Benjamin Lumley

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Portrait of Lumley by D'Orsay BenjaminLumley.jpg
Portrait of Lumley by D'Orsay

Benjamin Lumley (1811 – 17 March 1875 in London) was a Canadian-born British opera manager and solicitor. Born Benjamin Levy, he was the son of a Jewish merchant Louis Levy.

Canada Country in North America

Canada is a country in the northern part of North America. Its ten provinces and three territories extend from the Atlantic to the Pacific and northward into the Arctic Ocean, covering 9.98 million square kilometres, making it the world's second-largest country by total area. Canada's southern border with the United States is the world's longest bi-national land border. Its capital is Ottawa, and its three largest metropolitan areas are Toronto, Montreal, and Vancouver. As a whole, Canada is sparsely populated, the majority of its land area being dominated by forest and tundra. Consequently, its population is highly urbanized, with over 80 percent of its inhabitants concentrated in large and medium-sized cities, many near the southern border. Canada's climate varies widely across its vast area, ranging from arctic weather in the north, to hot summers in the southern regions, with four distinct seasons.

British people citizens of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, British Overseas Territories, Crown Dependencies, and their descendants

The British people, or the Britons, are the citizens of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, the British Overseas Territories, and the Crown dependencies. British nationality law governs modern British citizenship and nationality, which can be acquired, for instance, by descent from British nationals. When used in a historical context, "British" or "Britons" can refer to the Celtic Britons, the indigenous inhabitants of Great Britain and Brittany, whose surviving members are the modern Welsh people, Cornish people, and Bretons. It may also refer to citizens of the former British Empire.


Beginnings at His Majesty's Theatre

Lumley's father was a clothes-dealer who had made his original fortune in Canada. The young Benjamin Levy was a pupil at King Edward's School, Birmingham. [1]

King Edwards School, Birmingham independent day school for boys in Birmingham, England

King Edward's School (KES) is an independent day school for boys in Edgbaston, an area of Birmingham, England. Founded by King Edward VI in 1552, it is part of the Foundation of the Schools of King Edward VI in Birmingham.

Lumley trained as a solicitor, and then studied for the Bar under Basil Montagu. In this capacity he gave legal advice to the financially troubled manager of what was then His Majesty's Theatre, Pierre Laporte, who came to rely on him extensively. As Lumley had become familiar with making managerial decisions for the theatre, when Laporte died in 1841 the board of the opera company, consisting mainly of wealthy noblemen, asked him to take over. [2]

A bar association is a professional association of lawyers. Some bar associations are responsible for the regulation of the legal profession in their jurisdiction; others are professional organizations dedicated to serving their members; in many cases, they are both. In many Commonwealth jurisdictions, the bar association comprises lawyers who are qualified as barristers or advocates in particular, versus solicitors. Membership in bar associations may be mandatory or optional for practicing attorneys, depending on jurisdiction.

Basil Montagu was a British jurist, barrister, writer and philanthropist. He was educated in Charterhouse School and studied law in Cambridge, later wrote and worked on reforms in bankruptcy laws of Britain. He served as Accountant-General in Bankruptcy between 1835 and 1846. He was highly influenced by the writings of Francis Bacon. He was the son of John Montagu, 4th Earl of Sandwich, and his mistress, singer Martha Ray.

Her Majestys Theatre theatre in London

Her Majesty's Theatre is a West End theatre situated on Haymarket in the City of Westminster, London. The present building was designed by Charles J. Phipps and was constructed in 1897 for actor-manager Herbert Beerbohm Tree, who established the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art at the theatre. In the early decades of the 20th century, Tree produced spectacular productions of Shakespeare and other classical works, and the theatre hosted premieres by major playwrights such as George Bernard Shaw, J. M. Synge, Noël Coward and J. B. Priestley. Since the First World War, the wide stage has made the theatre suitable for large-scale musical productions, and the theatre has accordingly specialised in hosting musicals. The theatre has been home to record-setting musical theatre runs, notably the First World War sensation Chu Chin Chow and the current production, Andrew Lloyd Webber's The Phantom of the Opera, which has played continuously at Her Majesty's since 1986.

