The years leading to the outbreak of the First World War were highly productive for the agency. Although military bands were dropped, the loss of entertainers, elocutionists, reciters and lecturers proved to be temporary until the war was in progress. There was a marked increase in the number of singers and instrumentalists, many of whose names (particularly those of foreign artists) were later to become very familiar to the concert-going public. A notable absence from all brochures until the 1960s was that of conductors, many of whom were generally already associated with orchestras, opera houses or, in later years, the BBC. As far as Ibbs and Tillett was concerned the freelance career-conductor evidently became more of a marketable commodity with the growth of air travel, the radio and recordings. But it has to be remembered that the agency's activities were by no means solely limited to those musicians whose names appeared in their publicity, and the year 1910 is a good example. It was a particularly exciting one for London's opera lovers, largely because of the enterprising activities of Thomas Beecham at Covent Garden. He launched his first-ever opera seasons, one in the spring, the other in the autumn and both were notable for including the London premières of two operas by Richard Strauss, first Elektra followed later that year by Salome. Ibbs and Tillett had plenty of interest in these events. Both sopranos who took the title roles in these Strauss operas had further dealings with Ibbs and Tillett. The American soprano Edyth Walker, who sang the title role of Elektra to great acclaim, took her role as a prima donna and Kammersängerin very much to heart in a series of demanding letters written in 1913 from her Swiss home and most of them grandly signed with just her surname, "Walker':
I should be pleased to sing at the Leeds Festival but would not care to come for one concert only. My terms are £125 for each concert. (10 February 1913)
It would hardly be worthwhile to travel from Munich to London [Leeds is meant] and back for one concert. The expenses are much too heavy! You can count it up yourself, fare and hotel for me and my maid, and I need about a week for it all. I will tell you what I will accept as I should be pleased to sing at these well-known Festivals and under Nikisch's wonderful direction! For two concerts £200 clear, that means that the Committee should pay your commission. Oberon and Götterdämmerung yes, but please only in German! I should also be willing to sing the Götterdämmerung Schlussscene [Final Scene] with Nikisch's wonderful reading, or songs by Strauss, although the latter are not so certain before a strange audience – strange for me and I for them. In case you would like me to sing in English, I will gladly do so in case it is an English composition, the translations must and do lose fearfully. I shall be here until Easter but letters will also be forwarded. I hope the Committee will find my offer acceptable. Of course I know Mr [Albert] Coates by name and shall be delighted to sing with him. (13 March 1913)
Before a definite promise to sing, I must know exactly when the Concerts are to be and the Programmes. My manager here offers me the Gewandhaus [Leipzig] for the 8/9 October and I do not know whether I can accept, as your dates are not fixed. Please let me know at once. (1 April 1913)
In answer to yours of the 13th V with regard to the programme, I must refer you to yours of the 14 IV containing Herr Nikisch's letter and mentioning three appearances! That is also what I signed for and is definitely:
Should the Committee desire the Strauss songs instead of the Duett, that I will willingly undertake. I should prefer to sing Götterdämmerung Schlussscene and Duett in the same Concert. [P.S.] Would a song recital in London in June be successful? Or is it too late now to advertise? What are costs? (15 June 1913)
As I understand [it], I am going to sing Oberon on the October 1st and duet and closing scene Götterdämmerung the 3rd. Of course the duet comes first and the scene really closes the evening. I cannot attend a rehearsal on the 25th of September, that means being in London at a hotel six days before the concerts. There was no mention of this when I promised to come, and I find two days before the concerts quite sufficient – more than I have ever given anyone. I have sung Oberon and also Schlussscene with Mr Nikisch (also duet) so that I am sure two days is more than sufficient. With regards to a recital, you seem to think it not quite advisable – I will talk it over with you when I am in London.
Please do secure me room with bath, if possible high up, morning sun and very quiet! (15 August 1913)
Edyth Walker begs Messrs Ibbs and Tillett to secure a room also for my maid very near mine. I hope my room is at least very large otherwise must have two rooms on account of bath failing.
