seamus dubhghaill

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

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Birth of Stage Actress George Anne Bellamy

george-anne-bellamyGeorge Anne Bellamy, English actress whose stage career and personal life are, in their irregularity, not entirely atypical of her era, is born in County Fingal on April 23, 1727. Her best performances are in such tragic roles as Desdemona in Othello and Juliet in Romeo and Juliet.

Bellamy is the illegitimate daughter of a Quaker lady who elopes from boarding school with the diplomat James O’Hara, 2nd Baron Tyrawley. She is named George Anne through a mishearing of the name Georgiana at her christening. Though her mother marries a Captain Bellamy in Lisbon, Bellamy is acknowledged by Tyrawley as his daughter and he provides for her needs, including her education at a convent in Boulogne-sur-Mer. While living with her mother in London, she meets the theatrical manager John Rich and other leading stars of the stage, and she soon determines to pursue an acting career.

Bellamy’s early roles at Covent Garden, beginning about 1744, are as Miss Prue in Love for Love and with James Quin in The Orphan. Her reputation as an actress rests largely on her good looks and her “soft” feminine manner. Her career reaches its pinnacle when, in 1750, her performance of Juliet to David Garrick’s Romeo at Theatre Royal, Drury Lane is said to surpass the work of the revered Susannah Cibber in a rival production of the play at Covent Garden.

Riotous living, including a legal and a bigamous marriage, takes its toll on Bellamy’s beauty and her appeal to managers. Her later life is marred by ill health and credit troubles. Her last appearance is at Drury Lane on May 24, 1785 at her own benefit concert. She is unable to act, but speaks briefly to the audience.

In the same year Bellamy publishes “An Apology for the Life of George Anne Bellamy” in six volumes. The salacious work is said to be ghost written by Alexander Bicknell.

George Anne Bellamy dies in poverty on February 16, 1788 in London.

(Pictured: George Anne Bellamy by F Lindo exhibited in 1833 now owned by Garrick Club)

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First Performance of Handel’s Messiah

george-friedrich-handelGeorge Friedrich Handel’s Messiah is performed for the first time at Mr. Neale’s Great Musick Hall on Fishamble Street in Dublin on April 13, 1742. It receives its London premiere nearly a year later. After an initially modest public reception, the oratorio gains in popularity, eventually becoming one of the best known and most frequently performed choral works in Western music.

Handel decides to give a season of concerts in Dublin in the winter of 1741–42 arising from an invitation from the Duke of Devonshire, then serving as Lord Lieutenant of Ireland. After arriving in Dublin on November 18, 1741, Handel arranges a subscription series of six concerts, to be held between December 1741 and February 1742 at the Great Musick Hall on Fishamble Street. These concerts are so popular that a second series is quickly arranged. Messiah figures in neither series.

In early March, Handel begins discussions with the appropriate committees for a charity concert, to be given in April, at which he intends to present Messiah. He seeks and is given permission from St. Patrick’s Cathedral and Christ Church Cathedral to use their choirs for this occasion. The women soloists are Christina Maria Avoglio, who sang the main soprano roles in the two subscription series, and Susannah Cibber, an established stage actress and contralto who sang in the second series. The performance, also in the Fishamble Street hall, is originally announced for April 12, but is deferred for one day “at the request of persons of Distinction.” The orchestra in Dublin, the exact size of which is unknown, is comprised of strings, two trumpets, and timpani. Handel has his own organ shipped to Ireland for the performances.

The three charities benefit from the performance – the prisoners’ debt relief, the Mercer’s Hospital, and the Charitable Infirmary. In its report on a public rehearsal, the Dublin News-Letter describes the oratorio as “… far surpassing anything of that Nature which has been performed in this or any other Kingdom.” Seven hundred people attend the premiere on April 13. In order to accommodate the largest possible audience, gentlemen are requested to remove their swords and ladies are asked not to wear hoops in their dresses. The performance earns unanimous praise from the assembled press: “Words are wanting to express the exquisite delight it afforded to the admiring and crowded Audience.” A Dublin clergyman, Rev. Delaney, is so overcome by Susanna Cibber’s rendering of “He was despised” that he reportedly leaps to his feet and cries, “Woman, for this be all thy sins forgiven thee!” The takings amount to around £400, providing about £127 to each of the three nominated charities and securing the release of 142 indebted prisoners.

Handel remains in Dublin for four months after the premiere. He organises a second performance of Messiah on June 3, which is announced as “the last Performance of Mr. Handel’s during his Stay in this Kingdom.” In this second Messiah, which is for Handel’s private financial benefit, Cibber reprises her role from the first performance, although details of other performers are not recorded.