Three sopranos : two visitors and one who came to stay
150 years ago Brisbane, Maryborough and Rockhampton were treated to a series of concerts featuring Madame Carandini and her daughters Rosina and Fanny with Mr Walter Sherwin. Madame Carandini and the elder daughter Rosina were both celebrated sopranos and pioneers of the opera in colonial Australia.
Madame Carandini was baptised Maria Burgess in London in 1826 and arrived with her family in Hobart, as assisted immigrants, in 1833. In 1843 Maria married Jerome Carandini, the tenth marquis of Sarzano, a political exile from his native Italy. Carandini arrived with a troupe of musicians and was a fine counter-tenor and dancer and was appointed to teach languages and dancing at Queen's College. In 1844 the Carandinis moved to Sydney where Marie studied with some of the notable musicians of the day, including Isaac Nathan and Sara Flower, an English contralto. Marie Carandini appeared in many early opera productions in Sydney and Melbourne to great acclaim. With her daughters, Walter Sherwin and others, Madame Carandini then formed her own concert company and in the 1860s and 1870s toured the colonies from Adelaide to the Palmer goldfields. In 1869 Signor Carandini was pardoned by the Italian government but, soon after he returned to claim his confiscated estates, he fell ill and died.
Rosina Martha Hosanah Carandini was the eldest of five daughters born to the Carandini family and she inherited her mother's beautiful soprano voice, appearing at age 14 as Adalgisa to her mother's Norma in that Bellini opera. In the 1860s, the 'Carandini Family Troupe' travelled up and down the country and with other performers toured as far afield as India and California. In 1860, at the age of 16, Rosina married Edward Hodson Palmer, cashier and later accountant in the Bank of Australasia and in 1866 they moved to Melbourne. As it was considered improper for a respectable married woman to appear on the opera stage, Rosina focused her attention on oratorio with the very respectable Melbourne Philharmonic Society and Liedertafels.
Rosina was widely praised by many visiting artists for the quality of her performances and could have achieved much more if it were not for the restrictions placed on married women by polite society at the time. Of her eight children, only a son and two daughters survived to adulthood. Fortunately one of her daughters inherited her mother and grandmother's voice travelling to Queensland for performances.
Emmeline Ida Louise Palmer married Gilbert Wilson and moved to Brisbane in 1882. We know about Emmeline Wilson's contribution to music in Queensland from an article in the Courier-Mail, dated 29 February 1940. The article, unfortunately, contains several inaccuracies, but it still gives a good impression of the esteem in which she was held in Brisbane.
THE many friends of Mrs. Gilbert Wilson will be sorry to learn that she is to leave Brisbane within a fortnight to make her home in Melbourne with her sister, Mrs. Palmer.
Although of late years Mrs. Wilson's musical interest has been focused chiefly on attendance at the recitals and concerts of visiting celebrities and local musical organisations, few have contributed more than she to the art of music in Queensland, for both as a concert singer and as a teacher her influence has been widely felt. Mrs. Wilson's mother, the late Mrs. Palmer, was as Rosa Carandini one of five generations who inherited the silver soprano voice which was also the natural endowment of Mrs. Wilson. In the early musical annals of Australia are many pictures of the beautiful Carandinis, who are of Italian descent. In the files of newspaper offices and in many a family album might be found pictures of these singers of the past in crinolines and ringlets, as well as in the seductive modes of the nineties.
Mrs. Wilson's grandmother, Madame Carandini, was an operatic primadonna of European repute, who came to Australia in the early days, and her daughter was for many years the leading soprano singer in Melbourne. Her daughter, in her turn, coming to Brisbane as the bride of Mr. Gilbert Wilson in 1882, carried on the family tradition by appearing in the leading roles in oratorio and concert programmes. Several times she declined tempting offers of a career abroad, as she preferred to remain in Queensland. For some years after she retired from the concert platform Mrs. Wilson continued to teach, and many will remember the enjoyable recitals given annually by her pupils, among whom were numbered many of the leading figures of Brisbane society.
Mrs. Wilson, who is now 77, is a life-member of the Musical Association, and throughout her musical career she was noted for her generosity in appearing at concerts organised for charitable causes, her reputation and her artistry together being great factors in the success of such efforts.
Since Mrs Wilson retired as a singing teacher in Brisbane some 80 years ago it is optimistic to hope that a former student would come forward but it is not unreasonable to imagine that her influence to Queensland was felt by many lovers of song and performance.
Simon Miller - Library Technician, State Library of Queensland