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Centres outside Britain

(Any suggestions for further books, websites etc. welcomed.
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Most Victorian English Opera was composed and performed in Britain but it was also performed (and occasionally composed) elsewhere, primarily in other English speaking countries but also in continental Europe, although translated into the relevant language.

A big difference between these other countries and Britain was that there were no rigid demarcations, at least for much of the century, between English opera, non-English opera given in English and opera sung in its native or, at least, a non English, language (usually Italian).  The emphasis was on staging whatever operas would appeal to the audience with impresarios and company managers in the position of having an opera's track record in Europe as a guide. Thus English opera might well be just part of a company's repertoire for a particular season or tour and its history in these countries is intertwined with that of opera generally. However, as in Britain, these countries sometimes felt that both native composers and performers were discriminated against in favour of those from overseas.



North America


New Zealand

Other countries of the old British Empire

Continental Europe



The 18th century had seen a growth in musical activity, including some native opera, in Ireland but the Union with Britain in 1808 led to the declining social and political significance of Dublin, which became just part of the touring circuit along with the large English cities.  Despite this, it retained sufficient importance that, on occasion, one off events were mounted there, e.g. Balfe appeared in The Siege of Rochelle there in 1839, his only appearance outside London in the opera. Many performers, musicians and composers came from Ireland but, in looking for greater opportunities, they often gravitated to London or overseas. A clutch of major English opera composers came from Ireland:-  Balfe, O'Rourke, Wallace and Stanford while Sullivan had Irish parentage, although born in England. However, these composers wrote in an English or continental style and there was no suggestion of building an authentic Irish opera. The reasons for this are complex and part of the general failure to establish a distinctive art music in Ireland that has been discussed in detail by Harry White, amongst others.

Books and articles  that discuss various aspects of this history include:-

Boydell, Brian, (ed.).,  Four centuries of Music in Ireland. (London: British Broadcasting Company, 1979).

Ferris, Catherine. The Use of Newspapers as a Source for Musicological Research: A Case Study of Dublin Musical Life 1840-44. (Ph.D Thesis, National University of Ireland, Maynooth, 2011). It can be found at

Gillen, Gerald and Harry White,(eds.). Music and Irish Cultural History. Irish Musical Studies, Vol. 3 (Dublin: Irish Academic Press, 1995).

Klein, Axel. "Stage Irish, or the National in Irish Opera, 1780-1925". The Opera Quarterly, (Vol. 21, No.1, 2005), pp 27-67.

Levey, R.M. and J. O'Rorke. Annals of the Theatre Royal, 1821-1880. (Dublin: Joseph Dollard,1880).

Murphy, Michael and Harry White, (eds.). Musical Constructions of Nationalism: Essays on the History and Ideology of European Musical Culture, 1800-1940 (Cork: Cork University Press, 2001).

White, Harry . The Keeper's Recital: Music and Cultural History in Ireland, 1770-1970 (Cork: Cork University Press and Indiana: University of Notre Dame Press, 1998).

Useful websites include:

A narrative history of 19th century music in Ireland at Basil Walsh's Irish Classical Music Pioneers.

Some of White's themes can be found in his article, "The Preservation of Music and Irish Cultural History", International Review of the Aesthetics and Sociology of Music, Volume 27, No. 2 (December,1996), pp. 123-138.


North America

Early opera performances were largely driven by visiting singers and players from Europe and concentrated in the cities of the eastern seaboard, primarily New York. Such tours continued to play a large part throughout the century.  However, gradually, permanent opera houses and companies were created and, although still dependent on European personnel, indigenous talent started to emerge, some of whom appeared in Europe. American operas also started to be composed and performed with William H. Fry's Leonora (1845) usually reckoned to be the first (see below). At the beginning of the 19th century, operas were largely sung in English, irrespective of their original language but this changed during the course of the century and, increasingly, operas were given in their native language or sometimes in Italian, even if that was not the original language.

Books that discuss various aspects of this history include:-

Ahlquist, Karen. Democracy at the Opera: Music, Theater, and Culture in New York City,1815-60. (Champaign, Illinois: University of Illinois Press, 1997).

Brown, T. Allston, A History of the New York Stage (3 volumes), (New York: Dodd, Mead and Company, 1903).  Available online at [accessed on March 11, 2014].

Dizikes, John, Opera in America. (New Haven, USA: Yale University Press, 1993).

