George Musgrove 1854-1916
In 1898 Musgrove brought an American musical comedy called The Belle of New York to the West End. It had flopped on Broadway but it took London by storm.
Musgrove managed Melba’s triumphant concert tour of 1902.
Musgrove’s 1907 Royal Grand Opera Company gave Australians their first experiences of Hänsel and Gretel, Die Walküre and Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette.
In 1892 Musgrove rejoined J.C. Williamson. One of their first joint ventures was an Italian opera season, notable for introducing Pagliacci and Cavalleria Rusticana, which were staged here on the same night for the first time in the world. Supplementing the operas was a new ballet, Turquoisette, or, A Study in Blue, the first classical ballet created in Australia. Musgrove then headed back to London, ostensibly to represent the partnership and to look for new shows and stars. Nellie Stewart went with him. Their daughter, Nancye Stewart was born in England in 1893.
Away from Williamson’s dominance, Musgrove could not resist feathering his own nest. In September 1897, without consulting Williamson, he leased the Duke of York’s Theatre to present Françillon, a comedy with Kyrle Bellew and Mrs Brown-Potter. Next he took the Shaftesbury for The Scarlet Feather with his beloved Nellie Stewart, and a disappointing drama called Sporting Life.
In 1898 Musgrove brought an American musical comedy called The Belle of New York to the West End. It had flopped on Broadway but it took London by storm. Understandably, Williamson was furious. The expiration of their joint lease of the Princess Theatre in Melbourne in December 1899 was also the end of their 17-year partnership.
In May 1900 Musgrove took up the Princess lease. One of his first attractions was a Grand Opera Company drawn from the British Carl Rosa organisation. The repertoire included the Australian premieres of Tannhäuser and The Flying Dutchman.
The following year Musgrove was appointed ‘Director of Amusements’ for the visit of the Duke and Duchess of York. The Duke, the future King George V, opened the first Federal Parliament in the Exhibition Building on May 9. Musgrove organised an orchestra of 100 under the baton of Léon Caron, to perform ‘a selection of high class instrumental music’ during gaps in the ceremony, and Nellie Stewart sang a Memorial Ode called ‘Australia’.
Musgrove managed Melba’s triumphant concert tour of 1902, and presented Nellie Stewart in Sweet Nell of Old Drury the same year – a production that she revived repeatedly for nearly 30 years. A 1906 American tour of Sweet Nell was cut short by the San Francisco earthquake, in which Musgrove very nearly lost his life. Undaunted, he took Nellie Stewart on a gruelling ‘smalls’ tour of New Zealand and outback Australia.
Musgrove’s 1907 Royal Grand Opera Company gave Australians their first experiences of Hänsel and Gretel, Die Walküre and Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette. The season concluded with an even longer than usual performance of Die Walküre, at the end of which, according to The Bulletin, ‘a few staunch adherents were sleeping at their posts in the dress circle and stalls, but the majority had rushed home to be in time to put out the jug for the milkman.’ The tour was another financial disaster for Musgrove.
Watch this space
Ian Bevan: The Story of the Theatre Royal, Currency Press, 1993
Jean Gittins: ‘George Musgrove’, in Australian Dictionary of Biography, volume 5, Melbourne University Press
Claude McKay: This is the Life, Angus & Robertson, 1961
Nellie Stewart: My Life’s Story , 1923
John West: ‘George Musgrove’, in Companion to Theatre in AustraliaCurrency Press, 1995