Hugh Talbot (c. 1845 – 31 October 1899) was an Irish tenor and actor best known for creating, to universally bad reviews, the role of Frederic in the Gilbert and Sullivan hit The Pirates of Penzance in the New York production.
Life and career
Early life and career
Born Hugo Talbot Brennan near Dublin, Talbot was a choirboy as a youth. He travelled to Italy to study music, where he debuted on stage in Milan in Giuseppe Verdi's Rigoletto. For several seasons thereafter, he sang with Adelina Patti and Christine Nilsson in Italy, Russia and France. After returning to England, he sang opera in Italian, which was unusual at that time. With Her Majesty's Opera, he sang Don José in the English première of Carmen and also played the leading roles in Faust, Il Trovatore and others.
D'Oyly Carte experience
In the autumn of 1879, Richard D'Oyly Carte sent one of his theatrical companies to play the first authorized production H.M.S. Pinafore in America, and the company also prepared for the opening of the next Gilbert and Sullivan Opera, The Pirates of Penzance, which was to be premièred in New York. Pinafore opened at the Fifth Avenue Theatre in New York City, on December 1, 1879, and Talbot was cast in the leading tenor role of Ralph Rackstraw. The opening night review of Pinafore in The New York Times noted, "The Ralph Rackstraw, Mr. Hugh Talbot, has a light, pleasant tenor voice, which was not thoroughly under his control last evening, and he is also the best actor who has appeared here in the character".
On 31 December 1879, he created the role of Frederic in The Pirates of Penzance. Talbot's Frederic was perhaps the most roundly criticized performance of any Gilbert and Sullivan opera's opening night. Nearly every critic eviscerated him in reviews. The New York Times wrote:
The essential part of the young pirate apprentice received inadequate attention from the tenor. His make-up resulted in his appearing, in the first act, to be of advanced age; he was not, apparently, acquainted with his lines, and his singing was weak and tame. But the others were so spirited and generally enthusiastic that the effect of the opera was not materially injured by this weak spot in the cast.
The World was not much kinder: "Mr. Talbot sang some of the airs allotted to the tenor admirably, but he was utterly innocent of any appreciation whatever of the humor of the situations and shamefully ignorant of his lines." The Herald, too, found fault with his performance, writing: "The members of the company were not all perfect in their parts, Mr. Talbot seriously interfering with the full effect of some good points by groping after his cue in a most vague manner." Unkindest of all was the Sun, whose critic said: "Mr. Talbot, the tenor, had unfortunately apparently not thought it necessary to commit his lines, and made nonsense of much of his role, reflecting no credit upon himself, and nearly bringing the play at times into confusion".
Similar sentiments were reflected in the Mirror, the Tribune, and The Hour. Sullivan, for his part, was equally displeased, writing to his mother on January 2, 1880: "Our Company and all the Chorus are charming people and devoted to us, and spared themselves no pains or trouble to do their work thoroughly well. All except the Tenor, who is an idiot - vain and empty-headed. He very nearly upset the piece on the first night as he didn't know his words, and forgot his music. We shall, I think, have to get rid of him". Talbot remained with the company in New York until March 6, 1880, when he left the company following an argument with Gilbert. In the interim, he had briefly travelled to Philadelphia to play Frederic for the opening of Carte's Second American Company.
W. S. Gilbert scholar Andrew Crowther noted, "The Sorcerer, H.M.S. Pinafore and The Pirates of Penzance are bound together by their tenor heroes. But Gilbert had problems with his tenors – George Bentham... and Hugh Talbot.... It is not surprising, therefore, to see that in the next two operas [Patience and Iolanthe] the tenor roles are much smaller and less significant".
After D'Oyly Carte
After leaving D'Oyly Carte, Talbot appeared with the Blanche Roosevelt English Opera Company in an unsuccessful production of B. C. Stephenson and Alfred Cellier's The Masque of Pandora in Boston in 1881. He then traveled briefly with Tagliapietra's Opera Company, after which he moved to California.
Talbot died in Stockton, California in 1899.
- Stone, David. "Hugh Talbot", Who Was Who in the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company, November 30, 2005
- New York Herald, 11 November 1879, p. 3
- Ainger, p. 172
- The New York Times, December 2, 1879
- Allen, p. 106
- Stedman, p. 174
- Crowther, p. 118
- Ainger, Michael (2002). Gilbert and Sullivan–A Dual Biography. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-514769-3.
- Allen, Reginald (1958). The First Night Gilbert and Sullivan. New York: The Heritage Press.
- Crowther, Andrew (2000). Contradiction Contradicted – The Plays of W. S. Gilbert. Associated University Presses. ISBN 0-8386-3839-2.
- Stedman, Jane W. (1996). W. S. Gilbert, A Classic Victorian & His Theatre. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-816174-3.