Notable 19th Century Colorado Singers

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Now faded from living memories but deserving to be recorded in the history of opera in Colorado are the lives of six singers, born in the 19th century, who enjoyed fame locally, nationally or even internationally in the years prior to World War I. From newspaper accounts of the time, we can grasp at least some essence of their lives and careers.

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Elizabeth Young was born in Denver on October 9, 1890, and grew up int the family home at 244 West Colfax Avenue, the present day corner of Colfax and Cherokee, where the Denver City and County Buildings now stand. Maxey Tabor, the son of Horace and Augusta Tabor, and his wife and daughter, Persis, lived across the street.

Elizabeth's father, Francis (Frank) Young, came to Colorado at age 21 in 1865, walking the entire 672 miles, in the company of three other young men. from the Missouri River to Denver. After re-stocking in Denver he went directly to Central City to work the gold diggings. His future wife, Caroline Sims, came out to Central City in her mid-twenties and taught at the Gilpin County Schoolhouse, which now houses the Gilpin County Historical Society. Soon after their marriage, the Youngs took a trip to Chicago, where they saw a performance of Balfe's The Bohemian Girl, one of the most popular light operas of the time. This experience inspired them to resolve to stage their own version of the opera in Central City. That town was blessed with an unusual amount of musical talent and Welsh miners with fine voices. Caroline young sang the contralto role and Frank Young was the leading tenor. He also acted as impresario, stage manager and publicist. The performance took place in the Belvidere Theatre, then Central City's only entertainment Hall (which still stands today), on April 18 and 19, 1877. The idea of an opera house for Central City, already hatched, was crucial to bringing the concept to fruition and thus the Central City Opera House was built the following year.

Elizabeth attend the private Wolcott School in Denver, graduating in 1909, and studied voice with her Aunt Hattie, who had trained in Italy with Giovanni Battista Lamperti. She then spent two years at Bennett College in upstate New York. Elizabeth became a well-regarded singer, performing in churches, on the Broadway Theater stage and the theatre at Elitch's Gardens. With the Bosetti Grand Opera Company, at the Municipal Auditorium, in 1916 she was Juliet in Romeo and Juliet and in 1917 was Filina in Mignon.

Elizabeth died on October 1, 1967, eight days shy of her seventy-seventh birthday. A memoir of her childhood, On Colfax Avenue, A Victorian Childhood, was published in 2004 by the Colorado Historical Society.

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Caroline Oliver came to America from Sweden, at age 19 married a Colorado rancher much her senior, studied singing in New York and Paris, changed her name to Marguerite Starrell and became a notable international opera singer. This is her story as chronicled in newspapers of the day.

The Daily News, Denver, 20 Feb 1909: "Success in one of its most dazzling forms has come to Caroline Skelton, formerly of Colorado, but now one of the bright particular stars in the Parisian musical firmament. She has been engaged at the Grand Opera in Paris, and will make her debut some time this spring in Thais. Known in Europe under her stage name Marguerite Starelle (sic), this young Colorado woman in a few years has had a most remarkable career. She has developed one of the highest soprano voices in the world, Marguerite Starellreaching clearly and with power the C above high C. But a few years ago she was living on a ranch near Denver, helping her husband in a rather unequal struggle with the world. Since she went abroad she has studied unremittingly and the present high position she has achieved she owes as much to her pluck and persistence as to her wonderful voice... Last spring she enjoyed a sensational triumph in her appearance as Mimi in La Boheme at Versailles... Less than ten years ago... she went to New York, where she became the pupil of Isador Luckstone... She spent four years in New York, and when she went to Paris three years ago she did not even know the French language... It is understood that Hammerstein has been desirous of adding the songbird from Colorado to the tuneful aggregation which makes up his grand Italian Opera company."

Rocky Mountain News, Denver, 26 Apr 1908: "Matters were not well with the Skeltons directly after they married-- that is, in a material way.  Mr. Skelton proposed they go up into the mining district, at the head of Bear Creek canon, and try their fortune...  The Skeltons worked in their claim all that winter, and in that way earned the first money, which enabled her to start her musical studies... [After they regained the ranch, they sold 125 horses] and Caroline bought a fine piano, but most  of the money went to fighting legal battles, and it looked as though the contest would last for years, as it has. 'Well,' said the plucky young woman during those dark days, 'I can hum a little and I'll just study hard and sing us both out of our troubles.' She has."

