Opera Scotland

Carl Rosa

Karl August Nikolaus Rose.

Born Hamburg, 22 March 1842.

Died Paris, 30 April 1889.

German violinist, conductor and impresario.

Carl Rosa's active career as conductor and manager of his British opera company was relatively brief (1873 to 1889), but its importance for the development of opera in Britain can scarcely be exaggerated.

His talent as a violinist was discovered early, and he toured internationally.  His father took him to stay in Edinburgh at the age of twelve and a half, where he stayed,  giving concerts.  He then trained at the Leipzig and Paris Conservatoires before a period as leader of the Hamburg orchestra.  His first British appearance as an adult was on 25 May 1865, at the Queen's Concert Halls, Hanover Square, London, when one of the other musicians was the singer Euphrosyne Parepa, later to become his wife.  Soon they were asked to join a concert party touring the States.

 They married in New York in 1867, and formed an opera company in which she was prima donna, and he was conductor and manager. The Parepa Rosa opera company toured successfully in the USA for the next three years. In 1871 they travelled to Egypt because of his wife's delicate health.   Parepa died in London in January 1874, not long after having given birth to a still-born child.

The first performance of Carl Rosa Opera was on 1 September 1873, in Manchester, funded by surpluses earned in America.  Rosa steadily developed into one of the great operatic managers, demonstrating that there was a substantial demand in the UK provinces for opera in English.  Productions were noted for attention to detail, to careful preparation and to the strength of choruses.   He performed a judicious mixture of popular favourites and new continental work, also being keen to introduce new British operas, which included Esmeralda (1883), and Nadeshda (1885), both by Goring Thomas, Canterbury Pilgrims (Stanford 1884), Colomba and Troubador by Aleander Mackenzie and Nordisa (Corder 1887).   The business was floated on the stock exchange in 1887.  By the time of his unexpected death, Rosa had set in train plans for the Carl Rosa Light Opera.  Following his death, the Carl Rosa Carmen company was formed and toured.

One obituary gives a physical description. "With his unruly shock of light hair, blue eyes, and  artistic temperament, Carl Rosa left such a lasting impression on the minds of his friends - he had such a strong and so earnest a personality that his personality would be long cherished in our memories." (Penny Illustrated, May 11 1889). The colourised picture below is taken from a series of cigarette cards of 'Musical Celebrities' by Wills Cigarettes, dating from 1912-14, and based on a commonly-used photograph.  Was this colouring quite authentic?

Revised 31 March 2013.

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