --  bade their lives and their diamonds farewell ‘before their first wrinkle’, Julia was quoted as being still alive. When L’Oeil crevé was revived in 1882 the Dindonette was slated and a reviewer remembered:  ‘Je revois encore cette gaie, grosse, grasse, blonde et rose Julia Baron avec ses belles lèvres rouges et rieuses dans son joli visage...'.

I really hope she lived long and happily. I think the French knew. They just didn’t tell. Schneider is said to have outlived her. Me, I just wonder what Julia Baron might have been and done in Schneider’s celebrated original roles had she been in the right place at the right time. Well, we’ll never know.

But, as one writer said of her ‘elle avait l’eloquence de la chair’.  She simply oozed sex.

So that little 6-franc page of paper from les Puces in Nice has quite a story behind it. I have a letter from a nineteenth-century Parisian … cocotte?
















Wednesday, July 5, 2017

The Magic of the Minstrels

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 A seventy-one year old man, a little crippled these days, lying in the too-scorching sun by the Australian seaside, reading a book which arrived in a neat brown package this morning. With a wee lump in his throat.

It’s a biography. A twentieth-century biography. A twentieth-century show-business biography. The sort of thing I usually skim through in a short afternoon. And here it is, cocktail time, and I’m only up to page 93 of a whopping 450. Why?

Several reasons.

This is the sort of biography I like. Chuckle. The sort of biography I write. Not all jolly theatrical anecdotes and dubious stories, and bother the facts, but a real piece of history, freely-told non-fiction for the generations to come. The author even goes as far as to debunk some of the publicity stories surrounding … oh, did I say the biographee is the great George Mitchell, the inventor and soul of the show known for decades last century as The Black and White Minstrel Show. The most popular light entertainment show of British stage and screen of its time, winner of the Golden Rose of Montreux …


Oh well, I might as well fess up. For just a twelvemonth the very young Kurt Gänzl was an insignificant member of the chorus in the Minstrels. I was doing summer season with them at the Futurist Theatre, Scarborough, when whatshisname walked on the moon, and then opened at London’s Victoria Palace in The Magic of the Minstrels for several monthsI enjoyed Scarborough a lot.


 Anyway, just to say I have a wee personal interest in this particular biography. Many of the people who parade past in its pages, I once knew. Daphne the work, Beryl the money, bald red-faced Bob the boss (who cheated on my NI), little George Inns ‘director’, antique Roy the choreographer, not to mention the performers and, of course, dear, if not frequently-seen, Mr Mitchell himself ... are not just names to me.


 But this can be a disadvantage to a writer and a reader as well as an advantage. I was there..! I’m not gaga yet! Don’t try to tell me something untrue …  Well, this author doesn’t. She avoids the undersides but tells the important parts as they were.


 Mrs Eleanor Pritchard, the writer, was she a Television Topper? She tells the tale with a lot of insights. Or is this really a compilation of George Mitchell’s writings plus interviews? Which ever it is, it comes out as a thoroughly satisfying read and a totally satisfying record of the history of the most remarkable variety show ever to come out of Great Britain.


 While I was in the show, a meagre American performer (of colour) by the name of Gloria something thought she’d get herself in the papers by (figuratively, I'm sure) chaining herself to the front of the Victoria Palace, where we were playing, and screaming ‘racist’. New word then. Well, the media always fall for a gag like that. She got her coverage. If not many more jobs. But this under-educated woman didn’t know her theatre history. And neither did the British press. The nigger minstrel show is America’s one truly special and original contribution to the world of the musical theatre. But the BBC, which shows murders, rapes, death and all its favourite perversions nightly, couldn’t take a bit of black pancake…


 And so, The Black and White Minstrels came to an end. But it will be a while before they and George Mitchell are forgotten. And this excellent book records the whole career of the man, his music and his musicians in charming detail for posterity. Bravo!

PS I appear in an anecdote on p83. And it is absolutely correct. Except that my umlaut fell off. Pfui. And, well, there was more …






Tuesday, July 4, 2017

FLYING UNDER FISHY COLOURS

.Or, it sort of looks like Mozart, it sort of sounds like Mozart , but ….

Twenty years ago I bought, for a handful of dollars, a bound book of music from an antique shop in Nelson, New Zealand. I catalogued the 123 separate songs and dances that it contained on my computer and shoved the volume on to a shelf. Why? Because it was too old. My era was the Victorian age, and this volume was from a time notably earlier than that. The theatrical pieces were all from the 1780s. Some of the others seemed to sneak into the 19th century, but just. The most modern few seemed to be from the 1820s.

Fast forward two hundred years or so. I don’t buy music any more. I’m past the acquisitive stage of my life. Into the distributive. The days when I lumped 20 kilos of Hungarian sheet music on my back to Budapest station in a cab strike and was literally thrown on board the train by a hunky porter …  all gone.


