Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Kelly, Michael

KELLY, MICHAEL (1764?–1826), actor, vocalist, and composer, born in Dublin about 1764, was the eldest of the fourteen children of Thomas Kelly, wine-merchant and master of ceremonies at the castle. His mother's maiden name was McCabe. Kelly showed talent at an early age; began his musical studies with Marland, and continued with Cogan and Michael Arne, for the pianoforte; and with Passerini, Peretti, San Giorgio, and, later, Rauzzini, for singing. His father destined him for the medical profession, but the influence of Neale, the surgeon and a clever violinist, encouraged his musical tastes. Rauzzini advised that Kelly should be sent to study in Italy, and the father consented. Kelly had appeared upon the Dublin stage in 1779 during the illness of a performer. The opera was Piccinni's ‘La Buona Figliuola,’ and Kelly in the part of the Count, written for high soprano, surpassed expectation. He had a powerful treble voice (Reminiscences, i. 18), pronounced Italian well, and was tall for his age. He next sang at the Dublin Crow Street Theatre as Cymon, for three nights, and as Lionel on the fourth, for his benefit. On 1 May 1779 Kelly sailed for Naples, having earned enough to supply all his wants for some time. Sir William Hamilton and the prior of the Dominicans befriended him; and Finaroli took him as a partly private pupil of the Loreto Conservatoire, until Aprile offered him free instruction at Palermo. Kelly was the first foreigner to sing a solo at the Chiesagrande on a festival day. He was reported to be the first Englishman who had sung in Italy when, after giving a concert at Leghorn with the assistance of the Storaces, he sang at the Teatro Nuovo, Florence, in the spring of 1780. He was engaged at Gratz (Styria), Brescia, Verona, Venice, and Parma; and for one year, at a salary of 200l. and expenses, for the Italian opera then revived at Vienna (1783). Kelly was a principal tenor during that and some four subsequent years in comic opera in the Austrian capital. His successes in operas by Salieri, Paesiello, &c., encouraged him, when playing in one of Righini's operas, to mimic the peculiarities, dress, and manner of Da Ponte, the librettist. His Antipholus of Ephesus was exceptionally popular, and his Gaforio (in ‘Re Teodoro’) won him an addition of 50l. to his salary. Gluck himself instructed him in the part of Pylades (‘Iphigenia in Tauride’), and Mozart trained him in Basilio, for the first performance of ‘Le Nozze di Figaro.’ Kelly had the audacity to differ with the master on the rendering of his part in the sestet of act ii., but was allowed his own way. Mozart gave Sunday concerts, at which Kelly never was missing. Kelly pleased him by a little melody which he had composed to Metastasio's canzonetta, ‘Grazie agl' inganni tuoi.’ Mozart ‘took it and composed variations upon it which were truly beautiful;’ and, moreover, played them ‘wherever he had an opportunity.’ Kelly printed the air in his ‘Reminiscences’ (i. 226–7). Mozart, however, dissuaded him from a study of counterpoint.

Kelly obtained leave to visit England, with permission to return to the Vienna company if he wished. He left Vienna with the Storaces in February 1787, arriving in London on 18 March. Kelly first appeared at Drury Lane on 20 April 1787, in the part of Lionel (‘School for Fathers’). From this date until 1808 he was constantly heard in English opera, then prospering at Drury Lane with the aid of such composers as Linley, Storace, Attwood, Kelly himself, and others. Kelly was also engaged during this period for the Handel Commemoration, 1787; the performances at Cannons, 1789 or 1790; Norwich musical festival of 1789; at Oxford and York Minster in 1791; and oratorios at Ranelagh 1792, Covent Garden 1793, and Drury Lane 1794, and many concerts. At the Ancient concerts (1789–91) his realistic rendering of Handel's ‘Haste thee nymph’ caused Bates to regret having engaged so dramatic a tenor in succession to Harrison, but the king and many of the subscribers were pleased, and the number was repeated, by request, four times during one season (ib. i. 325). Kelly sang in 1788 as Almaviva in ‘Il Barbiere’ for Signora Storace's benefit at the Opera House, and in 1793 was appointed serious tenor for Italian opera at King's Theatre during the absence of Viganoni. His provincial tours (chiefly for English opera) extended to Scotland and Ireland. Kelly visited Dublin with Catalani and an Italian troupe on several occasions.

