t h e   r o s a   t r o u p e

Thomas Henry Friend

T H Friend

Thomas Henry Friend, born Thomas Hays in the Paddington area of London about 1837, was the son of baker William Hays and his wife Sarah. The 1851 census shows Thomas still at school in his fourteenth year but by 1860 he was a member of the Pyne and Harrison Opera Company with Friend as a stage name and describing himself as a ‘comedian’ in the 1861 census. This description probably stemmed from his work in humorous minor roles. 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.

He 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 he resigned in 1884 amidst bankruptcy, 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 rejoined when the Van Noordens purchased 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. He was still active in 1911 describing himself in the census of that year as a ‘Theatrical Manager’. He lived, despite declining health to be almost ninety, dying at Newington Green London on 29 March 1926.

The Rosa Trust apologise for confusing Mr Friend’s identity in our previous website note. We did ask for additional information and wish to thank Iain Fraser of Opera Scotland and researcher Marion Wood who happily came to our rescue and revealed his true identity. The Trust are still curious about Mr Friend – or Mr Hays – and would welcome additional material.

© 2020 John Ward

If you use the information on this page, please acknowledge the Carl Rosa Trust: www.carlrosatrust.org.uk