From Russia with love … the story of
By Charles A. Hooey
In a 1908 article he was referred to as ‘A male Tetrazzini’ because,
like the Italian songstress who had triumphed in London, Philip Brozel also ventured
far a-field, traveling from Britain to Vienna to be praised to the skies.
He was born Feodor Brozel in St. Petersburg, Russia, probably in 1866. Soon,
as a young lad of Jewish background, he felt uneasy during the oppression of
the times and in the late eighties, under threat of conscription, he set out
for England, his ambition being to become a great singer. He had been singing
in the chorus of the Petersburg Opera and expected to have enough money for
the journey, but due to the failure of the impresario, he received no salary.
Brozel was forced to start out with nothing but his fare to Hamburg.
In that city, he suffered severely from cold and hunger until one day he happened
to stagger to the lighted door of a home and fell fainting on the threshold.
Luckily, when the door opened, he found friendly folk of his race who took
him in, revived him, and when he recovered, paid his fare to London.
And so Brozel arrived in what was to him ‘the promised land.’ He
would come to love England for its freedom and the warm-hearted people he found
there. With the help of a compatriot, he found employment at a clothier's warehouse
in the East End, and started saving for a term's instruction at the Guildhall
School of Music. To his simple outlook, he thought this would suffice to make
him a star in the operatic world. At the Guildhall, his singing professor, struck
by the beautiful timbre of his voice and artistic temperament recommended him
for the Royal Academy of Music. In this move, he was supported by Mr. (later
Sir John) Rutson, a wealthy patron of the arts, to whom many young aspirants
were indebted for help and encouragement. With Rutson’s encouragement and
financial support Brozel went to the Royal Academy of Music in 1890. Rutson also
provided him with £1 a week to help with living expenses. Of this sum the
lad dutifully sent 10s every week to aid his widowed mother in Russia.
At the Academy, Brozel at first studied with Alberto Randegger, whose methods
did not entirely suit; nor was he satisfied with his progress under the professor
to whom he went next. By chance he heard of Wilkinson, a teacher not in great
favour with the authorities, but a brilliant instructor withal. This remarkable
man, who had discovered the power of his voice on the ranches of Australia,
had gathered his knowledge of the art of voice production during a long and
period of study among the professors of Italy. Brozel at once recognized Wilkinson
as a master among masters, and under him he pursued his studies unofficially,
while continuing (diplomatically) with his regular professor, who, in time,
wondered at the sudden, striking prowess of his pupil.
As his studies progressed, he distinguished himself by earning bronze and silver
medals and the Evitt prize. There were opportunities to perform too, one being
on 25 March, 1893, when he and fellow RAM students presented Lortzing’s
once popular opera Zar und Zimmermann, or in this instance, in English, Peter
the Shipwright. Brozel ‘sang the tenor music with some taste, and his
perpetual transports of jealousy were fairly amusing. His pronunciation of English
is very imperfect, but for that matter, it was scarcely worse than that of some
of his companions who had not the excuse of foreign extraction.’ Then the
students gave a concert in St. James Hall a few days before Christmas when Brozel ‘was
heard to good advantage singing the cavatina from Gounod’s Roméo
Deciding it was time to sample the professional stage, he went to Hull where
on 21 February 1894 he sang with the Vocal Society in St. John’s Eve by
Frederic H. Cowen. This reaction appeared in the local newspaper: "The tenor
gives a good vocalist more than fair opportunity; there is one song permitting
high notes - if you have got them, and Mr. Brozel does, will have them in greater
proportion if he gains facility in reaching the coveted ground." As for
the work itself: "Apart from picturesque phrasing and one or two delightful
bits of instrumentation, notably a rustic dance, there is little to remark upon
in Mr. F. H. Cowen's old English idyll, `St. John's Eve.'" Later
in the concert, Brozel sang `The sailor's grave.' "… we have
indicated Mr. Brozel's excellence; he has some clever, resonant notes, altogether
a useful tenor."
When, while still a student, he sang Canio in Pagliacci, Sir Augustus
Harris of Covent Garden heard him and was duly impressed. Thus, one morning
in May, 1894, when the singer called on the impresario with Nellie Melba and
present, he was offered £10 a week to join the company. Beforehand he had
been counseled, `Whatever Harris offers, ask more,' so he replied, `How can I
live on £10 per week?' (He had been living on 10s!) Sir Augustus responded
with an offer of an additional £5. And so he was engaged. Covent Garden
was about to give Pagliacci with tenor De Lucia who was proving cantankerous,
and so Brozel, a few days later, sang Canio on the Royal Opera stage, with
Melba as Nedda.
