seamus dubhghaill

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


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Death of John McCormack, Renowned Irish Tenor

Papal Count John Francis McCormack, KSG, KSS, KHS, Irish tenor celebrated for his performances of the operatic and popular song repertoires, and renowned for his diction and breath control, dies in Booterstown, Dublin, on September 16, 1945.

McCormack is born on June 14, 1884, in Athlone, County Westmeath, the second son and fifth of the 11 children of Andrew McCormack and his wife Hannah Watson. His parents are both from Galashiels, Scotland, and work at the Athlone Woolen Mills, where his father is a foreman. He is baptised in St. Mary’s Church, Athlone, on June 23, 1884.

McCormack receives his early education from the Marist Brothers in Athlone and later attends Summerhill College, Sligo. He sings in the choir of the old St. Peter’s Church in Athlone under his choirmaster Michael Kilkelly. When the family moves to Dublin, he sings in the choir of St. Mary’s Pro-Cathedral where he is discovered by Vincent O’Brien. In 1903 he wins the coveted gold medal of the Dublin Feis Ceoil. He marries Lily Foley in 1906 and they have two children, Cyril and Gwen.

In March 1904, McCormack becomes associated with James Joyce, who at the time has singing ambitions himself. He persuades Joyce to enter the Feis Ceoil that year, where the not yet famous writer is awarded the Bronze Medal.

Fundraising activities on his behalf enable McCormack to travel to Italy in 1905 to receive voice training by Vincenzo Sabatini, father of the novelist Rafael Sabatini, in Milan. Sabatini finds McCormack’s voice naturally tuned and concentrates on perfecting his breath control, an element that becomes part of the basis of his renown as a vocalist.

In 1906, McCormack makes his operatic début at the Teatro Chiabrera, Savona. The next year, he begins his first important operatic performance at Covent Garden in Pietro Mascagni‘s Cavalleria rusticana, becoming the theatre’s youngest principal tenor. In 1909, he begins his career in the United States.

In February 1911, McCormack plays Lieutenant Paul Merrill in the world premiere of Victor Herbert‘s opera Natoma with Mary Garden in the title role. Later that year, he tours Australia after Dame Nellie Melba engages him, then at the height of his operatic career, aged 27, as a star tenor for the Melba Grand Opera Season. He returns for concert tours in subsequent years.

By 1912, McCormack is beginning to become involved increasingly with concert performances, where his voice quality and charisma ensures that he becomes the most celebrated lyric tenor of his time. He does not, however, retire from the operatic stage until after his performance of 1923 in Monte Carlo, although by then the top notes of his voice have contracted. Famous for his extraordinary breath control, he can sing 64 notes on one breath in Mozart‘s “Il mio tesoro” from Don Giovanni, and his Handelian singing is just as impressive in this regard.

McCormack makes hundreds of recordings, his best-known and most commercially successful series of records being those for the Victor Talking Machine Company during the 1910s and 1920s. He is Victor’s most popular Red Seal recording artist after tenor Enrico Caruso. In the 1920s, he sings regularly on radio and later appears in two sound films, Song o’ My Heart (1930), playing an Irish tenor, and as himself appearing in a party scene in Wings of the Morning (1937), the first British three-strip Technicolor feature.

McCormack is one of the first artists to record the popular ballad “I Hear You Calling Me” written in 1908 by Harold Harford and Charles Marshall. He records it twice for Odeon Records starting in 1908 and a further four times for Victor between 1910 and 1927, becoming his best seller. He is the first artist to record the famous World War I song “It’s a Long Way to Tipperary” in 1914. He also records a best-selling version of another popular World War I tune, “Keep the Home Fires Burning,” in 1917. He also sings songs expressive of Irish nationalism and endorses the Irish Nationalist estrangement from the United Kingdom. He is associated particularly with the songs of Thomas Moore, notably “The Harp That Once Through Tara’s Halls,” “The Minstrel Boy,” “Believe Me If All (Those Endearing Young Charms),” and “The Last Rose of Summer.” Between 1914 and 1922, he records almost two dozen songs with violin accompaniment provided by Fritz Kreisler, with whom he also tours. He records songs of Hugo Wolf for the Hugo Wolf Society in German. In 1918, he records the song “Calling Me Home to You.”

In 1917, McCormack becomes a naturalised citizen of the United States. In June 1918, he donates $11,458 toward the U.S. World War I effort. By then, his career is a huge financial success, earning millions in his lifetime from record sales and appearances.

By 1920, Edwin Schneider has become McCormack’s accompanist and the two are “inseparable.” When Schneider retires, Gerald Moore takes over as accompanist from 1939 to 1943.

