t h e   r o s a   t r o u p e

JOSEPH MAAS

Joseph Maas

The tenor Joseph Maas was born at Dartford, Kent, on 30 January 1847,  and probably received his first vocal tuition from his father who was a singer. He had further training as a chorister in Rochester Cathedral Choir from 1856 and later studied for a time with Louisa Pyne. When his voice broke he left the choir, worked for a time, and in 1869 went to Milan to study under Antonio Sangiovanni. He came home two years later and eventually made his stage debut in the spectacular fantasy Babil and Bijou at Covent Garden in September 1872. A year later, after operatic  ppearances at the Crystal Palace, he crossed the Atlantic to join the Clara Kellogg English Opera Company. He remained with them for four successful seasons before returning to Britain to join the Carl Rosa Company.

Maas made his Rosa debut at London’s Adelphi Theatre on 2 March 1878 in the British premiere of The Golden Cross (Brull). More British first performances followed with Rienzi (Wagner) and the English-language premieres of Mignon (Thomas) and Aida (Verdi). He was also in the first London performance of Massenet’s Manon. His Rosa repertoire also included Faust, Bohemian Girl, Maritana, Trovatore, Huguenots, Lucia di Lammermoor, Stradella, and Martha. He took part in just over 300 performances in five seasons with the Rosa. His last performance with them was as des Grieux in Manon at Drury Lane on 28 May 1885. The illustration shows him in the role.

The last Rosa performance proved to be his final operatic appearance. At the end of December after a concert in Nottingham he caught a cold which developed into rheumatic fever and he died on 16 January 1886 just a few days short of his thirty-ninth birthday. He was buried four days later at Hampstead cemetery amidst tributes to his memory, and shock and sadness at a career so tragically cut short.

Maas, one of the greatest Rosa tenors, had also sang in Italian Opera at both Her Majesty’s and Covent Garden, was a concert favourite and frequently appeared in oratorio at the major music festivals. He was on the verge of international recognition with engagements in Paris and Brussels. The gravestone inscription describes him as ‘A great singer’. He was. But how much greater might he have been?

© 2017 John Ward

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