This website is devoted to
English opera, i.e. opera with an
original English libretto, written
during the Victorian Era and which
aspired to rival continental opera of
The era can be divided into two. The
first part covers 1834-1866, whose chief
protagonist was Michael William Balfe
but in which other composers, such as
John Barnett, Julius Benedict, Edward
Loder, George Alexander Macfarren and
William Vincent Wallace, also played a
significant part. Many of their operas
enjoyed initial success but few managed
to hold the stage until the 20th century
and even they had largely disappeared
within the first few decades. For them,
Italian opera was the main competitor.
The second part, which stretched from
1876 until 1901, was a rather more
disparate effort, often under the aegis
of the Carl Rosa Company, with, once
again, some initial success but
ultimately failure to gain a hold in the
repertoire. Here the competition was
more general with German opera,
primarily Wagner, becoming an
increasingly important influence.
The focus is on composition and
performance of Victorian English opera
in Britain and primarily in London, the
key centre of activity. However,
pointers to its history elsewhere are
given on the Other
The Boydell Press have just published
Musicians of Bath and
Beyond: Edward Loder (1809-1865) and his Family edited by Nicholas Temperley. It includes considerable material on Loder's operas and opera life in general at this time. See here.
Guðrún Ólafsdóttir and Francisco Javier Jáuregui have
recorded a CD of English and Scottish Romantic Songs for
voice and guitar (EMEC
Discos). It is an interesting collection with unique examples from lesser known English
opera composers such as Barnett, De Pinna and Lee.
Unfortunately, the guitar accompaniment, although well done, gives a
certain uniformity of sound to the collection while the
singing is not always idiomatic but the main drawback is
that the recording is marred by the
singer's distant and hollow acoustic.
The libretto for
Mary á Beckett's
Agnes Sorel has now been added.
A list of sources, many online, for all English opera
librettos between 1834 and 1870 can be found at
Arnold Ian Smith has written a book
The Essence of Victorian Opera: The Unheroic and the Heroic Middle-Class Tastes and Mores
(Edwin Mellen Press, 2014) in which he puts forward the
thesis that the lack of impact and persistence of English opera in the
Victorian era was essentially due to the influence of middle class
morality that shunned the heroic and overtly emotional.
Unfortunately, priced at around £150 ($250), this is not a casual purchase.
An article of the changing ways that female singers were titled in the first
half of the 19th century can be found here and one on the later
history of Barnett's The Mountain Sylph
Retrospect Opera are planning recordings of Edward Loder's Raymond and Agnes and Ethel Smyth's The Boatswain's Mate while
Victorian Opera Northwest
are planning to record Balfe's Satanella.
Paul Rodmell has recently published a book that covers in
detail the last third of the Victorian era in
his Opera in the British Isles, 1875-1918.
(Farnham, UK: Ashgate Publishing Ltd., 2013).
A collection of
scores of some early
theatre, art and
popular songs is
A range of British and Irish music is available at
Oriel Music Trust are
offering a number of recordings of English Opera, both
here for list) and 20th
century, as well as continental opera in English.
They have just added the 1968 recording
of Benedict's The Lily of Killarney.