Lucy Chambers, A Pyrmont Diva (1834 – 1894)
In October 1893 the Sydney Mail reported: ‘Last Melbourne Town Hall appearance of Madame Lucy Chambers’, and reminisced that ‘a few fathers and mothers remembered her as a girl of 16 in Sydney, her native city; even at that age, her fine contralto voice and power of dramatic expression used to bring crowds to the windows of her friends’ houses when she sang.’ Those friends were the neighbours of the Chambers household in Pyrmont.
The family of Charles and Lucinda Chambers rented premises in Pyrmont from 1845 to 1854, first in Union Street and later on the eastern side of Pyrmont Street. Charles, an Irish solicitor, arrived in Sydney in 1822 and set up private practice. In 1842 he was appointed Sydney’s first Town Clerk, and in 1851 a magistrate.
Lucy was the Chambers’ youngest child, born in 1834. She took singing lessons with Maria Logan, the organist at St Andrew’s, who had established her Sydney music academy in 1842. Mrs Logan discovered the unique contralto qualities of Lucy’s voice. Further encouragement came from the “Hibernian Prima Donna”, Catherine Hayes, who toured Australia in 1854; she recommended that Lucy sail to Europe for further training. This she did in 1861.
Italian newspapers reported glowingly on the 1864 debut of ‘La Chambers, the Australian Nightingale’, in Verdi’s Il Trovatore at Florence’s Teatro Pagliano. The highlight of her European career was her appearance in 1865 at La Scala, where she was engaged as prima donna contralto assoluta for two seasons, singing in Il Trovatore, Un Ballo in Maschera, and Faust. She also sang as principal contralto in Berlin, Hamburg, Spain, Portugal, and in Brussels.
In 1870 she returned to Australia where she continued her career in opera and as a music teacher. In Melbourne, the future Dame Nellie Melba was one of her pupils.
The 1893 Melbourne concert referred to by the Sydney Mail was a return by Madama Chambers to the concert stage after a retirement of 20 years. At the conclusion of her performance, bearers of floral gifts rushed from every direction until the stage became one mass of flowers piled round the singer. The event was acclaimed as epochal in the history of music in Australia.
Lucy died suddenly during a music class the following year.