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WILLIAMSON, J.C.: AUSTRALIAN TOUR of the OSIPOV BALALAIKA ORCHESTRA

This Air Mail cover was mailed from the J.C. Williamson Theatre LTD, Comedy Theatre, Melbourne C.1, and the red 4cents and green 3 cents QE II stamps were postmarked with a roller cancel consisting of a boxed MELBOURNE/ 9-PM/ 31 JAN/ 1967 and a bilingual slogan ‘AUSTRALIA FOR/ SUNSHINE FOODS/ ALIMENTS AUSTRALIENS/ PRODUITS DU SOLEIL. It was addressed to Mr. Arch. Elliott, Grand Opera House, Wellington, N.Z. (Figure 1)

The reverse had a red sticker advertising The OSIPOV/ BALALAIKA RUSSIAN ORCHESTRA/ OF 65/ Together with the stars of/ the BOLSHOI Opera and RUSSIAN BALLET (Figure 2).

The Osipov Balalaika Orchestra of 65 together with Stars of the Bolshoi Opera and Russian Ballet was the most tremendous of all the Soviet attractions and it was presented by J.C. Williamson in 1967 opening on 24th April at Her Majesty’s Theatre Brisbane, the 5th May at Her Majesty’s Theatre, Sydney and 8 th June 1967 at Her Majesty’s Theatre, Adelaide. It also toured at Melbourne, Canberra, and Perth, and was to tour in New Zealand at Auckland and Wellington, but no programs were held there. Research at the Encyclopedia for Mr. Archibald Elliot did not find him at the Grand Opera House, Wellington. New Zealand.

The Australian Women’s Weekly 26 July 1967, page 19, headed a short column concerning a telecast on July 22 of the Osipov Balalaika Russian Orchestra, a program of 90 minutes on a ‘BP Super Show’ which included the soloists of the Bolshoi Opera Company and the Stanislavsky Ballet. "Music lovers will be intrigued with the unusual instruments played by the Osipov company. They include three different-sized balalaikas, shepherd’s horns, domras, a small stringed instrument with a round sounding board like half a rock melon, guslis, and bayans, or Russian accordions. They combine into the wonderful, sweet Russian sound for which the Osipov Orchestra is famous." The same article about the television program described the orchestra had a repertoire consisting of traditional Russian music such as the "Song of the Volga Boatman" and Russian folk music, as well as works of Benjamin Britain, Leonard Bernstein and Moussorgsky. It showed a picture of the Osipov Orchestra which was overprinted ‘Russian Music, Song and Ballet’ (Figure 3).

Further information on the Osipov Orchestra was found in the New York Times, January 27, 1989: "The Osipov Balalaika Orchestra arrived in New York this week from the Soviet Union to begin a 40-city tour of the United States, its first visit to this country since 1977. At Carnegie Hall on Wednesday evening, the orchestra and its guests, the Babinka Folk Ensemble, offered vibrant, finely polished and timbrally variegated performances of Russian folk music, along with a few classics. The orchestra's name does not quite describe its constitution. Besides balalaikas - which come in six sizes and ranges, from piccolo to octobass - the ensemble includes a few varieties of the mandolinlike domra; an accordian called a bayan; the harpsichord-like gusli; conventional winds as well as cruder, ancient folk instruments, and percussion. In terms of repertory and approach, its closest Western equivalent is a pops orchestra. The orchestra traces its history variously to 1888, when Vasily Andreyev established the Great Russian Orchestra, actually a balalaika septet. The ensemble became the State Russian Folk Orchestra in 1919, and changed its name to the Osipov in 1946, after the death of one of its directors, Nikolai Petrovich Osipov. Its current director, Nikolai Kalinin, has been on the orchestra's podium for a decade, and is making his first American appearances on this tour.

 

The theatrical organisation J. C. Williamson Ltd was an influential force in the growth of dance as a theatrical art form in Australia. The company provided work for Australian dancers and choreographers over its entire lifetime, and was instrumental in bringing to Australia major guest stars and companies from the international dance world. The company Williamson, Garner and Musgrove, which later became known as J. C. Williamson Ltd., was founded in 1881 as a partnership between James Cassius Williamson (1845-1913), George Musgrove (1854-1916) and Arthur Garner (1851-?). In 1881 the three leased the Theatre Royal in Melbourne and the Theatre Royal in Sydney, and, in 1884, the Princess Theatre in Melbourne. During its first decade of existence this group of three became known popularly as ‘The Triumvirate'.

