Stanley Potter (1819-1894): A Seventy Year Old Chorus Boy!

Kurt Gänzl
Victorian Vocalists
14 September, 2016

When Stanley Potter died in 1894, his – paid – death notice said he was ‘of the Carl Rosa’. So I suppose that that was the credit he was most proud of.

‘Stanley’ was born Elijah Pinkess, son of Isaac and Ann, in Lincolnshire, and his initial trade was that of a colourman and paint manufacturer. He married Sarah Ellen Todd in 1842, father four children, moved to London and, at the age of forty, decided to switch career and name and become Mr Stanley Potter, tenor vocalist.

He was employed at Highbury Barn and at the Lansdowne Music Hall in 1860 and 1861, but after Sarah’s death (22 January 1861), his name disappears from the lists. However, I suspect not from the music world, for in 1863 he remarried. His wife was the vocalist Emma [Lucy] MARTYN (b Wandsworth c1827; d Wandsworth 1921) who had been singing at City concerts since 1856, and in 1870-1 the pair of them went on the road as members of Henry Haigh’s Opera Company, in 1872 they followed up in Rose Hersee’s company, and in 1873 they were reduced to the very minor Isidore de Solla company. In 1874 (17 March), Stanley took part in the Crystal Palace production of Lucia di Lammermoor, seemingly as Arturo, and a fortnight later he was to be seen in Dublin playing Normanno in the same opera with the Carl Rosa. I would guess Emma was in the chorus.

Carl Rosa startled by the bogey of Italian Opera in an 1886 cartoon by Alfred Bryan.

Carl Rosa startled by the bogey of Italian Opera in an 1886 cartoon by Alfred Bryan.

When the company opened its first famous London season at the Princess’s Theatre in September with its memorable production of The Marriage of Figaro, Stanley was Curzio, and he went on to play Florestein in The Bohemian Girl, O’Moore in The Lily of Killarney, and Ruiz in Il Trovatore (‘Mr S Potter’s singing displayed great ability’). Emma got her little moment when Satanella was played and she was cast as Bertha.

Quadrilles From Balfe's opera "The Bohemian Girl".

Quadrilles From Balfe’s opera “The Bohemian Girl”.

The Potters seem to have ended their time with the Rosa in 1877, but the nearly 60 year-old Stanley picked up a West End job. Lecocq’s huge Paris hit The Little Duke had been produced at the Philharmonic Theatre in disastrous fashion, the publishers snatched it back and restaged it at the St James’s Theatre with an altered cast. Stanley picked up a supporting role. Alas the second Little Duke was as much of a flop as the first, and he was soon out of a shop.

Sheet music cover for Charles Lecocq's "The Little Duke."

Sheet music cover for Charles Lecocq’s “The Little Duke.”

I see Stanley out only once more. Aged 70. Valentine Smith ventured The Bohemian Girl and he called up some veterans of the Carl Rosa for his cast: Edward Müller, George Harvey and, as Florestein – Stanley Potter.

In the 1891 census, he can be seen living with son Haydn, wife Emma, still listed as ‘vocalist’. There can’t have been many 70 year-old opera singers around.

Elijah Pinkess died aged 75. I guess it was Emma who inserted the death notice in the trade press with ‘of the Carl Rosa’ in it. She lived on to the age of 93, dying in 1921.

There is one comment

  1. Andrew Pinkess

    Elijah Pinkess is my great great grandfather. I have been researching the family history and his story really appeals to me, so thanks for this excellent account. He was indeed born in Brigg, Lincolnshire, but moved with his family to Liverpool, when the town was booming and set up a family business selling paint and varnish. They lived in Liverpool for about 20 years, and only moved to London once his father Isaac had passed away. I knew he was an opera singer, but did not know about his changed name, or his singing career. It was good to see he followed his dream and went on the stage, but he paid a price for it financially, and was heavily dependent on his son Haydn (my great grandfather), who followed a more respectable path, and became company secretary of engineering firm Ransomes and Rapier. He had 8 children not 4, but several died young. His daughter Lavinia emigrated to New Zealand, and his son William married and moved to Canada to seek their own fortunes, as family finances at home were uncertain.If you have any further information on his singing career or the that of his wife Lucy, I would be very interested to know more. Thanks again. Andrew Pinkess