In 1927, McCormack moves into Moore Abbey, Monasterevin, County Kildare, and adopts a very opulent lifestyle by Irish standards. He also owns apartments in London and New York. He hopes that one of his racehorses, such as Golden Lullaby, would win The Derby, but this never occurs.

McCormack also purchases Runyon Canyon in Hollywood in 1930 from Carman Runyon. He sees and likes the estate while there filming Song o’ My Heart (1930), an early all-talking, all-singing picture. He uses his salary for this movie to purchase the estate and builds a mansion he calls ‘San Patrizio,’ after Saint Patrick. He and his wife live in the mansion until they return to England in 1938.

McCormack tours often, and in his absence, the mansion is often let to celebrities such as Janet Gaynor and Charles Boyer. The McCormacks make many friends in Hollywood, among them Errol Flynn, Will Rogers, John Barrymore, Basil Rathbone, Ronald Colman, Charles E. Toberman and the Dohenys. After his farewell tour of America in 1937, the McCormacks deed the estate back to Carman Runyon expecting to return to the estate at a later date. World War II intervenes and he does not return.

McCormack originally ends his career at the Royal Albert Hall in London, during 1938. However, one year after that farewell concert, he is back singing for the Red Cross and in support of the war effort. He gives concerts, tours, broadcasts and records in this capacity until 1943 when poor health finally forces him to retire permanently.

Ill with emphysema, McCormack purchases a house near the sea, “Glena,” Booterstown, Dublin. After years of increasingly poor health, and a series of infectious illnesses, including influenza and pneumonia, he dies at his home in Booterstown on September 16, 1945. He is buried in Deans Grange Cemetery, St. Patrick’s section, plot reference E/120.


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Death of English Actress Ellen Kean

LEAD Technologies Inc. V1.01Ellen Kean, one of the finest English actresses of her day, dies in Bayswater, City of Westminster, England on August 20, 1880. She is known as Ellen Tree until her marriage in 1842, after which she is known both privately and professionally as Mrs. Charles Kean and always appears in productions together with her husband.

Kean is born Eleanora Tree in Ireland on December 12, 1805, the third of four daughters of Cornelius Tree, an official of the East India Company in London. Her three sisters become actresses, but, unlike Ellen, retire from the stage when they marry. Her professional stage debut is in a musical version of Twelfth Night in London in 1822 as Olivia alongside her sister Maria as Viola. She gains experience touring in the provinces, and from 1826 is a regular member of the companies at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane and Theatre Royal Haymarket, making a success in The Wonder and The Youthful Queen. At the Royal Opera House at Covent Garden she takes on the roles of William Shakespeare‘s Romeo to the Juliet of Fanny Kemble, Françoise de Foix in Francis I, and Lady Townley in The Provoked Husband.

In 1832, by now established as a leading actress, Tree accepts an engagement in Hamburg, Germany, where a junior member of the company is Charles Kean. He had made an undistinguished debut at Drury Lane in 1827, and he and Tree had acted together in 1828 in a play called Lovers’ Vows and later in Othello. In the German season they fall in love, but are persuaded by family and friends not to marry in haste. Tree returns to London and resumes her successful West End career, including a considerable success in Ion in another breeches role. At the end of 1836, Tree goes to the United States, where she tours in Shakespeare for more than three years, playing heroines such as Rosalind, Viola and Beatrice, among other roles. By the time of her return to England in 1839, she has made a profit of £12,000 on the tour, equivalent to at least £1 million in modern terms.

By 1841 Charles Kean has established himself as a successful actor, and he and Tree appear together in Romeo and Juliet at the Theatre Royal Haymarket. They are married the next year, and she at once switches her professional name from Ellen Tree to Mrs. Charles Kean. For the next nine years they appear together at the Haymarket, making a joint visit to the United States in 1846. In 1850, Kean takes over the management of the Princess’s Theatre in London. The Times called this “the most important period of Mrs. Kean’s career…. Hitherto she had been the Rosalind and the Viola of the stage; henceforward her name was to be associated with characters of a more matronly type” in roles including Lady Macbeth and Gertrude in Hamlet. The same writer also credits her for “the good taste and artistic completeness” of Kean’s productions. Ellen Terry, who makes her first stage appearance as the boy Mamillius in The Winter’s Tale, remembers Kean “as Hermione wearing a Greek wreath round her head and a crinoline with many layers of petticoats.”

Charles Kean dies in 1868, and his widow retires from the stage, living quietly in Bayswater, in the City of Westminster, where she dies at the age of 73 on August 20, 1880. The Times in its obituary says, “Mrs. Kean is not to be numbered with the greatest votaries of the English stage, but her acting was distinguished by considerable power, tenderness and refinement.” She is buried in a vault alongside her husband at Catherington, Hampshire.