The first decade of the company's existence, the 1880s, proved highly successful with seasons of Patience (1882), Youth (1883) and After Dark (1884), the latter two featuring British actor George Rignold, the first of many imported international celebrities who would appear for the company. The management of the organisation changed significantly in the 1890s. In 1890, following a rift that had developed between Williamson and Musgrove over the contract for Nellie Stewart, Williamson's leading local star and Musgrove's partner, Musgrove left the company. Between 1890 and 1891, the company was renamed Williamson, Garner and Co. In 1891 Garner withdrew from the partnership to pursue his own business interests and his share of the company was bought out by Williamson. Williamson and Musgrove reunited in 1892 renaming the company Williamson and Musgrove, a name which persisted until the partnership was dissolved in 1899.

The first decades of the twentieth century brought further changes to the management. In 1904, Williamson brought on two new partners, George Tallis and Gustave Ramaciotti, who had previously been engaged as the company's Melbourne manager and legal adviser respectively. On Ramaciotti's retirement in 1911, Williamson invited Hugh J. Ward to become a partner and, in the same year, there was a merger with the theatre entrepreneurs Clarke and Meynell with the subsequent renaming of the company to J. C. Williamson Ltd. Following the death of Williamson in 1913, the fortunes of the company over the next fifty years were primarily guided by four of the five the Tait brothers, John, Nevin, E. J. and Frank Tait who, at the invitation of chairman of directors George Tallis, became managing directors in 1920.

In the early part of the twentieth century the Williamson organisation began its initiatives to bring major dance artists and companies to Australia. In 1913 the Danish-born ballerina Adeline Genee led a tour by the Imperial Russian Ballet. Two tours by Anna Pavlova and her company, the first in 1926 and the second in 1929, were hugely successful and influential. In 1934 the organisation brought the Dandre-Levitoff Russian Ballet, led by Olga Spessivtseva and Anatole Vilzak, to Australia and was also the entrepreneurial force behind three tours by the Ballets Russes companies of Colonel de Basil, which took place between 1936 and 1940. In subsequent years Williamsons continued to bring large theatrical dance companies to Australia including ballet companies such as the Bolshoi Ballet and a variety of folk dance companies including many from the USSR.

In the early 1940s Williamsons backed Australia's first professional ballet company, the Kirsova Ballet and, by 1943, ‘The Firm', as the organisation had become popularly known, was presenting seasons of the Borovansky Ballet. During two lay-off periods dancers from the Borovansky Ballet also performed in the J. C. Williamson Ltd. musicals Dancing Years (1946) and Gay Rosalinda (1946). J. C. Williamson Ltd. musicals proved a regular source of employment for Australian dancers throughout the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s. The organisation staged many important musicals during this period, including Annie Get Your Gun (1947), Oklahoma! (1949), Brigadoon (1951), Kiss me, Kate (1952), South Pacific (1952), The Pyjama Game (1958), and My Fair Lady (1959). The Williamson organisation was also involved, along with the Australian Elizabethan Theatre Trust, in the establishment and early seasons of the Australian Ballet.

In the 1950s competition from new entertainment media, particularly television and cinema, and the deaths of the Tait brothers, E. J. in 1947, John in 1955 and Nevin in 1961, led to the company losing its position as the dominant theatrical agency in Australia. The Sutherland Williamson tour in 1965 was the last involvement of the remaining brother, Sir Frank Tait. With the deaths of the Tait brothers the company struggled to survive mergers and restructuring during the 1970s. In 1976 the company's theatres were sold, and the name J. C. Williamson Ltd. was leased. The involvement of interests headed by Michael Edgley and Kenn Brodziak staved off collapse until 1984, when the J. C. Williamson Ltd. was acquired by the Danbury Group. A picture of J.C. Williamson is seen in Figure 4.

I acknowledge that the information on and figure of J.C. Williamson was found at the National Library of Australia.

 
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