TWO SEASONS AT COVENT GARDEN
During the 1895 Royal Opera season, he sang Canio again and in a novelty as
Frederic Cowen’s Harold was regarded. Given on 8 June 1895, Harold was
a grand opera in English that Cowen considered his best (even better than Thorgrim)
and the Royal Opera certainly gave it luxury treatment. The theatre was full
and the Prince and Princess of Wales (later King Edward and Queen Alexandra)
honoured the composer by being present. "The artists were as good as I could
possibly wish for," Cowen wrote, "including as they did Albani, Brozel
and David Bispham." The latter, in the title part, wrote, "Nobody seemed
to think of it as an innovation for everyone could understand the words as we
sang them, which was a rarity in the classic precincts of Covent Garden." But,
in fact, the audience objected to hearing their own language sung on the Royal
Opera stage and after one further performance, Harold was withdrawn.
At that time, Adelina Patti was bidding farewell as Zerlina in Don Giovanni so
Brozel sang Ottavio on 24 and 28 June 1895 with Victor Maurel as the Don. He
was also Siegfried when it was given in English for the first time.
During Harris's lifetime, Brozel (now at a handsome salary) sang at the Garden
great success, and he made his name rapidly. However, that season with Patti
would be Brozel’s last with the Royal Opera for, no longer with Harris’s
support, he decided he would henceforth sing in English with touring opera companies
in Britain. His principal effort came as a member of the company run by husband
and wife Charles Manners and Fanny Moody, and occasionally with the Carl Rosa
Company. Thus, with Moody-Manners, he returned to Covent Garden from 12 October
to 9 November to sing three times in Carmen and Faust and twice
In September that year, Brozel made his first appearance in one of conductor
Henry Wood’s Promenade Concerts at the Queen’s Hall, London to offer
the Flower Song from Carmen. Wood later would proclaim that he had taught
Brozel his Wagner. Further appearances with Wood at the Proms followed.
When the Carl Rosa Company revived Romeo and Juliet in English at the
Garrick Theatre on 19 January, 1897, Philip sang Roméo with Alice Esty
as Juliet, Charles Tilbury as the Friar and Eily Heenan as Stephano with Claude
Jaquinot conducting. Faust was given four times with Esty and Brozel
the lovers at the first three with Alec Marsh (Méphistophélès)
and Louise Kirkby Lunn (Siébel). He also appeared in Carmen and Tannhäuser.
On 23 October 1897, he created the title role in Scotsman Hamish MacCunn's
opera Diarmid with
libretto by the late Duke of Argyll. One of several works written at this time
based on Gaelic mythology, it was considered a success at its introduction,
but was soon forgotten. Then in June, 1898, Brozel went along when the Carl
Company was summoned to perform for Queen Victoria at Balmoral. Her Majesty
paid the tenor a gracious compliment, "You are Russian, yet your English is better
than an Englishman's."
Later that year he sang Tristan in English in London with Lucille Hill as Isolde,
Kirkby Lunn as Brangäne, Arthur Winckworth as King Marke and Charles Tidbury
as Kurwenal, Hamish MacCunn conducting. It may have been the first performance
of the opera in English. When he reprised the role in Liverpool early in 1899,
Rita Elandi was Isolde and Lampriere Pringle King Marke, the others being the
same. Richard Eckhold conducted.
Concurrently, Brozel took part in a series of concerts, including a Wagner
series of especially high order organized by Robert Newman, with the Queen’s Hall
Symphony Orchestra conducted by Henry J. Wood. They combined a symphony by Beethoven
with vocal and orchestral excerpts from Wagnerian operas. On 27 November 1899,
Brozel appeared with Madame Lucille Hall and Madame Kirkby Lunn. He also performed
Wagner with Marie Brema, David Ffrangçon-Davies and Olga Wood.
For a series of Sunday Afternoon Orchestral Concerts at Queen’s Hall, Brozel
with cellist W. H. Squire delighted listeners on 1 January 1899. The first performance
of Glazounoff’s Symphony No. 6, Op. 58 was also given. Then, Brozel sang
at Saturday Concert at the Crystal Palace on 31 March 1900 with the backing of
Adele Verne at the piano and Maud MacCarthy with her violin. Similar entertainment
was provided on 9 and 23 April.
