by Charles A. Hooey
Yes, as the pride of bonnie Scotland, this
tenor sang every kind of music, whether opera, oratorio or ballad concert
and yet, though I am part Scottish in origin,
I must confess that until recently I knew nothing of him. A packet of clippings
a pal in Scotland sent immediately revealed what a fine musical artist Durward
Lely was. Not only was he the first Don José when Carmen was introduced
to England in 1878, he was the original Nanki-Poo in The Mikado in 1885.
He also enjoyed a stint in the 1890s at Covent Garden and partnered Adelina Patti
in London and at her castle home in musical soirees.
He was born James Durward Lyall on 2nd September 1852 in Arbroath
in Forfarshire. While still a child, his parents decamped and settled in
Blairgowrie, a community situated a few miles north of Perth. There he received
education until at age fourteen he entered the offices of Messrs Anderson & Chapman,
solicitors in Blairgowrie. Very early he developed an appreciative taste for
music and sang in the church choir under the direction of William Robertson.
But he felt he needed more so after his day’s work was done, he took part
in a singing class that Robertson taught at home. Very soon it became apparent
that singing was more important to him than the law. When a concert was organized
to help a local charity, Lyall was asked to sing, little suspecting what an important
happening it would be for him. He sang “Ring the bell, watchman” in
a way that provoked much cheering and drew from the Blairgowrie Advertiser
a rave review about the qualities of his voice and style of vocal production.
great career was forecast.
This newspaper report excited arts enthusiast Patrick Allan Fraser of Hospitalfield
sufficiently that he and his wife, who knew something of singing, asked the young
man to come and sing for them. This he did, and so pleased were they that they
offered to finance a study program for him in Italy. Mrs Fraser, however, first
wanted to have their opinion endorsed by George Perren, a prominent tenor in
Dundee, so this was arranged. He agreed the lad had promise and suggested he
study in London but Fraser insisted that he go to Italy and there indeed Lyall
went. It was not without much heartache though for his parents held the prevalent
view that the stage was a place of evil repute.
To Milan he travelled to remain for five years, gaining experience in Italian
opera and studying intensely under his teachers Trivulzi and Lamperti - the latter
more especially for breathing. His course of voice training included scales,
solfeggios, a sustained song from an opera, then an entirely different kind of
song, florid and with runs - for execution. These were practiced separately -
for a very long time, until they were thoroughly mastered in every detail. Vocalizing,
he soon made exercises of the songs. He also took lessons in acting and fencing.
With opera so much a part of life in Italian villages, it was there that Lyall
made his initial appearances.
At the end of five years, the young man returned to England in anticipation
of a professional career. As a first step, he joined the Mapleson Opera Company
in 1878 and as “Signor Leli” was just in time to be Don José in
the British English-language premiere of Bizet’s opera Carmen at
His Majesty’s Theatre. At a performance on 5th February 1879,
he sang with Selina Dolaro as Carmen, Walter Bolton as Escamillo, Julia Gaylord
as Micaela, Charles Lyall as Remendado, G. H. Snazelle as Dancairo, Henry Pope
as Zuniga, L. Cadwalader as Morales, Georgina Burns as Paquita, Josephine Yorke
as Mercedes, E. Muller as Lilas Pasta with Alberto Randegger conducting. That
London season ran from 27th January until 22nd March
with Lely singing Don José sixteen times. He did not go on Rosa’s provincial
tour that followed but later that year he opted to join the Emily Soldene Opera
Bouffe Company to tour again as Don José. He returned to the Rosa
fold for the next London season and from 10th January until 6th March
1880, he was Don José once more in the now hugely popular Carmen,
singing on eleven occasions. The cast was the same as in 1879, although changes
in some of the lesser roles did occur as the season progressed. Covent Garden
took notice and offered Lely an engagement of seven years, an unheard of period
of time then in theatrical involvement. However a financial dispute caused both
parties voluntarily to withdraw from the agreement.
