Paton, Mary Ann (DNB00)

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Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 44
Paton, Mary Ann

by Lydia Miller Middleton
Married name corrected to Wood in later editions.

PATON, MARY ANN, afterwards Mrs. Woods (1802–1864), vocalist, the eldest daughter of George Paton, a writing-master at Edinburgh and an amateur player on the violin, was born in Edinburgh in October 1802. Her mother, a Miss Crawford of Cameron Bank, was a beautiful woman and a lover of music, and her grandmother, Ann Nicoll, had enjoyed the distinction of playing the violin before the Duke of Cumberland when on his way to Culloden. Mary Ann Paton and her sisters received a good musical training, but the statement that Mary Ann composed songs for publication at the age of five may be doubted. At eight, however, she appeared at public concerts as a singer, performer on the harp and pianoforte (Viotti's concerto in G), and recited Collins's ‘Ode to the Passions’ and ‘Alexander's Feast.’ The family settled in London in 1811, and Miss Paton was heard there at the Nobility and some private concerts; but it was soon decided that her health rendered a temporary retirement from public life desirable. After an interval of six years, during which Samuel Webbe, jun., gave her lessons on the harp and pianoforte, she began her career as a vocalist. In 1820 she appeared at Bath, and in 1821 at Huntingdon.

In 1822 she joined the Haymarket company, and on 3 Aug. essayed the character and music of Susanna in the ‘Marriage of Figaro.’ This rather exacting part she performed to the satisfaction of critics, and she afterwards filled the rôles of the Countess in the same opera, of Rosina in the ‘Barber of Seville,’ of Lydia in ‘Morning, Noon, and Night,’ and of Polly in the ‘Beggar's Opera.’ Miss Paton afterwards distinguished herself at Covent Garden as Mandane in ‘Artaxerxes,’ Rosetta in ‘Love in a Village,’ Adriana in the ‘Comedy of Errors,’ and Clara in the ‘Duenna.’ The critics of the day warned her against exaggerated ornamentation, but her success was undoubted. A thoughtful article written in 1823 says: ‘She was gifted with extraordinary powers, not only as relates to the physical organ, but with an enthusiasm, an intellectual vigour of no common kind. … Not yet twenty-one, yet her technical attainments, we are disposed to think, are nearly as great as those of any other vocalist in this country, with the slight reservations and allowances we shall make as we proceed. She is beautiful in her person and features … above the middle height, slender, and delicately formed; her dark hair and eyes give animation and contrast to a clear complexion, and sensibility illuminates every change of sentiment that she has to express. … Her compass is A to D or E, eighteen or nineteen notes.’ At that time her voice was not evenly produced. Her execution was facile, ‘no difficulties appal or embarrass her. Even in Rossini's most rapid passages she multiplies the notes in a way few mature singers would attempt.’ A plate is given to show her embellishments in Rossini's ‘Tu che accendi.’ ‘Her manner, exuberantly florid, is the fault of her age, and in some sort, of her attainment. … She imitates Catalani …’

Miss Paton's father had insisted on her breaking off an engagement with a young medical man named Blood, who went upon the stage for a short time under the name of Davis. Afterwards she became on 7 May 1824 the wife of Lord William Pitt Lennox [q. v.], but from him she freed herself by divorce in the Scottish courts in 1831. In the same year she married Joseph Woods, a tenor singer.

Her reputation as a dramatic singer was greatly enhanced when, in 1824, she took the part of Agatha in ‘Der Freischütz.’ A still greater triumph was her impersonation of Rezia in ‘Oberon,’ of which Weber conducted the sixteen rehearsals, besides the performance on 12 April 1826, two months before his death. ‘She was created for the part;’ ‘her enthusiasm for the music was great,’ he wrote; ‘she sang exquisitely even at the first rehearsal.’ The ‘Harmonicon’ declared that Miss Paton never sang with more ability and effect. From that time Miss Paton was considered at the head of her profession. She was not excelled by any contemporary in her mastery of the art of singing.

In 1831 she was engaged at the King's Theatre, where she sang in ‘La Cenerentola’ and other Italian operas. Returning to Drury Lane, she took the part in 1832 of Alice in ‘Robert le Diable.’ She then went to reside at Woolley Moor, Yorkshire, with her husband. In 1840 they visited America for the first time. After their return Mrs. Wood retired to a convent for a year, but she reappeared at the Princess's Theatre and at concerts, in which her husband was also engaged. They finally settled at Bulcliffe Hall, near Chapelthorpe, and it was there that Mrs. Wood died, on 21 July 1864, aged 62. She left a son, born in 1838.

Her sisters were singers. Isabella made her début at Miss Paton's benefit at Covent Garden, 1824, as Letitia Hardy. Eliza sang at the Haymarket in 1833.

[Burke's Landed Gentry, 1894 (Wood of Woolley Moor); Grove's Dict. ii. 672, iv. 745; Parke's Memoirs, ii. 203; Oxberry's Dramatic Biography, v. 19; Harmonicon, 1823, passim; Quarterly Musical Mag. v. 191; Weber's Life; Busby's Anecdotes, i. 46; Musical Recollections of the last Half Century, i. 68, 133; Aus Moscheles Leben, i. 120, 211; Clayton's Queens of Song, vol. ii.]

L. M. M.