seamus dubhghaill

Promoting Irish Culture and History from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA


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Death of Composer Michael William Balfe

michael-william-balfeMichael William Balfe, Irish composer best remembered for his opera The Bohemian Girl, dies in Dublin on October 20, 1870.

Balfe is born in Dublin on May 15, 1808, where his musical gifts become apparent at an early age. He receives instruction from his father, a dancing master and violinist, and the composer William Rooke. His family moves to Wexford when he is a child.

In 1817, Balfe appears as a violinist in public, and in this year composes a ballad, first called “Young Fanny” and afterwards, when sung in Paul Pry by Lucia Elizabeth Vestris, “The Lovers’ Mistake”. In 1823, upon the death of his father, he moves to London and is engaged as a violinist in the orchestra of the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane. He eventually becomes the leader of that orchestra. While there, he studies violin with Charles Edward Horn and composition with Charles Frederick Horn.

While still playing the violin, Balfe pursues a career as an opera singer. He debuts unsuccessfully at Norwich in Carl Maria von Weber‘s Der Freischütz. In 1825, Count Mazzara takes him to Rome for vocal and musical studies and introduces him to Luigi Cherubini. In Italy, he also pursues composing, writing his first dramatic work, a ballet, La Perouse. He becomes a protégée of Gioachino Rossini‘s, and at the close of 1827, he appears as Figaro in The Barber of Seville at the Italian opera in Paris.

Balfe soon returns to Italy, where he is based for the next eight years, singing and composing several operas. In 1829 in Bologna, he composes his first cantata for the soprano Giulia Grisi, then 18 years old. He produces his first complete opera, I rivali di se stessi, at Palermo in the carnival season of 1829—1830.

Balfe returned to London in May 1835. His initial success takes place some months later with the premiere of The Siege of Rochelle on October 29, 1835 at Drury Lane. Encouraged by his success, he produces The Maid of Artois in 1836, which is followed by more operas in English. In July 1838, Balfe composes a new opera, Falstaff, for The Italian Opera House, based on The Merry Wives of Windsor, with an Italian libretto by S. Manfredo Maggione.

In 1841, Balfe founds the National Opera at the Lyceum Theatre, but the venture is a failure. The same year, he premieres his opera, Keolanthe. He then moves to Paris, presenting Le Puits d’amour in early 1843, followed by his opera based on Les quatre fils Aymon for the Opéra-Comique and L’étoile de Seville for the Paris Opera. Meanwhile, in 1843, he returns to London where he produces his most successful work, The Bohemian Girl, on November 27, 1843 at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane. The piece runs for over 100 nights, and productions are soon mounted in New York, Dublin, Philadelphia, Vienna, Sydney, and throughout Europe and elsewhere.

From 1846 to 1852, Balfe is appointed musical director and principal conductor for the Italian Opera at Her Majesty’s Theatre. There he first produces several of Giuseppe Verdi‘s operas for London audiences. He conducts for Jenny Lind at her opera debut and on many occasions thereafter.

In 1851, in anticipation of The Great Exhibition in London, Balfe composes an innovative cantata, Inno Delle Nazioni, sung by nine female singers, each representing a country. He continues to compose new operas in English, including The Armourer of Nantes (1863), and writes hundreds of songs. His last opera, nearly completed when he dies, is The Knight of the Leopard and achieves considerable success in Italian as Il Talismano.

Balfe retires in 1864 to Hertfordshire, where he rents a country estate. He dies at his home in Rowney Abbey, Ware, Hertfordshire, on October 20, 1870 and is buried at Kensal Green Cemetery in London, next to fellow Irish composer William Vincent Wallace. In 1882, a medallion portrait of him is unveiled in Westminster Abbey.

In all, Balfe composes at least 29 operas. He also writes several cantatas and a symphony. His only large-scale piece that is still performed regularly today is The Bohemian Girl.

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Birth of John Brougham, Actor & Dramatist

john-broughamJohn Brougham, Irish American actor and dramatist, is born in Dublin on May 9, 1814.

Brougham’s father is an amateur painter, and dies young. His mother is the daughter of a Huguenot, whom political adversity has forced into exile. He is the eldest of three children. Both of his siblings die in youth, and, the father being dead and the widowed mother left penniless, he is reared in the family and home of an uncle.

Brougham is prepared for college at an academy at Trim, County Meath, twenty miles from Dublin, and subsequently is sent to the University of Dublin. There he acquires classical learning, and forms interesting and useful associations and acquaintances. He also becomes interested in private theatricals. He falls in with a crowd that puts on their own shows, cast by drawing parts out of a hat. Though he most always trades off larger roles so he can pay attention to his studies, he takes quite an interest in acting. He is a frequent attendant, moreover, at the Theatre Royal in Hawkins Street.

Brougham is educated with the intention of his becoming a surgeon and walks the Peth Street Hospital for eight months. However, misfortune comes upon his uncle so he is obliged to provide for himself. Before leaving the university he, by chance, becomes acquainted with the actress Lucia Elizabeth Vestris.

Brougham goes to London in 1830 and, after a brief experience of poverty, suddenly determines to become an actor. He is destitute of everything except fine apparel and he has actually taken the extreme step of offering himself as a cadet in the service of the East India Company. But, being dissuaded by the enrolling officer, who lends him a guinea and advises him to seek other employment, and happening to meet with a festive acquaintance, he seeks recreation at the Tottenham Theatre where Madame Vestris is acting.

Brougham’s acquaintance with Madame Vestris leads to him being engaged at the theatre, and he thus makes his first appearance on the London stage in July in Tom and Jerry, in which he plays six characters. In 1831 he is a member of Madame Vestris’s company and writes his first play, a burlesque. He remains with Madame Vestris as long as she and Charles Mathews retain Covent Garden Theatre, and he collaborates with Dion Boucicault in writing London Assurance, the role of Dazzle being one of those with which he becomes associated. His success at small or “low” comic roles such as Dazzle earn him the nickname “Little Johnny Brougham,” a moniker which he embraces and which boosts his popularity with working-class audiences.

In 1840 Brougham manages the Lyceum Theatre, for which he writes several light burlesques, but in 1842 he moves to the United States, where he becomes a member of William Evans Burton‘s company, for which he writes several comedies, including Met-a-mora; or, the Last of the Pollywogs, a parody of John A. Stone and Edwin Forrest’s Metamora; or The Last of the Wamponoags, and Irish Yankee; or, The Birthday of Freedom.

Later Brougham is the manager of Niblo’s Garden, and in 1850 opens Brougham’s Lyceum, which, like his next speculation, the lease of the Bowery Theatre, is not a financial success, despite the popularity of such works as Po-ca-hon-tas; or, The Gentle Savage. He is later connected with James William Wallack‘s and Augustin Daly‘s theatres, and writes plays for both.

In 1860 Brougham returns to London, where he adapts or writes several plays, including The Duke’s Motto for Charles Fechter. In November 1864 he appears at the Theatre Royal in his native Dublin in the first performance of Dion Boucicault’s Arrah-na-Pogue with Boucicault, Samuel Johnson and Samuel Anderson Emery in the cast.

After the American Civil War Brougham returns to New York City. Brougham’s Theatre is opened in 1869 with his comedies Better Late than Never and Much Ado About a Merchant of Venice, but this managerial experience is also a failure due to disagreements with his business partner, James Fisk. He then takes to playing the stock market. His last appearance onstage is in 1879 as “O’Reilly, the detective” in Boucicault’s Rescued.

John Brougham dies in Manhattan on June 7, 1880.