Joins D’Oyly Carte
Instead Lely signed with Richard D’Oyly Carte to sing at the Opera
Comique. In November 1880 he replaced George Power, the original London-cast
Pirates of Penzance, becoming upon Arthur Sullivan’s recommendation, “Durward
Lely.” Over the next six years he created the rôle of Nanki Poo
Mikado (14th March 1885) and assumed key character parts in four
other premieres. The first was as the Duke of Dunstable in Patience (1881)
with George Grossmith as Bunthorne and Rutland Barrington as Grosvenor; then
as Earl Tolloller in Iolanthe (25th November 1882) with Grossmith
as The Lord Chancellor, Barrington as The Earl of Mountararat, Richard Temple
as Strephon, Alice Barnett as Queen of the Fairies and Jessie Bond as Iolanthe;
Cyril in Princess Ida (5th January 1884) - it ran subsequently
for nine months; and Dick Dauntless in Ruddigore (1887) with George Grossmith
as Robin and Jessie Bond as Mad Margaret. When The Sorcerer and Trial
by Jury were revived in October 1884, Lely at first did double duty, serving
as the Defendant in Trail by Jury while playing Alexis in The Sorcerer. He
gave the Defendant in the curtain raiser to Charles Hildesley in November.
The first performance of The Mikado took place at the Savoy on 14th March
1885 with Durward Lely as Nanki-Poo, Rutland Barrington as Pooh-Bah, George
Grossmith as Ko-Ko, Frederick Bovill as Pish-Tush, Leonora Braham as Yum
-Yum, Jessie Bond
as Pitti-Sing and Rosina Brandram as Katisha, with Sullivan himself conducting.
Interestingly in rehearsing a second Act duet with Yum-Yum, Lely vehemently
sang out the words “Modified rapture!” though simply “Rapture” was
in the script at the time. Gilbert complained from the stalls, but the change
remained. Pooh-Bah on that occasion, Rutland Barrington, later recounted that
he had never before assisted at such an enthusiastic first night. Two of the
numbers, “The Flowers that bloom in the Spring” and “Three
Little Maids” were encored, not once, not twice but three times! Unforgettable
was Lely’s elegant representation of Nanki-Poo. There was a stillness at
the Savoy when he approached his scena in Act I: “A Wand’ring MinstreI
I” as aficionados relished the finest artist of all who sang in those
days. He remained as Nanki Poo throughout its lengthy run, until it ended
1887. Well over a century later in 1999 his role was dramatized in the biographical
In an article in The Gilbert and Sullivan Journal (July 1926), Lely explained
how in Ruddigore his famous hornpipe was introduced. “At the first
rehearsal, or rather the first time the music was played over to us by Sullivan
at the piano we arrived at Dick Dauntless’s song ‘Parlez-vous’.
After playing it over Sullivan said, ‘That’s your song, Lely.’ Gilbert
happened to be sitting next to me, and I said quite innocently ‘It sounds
as though a hornpipe should follow,’ Gilbert grunted. Nothing more was
said or thought - at least by me - about the matter. A few days later at rehearsal
Gilbert, without any preamble, said ‘Lely, can you dance a hornpipe? I
was rather taken aback, as I had quite forgotten having spoken about one. So,
trying to be funny I suppose I said ‘Well, Mr. Gilbert as the man said
when asked if he could play the fiddle, I’ve never tried so I don’t
know.’ Gilbert answered quite seriously ‘How soon can you know?’ -
and I said equally seriously ‘Tomorrow.’ After visiting a ballet
master who announced, after a few efforts, ‘Tell Mr. Gilbert you can’.
Upon hearing the news, according to Lely, Gilbert said ‘Right, I’ll
get Arthur to write you one.’ And it was so.”
In “Savoyards Old and New” in Opera & The Ballet, Vol. 2, No.
6, June 1924, Pages 15 & 16, F. A. Hadland noted “...the almost
superhuman agility of Durward Lely in the hornpipe was an outstanding feature...Miss
Bond who created the part of Mad Margaret (gave an) impersonation of the
jilted girl (that) drew high encomiums from Dr. Forbes Winslow, who in his
the reputation of being the leading expert in mental cases.”
As Ruddigore reached the end of its run, Gilbert, Sullivan and Carte decided
it was time for changes so Lely was released. As no new opera was yet ready,
the company was about to mount revivals of H.M.S. Pinafore and The
Pirates of Penzance, both of which called for the stereotype romantic tenor
to which they apparently felt Lely was unsuited.
Certainly those were the glory times for Gilbert and Sullivan with Lely playing
no small part in ensuring their triumph. Veteran Savoy first-nighters and
patrons knew that the tremendous success which met D’Oyly Carte’s
every production was in great measure due to the artistic portrayals of such
as Leonora Braham, Jessie Bond, Rosina Brandram, Richard Temple and Durward
With Patti and Carl Rosa
After D’Oyly Carte, Lely was in London one day fulfilling an engagement
when Madame Adelina Patti happened to hear him. Impressed, she invited him
to appear with her on stage on numerous occasions. They would become great
and later he would visit the diva in her castle home at Craig-y-nos in Wales
and join in what must have been the most heavenly musical delights imaginable.
