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Story: Vitelli, Annie

Page 1: Biography

Vitelli, Annie


Singer, entertainer

This biography, written by Robert H. B. Hoskins, was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography in 1990. It was updated in April, 2014.

Ann Day was baptised on 7 May 1837 in London, England. She was the daughter of Francis John Day, a merchant, and his wife, Margaret Tilley.

On 4 July 1855, while she was a student at Melbourne Mechanics' Institute, Ann Day married her singing teacher, Giovanni Whittle Vitelli, who claimed to have been choirmaster at St George's Chapel, Windsor, England. The couple had a child who died in infancy. After her husband's death on 20 April 1859 Annie Vitelli, as she was now known, embarked on a career singing for various theatres in Bendigo. While performing at the Shamrock Hotel she met Charles Robert Thatcher, a singer, entertainer and songwriter, whom she married on 8 February 1861 at St James' Church, Newtown, Geelong, Victoria.

For the next decade the couple earned a precarious living as itinerant songsters. They travelled around all the principal goldfields of Victoria, and also undertook three complete tours of New Zealand from March 1862 to August 1863; from December 1863 to November 1865; and from June 1869 to May 1870. During the last tour Annie Vitelli returned to Melbourne to see her parents between August 1869 and March 1870. 'Madame Vitelli' (as she was still known on the stage) and 'The Inimitable Thatcher' appeared frequently in Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch, Dunedin and Napier, and also performed to all-male audiences in public houses around the Otago and West Coast goldfields. Their success on stage was largely dependent on the element of contrast: Charles Thatcher performed topical, satirical songs, while Annie Vitelli sang popular, sentimental ballads, sometimes accompanied by her husband on the flute. Together they performed a duet of Thatcher's composition, 'The Colonial Servant Girl'.

As well as singing, Annie Vitelli acted as conciliator between Thatcher and the targets of his satire, and as prompt when he was too drunk to sing. She interrupted tours only twice, to give birth to her two daughters: one in Christchurch on 28 July 1862, and the other in Wellington on 5 September 1864. The travelling life was by no means carefree, as she told the Reverend George S. Harper in August 1865: 'No one knows…the wretchedness I am in. I have to dress and sing as if I were one of the merriest beings in the world, and all the time I am on that stage I have a sad unhappy heart.'

Nevertheless the public received her visits warmly. Indeed she was as well known and probably as popular an entertainer at that time as her husband; she was billed on most advertisements and gave an equal number of benefit performances. She was praised fulsomely in the press and her mezzo-soprano voice was described as 'full' and 'rich'. Although her repertoire included popular airs from romantic opera, she was most admired for her expressive singing of simple, lyrical ballads. Her special song was 'The Mocking Bird', which was repeatedly requested.

The Thatcher family departed for England in 1870. On arrival they settled in London, and Charles Thatcher began collecting and selling curios and antiques from Europe and Asia. He died in Shanghai, China, on 17 September 1878. By this time, Annie had been back in Australia for some years. She first appeared under the name Lydia Howarde in Sydney in an 1871 Christmas pantomime. Until 1882 she toured Australia and New Zealand with her own theatrical and burlesque troupe. After retiring from the stage, she taught singing, first in Sydney, and later, as 'Mrs Charles Thatcher', in Melbourne. She died at Moonee Ponds, Melbourne, on 18 June 1917, survived by three daughters.

How to cite this page:

Robert H. B. Hoskins. 'Vitelli, Annie', Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, first published in 1990, updated April, 2014. Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, https://teara.govt.nz/en/biographies/1v3/vitelli-annie (accessed 25 June 2024)