Lucia Elizabeth Vestris

Posted on March 8th, 2011 by


Madame Vestris –

 Madame Eliza Vestris (1797-1856) was the daughter of  the artist Gaetano Stefano Bartolozzi.  In 1813 she married Augustus Arnold Vestris, the dancer, and ballet master of the Kings Theatre. A contralto, she made her debut on the 20th July 1815 at the King’s Theatre, in Peter Winter’s opera, Proserpine. She made her first appearance in English at Drury Lane in 1820, in Cobb’s Siege of Belgrade, where she was hailed as “one of the best singing actresses that ever appeared.” In this show she was particularly hailed for “Cherry Ripe, meet me by Moonlight Alone”. (This would much later, be memorably arranged for String Quartet by Frank Bridge). Vestris was the first major actress ‘breeched’ on the London Stage, appearing memorably as Don Giovanni, Macheath and Cherubino.   

Despite the public success of this daring innovation, the press was often far from kin. In 1821 the British Stage wrote: 

‘The bait succeeded; the town ran in crowds to see Madame Vestris’ legs, though they had been somewhat lukewarm about her singing; and hundreds discovered that her proportions were most captivating when set off to advantage by a tight pair of elastic pantaloons.”

 In 1830, she took over the Olympic Theatre, originally built out of the timbers of the French Man of War Ville de Paris in 1806-7. This theatre was built for Philip Astley on Wych Street, Strand. Astley built his theatre in the shape of a circus tent, and the extension  the threatre in 1809 retained this character.  Initially, Vestris ran the threatre in partnership with another actress, Marian Forte. Their first production was ‘Mary Queen of Scots.’

One of her innovations at the Olympic Theatre was the introduction of box sets with Ceilings.  The success of the theatre was very much helped by the presence of the pantomime writer James Robinson Planché. He had originally been engaged by Charles Kemble at Covent Garden to design the production of Shakespeare’s King John, in 1823, and at one point , been in charge of the music at Vauxhall Gardens.

Queen Victoria’s loyalty to Vestris and Mathews junior lasted till Vestris died in 1856; they were often invited to perform for her at Windsor. According to Lord Melbourne:

 ‘It’s rare to see a good actress. It’s rare to see a good anything, that’s the fact.’

 

 The Poster Man, PSS RAM, London, 2006, P.20

 Queen Victoria’s Sketchbook, Marina Warner, Book Club Associates, London, 1979,P.57

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