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BLANCHE ROOSEVELT (1853 - 1898)

In the autumn of 1879 it was announced that a young and beautiful soprano called Blanche Roosevelt was to join the Opera Comique company and sing the part of Josephine in "HMS Pinafore" prior to an engagement as principal with the company which would tour America. It was learned also that she was American by birth - born in Sandusky, Ohio - and had played principal roles in the Italian Opera Company at Covent Garden.

This impressive announcement belied the facts somewhat. True it was that she was American - her father was Senator Tucker of Wisconsin but her Covent Garden career was, to say the least, brief: in the spring of 1876 there had been five performances of "La Traviata" for which she had shared the principal role with Adelina Patti. She was known at that time as Mme Rosavilla; following the custom of many singers, she had adopted an Italian form of her name.

Following her marriage to a wealthy Italian aristocrat she also became Madame Macchetta. So in Sullivan's diary for 1879 one may find references to her as Mme Rosavilla or as Mme Macchetta. It appears that Sullivan was partly responsible for her career with D'Oyly Carte. He had discovered her while on holiday in the south of France in the summer of 1879. Shortly before the American tour she was claiming in press interviews that the part of Mabel in the forthcoming "Pirates of Penzance" had been written by Sullivan with her specially in mind. But this - like many of her statements - was more the product of vanity than truth. There is always a danger that too much may be read into the minimum of historical facts. However the few available facts seem to suggest either that she had no clear sense of purpose in her ambition or that she was persuaded to abandon her stage career. For her engagement with D'Oyly Carte ceased in 1880. She stayed on in America, not to continue a singing career, but to become that singular anomaly - a lady novelist.

She had on a number of occasions visited the poet Longfellow, and her first published work was a biographical volume entitled The home life of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1882). This was followed by a novel, Stage-struck, or; She would be an Opera Singer (1884).

In the course of her literary career she became acquainted with a number of notable figures in the world of belles lettres and the arts - in particular Giuseppe Verdi, Victorien Sardou, and Gustave Dore'. But probably of greatest significance was her relationship with that master of the French 'conte,' Guy de Maupassant, whose mistress she became in 1884

She stayed with Maupassant at his house in Etretat in June 1884. Francois Tassart, Maupassant's valet, recalls with obvious affection that she "was as intelligent as she was beautiful." In his memoirs he tells of a visit he made to her bedside one day. She was about to undergo an operation and was fearful of the outcome. "Tell my friend Maupassant" (she said) 'that if I die under chloroform my last thought will be for him'

Her fears proved to be unfounded and she recovered. In the summer of 1886, when Maupassant visited London as a guest of Baron Ferdinand de Rothschild, she accompanied him on an excursion to Oxford. On their return to London she took him to Tussauds and followed this by an evening at the Savoy for a performance of "The Mikado". Maupassant, exhausted by his first - and, as it happened, only - visit to England, hastened back to Paris the very next day.

It appears that she spent the remainder of her fairly short life in the south of France. She was only 45 when she was killed in a carriage accident. Her main works, in addition to the Longfellow memoir and the novel Stage-struck, are a "Life and Reminiscences of Gustave Dore" (1885), a novel "The Copper Queen" (1886), "Verdi: Milan and Othello" (1887), "Elisabeth of Roumania - a study" (1891), a novel "Hazel Fane" (1891), "Familiar faces - Victorien Sardou: a personal study" (1892), and A Riviera romance entitled "Rien ne vaplus" (1899).

Paul Seeley - July 1980



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