The Carl Rosa Opera Company is arguably the most influential opera company ever to have existed in the UK. This is in part because of its long life and in part because of the large number of perfomances given each season across the country.
This touring company operated from 1874 to 1960 passing through various financial difficulties, including being insolvent at least twice. But its record of taking opera in English to new audiences, using a blend of well known stars and young singers, was unmatched, and they were responsible for many UK and Scottish opera premieres. In addition, they had a policy of offering tickets (certainly the majority) at 'popular prices'.
The Carl Rosa Opera Company toured throughout the UK, even mounting regular London seasons. Of particular interest to Opera Scotland is that it made an important contribution north of the border. Opera Scotland has compiled listings of over 2500 main stage performances of opera by Carl Rosa Opera in Scotland.
Carl Rosa and his wife, the Edinburgh-born soprano Euphrosyne Parepa, learned how to operate an opera company (the Parepa-Rosa Opera company) during their time in the States. They developed the ambition of starting an English-language opera company in the UK, and made enough money to finance their plans. They launched the first season in Manchester in 1873, using the name the Carl Rosa Opera company. Sadly Parepa soon died following a still birth, and before long Rosa drove himself on to build the business in accordance with their plans.
Soon the business grew, and was incorporated in 1887. Two other brand names soon appeared. One was the Carl Rosa Carmen Opera company (seemingly a vehicle for Marie Roze, a star of the day and who was soon to retire) and which may have been a joint venture. The other was the Carl Rosa Light Opera Company, performing specially commissioned works (Paul Jones then Marjorie), and which seems to have been a joint venture. In consequence the rump of the business was occasionally labelled the Carl Rosa Grand Opera company in programmes and advertisements. Following a command performance at Balmoral of Fra Diavolo, Queen Victoria conferred the titles 'Royal' and 'Her Majesty's Servants' on the Carl Rosa Opera Company in January 1893. Hence the names appear for some years as the Royal Carl Rosa Opera on advertisements and programmes, though not always in reviews.
The company became insolvent in 1898, and then in the 1920s, but was again reconstructed, the brand name continuing to prove powerful.
By the time of the organisation's Diamond Jubilee, management claimed Carl Rosa Opera had by then logged over 35m attendances, and quoted 1917 as a year when "over three-quarters of a million paid for admission". Consider how this compares today with our subsidised companies!
After 1945, it became increasingly clear that subsidy would be needed to finance touring opera; the standards of the company were falling, and the repertory repetitive. After a period of increasingly public dispute in the 1950s, the Arts Council took the decision to subsidise Sadler's Wells tours, and Carl Rosa Opera gave its last perfomance, in London in 1960.
The impresario Peter Mulloy revived the brand in 1998 and his Carl Rosa company performs operetta, principally Gilbert and Sullivan, bringing the conventions of opera afresh to a new generation at home and abroad. They have an informative website www.carlrosaopera.co.uk.
To see a list of the operas performed by Carl Rosa Opera from 1874-1899 and the date of its first performance, click through the link below. Note that a single star denotes a Scottish premiere and a double star a UK premiere.
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