- Florence St. John
and, later, comic plays.
Life and career
St. John was born Margaret Florence Greig in
Plymouth, England. Her father, Andrew Greig, had been stationed in Plymouth with the army, where he married St. John's mother, Susannah Williams, but he left the army before St. John was born. Her father ran a boarding house, and her mother a shop. She had five brothers and sisters.Sharp, p. 4]
St. John's public singing debut was at a charity concert in Plymouth when she was eight years old. When she was 12, her parents sent her to a private boarding school in
Kensingtonto study music and voice with Madame Marie Karger.
At the age of 16, while home for the holidays, she was asked to substitute for the ailing vocalist of a touring
dioramacompany. Soon, she began to tour with N. S. Hodges' diorama. [http://math.boisestate.edu/gas/whowaswho/S/StJohnFlorence.htm Biography at the "Who Was Who" website] ] Her rendition of Arthur Sullivan's "Meet Me Once Again" resulted in a permanent engagement.cite news
title=FLORENCE ST. JOHN DEAD.; English Comedienne and Former Opera Singer Dies at 58.
New York Times
accessdate=2008-08-07] With Hodges, she performed in
Jacques Offenbach's "Rose of Auvergne" and "Breaking the Spell". [ [http://math.boisestate.edu/GaS/companions/break_spell/index.html Information about "Breaking the Spell"] ] At the age of seventeen, in 1872, she married the company's pianist and conductor, Alfred St. John.
After this, St. John sang in provincial music halls and as a ballad singer in concerts. Alfred became ill, and in 1875 they moved to London, where she sang at the
Oxford Music Hallunder the name "Florence Leslie", and he taught music when he was well enough. He died in September of that year. By the end of the year, St. John had joined Charles Durand's English Opera Company on tour, where she began to use her married name on stage. [Sharp, p. 5] With Durand, she began to play roles such as Clorinda, one of the evil stepsisters in Gioachino Rossini's "Cinderella"; in Luigi Ricci's "The Brewer of Preston" ("Il birraio di Preston"); as Azucena in " Il Trovatore"; and as Lazarillo in " Maritana".Sharp, p. 6]
In February 1876,
baritoneLithgow James [ [http://math.boisestate.edu/gas/whowaswho/I-J/JamesLithgow.htm Biography of St. John's 2nd husband, Lithgow James] ] joined the company. In September, St. John joined Walsham's English Opera Company on tour. She and James married in December (though touring with different companies). The couple reunited on tour with and Blanche Cole's opera company. St. John had a wide vocal range "as well as considerable histrionic versatility," [http://math.boisestate.edu/GaS/newsletters/gossip/no43/gg43_03.html Article on "Mirette" and St. John] ] and in these small touring companies, she often had to play contraltoroles.
", with an English adaptation by W. Grist, directed by Temple, who also played Geronimo. ["The Musical Times", 1 January 1878]
tar of light opera
Alexander Henderson engaged St. John in 1878 to sing Germaine in the hit operetta, "
Les Cloches de Corneville" by Robert Planquettewith an English libretto by H. B. Farnie, in the provincial touring company (Alfred was cast opposite her as Henri, Marquis of Corneville). Towards the end of the record-setting London run, she took over the role in London, against her husband's wishes.Sharp, p. 7] The first London role that she created was the title role in Farnie's English-language version of Offenbach's " Madame Favart", at the Strand Theatre in 1879.Reid, Erskine and Herbert Compton, "The Dramatic Peerage" (1892) Raithby, Lawrence & Co Ltd, London, pp. 195-96] She received high praise from the critics and her performance in the hit production made her a star. London's "Daily News" wrote that she was "a young actress of very pleasing appearance, who acts with remarkable vivacity and grace, possesses a mezzo-soprano voice of really fine quality, and sings in a style that indicates a thoroughly sound training...." The piece went on to run for over 500 performances, and St. John stayed until near the end of the run, when her doctor advised her to take a break before the next piece, which was already scheduled.
