Opera in London & Paris in the Second Half of the 18th Century
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English comic operas such as Love in a Village (1762), Twelve Comic Operas of William Shield (1782-1792), and The Haunted Tower (1789), experienced a rise in programming from the late 1740s and comic opera was firmly established as its own genre in London by the mid-1750s. Piccinni’s La buona figliuola was a particularly highly-programmed comic opera that premiered in London in 1766 and was played every season (with the exception of the 1784-85 season) until the end of the century. The tradition of opera seria performances also continued at London opera houses and Bremner began publishing collections of famous songs from the genre during the 1760s. Included in this exhibit are Bremner collections of songs from Cleonice (1764), Il Cid (1773), and L’Olimpiade (1779). Acis and Galatea (1718-1740), a masque by Handel that is also now referred to as a pastoral opera, continued to be revised long after the first private performance in 1718 and eventually became, in one incarnation, a three-act, Italian work. The copy in this exhibit features an English setting of the text. Stephen Storace (1762-1796), composer at Drury Lane from 1788 to 1796 and composer of The Haunted Tower (1789), won a copyright dispute against the publisher Longman & Broderip in 1787, which established the illegality of musical piracy. French opera during this period was property of the monarchs of the House of Bourbon. In contrast to the London opera venues, which relied on subscriptions to turn a profit, Parisian opera was not designed to make money and did not include any shareholders. The purpose of the performances was to delight the monarch and his incidental guests. There were three major genres of opera during this period: Opéra (seria), Comédie-Française, and Comédie-Italienne. This exhibit includes three examples of Comédie-Française: Le Roy et le Fermier (1762), Les Visitandines (1792), and Ariettes de Ninette a la Cour (1755). The Recueil General des Opera Representez par l'Academie Royale de Musique, Depuis son Etablissement collection compiled libretto of works performed in Parisian opera from 1703-1745. Jacques Bernard Durey de Noinville (1683-1768) chronicled a historical account of developments in Parisian opera from 1672 through 1752 in his Histoire du Théatre de l'Opera en France. Depuis l'Établissement de l'Académie Royale de Musique, Jusqu'à Présent (1753). Charles Burney (1726-1814), a well-known historian and critic, became adviser to the King’s Theatre in Haymarket, in addition to similar responsibilities at a competing opera house, The Pantheon. After serving as an apprentice to Thomas Arne, and pursuing careers as an orchestral performer and composer, Burney toured Europe to document performance practice in various countries. The tours led to the publication of a series of books including The Present State of Music in Germany, the Netherlands (1773), and United Provinces and The Present State of Music in France and Italy (1771). During his travels, Burney met the librettist, Pietro Metastasio (1698-1782), about whom he later wrote a biography. A key difference between Italian and English opera was that the later used spoken words for dialogue, rather than recitative. In his writing, Burney cited this as a rationale for the inferiority of English opera. A contemporary of Burney, John Hawkins (1719-1776) pursued research at the British Museum and studied collections of manuscripts in his home and at private libraries in order publish his General History of the Science and Practice of Music (1776). Although the work initially received a relatively warm reception, friends of Burney soon began publishing anonymous articles in the press attacking the publication. John Mainwaring (1724-1807) published the first biography of George Frederic Handel (Memoirs of the Life of the Late George Frederic Handel) a year after the composer’s death in 1759. Although the book is primarily a biography, it also included sections on musical aesthetics and criticism. Earlier in the century, Arthur Bedford (1668-1745) offered his own criticisms on the increasing commercialization of music in The Great Abuse of Musick (1711) and called for a return to Elizabethan styles of music and word-setting.
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