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DOLLY CASTLES, SOPRANO: BENDIGO GIRL MAKES GOOD OVERSEAS

The postcard had been produced from a photograph taken by W. Vincent Kelly of Bendigo, Victoria shows a demure Dolly Parsons as Phyllis in Iolanthe (Figure 1).

The reverse has a red 1d ‘Shield’ stamp of N.S.W. postmarked with a Type 1D (i) DALTON/ DE 24/ 1906/ N.S.W and there was a transit Type 2 (i) of GUNNING/ 24 DE 1906/ N.S.W presumably prior to its onward journey to Narrandera on Christmas Day (Figure 2).

The Castle children were all very musical and were born to Joseph Castles, printer of Melbourne and his wife Mary Ellen née Fallon, both parents being Victoria-born. There were 3 girls, Amy Eliza (1880-1951) born in Melbourne who became a dramatic opera soprano and in the early 1880s the family moved to Bendigo where her sister Ethel (stage name Dolly) was born and became particularly known for singing in Gilbert & Sullivan’s comic opera. Sister Eileen sang in Australia with the Melba Grand Opera Company, brother George, a tenor, sang professionally at home and overseas, whilst three other brothers were known locally as singers.

In spite of the fact that there are numerous examples of Dolly Castles’ picture in various roles on postcards, it is the older sister Amy Eliza Castles whose career is documented in the Australian Dictionary of Biography. Finding biographical text on Dolly was quite a struggle . She was born in Bendigo in 1884, she appeared for several seasons with the J,C, Williamson Company and made her way to America where she appeared as the principal soprano in the first production of the musical The Tik-Tok Man of Oz, based on the OZ books of L. Frank Baum (music by Louis Gottschalk), which was shown in Los Angeles on 31 March 1913. She retired from the stage after World War 1, and died in 1971.

In Australia she appeared in the original Australian cast of the J.C. Williamson’s production of Gilbert and Sullivan’s Utopia Limited as The Princess Zara at the Princess Theatre which premiered on January 20, 1905 and which closed after 18 performances. She was in the credits for a revival of The Sorcerer produced at the Criterion Theatre in Sydney in December 1905 and also in the Sydney 1905 season where she was in the revival of the title role of Princess Ida.

She had a long interview in the New York Times on October 20, 1912 when she was living in New York with one of her brothers. Her brother was described as a theatrical manager back in Australia. Dolly Castles was described as the pretty blonde ingenue in The Woman Haters which was playing at the Astor Theatre. She complained of being called an Australian Colonial as follows: "One of the reviewers here, last week, said something about my being a ‘Colonial’. I wish you’d say, if you say anything about me, that I have studied in France and Germany, that I have played in London and in Paris and Berlin and Vienna, and that I have considerable more than a ‘Colonial’ experience."

She continued with further insights into her career: "I wanted to study for grand opera, and I went to Paris for that. One of my sisters is a prima donna, you know. Well I had to give up my grand opera hopes because I wouldn’t grow up to the grand opera size. I couldn’t make it either longitudinally or in latitude. I’d never make a Brunhilde, would I? So when I found that nature objected to grand opera, I turned my attention to a lighter way of expressing my art. I went in for light opera roles in France, and then in Germany. I sang the soubrette part in The Count of Luxembourg in German, you know. And I have had similar roles in London with George Edwardes’s companies, and lots of others. And, of course I’ve sung at home a great deal."

A spunky young woman who could certainly hold her own in New York!


 
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