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Cora Stuart, Georgina Burns and Leslie Crotty

Cora Stuart

Cora Stuart, Georgina Burns, and Leslie Crotty were Rosa artists and also family: the ladies, both sopranos, were sisters and Crotty was married to Georgina. Cora was really Caroline Burns and both sisters were born in the Paddington area of London. Birth dates of prima donnas are frequently difficult to determine but Caroline was probably born in March 1857 and Georgina about August 1859. Their musical education cannot be readily charted but it may have developed within church choirs as their grandfather the Reverend Jabez Burns was a prominent nonconformist divine. They eventually attracted the attention of Carl Rosa. Caroline accepted an engagement for his first London season, took Cora Stuart as her stage name and used it throughout her career.

Cora made her first stage appearance in Maritana at an Alexandra Palace matinee on 18 September 1875 and added Martha and Bohemian Girl at five more Palace matinees. There was also one appearance at the Princess’s Theatre as Leonora in a Trovatore extract. Her second London season of nine performances at Alexandra Palace and the Lyceum was similar to the first with the addition of Donna Anna in Don Giovanni. The third season introduced her to the provinces and on the 10 October 1877, at Her Majesty’s Theatre Aberdeen, she created the role of Ann Page in the British English-language premiere of Nicolai’s Merry Wives of Windsor. She also sang the Countess in Mozart’s Figaro and added Lily of Killarney and Satanella to her repertoire. Her last Rosa performance was as Diana in Crown Diamonds at the Liverpool Amphitheatre on 3 January 1878 leaving a legacy of fifty-seven appearances in nine roles in three seasons. The illustration dates from 1883. A long career followed embracing music theatre, comedy, pantomime, and some years in America. She retired to the city of Bath in the 1930s and died at Sheringham, Norfolk, on 6 January 1940. Brief wartime obituaries described her as ‘One of the last remaining links with the Victorian theatre’. She was.
Leslie Crotty

Frederick Leslie Crotty, born in Galway town about 1853, was the son of a clergyman and church choirs may also have been a musical influence. He later sang as an amateur baritone whilst working in Dublin, studied locally under Alessandro Cellini, and after assisting at a Rosa concert in 1875 pursued advanced study under Teodulo Mabellini in Florence. He made his Rosa debut at Dublin’s Gaiety Theatre as Arnheim in Bohemian Girl on 14 August 1877, followed with a few local performances, and then departed presumably for further study. Georgina arrived four months later and made her debut as Ann Chute in Benedict’s Lily of Killarney at the Theatre Royal, Nottingham, on 6 December 1877. They became colleagues during the following season and sang together for the first time again in Benedict’s opera at the Theatre Royal Bristol on 3 September 1878. Both illustrations date from this time.
Georgina Burns

Their careers and personal relationship blossomed; they married in 1882 and remained with the company for the next decade. They each acquired a repertoire of over thirty operas including world premieres. Crotty appeared in Nadeshda, Troubador, Thorgrim, and Burns in Nordisa. Both took part in the Esmeralda premiere with Burns creating the title role and Crotty as the hunchback Quasimodo. They achieved over 3,200 Rosa performances before they departed in 1892 to form their own company.

The Burns-Crotty Opera Company had a brief trial run in the summer of 1891 followed by an 1892 tour featuring an English version of Rossini’s Cinderella. The illustration is a note from Georgina dated 17 November 1893 requesting seats for some friends.

Burns autographThe bold signature on a company envelope suggests that all was well but there were problems. The venture had begun well but if failed by 1895 with heavy financial loss. This may have been due to a lack of business acumen but Georgina’s uncertain health may have contributed. She had been unwell for a lengthy period during the last 1892 Rosa season and her continuing health problems were eventually attributed to ataxia, an incurable malady involving muscular coordination and affecting speech and movement. The impecunious Crottys went their separate ways from about 1896 with an alcoholic Leslie settling in Newcastle as a music teacher. He died there on 18 April 1903 and was buried at Saint Andrew’s Cemetery three days later. There were public appeals on Georgina’s behalf and she managed to sing at a few concerts but she was never able to resume her career and remained in poor circumstances. Her health continued to deteriorate and she entered the British Home for Incurables at Streatham in 1914 and died there in 1932.

The vocal achievements of Georgina and Leslie during their Rosa years have now been largely forgotten but James Joyce in his story The Dead described her as ‘Poor Georgina Burns’. Indeed she was and perhaps Leslie Crotty merited a similar description.

© 2017 John Ward

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