(Pictured: “Charles Kean and Wife Ellen Tree” by Mathew Brady Studio (1844-1894), modern albumen print from wet plate collodion negative, National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution)


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Birth of Ninette de Valois, Dancer & Choreographer

ninette-de-valoisDame Ninette de Valois, Irish-born British ballet dancer, choreographer, and founder of the company that in October 1956 becomes the Royal Ballet, is born Edris Stannus at Baltyboys House in Blessington, County Wicklow on June 6, 1898. She is influential in establishing ballet in England.

In 1908, at the age of ten, de Valois starts attending ballet lessons. At the age of thirteen she begins her professional training at the Lila Field Academy for Children. It is at this time that she changes her name and makes her professional debut as a principal dancer in pantomime at the Lyceum Theatre in the West End.

In 1919, at the age of 21, de Valois is appointed principal dancer of the Beecham Opera Company, which is then the resident opera company at the Royal Opera House. She continues to study ballet with notable teachers, including Edouard Espinosa, Enrico Cecchetti and Nicholas Legat.

In 1923, de Valois joins Sergei Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes as a soloist. At age 26, however, she quits performing after learning she is suffering from an undiagnosed case of childhood polio. In 1926 she founds her own school, the Academy of Choreographic Art, in London. She also produces dances for Lennox Robinson at the Abbey Theatre in Dublin and for Terence Gray at the Cambridge Festival Theatre.

The success of de Valois’s ballet Job: A Masque for Dancing for the Camargo Society in 1931, followed by her association with Lilian Baylis, director of the Old Vic Theatre, leads to the founding in 1931 of the Vic-Wells Ballet Company and the Sadler’s Wells School. She traces the history of the company, from its founding until it becomes the Royal Ballet in 1956, in Invitation to the Ballet (1937) and Come Dance with Me (1957).

Besides directing the company that she created, de Valois choreographs numerous ballets, including Checkmate (1937) and Don Quixote (1950). By drawing from English tradition for her choreographic material, as in The Rake’s Progress (1935), inspired by William Hogarth’s series of engravings, and The Prospect Before Us (1940), modeled on Thomas Rowlandson’s caricature of the same name, she creates a uniquely national ballet company. Her narrative ballets include prominent roles for male dancers, giving them artistic opportunities often neglected by other choreographers.

In 1963 de Valois retires as director of the Royal Ballet, although she remains head of the school until 1972. She is created a Dame of the British Empire in 1951 and is named Companion of Honour in 1980.

de Valois keeps her private life very distinct from her professional life, making only the briefest of references to her marriage to Dr. Arthur Blackall Connell, a physician and surgeon from Wandsworth, in her autobiographical writings. In April 1964 she is the subject of This Is Your Life, when she is surprised by Eamonn Andrews at the home of the dancer Frederick Ashton in London. She continues to make public appearances until her death in London on March 8, 2001 at the age of 102.

(Pictured: Ninette de Valois, circa early 1920s)


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Birth of Soprano Catherine Hayes

Catherine Hayes, world-famous Irish soprano of the Victorian era, is born in Limerick, County Limerick, on October 25, 1818. According to London‘s Daily Express, “Hayes was the ‘Madonna‘ of her day; she was the 19th-century operatic equivalent of the world’s most famous pop star.”

Hayes is born into abject poverty. After five years of vocal study in Paris and Milan she makes her debut at the Italian Opera in Marseilles, in Vincenzo Bellini‘s I Puritani in May 1845, followed by performances of Gaetano Donizetti‘s Lucia di Lammermoor and Gioachino Rossini‘s Mosé in Egitto.

Her debut at La Scala in Milan quickly followed in 1845 with phenomenal success. Shortly thereafter the young Giuseppe Verdi becomes interested in her for one of his new operas. Her great success continues in Vienna, as well as in Venice, Florence, Genoa, Rome and other cities in Italy, where she becomes the most sought after Lucia di Lammermoor.

Early in 1849, Hayes accepts a contract to sing at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, London where she makes her debut in Linda di Chamounix in April. In June 1849, she receives an invitation to sing at Buckingham Palace for Queen Victoria and 500 guests. After an evening of Italian music, when the Queen requests an encore, Hayes with a smile sings the beautiful Irish rebel songKathleen Mavourneen.”

During Ireland’s Great Famine in November 1849, her emotional return to her native country results in rave notices for her performance in Lucia di Lammermoor and other operas and concerts in Dublin, Limerick and Cork. Her success is now almost complete.

