Wandering Minstrels: The History of Travelling Opera in Britain

David Josefowitz Recital Hall, Royal Academy of Music, London.
Saturday, 26th October 2013. 10.30am to 6 pm (registration from 10am).

Tickets: £15 (RAM students and staff free)

The purpose of this study day is to explore the rich and varied history of travelling opera in Britain from the 19th century onwards. By the beginning of the 20th century, there were over 60 touring companies active in Britain, touring the length and breadth of the land, appearing in some of the nation’s most famous and prestigious opera venues, on the radio and television, as well as in the thousands of (now) long-forgotten provincial theatres.

The event will draw together a wide range of scholars, researchers, performers and enthusiasts to discuss this neglected but hugely revealing subject.

Papers will focus on the many aspects of travelling opera, including the running of companies, the adventures of the many musicians connected with them, and the repertoire (including British operas) they toured. The speakers include: Professor Katherine Preston (College of William and Mary, USA), Dr Paul Rodmell (University of Birmingham), Dr Raymond Holden (Royal Academy of Music), John Ward (Trustee, the Carl Rosa Trust), representatives from English Touring Opera, and Dr Steven Martin (McCann Research Scholar at the RAM, 2010–2011).

For more information, or to book a place, please contact the organiser, Steven Martin. Tickets will also be available online at: www.ram.ac.uk/events from Monday 8th July, or from
the Royal Academy of Music’s Box Office (020 7873 7300) from Monday 9th September.

The Papers
Paul Rodmell’s paper will explore how the majority of the population experienced opera during in the second half of the 19th century. Prompted by urbanisation and the growth of the railways, provincial audiences were able to see opera on an increasingly frequent and regular basis, provided by a multitude of touring companies. These organisations were often run on a shoestring budget and in gruelling circumstances, yet they provided a new cultural experience for thousands of people up and down the country in a way unimaginable fifty years earlier. This paper explores the way in which these companies operated and the audiences they reached.

John Ward will draw on his extensive research into the Carl Rosa Opera Company, in a paper which looks at the beginnings of the organisation within the context of travelling opera during the late 19th century.

Thomas Beecham, Henry Wood, John Barbirolli, Adrian Boult, Malcolm Sargent and many other British conductors ‘cut their teeth’ working with travelling opera companies. Raymond Holden’s paper will look at the major British conductors of opera the 20th century, focusing on their working methods and relationships with travelling opera companies, using illustrations from recordings and scores.

Steven Martin will look at the business of touring opera in the 1920s, focussing on the adventures of the British National Opera Company, particularly its relationship with the BBC, which led to the first government subsidy for opera in Britain.

Representatives from English Touring Opera will discuss the business of touring opera in Britain today and what challenges the industry faces in the future.

Katherine Preston will give the keynote address: ‘Transatlantic Opera: The Cross-Cultural Impact of Opera Companies in Late 19th century America and Great Britain’. Prof. Preston will examine the rich operatic cultural exchange between the United States and Great Britain during the late nineteenth century. She will will discuss the changed climate for foreign-language opera in the United States during the 1870s and the impact of James Mapleson’s companies in the realm of Italian opera after 1878. Katherine’s address will then focus on the impact of the little-known English-opera movement in the United States during this period; from its surprising revival in the early 1870s aided by Caroline Richings (an American singer born in England) and the Scottish soprano Euphrosyne Parepa-Rosa, its increased appeal (as performed by Clara Louis Kellogg) to American middle-class audiences during the economic crisis years of the mid-1870s, and the overwhelming popularity of English-language opera throughout the 1880s (as exemplified by the Boston Ideals and the Emma Abbott Opera Company).

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