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Blanche ColeBlanche Cole was born at Portsmouth probably in 1848, three years earlier than the frequently quoted date of 1851. Her musical education is also uncertain but she was probably first taught within her own family and may have later studied with Francesco Schira and perhaps even attended the Paris Conservatoire. She first appeared as a child vocalist and by 1868 was appearing in the provinces in concert and English opera. At this time she also married the conductor, Sydney Naylor, who would also appear with the Rosa company. A year later she made her debut at the Crystal Palace and quickly established herself in London. When Carl Rosa recruited her for his first British season in 1873 he was signing a young but experienced soprano who had already achieved a national reputation. It was a shrewd move.  

Cole made her Carl Rosa debut in Maritana in the company’s first British performance at the Theatre Royal Manchester in September 1873. She was a regular for the first two seasons appearing in thirteen operas,  Maritana, Rose of Castile, Fra Diavolo, Satanella, Marriage of Figaro, Faust, Sonnambula, Bohemian Girl, Don Giovanni, Crown Diamonds, Lily of Killarney, Ballo in Maschera, and Dinorah. She was absent for the next two seasons but returned in August 1877 for a very busy season singing over eighty performances and adding Trovatore, Robin Hood and Flying Dutchman to her repertoire. There were only three Rosa appearances in the early 1880s but she returned to the fold in 1886 and intermittently appeared with them over the next two years despite health problems. The last of almost 250 Rosa performances was as Donna Anna in Don Giovanni at The Royal Court Theatre in Liverpool on 1 February 1888. She died of dropsy six months later in late August at her London home. 

Cole could grace the concert platform but when not with the Rosa she was usually with other companies. Although she seemingly never sang in Italian Opera Cole was instinctively a creature of the opera house. She was the most vocally gifted British soprano of her time and her early death, like that of Parepa fourteen years earlier, was a tragedy for English Opera.

© 2017 John Ward

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