Friday, June 30, 2017

Melchor, the mini-Kiwi tenorino

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Many years ago I investigated the modest career of an early 'New Zealand tenor'. I wrote him up, and put him aside ... alas, there doesn't seem to be a New Zealand music magazine for this sort of thing any more..
And today, what was my surprise to come upon a photograph of the gentleman. So, since his was a colourful tale, I thought I blog it. With the famous picture. So here goes ...

WINTER, Melchor  [WINTER, Thomas William] (b Hereford 13 December 1826; d Christchurch, New Zealand 28 August 1920)

The tenor who called himself Melchor Winter was but briefly before the British public as a professional vocalist, but his is a colourful tale.

‘Melchor’, as he chose to call himself once he determined to take on a musical career, was born to anything but music. For his father, rightly named Thomas Winter, was the landlord of the Castle Tavern at 25 High Holborn, and, under the pseudonym of ‘Tom Spring’, he was also one of Britain’s most celebrated fist fighters. Born at Fownhope in Hertfordshire in 22 February 1795, into a family of butchers. Tom Spring had – unlike his brothers William and Richard -- eschewed the cleaver for the pump and for fisticuffs.


On the way to fame, he had married Elizabeth Griffin or Griffiths (St Peter’s, Hereford, 26 June 1821), and Thomas William – to be known as Melchor – was, in theory, the first fruits of that marriage.
Tom Spring was dead (Castle Tavern, Holborn, 20 August 1851) and Melchor was himself married, to Ann(ie) Elizabeth Ratton (b Colchester, c1827) (Ross, 5 May 1853), daughter of Joseph Lewis Ratton ‘of Tavistock Place, St Pancras’ and Pheby née Blake, and the father of a daughter Ada Charlotte (b Holborn 14 January 1854), before he devoted himself to music, and attempted to make a career as an operatic tenor.
In this attempt, he had two major handicaps, summed up, years later, by one of his colleagues: ‘[Winter] had studied for the operatic stage and possessed a voice which, though of excellent musical quality, was as diminutive in power as the tenor was in physical proportions…’

For the record, I quote the Musical World of 1842, concerning the local organist’s concert on 3 October at Tonbridge: ‘Mr Winter a promising young tenor new to the public sang ‘In Native Worth’ and Beethoven’s ‘Adelaide’ very pleasingly’. Could it be he? A 15 year-old tenor?

If not, Melchor was seemingly already in his thirties when he first ventured on to the public platform, towards the end of 1859. I spot him at a concert in Bath on the first day of December singing ‘M’appari’, and a few weeks later he is up in London delivering the same aria (to an encore) in George Genge’s concert at the Freemasons Hall. Alongside such established tenors as Donald King, George Perren and the popular Genge himself.
Concert engagements soon followed (Augusta Manning, Edwin Ransford, Peckham Concerts, the van Noordens ‘Il mio tesoro’) and on 28 May 1860 Melchor joined with the flautist Benjamin Wells to present a concert of their own at the Hanover Square Rooms. Willoughby and Georgina Weiss, Charlotte Sainton-Dolby, Mahlah Homer and Marie Chipperfield made up the programme,
‘Mr Melchor Winter who has recently entered the profession as a tenor singer has a voice sweet and of some extent ... [he] sang with great feeling and intelligence Wallace’s ballad ‘Home of my heart’, ‘Under the linden tree’, ‘The Death of Nelson’ and, with Mrs Sainton, the duet of ‘Di conforto’, and ‘Sulla tomba’ with Miss Chipperfield, in all of which he received very great applause’. The two Weisses and the former Miss Dolby joined him in the Rigoletto quartet to finish.
Winter’s operatic ambitions soon came to fruition. After a whirl round some small provincial dates with Marian Pyne Galton (‘primo tenore of Miss Marian Pyne’s Opera Company’) he was hired to appear in the operatic season at the Eastern Opera House. The prima donna for the season was Florence Lancia, the star tenor was Augustus Braham, the second William Parkinson, and then there was Melchor who, it was announced, would sing Pollio in Norma. In the event, Braham sang Pollio, but Winter was undeniably given his chance. He appeared as Alfredo to the La Traviata of Madame Lancia and as Thaddeus to The Bohemian Girl of Fanny Ternan, and for his Benefit night joined Lancia in a performance of Il Trovatore. And the results were encouraging. Although the press allowed that he was ‘evidently somewhat new to stage business’ they judged him to be in possession of ‘a voice which though not of any great power is of agreeable quality, particularly as regards the higher notes, and he sings the music correctly and with intelligence’. The higher notes being just what an audience, and especially an East End audience, ‘most doat upon’ in a tenor – especially when, like Melchor’s, they are delivered from the chest and not, as was the fashion with even some, nay many, of the day’s most famous singers -- in falsetto, the little primo tenore went down all right. Alas for the talk and the confidence thus engendered.
Shortly after this, the great soprano Hermine Rudersdorff found herself in an embarrassed state. She was to give the annual Christmas operatic season at Cork – perhaps the most consequent Irish operatic season of the year -- and she was short a tenor. So she engaged – surely sight unseen – Melchor Winter of the Eastern Opera House. Madame Rudersdorff was a large woman. Stout rather than fat, but very tall and very angular. Mr Winter was short. Noticeably short. Madame Rudersdorff had a vast dramatic soprano voice. Mr Winter had a fine top B in chest, plenty of delicate skills and touches, but decidedly limited lungpower. They were scarcely a good match.
The Irish operagoers, who’d just seen Mme Rudersdorff play opposite Elliot Galer and Tito Palmieri, couldn’t take the new combination. It wasn’t just the height thing, it was the voices. One night, so it was reported, when Melchor started to sing, a smart fellow upstairs called out  ‘Ah then Micky what is it? Is that fellow singing or is it the gas?’ and the house collapsed. After the incident, recognising the poor tenor’s real abilities, the audiences treated him better, but before the end of the season Galer had been recalled, and Melchor Winter bowed out from off the operatic stage for good.
Which didn’t stop him advertising himself, when he went back to England, as ‘the principal English tenor of Mme Rudersdorff’s opera company’.


