t h e   r o s a   t r o u p e


Josephine Yorke

Josephine Yorke

Josephine Yorke and Lilian La Rue were really Josephine and Frances Alice Jones, the daughters of a Cincinnati soap manufacturer. Information is sparse but Josephine, born 1853, was the elder by two years and as they both shared a vocal inclination the family was probably not unmusical. Josephine received local training from a Signor Alfisi and about 1871 departed to Milan for further tuition. Carl Rosa heard her there some three years later and recruited her for the following season.

Josephine made her Rosa and British debut as Cherubino in the famous production of Marriage of Figaro which opened Rosa’s first London season at the Princess’s Theatre on 11 September 1875. She acquitted herself well, continued in the same vein and over eight consecutive seasons featured in one world première (Pauline), two company premières (Lurline, Robin Hood), five British premières (Porter of Havre, Giralda, Golden Cross, I Promessi Sposi, Piccolino), six British English-language premières (Joconde, Merry Wives of Windsor, Carmen, Aida, Mignon, Lohengrin). This, her first period with Rosa, ended in May 1883, when she transferred to Mapleson’s Italian opera company.

She had been recruited by Mapleson to take part in his New York operatic war with the new Metropolitan opera making her debut as Siebel in Faust at the Academy of Music on 2 November 1883. This was not her first American appearance as she had previously appeared at Cincinnati Music Festivals during the Rosa summer breaks. The critics praised her but the engagement ended prematurely after a quarrel with Mapleson about personal publicity. She was back in Britain by February 1884. Rosa could only offer guest appearances at Drury Lane and she took part in the world première of Goring Thomas’s Nadeshda there in 1885. The following year she sang twice in Lohengrin at Covent Garden, appeared with the Royal English Opera and Turner companies, and remained with the latter for five seasons. She left in May 1891 to return to the Rosa on a regular basis.

Josephine resumed under the Rosa banner at Belfast on 11 August 1891. The season was along familiar lines but she was able to add Berengia in Talisman, Fides in The Prophet and Lucia in Cavalleria Rusticana to her repertoire. The Cavalleria role was her farewell role at Newcastle on 28 May 1892 to end a Rosa career approaching 1200 performances. It also marked her farewell to Britain and a return to America. Little is known of her later activities but she did sing with church choirs in Chicago in the 1890s. Where and when she died is not known.

The career merits consideration. It was mainly in Britain where she was consistently praised in opera and concert and was a great favourite with the public. But she began in Italy and her later successful forays into Italian opera alongside stars such as Patti, Albani, and the Spanish tenor Gayarre should not be ignored. Josephine had a good career with the Rosa but perhaps it could have been greater.

Lilian La Rue

Lilian La Rue

Lilian La Rue was obviously a stage name and theatrical historian Kurt Ganzl has established that she was really Frances Alice Jones from Cincinnati. She arrived on the London stage in late 1879 and appeared with the D’Oyly Carte until the summer of the following year when she was recruited by the Rosa. Her debut, at Dublin on 4 August 1880 was followed by a repertoire of only five roles in two seasons with Mercedes in Carmen, Frederic in Mignon, Lazarillo in Maritana – formerly sung by her sister – and Fatima in The Cadi together with a promotion to twenty performances as Carmen in her second season. Her last appearance was on 21 March 1882, after almost 150 performances, was followed by a return to America. But she was again in London in the autumn of 1883 appearing – not with the Rosa – in an adaption of La Vie Parisienne. When the engagement ended in December she again sailed to and from America and was able to make a solitary Rosa appearance in her old role of Mercedes at the Royal Court Theatre in Liverpool on 16 May 1884. There is nothing more other than the report of her death in her home city of Cincinnati on 22 May 1885. The career like her life was brief.

© 2020 John Ward

If you use the information on this page, please acknowledge the Carl Rosa Trust: www.carlrosatrust.org.uk