If I hear nothing to the contrary, I shall arrive in Leeds the 28th evening, in case of rehearsal the 29th. [P.S.] Will you send me a score (piano) of the Oberon aria in English? If it sounds well to me, I may sing it in English as that is the language in which it was composed. (23 August 1913)
Do pardon me! Will you kindly give the people here [Queen's Hotel, Leeds] their tips – they are all in bed and I shall not see them again.Waiters 5/- [25p] Maid 2/6d [121/2p] Lift 6d [21/2p] Porter 2/- [10p] [Total] 10/- [50p]
Whatever you consider proper. My bill was £8 or £9 in case you go according to that, and I have been here four days. Whatever it is you can reduce from the check! [3 October 1913]The Finnish soprano Aïno Ackté made her debut at Covent Garden as Elsa in Wagner's Lohengrin and Elizabeth in Tannbäuser in the German Opera Season of January 1907. In 1910 she was back as Salome, and, according to the Daily Telegraph, was 'superb and often seductive'. She became renowned in the role:
I thank you for your proposition for the Strauss festival in Manchester. My fee to play twice there in Salome would be two hundred guineas for the two performances, so long as they do not make extraordinary rehearsals. (22 April 1914)The American bass-baritone Clarence Whitehill had made his Covent Garden debut under Richter in 1905 as Wotan in Wagner's Ring with enormous success, and he became a regular performer at the London opera house, including Richter's famous performances sung in English in 1908 and 1909. In the year under discussion, 1910, Whitehill was also part of Beecham's autumn venture, singing the tide role in Hamlet by Ambroise Thomas and Jokaanan (or The Prophet as the Lord Chamberlain's office insisted the character be called) in Salome. In this letter Whitehill has problems accepting an offer from the Norwich and Norfolk Festival of 1914, although as it happens, this triennial festival was destined for cancellation with the outbreak of 73hostilities on 1 August of that year, and it would be a further ten years before it was revived:
Many thanks for your favor of the 19th February, which has reached me after many delays. Our company have just arrived here [Seattle] and we have been on the march since February 1st. I'm afraid it will be impossible for me to be with you as long as November 9th, as my season with the company will begin next year, 1914—15, about November 13th, so you see unless there should be some change, of which I know nothing now, it would be impossible. If there should be anything before the Norwich-Norfolk Festival, at which you probably know I am to sing, you could book me so that it would not interfere with their rehearsals or performances. I shall be in London during May most likely, and shall be happy to see you and discuss these things further. My terms are 60 guineas per performance. (27 March 1914)In November 1911 another impresario tried his hand at promoting opera in London; this time it was Oscar Hammerstein at his newly built London Opera House in Kingsway, Holborn, and although he had such star singers as Luisa Tetrazzini, Mary Garden, John McCormack and Maurice Renaud on his roster, the public largely stayed away (its most musically interesting event was Josef Holbrooke's The Children of Don under Nikisch). One of Hammerstein's singers was the contralto Margarita d'Alvarez, whose plans with Ibbs and Tillett were also disrupted by the outbreak of war:
I am in receipt of your letter of the 31st [August 1914], and very much regret Mr Brandon Lane has been obliged to abandon his concert at Manchester on October 10th on account of the war, and under the circumstances I can but cancel my engagement for that date though it seems too dreadful. Can you do anything for me in America? I should love to go and have had great successes there. Would you please return my photos if you do not need them. (3 September 1914)Smarting from his losses of £45000 sustained over the seven months of his operatic experiment, Hammerstein returned to America leaving the field to the Covent Garden Syndicate (their 1912 season, the longest since 1891, lost £15000). A huge discovery in spring 1910 was the 25-year-old tenor Giovanni Martinelli, hailed as a second Caruso after his debut as Cavaradossi in Puccini's Tosca. Though Ibbs and Tillett could not engage him, there was a brief exchange of correspondence:
Ref. your letter asking me to sing in Glasgow and Liverpool, for which I thank you very much, but regret that owing to previous engagements I shall be unable to do so. However I am pleased to introduce to you a friend of the same school as myself, who possesses a beautiful tenor voice and who I can safely say would suit you admirably. I enclose his name and address [Mario Marco, 19 Upper Woburn Place, Holborn, WC] and he will be pleased to give an audition if you write him. (29 May 1913)The Irish tenor John McCormack made a brief appearance on their lists and left just one letter in the archive directed personally to 'Dear John' from Dublin:
Thanks so much for both cheques. The weather here is rotten and we all have colds so you can imagine we are in damn bad humour. 3 August 1912)There is also only one letter from the famous Russian bass Feodor Chaliapin, who was obliged to:
regret I cannot accept your offer of concerts in Liverpool as per your letter of July 1st. I am engaged during the entire winter from September to March. (3 July 1913)The Dutch bass-baritone Anton van Rooy had dealings with the agency. He too was part of that glorious operatic year 1910, when he sang Wotan in what transpired to be 74Richter's last German Opera Season at Covent Garden in April. His letters, like those of Edyth Walker, concern the 1913 Leeds Festival.