Carl Rosa; The Entrepreneur Who Made Opera Popular: or From ‘Juvenile Paganini’ to Operatic Entrepreneur by Iain Fraser

Title of talk:

Carl Rosa; The Entrepreneur Who Made Opera Popular: or From ‘Juvenile Paganini’ to Operatic Entrepreneur by Iain Fraser

Carl Rosa
Carl Rosa

Bullet points of what you would like to talk about:

  • History of Carl Rosa opera 1873-1960
  • Carl Rosa’s background
  • visits to Scotland as a child prodigy
  • his time in USA
  • landmark achievements of Carl Rosa Opera under his management


A few paragraphs on your subject:

Carl Rosa: from ‘juvenile Paganini’ to operatic entrepreneur
The man who did most to bring opera to Scotland (and indeed Britain) in the golden age of opera, the late nineteenth century, was Karl Rose, a native of Hamburg and by turns a citizen of the USA and finally of Britain. He was active in Britain with Carl Rosa Opera from 1873 until his death in 1889, at the early age of 47.
A child prodigy on the violin, as a youth Rosa was said to have performed in concerts in Germany and Denmark as well as England. Actually, one discovery is that most of his ‘English’ concerts were in Scotland.
In the USA he married the greatest soprano of the day, the Edinburgh-born Euphrosyne Parepa, and together they learned to make money in the United States by performing opera in English with their vehicle, the Parepa Rosa English Opera Company.
When, later, Rosa started his Liverpool-based opera venture, he faced criticism for his commitment to performing works in English rather than Italian, but persevered, taking opera throughout Britain. Among company milestones during Rosa’s time were acclaimed ensemble productions of Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro (1875), Cherubini’s Les Deux Journées (under the name Water Carrier in 1875); Wagner’s Rienzi (1879), Lohengrin (1880) and Tannhäuser (1882); and Hermann Goetz’s Taming of the Shrew (1880).
Rosa believed in the potential of opera for a mass market if performed in English. Just as there were schools of Italian, German and French opera, so Rosa argued there should also be an English school of opera. To this end he commissioned new works from the leading British composers of the day – including two Scots (Alexander Mackenzie and Hamish MacCunn).
Rosa built market demand to such an extent that his company, under shifting managements, continued until 1960, by which time opera in the UK required state subsidy to survive.
Histories, memoirs and biographies proved of little use in uncovering details of Rosa’s business model, and of his opera tours. Current research would not have been practicable before the digitisation of newspapers accelerated the search process. They represent a critical resource, not least as newspapers in those days carried more detail in both advertisements and reviews than they do today.
Iain will explain his research activity and offer some consideration of Rosa’s business practices that helped him earn his fortune.


Notes on Karl August Nikolaus Rose

Born Hamburg 1842, died Paris 1889; by turns citizen of Hamburg, USA and Britain

  • Greatest influence on opera in 19th century Britain
  • Obituaries generally state:-

    • Rose was a child prodigy on the violin; toured Germany, Denmark and England.
    • Studied at Liepzig Conservatoire from the age of 17.
    • Leader of Hamburg Philharmonic from 1863-65.
    • Married famous soprano Euphrosyne Parepa
    • In 1869 they started Parepa-Rosa Opera in USA
  • 1873 started Carl Rosa Opera in Britain
  • 1874 Parepa died; Rosa relaunched his company.
  • After Rosa’s death company continued till 1960 (Peter Mulloy used the name Carl Rosa Opera from 1998 to 2015).
  • Business model

    • Opera in English; based in North West – Liverpool
    • Repertoire drawn from different schools – Italian, German, French, English

  • Large theatres, prices attractive to mass market

    • Subscription tickets where appropriate

  • Trained ensemble and orchestra

    • Company with principals travelled to work with venue players – mix of youth and experience

Opera in English became fashionable and popular

  • 240-290 performances each year at over twenty venues, with fifty-seven visited during Carl Rosa’s tenure. Resident in Liverpool, there were regular visits to Birmingham, Bradford, Dublin, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Leeds, London, Manchester, Newcastle and Sheffield, Dundee and Aberdeen were also visited.
  • Rosa became a household name and a wealthy man.
  • Carl Rosa Trust now promoting knowledge of company’s work.
  • Beneath are reviews of some of his youthful performances.

#1 Edinburgh “Master Charles Rosi, the celebrated Violin Player from Germany (only 12 1/2 years old) and Mr Louis Drechsler beg respectfully to announce that they will give a concert in the Hopetoun Rooms (Queen Street, Edinburgh) on Monday evening 26th instant when Master Rosi will perform two solos on the violin, and with Mr Drechsler in a duet for violin and violincello. Tickets 5s each, to be had at the principal Musicsellers”1.

#2 Linlithgow Then followed Linlithgow Town Hall (28 December)2, where it was “attended by a large and respectable audience. Of Master Rosi, who is only twelve and a half years of age, it may be said that he has acquired a degree of excellence as a violinist, which few have surpassed or even reached at a mature period of life; and we may, therefore, we think, write him down as a phenomenon.”3

#3 Arbroath that Rosa ‘acquitted himself in a manner that electrified the whole audience. His “Auld Robin Gray” with variations, was so exquisitely given that a person in an adjoining room would deem it to be sung by a rich soprano voice instead of coming from the violin and the bow.’4

#4 Dundee ‘This interesting boy, who has now doffed the tunic and wide sleeves, and assumed the garb of adolescence, has lately had the honour of appearing before the Danish Court, and is about to be similarly honoured by our own Queen5 The extraordinary qualities which previously distinguished Master Rosi have become more fully developed. His tone and execution are greater, his bowing more graceful, and his cantabile playing as graceful as ever. We have rarely heard “Auld Robin Gray” played more touchingly; it was tumultuously applauded.’ 6

#5 Manchester The performance of Rosi, for a youth of his years, was certainly wonderful. But with this exception, there was nothing in the concert to call for special remark. The youthful German, alone of the party, seemed capable of awakening anything like enthusiasm in the auditory; and that he did so may be taken as proof of the excellence of his performance, especially when it is borne in mind that the public of Manchester have recently had opportunities of hearing the first living artistes on this particular instrument in connection with which the name Rosi bids to become famous.’7

1 ‘Concert’ Scotsman Saturday 17 November 1855 p1

2 ‘Concert’ Falkirk Herald Thursday 13 December 1855 p.1

3 ‘Carl Rosi’s concert’ Falkirk Herald 3 January 1856 p3

4 ‘Grand concert’ Courier Wednesday 28 January 1857 p3

5The Royal Archives at Windsor can find no record of such an appearance, neither at Balmoral nor anywhere else.

6 ‘People’s concerts’ Dundee Perth and Cupar Advertiser Tuesday 14 December 1858 p2

7 ‘Monday evening concerts’ Manchester Courier 12 February 1859 p.9


A few paragraphs about you:

Brought up in Dundee, educated at UMIST and later London Business School, have had two careers – in the building industry in London as quantity surveyor then manager, then as lecturer in marketing, small business and entrepreneurship at Abertay. Throughout it all my hobby has been attending the performing arts, particularly opera. With two brothers, I co-founded the website OperaScotland for listings and performance history to identify then raise awareness of the history of opera in Scotland. The unique feature of the website is the date of first performance in Scotland of an opera.

What free internet knowledge resources would you recommend to others if they wish to explore your chosen theme further?

What are your weblinks?

Website –
Blog –
Twitter – @iainopscot
Public Email – [email protected]
Any others….

This talk took place at Cabaret Voltaire (36-38 Blair St, Edinburgh, EH1 1QR) on 26th April 2018