If you’ve read my blog for any length of time, you know that I am passionate about opera. I met my husband in 1976 and took him to his first opera on our second date – a bit of a risk, I know, but he was curious and I was only too happy to satisfy his curiosity. To my way of thinking, the only thing riskier would be to risk spending the rest of my life with someone who did not share that passion or, worse still, belittled it. We have been sharing that passion for 41 years.
|Tenors Are Just Such Show-Offs!!|
Opera has always been a major part of and influence on my life since my earliest recollections. But, where did it all begin for me? I get asked that question a lot, and I usually just say, “It’s in my DNA.” But the truth is, there is a story behind that casual response, and it’s the story of my family.
I am told that I attended my first performance of La Traviata in utero in Toulon, France. But to really understand the beginning of my family’s great love affair with opera, we have to cross la Manche (the channel) to London, England, to Mme Mère’s mother’s side of the family.
Interior of the Opera House, c. 1808. (It was destroyed by fire in 1867) Drawing by Auguste Pugin and Thomas Rowlandson for Ackermann's Microcosm of London
We need to make a brief stop in the early 19th Century. As a small boy, my grandmother’s father, Edward (Teddy) Lumley, spent as many evenings as possible at Her Majesty’s Opera House in the Haymarket. In those pre-Covent Garden Royal Opera days, this was the reigning opera house in London, and the Impresario (General Manager) was none other than Edward’s favorite uncle, Benjamin Lumley – the “Majesty” in question being Queen Victoria, a true opera lover, who spent many a wonderful evening with family and attendants in her Royal Box.
|Drawing of the Royal Box|
Into that Royal Box young Edward would regularly ensconce himself on evenings when the Queen was not expected. As luck would have it, however, one night, just before curtain, Edward heard a flurry of activity behind him and turned to find himself face to face with the Queen. Springing to his feet and bowing as deeply as his quivering knees would allow, he mumbled “Your Majesty” and backed out as gracefully as he could, only daring to look up again when he heard the click of the doors of the box. According to my grandmother, even in his eighties her father still delighted in telling that story to anyone who would listen.
Portrait of Benjamin Lumley, Her Majesty's Theatre Manager, by Count d'Orsay. From Lumley's memoirs (1864)
Edward’s favorite Uncle Benjamin (né Levy – The family name was changed somewhere along the line.) appears to have been the most interesting and enterprising of all the Lumley brothers. Young Benjamin became a solicitor before turning his talents to the theater.
Three of his major accomplishments as Impresario have assured his place in theatrical history.
Portrait of Soprano Jenny Lind by Eduard Magnus, 1862
1) He introduced the famous “Swedish Nightingale,” Jenny Lind, to the opera audiences of Europe.
2) He commissioned the opera I Masnadieri from composer Giuseppe Verdi. No serious book about this great composer is complete without citing passages from the voluminous correspondence that passed between the two men.
3) He successfully sued a soprano for breach of contract in the precedent-setting case Lumley v Wagner, which every student of law in England and the United States studies to this day. No doubt his early training as a solicitor came in quite handy here.
Towards the end of his life, he published his memoirs, a signed copy of which sits on my bookshelf. He may have been a man of the theater, but the book is written in the dry, matter-of-fact style of a legal brief. Except for his correspondence with Verdi, it’s pretty dull going.
|Portrait of Maurice Lumley, my Great-Great-Grandfather, Painted by C. Soffler (1867)|
This portrait hangs in my living room
Edward’s father, Maurice Lumley, also one of the more enterprising Lumley brothers, became a successful businessman whose interests eventually took him to New York City,
|Portrait of Isabella Johnson Lumley, my Great-Grandmother, circa 1865 (artist unknown)|
This portrait hangs in my bedroom.
Where, following a proper Oxford education, Edward returned to marry his American cousin, Isabella Johnson, herself an amateur opera singer and accomplished pianist. Together they shared their love of opera with their children, several of whom had successful careers in the theater.
|Marie Anastasia Lumley, my Grandmother|
My grandmother, Marie Anastasia, found her niche in the popular, light operas of the day, such as those by Victor Herbert. Every generation since then has been connected in some way to the world of theater and opera, the ultimate theater experience in my humble opinion.
|Edward (Teddy) Lumley, my Great-Grandfather|