t h e   r o s a   t r o u p e

Franco Novara

Franco Novara

Franco Novara, actually W. Francis Naish, was born in Wiltshire probably in the 1840s. He became a chorister at Salisbury Cathedral and by the 1860s matured into a teacher of music, church organist, and choirmaster with vocal ambitions. He received advanced vocal training in Naples in the 1870s, took Novara as a stage name, and for the remainder of the decade sang bass roles in Italian and other continental venues. The impresario J.H. Mapleson then introduced him to both New York and London. He made his American debut in La Favorita at the Academy of Music on 12 October 1880 and his London debut in Aida at Her Majesty’s Theatre on 12 May 1881. His Rosa debut followed in 1883. 

The London 1883 spring season at Drury Lane ran for four weeks from late March. Novara sang eleven performances in all. He was Rocco in Fidelio, Mephistopheles in Faust as in the illustration, and created the role of Brando in the world première of Alexander Mackenzie’s opera Columba under the baton of the composer. The association with the Rosa was brief although the première would have been a memorable experience.

Novara returned to America later in the same year for the inaugural season of the new Metropolitan Opera Company. He was the Mephistopheles in Gounod’s Faust when they opened their doors for the first time on 22 October 1883. His colleagues on this historic occasion were Christine Nilsson, Sofia Scalchi, Italo Campanini, and Giuseppe Del Puente. The lad from Wiltshire was in good company! He remained throughout the season also appearing in Lohengrin, Sonnambula, Rigoletto, Gioconda and Martha.

His career continued throughout the next decade. He returned home to concert work at Covent Garden in 1884 and from 1888 to 1890 sang there in opera. He also served as assisting artist to the famous soprano Adelina Patti in her tours of Britain and America and was one of the singers who opened her private theatre at her Welsh castle in 1891. From 1896 he taught at the Royal Academy of Music but it ended prematurely with illness a year later. He died in London on 7 January 1899.

© 2017 John Ward

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