Anna Bishop (9 January 1810 – 18 March 1884) was an English operatic soprano. She sang in many countries on every continent, and was the most widely travelled singer of the 19th century. She was married to the composer Henry Bishop but abandoned him for the French harpist, composer and entrepreneur Nicolas-Charles Bochsa. She and Bochsa were said to have been the inspiration for Trilby and Svengali in George du Maurier's 1894 novel Trilby.
Ann Rivière was born in London, daughter of a singing master. Her father was descended from a Huguenot family that had fled to England in the 17th century. She studied piano under Ignaz Moscheles, then continued her studies at the Royal Academy of Music under Henry Bishop. She made her London debut on 20 April 1831. Bishop's wife Sarah née Lyon died in June 1831, and Ann Rivière married him a month later, on 9 July; she was 21 and he 44. She was thereafter known professionally as Anna Bishop. They had three children: Rose (born 4 February 1833) and twins Augustus and Johanna (born 9 November 1837).
Anna Bishop sang at the Philharmonic Society and many other venues. Her voice was a high soprano, said to be of brilliant quality. On 28 March 1834 she was the principal soprano in the first English performance of Luigi Cherubini's Requiem in C. In 1838 she participated in the chorus at the Coronation of Queen Victoria. In 1839 she appeared at the Italian Opera House in London alongside the singers Giulia Grisi, Manuel Garcia, Fanny Tacchinardi Persiani, Giovanni Battista Rubini, Antonio Tamburini, Pauline Viardot and Luigi Lablache; and the pianists Sigismond Thalberg and Theodor Döhler.
That year she toured the provinces, Scotland and Ireland with the French harpist Nicolas-Charles Bochsa, who had played for Napoleon I; shortly after their return to London, she abandoned her husband and in August took up with Bochsa, who was also 20 years her senior. This was a great scandal for its time and much was written about it in the press. Bochsa became her manager and they toured in Sweden, Denmark, Russia, Hungary, Germany, Austria and other places in Europe. They always avoided France, where Bochsa was wanted on a charge of forgery. She sang in private before the Queen of Denmark. They continued their travels together, venturing overseas to Ireland, Australia, and North and South America. In 1853, theirs was among the first important visits by foreign artists to Ottawa, Canada.
Anna Bishop built a reputation as one of the finest operatic sopranos of her day. Her voice was sometimes compared to a flute. She had her greatest successes in operas by Rossini and Donizetti at the Teatro di San Carlo in Naples, where she became prima donna assoluta in 1843. She appeared there 327 times in 24 operas. She created Rosalie in Mercadante's Il Vascello di Gama, at Naples on 6 March 1845. In New York, she competed with the likes of Jenny Lind and Adelina Patti. On 1 November 1852 in New York she sang in the United States premiere of Friedrich von Flotow's Martha.
On 6 January 1856, three weeks after Bishop and Bochsa arrived in Sydney, Australia, and having given only one concert together there, Bochsa died. She buried him at Camperdown Cemetery there, employing a choir and orchestra for the procession and burial, and creating in his honour the most ornate monument in the cemetery, with a statue of herself weeping disconsolately. The mourning figure was later vandalised.
She then returned to South America (Chile, Argentina, Brazil). Her husband, who had been knighted as Sir Henry Bishop, had never agreed to a divorce, but he had died in 1855. In 1858, in New York she married Martin Schulz, a diamond merchant. She appeared in England again, the previous scandal having been forgotten; she gave a farewell concert on 17 August 1859. She also gave a royal command performance for Queen Victoria. She then resumed travelling throughout the Americas.
On 4 March 1866 en route from San Francisco to China, on the first leg of a world tour, her ship the Libelle was wrecked on Wake Island, at that time an uncharted coral atoll, and she and Schulz and the rest of her party were stranded there for three weeks. All her costumes, jewellery and music were lost. They finally set out in two rowboats for Guam, a 14-day journey; the boat containing Anna Bishop and her husband made it to safety, but the other boat containing the ship's captain and some crew was lost at sea. After a period of recovery she resumed her world tour, singing in the Philippines, Hong Kong, Singapore, India, Ceylon, New Zealand, and Australia and London once again, before returning to New York.
On 14 July 1873, at the personal invitation of Brigham Young, she gave the first concert at the Mormon Tabernacle in Salt Lake City. In 1875 she sang in Australia once more, then in Cape Town and other places in South Africa, on to Madeira and England, and back to New York.
By all accounts she was excellent in her prime but continued to sing well past her prime. Her final concert, at age 73, was a testimonial concert at Steinway Hall in June 1883, where she sang Home! Sweet Home!, the song that had brought fame to her first husband (whose name she still bore).
Svengali and Trilby
It was popularly believed that George du Maurier later used the hypnotic control Nicolas-Charles Bochsa is said to have had over Anna Bishop as the basis for the characters Svengali and Trilby in his 1894 novel Trilby.
- picture history
- The New York Times, 20 March 1884
- W.L. Hoffmann, review of Richard Davis, Anna Bishop: The Adventures of an Intrepid Prima Donna, The Canberra Times, 9 August 1997
- Notable American Women 1607-1950
- Grove's Dictionary of Music and Musicians, 5th ed, 1954, Vol. I, p. 721
- The Canadian Encyclopedia
- Classic Almanac
- Australian Dictionary of Biography: Bochsa, Robert Nicholas Charles
- Afterword to the Australian edition of Magic or Madness
- Marshall’s digital micronesia
- Welcome to Wake Island
- Tales of San Francisco
- Poverty Bay Herald, 28 October 1896
- Bernard Quaritch Ltd
- Richard Davis, Anna Bishop: The Adventures of an Intrepid Prima Donna, Currency Press
- Graeme Skinner, Dictionary of Sydney: Anna Bishop
- Graeme Skinner, Dictionary of Sydney: Nicholas Bochsa
- Travels of Anna Bishop in Mexico, 1849, pub. 1852
Media related to Anna Bishop at Wikimedia Commons