Fenton, Lavinia


She was born in London, her real name being Beswick, and she has interest for the present generation chiefly because of her connection with the ever-famous Beggar's Opera, the first light opera that was ever given in the United States. Lavinia Fenton first appeared at the Haymarket Theatre, London, in 1726 as Monimia in Otway's Orphan and afterwards at Lincoln's Inn Fields Theatre as Lucilla in The Man's the Master. She had learned to sing at an early age with charming expression and is credited with having practically made the success of the Beggar's Opera, which was performed for the first time in the United States in 1750 by a company of English actors, after a long engagement in London. It was a musical hodge-podge, which achieved a success unparalleled in the records of the operatic stage, and is said to have driven even the great Handel from the field of Italian Opera, revolutionizing the popular taste of England and holding the boards for more than a century. In it Miss Fenton played the part of Polly Peachum, the prima donna role, and immediately became the rage. Her pictures were for sale everywhere, many biographies of her were written, she had her portrait painted by the great Hogarth, letters and verses were addressed to her and she was the toast of every banquet. She was not a beauty and her voice was not strong, but very sweet and clear. She had, however, cleverness, wit and amiability, and these qualities contributed to her popularity. Gay, the composer of the Beggar's   Opera, wrote to Swift that he was in doubt whether her fame did not surpass that of the opera. Lavinia Fenton eventually eloped with the Duke of Bolton, whose protegee she had been. In 1751, the Duke's wife having died, he made the actress his wife, and three years later she was left a widow.