But, as reported in the Blairgowrie Advertiser on 24th March 1894, “ Since
Mr. Lely left the Savoy (in 1887), he has been on tour with the Carl Rosa
Opera Company, singing three nights a week with it and filling in the remaining
with concerts. He sang the tenor roles in Carmen, Mignon, Faust, Maritana,
The Bohemian Girl and Martha. The part of Don José in the
opera first-mentioned is his favourite part, and he is the finest representative
it living. Alike in the lighter passages in the earlier acts of Carmen, and
also in the last act when Don José’s passion of love, unacknowledged
and unreturned by Carmen, is turned into one of hate, and when in a fit of mad
frenzy which is accelerated and aggravated by the determined efforts which Carmen
makes to be beside Escamillo in the bull-fight, Don José kills her, and
when, as he bends over Carmen’s prostrate body reason returns and the madness
of hate gives place to the despairing anguish of regret.”
Although details of these other operas have not been unearthed, we do know that
at the Royal Court Theatre in Liverpool on 19th January 1888,
he presented his dashing Don José with Marie Roze as Carmen, Max Eugene
as Escamillo, Fanny Moody as Micaela, with Eugene Goossens as conductor.
Though Rosa had died
in 1889, Lely continued on tour with the company until late in 1892. A triumph
came in Edinburgh on 21st December 1891 when he sang the rôle
of Acis in Handel’s Acis and Galatea, a short work, well known
to all musicians, that contains three lovely tenor solos. Another former
Savoyard, Amy Sherwin, represented the lovesick maid with rare ability and
with the able
Andrew Black as the third soloist and Mr. Collinson conducting, the mix was
fine one. Lely’s fine command of the head voice was displayed to perfection
in his solos: the sustaining of the high G for several bars in “Love Sounds
the Alarm” being effected in this way, the absolute purity of tone
being preserved, while the pianissimo was given effect to that extraordinary
of treatment, always a trademark of his singing.
Some thought that Lely’s greatest attribute was his ability to display
the very finest emotion and pathos, a quality that particularly was evident when
he portrayed Wilhelm in Ambroise Thomas’s Mignon. A colleague
at Covent Garden who sang the role of Mignon, revealed “What an immense
help it is to one in feeling exactly the emotion requisite for the rendering
great solo of the part, to be singing in the opera along with Mr. Lely, as
he has the rare faculty of imparting or communicating to those playing with
the soul for emotion and exquisite feeling which he himself possesses. And
in this part he is in very simplicity, brilliant.”
Equally fine was he as Gounod’s Faust. “In the Garden Scene,
he is well-nigh unapproachable, and his rendering of ‘All hail, thou dwelling
pure and holy’ reaches a pitch of grandeur which satisfies the highest
dictates of Art. The very difficult modulations that occur in this great
cavatina are effected by Mr. Lely with faultless intonation: and, like in
melody and in the use of occasional parlamento, the Italian training
is conspicuous, and the loveliness of Gounod’s divine solo are displayed
to the enchanted ear.”
Lely also favoured his role of Lionel in Martha, and felt that the tenor
had a great opportunity as Don Caesar in Maritana. “The latter is
a heavy part, but well repays the vocalist for the labour it entails on him.” As
for the single greatest tenor solo in all opera, Lely’s choice was the
Prize song in Wagner’s Die Meistersinger. However, the part
of Thaddeus in Balfe’s then very popular opera The Bohemian Girl was
not to Lely’s liking for, despite its lovely ballads, the part itself
was rather a small one.
Understandably he harboured a lingering fondness in the 1890’s for the
old Savoy days, the many pleasant associations in that theatre, having helped
him become well known in London and the only Savoyard of that time to soar into
grand opera. And none of his D’Oyly Carte compatriots at any time ever
attained anything like his high position on the concert platform in London,
where he had few, if any superiors.
In reminiscing about those old days, Lely recounted how Gilbert would attend
rehearsals and sit in the back row of the pit. While the soloists went through
their paces, he’d interrupt them by calling out that he did not hear the
last half of such-and-such a word, or that a word was mispronounced. Thus it
was that Savoy artists achieved a reputation for the easy and distinct way in
which they enunciated their words, which they never lost. This is an acquirement
that Lely valued a lot, and in his career he was often praised for it. Was he
ever asked to rejoin D’Oyly Carte? Certainly, soon after he severed
his ties when Utopia Limited was being readied to premiere in October 1893.
