Nancy McIntosh (1866 – February 20, 1954) was an American-born singer and actress who performed mostly on the London stage. Her father was a member of the notorious South Fork Fishing and Hunting Club, which had been blamed in connection with the 1889 Johnstown Flood that resulted in the loss of over 2,200 lives in Johnstown, Pennsylvania.
McIntosh is perhaps best known for creating the role of Princess Zara in Gilbert and Sullivan's Utopia, Limited in 1893. She obtained this role after beginning a concert singing career in America in 1887, moving to London in 1890 and continuing her concert career in Britain. She became one of the last of W. S. Gilbert's actress proteges and continued her acting and singing career in Britain and America for several years. After McIntosh retired from the stage, she lived with Gilbert and his wife until Lady Gilbert's death in 1936 and eventually inherited Gilbert's estate, helping to preserve his legacy by selling his papers to the British Museum and leaving the remainder of the Gilbert estate to the Royal General Theatrical Fund.
Early life and career
Nancy McIntosh was born in Cleveland, Ohio, the daughter of William Ambrose McIntosh and his wife Minerva. William A. McIntosh was the president of a public utility, New York and Cleveland Gas Coal Company and a member of the South Fork Fishing and Hunting Club. The club's activities were blamed (but the members were not held legally responsible) for the failure of the South Fork Dam, which caused the Johnstown Flood in 1889 that resulted in the loss of over 2,200 lives in Johnstown, Pennsylvania. Nancy's brothers were John S. McIntosh (b. 1861), a businessman, and Burr McIntosh, a writer, publisher, photographer, war correspondent, radio personality, and stage and film actor. Nancy "was described as an expert horsewoman, had won prizes in sculling matches, could shoot and fence, played baseball and cricket and enjoyed swimming and diving."
A pupil of Signor Achille Errani, McIntosh commenced a singing career, making her debut on the concert platform on 3 March 1887 in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. On 1 November 1887, she appeared in the first of a series of concerts with William H. Sherwod in the Chickering Musical Bureau concerts in Boston, Massachusetts, singing pieces by, among others, Tosti, Chopin, Bach and Wagner. She also made a specialty of singing Scottish songs. In 1890 The Daily Gazette and Free Press in Elmira, New York wrote of her: "Miss McIntosh has studied under the best masters in Paris, London and New York. She will sail for London on June 25th and will make her debut there as a concert singer under Randegger at the London academy. It is safe to prophecy that her name will be added to the list of American girls who have carried London by storm."
McIntosh travelled to England with her father in 1890 (shortly after the flood disaster), where she studied voice for a year under George Henschel. She then sang in concerts, including in Henschel's Serbischer Liederspiel at Kensington Town Hall in December 1891 and at The Crystal Palace, where she sang in Beethoven's Choral Symphony and selections from Wagner's Die Meistersinger. She also performed with the London Symphony Orchestra, among others, and in oratorio in the British provinces. Throughout 1892 she sang in Monday Popular Concerts in Hull, Sheffield, Manchester and Liverpool. On one occasion Arthur Sullivan was in the audience. In December 1892 she sang in Handel's Messiah. Early in 1893 McIntosh sang in a series of concerts under Sir Charles Hallé in Manchester, Wales, Bowness and Windermere, among other places.
In the Spring of 1893, Henschel held a dinner party where W. S. Gilbert asked McIntosh if she was interested in singing on stage. Gilbert asked Arthur Sullivan to hear her audition as the lead soprano in their forthcoming opera, Utopia, Limited. In letters to Sullivan, Gilbert said of her:
"She is rather tall, extremely fair – very nice looking, without being beautiful – good expressive face – no appreciable American twang. Something like a good and ladylike version of Roosevelt. ... She sings up to C (whatever that means) and I am told that she is never out of tune. Miss McIntosh was keenly alive to the advantage of seeing you and she said she would gladly attend any appointment you might make."
