In early May 1876, the former Albany Theatre (later St. Paul’s Church, the Academy of Music and most recently the Trimble Opera House) became the Leland Opera House, owned by Warren F. Leland (with his brother Charles E. Leland a silent partner) and Alexander Dickey.[i] On May 31, 1876, the Leland brothers and Dickey leased the building to John W. Albaugh for a period of five years at an annual rate of $10,000[ii]. Albaugh had been the theater’s manager since November 1873[iii] and before that had been stage manager at its predecessor, the Trimble Opera House.[iv]
The new Leland Opera House opened on August 28, 1876, with a performance of “Rosedale,” starring Richard Fulton Russell. The Albany Argus reported:
Leland Opera House, more attractive, handsomer and brighter than ever, was thrown open to the public last evening for the coming fall and winter season. Within was a large, brilliant, fashionable, elegant, refined and critical audience. Beauty, wit, grace and fashion came to do homage at the Thespian shrine. It was very swell from the Pompeiian lobby to the new crimson drop. There were lovely gushing women attired in the latest mode of the goddess fashion; sparkling diamonds glittered and flashed; jaunty hats and ribbons and flowers moved prettily, promiscuously and coquettishly. There were men in immaculate ties and kids, and, of course, the inevitable and ubiquitous small boy, who stamped and whistled and sweltered in the gallery. It was a brilliant, picturesque scene, perfectly fitting the beautiful and delicate colored scene surrounding it.[v]
That first season continued in September with performances of “Flying Scud” and in October with Lucia di Lammermoor featuring the Kellogg Grand English Opera.
1876 also saw a major event for one of the theater’s proprietors: Charles E. Leland married actress Rosa St. Clair. Far more than Charles, it is Rosa M. Leland who made the Leland Opera House the success that it was, and who deserves to be remembered as its eponym.
Rosa M. St. Clair
Rosa was born in New York about 1853 as Rosa Marian Delaune (also reported as Dealaune or De Laune.) Rosa’s father died when she was an infant, and Rosa’s mother remarried. Rosa had a half brother, Garrett F. Kelly, with whom she was very close. Assuming the stage name Rosa M. St. Clair[vi], Rosa first came to Albany as part of Sallie Partington’s stock company, hired by Lucien Barnes for the Trimble Opera House’s 1871-1872 season. She made her debut as a walking lady (a non-speaking role in which appearance alone was important), but by the end of the season she had taken leading roles. It was during this season that she and Charles E. Leland fell in love, but Rosa continued her career. During the 1872-1873 season, she appeared in Daly’s Theatre, New York City; in 1874 she played at Booth’s Theatre under managers Henry C. Jarrett and Henry David Palmer; in 1875, Rosa toured the United States with Adelaide Neilson.[vii]
Rosa then left the United States, and spent two years in a Paris convent[viii]. She returned to the United States on December 6, 1875 aboard the same ship as Charles E. Leland[ix]. We assume that Charles had convinced her to return and to marry him, since they were married soon after her return, the same year, that Charles E. Leland opened the new Leland Opera House.[x] Following her marriage, Rosa gave up the stage, with the exception of one tour (described below) and appearances in Leland Opera House benefit performances.
While Rosa had given up her stage career, she must have wanted to keep her hand in the business. In 1880 Charles E. Leland bought out his partner, Alexander Dickey, and became sole owner of the theater. When John Albaugh’s lease expired in 1881, Leland leased the theater to his wife, who would be its manager for the next eight years. On September 22, 1881 the Leland Opera House opened its 1881 – 1882 season, with Mrs. Charles E. Leland it leasee and manager.[xi]
Mrs. Leland quickly showed her sure hand in managing the opera house, with appearances by major stars of the day. For example, that first season saw appearances by Joseph Wheelock, Rose Keene and Miss Mary Anderson, “America’s Tragedienne.”[xii] And the second season featured Nat Goodwin and his wife Elizabeth Weathersby in “Black Flag.”[xiii]
No wonder that Rosa was highly regarded by the city of Albany. One commentator gushed:
The present manager is Mrs. Rosa M Leland, who for the past three seasons has demonstrated perfectly that a woman can run a theatre successfully in every respect provided she has the tact, enterprise, and necessary experience. Mrs. Leland (prior to her marriage), was a successful actress, and in that capacity acquired a knowledge of what is necessary for proper stage effect, attainable in no other way. Her wide acquaintance with the profession, and that which is best in it added to natural executive ability, has had much also to do with her success. The uniform opinion of press and public has been that never has Albany had a better theatre than under her management. Plays of the best order, actors of the highest rank have been seen at the Leland in quick succession.[xiv]
Several sources report that Rosa and Charles Leland’s marriage was not a happy one. This may be inferred from Rosa’s return to the stage “after many years’ absence” in January 1883[xv], and from her November 1883 tour with the Madison Square Company to California to play the role of Mrs. Dick Chetwyn in Bronson Howard’s “Young Mrs. Winthrop.”[xvi] That same year, she and Charles E. Leland divorced.[xvii]
Rosa continued her successful management of the opera house, with the assistance of her half brother, Garrett F. Kelly. In addition to the benefit performances for the opera house[xviii], Rosa was generous in offering the stage for benefits for other organizations, including the Diocesan League, Exempt Fireman and the Actors Fund,[xix] as well as the Burgesses Corps and the Albany Musical Association.