He declined the offer.
He had a tremendous reception when he sang Don José at Covent Garden
in 1893, and Sir Augustus Harris specially congratulated him on his splendid
and that very night made him sign to sing in Carmen when the opera
was next produced at the Garden. Again Emily Soldene was his flaming gypsy.
went on to play in Liverpool, “every night for three consecutive weeks
to crammed houses” as Miss Soldene recalled later.
Oratorio, songs and ballads
While his opera career flourished, he was, like every other prominent British
tenor of the day, prominent on the oratorio platform when possible. Once more
he achieved renown. He sang Messiah as he believed the work to be
truly exquisite but in his case he found the arias “Comfort ye” and “Every
valley shall be exalted” rather low at certain points for his voice. He
really enjoyed singing Mendelssohn’s Elijah and the same composer’s St.
Paul. This latter work he once acknowledged as his favourite in this
genre. Other staples included Handel’s Judas Maccabaeus, Jephtha, Samson, Esther and Semele,
Gounod’s Mors et vita and Redemption and Beethoven’s Mount
of Olives. He also expressed a distinct partiality towards Sullivan’s Golden
Legend, Berlioz’s Faust and Dvorak’s The Spectre’s
Bride, all works that demanded the best effort of any performing artist.
But it was passion for ballad singing that he would achieve a level of success
as would come to the very few in this field. He became amongst the first
flight of concert artists in London, and enjoyed critical approval when he
St. James Hall, a habitual haunt for all concert singers of the day.
Creates unique entertainment
Late in 1892, Lely decided to strike out on his own with a unique Scottish song
and story programme with Mrs Lely as his accompanist. They tried out this new
entertainment format in Alyth and when the reaction was favourable, they set
out for America. At each concert Lely would render the best-known Scottish songs,
interpolated with interesting and amusing north-country anecdotes, which were
partly historical, generally with reference to the song that followed. His talented
wife Alice accompanied him admirably and played pianoforte solos with taste and
refinement of touch. Scottish ex-patriots would flock to hear familiar music
of their childhood so exquisitely rendered.
Joining the stable of famous concert agents Messrs Boosey et al, he was sent
on tour late in 1893 with a concert party that included Mary Davies, Clara
Samuell, Antoinette Sterling, Barrington Foote and the Spanish composer,
Boosey took the opportunity, through the medium of well known singers, to
popularize his recently published drawing-room ballads, such as ‘The Stars of Normandie’...
tens of thousands all over the world would be charmed by Lely’s singing
of this music at such concerts.
The following year, beginning on 18th September 1893, he and Alice
toured Scotland for three weeks, presenting an entirely new programme. Then,
as in the past, he rejoined Patti in America to give support as she made her
farewell tour, ending the following April. Early in 1894, however, Lely had to
rush to the Lyric Theatre in London to help sag up a new opera, The Golden
Web by Goring Thomas, composer of Esmeralda. Despite its beautiful
music and the presence of a strong cast, including a charming Alice Esty, a compatriot
from Carl Rosa days, it was hampered by a poor libretto (by Frederic Corder and
B.C. Stephenson) and ultimately failed to capture the public fancy. Lely bemoaned
the fact, believing the music in The Golden Web was worth half-a-dozen
of other operas.
Pulling himself together, he organized another jaunt to America for May and June
of that year. In the second part of their concerts, they presented scenes and
acts from grand opera, often the Garden Scene from Faust. In Boston
where the house was packed each night, enthusiasm was so great that on one
the audience refused to go home. Once Lely and his wife were free to offer
their unique concert, one of the far-flung “outposts” they visited
was Winnipeg, the capital city of Manitoba in central Canada. This city had
incorporated in 1870, as part of Canada so there was plenty of pioneer spirit,
much of it centred in the large Scottish component that flocked to hear the
Back home late in 1894, he presented in Alyth a revised format now aimed
to cover all elements of British Society, a “Rose, Shamrock and Thistle” entertainment.
In January 1895, they launched another North American tour, singing to an
immense house in New York where Lely was accorded a hearty welcome by the
of the great metropolis. In mid-March, they appeared before another huge
audience in the Chicago auditorium, the proceeds going to the erection of
to Robert Burns.
