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no. 349

Saturday, 22 May 2004

Geraldine Ulmar in La Cigale,
Lyric Theatre, London, 9 October 1890

Geraldine Ulmar

Geraldine Ulmar (1862-1932), American actress and vocalist
as Marton in F.C. Burnand and Ivan Caryll's comic opera,
La Cigale, Lyric, London, 9 October 1890

(photo: Barraud, London, 1890)

'In chronicling the production of La Cigale there is something of farm more importance than merely admitting that the music is charmingly conceived and executed, that the mis en scene was exceedingly tasteful, and that the artists were more or less indifferent in some branch of their business. The point which I wish to discuss is the enormous improvement which Miss Geraldine Ulmar has suddenly made as a singer and as an actress, and the accounting therefore may lead other to follow her example, and thus emulate her success.
'Every prima donna who accepts a new rôle, not by note, phrase by phrase, scene by scene, act by act, under an experienced master who knows the entire capabilities not only of the part but of his pupil's vocal and histrionic powers, and can show her how and where to bring her peculiar qualities into prominence, how to hide any imperfections she may have, and where to save herself without appearing to be weak.
'The English light opera prima donna takes no such trouble and makes no such effort to succeed. She merely provides herself with a pianoforte partition, strums over the notes till she gets them into her head, and acquires her words by heart. With this and a few stage directions which she picks up a rehearsal from the stage manager, she faces the public, and is surprised if she does not create a furore and is spoken of by the more capable musical critics as "the Patti of opera bouffe" or "the Neilson [Christine Nilsson] of light opera," or some such meaningless phrase.
'For some unaccountable reason Miss Ulmar has done a thing which shows her good sense, and which has amply repaid her for any expense she may have been put to. She employed M. Marius [Claude Marius (Duplany)] to coach her in the part of Marton, and the result is she managed to get through perhaps one of the heaviest parts ever written in comic opera with success to herself, credit to her master, enjoyment to her audience, and satisfaction to the management.
'This, to my mind, more than anything else, accounts for the success of La Cigale, which, despite many excellent qualities, has many faults which would have proved fatal had the part of Marton not been, for light opera, supremely played by Miss Ulmar. In the first place, the story, as represented to us by the adapter, is not very comprehensive, and is far from being either very strong in plot , very humorous in dialogue, or very dramatically arranged. What it was in the original [La Cigale by Henri Chivot and Alfred Duru, with music by Edmond Audran] hardly concerns us, and the difficulties of adaptation are beside the point, which is whether the play, as produced at the Lyric, is a pleasant entertainment. Of this there can be very little doubt, as the music is not only exceedingly tuneful, but is charmingly worked out by very delicately-handled orchestration, which is never either too thin or too over elaborated.
'Besides this, the play is beautifully mounted, and the members of the chorus are not only pretty, but are well trained and sing in time and tune. The whole effect is one of brightness and beauty; garlands of roses and delicate pinks, blues, greens, and all bright colours are pleasantly blended and whirling round to pretty music. It is like a beautiful fancy ball seen from a gallery. Sometimes the figures are dancing, sometimes they are merely strolling about, but always there is a vision of heir beautifully coiffé lit up with jewels, long white arms and ample bosoms, and the frou frou of silk mingled with the strains of violins behind the palms.
'I am afraid the principal performers, however, are very disappointing. The voice of the donkey was cut out, and I am sorry to say that of the Chevalier Scovel [as the Chevalier Franz de Bernheim, a part subsequently played by Hayden Coffin] was a very poor substitute, for he sang horribly out of tune, and neither his acting nor his figure atoned. Neither Mr. [E.W.] Garden, Mr. Eric Lewis, nor Mr. [Lionel] Brough had much chance of being funny, and Mr. Michael Dwyer and Miss Effie Clements had not many opportunities of displaying what seemed to be very nice voices. Indeed, all the singing worth recalling was done and done well by Miss Ulmar, but Mr. George Mudie deserves a word of praise for his highly artistic playing of a very small part.'
(The Hawk, London, Tuesday, 14 October 1890, p.434b)

Geraldine Ulmar

Geraldine Ulmar as Marton in La Cigale,
Lyric, London, 9 October 1890

(photo: Barraud, London, 1890)

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Gladys Cooper

Gladys Cooper as she appeared in Havana,
Gaiety Theatre, London, 1908

(photo: Bassano, London, 1908)

A sample of John Culme's hand made greetings cards,
currently available at the National Portrait Gallery, London.

The above greetings card and others like it have been made to celebrate Terence Pepper's current exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery, London, devoted to Bassano's early 20th Century photographs of theatrical celebrities. Images of Gabrielle Ray and Gladys Cooper are featured in the exhibition as are some of their contemporaries on the London stage, including Gertie Millar, Moya Mannering, Gaby Deslys, Olive May and Gina Palerme. The exhibition runs until 31 August.

A special CD entitled Gaiety Girls has been produced to coincide with the exhibition, available at the National Portrait Gallery bookshop and also direct from Tony Barker. With masterly transfers by Dominic Combe from rare original recordings, and twelve pages of sleeve notes by Patrick O'Connor, the CD comprises the following tracks:
Alice Delysia - I Know What I Want (1933)
Jessie Matthews and Sonnie Hale - Hold My Hand (1932)
Cicely Courtneidge and Harold French - A tiny flat in Soho Square (1927)
Dorothy Brown and Roy Royston - When I Waltz With You (1926)
José Collins and Kingsley Lark - The Last Waltz (1922)
Mamie Watson and Roy Royston - Japanese Duet (1920)
Marjorie Gordon - Tickle Toe (1918)
Ada Reeve - Is It Nothing To You? (1915)
Moya Mannering and Leslie Henson - Meet Me Around The Corner (1915)
Haidee de Rance and George Grossmith Jnr - They Didn't Believe Me (1915)
Connie Ediss - I Like To Have A Little Bit On (1911)
Olive May - The Lass With A Lasso (1911)
Gaby Deslys - Tout En Rose (1910)
Denise Orme and Arthur Grover - Swing Song (1906)
Delia Mason and Maurice Farkoa - My Portuguese Princess (1905)
Evie Greene - Try Again, Johnny (1902)
Ellaline Terriss - Gaiety Medley (1903).
The disc also includes the following unique recordings of broadcasts from the 1930s: Gertie Millar - Keep Off The Grass; Phyllis Dare and W. H. Berry - Let Me Introduce You To My Father; Ethel Levey - Ragtime Medley; and Evelyn Laye - The Call Of Life.

The National Portrait Gallery has also published a number of postcards for the occasion, taken from original Bassano negatives, which are available from the gallery's bookshop

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