t h e   r o s a   t r o u p e

Charles Santley

Santley as Fra DiavoloCharles Santley, born in Liverpool on 28 February 1834, began as an amateur baritone in his native city and graduated to international fame in both concert and opera after study with Gaetano Nava in Milan and Manuel Garcia in London. He returned to England in 1857 after some Italian operatic performances and made his London concert debut in November 1857 in Haydn’s Creation. His operatic career resumed two years later when he was recruited by the Pyne and Harrison English Opera company at Covent Garden; he made his British operatic debut with them on 3 October 1859 as Hoel in Meyerbeer’s opera Dinorah. Over the next dozen years he appeared in English and Italian opera in London, the provinces, and sometimes at continental houses. He took part in several English opera premieres including Balfe’s Puritan’s Daughter and Armourer of Nantes, Wallace’s Lurline and Amber Witch, and created the role of Danny Mann in Benedict’s Lily of Killarney. His creations also extended to Italian opera. He was the first Valentine in the British premiere of Gounod’s Faust at Her Majesty’s in 1863 and the first Dutchman in Wagner’s opera at Drury Lane in 1870. In the midst of all this operatic activity this very busy singer still found time for the concert platform frequently appearing in oratorio at the leading provincial festivals. 

Santley’s first appearance under the Rosa banner was in America in 1872 at the end of an American concert tour. Carl Rosa and his wife the famous soprano Euphrosyne Parepa engaged him for their Parepa-Rosa English Opera Company. He made his company debut at the New York Academy of Music in Herold’s Zampa on 12 February 1872 and followed with Fra Diavolo (pictured) and Faust. The English opera season ended in late March at Brooklyn after performances in Philadelphia, Washington and Baltimore to be followed by Italian opera in New York during April featuring specially recruited operatic celebrities. Parepa and Santley were joined by Adelaide Phillips, Theodore Wachtel, Karl Formes, and Giorgio Ronconi, in a series of spectacular and profitable performances. The Rosas and Santley sailed for Europe in 1 May after a successful season. 

Santley resumed his professional relationship with the company under very different circumstances. The Rosas' inaugural British season had been abandoned in early 1874 on the sudden death of Parepa. Carl eventually resolved to continue alone and recruited Santley for the newly styled Carl Rosa English Opera Company. He opened the company’s first London season at the Princess’s Theatre on 11 September 1875 as Figaro in Marriage of Figaro and remained with them for two seasons singing in 240 performances. Balfe’s Siege of Rochelle and Cherubini’s Water Carrier were added to his familiar English repertoire together with more premiere performances. He appeared in the world premiere of Cowen’s Pauline, British premiere of Cagnoni’s Porter of Havre, and created Wagner’s Dutchman for the second time in the British English-language premiere. He also translated and appeared in an English version of Isouard’s Joconde. Santley gave his last performance with the company at the Alexandra Theatre, Liverpool on 5 May 1877 with yet another performance of Flying Dutchman. He had sung the role 48 times in his second season. His subsequent career was mainly in concert and oratorio. He was honoured with a knighthood 1907. He died on 22 September 1922 and is buried at Saint Mary’s Cemetery, Kensal Green. 

Santley was one of the greatest Rosa artists. He was also the earliest one to make recordings. He recorded for the Gramophone Company in 1903 and today we can still hear the voice of a man who socially and professionally knew Carl and Parepa and played a pivotal role in the formative years of the company. 

© 2020 John Ward

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