seamus dubhghaill

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


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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.