t h e   r o s a   t r o u p e

Harriet and Aynsley Cook

Aynsley CookHarriet and Aynsley were important artists in the formative years of the company. Thomas Aynsley Cook – to give him his rarely used full name – and his wife Harriet were both born in London about 1832. Harriet was from a celebrated theatrical family of pantomimists, the Paynes. Her brother Fred was a famous Harlequin and she was a mezzo soprano who could also act and was conversant with dance. Aynsley on the other hand was the son of a silversmith. The family were not theatrical but Aynsley together with brother and sister Furneaux and Alice were able to pursue stage careers. Aynsley made his name as a boy soprano who was eventually sent to study in Germany where his soprano developed into a resonant bass. He made his operatic debut in Bavaria singing there for five years before returning to England.

Harriet CookAynsley was back in England by 1856 and joined the opera company headed by the soprano Lucy Escot; he may have met Harriet there as she appeared with them in early 1858. They married at this time and later in the year crossed the Atlantic with the company. The initial New York engagement failed but the singers soldiered on with varying fortunes until early 1861 when the Escotts sailed to Australia and the Cooks returned home. They had three seasons (1862 – 1864) with the Pyne and Harrison Royal English Opera Company and a further two (1865 – 1866) with their successors English Opera Limited. They subsequently sang under various banners until they were recruited by the Rosas for their second American season.

The Cooks made their Rosa debuts in Daughter of the Regiment on 2 October 1871 at the New York Academy of Music with Aynsley as Sulpice, Harriet as the Marchioness and Parepa as Marie. They came home when the tour closed in April 1872 and rejoined the Rosas for their first British tour in the following year. The death of Parepa brought the company to a temporary halt but they remained loyal to Carl and were with him for the next four seasons. They left in 1878 and managed the iconic pub Jack Straw’s Castle on Hampstead Heath for a time. Aynsley also sang with other companies but sadly lost Harriet who died suddenly in 1880. This must have been a difficult time but he finally returned to the Rosa fold in 1885 and remained with them for the next decade.

Santley as ZampaWhat did they do during their Rosa years? Harriet was somewhat overshadowed by her husband but she made a significant contribution with eighteen roles in about 510 performances over six seasons and also served as ballet mistress for two of them. Perhaps her most memorable role was in Zampa when as the motionless statue she springs to life and confronts the sneering Zampa – frequently Charles Santley (illustrated). It certainly thrilled audiences. Her Rosa farewell was as Buda in Bohemian Girl at the Royal Alexandra Theatre, Liverpool, on 23 May 1878 with Aynsley as Devilshoof and Carl Rosa at the rostrum.

Aynsley’s record included three world premieres (Pauline, Nordisa, Golden Web), four British premieres (Village Doctor, Porter of Havre, Giralda, Golden Cross), three British English-language premieres (Joconde, Merry Wives of Windsor, Star of the North). There was also the probable American premiere of Cherubini’s Water Carrier with Parepa at Boston in 1872. Devilshoof in Bohemian Girl was his most famous role. He sang it about 430 times with the Rosa. His repertoire added up to some sixty roles in just over 2000 performances in fifteen seasons. This is believed to statistically surpass all other Rosa artists.

His last performance was as Father Tom in Lily of Killarney at the Royal Court Theatre, Liverpool, on 3 February 1894. He became gravely ill and died on the 16 February of disorders stemming from a severe attack of jaundice. Four days later grieving colleagues attended the funeral service at Saint Peter’s church and thousands witnessed the interment in Anfield Cemetery. The day ended at the Royal Court with Claude Jaquinot conducting Chopin’s Funeral March after a performance of Maritana.

Aynsley Cook autographRosa associations continued after Aynsley’s death. His daughters, Annie and Katie, had sometimes appeared in minor roles and Annie eventually married the younger Eugene Goossens, who followed his father as Rosa conductor. They raised a musical family akin to a Cook-Goossens dynasty.

The last illustration is a page from an 1877 scrapbook from the Royal Amphitheatre the predecessor of the Royal Court Theatre. Both Cooks have signed together with colleagues Lucy Franklein, Arthur Howell, and Charles Lyall as the artist who drew the sketches of Aynsley. The tambourine figure depicts him in his celebrated dance as Devilshoof, the crawling man is probably Danny Mann, and the happy drinker appears to be Plunkett from Martha. The remaining rustic type has not been identified. The Trust wish to thank David Stoker, Liverpool Central Library Manager, for permission to reproduce this extract from the scrapbook.

© 2020 John Ward

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