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Kelly, Michael (DNB00)  July 17, 2017 – 09:28 am
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KELLY, MICHAEL (1764?–1826), actor, vocalist, and composer, born in Dublin about 1764, was the eldest of the fourteen children of Thomas Kelly, wine-merchant and master of ceremonies at the castle. His mother's maiden name was McCabe. Kelly showed talent at an early age; began his musical studies with Marland, and continued with Cogan and Michael Arne, for the pianoforte; and with Passerini, Peretti, San Giorgio, and, later, Rauzzini, for singing. His father destined him for the medical profession, but the influence of Neale, the surgeon and a clever violinist, encouraged his musical tastes. Rauzzini advised that Kelly should be sent to study in Italy, and the father consented. Kelly had appeared upon the Dublin stage in 1779 during the illness of a performer. The opera was Piccinni's ‘La Buona Figliuola, ’ and Kelly in the part of the Count, written for high soprano, surpassed expectation. He had a powerful treble voice (Reminiscences, i. 18), pronounced Italian well, and was tall for his age. He next sang at the Dublin Crow Street Theatre as Cymon, for three nights, and as Lionel on the fourth, for his benefit. On 1 May 1779 Kelly sailed for Naples, having earned enough to supply all his wants for some time. Sir William Hamilton and the prior of the Dominicans befriended him; and Finaroli took him as a partly private pupil of the Loreto Conservatoire, until Aprile offered him free instruction at Palermo. Kelly was the first foreigner to sing a solo at the Chiesagrande on a festival day. He was reported to be the first Englishman who had sung in Italy when, after giving a concert at Leghorn with the assistance of the Storaces, he sang at the Teatro Nuovo, Florence, in the spring of 1780. He was engaged at Gratz (Styria), Brescia, Verona, Venice, and Parma; and for one year, at a salary of 200. and expenses, for the Italian opera then revived at Vienna (1783). Kelly was a principal tenor during that and some four subsequent years in comic opera in the Austrian capital. His successes in operas by Salieri, Paesiello, &c., encouraged him, when playing in one of Righini's operas, to mimic the peculiarities, dress, and manner of Da Ponte, the librettist. His Antipholus of Ephesus was exceptionally popular, and his Gaforio (in ‘Re Teodoro’) won him an addition of 50l. to his salary. Gluck himself instructed him in the part of Pylades (‘Iphigenia in Tauride’), and Mozart trained him in Basilio, for the first performance of ‘Le Nozze di Figaro.’ Kelly had the audacity to differ with the master on the rendering of his part in the sestet of act ii., but was allowed his own way. Mozart gave Sunday concerts, at which Kelly never was missing. Kelly pleased him by a little melody which he had composed to Metastasio's canzonetta, ‘Grazie agl' inganni tuoi.’ Mozart ‘took it and composed variations upon it which were truly beautiful;’ and, moreover, played them ‘wherever he had an opportunity.’ Kelly printed the air in his ‘Reminiscences’ (i. 226–7). Mozart, however, dissuaded him from a study of counterpoint.

Kelly obtained leave to visit England, with permission to return to the Vienna company if he wished. He left Vienna with the Storaces in February 1787, arriving in London on 18 March. Kelly first appeared at Drury Lane on 20 April 1787, in the part of Lionel (‘School for Fathers’). From this date until 1808 he was constantly heard in English opera, then prospering at Drury Lane with the aid of such composers as Linley, Storace, Attwood, Kelly himself, and others. Kelly was also engaged during this period for the Handel Commemoration, 1787; the performances at Cannons, 1789 or 1790; Norwich musical festival of 1789; at Oxford and York Minster in 1791; and oratorios at Ranelagh 1792, Covent Garden 1793, and Drury Lane 1794, and many concerts. At the Ancient concerts (1789–91) his realistic rendering of Handel's ‘Haste thee nymph’ caused Bates to regret having engaged so dramatic a tenor in succession to Harrison, but the king and many of the subscribers were pleased, and the number was repeated, by request, four times during one season (ib. i. 325). Kelly sang in 1788 as Almaviva in ‘Il Barbiere’ for Signora Storace's benefit at the Opera House, and in 1793 was appointed serious tenor for Italian opera at King's Theatre during the absence of Viganoni. His provincial tours (chiefly for English opera) extended to Scotland and Ireland. Kelly visited Dublin with Catalani and an Italian troupe on several occasions.


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