Moving on to St. Paul in Minnesota, “The St. Paul Pioneer-Press speaks
of his song recital as a large feast for a cultured audience. The famed tenor
supplied recital, anecdote and song with artistic sequence and delightful diversion,
his contributions being supplemented by those of Mrs. Lely. To hear Lely sing
is to be transported. Patti’s principal tenor in her London concerts, for
such distinction Mr. Lely enjoys, is more than a talented and refined singer,
he is magnetic, and with his exquisite modulations and intonations he captivates
his hearers. To musicians he is an impersonation of vocal art, and to the general
public he is a phenomenon. The Press, commenting upon a part of the programme,
says that in Balfe’s ‘Come Into the Garden, Maud,’ Mr. Lely
reached the highest note, B natural, with ease, and was rapturously applauded,
in ‘The Star Spangled Banner,’ the tenor reached B flat in the third
last note with as perfect ease as he reached the same note two octaves lower.
The singer next sang his most pathetic song, ‘O A’ the Airts’ the
wind can Blow,’ Burns’ characteristic lyric. Moore’s ‘Minstrel
Boy’ was appreciated as a sample of popular and pure Irish melody and Dibdin’s ‘Tom
Bowling’ for containing the charm of the sea. Altogether the entertainment
was a grand musical treat and heartily enjoyed by a large and appreciative audience.” Then
upon checking their schedule the Lelys found they had four dates upcoming
Boarding a Northern Pacific train they headed north to entertain the friendly
folk they knew were waiting in high anticipation. Upon arriving in Winnipeg,
they were met by officers of the sponsoring body, the St. Andrew’s
Society. After resting a few hours at the Manitoba Hotel, they resumed their
to Brandon for a concert that evening. The next morning they travelled east
stopping in Portage la Prairie to sing again. Then it was back to Winnipeg
for concerts on 21st and 22nd March at the Bijou Theatre (later
the Winnipeg Theatre) at the corner of Adelaide Street and Notre Dame Avenue.
Of the first concert, a reporter for the Manitoba Free Press wrote, “The
eminent Scotch tenor was not particularly happy in his choice of songs for a
mixed audience, but he has a fine dramatic manner and his voice shows the cultivation
of long and careful training. ‘Flow Gently Sweet Afton’ was perhaps,
the selection of the evening most sweetly rendered, but his ‘Rantin’ Rovin’ Robin,’ ‘The
Laird o’ Cockpen,’ and ‘Scots Wha Hae’ were each
in their different styles excellently done... seeing that Scotchmen have
of hearing the ballads so dear to their hearts so excellently sung, it is
small wonder that Mr. Lely is made welcome in Winnipeg.”
The next evening proved rather special and drew this comment: “At last
night’s farewell benefit concert the popular tenor was down on the programme
for eight selections, but, of course, the number was increased by inevitable
encores. His Scottish songs made him the idol of the major portion of the audience,
the sons of auld Scotia going into ecstasies. ‘McGregor’s Gathering’ pleased
Scotchmen the best no doubt but to those not so fortunate in the trifling matter
of birth ‘Come into the garden Maud’ and ‘The Death of Nelson
were the most enjoyable numbers.” The evening differed for in addition
to his ever faithful spouse at the piano, he welcomed five other local artists,
the most notable being Professor Henneberg with a flute selection and Miss Miller’s
who rendered Tosti’s ‘Good-bye.’ At the end, just before
the audience dispersed, Lely made a brief but feeling speech thanking those
assisted him and the public for generous patronage. He hoped to meet his
friends again, a hope that was earnestly reciprocated. They returned south
Duluth, Superior and second visits to St. Paul and Chicago.
It would be three years before Lely and Alice would once again cross the great
pond. After more acclaim in the U.S, they arrived in Toronto for the week of
11th - 18th February 1898 where he “scored a great
triumph last week at the annual concert of the Caledonian choir,” receiving
an ovation at the close, and all through the programme his songs were received
with unbounded enthusiasm. “Mr. Lely is as artistic as ever, and his
noble tenor voice is as clear and as resonant as of old.”