Lumley had already written a standard handbook on Parliamentary private bills and was launched on a promising legal career. But his memoirs clearly indicate his pleasure in mixing in high society and making a name for himself. Management of the now renamed (after the accession of Queen Victoria) Her Majesty's Theatre gave him an opportunity of close relationship with stars of the opera and ballet, to give [3] and to be invited to ostentatious parties, and to bring high-quality Italian opera to Victorian London.

Queen Victoria British monarch who reigned 1837–1901

Victoria was Queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland from 20 June 1837 until her death. On 1 May 1876, she adopted the additional title of Empress of India.

The conductor at Her Majesty's was Michael Costa. By their different natures – one a devotee of high musical standards, the other a connoisseur of the star system, Lumley and Costa should have made a perfect team. And indeed they were so for the first five years, one of the longer surviving partnerships of the age. Artistic progress – induced by Lumley, against the inclinations of the more conservatively inclined Costa – included the introduction of operas by Giuseppe Verdi to London, and new singing and dancing stars to replace the fading 'old guard', negotiations with Felix Mendelssohn for an opera on William Shakespeare's play The Tempest – and, in 1847, the London debut of Jenny Lind. The resulting financial success led the optimistic Lumley to purchase the underlying lease of the theatre.

Michael Costa (conductor) Italian conductor and composer

Sir Michael Andrew Angus Costa was an Italian-born conductor and composer who achieved success in England.

Giuseppe Verdi 19th-century Italian opera composer

Giuseppe Fortunino Francesco Verdi was an Italian opera composer. He was born near Busseto to a provincial family of moderate means, and developed a musical education with the help of a local patron. Verdi came to dominate the Italian opera scene after the era of Vincenzo Bellini, Gaetano Donizetti, and Gioachino Rossini, whose works significantly influenced him. By his 30s, he had become one of the pre-eminent opera composers in history.

Felix Mendelssohn 19th-century German composer, pianist and organist

Jakob Ludwig Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy, born and widely known as Felix Mendelssohn, was a German composer, pianist, organist and conductor of the early Romantic period. Mendelssohn's compositions include symphonies, concertos, piano music and chamber music. His best-known works include his Overture and incidental music for A Midsummer Night's Dream, the Italian Symphony, the Scottish Symphony, the oratorio Elijah, the overture The Hebrides, his mature Violin Concerto, and his String Octet. The melody for the Christmas carol "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing" is also his. Mendelssohn's Songs Without Words are his most famous solo piano compositions.

One of the sensations of Lumley's management was the balletic 'Pas de Quatre', choreographed by Perrot, and with music by Pugni, in 1845. This divertissement, which featured as dancers Marie Taglioni, Carlotta Grisi, Cerrito and Grahn, may have been inspired by Lumley seeing four girls dancing outside the theatre. The 'Pas de Quatre' became an institution and is frequently revived.

Jules Perrot French ballet dancer and choreographer

Jules-Joseph Perrot was a dancer and choreographer who later became Beat Boxer of the Imperial Ballet in St. Petersburg, Russia. He created some of the most famous ballets of the 19th century including Pas de Quatre, La Esmeralda, Ondine, and Giselle with Jean Coralli.

Marie Taglioni Italian ballet dancer

Marie Taglioni, Comtesse de Voisins was a Swedish ballet dancer of the Romantic ballet era, a central figure in the history of European dance. She was one of the most celebrated ballerinas of the romantic ballet, which was cultivated primarily at Her Majesty's Theatre in London, and at the Théâtre de l'Académie Royale de Musique of the Paris Opera Ballet. She is credited with being the first ballerina to truly dance en pointe.

