t h e   r o s a   t r o u p e

Selina Dolaro

Selina Dolaro Selina Dolaro is largely forgotten now but she has her place in company history as she was the first of many Rosa Carmens and probably the first internationally to sing it in English. The illustration shows her in the role. ‘Dolly’, as she was familiarly known, was born Selina Simmonds in London on 20 August 1849, the daughter of theatrical musical director Benjamin Simmonds. She studied at the Paris Conservatoire and began her theatrical career in opera-bouffe with with Herve’s Chilperic at the London Lyceum in 1870. Offenbach followed with the title role in the phenomenally successful Genevieve de Brabant at the Philharmonic Theatre Islington two years later. By 1875 she had moved into management  presenting herself in La Perichole and also assisted in the production of the premiere of Gilbert and Sullivan’s Trial By Jury although she did not take part in the performance. Her career continued in a similar vein but in 1878 there was a change of direction when Carl Rosa engaged her for Carmen, the first British performance in English, during his next London season.

The first performance at Her Majesty’s Theatre on 5 February 1879 was only a few months after Mapleson’s Italian-language premiere in the same theatre featuring the famous American soprano Minnie Hauk as Carmen. There were concerns that Dolaro would be overshadowed by her predecessor and that with her opera-bouffe pedigree she might unwittingly burlesque the role. These fears concerns proved groundless. She had been coached by Alberto Randegger, the conductor of the Rosa premiere, and her acting and singing were well received.  There was some criticism that she could sometimes be vocally weak but this may have been due to an unfamiliar theatre acoustic as it improved in subsequent performances. In any event Rosa was satisfied and she repeated the role in the London season a year later. Dolaro made thirty appearances in Carmen in two London seasons and added four appearances as Frederick in Mignon in the second season. She never toured with Rosa in the provinces.

Dolaro sang a few performances for Mapleson in New York in the autumn of 1879 but after her second Rosa season the following year there were no more Carmens. She subsequently appeared on both sides of the Atlantic but her health began to decline as she struggled with tuberculosis. Her last stage appearance was in America about 1886. She died in New York on 23 January 1889 and is buried at the Beth Olam Cemetery, Ridgewood, Queens.

© John Ward 2016

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