But when my main collection made its way, some years back, to join the imposing Harvard Theatre Collection, this old book stayed on its dusty shelf. And yesterday I stumbled on my catalogue. So I thought I’d investigate it and see if maybe there was something interesting therein. And there was. Among the show tunes of the day – most of which turn up in more or less library collections, even if in later American editions – the favourite ballads and the oratorio songs, some frightening ‘arrangements’ of Mozart, the Handel and the Purcell, and the quadrilles, waltzes and country dances, I came upon several pieces by Dr Henry Harrington (1726-1813) of Bath, Edward Harwood’s musicalised ‘The Dying Christian to his Soul’ and … no 91. ‘The Fishing Duett sung in the opera of Don Juan composed by Mozart’.


 The WHAT duet? Now, I know C18th-19th century Britain did vile things to such works as The Marriage of Figaro and The Barber of Seville, which became standards on the London stage with scores riddled with arias and ensembles by Henry Bishop and his ilk … So do Elvira and Zerlina go FISHING in this version…?

So I looked and I found.

Don Juan or the Libertine Destroyed, produced at the Royalty Theatre 1787 … the WHAT theatre?

Enough of the foreplay. Here’s the real story. The Royalty Theatre only lived about a year. It was in Well-street, Goodman’s Fields, near Aldgate. Outside London’s walls. But the licensees of London’s patent theatres squealed like stuck boars at the thought of competition, even in the East End, so… Anyway, while it lived, the Royalty and its begetter, Mr Palmer, did pretty well. Under difficulties. And the principal difficulty was … no spoken dialogue was allowed. Dancing, singing, pantomime, recitation, but no dramatic dialogue.


So Mr Palmer hired London’s star pantomimist, the great Carlo Antonio Delpini, plus one or two well-known actor-singers, some youngsters (including a singing boy named Braham), a heap of dancers, a young muso named William Reeve … and he went to work within the permitted boundaries. He produced a sung-and-pantomimed piece called Hobson’s Choice or, Thespis in Distress which took the puss out of the patent theatres (and made them even more pussed off with him than they already were), he gave a sung version of Thomas and Susan, a musical version of Grey’s Elegy ‘with songs and choruses’, and then he mounted ‘a new grand tragi-comical pantomimic entertainment under the direction of Mr Delpini’ Don Juan, or the Libertine Destroyed with the star in the role of Scaramouch, soon to be more familiar as Leporello. Palmer played the Don. There was no Elvira, no Zerlina, just Anna. And a sailor ‘with a song’ plus two fishermen’s wives (Miss Burnett, Mrs Fox) who gave the Don his philandering opportunities and who shared ‘the Fishing Duett’.

Mrs Fox
THUS for men the women fair
Lay the cunning cunning snare
Whilst like fish the men will rove
And with beauty fall in love what is beauty but the bait
Oft repented when too late

Miss Burnet
If too rash to seize the prize
Now display’d before my eyes
How you’ll rue when all is past
Hymen's hook which holds you fast
Ere you marry then beware
Tis a blessing or a snare

But the music used wasn’t from Mozart’s Don Giovanni. It couldn’t have been. Because Don Giovanni was only produced for the first time, at Prague, later in that year. The pantomime dance music was said to be borrowed from Gluck’s 1761 ballet. And ‘fishing’? I might have guessed. It’s a couple of girls, with rod and line, singing about laying a bait for a male… And the tune is by house muso William Reeve (1757-1815). The words are not credited.


 Don Juan was a hit. When the Royalty was matraqued, it went on to be played at the patent theatres … at Covent Garden where star vocalists Mesdames Mountain and Martyr fished, in an enlarged version at Drury Lane, where the song quotient was delivered by Charles Dignum and Sedgwick (‘Come jolly boys who sailors be’), Dubois as Scaramouch (‘See that pretty creature there’), and Mrs Bland and Mrs Edwards got the duet, at the Haymarket, the Lyceum and across the ocean in America. The duet was interpolated into such as A Trip to Scarborough, for Mrs Bland and Fanny Kelly … and in the 1820s Delpini’s pupil, Joseph Grimaldi, took the piece up … 


The pantomime had a life – in varying versions – for something like a century. But I mostly see ‘fisherwomen’ in the cast, so I gather the Duett was still there.



Well, it mightn’t have been a ‘Mi tradi’ or a ‘Non mi dir’. But the Fishing Duett did pretty well for a show song. And now I know. Not Mozart. Reeve.





 (The sheet music included above isn't mine as you can tell by the G***y stamped all over it. When I get back to New Zealand I'll replace it with the real thing)