t h e   r o s a   t r o u p e

Anna Williams

Anna Williams Anna Williams, born at Campden Hill, London on 6 August 1845, received her early vocal training with Henry Deacon and John Welch, two eminent London teachers. Whilst still an amateur she had the distinction of being the first singer to be heard in the Albert Hall when she tested the hall’s acoustics. She sang before Queen Victoria and others shortly before the opening in March 1871 and was rewarded with an inscribed gold watch for her services. The following year she won the soprano prize at the National Music Meetings at the Crystal Palace and further training followed with Domenico Scafati in Naples. She returned in 1874, made some appearances on the concert platform and accepted an engagement from Carl Rosa for the short spring season of 1875 commencing at Dublin on Easter Monday 29 March 1875 and ending at Birmingham on 8 May.

Williams made her operatic and Rosa debut as Leonora in Trovatore in Dublin on 7 April 1875 and followed with two concerts and an operatic extract before leaving Ireland. Four more Trovatores, two complete and two extracts, followed in Liverpool, Leeds and Birmingham before the end of the season. Not surprisingly as a newcomer she received mixed reviews for early tentative performances but significantly the Birmingham Daily Post praised both her singing and acting in her last performance of the season on 6 May. One more Trovatore followed almost a year later at Hanley, Staffordshire, on 17 March 1876 when she came to the rescue as a replacement for an unwell Leonora. She seemingly never sang in opera again. What happened?

Years later on the occasion of her retirement Williams recollected that she had studied Leonora in the winter of 1874 and implied that this was her only operatic role. Rosa must have engaged her solely for Trovatore for the brief spring season. She lacked operatic experience but Rosa would have recognized that she had the necessary vocal qualities for the role. Things went quite well but, other than the solitary 1876 performance at Hanley, there was no more opera because she was pursuing a career on the concert platform. She succeeded in this over the next twenty years achieving a great reputation in oratorio and becoming a favourite at the major festivals. Rosa had spotted a winner but in the end opera lost out to oratorio. Operatically speaking she got away. Williams retired in 1897 and for a time taught at the Royal College of Music. Her death occurred in London on 3 September 1924 with the funeral at Golders Green Crematorium three days later.

© John Ward 2016

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