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10 - Selling a ‘False Verdi’ in Victorian London

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  27 May 2021

Christina Bashford
Affiliation:
Associate Professor of Musicology, School of Music, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
Hilary J. Grainger
Affiliation:
Dean of Quality Assurance and Academic Development, London College of Fashion
Roberta Montemorra Marvin
Affiliation:
Director of the Opera Studies Forum in the Obermann Center for Advanced Studies at the University of Iowa and faculty member
Michela Ronzani
Affiliation:
Assistant Professor of Italian, Division of Liberal Arts
David C. H. Wright
Affiliation:
Formerly Reader in the Social History of Music at the Royal College of Music; retired in 2010
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Summary

VERDI'S operas were money-makers for opera-house managers in Victorian London. Despite the operas’ frequently mixed critical reception, the public often flocked to hear Verdi's works, making many of them lucrative ventures for London's opera companies. The English capital became the first city outside Italy to hear a world premiere of one of Verdi's operas: I masnadieri, written expressly for Her Majesty's Theatre and manager Benjamin Lumley in 1847. Although over the years Verdi's operas curried favour unevenly with various theatre managers and critics in England, public demand sometimes encouraged multiple productions of a work staged in a single season in various London venues, later in the century by both resident and visiting companies. Il trovatore, La traviata and Luisa Miller were among the Verdi operas that made it to the London stage in English translation: as The Gipsy's Vengeance (24 March 1856, Theatre Royal Drury Lane), La traviata, or The Blighted One (8 June 1857, Surrey Theatre) and Louisa Miller or Love and Intrigue (3 June 1858, Sadler's Wells Theatre).

Verdi's works burst onto the London scene in the mid nineteenth century, around the time when the cultural geography of opera began shifting. Such shifts were helped along by increased mobilities – of people and goods, of knowledge and information – made possible by new technologies, which characterized the nineteenth century, thereby helping to create the first great era of consumerism. These mobilities affected the dissemination, the understanding, the experiences and the practices of music, as well as the very nature of ideas about music in general and about opera in particular. The traditional, mainly aristocratic and upper-class, audience for opera continued expanding in London throughout the century as a result of these mobilities and, in large part, of continuing renegotiations of class boundaries, the consequence of economic prosperity and social ambition among the classes. With this broadened audience came an extended market for operatic music beyond the theatre, and Verdi's operas produced commodities serving various constituencies outside the opera house in varying ways.

Public concerts in various venues featured opera excerpts. Often these were sung by star singers who were currently performing with one of London's two resident opera companies; the musical selections thus served dual duty commercially, disseminating and popularizing an opera and also promoting a company.

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Publisher: Boydell & Brewer
Print publication year: 2016

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