Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Lumley, Benjamin
LUMLEY, BENJAMIN (1811–1875), author, and manager of the opera in London, born in 1811, was son of Louis Levy, a Jewish merchant of Canada, who died in London about 1831. Benjamin Levy assumed the name of Lumley early in life. After being educated at King Edward's School at Birmingham, he was admitted a solicitor in London in 1832. He became a parliamentary agent, and was studying for the bar under Basil Montagu, Q.C., when, in 1835, Laporte, manager of Her Majesty's Theatre, employed him on some legal business. In the following season, 1836, Lumley undertook the superintendence of the finances of the theatre. For five years he retained his position, and after the death of Laporte on 25 Sept. 1841 the reins of theatrical government fell into his hands. Her Majesty's Theatre had practically been the sole home of Italian opera since its establishment in England. When Lumley took over the management in 1842, the repertoire consisted of little else than the more insipid pieces of Bellini and Donizetti, but the company of singers included Grisi, Persiani, Rubini (Mario soon stepping into his place), Tamburini, and Lablache, a coalition of five superb artists, widely known as ‘la vieille Garde.’ Lumley rapidly found himself at war with these eminent vocalists, and adopted towards them a policy of reserve, which they resented. In 1841, Laporte's last season, a serious dispute had arisen between Tamburini and the management. Lumley, with more valour than discretion, dispensed in 1842 with that singer. In 1844 he made no effort to retain Madame Persiani's services (Edwards, Lyrical Drama, i. 17), and in 1846 Lumley refused the demand of Sir Michael Costa [q. v.], the conductor, to be allowed to accept the conductorship of the Philharmonic Society's band. Costa had other reasons connected with the production of his own music for discontent, and he seceded, with Grisi, Mario, and the greater part of his fine orchestra, to the new Royal Italian Opera House at Covent Garden in 1847. Lablache alone remained faithful to Lumley.
Up to 1847 Lumley's management met with brilliant success. ‘He found ill-paid and unpaid artists, an interior in disorder, a band and chorus in revolt, shabbiness and poverty rampant within the walls, and, as with the wand of the enchanter,’ he revolutionised the whole system (Musical World, 1847, p. 45). A magnificent ballet held the fashionable world entranced. Taglioni, Carlotta Grisi, Cerito, Elssler, Lucille Grahn, with Perrot and St. Leon, male dancers, appeared in pas-seul and ballet-drama; the famous ‘pas de quatre’ was danced in 1845, the ‘pas de cinq’ in the following year.
The opening of the rival opera-house in 1847 imperilled Lumley's position. He engaged Balfe to take Costa's place, and Balfe conducted the band for the first time publicly on 3 March, at the opening of the season of 1847. In the same year Lumley announced that he had secured the services of Jenny Lind [q.v.] . Encouraged by Mendelssohn and Mrs. Grote, amongst others, Jenny Lind had consented to appear at Her Majesty's in spite of an old contract with Bunn. But so reluctant was the singer to bring upon herself and Lumley an action at law, that it was for many months a matter of doubt whether she would fulfil her engagement. At length, on 4 May, she made her first appearance at Her Majesty's in ‘Roberto,’ and the extraordinary spell which she exercised over the English public temporarily saved Lumley from disaster. At the end of her third season at Her Majesty's, in 1849, she retired from the stage, and Lumley's financial embarrassment thenceforth grew rapidly. In 1851 Sontag (Countess Rossi) was his chief support. In 1852 the bad faith of Mademoiselle Joanna Wagner, who failed to keep her engagement with him, and appeared at the rival house under Frederick Gye the younger [q. v.], largely contributed to his ruin, although he won an action brought by him against Gye. A committee was formed to relieve him of part of the responsibility of the enterprise, but from 1853 to 1855 the theatre was closed. Meanwhile Lumley had refused offers of the managements both of the Lisbon opera and of La Scala, Milan; but in 1850 he had undertaken to manage the Paris Italian Opera House, obtaining the concession, after great opposition, through the patronage of Prince Louis Napoleon. The season of 1850–1 was carried on at a considerable loss, in a clouded political atmosphere, and the enterprise ended disastrously with the coup d'état of 2 Dec. 1851.
