Mixed Nuggets of Golden Singing and Novelty
One of my very favorite voices singing the Schubert “Ave Maria” in a way I consider legato heaven, full of beauty and meaning, and close to God. The Great Marian Anderson.
One of the best sounds for a grammaphone if a little too fast to be accurate for pitch. Gigli showing his easy and natural phrasing and gorgeous sound.
Girl tenor RUBY HELDER sings “Eily Mavourneen” from Benedict’s Irish opera, “The Lily of Killarney”—in 1908. The petite girl had just passed her 12th birthday.
The recording was made as a Pathe cylinder. It was available in the U.S. in the form of a Pathe 10.75-inch disc #766.
This recording falls in the realm of “an operatic PARTY RECORD.” You have NEVER heard anything / anyone quite like this!
It’s a sad fact that few of the early Helder discs are found in good playing condition–
for three reasons:- they were played on early talking machines that tended to wear the records because of heavy pick-ups (tone arms), coupled with the reality that early disc-owners (playing Helder’s lateral discs) were reluctant to play just one record and then throw away the needle…. AND…. because Ruby’s recordings were so unusual, they received more playings than a disc might ordinarily receive.
Add to that mix the fact that some vintage talking machines didn’t track the grooves properly. U.S. Columbia machines tended to cause more wear than Victor machines.
Ruby Helder first stepped before the recording horn for the Pathe Company in 1908 to cut cylinder masters. When heard by the management of Pathe and then the general public, most didn’t believe this was the vocal art of a TWELVE-year-old GIRL who stood under 5 feet at the time and sounded like a MAN.
RUBY HELDER sings “Then You’ll Remember Me” from Balfe’s opera, The Bohemian Girl—in 1913. The disc is Columbia # 501. This recording falls in the realm of “an operatic PARTY RECORD.” Ruby Helder first stepped before the recording horn for the Pathe Company in 1908 to cut cylinder masters. When heard by the management of Pathe and then the general public, most didn’t believe this was the work of a 17-year-old GIRL, who stood under 5 feet tall at the time–as she sounds like a MAN.
While some references state that Helder was an “International Opera Star,” to the best of my knowledge, she never appeared in an opera. She sang arias in her concerts, which consisted largely of ballads and drawing-room songs of the period.
Like many British singers a century ago, the opera she sang was always in English. In addition to the BOHEMIAN GIRL aria presented here, the only other operatic Helder records are two discs of the principal TENOR arias from Martha and Faust.
Ruby Helder (1890-1938) progressed from “Girl Tenor” when she first made four Pathe cylinders in 1908 to “The Lady Tenor,” when she was around 31.
She recorded for Pathe, HMV, Edison Bell, and Columbia. That said, there were only 21 titles ever made—between 1908 and June 1921.
She was born as Emma Jane Holder on March 3, 1890, at 7 Brooklyn Terrace in the Easton district of Bristol, UK.
Her father Thomas, a dairyman at the time, later became landlord of the nearby Glasshouse Pub, where little Emma would sing to entertain the regulars. From these humble beginnings, a unique singing career was launched. Encouraged to take formal singing and piano lessons, the young Emma Holder became Ruby Helder on finding out someone else in her class had the same surname.
This tiny child’s deep and powerful singing voice astonished everyone who heard her. Her aunt, housekeeper to the great Scottish music hall star Harry Lauder, made arrangements for Helder to train at the Guildhall School of Music under Charles Tinney, before she received tuition from one of the outstanding figures in British music, Charles Santley.
Helder began recording for Pathe as early as 1908, and in July 1909 made her first public appearance on the concert stage at the Queen’s Hall, London.
After making further records for Edison Bell, in 1911, Ruby signed a recording contract with HMV. By this time, her remarkable voice was known WORLDWIDE, and invitations to sing poured in from many countries, including Russia.
An American millionaire, Mrs. August Belmont, persuaded Ruby to cross the Atlantic in 1913 for the sole purpose of singing at one of her private parties.
The U.S. witnessed some of Helder’s greatest concert triumphs, esp. in Philadelphia and Chicago. In 1915, the great Italian tenor Enrico Caruso took an interest in her career and introduced her to the management of the Metropolitan Opera in New York and suggested they offer Helder “supporting” tenor roles.
Management declined, fearful of engaging someone who might well be regarded as a freak.
Undeterred, she continued performing and recording a mixture of operatic pieces and light, sentimental music of the time, while pursuing further music studies at the Grinnell College Faculty, between 1916 and 1917.
While rehearsing at New York’s Hippodrome Theatre, the petite 5ft 3in Helder, sporting a bob hairstyle long before it became fashionable, attracted the attention of the legendary John Philip SOUSA. Impressed by her voice, she was invited to join his musicians, which she did and enjoyed a lengthy tour of the U.S. and Canada with Sousa’s Band.