Her husband had reluctantly moved to London with her in 1879. The couple stayed with her parents, who had moved to London, but he had trouble getting work there. Later in the year he joined the
D'Oyly Carte Opera Companyon tour. In "Madame Favart", St. John played opposite flamboyant French actor Claude Marius Duplany, and the co-stars fell in love, finally moving in together. James obtained a divorce from St. John in 1881, and Duplany's wife divorced him.Sharp, p. 8] Meanwhile, the couple starred together again in Farnie's next operetta, "Olivette", composed by Edmond Audran. This opened in September 1880 and lasted for another astonishing run of 467 performances. After this, Duplany became the manager of the Avenue Theatre, and he and St. John starred there first in a revival of "Madame Favart", and then in "Manteaux Noirs" (1882), Offenbach's posthumous "La Belle Lurette", and " Barbe-bleue" (both in 1883). After these, they toured together in "La Belle Lurette".
In 1884, Henderson produced Farnie's "Nell Gwynne", with St. John in the title role, then Farnie's "The Grand Mogul", composed by Audran, with St. John as Djemma, and a revival of "Barbe-bleue". In 1885, St. John starred in "The Lady of the Locket" at the
Empire Theatrebut fell ill after three months. At the end of the year, she created the title role in " Erminie", but she was pregnant and soon had to leave the cast, and the role was taken over by Marie Tempest. St. John's father died that December. She and Duplany had not yet married and now took care of that detail on Christmas day, 1885. Their son, Claud Reginald Duplany, was born on 30 March 1886. As soon as St. John was ready to go back to work, "Erminie" was revived with the original cast and then toured.Sharp, p. 9]
In the autumn of 1886, St. John moved to the
Prince of Wales's Theatreand played Jaquette in Andre Messager's "La Béarnaise", followed by another revival of "Madame Favart" at the Avenue Theatre in 1887. St. John fell ill again and left the cast. During this illness, she met Arthur Cohen, who would become her fourth husband ten years later. She went to Monte Carloat the end of the year to recuperate further, and Cohen followed. Untrue rumours of a relationship between St. John and Cohen were circulated, and her husband grew jealous. More marital problems arose, the couple quarrelled frequently, and St. John left her husband in late 1888.
In October 1888 she joined the Gaiety Theatre company, under the management of
George Edwardes, playing Marguerite in " Faust up to Date", which was brought to America (1889-90) and later toured the British provinces in the same work. St. John and the tour were warmly received in the U.S. According to "The Licensed Victuallers’ Mail", an American fan sang humorously about how St. John pronounced her last name, as follows::Oh, tell me why should Miss St. John:Pronounce her name as "Sin Jin"?:It would be better, two to one:I’ve heard a hundred people say,:To substitute the hard g for j,:For then she would be "singin’". ["The Licensed Victuallers’ Mail", London, 31 January 1890, p.6b]
She returned to England to play the title role in the burlesque "
Carmen up to Data" in the provincial tryout in Liverpool in September 1890 and then at the Gaiety, followed in 1891 by a provincial tour of the piece. One reviewer marvelled that St. John, coming from humble roots, "draws a salary in London of £3,500 a year, whilst in America her services command £100 a week. The Prime Minister of England is not so well paid."
Now almost 37 years old, St. John took over the teen-age title role in "Miss Decima" at
Toole's Theatrein January 1892, then went on tour with Planquette's "Rip van Winkle", returning after the summer to the Gaiety Theatre for a revival of "Faust up to Date". In October, she and Arthur Robertsstarred in "In Town", which became a hit and ushered in the age of the Edwardian musical comedy. In 1893, she moved to the Lyric Theatre in the burlesque " Little Christopher Columbus". [Sharp, p. 11]
Now approaching the age of 40, St. John was engaged by the
D'Oyly Carte Opera Companyin October 1894 as a replacement in the title role of "Mirette" by Messager at the Savoy Theatre, giving a boost to the ailing production. The "Era"'s reviewer wrote, "Mirette" has gained in favour, and the other artists, stimulated by Miss St. John's presence, act and sing with greater animation."