 Winter now recognised that a career on the large stage was not for him, but he also realised that there was a place for him and his lovely but little voice in the concert room. And the public recognised it too. On 6 April 1861 he appeared at the Peckham Musical Union and the audience and the press went wild at his ‘Ecco ridente in ciel’. ‘[he] astonished the audience not only by his florid execution but by the tremendous B natural from the chest with which he finished ... his voice has wonderfully improved in power, and he never resorts to the falsetto.’
On 30 April he put on a concert of his own at the Myddelton Hall. Rose Hersee, Emma Heywood, Julia Elton and her sister and Theodore Distin appeared and Mrs Melchor Winter, ‘pupil of Dr Sterndale Bennett’, made her first London appearance as a professional pianist.
In June, he put together what he called a ‘Boudoir Opera Company’ giving concert performances of opera in the suburbs. He sang his Manrico to the Leonora of Fanny Thirlwall, the Azucena of Emma Heywood and the Luna of Borrani, and sang it under conditions more favourable to himself. Then he took the company on a wee tour to Ludlow and Wrexham.
But engagements were still limited. He sang with Mrs Paul, Augusta Thomson and Grattan Kelly at the Glasgow Saturday Evenings and in 1862 I spot him at Godalming and at Peckham again with Rose Hersee, and with his wife at the piano, at the Whittington Club with Herman Slater and at the Great Western Society in Camden Square, but that was it.
Melchor Winter obviously realised that he wasn’t going to make it. Not to where he wanted to be. In the later part of 1862, he packed up his worldly goods, including the valued memorabilia of his father’s career, boarded a ship for Australia, and, while Madame Winter continued to deliver her well-liked piano concerts to the London public (with guest vocalists of the calibre of Parepa, Campanella or Emma Heywood), her husband scouted out the more inviting parts of the southern hemisphere.

He finally chose New Zealand, and in 1864 the Winters emigrated to Christchurch.
In 1864, the burghers of Christchurch had heard few singers of Melchor’s calibre. And, as residents, the Winters – both of them – were musicians of a kind of which the country was much in need.  They would live on there, performing when they would – Melchor visited Australia in 1872, ‘the Auckland tenor, formerly of London’, and sang in concert in Melbourne (‘Thou art so near and yet so far’), he sang in 1876 at the opening of Christchurch’s Theatre Royal – teaching as they would, to a very ripe old age.

Madame Winter died in Christchurch on 27 January 1919, and Melchor in 1920, at an age that was reported to have been in excess of a hundred years. The local press gave his birth as 28 October 1818, which by no means tallies with the 1851 census and also makes him illegitimate! He was, in fact, a not negligible ninety-five.
I hope he forgave the gaseous Irishman. He should have, for otherwise he might have spent painful years in small touring opera companies around the British provinces, instead of becoming as appreciated and happy in New Zealand as David Miranda did in Sydney.