The research into the origins and story of the extended Simonsen family is encyclopaedic. The bibliography, appendices, discography, content index and hundreds of footnotes are exhaustive, while the family tree is kaleidoscopic. A fascinating aspect for today’s arts adventurer is the continent-spanning, years-long concert tours undertaken by virtuoso violinist Martin Simonsen and his astounding diva wife Fanny (née Françoise) throughout the mid-to late-1800s.

The Simonsens of St Kilda by Roger Neil

Their granddaughter, lyric soprano Frances Alda, wrote in her 1937 memoir: “They went in sailing vessels to South America. They crossed the mountains in mule carts heaped with scenery, costume trunks, and musical instruments . . . Grandmother . . . had a baby in each one of half a dozen cities.”

The same could be said – including babies – of North America, Australia, the Far East (Southeast Asia) and New Zealand. Fanny’s first daughter Leonore – Frances Alda’s mother – was born in Montevideo in 1859, days after 24-year-old Fanny sang in its Teatro Solís. It’s clear that performing while pregnant didn’t deter her. Her second daughter was born in Jamaica at the end of a South...