In the meantime he acted as musical director at Drury Lane; was joint director with Stephen Storace of the Italian opera at King's Theatre, from 1793 (in which year the Drury Lane company opened the Little Theatre in the Haymarket two nights a week), and manager from 1796. Kelly describes the burning of several theatres, in one of which (Drury Lane, 1809) his manuscripts were destroyed; the falling of the walls of King's Theatre in 1795; a riot there in 1805, when the curtain was dropped one Saturday at midnight, on the Bishop of London's orders; and the attempt to shoot the king at Drury Lane in 1800. After this incident Kelly sang an additional stanza (written by Sheridan on the spur of the moment) to ‘God save the King.’ In 1797 Kelly began the production of his long series of musical settings of plays (ib. ii. 361). One of the most notable was Sheridan's ‘Pizarro,’ first performed on 24 May 1799. ‘Pizarro,’ he says (ib. ii. 159), ‘was advertised, and every box in the house taken, before the fourth act of the play was begun; nor had I one single word of the poetry for which I was to compose the music.’ Sheridan at last came to dinner, and managed to suggest his ideas to Kelly by the help of inarticulate ‘rumbling noises.’ Kelly employed a poor author to write words for the choruses, but the actors did not have their speeches for the fifth act until the fourth act was being performed in public. The play was a great success. Colman's ‘Bluebeard’ and ‘Love Laughs at Locksmiths,’ Kemble's ‘Deaf and Dumb,’ and Coleridge's ‘Remorse’ were greater successes than ‘Monk’ Lewis's plays and Moore's ‘Gipsey Prince’ (Haymarket, 24 July 1801). About the latter Moore wrote to his mother: ‘Poor Mick is rather an imposer than a composer. He cannot mark the time in writing three bars of music; his understrappers, however, do all that for him, and he has the knack of pleasing the many. He has compiled the “Gipsey Prince” exceedingly well, and I have strong hopes of its success.’ Kelly, in setting to music Colman's adaptation of ‘Gay Deceivers,’ observed that the English taste in music ‘required more cayenne than that of any other nation in the world.’ Yet whatever is original in Kelly's own work cannot be said to possess this quality. It was doubtless apparent in his acting and singing, of which the Earl of Mount-Edgcumbe wrote: ‘Though a good musician and not a bad singer … Kelly had retained or regained so much of the English vulgarity of manner that he was never greatly liked at the King's Theatre.’ His voice was said to be wanting in sweetness and melody; and his ‘rather effeminate features allowed of little expression; yet he was a good actor’ (Pohl). His intelligence and experience were exercised most favourably for the spread of musical culture when he acted as stage-manager and musical director.

In the midst of his prosperity Kelly was induced to buy the lease of an old house at the corner of Market Lane in Pall Mall, and use it as a shop for his compositions. It opened on 1 Jan. 1802. A door led from it to the stage of the Opera House, and subscribers were allowed to go through on payment of two guineas yearly. Sheridan proposed to inscribe on the saloon ‘Michael Kelly, Composer of Wines and Importer of Music;’ it does not appear that Kelly ever took up the wine trade, Sheridan's joke being suggested by some casual remarks. The new business, not receiving proper attention, turned out disastrously, and in September 1811 Kelly was declared bankrupt.

The death, in 1805, of Anna Maria Crouch [q. v.], with whom he had been very intimate, was keenly felt by Kelly. He resolved upon leaving the stage, and his last appearance at Drury Lane was in ‘No Song, no Supper,’ 17 June 1808; his last on any stage was at Dublin on 5 Sept. 1811, in the theatre where he had first appeared. After several years of suffering from gout, Kelly died at Margate on 9 Oct. 1826. He was buried in the churchyard of St. Paul's, Covent Garden (Annual Biography, xi. 34).

