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17 July, 2006

The Melba - JC Williamson Tour of 1928

alt="Front page Sydney Morning Herald 1928" />
Sydney Morning Herald

Dear Colleagues,

When renovating my doctor's office I came upon some old Sydney newspapers.

Imagine my surprise in finding a series of opera reviews from 1928! This was a visit from an Italian company in collaboration with the Melba - JC Williamson Company. Some were printed the day after the performance, something which rarely happens these days. Also, reviews were anonymous then, yet these are opinionated, reflecting some interesting mores of the day. This was not a travelling company of 'unknowns'!

I am grateful for some details kindly provided by Bob Rideout of the USA:

I read with a great deal of interest Andrew Byrne's posting on the 1928 tour. I'll fill in some of the gaps for those who may be interested.

The roster included Giannina Arangi Lombardi, Tot Dal Monte, Hina Spani, Lina Scavizzi, Xenia Belmas, Giuseppina Zinetti, Angelo Minghetti, Francesco Merli, Enzo di Muro Lomanto, Apollo Granforte, Luigi Rossi Morelli, Fernando Autori, and the father of Loretta Corelli, Umberto Di Lelio. There were others but those were the names that you might easily know.

Nellie Melba sang with the company several times and made her final "final" operatic farewell on 2 October 1928 when she appeared at Adelaide in the last three acts of "La Boheme" with Mighetti, and closed the book with the "Salce" and "Ave Maria" from "Otello".

Xenia Belmas, a singer whose name will be known to some of you, was scheduled for a good number of performances, but somewhere along the way, Arangi Lombardi replaced her as Santuzza, and Belmas ended up singing a few concerts, divorced from the main company during the major portion of its stay. It was termed an "Italian Conspiracy" and caused a great deal of fuss, as did the replacement of John Brownlee, who had sung a few performances at the beginning of the season, with Apollo Granforte in "Pagliacci" and "Aida".

It was a very successful tour, but there was a lot of bad press about those and other intrigues. Dal Monte saw to it that fairly early on both Minghetti and Granforte were booted from her performances of "Rigoletto" and it was only near the end of the tour at Perth and Adelaide that they resumed their original assignments. Midway in the tour, Dal Monte and De Muro Lomanto were married at St, Mary's Cathedral in Sydney, and Arangi Lombardi, who was Dal Monte's maid of honour, sang an Ave Maria by Mercadante, 'exquisitely', said the press. At the service's conclusion, the wedding party gave the Fascist salute on the cathedral steps. Photographers had a "field day" and the story made headlines throughout the continent, and beyond.

I would imagine that the most important event on the tour was the Australian premiere of "Turandot" with Arangi and Merli. They received rave notices througout the season though the opera was treated somewhat less kindly.

In any case, the tour remains one of the most famous events in the history of opera "Down Under", or, "Opera for the Antipodes" as a wonderful reference work by Alison Gyger would have it.

Dates of Melba-Williamson season:

  • Turnadot

  • Fille was the second night of season (Mon 9th July) and review appeared in next day's paper.

  • next night was Thais.

  • Saturday 21st July night was Butterfly and review Mon 23 SMH.

  • Wednesday matinee? Trovatore Sat Aug 25th, review on 27th SMH.

  • Mon 27th was Hoffmann.

  • Tues 28th was Turandot.

  • Wed 29th August matinee Hoffmann; night: Manon Lescaut;

  • Thursday 30th 1928 Il Trovatore;

  • Friday 31st Rigoletto;

  • Sat 1 September matinee: Hoffmann; evening: L'Amore Dei Tre Re.

Monday 27th August

The cast of to-night's performance of "Tales of Hoffmann" at Her Majesty's Theatre includes Toti Dal Monte, Enzo de Muro Lomanto, Apollo Granforte, Aurora Rettore, Giuseppi Satariarno, and Luisa Banetti.

Coming performances

To-morrow night: "Turandot" will be presented. The management announced this as the last evening performance of the opera. On Wednesday afternoon, the opera is "Tales of Hoffmann;" on Wednesday night, "Manon. Lescaut;" on Thursday night, "Il Trovatore;" on Friday, "Rigoletto:" and on Saturday afternoon, "Tales of Hoffmann." Next Saturday night, Montemezzi's romantic opera, "L'Amore Dei Tre Re" will be presented for the first time in Sydney.

Newtown Majestic

"THE ROBBERS" The enterprise of Mr. Alfred Gordon Kalmikoff in producing for the first time in Sydney Schiller's great drama "The Robbers" at the Majestic Theatre, Newtown, was rewarded on Saturday by large audiences at both the matinee and evening performances. 'The Robbers' is a play so full of conflicting emotions that if cannot fail to have a strong appeal.

The plot, which centres around the family of the aged Count Maimilian, portrays the most different in character between the count's two sons, Charles and Francis. The latter wishing to get his elder brother disinherited, intercepts a letter which Charles has written to his father pleading for forgiveness, and reads a forged letter to the Count, making it appear that it was sent by an old friend giving instances of Charles' misdeeds. The count, broken-hearted, asks Francis to send a firm letter to Charles, but not to drive him to despair. Francis, on the contrary, writes that his father had cursed him, and does not want to see him any more: Charles, broken hearted, becomes the chief of a band of robbers.

The part of Francis was taken by Mr Kalmikoff, who in that difficult role found plenty of scope to show his versatility. His interpretation was perfect, and be invested the character with an impressive realism that *pleased* the audience. He achieved a <snip>

'Sepia' reviews of
Fille du Regiment and
Butterfly were transcribed manually by Andrew Byrne. Note there were also several items under the heading: "Story of Tonight's Opera", including Thais, Tales of Hoffmann and others.

I am grateful for some details kindly provided by Bob Rideout of the USA.