The 1830 Summer Season

By Alfrida Lee

In 1830 there was a summer season, the performances not being given by the Adelphi company but by that of the English Opera House, whose theatre had been burnt to the ground on 16 February. Of necessity the company had to perform in other theatres while their own was being rebuilt. George Bartley, the manager, in his closing speech, well expressed their plight. He commented on the necessity of having new scenery, dresses and decorations for every piece, "old and new, every species of property, every book and manuscript and every sheet of music having been destroyed." The season, he said, was not a prosperous one, owing partly to the smallness of the theatre and the extra expenses "notwithstanding very liberal sacrifices on the parts of the performers." New Monthly Magazine and Literary Journal had commented on the disadvantage of such a small theatre for operatic productions (XXX, 334). The cost of leasing the theatre may have been considerable, but it seems that the terms were satisfactory on both sides as the E. O. H company performed at the Adelphi the following summer.

Despite the difficulties, twenty-eight new pieces were given, four of these requiring many different scenes. New pieces were presented even late in the season. Music, of course, predominated. Three of Mozart's operas and one by Marschner were included (the music arranged by Bishop or Hawes) and overtures by Handel, Mozart, Rossini, Paer, and Halevy were given frequently. Most of the pieces were not, however, of this enduring quality and were usually billed as operettas or operatic farces. The chief composers were Hawes (musical director), and George Rodwell (musical director of the Adelphi). Among the authors were John B. Buckstone, who had written for the Adelphi, Richard B. Peake and James R. Planche, whose pieces were produced there.

The scenery was created by Tomkins and Pitt, as in the winter seasons, but new names, in addition to those of Godbee and Mrs. Stillman, appear for the wardrobe: Head and Mrs. Murry. O. Smith, who performed with the Adelphi company, is mentioned as being in charge of the "melodramatic department."

The quality of the acting, especially that of Miss Kelly, was praised. On 2 July, the Times wrote, "There is certainly no actress on the stage who possesses, in anything like the same degree, the influence which she is capable of exercising over the audience. This is sometimes overdone as it detracts from the intention of the drama. Notwithstanding this fault (for it is one) Miss Kelly's acting of The Sister of Charity can hardly be surpassed"; and on 10 September in the review of The Irish Girl, the critic said: "It is a very flimsy affair, but the admirable acting of Miss Kelly brought it through triumphantly. The character of the Irish Girl was evidently written for her, and around that, which in other hands would have been exceedingly insipid, she threw a halo of interest, which attracted and enchained the strongest feeling of the audience." Mary Ann Keeley, whose acting was not apparently up to the same standard, earned a creditable mention. In Sister of Charity, she "played the part of Ninetta with great effect." In The Skeleton Lover she played "particularly well." Robert Keeley, in the first mentioned piece was "very amusing," but in Skeleton Lover "rather overcharged the nonsense that was written for him." Hunt "acquitted himself very agreeably," and the other actors "exerted themselves laudably." On the whole, the efforts of the company had considerable merit, and the fault in productions lay elsewhere.

Some of the authors, unnamed and two not known, did not serve the company well. Skeleton Lover was condemned for "nastiness" and as a "piece of vulgarity." Again the Times critic: "its chance of future success will depend mainly upon the unsparing curtailment of the objectionable passages; and which they were, the folks behind the scenes cannot be at a loss to discover." However, "some portions of it were deservedly applauded." With or without alterations, it was performed intermittently throughout the season, including the closing night. The author of The Irish Girl was dismissed as "certainly not the most felicitous of writers."

The worst condemnation was of the translation of Don Juan. The authorship has been attributed to John B. Buckstone. It is billed as a "free translation of the opera of the same name." Whether he was the translator or whether he worked from another translation is not known. His name does not appear on the bill, and though successful in much of his writing for the Adelphi, he seems to have done badly by Don Juan. The Times said: "The translation is extremely bad ... the dialogue ... vapid and pointless."

However, musical compositions and productions generally seem to have been of a high standard. George Rodwell's music for Skeleton Lover was "of a very pleasing character and extremely well adapted to the drama," and the piece "well got up." In Don Juan, "the arrangement of the music has been effected by Mr. Hawes, and the manner in which it has been performed is extremely creditable to his taste." The Adelphi was not ideal for such a production. The Times wrote, "the theatre is much too small to do justice to the efforts of the actors; it gives no assistance to the best parts of the singing, and exposes all the imperfections which attend the other parts in a most striking light. The care and good taste which have been bestowed upon the getting up of this opera deserve a more favourable opportunity than can be afforded them here." Financially the season does not appear to have been a success. On October 1, the New Monthly Magazine and Literary Journal stated, "Mr. Arnold [presumably Bartley, the manager, was intended] has met with slender recompense for his exertions having seldom filled the little theatre of the Adelphi."

In his closing speech, George Bartley mentions Don Juan, "Mozart's great work," as the outstanding piece introduced in the season. This production &alone is evidence of the efforts made by the manager and all the company not only to maintain their standards but to extend their range, and this was no mean achievement in a small theatre. Bartley's hope of a new theatre was not to be fulfilled until 14 July 1834.

© Copyright 1988 by Alfred L. Nelson and Gilbert B. Cross

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