Kelly wrote airs (and generally an overture) for the following pieces at Drury Lane Theatre: Conway's ‘False Appearances’ and ‘Fashionable Friends,’ 1789; Hoare's ‘Friend in Need,’ Cumberland's ‘Last of the Family,’ Porter's ‘Chimney Corner,’ Lewis's ‘Castle Spectre,’ in 1797; Colman's ‘Bluebeard,’ Franklin's ‘Outlaws,’ Hoare's ‘Captive of Spielberg,’ and Boaden's ‘Aurelia and Miranda,’ 1798; Colman's ‘Feudal Times,’ and Sheridan's ‘Pizarro,’ 1799; Dibdin's ‘Of Age To-morrow,’ Miss Baillie's ‘De Montford,’ and Fenwick's ‘Indians,’ 1800; Kemble's ‘Deaf and Dumb,’ Lewis's ‘Adelmorn,’ and (at Haymarket) T. Moore's ‘Gipsey Prince,’ 1801; Spencer's ‘Urania,’ Cobb's ‘Algonah’ and ‘House to be Sold,’ 1802; Dimond's ‘Hero of the North,’ Allingham's ‘Marriage Promise,’ and (at Haymarket) Colman's ‘Love Laughs at Locksmiths,’ 1803; James's ‘Cinderella,’ Franklin's ‘Counterfeit’ (and at Haymarket, Dimond's ‘Hunter of the Alps’ and Colman's ‘Gay Deceivers,’ at Covent Garden Reynolds's ‘Bad Bargain’), and Holt's ‘The Land we Live in,’ 1804; Tobin's ‘Honeymoon,’ Pye and Arnold's ‘Prior Claim,’ and Dimond's ‘Youth, Love, and Folly,’ 1805; Colman's ‘We Fly by Night,’ and Dimond's ‘Adrian and Orilla’ (at Covent Garden), Ward's ‘Forty Thieves,’ 1806; Dimond's ‘Young Hussar’ (Morton's ‘Town and Country,’ at Covent Garden), Lewis's ‘Wood Daemon’ and ‘Adelgitha,’ Luke's ‘House of Morville,’ and Siddons's ‘Time 's a Tell-tale,’ 1807; Cumberland's ‘Jew of Mogadore’ (Colman's ‘Africans,’ at Haymarket) and Lewis's ‘Venoni,’ 1808; Dimond's ‘Foundling of the Forest’ at Haymarket, and Arnold's ‘Jubilee’ at Lyceum, 1809; Dimond's ‘Gustavus Vasa’ at Covent Garden, and Des Hayes's ballet at the Opera House, 1810; Dimond's ‘Peasant Boy’ at Lyceum, and ‘Royal Oak’ at Haymarket, and Lewis's ‘One o'Clock,’ 1811; Horace Smith's ‘Absent Apothecary,’ T. Sheridan's ‘Russians’ and ‘Polly,’ Arnold's ‘Illusions,’ and Dibdin's pantomime, 1813; Coleridge's ‘Remorse,’ 1814; Arnold's ‘Unknown Guest,’ 1815; Dimond's ‘Fall of Taranto,’ at Covent Garden, 1817; ‘Bride of Abydos,’ 1818; Planché's ‘Abudah,’ 1819; and Dimond's ‘Lady and the Devil,’ 1820. ‘Zoroaster,’ never produced.

His songs were: ‘Art thou not dear;’ ‘The Boy in Yellow;’ ‘The Boys of Kilkenny;’ ‘Wake, gentle breeze;’ ‘Destined by Fate;’ ‘Doubt, O most beautiful;’ ‘No more shall the spring;’ ‘Flora MacDonald;’ ‘The Green Spot;’ ‘O Woman’ (sacred song); ‘The Friar of Nottingham;’ ‘Hamlet's Letter to Ophelia;’ ‘The Truant Bird;’ ‘The Husband's return;’ ‘I hope your eyes speak truth;’ ‘Love and Time;’ ‘Poor Fanny, the Sweeper;’ ‘I sigh for the days;’ ‘Emsdorff's Fame;’ ‘Rest, warrior, rest;’ ‘The Woodpecker;’ ‘Six English airs and six Italian duets,’ 1790; ‘Elegant Extracts for the German Flute,’ bk. i. 1805.

The ‘Reminiscences of Michael Kelly of the King's Theatre and Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, including a Period of nearly Half a Century’ (2 vols. London, 1826), were written by Theodore Hook from materials furnished by Kelly (GROVE); they are among the best of such compilations, although containing some inaccuracies. The frontispiece is a portrait of Kelly, engraved by H. Meyer from a drawing by Wivell.

[Dictionary of Musicians, 1827, ii. 6; Grove's Dictionary of Music, ii. 49; Georgian Era, iv. 263; Mount-Edgcumbe's Reminiscences, p. 32; Young's Memoirs of Mrs. Crouch, vol. ii.; Pohl's Mozart and Haydn in London, ii. 65 et passim; Russell's Memoirs of Moore, i. 123; Parke's Musical Memoirs, ii. 126 et passim; Kelly's Reminiscences.]

L. M. M.

Dictionary of National Biography, Errata (1904), p.171
N.B.— f.e. stands for from end and l.l. for last line

Page Col. Line  
355 ii 30 Kelly, Michael: for 'O haste read 'Haste