Thursday, October 21, 2010

Dolly (Woolwine) Noble

The last history blog told the story of Laura Woolwine who became Laura Bellini, a famous opera singer.

Laura was not the only star in the Woolwine family. Her younger sister, Dolly, became a stage star in the "Gay 90's".

Dolly was born in 1861 after the family moved from Lebanon to Cincinnati. Her early stage training was in the Cincinnati Shakespeare Club. Madame Helena Modjeska, a famous tragedian, appeared on stage in Cincinnati and was entertained by the Club. Modjeska encouraged Dolly to take up a theatrical career.

The Woolwine family moved to Washington D.C. to allow Laura to go to Italy to pursue her music career. It also permitted Dolly to become a student of Modjeska.

Before leaving Cincinnati, Dolly had become acquainted with Milton Nobles, a successful actor and playwright.

After training with Modjeska, Woolwine joined an acting company led by Nobles.

Milton Nobles and Dolly Woolwine were married in 1880. Nobles gave his bride, as a wedding gift, a fully furnished home at 138 First Street, Brooklyn, New York. The house remained their residence until their deaths.

Nobles, immediately after their marriage, wrote a stage play, "Love and Law" to present his wife to the public. She was an instant success. Milton & Dolly gained considerable fame both in Broadway plays and on tour. As melodramas waned in popularity, the couple made a transition to vaudeville.

A vaudeville program was made up of a series of separate unrelated acts. Milton composed short sketches which allowed the pair to appear in such varied entertainment.

Benjamin Franklin Keith, a theatre owner, is credited with bringing vaudeville to the U.S. Following a successful performance at Keith's in New York, the Nobles received top billing when they toured the circuit.

A New York Times article in May 30, 1903 said of them: "…the pair once again demonstrate their ability in the line of farce. Both Nobles and his wife have the rare faculty of so blending the serious and the comic that the right note of burlesque is obtained.."

Later in life Milton and Dolly again starred in a full length play titled "Lightning". It had an excellent record on both Broadway and the road.

The Nobles had two children: Milton Jr. and "Dolly Junior". Milton Jr. was an actor and "Dolly Junior" a pianist.

When performing in Cincinnati, the Nobles always visited Lebanon, thus the entire family was well known locally. They were also generous in sharing their talents to help local charities raise funds.

Milton died in 1924 and Dolly in 1930. Both children had preceded her in death.

The Warren County History Center at 105 South Broadway in Lebanon has a permanent exhibit in the Empire Gallery featuring the Woolwine sisters.

The Center also has numerous photos of the Nobles and Bellini and a copy of the book "Shop Talk" authored by Milton Nobles.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Laura Bellini

Laura Woolwine, born about 1851 in Lebanon Ohio, became a famous opera singer known worldwide by her stage name Laura Bellini.
Woolwine was the oldest of four children born to William and Rebecca Conrey Woolwine in Lebanon.
As a child Woolwine sang in a local church choir and was recognized as possessing great vocal talent.
At fourteen she performed an operatic concert in Lebanon. Afterwards, amazed attendees encouraged her parents to provide for her an advanced musical education.
The family moved to Cincinnati to give Woolwine such an opportunity. There she became a student of Madam Rive. Rive arranged for her to audition for Parepa Rose, a famous opera singer who was appearing in Cincinnati. Rose advised that Woolwine go immediately to Italy for training.
Eventually Mr. Woolwine was able to obtain a job in Washington D.C. which provided the finances to send his daughter, now twenty years old, to Milan, Italy.
There Woolwine became a student of Lamperti and Bellini, both renowned teachers. She stayed in Europe for nine years and took the last name of her favorite teacher as her stage name. Her debut was in the La Scala in Milan, the largest opera house in the world at that time. She sang “Rigoletto” followed by “Iona”.
Hazel Spencer Phillips described Bellini in her May 20, 1948 column, “Our Museum” in the Western Star, a Cox newspaper: “Her success was assured from her first appearance. She was a radiantly beautiful girl and woman…Her voice was that very rare combination of coloratura and dramatic soprano. She had a clear sweet tone with controlled power and an attractive and gracious stage manner that added much to her popularity.”
Bellini toured the major cities of Europe. A Command Performance was given for Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. Following the concert, the Queen presented Woolwine with a medallion.
After returning to New York City, Bellini became the first to sing “Cavalleria Rusticana” in English. Musicians regard it as the most difficult and arduous role ever written for soprano voice. The notes are exceptionally high and low.
A prima donna who sings the role four times in a week in Europe is considered accomplished. Bellini broke all records by doing seventy-six performances of “Rusticana”. The management of the opera company presented her with a diamond brooch and bracelet on the eve of her seventy-fifth consecutive performance.
Ill health caused Bellini to retire from the stage and to open a studio in New York. After her mother’s death, she returned to Lebanon to live with her father. She had a studio in Cincinnati and some Lebanon students.
Although Bellini is considered one of the really great American singers of the nineteenth century, her later years seem to be ones of limited means. In the 1930 census she had boarders living with her and her total net worth is listed as $6,000.
Woolwine/Bellini died on April 8, 1931 and is buried in Lebanon Cemetery. No gravestone marks the burial site.