In 1920, Helder returned to England with the eminent American architect and artist Chesley Bonestell, and they were married July 12. In 1925. To further both careers, they undertook an extensive tour of Italy, living in Florence mainly.
But her popularity had started to diminish Her last recording was made in 1921, and most catalogues no longer listed her earlier discs.
A Gramophone magazine review reflected the opinion of Helder’s abilities by certain critics.
“Miss Helder, if she will forgive my saying so, has a fresh voice, a tenor, yet not a tenor… it is quite lacking in the characteristic power and expression of the tenor’s top register.”
She and Bonestell returned to England before moving back to the U. S. in 1927, where they set up home in Berkeley, California. Helder made a number of radio broadcasts from New York in the late twenties, prior to announcing her retirement in 1935.
During this period she threw many lavish parties. But there was a price to pay for this high living, and on November 21, 1938, she died, aged just 48 years, at the Highland Hotel, Hollywood, after a long battle with alcoholism.
Britain’s world-famous lady tenor has not been completely forgotten in her birth city of Bristol. In June 2001, a plaque was unveiled at her birthplace by the city’s Lord Mayor.
Verdi’s choice for his premiere Otello can also sing Rossini. From Rossini’s opera ‘Guglielmo Tell’ Francesco Tamagno sings this 4th act aria. tamagno
Enrico Caruso, jr. The great Caruso (1873-1921) sired 4 sons, 2 died in infancy and 2 lived to maturity–Rodolfo, born in 1898, and Enrico Caruso, Jr., born 1904. Caruso, the elder, had a 10-year affair with operatic soprano Ada Giachetti, who abandoned the great tenor and his two sons in 1908.
The lads were denied few material advantages and were among his legal heirs.
When Caruso married in 1918, Enrico, Jr. came to live with his new family in the U.S. and attended Culver Military Academy. After his father’s death in 1921, he took voice lessons in L.A. with the possible goal of a career in opera, but eventually he discontinued study.
He moved to Hollywood where he starred in two Spanish-language films, “The Fortune Teller” in 1934…and “The Singer of Naples” in 1935.
In his latter days, Enrico, Jr. concentrated on writing a comprehensive biography of his famous father, which he completed shortly before his death.
Enrico Caruso, Junior died in Jacksonville, Fla., after suffering a heart attack–on Apr. 11, 1987.
Male soprano ALESSANDRO MORESCHI sings Tosti’s popular “Ideale,” 7-inch British Gramophone & Typewriter disc (#54758), recorded in the Sistine Chapel by recording pioneers Fred and Will Gainsberg–April 7, 1902. At that time, Moreschi was conductor of the Chorus of the Sistine Chapel, the Pope’s personal chorus.
Notice at the end of his solo, choir members give him “two thumbs up!”
Professor Moreschi is remembered in musical history as the only Castrato of the bel canto tradition to make solo recordings. Actually, by 1902, few others survived and no other was “in a condition” to make solo records.
In 1944, Fred Gainsberg, stated in an interview that Moreschi was obviously very nervous when making this 1902 recording. Literally, he was shaking in his shoes.
Alessandro Moreschi (Nov. 11, 1858— Apr. 21, 1922) probably was “altered” around 1865, in keeping with the old practice of castrating vocally-talented boys well before puberty. Castration of young males was banned by law in 1870.
Moreschi’s singing abilities became known to a former member of the Sistine Chapel choir who took him to Rome in about 1870. In 1873, when 15, he was appointed First Soprano in the choir of the Papal basilica
of San Giovanni Laterano. Thereafter, he was auditioned by all members of the Sistine Chapel choir and appointed First Soprano there, a post he held for the next 30 years.
When Moreschi joined the Sistine choir, there were still six other castrato members, but none was capable of sustaining this work’s taxing soprano tessitura.
Moreschi’s star status sometimes seems to have turned his head: “His behavoir was often capricious enough to make him forget proper professional bearing, as sometimes after a concert he paraded himself among the crowd like a peacock, with a long white scarf, waiting to be congratulated.”
In 1898, he celebrated 25 years as a member of the Sistine choir. What happened thereafter is too long a tale to relate here, but the next Pope took a dim view of Castrato singers and forbade Moreschi from making any more solo recordings when the recording machine was again brought to the Vatican in 1904. In all, there were 17
discs cut in the 2-aession Sistine Choir series.
Officially, Alessandro was a member of the Sistine Choir until Easter 1913; he remained in the choir of the Cappella Giulia of St Peter’s, Rome, until a year after that. He then retired and died shortly before his 64th birthday.
When 55, he was described as of small or medium stature, beardless, with a
speaking voice having a metallic quality, like a very high-speaking tenor. His voice and demeanour make a youthful impression.