t h e   r o s a   t r o u p e

Thomas Henry Friend

T H Friend

Thomas Henry Friend, born in the Paddington area of London about 1837, was the son of Henry and Sophia Friend. His father and older brother were both printers. The family valued education as the 1851 census shows Thomas still at school in his fourteenth year. They may not have been particularly musical but in the early 1860s he was a member of the Pyne and Harrison Opera Company describing himself as ‘comedian’ in the 1861 census.This description probably stemmed from his work in minor roles and burlesques. He was busy as both performer and manager appearing at Cremorne Gardens, the Astley and Surrey Theatres, and from the 1870s he was associated with opera at both Crystal and Alexandra Palaces and made his first acquaintance with the Rosa company.

Friend was introduced to the Rosa as performer and stage manager in 1874. He made only seven appearances in two minor roles in the autumn of that year and continued in management until December. He returned in the 1877-78 season as stage manager; then departed and in 1882 challenged Rosa supremacy as director of the Royal English Opera Company, a rival company consisting largely of former Rosa singers. They toured successfully for a time and appeared at Covent Garden, but Friend resigned in 1884 and the company closed two years later.

Friend promptly returned to the Rosa management. The sudden death of Carl Rosa in 1889 and the departure of Augustus Harris a few years later propelled him to Managing Director with a major financial interest in the company. This ended when he left amidst the financial problems of the late 1890s but he rejoined when the Van Noordens resolved the problems by purchasing the company at the turn of the century. He was involved with the two Royal Command performances before Queen Victoria at Balmoral in the 1890s and in Rosa productions generally being mainly responsible for Hansel and Gretel (Humperdinck), Damnation of Faust (Berlioz) and Martyr of Antioch (Sullivan). The Berlioz and Sullivan works were especially challenging as they were not originally written for the stage. He said farewell during the Van Noorden era with a production of André Chenier (Giordano) in 1903. He did not leave opera as there was another production of Hansel and Gretel for the Turner company in 1904 followed by management of several operatic troupes over the next few years. The date of death has not been determined but in the 1911 census he was very much alive and described himself as a ‘Theatrical Manager’.

T.H. Friend, as he was usually known, was a man with many recollections of the operatic world and especially of the Rosa. Unfortunately he left no memoirs and in their absence the Trust would welcome information and any material relating to the industrious Mr Friend.

© 2020 John Ward

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