In 1851 Hayes goes to the United States, where Jenny Lind is creating such a wave of success. Hayes gives concerts in New York City, Boston, Toronto, Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., Charleston, Savannah and New Orleans and forty-five other places including the river towns along the Mississippi River, with equal success. She meets presidents, statesmen and business leaders along the way. She is also destined to meet her future lover and husband in America, Jenny Lind’s former manager. Her travels take her to the “gold rush” in the San Francisco area in the 1850s, where her presence creates a furor, singing for the miners and the elite of San Francisco. The great showman P.T. Barnum sponsors her tour.

She sings in opera and concerts in Peru and Chile, then travels to Hawaii where she gives a concert before continuing on to Australia. Hayes is the first great European opera star to visit Australia. She is mentioned in most Australian history books about early culture in the young colony.  She also travels to Calcutta, India where she performs for the British Military and then on to Singapore and Batavia (Java) before returning to Australia for more opera and concerts.

Hayes returns to England in August 1856, after an absence of five years.  On October 8, 1857, at St. George’s, Hanover Square, she marries William Avery Bushnell. He soon falls into ill-health and dies at Biarritz, France, on July 2, 1858. After her husband’s death she takes part in concerts in London and the country towns.

Catherine Hayes dies in the house of a friend, Henry Lee, at Roccles, Upper Sydenham, Kent, on August 11, 1861, and is buried in Kensal Green Cemetery.


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Birth of Opera Singer Margaret Burke Sheridan

Irish opera singer Margaret Burke Sheridan is born in Castlebar, County Mayo, on October 15, 1889. She is known as Maggie from Mayo and is regarded as Ireland’s second prima donna, after Catherine Hayes (1818–1861).

Sheridan has her early vocal training while at school at the Dominican Convent in Eccles Street, Dublin, with additional lessons from Vincent O’Brien. In 1908, she wins a gold medal at the Feis Ceoil. From 1909 to 1911 she studies at the Royal Academy of Music in London, during which time she is introduced to the Italian inventor Guglielmo Marconi, who is instrumental in arranging further studies for her in opera in Rome.

With Marconi’s help Sheridan auditions in 1916 for Alfredo Martino, a prominent singing teacher attached to the Teatro Costanzi, and she makes her début there in January 1918 in Giacomo Puccini‘s La bohème. In July 1919 she appears at the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden in the title role in Iris by Pietro Mascagni.

Sheridan returns to Italy, where her career continues to grow, with performances at the Teatro Dal Verme in Milan and at the Teatro di San Carlo in Naples, primarily in Puccini roles. In 1922 she first sings at La Scala, Milan, in La Wally by Alfredo Catalani under the direction of Arturo Toscanini. For the next few years she sings at La Scala with great success. Perhaps her greatest role is Madama Butterfly, which she sings extensively in Italy and at Covent Garden. When she plays the part of Madama Butterfly, Puccini is said to be spellbound.

Despite her successes, Sheridan’s career is short. Suffering vocal difficulties she goes into retirement around 1930 except for a few concerts. Bríd Mahon, in her 1998 book While Green Grass Grows, states that “It was rumoured that an Italian whose overtures she had rejected had blown his brains out in a box in La Scala, Milan, while she was on stage and that after the tragedy she never sang in public again.”

Margaret Sheridan dies in relative obscurity on April 16, 1958, having lived in Dublin for many years, and her remains are buried in Glasnevin Cemetery, Dublin.


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Birth of Bob Crowley, Theatre Designer & Director

Bob Crowley, scenic and costume theatre designer and theatre director, is born in Cork, County Cork on June 10, 1952. He is the brother of director John Crowley.

Crowley trains at the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School in Bristol, England. He designs over twenty productions for the Royal National Theatre in London including Ghetto, The Madness of George III, Carousel and The History Boys. He also designs numerous productions for the Royal Shakespeare Company including The Plantagenets, for which he wins a Laurence Olivier Award for Best Set Design, and Les Liaisons Dangereuses, which later has a successful run in London, followed by a transfer to Broadway. Opera productions include the critically acclaimed production of The Magic Flute directed by Nicholas Hytner, with whom Crowley frequently collaborates, for the English National Opera and La traviata for the Royal Opera House.

Crowley has received multiple Tony Award nominations, and has won seven times, for designing the Broadway productions of Carousel (1994), Aida (2000), The History Boys (2006), Mary Poppins (2007), The Coast of Utopia (2007), Once (2012) and An American in Paris (2015). He receives three other Tony Award nominations in 2015, two for his costumes on The Audience and An American in Paris and one for his scenic designs for Skylight. He is a recipient of the Laurence Olivier Award for Best Set Design and a three-time recipient of the Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Set Design.

Crowley designs set and costume for Mary Poppins, which plays in both the West End theatre and on Broadway. He designs and directs the Phil Collins musical Tarzan. He is the set and costume designer for Andrew Lloyd Webber‘s Love Never Dies, and the costume designer of the 2008-2009 version of The Little Mermaid.