Page:A Dictionary of Music and Musicians vol 1.djvu/501

From Wikisource
Jump to: navigation, search
This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
ENGLISH OPERA.
489
 

or five years which followed the re-opening of the public theatres in 1660, little, beyond occasional repetitions of 'The Siege of Rhodes,' appears to have been done to forward operatic performances on the English stage. The Plague in 1665 and the Great Fire of London in 66 caused a temporary suspension of all theatrical performances, but a step onwards was made in 67 by the production of an adaptation by Davenant and Dryden of Shakspere's 'Tempest' with large additions to the lyric portions. The vocal music of this version was supplied by Pelham Humphrey and John Banister, and the instrumental by Matthew Lock. Soon after the opening of the theatre in Dorset Gardens (1671), the proprietors resorted to opera as the principal attraction. In 1673 they brought out Shadwell's 'Psyche,' of which the author said 'the great desire was to entertain the town with variety of musick, curious dinning, splendid scenes and machines.' Matthew Lock composed the vocal, and Giovanni Baptista Draghi the instrumental music for 'Psyche,' the dances being arranged by St. Andrè, and the scenery painted by Stephenson. In 1675 was 'performed at Mr. Josias Priest's Boarding School at Chelsey by young Gentlewomen' the youthful Henry Purcell's first opera 'Dido and Æneas,' the dialogue in recitative.

In 1677 [App. p.628 "1676"] Charles Davenant's 'Circe' was produced, with the music of John Banister. The Frenchman Grabut's setting of Dryden's 'Albion and Albanius' appeared in 1685 and failed. A few years later the form of English opera had become definitively settled, and in 1690 Purcell reset 'The Tempest,' revised for that purpose by Dryden, and composed the music for 'Dioclesian'—an adaptation by Betterton of Beaumont and Fletcher's 'Prophetess,' 'with alterations and additions after the manner of an opera,' and for Dryden's 'King Arthur.' [App. p.628 "1691"] Two years later he set Dryden's alteration of Sir R. Howard's 'Indian Queen,' and 'The Fairy Queen,' an adaptation of Shakspere's 'Midsummer Night's Dream.' Purcell's contemporaries and immediate successors adhered to the form adopted by him, from which no deviation took place (with the exception of Clayton's setting of Addition's 'Rosamond' in 1707, Boyce's 'Chaplet' 1749, and 'Shepherd's Lottery,' 1751, and Arne's 'Thomas and Sally,' 1760 [App. p.628 "1743"], in all which, and possibly in a few minor pieces, the dialogue was set as recitative) until 1762, when Arne produced his 'Artaxerxes,' set after the Italian manner, with the dialogue wholly in recitative. This departure from the established form produced however no immediate imitators, and Arne's contemporaries and successors, Dibdin, Arnold, Jackson, Linley, Hook, Shield, Storace, Attwood, Braham, Bishop, Barnett, Rooke, etc., adhered for nearly a century to the established model, which, as already remarked, was also that of German opera and of French Opéra Comique.

Efforts have been made at different times and with very chequered results to establish theatres specially devoted to the production of English opera. In 1809 Samuel James Arnold, son of Dr. Arnold, obtained a licence for opening the Lyceum Theatre (which he named the English Opera House) for their performance, and for several years afterwards produced, besides the standard operas, new works by Braham, Horn, M. P. King, Davy, and other native composers. The great success of Weber's 'Der Freischütz,' produced in English in 1824, induced Arnold to change his plan, and for some years afterwards he brought forward principally English versions of German operas, until the success in 1834 of Barnett's 'Mountain Sylph' led him to revert to his original design, and to produce works by Loder, Thomson, and Macfarren. From about 1835 to 1850 successive managers of Drury Lane Theatre devoted much attention to the production of English opera, and many new works by Barnett, Balfe, Wallace, Macfarren, Benedict, and others, were brought out there. In 1856 Miss Louisa Pyne and Mr. W. Harrison embarked in an undertaking for the performance of English operas; and under their management, which lasted about seven years, several new operas by Balfe, Benedict, Wallace, and others, were produced. An 'English Opera Company, Limited,' was formed in 1865, and gave performances at Covent Garden Theatre, but proved unsuccessful. Macfarren's 'Helvellyn' was its sole English production. It should be noted that in this and some other of the later English operas the dialogue is set as recitative, and the general form of the works is that of the modern grand opera. A class of short musical pieces, mostly on subjects of a comic and even farcical character, has sprung into existence of late years, of which Sullivan's 'Cox and Box,' 'Trial by Jury,' and 'Sorcerer,' and Clay's 'Court and Cottage' may be cited as specimens.

There remains to be noticed a class of English operas, the songs of which are not set to music composed expressly for them, but are written to existing tunes, principally those of old ballads and popular songs, whence the works derived the name of Ballad Operas. The famous 'Beggar's Opera' was the first of these, and to its wonderful popularity its successors owed their existence. [Beggar's Opera.] The dialogue of these pieces is wholly spoken. The following is believed to be a complete list of them:—1728. The Quaker's Opera; The Devil to Pay; Penelope; Love in a Riddle.—1729. The Village Opera; Momus turn'd Fabulist; Flora, or, Hob in the Well; Damon and Phillida (an alteration of Love in a Riddle); The Beggar's Wedding, The Wedding; Polly.—1730. The Fashionable Lady, or, Harlequin's Opera; The Chambermaid; The Lover's Opera; The Female Parson; Robin Hood.—1731. Silvia, or, the Country Burial; The Jovial Crew; Orestes; The Generous Freemason; The Highland Fair (Scotch Tunes); The Lottery.—1732. The Devil of a Duke; The Humours of the Court; The Mock Doctor; Sequal to Flora.—1733. Achilles; The Boarding School; The Cobler's Opera; The Livery Rake and Country Lass.—1734. The