New York Times, 26 Sep 1909: "The identity of the young opera singer whose beauty and surpassing voice have won the admiration of Paris and all Europe for more than a year has finally been solved. Marguerite Starrel (sic) is Mrs. Boyd Skelton, wife of a former ranchman near Littleton, and now a Denver contractor. All that is known of her in Paris is that she is a recently discovered singing genius who came from somewhere out of the great West of America and that she is the protégé of Mrs. Walter S. Cheesman, Mrs. O. E. Lefevere, Mrs. William G. Evans, wives of millionaires, and other prominent Denver women. Before her marriage Mrs. Skelton was Caroline Oliver...." Ibid., 2 Jan 1912: "Few New Year concerts and entertainments in the past have equaled the one given today in the chapel of the County Jail by members of the Chicago Grand Opera Company... Miss Starrell sang old English songs that brought tears to the eyes of of many prisoners."  Ibid., 3 Mar 1912: "The last series of Winter musicals took place on Friday evening at the Country Club [in Lakewood]. The programme submitted was of a very high musical standard, and there were more than the usual numbers of subscribers in attendance. The soloists were Mlle. Marguerite Starrell, soprano of the Philadelphia-Chicago Grand Opera, and William Earl Cartwright, baritone with Mrs. W. S. Nelson, pianist." Ibid., 10 Nov 1912: "The Volpe Symphony Orchestra... will begin a week's tour tomorrow in Pennsylvania. The soloists will be Marguerite Starell (sic), soprano, of the Philadelphia-Chicago Opera Company..."

Record Journal of Douglas County (Castle Rock), 8 Sep 1916: "Boyington Skelton, wealthy and aged rancher, has filed for divorce from Mrs. Marguerite Starelle (sic) Skelton, the young opera singer, who has been absent from her husband for ten years. Mrs. Skelton now is in Paris, France... Mrs. Skelton came to Denver from Sweden and took work in the home of Mr. Skelton as housemaid. He was wealthy and she was poor. He heard her singing about the house and realized that she had a wonderful voice. He made her his wife, and sent her abroad to have her voice trained. She succeeded from the start. She wished to rival Melba and other great opera singers and has, in a measure, done so. After her musical education had been finished under [Jean] De Reszke in Paris, Mrs. Skelton sang in the National Theater of that city, and later with the Metropolitan Grand Opera Company in New York. but while his wife was spending her husband's money in completing her education, he was having trouble at home. He engaged in litigation over his ranch near Littleton, which had been left to him by his mother, who was said to be the first white woman to settle the upper Platte. His wife came to his aid and furnished money from her salary to aid him. He finally won the suit. Mrs. Skelton then returned to the stage and sang in all of the large American and European cities. That was ten years ago. He waited for her return but the lure of her career kept her away. Desertion for more than one year is the only charge made in the complaint. They were married August 14, 1897." Littleton Independent, 15 Dec 1916: "Boyington Skelton, of Denver, former Arapahoe county citizen and owner of the beautiful Skelton ranch north of Littleton, was granted a divorce in Denver last Saturday from his wife, Carolina Skelton [Marguerite Starell]. Mrs. Skelton, during the past few years, has gained fame as a grand opera singer in Paris, France, and other attractions soon parted the couple from home ties, which finally resulted in a divorce. Mrs. Skelton is at present in Paris. She did not contest the suit. Fairplay Flume, 15 Dec 1916: An unusual romance came to an end in Denver when District Judge Perry granted a divorce to Boyington Skelton, an Arapahoe county ranchman and contractor, from Marguerite Starells (sic), on the technical ground of desertion. Mrs. Skelton is now a grand opera singer in Paris."

The Miami News, 25 Jan 1926: "Marguerite Starell (sic), operatic and concert soprano, formerly prima donna of the Chicago Opera Co.... was born in Stockholm. She studied with great masters in Europe and in this country, particularly with Isidore Luckstone in New York. She made her debut at a gala performance of La Bohème in the Versailles Opera, later going to Chicago. She sang for a number of seasons at the Municipal Opera house in Monte Carlo, and last year was under the direction of Maestro Reynald Hahn at the Cannes Opera. Feeling the need for an extended rest, Mme. Starell returned to this country for a visit with her brothers and sisters. She is spending several weeks in Miami. Next season she will be heard at the Stockholm Opera."

Marguerite Starrell died in January 1970 in Greenwich, Connecticut, at 92 years of age. Presumably an obituary was not published, for a search of newspapers in the area and of that time yielded none. Greatness is often and soon forgotten.