Sullivan declined to audition her privately, and she was heard with several other singers on the next audition day at the Savoy Theatre, on 30 June 1893. Sullivan recorded in his diary that he was "Disappointed in her voice ... but I don't think she was at her best – however, she will do as she is nice, sympathetic and intelligent." Having been accepted, she debuted on the theatrical stage in October 1893 at the Savoy Theatre, creating the role of Princess Zara in Utopia, a role much expanded for her from its initial conception. According to scholar John Wolfson, Gilbert's expansion of the role damaged and unbalanced the script by detracting from its satire of government. Commentators agreed that the inexperienced McIntosh was not a good actress, and during the run of Utopia, which lasted into June 1894, her lack of confidence and ill health combined to affect her performance. Utopia, Limited was to be McIntosh's only part with the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company, as Sullivan refused to write another piece in which she was to take part.
McIntosh became one of the last actress proteges of W. S. Gilbert's. She eventually lived with Gilbert and Lady Gilbert, and they considered her an "adopted" daughter, as they had no children of their own. After Utopia, she appeared as Dorothy in a revival of Gilbert's Dan'l Druce, Blacksmith (1894) and created the role of Christina in Gilbert and Osmond Carr's His Excellency (1894–95). Discussions over McIntosh playing the role of Yum-Yum in a proposed revival of The Mikado led to an argument between Gilbert and Sullivan that prevented the revival, and Gilbert's insistence upon her playing the soprano lead in His Excellency caused Sullivan to refuse to set the piece.
McIntosh appeared in the American production of His Excellency in 1895 and also starred in New York at Daly's Theatre in the title role of The Geisha (1896–97). She also played Hero in Much Ado About Nothing (singing a solo in the suite of incidental music), Julia Mannering in Guy Mannering, Miranda in The Tempest and La Favorita in The Circus Girl (all in 1897 at Daly's). Soon after this, she retired from the stage, making occasional concert appearances. At a recital at the Bechstein Hall in 1903 she sang 18 songs by Richard Strauss, and at the same hall in 1909 she sang the soprano part in Walford Davies's Pastorale; "a most welcome reappearance", wrote The Times.
After nearly a decade away from the operatic stage, McIntosh returned, at Gilbert's request, to appear as Selene, the Fairy Queen, in Gilbert and Edward German's flop, Fallen Fairies at the Savoy Theatre in 1909. The theatre's management attributed much of the blame for the failure of Fallen Fairies to McIntosh. Critics said that she was "too much a tragedy queen"; the sensuality required by the role was "not her sphere". It is likely, however, that the work's tedious libretto was as much to blame. In any case, C. H. Workman, the opera's producer and lead comic, was forced to replace McIntosh after the first week of the opera's run, incurring the wrath of Gilbert, who banned him from playing in any of his pieces in Britain. McIntosh never appeared in an opera again, although she may have had concert engagements.
McIntosh lived with the Gilberts for the rest of their lives, at their home, Grim's Dyke, where she assisted Lady Gilbert as hostess and published some articles in the press about Gilbert's many and exotic pets. After Lady Gilbert died in 1936, McIntosh sold the house and moved to Knightsbridge, London. She succeeded Lady Gilbert as Vice-President of the Gilbert & Sullivan Society in London. Gilbert's entire estate, including the Garrick Theatre, passed from Lady Gilbert to McIntosh. She took part in a drive to raise funds for a proposed National Theatre, endowing a seat in Gilbert's name in 1938.
McIntosh died in London in 1954, and the remainder of the Gilbert estate went to the Royal General Theatrical Fund. This included stocks and revenues from the sale of Gilbert's papers to the British Museum and substantial royalties from the recordings of the Gilbert and Sullivan operas on the HMV and Decca labels. Her ashes were buried with those of W. S. Gilbert and Lady Gilbert in the churchyard at the Church of St. John the Evangelist in Stanmore.
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- McIntosh, Nancy. "The Late Sir W.S. Gilbert's Pets" in the W. S. Gilbert Society Journal, Brian Jones, ed. Vol. 2 No. 18: Winter 2005 (reprinted from Country Life, 3 June 1911), pp. 548–556
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