Then it was on to Winnipeg where they checked into the Hotel Manitoba on 26th February
1898. “His presence accounted for the many sons of the heather seen around
the corridors yesterday afternoon and evening, and for the large number of Scotch
thistles, Tartan dresses and broad Scotch in evidence all through this spacious
building. Mr Lely is as happy and as handsome as when he was here three short
years ago. During the interval he has been singing on the concert platforms of
Great Britain and directing the production of the opera Rob Roy.” Lely,
during the hubbub, escaped long enough to write to George Patterson in Hawick,
Scotland, “Every town we have visited, almost without exception, has booked
us for a return visit on our way home. I will send you an occasional newspaper,
but really I frequently leave after the concert and before they are published.
However all that I have seen are most glowing. Since writing to you last, we
have been to Philadelphia, New York, Newport, Montreal, Toronto, Hamilton, Pittsburgh,
Chicago, Milwaukee, St Paul, etc., a different place each night. We have three,
or perhaps four, consecutive concerts here next week; and then work our way gradually
west by the Canadian Pacific Railway over the Rocky Mountains to Vancouver, and
from thence to San Francisco. Everybody here mad here about Klondyke. Every day
special trains with sledges, dogs etc, and miners starting off - hundreds and
thousands of them. If I were a young man, without a family, I would be off like
a shot. Now I’ll bring this letter to a conclusion, and take Mrs. Lely
out for a sleigh ride. We have lots of them, and they are most enjoyable.” After
posting that letter, he and Alice journeyed to “Rat Portage” for
a concert that evening...for many, many years since, this city 60 miles west
of Winnipeg has been known as “Portage la Prairie.”
Concerts in the Winnipeg Theatre on the evenings of 1, 2 and 3 March followed
his tried and true theme of “Thistle, Rose and Shamrock” with The
Manitoba Free Press again present to record the proceedings. “Mr. Durward
Lely is not a stranger to the Canadian West, and the warmth of the welcome given
by a fashionable audience last evening at his first song recital, proved to him
beyond a doubt that he is a great favorite with the people of this city. There
may be a change in the personal appearance of Mr. Lely since his concerts here
three years ago, but he is still the same consummate artiste, and sings the ballads
and national music of Scotland, Ireland and England with all the charm of yore.
His beautiful tenor voice, lyric in quality, still retains freshness. In beauty
of tone, freedom of delivery, dramatic feeling, and above all, in self-control,
Mr. Lely has not been equalled in this city. A singer who can triumph in that
lovely poem of Tennyson’s ‘Come into the garden, Maud,’ so
beautifully set to music by Balfe; who can sing ‘Flow Gently, Sweet Afton’ with
genuine pathos; or give the humour of the familiar ‘Laird o’ Cockpen,’ with
such a fine sense of delicacy, as Mr. Lely did last evening, can indeed win his
way into the hearts of any audience. All the selections were old ones, have been
heard many times, but in Mr. Lely’s hands they receive added interest,
and a new setting by the quaint and clever introductory remarks, that one is
feign to forget that it is the ‘auld sangs’ one is hearing over again.
Although repeated recalls were accorded to him, Mr. Lely excused himself by saying
that the encores would be given the following evening. It was nearly 11 o’clock
before Auld Lang Syne brought the programme to a close.” Other songs were ‘The
Cruiskeen Lawn,’ ‘Tom Bowling,’ ‘The Minstrel Boy,’ ‘My
Boy Tammy,’ ‘Cam Ye by Athol,’ ‘Hame Came Our Guidman
at E’en.’ Mrs. Lely accompanied and played two pianoforte solos.
For the second concert, “Mr. Lely opened with Burns’ well known love
song, ‘Corn Rigs are Bonnie,’ and followed with Tannahill’s
plaintive melody, ‘O, Are Ye Sleeping, Maggie,’ both of which were
rapturously applauded. ‘The Standard on the Braes o’ Mar’ was
sung with great fervour, and aroused intense patriotic feeling in the audience. ‘When
the Kye Comes Home’ and ‘Green Grow the Rushes-O’ followed,
and were greeted with hearty encores, when Mr. Lely responded with a humorous
ballad entitled ‘The Barrin of the Door,’ thus closing the first
part of the concert.”
