Beginnings at His Majesty's Theatre
Lumley's father was a clothes-dealer who had made his original fortune in Canada. The young Benjamin Levy was a pupil at King Edward's School, Birmingham.
Lumley trained as a solicitor, and then studied for the Bar under Basil Montagu. In this capacity he gave legal advice to the financially troubled manager of what was then His Majesty's Theatre, Pierre Laporte, who came to rely on him extensively. As Lumley had become familiar with making managerial decisions for the theatre, when Laporte died in 1841 the board of the opera company, consisting mainly of wealthy noblemen, asked him to take over.
Lumley had already written a standard handbook on Parliamentary private bills and was launched on a promising legal career. But his memoirs clearly indicate his pleasure in mixing in high society and making a name for himself. Management of the now renamed (after the accession of Queen Victoria) Her Majesty's Theatre gave him an opportunity of close relationship with stars of the opera and ballet, to give and to be invited to ostentatious parties, and to bring high-quality Italian opera to Victorian London.
The conductor at Her Majesty's was Michael Costa. By their different natures – one a devotee of high musical standards, the other a connoisseur of the star system, Lumley and Costa should have made a perfect team. And indeed they were so for the first five years, one of the longer surviving partnerships of the age. Artistic progress – induced by Lumley, against the inclinations of the more conservatively inclined Costa – included the introduction of operas by Giuseppe Verdi to London, and new singing and dancing stars to replace the fading 'old guard', negotiations with Felix Mendelssohn for an opera on William Shakespeare's play The Tempest – and, in 1847, the London debut of Jenny Lind. The resulting financial success led the optimistic Lumley to purchase the underlying lease of the theatre.
One of the sensations of Lumley's management was the balletic 'Pas de Quatre', choreographed by Perrot, and with music by Pugni, in 1845. This divertissement, which featured as dancers Marie Taglioni, Carlotta Grisi, Cerrito and Grahn, may have been inspired by Lumley seeing four girls dancing outside the theatre. The 'Pas de Quatre' became an institution and is frequently revived.