Lumley chiefly remained on the continent until 1856, when the burning of Covent Garden Theatre led him to reopen Her Majesty's. The season began on 10 May of that year. Bonetti conducted, and during this and the two following seasons Lumley introduced to the public Piccolomini, Joanna Wagner, Albertini, Titiens, Giuglini, and Alboni. But the commercial panic of 1857 influenced the receipts; the formation of an opera-company, devised as a last resource, was delayed by tedious litigation, and the policy of Lord Ward (Earl Dudley) gave the fatal blow to Lumley's venture. In 1856 Lord Ward, who had advanced large sums of money, led Lumley to assign to him the lease of the theatre, purchased in 1845, and after May 1856 he held an underlease from Lord Ward. In 1858 Lord Ward demanded three quarters' rent or the immediate cession of the theatre. The money was not forthcoming, and Lumley gave up possession 10 Aug. 1858. Her Majesty's Theatre was closed, and Lumley's connection with it ceased (cf. Lumley, The Earl of Dudley, Mr. Lumley, and Her Majesty's Theatre). With this catastrophe ended also the splendid fêtes given by Lumley at The Chancellors, Fulham, where aristocrat and artist met on equal grounds. In 1863, four benefit performances were given at Her Majesty's in Lumley's behalf.
Lumley's efforts to procure new operas for his stage met with persistent ill-success. Costa's ‘Don Carlos,’ on 20 June 1844, survived a very few nights. Verdi, who had promised a work on the story of ‘King Lear,’ disappointed the public by substituting ‘I Masnadieri,’ founded on Schiller's ‘Räuber.’ The composer superintended the rehearsals, and produced it on 2 July 1847. In spite of Lind's Amalia, and the fine playing by Piatti of the violoncello solo in the introduction, the opera did not please. Thalberg's ‘Florinda,’ 1851, was no less a failure. Scribe's version of the ‘Tempest,’ for which it had been hoped that Mendelssohn would write the music, was put into the hands of Halévy, and was brought out on 8 July 1850, with Sontag as Miranda and Carlotta Grisi as Ariel, Lablache making the night memorable by his fine conception and performance of Caliban. The libretto and the music, however, did not fit the Shakespearean theme.
The following are the Italian operas new to England introduced by Lumley between 1842 and 1858: Donizetti's ‘Gemma di Vergy,’ 1842; ‘Adelia,’ ‘Belisario,’ ‘Linda di Chamouni,’ ‘Don Pasquale,’ 1843; ‘Don Gregorio,’ 1846; ‘La Favorita,’ ‘La Figlia del Reggimento,’ 1847; Hérold's ‘Zampa,’ 1844; Verdi's ‘Ernani,’ 1845; ‘Nino’ (‘Nabucco’), ‘I Lombardi,’ 1846; ‘I due Foscari,’ 1847; ‘Attila,’ 1848; ‘Luisa Miller,’ 1858; ‘La Traviata,’ 1856; Meyerbeer's ‘Roberto il Diavolo,’ 1847; Fioravanti's ‘Le Cantatrice Villane,’ 1842; Mercadante's ‘Elena da Feltre,’ 1842; Ricci's ‘Corrado d'Altamura,’ 1844; Alary's ‘Le tre Nozze,’ 1851; Auber's ‘Masaniello,’ 1837; ‘Gustavus,’ 1851; ‘Il Prodigo,’ ‘Zerlina,’ 1851; Balfe's ‘I Quattro Fratelli,’ dedication ode, 1851; ‘La Zingara,’ 1857; Duke of Saxe-Coburg's ‘Casilda,’ 1852; and David's symphony, ‘Le Désert,’ 1845.
Lumley, after resigning Her Majesty's Theatre, returned to the practice of the law, and wrote several books. In 1838 he had published a standard book on ‘Parliamentary Practice on Passing Private Bills.’ In 1862 appeared, published anonymously, a work of fiction, ‘Sirenia,’ a fantastic account of the life of sirens in their retreats, their origin, mission, and pursuits. In ‘Another World, or Fragments from the Star City of Montallayah by Hermes’ (1873), Lumley's second experiment as a writer of romance, he described a utopia in the planet Mars, inhabited by human beings rid of the scourges of crime, disease, and even ugliness, through the care bestowed on the training of infants, and the electrical properties discovered in all matter organic and inorganic. The book reached a third edition in the year of its publication.
The ‘Reminiscences’ published by Lumley in 1864 give a clear account of his lesseeship, and dwell on the absence of government support to the opera in England or of public sympathy with an operatic manager. The frontispiece, a portrait of the author, was engraved by J. Brown from a sketch by Count D'Orsay. The volume is dedicated to Mrs. Grote.
Lumley also published ‘The Earl of Dudley, Mr. Lumley, and Her Majesty's Theatre, a Narrative of Facts,’ second edition, 1863. He died, aged 64, at Kensington Crescent, London, on 17 March 1875, and was buried at West Ham.
[Musical World, 1835–58, passim; Musical Recollections of the Last Half-Century, ii. 130, and passim; Chorley's Thirty Years' Musical Recollections; Beale's Light of Other Days, i. 42, ii. 243; private information; authorities cited.]