The Carl Rosa Opera Company

Samantha PillingHistory

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Karl August Nicolaus Rose was born in Germany, on 22nd March 1842. A child prodigy and impresario, Rose (or Rosa, when he subsequently changed his name), was an important figure in the music industry. He played a huge role in illustrating the artistic and financial success of English opera, at time when it wasn’t considered a major player in the operatic world. Rosa also was a lifelong friend of Arthur Sullivan – plus he came very close to managing one of the early Gilbert and Sullivan operas!

Rosa; child prodigy

As a child, Rosa was a child prodigy, playing the violin from the age of 8 and touring Scotland as a much sought-after violinist from the ages of 12 to 16. By the time he was 17, Rosa was studying at the Conservatorium in Leipzig – where he met Arthur Sullivan – they became lifelong friends.

At the age of 21, Rosa was appointed Konzertmeister (concertmaster) at Hamburg. This gave him the occasional opportunity to conduct. Three years later he appeared as a soloist at Crystal Palace. In 1866 he travelled to America, where he met Euphrosyne Parepa – a Scottish operatic soprano – and they married a year later.

Parepa Rosa English Opera Company

In 1869 Rosa and Chicago Impresario C.D. Hess, formed the Parepa Rosa English Opera Company. Rosa became the conductor and his wife (who was now known as Madame Parepa-Rosa) was the main star. This company gave Rosa the opportunity to bring grand opera to America. The operas were Italian, but performed in English.

Carl Rosa Opera Company

Rosa and his wife returned to England in 1872 and by 1873, they’d started the Carl Rosa Opera Company. W.S. Gilbert approached Rosa, hoping for him to produce a short opera, based on his Babs Ballad Trial by Jury. Gilbert wanted Parepa to play the lead however, due to her death in January of 1873, the product was dropped for two years. It was subsequently taken on by competing manager, Richard D’Oyly Carte, in 1875.

The company continued until 1960, long after Rosa’s death in 1889. As well as endowing a Parepa-Rosa Scholarship to the Royal Academy of Music, Rosa was responsible for introducing many important and new operas to England. The Carl Rosa Opera Company also encouraged many new English Composers and trained many new singers.

One leading figure Rosa wished to work with, was his long-term friend, Sullivan. He longed for Sullivan to undertake grand opera, so he (Rosa) could produce it – but this was a wish he carried to his grave.

Rosa’s funeral was attended by many leading musicians of the time, as well as other influential figures, including D’Oyly Carte.

Interestingly, the Carl Rosa Opera Company was revived in 1997 as a new company, under the direction of Peter Mulloy – and they went on to perform many Gilbert & Sullivan operas!

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