AT THE METROPOLITAN OPERA IN NEW YORK, BAYREUTH, LONDON
That autumn, Brozel steamed off to the USA where Henry W. Savage with the support
of Met manager Maurice Grau, was presenting a season of English opera at the
Metropolitan Opera, beginning on 1 October 1900. The next night Tannhäuser was
given with Brozel in the title role, Rita Elandi as Elizabeth, William Paull,
making his American début as Wolfram, William H. Clarke as Hermann and
Selma Kronold as Venus. A second known role was Phoebus, when another novelty,
Goring Thomas’s Esmeralda, was presented on 19 November. In the
cast as well were Grace Golden (Esmeralda), Lempriere Pringle (Claude Frollo),
William Paull (Quasimodo), Grace Van Studdiford (Fleur-de Lys), Leslie Walker
(Chereuse), Harry Davies (Gringoire) and F. Boyle (Clopin). Other operas included Faust,
Tannhäuser, Mignon, Carmen, Romeo and Juliet, Cavalleria Rusticana and Pagliacci,
Martha, The Mikado and possibly Aida, although it is not known in
which Brozel sang. After the season at the Met ended on 15 December, the company
went on tour to Boston, Pittsburgh, Washington and other cities in the eastern
US, returning to the Met on 8 April, 1901. As for Brozel, he had departed early
as he was needed in England.
There, on 5 April, Good Friday afternoon, he was heard in an orchestral concert
of 19th century music with particular emphasis on the music of Wagner
and Tschaikovsky. Accepting an invitation from Frau Wagner, he participated
in the Bayreuth Festival at the end of July 1902. When Wagner’s beautiful
early opera Der Fliegende Hollander opened the festival at the end of
July, it was performed in one act, the change of scenes occurring during the
entr’acte music without lowering the curtain. The cast was mostly from
the Berlin Opera, with the exception of the Steersman (with a most difficult
song to sing), in which Philip Brozel appeared. He also served as one of the
four squires in Parsifal.
Rejoining Moody-Manners in time for its Autumn Season at Covent Garden he sang
on opening night (25 August) as Don José to Zélie de Lussan’s
Carmen. Two nights later he was Canio in Pagliacci, a performance made
notable for the Beppe of promising American tenor Francis Maclennan. Richard
Eckhold conducted. He went on to sing Manrico in Il Trovatore, and the
title roles in Lohengrin, Tannhäuser and a single performance of Tristan with
Blanche Marchesi as Isolde. He also sang Siegfried in mid September,
when, according to The Times, ‘the chief honours must go to Mr. Philip Brozel,
who filled the part of Siegfried in a manner that left little room for criticism.
His singing was as good as it always is, and he flung himself into the spirit
of the Schmiederlieder with splendid vigour, while his acting had more
warmth and brightness than usual. Brünnhilde was sung by Mme. Fanny Moody.’
In November 1902, he re-appeared on Wood’s Promenade concerts on the 1st and
3rd November with Kirkby Lunn and W. A. Peterkin as fellow vocalists
and W. E. James, a bassoonist. Returning on 8 November with Evangeline Florence,
Kirkby Lunn and Peterkin they joined an extensive list of instrumentalists
during this, the last night, given for Newman’s benefit.
The next year, still with Moody-Manners, he repeated his roles, singing Canio
on 30 March with Anna Hickisch, William Dever, George A. Fox and Dan Thomas
with Eckhold conducting. As usual it was paired with Cavalleria Rusticana,
in which Blanche Marchesi starred with Maclennan. On another occasion, Brozel
sang with the Nedda of Zélie de Lussan who, somewhat later, as a tempestuous
Carmen, had a gay time seducing him. He also sang in Tannhäuser with
Moody and Esty, as well as in Siegfried with Moody and in Tristan and
Isolda with Marchesi. In November 1902, he appeared in four more of Henry
Wood’s Promenade concerts with such artists as Muriel Foster, Kirkby Lunn,
Evangeline Florence and Joseph Lycett.
YEARS ON THE EUROPEAN CONTINENT
In 1903, he decided to accept an engagement from Angelo Neumann in Prague to
offer his usual roles. Then, moving on to Munich, he stayed for almost a year,
combining performances with study sessions with Felix Mottl. In 1905 an opening
appeared at the Stadttheater in Mainz so he signed for a two year stay. In
addition to his Wagner, he sang Jean in Meyerbeer’s Le Prophète and
Herod in Salome. As well on 15 April 1906, he created the title role
Liebesgeige (The Hunchback of Cremona), by English composer Alick MacLean.