(Photo courtesy of Shana Boulton of Burlington, IA)

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Excerpts from articles in the Aspen Weekly Times about Lottie B. Wustum, a contralto: Apr 22, 1882: "Last Saturday evening the beautiful hall of Corkhill's opera house contained an audience which for numbers and enthusiasm has never before been gathered in Aspen, the occasion being the concert given by Mrs, Wustum, assisted by several ladies and gentlemen in vocal and instrumental music and recitations." (Corkhill's Opera House was built in 1881 and was succeeded by the Wheeler Opera House in 1889.) Nov 5, 1883: "Mrs. Lottie Wustum, the well known songstress, returned to Aspen on Friday evening, in answer to a dispatch received while in Louisville, Kentucky, stating that her mother was very low and that she must return immediately if she wished to see her again. Since last July she has been traveling with the Chicago Ideal Opera Company, rendering the principal operettas in the more important cities in the western states and in Texas as far down as Galveston, Mrs. Wustum taking the principal contralto parts. The Chicago Ideal Opera Company... was formerly the Chicago Church Choir Co. and is composed of the society young ladies and gentlemen of Chicago." (The Chicago Ideal Opera Co. performed at the Tabor Grand in Denver in December, 1883. The company later was called The Bostonians.) Nov 5, 1883: "Mrs. Wustum was greeted with the old-time enthusiasm of last year, and we will say that we never enjoyed music more, her musical education, wonderful compass and control of voice, are beyond question the accomplishments of a great singer." Sep 6, 1884: "Mrs. Lottie B. Wustum has left camp to join her troup of singers at Kansas City. She will travel all winter."

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Eulalie Mackechnie Shinn, the Mayor's wife, and her troupe of ladies in The Music Man, entertained the citizens of River City with Delsartean acting-- popular among American women of the time, characterized by assuming attitudes or artistic poses and stylized dances. Colorado had a noted Delsartean, Susa Carpenter of Grand Junction, who was hailed in 1896 by the Silverton Standard as "Colorado's greatest impersonator and Delsartean artist." Susa, the daughter of W. T. Carpenter, president of the Little Book Cliff Railway, performed to great acclaim in the 1890s and 1900s in many of the cities of the state. One of her performances in Telluride included "a very difficult production, 'An English Railway Station,' which gave full play to her powers of mimicry and imitation." "In 'Our Hir'd Girl,' she essayed a juvenilistic role to which she was compelled to respond to a hearty encore." "Her graceful motions were perfect harmony and rhythm exemplified..." The Colorado Springs Gazette report of Ms. Carpenter's performance at the opera house in 1898 enthused that "Her instant transitions from tragedy to comedy, from mirthfulness to the pathetic, with gesture and facial expression that told more than half, were overwhelming testimony to the versatility of this young actress."

In 1900 Susa Carpenter married M. M. Detch of Ouray, a court stenographer. After but a few years, the couple divorced, reportedly due to inadequate support by Detch. Then, serendipitously, Detch struck it rich in 1906 with a mining claim in Goldfield.

Susa continued in Delsartism but also impressively added singing to her repertoire, making appearances throughout the state, including the Dickens Opera House in Longmont in 1908 and in the newly completed Denver Auditorium in July of that year, where she performed for the Democratic National Convention. Susa was described in the Breckenridge Bulletin in 1908 as "a dramatic soprano with a fine voice, well cultivated. Her studies and career abroad have met with success and she is shortly to return to Rome, where she is under contract with the National Italian Theater to appear in grand opera."

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Asa F. Middaugh, from Erie, Pennsylvania, walked from St. Joseph, Missouri, to Denver in 1860. He began a long and successful business career by mining and hauling coal to Denver. The next year, Asa homesteaded 160 acres, on which he later built a residence for his family, and engaged in stock raising and freighting between Denver and Missouri River points. For 8 years, beginning in 1866, he was a merchant in Elizabethtown and Cimarron, NM, and Middaugh Store, Del Nortealso a banker in Cimarron. In 1875 he opened a mercantile store in Del Norte, where in 1882 he also opened the Bank of Del Norte. Additionally, Asa acquired a horse ranch and several farms in the San Luis Valley. While in Cimarron he had married Amelie Siever, born in St. Louis, and from this union were born five children, among them Florence Siever Middaugh, born in Del Norte in 1884.

In 1905 Florence Middaugh was sent to New York for voice training, where she studied for 4 years with Dennis Meaghan. Florence and her mother came from Denver to spend the month of August, 1906, in Del Norte, and again spent part of the summer of 1909 there. When she gave a recital at Central Christian Church in Denver in September, 1909, with pianist Evelyn Crawford and cellist Fred J. Houseley, Florence was described as having "one of the greatest contralto voices in the world" with "a voice notable for its range and quality of tone." In October, the Red Men Opera House in Durango was filled by an appreciative audience where, "arrayed in robes of becoming color and luster, the singer [Florence], by her superb carriage and figure, captivated the audience at once and never for a moment did they feel other than mesmerized. Miss Florence has a wonderful contralto voice and sings with such ease and grace that it is hard to explain to those who were absent."

