t h e   r o s a   t r o u p e

Frances Saville

Frances SavilleFrances Saville, born Fanny Martina Simonsen in San Francisco on 6 January 1865, was the daughter of Martin and Francesca Simonsen. Her German father was a violinist and her French mother was an accomplished soprano. Both had travelled widely as performers in Europe and the Americas. They settled in Australia in 1876 and toured as both performers and managers in concert and opera throughout the Antipodes. Frances was initially trained as a soprano by her mother and by the late 1880s had acquired an Australian concert reputation using the Saville name. The name came from a brief marriage; she used it throughout a career which would take her to Europe. She arrived in Paris in 1891 for advanced training from the celebrated Mathilde Marchesi.

Marchesi had been a singer who had studied with the legendary Manual Garcia before becoming a famous teacher herself with many pupils, including Melba, who had achieved great things. Saville had already been well schooled by her mother and after a year with Marchesi she made her international debut at the Monnaie Theatre in Brussels as Juliette on 7 September 1892. Successful debuts at St. Petersburg, Moscow, and Berlin took place in the following year appearing in Romeo and Juliette,Faust, Lucia, Rigoletto,Cavalleria Rusticana, and Lohengrin. Surprisingly her next engagement was to forsake European capitals and choose the rigours of a British provincial tour with the Carl Rosa. She may have thought that this could be a prelude to an engagement at Covent Garden.

Saville made her Rosa debut at the Theatre Royal Glasgow as Marguerite in Faust on 16 November 1893 and duplicated her continental repertoire in English with the addition of Trovatore and Tannhauser. She was temporarily absent in January and February to appear in Verdi’s Otello at Monte Carlo; she was Desdemona opposite Francesco Tamagno, the creator of the title role. Her Rosa season consisted of forty six performances with a farewell as Juliette at the Theatre Royal Birmingham on 31 May 1894.

More success at continental houses over the next year led to the 1895-96 season at the Metropolitan in New York and then to Covent Garden. From the autumn of 1897 her career was mainly at the Vienna Hofoper and her early retirement in 1903 has been attributed to tensions with Gustave Mahler the Hofoper’s director. Whatever the reason her career was short but it certainly glittered. She was a Rosa prima donna who had sung with Tamagno and Jean de Reske and been part of the Mahler epoch in Vienna. Surprisingly we can still listen to her voice. She made Bettini cylinders in the 1890s and recorded for the Gramophone Company in Vienna in 1902. A brief career brought a long retirement. Saville died at Belmont, California, on 8 November 1935 and was buried locally in Woodlawn Memorial Park.

Saville’s family merit a final paragraph. Her parents pioneered opera in Australia and New Zealand and four of her siblings and a niece were professional vocalists. Two of them also studied with Marchesi. The niece became Frances Alda of Metropolitan Opera fame and sang with Caruso. They were indeed an operatic family!

© 2019 John Ward

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