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  • Writer's pictureWendy Percival

Mystery of the Opera

Having corroborated the previously unknown story of my grandmother’s time spent at boarding school, (see On the Trail of the Mystery School Note: the surprise discovery I made afterwards is mentioned in the comments below the post), I wondered if the experience had had any impact on her behaviour. Had it achieved its apparent objective of “calming her down” from being too “lively”?

Surely not. As a talented vocalist, I’m sure her “lively” character would have served her well when performing to an audience, which she did so from an early age. I have a Wesleyan Methodist Church concert programme from 1911 where she is listed as one of several solo performers. She would have been 9 years old. It seems to have involved several family members - Wyn's sister Clarrie played a piano piece and her cousin Norah Patten sang a hymn.

Looking back

I recall the excitement when Gran was interviewed for the local newspaper, The Wolverhampton Chronicle, in October 1969. Their column, Looking Back, featured my gran and was followed by an interview article a week later. In it she tells of the first time she'd performed in public when, aged 9, she'd sung Daddy to an audience of 500 during a male voice choir concert.

Wyn went on to join the Carl Rosa Opera Company at the age of 16 (as mentioned in my earlier blog post), travelling around, often performing in a different town every night. But after a few years, she realised that opera singers were poorly paid compared to singers in the more commercial rep theatre circuit, so she left the world of opera and spent the rest of her career touring the country, appearing in variety, in summer seasons and in pantomime.

Another mystery

I've always known about her time with the Carl Rosa Company, but in one newspaper cutting I found from the Sunderland Echo in 1932, when she was playing Red Riding Hood in panto, Wyn told the reporter she’d once been principal soprano of the O'Mara Opera Company, founded in 1912 by Joseph O'Mara, a tenor well known in London's West End.

This was news to me, but at the time I couldn’t find anything to confirm it. Was it a case of, you can't believe everything you read in newspapers, I wondered?

However, time moves on and on revisiting the mystery recently, I discovered an interesting and credible connection – Joseph O’Mara had also sung for the Carl Rosa Opera Company.

The British Newspaper Archives is always adding to its extensive collection and searching through its database this time around, I found a piece from April 1928 in the Falkirk Herald.

The O’Mara Opera Company had been performing there and the key players were mentioned, and included this: Miss Winifred Griffiths is also another of the chief performers.

So, another mystery solved and more information to add to my grandmother’s story. And a timely reminder that as family historians, if at first you don’t succeed, trying again a few years down the line might just turn up the result you’re looking for!



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