t h e   r o s a   t r o u p e

Zelie de Lussan

de Lussan as Carmen

de Lussan as Carmen

Zelie de Lussan was born in Brooklyn on 21 December 1861 of French parents. Her initial training was by her soprano mother and she was able to make her operatic debut as Arline in Bohemian Girl with the Boston Ideal Opera Company in 1885. She remained with them until 1889 developing into a mezzo soprano with Carmen as her signature role and found time in 1888 to briefly visit London to make her Covent Garden debut in Carmen on 7 July. A year later she was back in London singing for Mapleson at Her Majesty’s Theatre before joining the Rosa.

De Lussan was with the Rosa for most of the 1890s and also appeared at Covent Garden and New York’s Metropolitan Opera coupled with American touring companies and probably some European appearances. She was a very busy lady! She made her Rosa debut at the Gaiety Theatre, Dublin, inevitably as Carmen, on 20 August 1889 and sang in sixteen operas and about 600 performances – about half of them as Carmen – over seven seasons. This included the world premiere of Thorgrim (Cowen), the British premiere of La Vivandière (Godard), the British English-language premieres of Romeo and Juliet (Gounod), Otello (Verdi) and Pagliacci (Leoncavallo). There was also British premiere of an operatic version of Berlioz’s cantata Damnation of Faust and two royal command performances before Queen Victoria. She finally departed from the Rosa with a Don Giovanni at the Edinburgh Lyceum on 14 May 1897.

de Lussan - Daughter of the Regiment

de Lussan in

Daughter of the Regiment

The operatic career continued in the twentieth century with the Moody-Manners company, Thomas Beecham, and finally the O’Mara Opera Company in 1915 with Joseph O’Mara himself as the last of her many Don Joses which even included Jean de Reske. She subsequently taught for a time and then enjoyed a lengthy retirement in London.

de Lussan as Cherubino

de Lussan as Cherubino

Accounts of de Lussan’s career rightly hail her as one of the great Carmens – perhaps eclipsed only by that of Emma Calve. But she had an extensive repertoire and other roles should not be ignored. Both Daughter of the Regiment with a celebrated Marie and Marriage of Figaro with a splendid Cherubino were within her Rosa repertoire. The illustrations show her in all three roles. Also we can still hear extracts from Carmen and Mignon from a few recordings made in the early 1900s. Zelie de Lussan died in London on 18 December 1949 and is buried at Kensal Green.

© 2020 John Ward

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