Carlotta Grisi Italian ballet dancer

Carlotta Grisi was an Italian ballet dancer. Born in Visinada, Istria, she was trained at the ballet school of Teatro alla Scala in Milan and later with dancer/balletmaster Jules Perrot. She was especially noted for her performance in the classic role of "Giselle".

Conflict with Costa

First, Costa felt neglected by Lumley, who, wisely from an artistic point of view, was not keen to produce Costa's own ballets and operas. Furthermore, Lumley refused to permit Costa to take up the appointment of chief conductor to the Royal Philharmonic Society, then the leading London symphonic orchestra. In 1846 Costa decamped to Covent Garden, with most of the orchestra and singers, and the support of some leading London critics, to establish there the second Royal Italian Opera Company in competition with Lumley.

Lumley swiftly fought back, showing all his skills as an opportunist. He engaged the composer Michael Balfe to replace Costa. In 1847, despite legal threats from the Covent Garden management, he brought Jenny Lind over for her London debut, for which he had prepared with unprecedented levels of spin and publicity. Giuseppe Verdi had been engaged to write an opera for London. Originally, it was intended to be Macbeth , but this was first given in Florence, so Verdi decided to produce I masnadieri for London.

Verdi left Italy at the end of May 1847 with his work for London completed, except for the orchestration, which he left until the opera was in rehearsal. The cast assembled for the premiere on 22 July 1847 was of the highest international standard. In particular, as the highlight of her first season in England, the great Swedish coloratura soprano Jenny Lind was engaged to create the role of Amalia, the opera's heroine. Queen Victoria and Prince Albert attended the first performance, together with the Duke of Wellington and every member of the British aristocracy and fashionable society that was able to gain admission.

After considerable persuasion Verdi agreed to conduct the premiere, which was a triumphant success, and the press was for the most part generous in its praise. Fortunately for Lumley, things had turned out well – and very profitably. Lind appeared as Alice in Robert le diable by Giacomo Meyerbeer, and Mendelssohn, on his last London visit, who had encouraged her to take up Lumley's offer, was in the audience despite his known distaste for Meyerbeer's work.

Lumley had also extensively advertised Mendelssohn's Tempest opera as forthcoming. This was a bare-faced lie. Mendelssohn found the libretto by Eugene Scribe completely unacceptable and did not even begin to write the music for it. The death of Mendelssohn in 1847 however gave Lumley an escape from his fabrications, and he commissioned the French composer Fromental Halévy to take it on. But the premiere of La Tempesta in 1850 was, at most, a succès d'éstime.

Financial problems

Meanwhile Lumley had extended his interests by taking on in addition the management of the Théâtre des Italiens in Paris, and was soon negotiating with the actress Rachel and Victor Hugo. His frenzied activities resemble closely the hubris of speculative tycoons over-reaching themselves. He soon began to have problems paying his stars and was surprised when they began to walk out on him. The soprano Johanna Wagner, niece of the composer Wagner, was lured to Covent Garden, sparking off a complex litigation. The resulting case, 'Lumley v. Gye', is still regarded as a fundamental basis of employment contract law. Lumley won the case, but it was for him a pyrrhic victory, resulting in financial loss.

By 1853 the financial problems were overwhelming, and Lumley ran for cover to France. He was tempted back when in 1856, the Covent Garden Theatre once again caught fire, and for three years he became again a leader of Italian opera in London. But when Covent Garden was rebuilt, (the same theatre that stands today), he was offered the tenure for £100,000, funds which he simply didn't have.

Abandonment of the opera

Lumley returned to the law, and in his later years wrote two works of fantasy and a legal reference book. His previous successes were never to be repeated. He died in 1875, leaving less than £1000 in his will. [4]

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  1. Conway (2012), 116
  2. Conway (2012), 117
  3. See for example Lumley's description of "the monster fête given by me in the grounds of my charming villa at Fulham" (Lumley (1864), 322–3).
  4. Conway (2012), 119.


[Category:Canadian emigrants to England]]