Open main menu

The Dictionary of Australasian Biography/Lyster, William Saurin

Lyster, William Saurin, son of Captain Chaworth Lyster, and godson of the Hon. William Saurin, then Attorney-General for Ireland, was born in Dublin in 1827. After an adventurous youth, visiting Australia in his boyhood, and afterwards serving as a volunteer under the famous buccaneer Walker of Nicaragua, William Saurin Lyster finally settled in Melbourne, bringing with him a full high-class operatic company; and could claim the honour of introducing Italian opera into Australia, although there had been excellent operatic singers before his time in Sydney. Lyster's first operatic company included Madame Lucy Escott, who retained for many years undisputed sway as the favourite prima-donna—a gifted singer and a fine tragic actress; Miss Georgia Hodson (afterwards Mrs. Lyster); Madame Rosalie Durand; Henry Squires, the popular tenor; and Mr. Fred Lyster, brother of the impresario. Such an undertaking was no light one in those days; but Lyster not only introduced the above artistes, but continued to bring out, from time to time, other brilliant singers, who have left a name in the musical annals of Australia. Among these may be named Madame Fanny Simonsen, an admirable vocalist and actress, equally at home in classic opera or opera-bouffe, and her husband, the excellent violinist. These are specially named, not only on account of their excellence as artistes, but because they settled down in the colonies, and became in course of time Australians. In partnership first with Mr. John Smith, and then with Signor Cagli, Lyster introduced to the colonial public a succession of brilliant Italian singers; while two of their conductors, Herr Siede and Signor Zelman, remained, like the Simonsens, in Australia, and continued to brighten colonial existence by their musical talent. Mr. Lyster also introduced the celebrated pianiste, Madame Arabella Goddard, as well as Levey, the famous cornet-player. In addition to acclimatising Italian opera, he organised English companies for the production of favourite ballad operas and adaptations of French opera-bouffe. Among these English companies were singers of the highest merit, but none so identified with operatic art in Australia as Mr. Armes Beaumont, the popular tenor, who for almost twenty years has held an unique position in the estimation of Melbourne audiences as the favourite in oratorio, in classical opera, in opera-bouffe, and on the concert platform. For many years Mr. W. S. Lyster was the lessee of the Opera House, Melbourne; and it was at this theatre, and under Mr. Lyster's management, that the great Italian tragédienne, Madame Ristori, and her company appeared. He died on Nov. 26th, 1880.