Skip to main content

Opera [Mr William Saurin Lyster] from the series "Masks and Faces"
, 1874

by Tom Durkin and The Weekly Times (publisher)

lithograph (sheet: 33.0 cm x 19.0 cm)

William Saurin Lyster (1828–1880) was an Irish operatic impresario who introduced serious opera to the colonies. Aged about twenty, he joined a theatre company in Boston; he later formed an opera troupe and became the third husband of one of its prima donnas, Georgia Hodson. He brought his company with full chorus and orchestra to Melbourne in March 1861. Initial losses turned to triumphant successes, as they toured a tremendous repertoire through the colonies and New Zealand over the next six years. In August 1868 he took his company for a short, unsuccessful season in San Francisco; having collected singers, scores and stage machinery abroad, he returned to Melbourne in early 1870. As lessee of the Princess’s Theatre he entered into a series of co-operations and collaborations with various visiting groups, alternating English and Italian operas and companies in Adelaide, Melbourne and elsewhere. In 1877 he introduced Wagner to Melbourne with Lohengrin, and lost money on Aida. In failing health, he took an overseas break, but came back to reopen in Melbourne with a new company in March 1879. When he died the following year, at 52, the papers reported ‘Some years ago Mr Lyster was attacked by one of the most terrible diseases to which the constitution of man is subject, and from which there is rarely an escape except into the grave, which has now closed over him.’

Collection: National Portrait Gallery
Purchased 2016
Accession number: 2016.11