For Mother’s Day we took my mum to see the ballet Giselle broadcast live on the big cinema screen from London. On the way home she happened to mention that my paternal grandfather, Dinny Kunkel, had enjoyed opera and gone to see the Opera in Brisbane. Who knew?!
Like many things this was one of those snippets that leave as many questions as answers – after all he’d been born in a railway camp near Dalby:
- How did he come to learn about opera?
- When did he start connecting with it?
- Did he learn a little about it from his German grandfather, George Kunkel?
- Did he learn about it during his Paris leave amid World War I?
- Was it part of a self-improvement program, along with joining the Masons (not looked on kindly by the Catholic church) or did he just like the music and drama?
Inevitably I am unlikely to know the answer to these questions and it occurred to me to look among the gramophone records from my grandparents’ house, which I’ve inherited along with the gramophone. Sure enough there was this record…and a variety of classics but no other opera.
I turned to Trove to see what was happening in Dinny’s years working in Brisbane. Immediately before the war, the city was abuzz with the arrival of JC Williamson’s Madam Butterfly. I wonder if he attended, and did he perhaps go dressed up as he is in this photo? Perhaps he was even photographed there – I know I had photos taken at concerts I attended.
The Opera was being staged at Her Majesty’s Theatre, earlier known as Her Imperial Majesty’s Opera House. Sadly no longer surviving thanks to Queensland’s political indifference to matters cultural, it was somewhere that most Brisbaneites would have visited for the ballet or a show. Quite grand, with heavy drapes, uniformed assistants and gilt embellishments.
Strangely enough, in a serendipitous link across time, we are planning to see Madam Butterfly ourselves soon, in a very 21st century way, at our local cinema, thanks to HD transmission from the Metropolitan Opera – a whole new experience unknown in Darwin.
1910 ‘”MADAM BUTTERFLY ” GRAND OPERA IN BRISBANE.’, The Telegraph (Brisbane, Qld. : 1872 – 1947), 11 October, p. 20. (SECOND EDITION), viewed 10 May 2016, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article186550560