t h e   r o s a   t r o u p e

Charles Lyall

Lyall Little is known of Charles Lyall’s early life but he was born in London about 1834 and in the 1851 census the family was living in Covent Garden with Charles listed as ‘Bankers clerk’. He abandoned the bank three years later for the Australian goldrush; he found no gold but acquired a reputation as an artist whose sketches of life on board ship and the goldfields of Victoria merited preservation in state archives. There was also a more surprising rise to tenor soloist opposite celebrity sopranos Catherine Hayes and Anna Bishop in both Australia and New Zealand. Both developments suggest some artistic and musical education but where and by whom have not been determined. He returned to London in 1858 to pursue his new career in his homeland.

Charles appeared in concert and oratorio but the stage including pantomime, burlesque and opera was his natural home and he appeared with a succession of companies over the next decade. This included five seasons in English opera with the important Pyne and Harrison company and where he had Madame Parepa, the future wife of Carl Rosa, as a colleague. Italian opera brought him to America in 1871 and enabled him to sing at the Parepa-Rosa farewell performance at the New York Academy of Music on 30 April 1872. It was a gala occasion with star singers in operatic extracts. Lyall sang Florestein in The Bohemian Girl excerpt with Parepa, Santley and Carl as conductor. The Rosas sailed for Europe on the following day after what would prove to be their final American performance. This solitary Rosa performance served as his introduction to the Rosa but his real debut came three years later when Carl was striving to revive the company after the death of Parepa.

Rosa by Lyall

Sketch of Carl Rosa by Charles Lyall

The 1875 season began in London on 11 September with Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro at the Princess Theatre with Santley heading a stellar cast and Lyall as a deliciously comic Basilio. Success in both London and the provinces enhanced the Rosa reputation and Lyall would remain with them to take part in three British premières (Porter of Havre (Cagnoni), Giralda (Adam), Piccolino (Isouard) and four British English language premières (Merry Wives of Windsor (Nicolai), Carmen (Bizet), Mignon (Thomas), Taming of the Shrew (Goetze). The Merry Wives costumes were also designed by him. He departed in 1882 to join the short-lived Royal English Opera Company but was back with the Rosa by 1885. He finally said farewell to the Rosa and the stage as Laertes in Mignon at Drury Lane on 16 June 1886. His Rosa repertoire consisted of twenty three roles over eight seasons and almost one thousand performances. They were mainly supporting roles but his formidable acting skills made every one memorable. He was one of the great singing actors.

The stage did not part Charles from his sketchbook; he contributed to various journals including the famous Vanity Fair series. His 1877 unpublished sketch of Carl Rosa, from a scrapbook from the Royal Amphitheatre in Liverpool, is signed by both men. The Trust wish to thank Liverpool Central Library for permission to reproduce it.

Lyall died at his London home on 3 May 1911. The funeral took place five days later at Sacred Heart Church in Kilburn where he had directed the choir for many years. Many former Rosa colleagues were present with Santley and Barton McGuckin singing in the choir. He was laid to rest at Kensal Green.

© 2022 John Ward

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