LYSTER, William Saurin (1828-1880)


LYSTER, William Saurin (1828-1880)
impresario
son of Chaworth Lyster, a captain in the army, was born in Dublin on 21 March 1828. He was related to William Saurin, attorney-general for Ireland, and was partly of French extraction. At the age of 13 Lyster after an illness was sent on a voyage round the world and visited Sydney and Melbourne in 1842. After his return to England he went to India, intending to become a planter, but, the climate not suiting him, he again returned to England. In 1847 he was in South Africa and fought in the Kaffir war, and a year later was in the United States where he tried his fortunes as an actor with little success. In 1855 he was a member of General Walker's expedition to Nicaragua with the rank of captain. About two years later he formed an opera company which included Madame Lucy Escott, Henry Squires, and Miss Georgia Hodson whom he married. This company had some success in the western states of America, and in 1861 Lyster brought it to Australia. For about seven years it gave excellent performances of the operas of the best Italian, German, French and English composers, including Don Giovanni in 1861, and the Huguenots in 1862. Other companies were brought out in later years, and at times comic opera was alternated with grand opera. Though a high standard was kept the best operas did not pay; Lohengrin in 1877 and Tannhauser in 1878, though the company included a distinguished singer, Antoinetta Link, were box office failures. Lyster, however, made the lighter operas bear the cost of others which were artistic successes only. Among other singers brought out by Lyster were Signor Paladini, Madame Fanny Simonsen and the Australian tenor, Armes Beaumont. Among concert artists introduced to Australia were Arabella Goddard and Henry Ketten, players of the piano, and Levy, a well-known English cornet player of the period. Lyster's companies toured the principal cities of Australia and New Zealand, but for the last seven years of his life he made the opera house, Melbourne, his headquarters. Though most renowned for his productions of operas, he was interested also in the drama, and seasons were played at the opera house by the distinguished actress Madame Ristori, and by good comedy companies. Lyster fell into bad health about 1877 and never fully recovered. He died at Melbourne on 27 November 1880.
Lyster was not a musician but his singers were well-chosen. He was tactful and just, paid his artists well, and was generally an excellent business man. He did a real service to Australia by introducing it to much good music, and set a standard which has seldom since been surpassed.
The Argus, Melbourne, 29 November 1880; The Age, Melbourne, 29 November 1880; P. Mennell, The Dictionary of Australasian Biography; The Cyclopedia of Victoria, vol. II.

Dictionary of Australian Biography by PERCIVAL SERLE. . 1949.

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