After this, she created the role of Rita in
Arthur Sullivanand F. C. Burnand's " The Chieftain" at the Savoy (1894-95), earning good notices. She then toured briefly in 1895 with a D'Oyly Carte company as Mirette and as Winifred in "The Vicar of Bray". On 9 June 1896, St. John played the plaintiff in a benefit performance of " Trial by Jury" for Kate Vaughan at the Gaiety Theatre, with Rutland Barringtonas the judge and many other D'Oyly Carte singers, and the benefit also featured Marie Tempest, Letty Lindand other famous performers. [http://www.c20th.com/GSarchive.htm Information about the Kate Vaughan benefit] ]
For the next two years, St. John did little theatre work, except for brief runs in "the Bric-a-brac Will" and "The Little Genius". Instead, she returned to singing, appearing regularly in the weekly Ballad Concerts at
St James's Hall. In January 1896, her separated husband, who had been ill, died on the journey home from a South Africa tour. In February 1897, St. John married Arthur Cohen, her fourth husband. The marriage was not happy, but the couple stayed together until 1901. Meanwhile, in September 1897, St. John returned to the theatre in an Edwardes production of " La Périchole" at the Garrick Theatre.Sharp, p. 12]
In 1897-98, she rejoined the D'Oyly Carte at the Savoy, playing the title role in "
The Grand Duchess of Gerolstein". [http://math.boisestate.edu/gas/other_savoy/grand_duchess_review.txt Review of the opening night of "The Grand Duchess of Gerolstein" from the London "Times" 6 December 1897] ] Though she received generally good notices, St. John bridled at the famously strict direction at the Savoy and later complained that she had not been allowed to "do any business of my own." The " Times" review supports her judgment: "The English stage has no artist so well fitted as Miss Florence St. John to do full justice to Offenbach... her artistic singing would more than carry this off if she could recover the abandon of someof her former efforts. ...she looks the part to perfection, but she seems so afraid ofoverdoing the suggestion and roguery which are essential that she makes the impersonation seem sadly tame. It is as if she were overwhelmed with the atmosphere of the theatre in which she finds herself, or were affected more than all the rest by the prudish spirit in which the work has been approached."
St. John made her last appearance in musical comedy as Dolores in "
Florodora" (1900-01), taking over the role from Evie Greene. She made only one known recording, a single Berliner disc of "He Loves Me; He Loves Me Not," from "Florodora", which was reproduced on the Pearl LP set "The Art of the Savoyard: Volume II" (GEMM 282/3). [ [http://www.cris.com/~oakapple/gasdisc/miscvint-aots.htm Information from the G&S Discography] ] She did, however, continue singing in the St. James's Hall Ballad Concerts and in numerous benefits and charity concerts.
and Richard Temple.
With her career now on the decline and her income much less, St. John toured the provincial variety theatres, for the next several years, with her own company in a piece entitled "My Milliner's Bill", or by herself singing ballads. She did appear at the
Royalty Theatrein London in 1905 in a short run of "The Diplomatists". Her mother died in 1904. St. John's last theatrical appearance was in late 1909 as Lizi in "The Merry Peasant" at the Strand Theatre.
Known to her many friends as "Jack", St. John died in London a little more than two years later at the age of 56 and was cremated at Golders Green at a quiet ceremony attended by her son Reginald and the composer
Leslie Stuart, among others.
*Sharp, Keith Drummond. "Florence St. John" in "The Gaiety", Winter 2006.
*ibdb name|id=62012|name=Florence St. John
* [http://math.boisestate.edu/gas/other_sullivan/html/chieftain_review.html Review of "The Chieftain"]
* [http://www.gabrielleray.150m.com/ArchiveTextS/FlorenceStJohn.html Photos of St. John and information about her from the Footlight Notes website]
* [http://www.npg.org.uk/live/search/person.asp?LinkID=mp72937 Photos of St. John]
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