Field Guide to Falling in Love in Tasmania

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  • To Fool the Heart

    To Fool the Heart

    “I too know the magical power of a look at the right time and place,” she said. “I know how the heart burns in slow fires.”

    Norina was reading from a novel, a passage about love. Dr. Malatesta had approached her. He had a crafty plan to fool Don Pasquale. He would use this woman; Don Pasquale would bend to her will. And so Norina, in response, sings: “I know the effect of lying tears, on a sudden languor; I know a thousand ways love can fraud.”

    Amy Sherwin was playing Norina in her theatre début at Hobart’s Theatre Royal in 1878. And at the end of the show, the crowd stood up in rapturous applause. The career of the ‘Tasmanian nightingale’ was about to be launched.

    From there, she would tour Melbourne, Ballarat and Sydney, her devotees multiplying with each performance. It was only the beginning. She toured not only Australia, but America, Europe, Asia and even South Africa. In San Francisco in 1879 she nailed Violetta in La Traviata despite having just recovered from pneumonia. A biographer says that Amy Sherwin was “the first Australian singer to make an overseas impact.”

    Strange to think it all began here in Judbury, a hamlet on the Huon River in Tasmania’s south. In apple country.

    Born in 1855 as Frances Amy Lillian Sherwin, it is said that Amy was discovered singing alone in a paddock near to where some visitors were picnicking by the Huon River. Those picnickers turned out to be members of the touring Pompei and Cagli Italian Opera Company, and they convinced her to audition.

    Raised in a farming family who had suffered from droughts and fires, Amy had been educated at home, with piano lessons given by her grandfather.

    Two decades later, returning to Hobart after her global success, her fans commandeered her carriage, unharnessing the horses and pulling her themselves through the streets. One can imagine her, in her early forties, radiantly beautiful and rejuvenated by the enthusiasm of her fellow Tasmanians.

    But she didn’t stay. In London, she was regarded as witty, erudite, polished and hospitable. It was to there that she retired in 1907, after tours in Australia in 1902 and 1906. She had a disabled daughter and became a teacher in order to support her. But she was not a good financial manager and descended into poverty and illness.

    However, music continued to uplift her. “Even when her voice was only a whisper she would sit at the piano and sing with an archness and vivacity peculiarly her own”.

    Perhaps she recalled the words she’d sung as Norina: “The charms and arts are easy to fool the heart.”

    She was not forgotten by her homeland. A fundraiser in Hobart sent her £200. A plaque was erected outside the building where she made her début. She died in London on 20 September 1935.