The second part opened with ‘O, My Love is Like a Red, Red Rose’ and
was sung sweetly. He also sang with beautiful effect, ‘Jeannie’s
Black E’ee.’ The two gems of the evening, however, were ‘Scotland
Yet’ and ‘The Battle of Stirling Bridge,’ particularly the
latter which carried the house by storm. This song seemed to give Mr. Lely every
opportunity to display his wonderful power as a vocalist. ‘John Grumlle,’ a
humorous ballad, and ‘Auld Lang Syne’ closed an exceedingly entertaining
Mr. Lely gives his farewell performance to-night, and it may be his last to a
Winnipeg audience. In view of this fact, he has on the programme, some of his
finest selection, such as ‘O’ a’ the Airts the Wind Can Blow,’ ‘By
the Fountain,’ ‘The Meeting of the Waters,’ ‘Scots Wha
Hae,’ ‘Gae Bring to Me a Pint o’ Wine,’ ‘Let me
Like a Soldier Fall’ (from William Wallace’s opera Maritana),
and The Holy City. It will be one of the finest musical treats offered for
some time in the city.” The three concerts were well attended but it takes a
very large house at 50c and 25c to realise much money, and it is questionable
whether the St. Andrew’s society will make much out of the engagements.
Afterwards, Lely and his wife moved west to Carberry and Brandon, before
going on to appear in Moosomin, Regina, Medicine Hat, Calgary and other points.
reaching the coast later that month, they sailed for Australia. After several
months “down under,” they returned for further appearances at
As for his Scottish song repertoire, in 1931 he was asked to identify his
favourite song. His response: “They’re all great, every one of them.” When
pressed to single out one, he said, “Well, ‘Of a’ the airts
the wind can blow’ is a favourite, but I like them all.” At the City
Hall in Glasgow in 1894, he offered the song as an encore, “Of a’ the
airts’ is given with a tenderness that makes every one in this vast audience
think. The low B naturals just heard have been full, pure and resonant as the
high G naturals have been deliciously sweet. The lovely Scotch song is rendered
with intense feeling: and the lovely quality of his beautiful voice is displayed
to his enthralled heaters.” As far as is known, Lely made no recordings
but his famous fellow Scot Joseph Hislop did record “Of a’ the airts” (as
did English tenor Ernest Pike) along with other Lely favourites, “Corn
Rigs,” “Herding Song” and “My Love, she’s but a
lassie yet,” all fine traditional Scottish songs.
On 10th April 1896, Lely acquired three acres of land about a
quarter of a mile above the Bridge of Cally, intending to erect a house.
The site lay
between Black Craig where his late musical benefactor Patrick Allan Fraser
had lived and Glen Kilry, home of Lely’s father. The abode at the Bridge
of Cally would become a welcome haven for many for years to come. Durward
were never happier than on those rare occasions when their sons with their
wives and Betty, their only daughter, came to Glenardle.
A last venture - musical plays
Early in the twentieth century, Durward decided to take up a new challenge, one
that related to his fascination with Scottish songs. He began to act in revivals
of plays bearing a Scottish flavour, usually in a singing capacity. He would
form a company of players and tour his Scottish homeland. His musical plays he
would frequently present in Alyth, an artistic town near his home base of Blairgowrie,
and thanks to the Alyth Guardian, useful reports of these ventures were issued
and they survive.
Early ventures were Guy Mannering, Rob Roy and Beside the Bonnie Brier
Bush, the latter an ancient Scottish idyll in an adaptation by Ian MacLaren.
When it was presented in Liverpool on 3rd April 1905, the tenor
appeared as Jock Anderson, a harvester, one of a cast of eighteen. On this
was listed in the programme as “Durward Lyle.” In 1908, Lely
once again took Beside the Bonnie Brier Bush to Alyth but this time
he appeared as the Reverend John Carmichael to sing three songs, “Corn Rigs,” “The
Laird of Lockpen and “Open the Door,” all to beautiful effect. Mrs.
Lely as “Kate Carnegie” had a winsome part, which gave full scope
to her graceful acting.
Next Lely introduced a new version of the well-known musical play, “The
Royal Divorce,” and proceeded to take it various ports of call in Scotland.
When he arrived in Alyth, the musical centre near Lely’s Blairgowrie
home base late in 1909, the Guardian described the event on 17th September “Mr.
Lely has an attractive part as General Augereau, one of Napoleon’s bravest
and most trusted soldiers, a jaunty, swaggering figure, with boundless confidence
in himself, and an almost fanatical reverence for his own name and honour.” Quite
a role but by all accounts Lely was up to the challenge.
The following year, after a long holiday in Glenardle, Lely with a promising
new cast offered the Hall Caine play “The Bondman” on 30th September
1910 in Alyth. As Jason, he liberated a prisoner on a lonely island who rescues
a badly injured man during an earthquake. In the process he gave Alythonians
a treat rendering the beautiful “Reaper’s song” as well
as other musical numbers throughout the play.
