Dame Fanny Moody (1864-1945) of Redruth was known as ‘The Cornish Nightingale’. Her father could, it was said, play any instrument he had ever seen. Her mother was a pianist, and their large family were exceptionally musical, in particular the daughters Fanny (Francis), Lily (1867-1950), Mabel (1874-1952) and Hilda (1876-1961). Newspaper reports show that all the sisters performed locally as young women. Fanny went on to become one of the great singing stars of her age. Hilda joined the D’Oyly Carte Opera Company in 1896, and later toured with her elder sister’s opera company. Lily, mezzo soprano, sang with J. W. Turner’s English Opera Company (1887-1902).
Fanny, allegedly seen dancing on a shop counter when young, became a pupil of Robert Heath of Redruth. Her first reported performance was in Ponsanooth on 26 March 1879 at the age of 14. Later that year Fanny’s mother died and her father was left with seven children. Nevertheless, in the winter of 1879/80, Fanny performed over a dozen concerts, mostly in Redruth, but also in Penzance and Falmouth. This intensive pattern was repeated in the next two winters, during which she built a large local following.
Her talent was recognized by Lady Mary Basset of Tehidy, who in late 1881 paid for her to train in London at the Vocal Academy of the renowned Mme. C. H. Sainton-Dolby. Fanny made her London début at the Steinway Hall, Seymour Street in June 1883. In April 1884, with other students, she gave a concert in Newcastle. All was loyally reported in Cornish newspapers.
In Newcastle she was heard by Charles Hallé, who offered her a series of return bookings. Through these she met Carl Rosa, manager of a prestigious opera company, and when asked by him to sing a ‘top C’ she gave him a ‘top D’. She made her début with the Carl Rosa Company in Liverpool on 15 January 1887, in The Bohemian Girl. Later that year Fanny’s father James died, but having seen three of his daughters on their way to operatic success. In 1889 Fanny, her fiancé, the noted bass, Charles Manners, and her sister Lily made a triumphant return to The Druid’s Hall, Redruth. The packed event was a both a celebration of Fanny’s success and of her Cornish roots.
In 1892 Charles Manners and Fanny were married. Fanny went from success to success as an operatic soprano. In 1892 she and her sister Lily sang in the first English performance of Tchaikovsky’s Yevgeny Onegin. Fanny sang many roles, including Wagner, but she was most suited to those like Cio-Cio-san, the tragic heroine of Puccini’s Madam Butterfly. Later, she and her husband formed the Moody-Manners Opera Company which operated from 1898 to 1916.
Most of Fanny’s performing life was spent touring Britain but she also travelled abroad, notably to North America and South Africa. There in 1897, after a concert, expatriot Cornish admirers followed her back to her hotel. A newspaper reported ‘There was an assemblage of enthusiastic but strangely silent and peaceful Cornishmen; this congregation of robust Romeos waited for their Juliet to appear upon the balcony…To the silent she sang Cornish songs. And as she sang, these big men of Cornwall wept.’ She was presented with a tiara with the Cornish coat of arms picked out in diamonds, which was donated for auction in the Second World War with the proceeds going to the Red Cross.
Although she travelled the world Fanny was still seen as a ‘Cornish maid’ and regularly reported in a positive, almost avuncular way by Cornish papers. Her reputation, repertoire and audience were international, but her identity was Cornish, and her success, and that of Lily and Hilda, grew from the Cornish musical environment.
(From Above the Tin Stream by Mike O’Connor and Barbara Griggs) [i]
Laura Alex Smith published an interview with Fanny Moody in the Cornish Magazine in 1898 which provides an insight into the singer and her world: open pdf