Jean De ReszkeIn November, 1909 Florence went to Paris to study with the famous Jean De Reszke. In late 1911 it was reported that she had returned to Colorado from California, where she had suffered from ill health for several months. In the summer of 1912 Florence went once a week to Alamosa to give vocal instruction at the San Luis Hotel. Florence was listed as a music teacher at the Western Institute of Music in a 1913 Denver directory. In August, 1915, she presented a concert, under the auspices of the Kings' Daughters at the Methodist Church in Del Norte where she "sang in her usual pleasing way, her voice having gained in its power and sweetness." Later in the week Florence also sang in Monte Vista. At the time of the 1920 census Florence Middaugh was living in Denver. She sang a song at a concert in the Hollywood Bowl in California on April 15, 1920. Florence died at the age of 93 in Los Angeles in 1977.

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The Fort Collins Courier for November 14, 1889 carried this notice: "Vocal lessons, private and class, given by Miss Agnes Everist, late of the Royal Italian Opera, Royal Albert Hall and St. James' Hall concerts, London, England. For terms, address C. Golding-Dwyre, Fort Collins." Thus, was announced the arrival of Miss Everist, who became a much-admired teacher and singer in the Fort Collins community. One of its churches was a frequent beneficiary of her vocalizations, as exemplified by the following from the Fort Collins newspaper in 1890: "Miss Agnes Everist, assisted by a number of leading vocalists in the city, will on the 7th proximo give a grand popular musical entertainment, at the opera house in this city, the proceeds to be devoted to defraying the expenses of restoring the steeple of the Presbyterian church." An 1894 newspaper item announced "There will be an entertainment in the opera house on Friday, August 17, given by Miss Agnes Everist and Mr. Buxton Whittingham. The program, which promises to be highly entertaining, will consist of a short concert and a couple of farces." After residing in Fort Collins, Miss Everist, with her two sisters, moved to Santa Monica, CA, where she spent her remaining years.

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Marion Kingsbury was born in Gunnison in 1886, the same year her step-brother was killed by being thrown by a horse and dragged by his foot. Marion and her parents, Lemuel and Harriet Kingsbury, relocated to Denver about 1892. For several years starting in 1898, Lemuel spent the warmer months in the Breckenridge area Marion Kingsburysupervising placer gold mines and then wintering in Denver or other cities. Sometime around 1900, Marion went to New York to study singing. A local paper reported in 1902 that she "is a lovely contralto singer and is studying for the grand opera under one of the finest instructors, Madam Galloway..." A year later, when Marion was 17, the paper noted that she was "a popular New York opera singer." She had been singing with a light-opera company there.

In 1904 Marion made a debut recital at the Waldorf-Astoria and was on the roster of the Metropolitan Opera in 1906, 1907, and 1908, singing comprimario roles. In 1907 mezzo-soprano Marion Kingsbury was a member of Heinrich Conried's company for a tour of Europe (the Conried Metropolitan Opera Company, formed in 1903, was then the resident company at the Met). Marion returned to the United States for a few years but was back in Germany by 1912, singing, among other engagements, Nancy in Flotow's Martha at the Royal Theater at Essen and, in the following year, at the opera house in Bochum.

The outbreak of World War I ended Marion's career in Germany. In early 1916 she became a staunch supporter of the Organization of American Women for Strict Neutrality. Marion came back to Breckenridge in the summer of that year, began teaching voice and was regularly a soloist in the Methodist Church. Shortly thereafter, she relocated to Leadville and established a voice studio and in the fall opened a music store at 108 E. 5th Street. She continued to return to Breckenridge to instruct voice students and present musical programs. In 1917 Marion directed The Columbine Harmony Club in The Pirates of Penzance, with herself in the leading role. She sang for various organizations in Leadville and gave concerts at the Elk's Opera House (formerly the Tabor Opera House), and she concertized in several other cities, including Kokomo, Buena Vista, and Canon City. During the 1918 flu epidemic she served ably as a visiting home nurse. Her first voice studio was located in the Chicago Block building on East Fifth Street. By 1920 she had a studio and music accessories store at 713 Harrison Avenue, an address in the Tabor Grand Hotel.

In January 1921 Marion Kingsbury attended a two-day sales conference for the representatives of the Knight-Campbell Music Co at the company headquarters in Denver. Also in 1921, Marion Kingsbury, in the company of two gentlemen, visited Breckenridge to examine placer claims owned by her late father. This is the last record of Marion we have been able to find. At about this time she left Leadville. Most curiously, despite thorough searching of records, nothing has been found to reveal what happened to her. Her father, known by the honorific title of Colonel Kingsbury, due to his valorous service in the Union Army during the Civil War, died in 1921 and is interred in Valley Brook Cemetery in Breckenridge. Lemuel's widow, Harriet, was a resident in Denver in 1925 and 1926, but we have been unable to discover her life thereafter.

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