During his time at Mainz, he would go off to sing in Frankfurt, Cologne (Lohengrin),
Hanover (Tristan) and Berlin (Radames in Aida). As well, he took part
in three Wagner Festivals in Budapest, garnering many plaudits for his endeavors.
Late in 1906 was engaged by the Vienna Hofoper (later Staatsoper), mainly as
a stand-in for Slezak and Schmedes when neither was available. He had success
as Lohengrin, Die Meistersinger and other Wagnerian roles. On 24 April,
1907 he appeared as Canio. Then, he had “a veritable triumph in ‘Die
Judin’ (‘The Jewess’), Halevy’s famous opera. It
is an almost unheard-of occurrence for a foreigner to be recognized as a singer
of genius, but the way they cheered and bravoed Mr. Brozel after his big scene
was quite unparalleled, and he has had the finest reception of any singer this
season.” At one point, he slipped away to sing at one of Hans Richter’s
concerts at the Town Hall, Birmingham, returning the next day to Austria to fulfill
further engagements, including performances as Otello.
Meanwhile, back in England, Moody-Manners had missed his brilliant participation,
and made him an offer he could not refuse. He was not in particularly good
form when he returned on 17 August, 1908, it being claimed that he “has a pure,
if rather colourless, tenor voice, (and) he is far from either looking or acting
the perfect Lohengrin. His gestures are wooden, his movements lack breadth, and
the whole performance is deficient in passion and dignity.” A week later,
he was back as Tristan with Enriqueta Crichton as Isolda. “Mr. Philip Brozel
always seems to want an act or two before he finds himself. If he was rather
a stiff lover, he woke up towards the close, and sang Tristan’s ravings
less ‘plummily’ than usual and in a manner that showed his fine voice
at is best.” Then the tenor had an opportunity to give Londoners the role
of his recent Vienna success, as reported in the London Times on 31 August, 1908. ‘Mr.
Manners is to be commended for reviving this opera, which is undoubtedly one
of the best of its kind. The performance was, in most respects quite satisfactory
... Of the chief actors, Mr. Charles Manners as Cardinal Brogni, and Mme. De
Vere Sapio as Rachael, were both excellent; Mr. Philip Brozel, as the Jew, was
handicapped by his make-up, but he sang the music well…’ On 28 September,
he sang in Lohengrin again this time with Clementine de Vere Sapio as
Elsa, with Mary Louise Rogers, Charles Magrath and William Dever with Eckhold
as conductor. In a later Lohengrin he appeared with Marchesi and Fanny
Moody. As well, he sang in Samson and Delilah as well in his usual roles.
That year, P.T.O in The Musical Times, provided an interesting appraisal of
the tenor: “Of a particularly powerful, but at the same time, a singularly
sympathetic personality, Philip Brozel is as striking off stage as he is on.
Simplicity, sincerity and strength are the chief characteristics of the man,
as they are of the artist, while an air of mystery, almost Irvingesgue in its
intensity, lends a particular fascination to his personality, and is perhaps
accounted for by his foreign origin, naturalised Britisher though he may be.
Mr. Brozel, like many Russian ‘intellectuels’[sic] whose souls are
fired by a love of freedom, left his native land for the free shores of England.”
Visiting Hull on 4 November, he sang Radames in Aida "with all the
strenuousness of former days and revealing all his old skill in voice management.
A good deal of the effect of the [whole] performance was due to Mr. Brozel's
fervent singing. No man could have made the part more dramatically exciting." Two
nights later in Die Meistersinger, "In the part of Walter we had
a tenor no less renowned from Mr. Philip Brozel - a tenor of the `heroic' type,
who since he last sang in Hull has developed distinct Teutonic characteristics.
Mr. Brozel's voice last night seemed to be wanting in some of that sympathetic
quality which distinguished it formerly, but apart from this he gave a reading
of the part thoroughly in accord with Wagnerian tradition. It certainly cannot
be charged against him that he lacked resoluteness and dramatic vigour, nor that
he failed to carry the part through with dignity. His singing of the trial songs
early in the opera, his delivery of the music in the conversation with Sachs
in Act II, was notably good, while in the scene of the contest he made a great
impression by the passion which he imparted to his delivery of the Prize Song."
Back in London, he appeared in the title role of Wagner’s Rienzi on
27 August 1909. As reported in The Times, “The work of Mr. Philip Brozel,
Miss Kate Anderson and Miss Bessie Weir in these three principal parts was deserving
of all praise. Perhaps Mr. Brozel looked more like a potentate rather than the
energetic leader of a popular cause, but in all other respects his understanding
of the part was complete; and his voice served him well in the climaxes, though
it sounded tired in the long passages of merely declamatory recitatives.”
