The Rose of Castille

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The Rose of Castille is an opera in three acts, with music by Michael William Balfe (1808-1870)[1] and a libretto by Augustus Glossop Harris (1825-1873)[2] and Edmund Falconer (1814-1879)[3].

(Also found as The Rose of Castile and The Rose of Castile, or The Queen and the Muleteer)

The original text

The first and most successful of six new English operas Balfe composed for the Pyne-Harrison Opera Company in 1857, it was completed in less than six weeks (between 19 September and 11 October 1857), with a libretto based on Adolphe d'Ennery and Clairville's French libretto for Adolphe Adam's French opéra comique[4] Le Muletier de Tolède (1854).

The English piece premiered on 29 October 1857, at the Lyceum Theatre, a gala performance of the opera was also given at Her Majesty's Theatre on 21 January 1858, in honour of the impending marriage of Queen Victoria's daughter Princess Victoria to Prince Frederick William of Prussia. The opera opened in the USA at the Olympic Theatre, New York City, in 1864.

The Carl Rosa Opera Company and the Moody-Manners Opera Company regularly performed Balfe's operas, undoubtedly including The Rose of Castille in their repertoires.

Translations and adaptations

Conrad Edwardes (Conrad Theodore Marriott Edwardes, fl. 1870-1877)[] wrote what is referred to as a "bouffe burlesque" version of Balfe's opera, calling it The Rows of Castille (also found as The Rows of Castile).

The playful title of the burlesque probably derives from the fact that the opera itself was at the time of its first performance often referred to as "Rows of Cast Steel" and would become the subject of a punning riddle about Balfe's successful opera. The riddle first started circulating about six years after the opera's first performance (i.e. "Question: What opera is like a railway line (or tramway line)? Answer: Rows of Cast steel"), but was later made famous by James Joyce's use of it in a scene in the novel Ullyses[5], and in some ways has become more enduring than Edwardes's the play.

The Rows of Castille was originally performed in Brighton, England, on 4 March, 1872, by Captain Disney Roebuck and his company and later also at the Norwich Theatre. It does not appear to have been performed much afterwards (except by Disney Roebuck's company apparently) and the text was not published as far as can be ascertained.

In his advertising for his first performance of the work in South Africa, Disney Roebuck credits C. Edwardes as the author, but claims that it was a "burlesque written expressly for.. [his].. company".

Performance history of all versions in South Africa

1859: Performed as The Rose of Castile, or The Queen and the Muleteer (credited to Harris and Falconer) by Sefton Parry and his company in the Cape Town Theatre on 13 December, with Perfection (Bayly) and a "Garland Polka" and "Spanish Bolero" by Miss Powell

1863: Performed as The Rose of Castile, or The Queen and the Muleteer by the Port Elizabeth Dramatic Club and collaborators in October.

1875: Performed as The Rows of Castille in the Bijou Theatre, Cape Town, by Disney Roebuck and company on 25 March, and billed as a "burlesque written expressly for this Co.". It was played as an afterpiece to David Garrick (Robertson). Tom Paulton and Emmeline Paulton (often referred to simply as The Paultons), a skilled couple of comedians and singers, clearly played a major part in the success of the burlesque.

1875: Performed as The Rows of Castille by Disney Roebuck and his company in the Bijou Theatre, Cape Town, on 1 April, with East Lynne (Wood).


Allardyce Nicoll. 1975. A History of English Drama 1660-1900: Late 19th Century Drama 1850-1900 Cambridge University Press: p.354[6]

William Adams. 1891. A Book of Burlesque: Sketches of English Stage Travestie and Parody (Issue 5 of The Whitefriars Library of Wit and Humour, Vol. V). Henry and Company[7]

Charles Mackie. 2020. Norfolk Annals vol ll: Volume 2:p. 278.[8]

F.C.L. Bosman. 1980. Drama en Toneel in Suid-Afrika, Deel II, 1856-1912. Pretoria: J.L. van Schaik: pp. 1, 78, 296-8, 322, 329-330.

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