Over the next years, with the opera house a success, Rosa expanded her business operations. During the winter of 1886-1887, she opened a theatrical agency in New York City. In the spring of 1888, she was able to purchase the theater building, and became both its owner and manager.[xx]
While she was only about 35 years old, these efforts must have taken a toll on Rosa’s constitution. During the summer of 1888, she took a three-month trip to Europe to regain her health[xxi]. But hardly had she returned, when in October 1888, her brother Garrett F. Kelly died.[xxii] Ill and depressed, grieving for her brother who had been her main support, in the late autumn of 1888 Rosa gave up the business. She leased the building to Henry R. Jacobs for a period of five years.[xxiii]
Her health, however, never recovered, and Rosa Leland died on March 10, 1889. Her funeral was held at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, and her pallbearers included many of the city’s most prominent citizens.[xxiv] She is buried, with her brother Garrett, in St. Agnes Cemetery in Menands.
We will continue our story of the Albany Theatre, with the next episode covering the brief period as the H. R. Jacobs Opera House.
[i] “The Opera House Sold to Warren F. Leland,” Albany Morning Express 08 May 1876; “The Trimble Opera House: Its Legal History – The Curtain Rung Up on the Last Act – A Foreclosure Suit Commenced” Albany Evening Times Dec (probably 27) 1880; Daily Argus 11 May 1876.
[ii] “The Leland Opera House: Its Lease to J.W. Albaugh” Albany Evening Times 01 Jun 1876.
[iii] “H.R. Jacobs Opera House: Appearance of Albany’s Oldest Theatre Under New Management” Albany Evening Times 17 Aug 1889.
[iv] H.P. Phelps, The Players of a Century (Albany: Joseph McDonough, 1880), 309.
[v] “Leland Opera House: Brilliant Opening Last Evening,” Daily Argus 29 Aug 1876.
[vi] The earliest reference to her stage name is a December 1871 article mentioning that the “charming actress” was too ill to perform and was under the care of three doctors (Daily Albany Argus 22 Dec 1871.)
[vii] “A Popular Manager: Mrs. Rosa St. Clair Leland’s Successful Theatrical Career,” Albany Evening Journal 12 Apr 1887; “The Hand of Death: Rosa M. Leland Passes Away – A Notable Woman – Obituary Notes,” Albany Evening Journal 11 Mar 1889. A notice following Rosa’s 1871-1872 debut season was less than enthusiastic about her acting skills, saying that she “manifested splendid taste in dressing, and fair talent in minor parts.” “Dramatic Personals,” Albany Evening Times 21 Aug 1872.
[viii] “The Hand of Death: Rosa M. Leland Passes Away ”.
[ix] Adriatic ship’s manifest for a journey departing from Liverpool, England and Queenstown, Ireland and arriving in New York City 06 Dec 1875; a scan of the document is available on Ancestry.com. Listed in the same ship’s manifest, immediately adjacent to Rosa and Charles, were George Burlingham (the Delavan Hotel’s manager), and David Rose (partner in an Albany carriage-making firm). “Personal” (Daily Argus 06 Dec 1875) describes the arrival of Leland, Burlingham and Rose in New York, but does not mention Rosa. Leland, Burlingham and Rose had sailed for Europe together two months earlier (“Personal,” Daily Argus 05 Oct 1875).
[x] “A Popular Manager: Mrs. Rosa St. Clair Leland’s Successful Theatrical Career”; “Obituary – Rosa M. Leland,” Albany Times 11 Mar 1889.
[xi] “Obituary – Rosa M. Leland”.
[xii] Classified advertisement, Albany Evening Journal, 24 Dec 1881.
[xiii] Classified advertisement, Albany Evening Journal, 18 Sep 1882.
[xiv] H. P. Phelps (compiler), The Albany Hand-Book (Albany: Brandow & Barton, 1884), 101.
[xv] “Theatrical Chronology,” The New York Clipper Annual for 1883, 2.
[xvi] “Obituary – Rosa M. Leland”; “The Hand of Death: Rosa M. Leland Passes Away ”. The Sacramento Union carried multiple references to such a production in March 1883. Rosa appeared in the same play at a Leland Opera House benefit shortly afterward (Albany Morning Express, 27 Apr 1883).
[xvii] “Entre Nous,” The Theater, volume 5, number 10, March 11-18, 1889, page 212.
[xviii] In addition to the 1883 “Young Mrs. Winthrop” event mentioned above, Rosa Leland performed in at least four other benefits: as Mrs. Beresford with Lester Wallack in “Impulse” in 1885; as Belinda Treheone in “Engaged” in 1886; as Mrs. Vane with Miss Rose Coghland and Osmond Tearle in “Masks and Faces” in 1887; as Lady Millicent with Dion Boucicault in “The Jilt” in 1888. (“The Hand of Death: Rosa M. Leland Passes Away ”)
[xix] “Death of Mrs. Leland,” Albany Evening Journal, 11 Mar 1889.
[xx] “The Highest Bidder: Mrs. Leland in New and Successful Role,” Albany Times 24 Apr 1888; “Obituary – Rosa M. Leland”.
[xxi] “The Hand of Death: Rosa M. Leland Passes Away”.
[xxii] “Death of Mrs. Leland”.
[xxiii] “Chat By the Way,” Albany Evening Times 19 Nov 1888; “H.R. Jacobs Opera House: Appearance of Albany’s Oldest Theatre Under New Management” Albany Evening Times 17 Aug 1889; “Obituary – Rosa M. Leland”; “The Hand of Death: Rosa M. Leland Passes Away”.
[xxiv] “The Hand of Death: Rosa M. Leland Passes Away”; The Theater, volume 5, number 10, March 11-18, 1889, page 212; “Obituary – Rosa M. Leland”; Albany Times 13 Mar 1889.