Alice May: Gilbert & Sullivan's First Prima Donna (Forgotten by Adrienne Simpson

By Adrienne Simpson

This biography tells the tale of Alice could, a traveling prima donna within the 19th century who travelled from England to Australia, New Zealand, India and the U.S., enjoying pioneering performances of the preferred gentle operas of the day. alongside the best way she took half in lots of premieres, together with the 1st construction of Gilbert and Sullivan's The Sorcerer and the 1st approved American creation of The Mikado . This vibrant lifestyles tale will entice theatre historians, fanatics of the melodrama, burlesque, and the musical level.

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Extra info for Alice May: Gilbert & Sullivan's First Prima Donna (Forgotten Stars of the Musical Theater)

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In Melbourne, sentiment always ran a poor second to business. For all Melbourne’s wealth, visitors tended to find the city unappealing at first glance. Low-lying, in an almost featureless landscape, it lacked the beautiful natural setting that made Sydney, capital of the neighboring colony of New South Wales, so picturesque. The town center was regimented into a grid pattern of wide intersecting avenues with deep gutters on either side, spanned at intervals by small wooden bridges. Because there was no underground drainage system, storm water and sewage roared down the gutters in wet weather and the only way of crossing the streets safely was by means of these bridges.

She and Beaumont quickly developed a good rapport onstage and his support undoubtedly helped her make a success of her first tour. Audiences and critics liked Alice May. She was plumply pretty, in the approved style of the day, and had the trim figure and good legs so essential for many opera bouffe roles. She clearly enjoyed being onstage and had the priceless gift of being able to communicate that enjoyment across the footlights. As a later commentator for the Australasian Sketcher put it, “She is the very type of vivacity, liveliness and jauntiness….

Perhaps the biggest contrast of all was in social attitudes. Melbourne society was markedly more democratic and egalitarian than that of any British city. The town was full of self-made men, most of them fiercely proud of having risen from humble origins to positions of wealth and influence. An example sure to have impressed Allen was that of George Coppin. Once a minor actor and singer on the British provincial circuit, Coppin had become, through hard work and the occasional unscrupulous deal, a major entrepreneur who owned several Melbourne theatres and hotels and who had been until recently an elected member of the colony’s ruling body, the Victorian Legislative Council.

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