GRAND OPERA AND SAMUEL COLERIDGE-TAYLOR

Webster Booth had always hoped to sing in Grand Opera despite Malcolm Sargent’s advice that unless he had a private income it would be best to leave opera alone. In 1938 he was asked by Sir Thomas Beecham to go to Covent Garden and sing for him. By that time he was already an established singer on the radio, on record,  in oratorio and lighter forms of entertainment and was rather affronted that he should have to audition at all. Sir Thomas and Lady Emerald Cunard were seated in the middle of the empty auditorium and chatted to one another while he sang Your Tiny Hand is Frozen from La Bohème and The Flower Song from Carmen. To add insult to injury Sir Thomas offered him two very small parts – one in The Magic Flute, the other as the tenor singer in Rosenkavalier at the princely sum of £10 per performance and nothing for rehearsals.

Unlike Sir Thomas’s disdainful attitude towards Webster, Erich Kleiber, who was conducting Der Rosenkavalier was most impressed with his voice and congratulated him on his performance of the aria before the whole company. It was during the first performance of Rosenkavalier that the famous soprano, Lotte Lehmann, who was playing the role of the Marschallein, stopped singing in the middle of the performance and walked off the stage. She had been informed before the performance that her husband had been arrested by the Nazis.



Early in 1939, Webster appeared in Rosenkavalier at Sadler’s Wells and accepted no fee. Miss Lilian Baylis could only afford to pay him £4 per performance. Webster wrote in his autobiography, Duet: “I laughed and replied, “Don’t bother with the £4. I’ll sing four performances for you anyway!”

 

Although Webster was offered the part of Lohengrin and other roles at Covent Garden in 1951 during the Festival of Britain, he turned it down.  People often question why he “wasted so much time” singing duets in Variety, but one of the reasons he did this was because Variety paid a great deal more than Opera and required far less hard work. 
 
September 1 2012 is the
centenary of the death of the composer Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, who died
at the early age of 37 on September 1 1912. Despite his early death he
left a legacy of fine music behind him. I have many of his piano solos
in my possession and get much pleasure in playing them.


Webster Booth was associated with Samuel Coleridge-Taylor because of his many appearances in Hiawatha,
Coleridge-Taylor’s best known and most popular work. He made his first appearance in this work at the Royal Albert Hall in May 1936 with Harold Williams and others
and made another appearance in Hiawatha in June 1937, shortly before he sailed for New York the following month.


Before the war, the work was presented in full native-American costume and
here is Webster in his costume below. Dr Malcolm Sargent (as he was
then) conducted the work and continued to present it with the Royal
Choral Society and Royal Philharmonic Orchestra many times.


Webster appeared in many other performances of Hiawatha, including one presented at Kenilworth Castle in  1952. I have included a few of the advertisements below:

Hiawatha at Kenilworth Castle 1952

Webster Booth appeared in the Jubilee concert of  Hiawatha to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of the concert which was first presented in March 1900. 

 
May 1951. Croydon, Davis Theatre.
As part of the Festival of Britain celebrations a concert mainly devoted to the works of local composer, Samuel Coleridge-Taylor was held in the Davis Theatre on 31 May 1951, part of a series of concerts sponsored by Croydon Corporation for the Festival. Parts One and Two of Hiawatha were presented by the Croydon Philharmonic Society, conducted by Alan J. Kirby. Gwen Catley, Webster Booth and Dennis Noble were the soloists. 
.
14 Ju

 

 
 
Although
the planned presentation of Hiawatha in 1954 was called off at the last
minute because of poor ticket sales, Sir Malcolm Sargent asked that
Webster should be the soloist in the work at his sixtieth birthday
concert on 29 April 1955 at the Royal Festival Hall, where his fellow
soloists were Jennifer Vyvian and Australian baritone John Cameron.
Perhaps because the performance was associated with Sir Malcolm’s
birthday, tickets were in great demand.
 
Here is a photograph from the defunct magazine, Music and Musicians where Webster and Anne are speaking to John Cameron after the performance.
 
His last performance in the work was at the Promenade Concert in August 1955, where he also sang the song cycle To Julia by Roger Quilter.
 

In July 1956 he and Anne Ziegler moved to Johannesburg South Africa. He never sang in another performance of this work.

Webster Booth recorded several songs by Samuel Coleridge-Taylor  below:

Onaway, Awake, Beloved!

Eleanore

Unmindful of the Roses/Life and Death

Jean Collen 2012 Updated May 2017

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