Lady of the Locket
An original comic opera in three acts
10 February 2017
Those readers who have stumbled across some of my other Behind the Scenes blog posts may have noticed that I enjoy stories with a focus on music, as well as those with a small mystery to solve. Here’s one which combines both these things.
I recieved an enquiry from a researcher in the US:
I am researching the life of a forgotten 19th century composer, William Fullerton, Jr. He was American, but lived and worked in London. Your library seems to have the only extant copy of the music from his operetta The Lady of the Locket…The boxes seem to be part of the J.C. Williamson collection, although Fullerton died in England in 1888. I would certainly be interested in knowing if there was an Australian production of this work, or any other information you might have about how these papers ended up in your collection.
The researcher had found our Catalogue entry for The lady of the locket [music] : an original comic opera in three acts, written by H. Hamilton ; composed by William Fullerton. This is the only item in the Library’s collection by William Fullerton. I had never come across it, or the composer, before.
As the question came from America I included a little history of the J.C. Williamson collection in my answer. J.C. Williamson Ltd was the dominant theatrical agency in Australia for nearly a century, until it closed in 1976. There is a description of the collection, acquired in 1978, on the Library’s website.
The Williamson Collection copy of The Lady of the Locket consists of four boxes of manuscript music for orchestra and voice, as well as two published booklets of the libretto.
Box 1 includes the script, which comprises three notebooks (one for each Act) containing stage notes, costume and prop notes, and the recitative. The name printed on the label is ‘B. Solomon, Librarian, Empire Theatre, London.’
A search of the newspaper database, Gale News Vault, found articles describing an 1885 production at the Empire Theatre.
The next place to look was (as always) Trove, where I found an obituary for William Fullerton. The obituary notes that The Lady of the Locket was written for the Empire Theatre, which ties in with the National Library’s manuscript. The operetta is also said to have had some success in America.
The Lady of the Locket in Australia?
When looking for an Australian performance of The Lady of the Locket, I first searched the finding aids for J.C. Williamson’s performing arts programs and ephemera. The programs have been sorted and filed by a team of the Library’s volunteers, who have produced very extensive lists of content. However this particular operetta was not to be found, and there was no program in our collection.
I returned to Trove digitised newspapers to search for advertisements or articles about a performance of The Lady of the Locket.
The first items to appear in this search were obituaries for the celebrated Victorian era tenor, Henry Bracy.
Newspaper stories of Henry Bracy’s career indicate that he performed in The Lady of the Locket in London and Australia. This article from The Sun, Sydney, 1 February 1917 notes an 1888 production by “Mr Bracy’s own company” (see under Brave Days of Old).
The London reviews, found in Gale News Vault, named Mr Bracy in the cast, so we know he had a connection with the show at the London Empire.
Unfortunately I could not find any other record of playbills or other advertising of the operetta, although it was said to have been performed at the Criterion in 1890 by the Bracy-Thompson Company. The company advertised widely and had several reviews for other shows (as seen on Trove ), but not for The Lady of the Locket.
The operetta does not appear on the database AusStage, which lists Australian library collections of theatre programs, and it is not in the list of titles of Australian theatre broadsides from the JC Williamson collection. So at this stage we were unable to confirm if the operetta was ever produced in Australia.
The Lady of the Locket and JC Williamson
There was a long association between Henry Bracy and JC Williamson. In 1914 Bracy “completed 18 years of service with J.C. Williamson” and was granted a lifetime pension (Sydney Morning Herald, 2nd February, 1917, p.8). I started to wonder if it was possible that the National Library’s copy of The Lady of the Locket came to us via Henry Bracy. Or would Mr Bracy have kept his own scores rather than pass them on to the JC Williamson Company?
J.C. Williamson’s company also performed in New Zealand, so I searched Papers Past to check for any other performances in the Southern Hemisphere. Again I couldn’t find a record of a show being produced, but found a paragraph from the Observer, July 11, 1885, p.13:
Williamson, who has just returned to Melbourne from London, has secured amongst other good things ‘Honi Soit,’ ‘Saints and Sinners,’ ‘The Magistrate,’ all Gilbert and Sullivan's operas, G. R. Sims’ next three pieces, ‘The Lady of the Locket,’ the next new works by Planquette and Audran, Toole's success 'The Babes, or Whines from the wood,' &c, &c. It is to be hoped that New Zealand will come in for a share of all these attractions.
These purchases were also noted in The Evening Post, 13 May 1885, p.2
I now had evidence that JC Williamson owned the score of The Lady of the Locket, but there was still no record of the company ever performing it on stage. Even though The Lady of the Locket may not have been produced by Williamson, the score would be one of the many items acquired as part of this purchase. It is unlikely to be Henry Bracy's copy.
Inevitably, my search became sidetracked as I followed Henry Bracy’s career. He left a widow, Clara Bracy (née Thompson), but she was in Hollywood making movies at the time of his death. She apparently became more celebrated than her husband. They also had two actor sons. However the question regarding any performances and acquisition of the score for The Lady of the Locket was already answered so, reluctantly, I stopped following the trail.
Do you have your own Lady of the Locket to find?
The National Library's J.C. Williamson Ltd archive comprises business records, playscripts, libretti, music, programs, magazines, books, costume designs and photographs. You can use our many resources at the Library or Ask a Librarian.