Elster and Grime and the Grand Old Opera
U 6.184-7: Hoardings: Eugene Stratton. Mrs Bandmann Palmer. Could I go and see Leah tonight, I wonder. [...] Or the Lily of Killarney? Elster Grimes Opera Company. Big powerful change. Wet bright bills for next week. Fun on the Bristol. Martin Cunningham could work a pass for the Gaiety.
U 16.525-8: No, something top notch, an all star Irish caste, the Tweedy-Flower grand opera company with his own legal consort as leading lady as a sort of counterblast to the Elster Grimes and Moody-Manners, perfectly simple matter and he was quite sanguine of success ...
Joyce refers twice in Ulysses to the Elster Grimes Opera Company, on the second occasion perhaps slightly depreciatively because it did not have an ‘all star Irish caste’ [sic]. Weldon Thornton notes:
In its latter days, the Elster Grime Grand Opera Company was a bit player in the world of makeshift entertainment which did not survive the First World War. The Irish Independent looks back in 1966:
The Elster Grime Grand Opera Company was founded by ‘Marie Elster’ and Edward Grime in 1900. Both its leading singers had strong professional backgrounds, but neither qualified as ‘all-star Irish’ cast members. ‘Marie Elster’ was the stage name of Mary Violetta Larnach (née Riddle), born in 1864 in London, trained in Germany, but known as the ‘Australian soprano’ from the country in where she lived for ten years before returning to England in 1895. She took her stage name from that of her Melbourne suburb, Elsternwick. Edward Grime (1857-1907) was a bass singer well known in the north-east of England. They had met by 1897, when both appeared in a Birmingham production of Maritana by the Neilson Grand Opera Company. After the Neilson company, both singers appeared with the F. S. Gilbert Opera Company, which played Dublin in July 1899.
September 1900 saw the Elster Grime company in Wexford:
A year later, in 1901, they were circling around Dublin:
In 1903 they appeared – doubtless amongst other performances – at Kingstown and Bray, just outside Dublin (Irish Times, 9 April and 13 August). In March 1904 their tour had taken them to England, and they performed Mascagni’s Cavalleria Rusticana at Broughton’s Victoria Theatre in Salford.
As Weldon Thornton points out, it is likely to have been during their appearance in Dublin in mid June 1904 that they came to Joyce’s attention. A typical advertisement medley in the Irish Times runs:
Their repertoire was small, but suited to their audience: Maritana, Carmen, Il Trovatore, Faust, The Bohemian Girl, The Daughter of the Regiment, The Lily of Killarney, and several other trusted favourites. They travelled up and down Ireland in the years following their Joycean appearance, in Nenagh, Galway, Dungarvon, etc. By 1917, with Edward Grime long dead, they were fading from the Irish musical scene.
Photograph: ‘Neilson Grand Opera Co. in Chester. Miss Marie Elster – Prima Donna’ (1896 Cheshire Observer (1896) 16 May 1) – see Nineteenth Century British Library Newspapers online.Photograph: 1899 Era (1899) 28 October: ‘Players of the Period. (Illustrated.) Mdlle. Marie Elster.’
Photograph of advertising postcard for the Elster Grime Opera Company (c1907)