This week's Sepia Saturday theme gives me an opportunity to show off another eBay purchase, one which would have had a lot more relevance to my great-grandfather Charles Vincent Payne (1868-1941) than to myself.
This silver gelatin print mounted on thick white card with an embossed rectangular frame was an unusual purchase for me, as I know nothing about operatic musicals and, to be honest, am not particularly partial to them either. However, I am intrigued by the late Victorian fascination with all things Oriental, including The Mikado written by Gilbert and Sullivan and first produced at the Savoy Theatre by the D'Oyly Carte Company in March 1885.
I believe this group of nine young ladies dressed to the oriental nines, bedecked with fans and a multitude of hair ornaments, must be participating in the chorus for a performance, possibly amateur rather than professional, of "The Mikado." The group portrait appears to have been taken by photographer Henry Spink of Brighton on a visit to the performance venue, since the background includes appropriately painted oriental scenes.
The Mikado, Three Little Maids from School
Publicity poster for New York production, 1885
Image courtesy of Wikipedia
Their costumes are very similar to those shown in a poster for one of the professional D'Oyly Carte productions, depicting the "Three Little Maids from School."
Three Little Maids, London 1885
Image courtesy of Wikipedia
The Three Little Maids - in this case, the actresses Sybil Grey, Leonora Braham and Jessie Bond - are also shown in this photograph from the first D'Oyly Carte performance at the Savoy Theatre. Whether the painted scene is a theatre prop from the actual performance or a specially prepared studio backdrop is unknown.
The instant success of the opera, even across the Atlantic, is demonstrated by this tintype from the mid- to late 1880s (courtesy of The American Museum of Photography), also showing the "Three Little Maids" in a pose which was widely emulated for advertising purposes. In this case, the painted backdrop seems to be a generic, rather then specifically oriental scene.
A delightful card for The Tricora Corset is a typical example of the advertising produced with this theme.
Geraldine Ulmar as "Yum-Yum," The Mikado, 1886
Cabinet card by B.J. Falk of New York
Image courtesy of the New York Public Library
Photographers also made full use of the commercial possibilities, such is in this "paper moon" style of cabinet card portrait by celebrity hunter B.J. Falk picturing Geraldine Ulmar, one of the cast in the original 5th Avenue D'Oyly Carte production which ran from August 1885 to April 1886. She also appears as the central figure in the "Three Little Maids from School" poster.
David Simkin's thoroughly researched work on the Spink family of photographers from Brighton very usefully includes a dated list of studio addresses. This suggests that Henry Spink Junior operated from 109 Western Road, Brighton from 1896 to 1934, but that his portraits show the name "Henry Spink" - as opposed to "Henry Spink (junior)" or "Spink (Brighton) Limited" - only from 1911 to 1921. It seems likely to me that this group portrait is from the early, pre-War part of that period, say between 1911 and 1914.
By the turn of the century - perhaps even earlier - The Mikado was being performed by amateur dramatic societies. Alan Craxford has written about his grandfather's involvement with local amateur dramatic society in Leicester in the 1920s and early 1930s, and includes a programme for a performance of The Mikado in April 1904 which he surmises that his grandfather may have attended.
It seems likely that after the Second Savoy repertory season from April 1908 to March 1909, a revival of interest may have led to increased amateur performance of the opera throughout the United Kingdom. I haven't yet found documentation of such a performance in Brighton, but I'm sure that if there was one, the records will appear on the net eventually. In fact, Brighton hosted the first provincial production of The Mikado in July 1884, a little more than a year after its original debut.
My great-grandfather, shown here in what I assume was one of his theatrical get-ups, might have had quite a different life had he chosen to take up a reputed offer of a contract with the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company. As it was, he worked as a coach builder, a builder and a grocer, then was in business as an estate agent for much of his working life in Derby, but many of his leisure hours were taken up with amateur singing and dramatics (see Whistling Bird, the Arizona Cowboy and the Disappearing Lady).
Join Sophie Tucker with her "I Can't Get Enough Of Your Love," and other such entertaining stories - head over to Sepia Saturday for this week's smorgasbord.