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:

There was at this time an opera company called the Elster-Grime (not Grimes) Grand Opera Company, which was currently playing in Dublin,…but I have not been able to find any information on the Company.

Allusions in Ulysses (1973), 91

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 Company belonged to a world which has now vanished, apparently forever. It toured the ‘fit-ups’ – small halls and assembly places which had to be transformed into theatres. It is hard to credit now, but this company of about 30 artists, chorus, dancers and full orchestra was able to make touring pay.

Irish Independent 14 July 7

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:

Wexford Drowning Disaster… The Elster-Grime Opera Bouffe Company, who will occupy the Theatre Royal [Wexford] during the coming week, have kindly offered to give an entertainment in support of the fund.

Weekly Irish Times 29 September 15

A year later, in 1901, they were circling around Dublin:

Opera Performance in Skerries. This (Saturday) evening residents in Skerries and visitors to that pleasant seaside resort will have the opportunity of listening to a high-class entertainment given by the Elster-Grime Opera Company in the Recreation Hall there.

Irish Times 17 August 10

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:

Public amusements. Gaiety Theatre. Mrs. Bandmann-Palmer, Supported by her Specially Selected London Company. This Evening (Thursday), at 8, LEAH. To-Morrow (Friday) – Mary Queen of Scots. [Etc.]… Queen’s Royal Theatre… To-night. At 8. To-night. Elster-Grime Grand Opera Co., in THE LILY OF KILLARNEY… Empire Palace Theatre… To-night… Another Big Powerful Change. GREAT MARIE KENDAL.

Irish Times 16 June 4

Photograph: Vivien Igoe

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, Dungarvan, etc. By 1917, with Edward Grime long dead, they were fading from the Irish musical scene.

John Simpson


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)

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