t h e   r o s a   t r o u p e

Valentine Smith

Valentine SmithValentine Smith, born at Barnard Castle, County Durham, about 1848, was the son of a blacksmith who had prospered by inventing and developing road sweeping machines. The Smith family sang in the church choir and at local concerts. Valentine had a good tenor voice and when he was about twenty he studied in London, followed by a period with Antonio Sangiovanni in Milan. Whilst there he acquired the stage name Signor Fabrini and made what was probably his operatic debut, at Valenza, Piemonte, and he also appeared in Constantinople. The name was a colloquialism which roughly translates as ‘little smith’. This was something of a joke as Valentine was well over six feet and had inherited his father’s blacksmith physique. He returned home to be an emergency replacement in a Mapleson tour, making his British professional debut at a concert at Sunderland on 16 February 1872, and he made an operatic appearance as one of the armed men in The Magic Flute at the Theatre Royal in Edinburgh on 6 March. Soon afterwards he returned to Milan for further study with another teacher, Francesco Lamperti. He married in Florence in January 1873 and then pursued a career in Britain.

He became a busy tenor over the next few years singing in concert, oratorio, Italian and English opera. The latter did not include the Rosa although there was a brief spell in H.M.S. Pinafore with the D’Oyly Carte. He crossed the Atlantic in 1881 to join the Emma Abbott English Opera Company and be reunited with his baritone brother James who, singing as Lithgow James, had also pursued an operatic career after Italian training. Family obligations prompted a return home about 1884 and an engagement with the Rosa company followed a year later. 

Valentine Smith in Bohemian GirlValentine made his Rosa debut in Gounod’s Faust at the Winter Gardens Blackpool on 6 August 1885 and shortly afterwards, singing under his own name, contributed to English opera with leading tenor roles in Bohemian Girl (illustrated), Maritana, Puritan’s Daughter, Nordisa, and Esmeralda. Foreign operas in English dress were Mignon, Lucia, Trovatore, Carmen, Lohengrin, and the title role in the British English-language premiere of Marchetti’s Ruy Blas at Liverpool on 4 February 1886. There were almost 200 Rosa performances in twelve operas over a three year period. He said farewell with a Maritana before a Lancashire audience at the Victoria Theatre, Burnley, on 29 May 1888 and then prepared for a new role as impresario. 

Smith’s company took to the road in 1889 publicising himself and his resonant top C as the main vocal attraction. The company appeared mainly in minor theatres but they surprisingly took English opera to Germany in the summer of 1891 and were well received in Hamburg. They seem to have closed about 1896 with Valentine subsequently concentrating upon concert work. When retirement came it was not without music as he was choirmaster for many years at Saint Anthony’s Church, Anerley, south east London. He had always loved church music and it was appropriately his first and last musical experience. He died at Anerley on 9 May 1933 and was buried at Elmer End Cemetery four days later.

The Trust wish record their appreciation of help by the late Margaret Oates and her family in the preparation of this note; they provided information about the Smith family and permission to use the photographs. Also thanks to Fr. Sunith of Saint Anthony’s Church, Anerley.

© 2017 John Ward

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