He stayed with Moody-Manners until the main company was disbanded in 1910.
For his last appearances, he alternated with Joseph O'Mara as Manrico in Verdi's Il
Trovatore and was heard on 7 April 1910 with De Vere Sapio, Rogers, Harry
Brindle and Charles Moorhouse under the baton of Cuthbert Hawley.
Meanwhile, Thomas Beecham, amidst much controversy, was preparing to première
Richard Strauss’s Salome in English at Covent Garden, and since
Brozel had sung Herod in Germany, of the ten performances given, he sang twice,
on 25 and 31 December 1910. In the Times it was noted on 2 January, 1911 that, “The
evening began with a vigorous performance of Strauss’s Ein Heldenleben, after
which the conductor and the first violin were loudly and deservedly applauded.
This was followed by the now familiar Salome, in which Aïno Ackté and
Mr. Whitehill repeated their triumphs and were worthily supported by a Herod
(Mr. Brozel) who was a very great improvement on his predecessors.” Elly
Petzl-Demmer was Hérodias. Justifiably, Beecham glowed with pride at his
Afterwards, Brozel remained with Beecham for a series of elaborate concerts
at the Palladium when he appeared each day at 2:30 and 8:00 in Act II of Tannhäuser with
other music as part of a varied bill with Edith Evans as Elisabeth, Lewys James
Wolfram and Harry Reynolds, the Landgrave. Beecham conducted both performances
on the first day, 30 January. Midway through the second week, excerpts from Carmen replaced Tannhäuser.
A curious development followed. After singing Tannhäuser at the
Palladium, Brozel was dismissed by Beecham due to disappointment with the tenor’s
performance. Brozel, taking offence, launched a defamation suit against Beecham
and his organization. There were differing accounts at the hearing, depending
on whether a witness was speaking on behalf of the plaintiff or the defence.
However, other singers, Edith Evans in particular, spoke favorably about Brozel. ‘We
all sang out of tune. That was owing to the very high pitch. It was most unusual
and only used at the music-halls.’ Unfortunately The Times did not follow
up by reporting the outcome of this intriguing suit.
Although occasionally he performed as a guest at German festivals until 1920,
the severe strain of singing so much Wagner ultimately weakened his constitution
and forced a premature retirement. Though offered a professorship at the Royal
Academy of Music (of which he became a Fellow), he preferred to give instruction
privately. And so, he opened a singing academy called the Philip Brozel Conservatoire
where he provided instruction in operatic singing, acting and voice culture
at Cleveland Lodge at St. Margaret’s-on-Thames, later part of Richmond. Thus,
he functioned until his last illness.
At the beginning of Brozel's career, Jean de Reszke received him very kindly,
and had given him valuable advice. De Rezke remained ever the younger singer's
ideal. There was some resemblance between their voices, and this was especially
noticeable in such roles as Lohengrin and Tristan. Of these operas, Brozel
preferred to any, the princely character of Lohengrin above all, as it appealed
imagination. But Brozel was never more successful than as Canio, for which
he was, in appearance and temperament, particularly suited and in the opinion
not a few, he was its best exponent.
Philip Brozel's voice had true tenor quality, and was characterized by a peculiar
sweetness not to be forgotten. His style was without affectation or mannerisms,
and always in perfect taste. He was an intellectual interpreter of the great
masters of opera, an enthusiastic student of everything that is finest in his
art, and a most conscientious and energetic worker.
With his brother Alec at his side, Philip Brozel died in Twickenham of heart-related
ills on 23 December 1927 at a comparatively early age of 61. His death was
undoubtedly a shock to those who remembered him as one of the best-known and
tenors of his day.
Postscript: Apparently Philip Brozel did not make phonographic records as it
is for this reason Mr. Hymos’s story appeared in The Record Collector’s “Ones
who Got Away” series. Does anyone know if examples of his singing actually
‘Philip Brozel (The Ones who Got away)’ by Henry Hymos, The Record
Vol. 51, No. 1, March 2006
‘My Art and My Friends’ by Frederic Cowen, London, Edward Arnold,
I want especially to thank Larry Lustig, Editor of The Record Collector for
using his computer acumen to extract Brozel reports from the Internet, mostly
the Times and Musical Times. Also I appreciate the assistance of Bill Russell
in Springfield, Virginia, Christian Springer in Vienna and David Barker in