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SHERLOCK HOLMES, ELIZA DOOLITTLE, LILIAN BAYLIS

THE WORD “OPERA” links the three personages of today’s title, thanks to the December 2021 issue of Opera News, monthly magazine of the Metropolitan Opera. In fact, each of the trio is cited in Henry Stewart’s “Operapedia,” a regular feature focused this month on the city of London. Here are tidbits gleaned from Henry Stewart’s article and from my usual Internet sleuthing. 

Holmes, The Huguenots, and Josephine de Reszke. Stewart writes, “At the end of The Hound of the Baskervilles, the detective invites Watson to Covent Garden. ‘I have a box for Les Huguenots,’ he says. ‘Might I trouble you then to be ready in half an hour?’ ” 

“… be ready in half an hour…” Image by Sidney Paget from The New Annotated Sherlock Holmes. 

I consulted Leslie S. Klinger’s The New Annotated Sherlock Holmes to amplify on this. Klinger’s annotation reads, “Les Huguenots commemorates the massacre of Protestants by Catholics on St. Bartholomew’s Day in Paris on August 24, 1572, at the same time celebrating the romance and opulence of sixteenth-century France.”  

Holmes interjected as well, “Have you heard the De Reszkes?” Klinger recounts that, “Although Holmes probably meant the brothers, who frequently appeared together, there were actually three singing de Reszkes, Jean (1850–1925) tenor; Edouard (1853–1917), bass; and Josephine (1855–1891) soprano.”

Soprano Josephine de Reszke. Image from Wikipedia

What’s more, Klinger cites another Sherlockian scholar suggesting that “Holmes’s real reason for taking in Les Huguenots… was driven by suppressed romantic longing for Irene Adler, who undoubtedly earlier performed the rȏle of the page Urbain.”

How I love annotated editions! 

Whence “Covent”? Stewart writes, “Today, London’s premier opera company (and one of the foremost in the world) is the Royal Opera at Covent Garden. Several theaters have occupied that space since 1732, when impresario John Rich… built the Theatre Royal on the site of an old convent garden.” 

“The surrounding district,” Stewart continues, “was known for its markets, especially its flowers. Eliza Doolittle, both in Shaw’s Pygmalion and in the musical adaptation My Fair Lady (originated by Julie Andrews) is a Covent Garden flower-seller.” 

Julie Andrews, as Eliza Doolittle, a Covent Garden flower-seller. Image from Opera News, December 2021.

A Rival Opera for Everyman. Stewart writes, “Covent Garden’s populist rival is English National Opera, founded in 1931 as the Sadler’s Wells Opera Company, with a mission of affordable ticket prices and English translations. Founder Lilian Baylis had for decades brought Shakespeare, ballet, and opera to the working classes.”

Lilian Mary Baylis, 1874–1937, English theatrical producer and manager. Image of her and friend by sconosciuto from Wikipedia.

Wikipedia notes, “She managed the Old Vic and Sadler’s Wells theatres in London and ran an opera company which became the English National Opera (ENO); a theatre company which evolved into the English National Theatre; and a ballet company which eventually became The Royal Ballet.” 

Though London born, Lilian spent her adolescent years in South Africa. Illness brought her back to England, where in recuperation she got involved with theatre management. Her abilities blossomed and London became her home. 

Wikipedia offers a charming tale: “After arriving in London she met 12-year-old Gordon Holmes, and the two would become close lifelong friends—Baylis had been romantically involved with Holmes’ maternal uncle in Johannesburg, and used to quip to Holmes that, ‘you know, my dear, if I had married your Uncle Jack, you would be my niece!’ ”

Gee, I wonder if suffragette Beatrice Gordon Holmes might have been related to Sherlock? ds 

© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2021

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