Singers and Musical Personalities ~ Durward Lely, 1852 - 1944

1. Lely

Durward Lely, 1852 - 1944

1.   Durward Lely in the role of Dick Dauntless in Gilbert and Sullivan's Ruddigore c. 1887.  Photograph.  Image in the public domain.

Durward Lely, 1852 - 1944

In 1879, Lely joined the Emily Soldene Opera Bouffe Company to tour as Don José, returning to the Carl Rosa company for the next London season and from 10th January until 6th March 1880, he appeared as Don José on eleven occasions. Covent Garden took notice and offered Lely an engagement of seven years, however a financial dispute caused both parties to withdraw voluntarily from the agreement.

By the autumn of 1880, Lely was engaged by Richard D’Oyly Carte to sing at the Opera Comique. In November 1880 he replaced George Power, the original London-cast Frederic in The Pirates of Penzance, becoming upon Arthur Sullivan’s recommendation, Durward Lely. 

Over the next six years he created the rôle of Nanki Poo in The Mikado (14th March 1885) and assumed key character parts in four other premieres. The first was as the Duke of Dunstable in Patience (1881) with George Grossmith as Bunthorne and Rutland Barrington as Grosvenor; then as Earl Tolloller in Iolanthe (25th November 1882) with Grossmith as The Lord Chancellor, Barrington as The Earl of Mountararat; Cyril in Princess Ida (5th January 1884) - it ran subsequently for nine months; and Dick Dauntless in Ruddigore (1887) with George Grossmith as Robin and Jessie Bond as Mad Margaret.

F. A. Hadland noted '...the almost superhuman agility of Durward Lely in the hornpipe was an outstanding feature...Miss Jessie Bond who created the part of Mad Margaret (gave an) impersonation of the jilted girl (that) drew high encomiums from Dr. Forbes Winslow, who in his day enjoyed the reputation of being the leading expert in mental cases.'   ('Savoyards Old and New' in Opera & The Ballet, Vol. 2, No. 6, June 1924,)

As Ruddigore reached the end of its run, Gilbert, Sullivan and Carte decided it was time for changes so Lely was released.

After D’Oyly Carte, Lely was in London one day fulfilling an engagement when Madame Adelina Patti happened to hear him. Impressed, she invited him to appear with her on stage on numerous occasions. They would become great friends and later he would visit the diva in her castle home at Craig-y-nos in Wales.

[Based on an unpublished article by Charles A. Hooey.  Initial research by Ian Milne.]

Top


2. Lely as Tolloller

Durward Lely, 1852 - 1944

2.   Durward Lely in the role of Lord Tolloller in Gilbert and Sullivan's Iolanthe c. 1882.  Photograph.  [Image in the public domain.]

Durward Lely, 1852 - 1944

The Blairgowrie Advertiser reports on 24th March 1894, 'Since Mr. Lely left the Savoy (in 1887), he has been on tour with the Carl Rosa Opera Company, singing three nights a week with it and filling in the remaining nights with concerts. He sang the tenor roles in Carmen, Mignon, Faust, Maritana, The Bohemian Girl and Martha.

Though Rosa had died in 1889, Lely continued on tour with the company until late in 1892. A triumph came in Edinburgh on 21st December 1891 when he sang the rôle of Acis in Handel’s Acis and Galatea, a short work, well known to all musicians, that contains three lovely tenor solos. Lely’s fine command of the head voice was displayed to perfection in his solos: the sustaining of the high G for several bars in 'Love Sounds the Alarm' being effected in this way, the absolute purity of tone being preserved, while the pianissimo was given effect to that extraordinary finesse of treatment, always a trademark of his singing.

Lely harboured a lingering fondness in the 1890’s for the old Savoy days, the many pleasant associations in that theatre, having helped him become well known in London and the only Savoyard of that time to soar into grand opera.  In that field, he regarded the 'Prize song' in Wagner’s Die Meistersinger as the greatest tenor solo in all opera.

[Based on an unpublished article by Charles A. Hooey.  Initial research by Ian Milne.]

Top


3. Lely

Durward Lely, 1852 - 1944

3.   Durward Lely c. 1885.  Photograph.   [Image in the public domain.]

Durward Lely, 1852 - 1944

While his opera career flourished, Lely was also prominent on the oratorio platform when possible. He sang Messiah as he believed the work to be truly exquisite but in his case he found the arias 'Comfort ye' and 'Every valley shall be exalted' rather low at certain points for his voice. He really enjoyed singing Mendelssohn’s Elijah and the same composer’s St. Paul. This latter work he once acknowledged as his favourite in this genre. Other staples included Handel’s Judas Maccabaeus, Jephtha, Samson, Esther and Semele. He also expressed a distinct partiality towards Sullivan’s Golden Legend, Berlioz’s Faust and Dvorak’s The Spectre’s Bride, all works that demanded the best effort of any performing artist.

Late in 1892, Lely decided to strike out on his own with a unique Scottish song and story programme with Mrs Lely as his accompanist. They tried out this new entertainment format in Alyth and when the reaction was favourable, they set out for America. At each concert Lely would render the best-known Scottish songs, interpolated with interesting and amusing north-country anecdotes, which were partly historical, generally with reference to the song that followed. Scottish ex-patriots would flock to hear familiar music of their childhood so exquisitely rendered.

Joining the stable of famous concert agents Messrs Boosey et al, he was sent on tour late in 1893 with a concert party that included Mary Davies, Clara Samuell, Antoinette Sterling, Barrington Foote and the Spanish composer, Senor Albeniz. Boosey took the opportunity, through the medium of well known singers, to popularise his recently published drawing-room ballads, such as ‘The Stars of Normandie’. . . tens of thousands all over the world would be charmed by Lely’s singing of this music at such concerts.

The following year, 1893, he and his wife Alice toured Scotland for three weeks, presenting an entirely new programme. Then, as in the past, he rejoined Patti in America to give support as she made her farewell tour, ending the following April.

Back home late in 1894, he presented in Alyth a revised format now aimed to cover all elements of British Society, a 'Rose, Shamrock and Thistle' entertainment. In January 1895, they launched another North American tour, singing to an immense house in New York where Lely was accorded a hearty welcome by the Scotch folk of the great metropolis. In mid-March, they appeared before another huge audience in the Chicago auditorium, the proceeds going to the erection of a monument to Robert Burns.

[Based on an unpublished article by Charles A. Hooey.  Initial research by Ian Milne.  For further information and to read the full paper, please follow this LINK.]

Top


Lely Anecdotes

TopFootball and the Performing Arts  ~  Lely creates the role of Nanki Poo  ~  Dick Dauntless's Hornpipe  ~  Diction and the Savoyard


Top  ~