Henderson, Ruth,(ed,), Further revelations of an opera manager in 19th century America; Third book of memoirs of Max Maretzek. (Warren, Michigan: Harmonic Park Press, 2006).
These are based on the memoirs of Max Maretzek, opera impresario and manager of several theatres in the US, perhaps the best known being the Academy of Music in New York. These follow two published in his life time, viz.:- Crotchets and quavers; or, Revelations of an opera manager in America (New York: S.French, 1855) and Sharps and Flats (New York: American Musician Publishing Co., 1890).

Izzo, Francesco, William Henry Fry's "Leonora: The Italian Connection". Nineteenth-Century Music Review, Volume 6, Issue 1, (June, 2009), pp 7-25.  A version of the paper is also available from  Ten selections of pieces from Fry's Leonora are available at,_William_Henry).

Kirk, Elise Kuhl, American Opera. (Champaign, Illinois: University of Illinois Press, 2001).

Lawrence, Vera Brodsky, Strong on Music, Volumes 1-3. (New York: Oxford University Press, 1988 and Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1999).
This is a record of the New York music scene in the days on George Templeton Strong (1836-1875) based around his diaries.

Martin, George, Verdi at the Golden Gate: Opera and San Francisco in the gold rush days. (Berkeley, California: University of California Press, 1993).

Ottenberg, June C., Opera Odyssey: Toward a History of Opera in Nineteenth-Century America (Westport, USA: Greenwood Press, 1994).

Preston, Katherine K., Opera on the Road: Traveling Opera Troupes in the United States, 1825-60. (Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press,1993).

Preston, Katherine K., "Between the Cracks: The Performance of English-Language Opera in Late Nineteenth-Century America". American Music, Vol. 21, No. 3, Nineteenth-Century Special Issue (Autumn, 2003), pp. 349-374

A list of American operas including those from the 19th century can be found at



Regular theatre began in Sydney in the 1830's and gradually spread to other cities.  Some opera was performed and there were occasional travelling companies but it was not until William S. Lyster set up the first of his companies in 1861 that opera became a regular occurrence in Australia. He continued in business for the next 20 years, after which the J.C. Williamson company became preeminent, particularly with its Gilbert and Sullivan productions. Although on a smaller scale than North America, Australian performers began to appear and to travel to Europe towards the end of the century and Australian operas started to be composed.

Books on the subject include:

Davis, Richard. Anna Bishop: The Adventures of an Intrepid Prima Donna. (Sydney: Currency Press Pty., 1997).

Gyger, Alison. Opera for the Antipodes: Opera in Australia 1881-1939. (Sydney: Currency Press Pty Ltd., 1990).

Gyger, Alison. Civilising the colonies: pioneering opera in Australia. (Sydney: Pellinor Pty Ltd.,1999).

Love, Harold. The Golden Age of Australian Opera. (Woollahra, NSW:: Currency Press Pty. Ltd., 1981) - a history of the Lyster company.

Skinner, Graeme. Towards a general theory of Australian Musical composition. (Ph.D. thesis, University of Sydney, 2011) includes a discussion of music in early colonial Australia. It is available at

Wood, Elizabeth. Australian Opera, 1842-1970: A History of Australian Opera with Descriptive Catalogues. (Ph.D. thesis, The University of Adelaide, 1979).  It is available at

Useful websites include: gives a brief history of opera in Australia and New Zealand.

The Trove web site is a good resource for newspaper reports as well as other resources.

Graeme Skinner's AustralHarmony website includes considerable information on music of this era in Australia.


New Zealand

New Zealand tended to depend on companies from Australia or who had visited Australia and references can be found in the Australian material above. Specific books that include material on 19th century opera in New Zealand include:-

Simpson, Adrienne. The greatest ornaments of their profession: The New Zealand tours by the Simonsen Opera Companies, 1876-1889 (Canterbury: University of Canterbury, 1993).

Simpson, Adrienne. Opera's Farthest Frontier: A History of Professional Opera in New Zealand. (Auckland: Reed, 1996).

Simpson, Adrienne. Opera in New Zealand: Aspects of History and Performance (Wellington: Witham Press, 1990)

Useful websites include: gives a brief history of opera in Australia and New Zealand.


Other countries of the old British Empire

Other countries of the old British empire occasionally were visited by travelling companies but this history does not seem to have been investigated in any detailed way.


Continental Europe

Several English operas were translated and performed in various European countries, including Austria, Germany and France. Given the difficulties in getting a London premiere, several composers towards the end of the century, notably Charles Villiers Stanford, Isodore de Lara and Ethyl Smyth, concentrated on getting a continental performance, which, they hoped, would then encourage a company to mount a British one, e.g.  Stanford's Savonarola (1884) received its first performance (translated into German) in Hamburg and was then performed at Covent Garden around 3 months later, although also in German.


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