t h e   r o s a   t r o u p e

Eva Turner

Dame Eva Turner

Eva Turner as Madam Butterfly

Eva Turner was a Lancashire lass, the daughter of Charles and Elizabeth Turner, born at Oldham on 10 March 1892. Her father was a mill engineer and amateur musician who introduced his daughter to the piano and singing. The family moved to Bristol in her tenth year and it was there that a Rosa performance of Il Trovatore confirmed Eva’s vocal inclination and generated a desire to be an opera singer. Her parents were supportive and arranged local lessons with Dan Rootham, Clara Butt’s teacher, and eventually in 1911 sent her to study at the Royal Academy of Music. She left in 1915 and despite the rigours of wartime touring joined the Carl Rosa.

Eva’s Rosa career began at the Theatre Royal, Swindon, on 6 September 1915. She briefly emerged from the chorus two days later to be one of the three ladies in Mozart’s Magic Flute with Winifred Gaveling and lifelong friend Gladys Parr completing the trio. She was soon beyond the chorus with a repertoire which ranged from Balfe to Wagner. This included the usual roles, Leonora in Trovatore and Marguerite in Faust, together with the less familiar Geneviève in Bruneau’s Attack on the Mill and Jeanette in d’Orlay’s Le Chant Fatal. The illustrations depicting her as Musetta and Madam Butterfly are from her Rosa years when she was supported by tuition from Albert Broad, a vocal coach who served as company librarian and eventually became her manager. Performance records are incomplete but she sang an estimated three hundred performances in London and the provinces. Some of the roles are listed below.


Aida - Aida L’Attaque Du Moulin - Geneviève
Un Ballo In Maschera - Amelia La Bohème - Musetta
The Bohemian Girl - Arline Carmen - Michaela
Cavalleria Rusticana - Santuzza Le Chant Fatal - Jeanette
Don Giovanni - Donna Anna Faust - Marguerite
Fidelio - Leonora Lohengrin - Elsa
Madam Butterfly - Butterfly, Kate Pinkerton The Magic Flute - Second Boy
Maritana - Maritana The Mastersingers - Eva
The Merry Wives of Windsor - Mistress Ford I Pagliacci - Nedda
The Rheingold - Freia Siegfried - Brünnhilde
The Tales of Hoffmann - Antonia, Giulietta Tannhäuser - Venus, Elizabeth
Thais and Talmae - Thais Tosca - Tosca
Il Trovatore - Leonora The Valkyrie - Brünnhilde
Dame Eva Turner

Eva Turner as Musetta


Eva had progressed to becoming one of Britain’s leading sopranos, and in 1923 she made a few appearances with the British National Opera before leaving the company a year later. Both the Rosa and Royal Opera London seasons overlapped in the summer of 1924 with the former at the Scala Theatre and the latter at Covent Garden. Ettore Panizza, the Italian conductor was accordingly able to visit Rosa performances. He was so impressed by Turner’s Butterfly that he arranged an audition at Covent Garden followed by a visit to Milan to sing for Toscanini who engaged her for the Scala production of the Ring. She said farewell at the King’s Theatre, Hammersmith in September and prepared for Italy.

The successful La Scala debut as Freia in Rheingold, on 16 December 1924, was followed by opera in Germany, Austria and Portugal. Return to Italy in 1926 introduced her to Puccini’s last opera Turandot. She sang the title role for the first time at Brescia in December and it became her signature role. The next year she toured South America with a strong Italian company and made her first recordings. She returned to Covent Garden, a theatre familiar from her Rosa days, for the 1928 international season and followed with her first appearance in North America at Chicago. Eva was now an internationally recognised dramatic soprano with a voice of exceptional power and brilliance. She continued in this vein until retirement from the stage in 1948 was followed by teaching in Britain and America for many years, frequent visits to Covent Garden, and appearances on radio and television. Honours included Dame Commander of the British Empire and the freedom of Oldham, her birthplace.

Dame Eva Turner

Dame Eva Turner

The Rosa seasons can be retrospectively seen as little more than a prelude to her international career but they were almost a third of her career, and cannot simply be passed over. Eva had fond memories of them and the provincial theatres where she had sung new roles. A Rosa performance had generated operatic ambition and it was with the Rosa that Eva learned her trade. She died in London on 16 June 1990 at ninety-eight years. The funeral took place two weeks later at Golders Green Crematorium and her ashes were deposited in the family grave at Standish in her native Lancashire.

© 2022 John Ward

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