As his contribution in 1911, he went a-field to Ireland. On 22nd September, he
presented that country’s romantic musical play, “The Wearin’ of
the Green,” based on the stirring times of the Irish Rebellions and
set in the countryside adjacent to the Killarney lakes. Lely was Shamus, a central
figure, who applied his splendid voice to the singing of the title song as well
as “Norah Asthore” and “Believe me, if all those endearing
young charms” while Alice Lely was noticed as Mrs. McDermott.
Also in 1911, he took the part of Sir Frances Osbaldistone when it was decided
to film his old favourite Rob Roy, the romantic opera based on Sir
Walter Scott’s novel. It seems odd that he was drawn to the then developing
motion picture industry, especially as it was silent, but not to the equally
world of recording.
In 1914, with the inevitability of a major conflict fully apparent, the 62-year
old campaigner decided to retire from the stage. Although no documentation has
surfaced, he must have provided music to help his fellow citizens endure the
Post war, he maintained the restful life of a retired gentlemen. But he did on
occasion serve as an adjudicator. On 7th November 1928 at a festival
in Alyth, he gave this advice to the young aspirants: “Take your notes
decisively and make your attacks clean and clear. I noticed too much sliding
up and slurring down. Equally important is pronunciation. Certainly a good voice
was necessary, but if an audience could not tell what the song was about, it
was not much good. Particularly there is the necessity to pronounce the consonants,
especially the m’s and n’s and the s’s at the end of words.” This
guidance drew a huge wave of applause.
When he was in Winnipeg in 1898, a reporter for the Free Press asked for
his thoughts about singing. “Too much is made of vocal production.
Natural singing is what the people want. Intelligence, brains and a musical
back of a voice are what makes the great singer of to-day. A teacher may
tell a student of vocalism what to avoid, how to remedy certain defects,
will not make a great singer of the pupil. Listening to the best artistes
their head in their singing will do much towards advancing a vocal student.
Mr. Lely considers Melba the greatest singer in the world today, and she
is the only
one who has nearly approached the Patti of twenty years ago.
Durward Junior inherited a good deal of his father’s talent and became
an accomplished singing actor in his own right. When he appeared in The Wreckers in
Perth in mid-January, 1929, his parents came on opening night to offer moral
support. Previously, Jr. was with his father’s company for a time and
sang with him in Beside the Bonnie Brier Bush and other musical plays
of his father‘s devising. For a time he was a member of the Carl Rosa
Opera Company as Papa had been years before.
To relax, the elder Lely was fond of all outdoor pursuits such as cricket, tennis,
boating, canoeing, punting and hunting and as a devoted fisherman, inevitably
his basket would bulge with fat, succulent trout when he returned from a day
on Loch Leven, south of Perth. At other times he was observed plying the waters
of Auchintaple Loch.
As well as Durward Jr., the Lelys produced two other boys and a daughter Betty.
After Alice died on 16th January 1936, she was buried in the Blairgowrie
Cemetery, Durward going to live with a son in Glasgow. There he died on 29th February
1944. It is ironic that as Frederic in The Pirates of Penzance, his birthday
occurs on the 29th February and he promises to claim his bride
on his birthday in 1940. Lely thus died one “birthday” after
that. He was laid to rest alongside Alice. Left to mourn were his sons and
then Mrs W. D. Paterson in Southern Rhodesia, three grandchildren and two
great grandchildren. I have been unable to ascertain whether Lely made any
None that heard a highland boy sing at a charity in his Scotch village imagined
he would one day adorn the Covent Garden stage, or win fame on the concert platform
of the greatest city in the world. He valued the respect of the humblest member
of his calling as much as the sapphire and diamond solitaire and pin, a gift
of Madame Adelina Patti.
Ian Milne in Perthshire, Scotland made this article possible
through a relentless search of newspaper files in Perth and other libraries.
They produced the quotations used. Source newspapers included the Alyth Guardian,
The Alyth Gazette, The People’s Journal in Perth and The Dundee Free
Press. David Eden of the Sullivan Society, John Ward, Dennis Foreman and
all in England, and my niece Mrs. Linda Waverick in Vancouver, B.C. Canada
provided useful information. I also appreciate the assistance of two ladies
at the Millennium
Library in Winnipeg who enabled access to microfilm of Manitoba Free Press
newspapers for 1895 and 1898.
An unpublished article