The London theatres premièring English opera
following outlines the history of London
theatres that premièred major English operas in this era. Five are still in use as
theatres. The St James's, Grecian and
Haymarket theatres also premièred a few minor works, as did some theatres
outside London. Only one opera of note, Loder's Raymond and
Agnes, was premièred outside London,
at the Theatre Royal, Manchester
in 1855. http://www.arthurlloyd.co.uk/
has an extensive history and old photographs of the
opened in 1663, Drury Lane
was one of the two theatres that had a patent to present spoken drama. In the second half of the 18th
century into the first part of the 19th, it also mounted English
opera, though of the usual trivial variety.
Alfred Bunn took over the lease in 1831 and began presenting Italian
opera before switching to English opera in 1835 when he attempted to make it a
permanent home for English opera producing a string of operas mainly by Balfe
as well as continental opera in English.
This foundered in 1847, after which Jullien took it over but bankrupted
himself within a few months with his lavish productions. Bunn took up the lease again briefly in
1850-51. After that, the theatre became
primarily devoted to plays and Italian opera although it did host a number of
Carl Rosa seasons later in the century with premières of Goring Thomas's
Esmeralda (1883) and Nadeshda (1885), Mackenzie's Colomba (1883) and The
Troubadour (1886), Stanford's Canterbury Pilgrims (1884) and Cowen's Thorgrim
in 1732, Covent Garden
was the other patent theatre, but also mixed in English opera, mainly the rather
trivial opera of the time but including Arne's Artaxerxes.
From 1810-1824, Sir Henry Bishop was musical director and included a
number of continental operas translated into English but also heavily adapted
for the supposedly different English conditions. Charles Kemble took over the management and
in 1826 he invited Weber to become musical director. Weber died shortly after the première of Oberon
and there was no operatic progress until Bunn took over the management in
put on a number of German
operas in German as well as Bellini's La sonnambula in English but then gave up the
management in 1837. It then was home to
a number of visiting and native companies performing French and Italian opera
until it burned down in 1847 when, on rebuilding, it was renamed the Royal
Italian Opera House, burning down again in 1856. On reopening in 1858, Pyne and Harrison took
on the management for part of the year during which they presented English
opera, under the banner of the Royal English Opera. They withdrew in 1864 but a committee took it
on for a further 2 years. The theatre
then became devoted solely to Italian opera but later included French and
German and by the end of the century it had achieved it current primacy.
King's Theatre, later Her Majesty's Theatre
was the main theatre for Italian opera until it burnt down in 1867. However, Smith and Mapleson produced three
seasons of English opera there between 1858 and 1860, including Macfarren's
(1860). Upon rebuilding, it
continued to produce important operatic work including several Carl Rosa
seasons and the first performance in England of Wagner's Der Ring.
in 1772, it was taken over by S.J. Arnold in 1812, who renamed it the English
Opera House although still staging the usual superficial fare by Bishop,
etc. However, Weber's Der Freischütz
received its first performance in England
there in 1824. As has been described in
the main body, when it reopened in 1834, under the name both of the English
Opera House and the New Theatre Royal Lyceum, it made a point of mounting new
and rather more substantial English opera.
gave up the management in 1838 and Balfe briefly took it on in 1841 but again
the company collapsed. After that, the
Lyceum was mainly used for spoken drama and some Italian opera, although Pyne
and Harrison gave the première of Balfe's The Rose of Castile there in 1857 and
it was used for Carl Rosa seasons in 1876 and 1877, including the première of
Cowen's Pauline (1876).
in 1870, the theatre was chiefly known for producing operettas and
particularly a number of works by Gilbert and Sullivan. However,
in 1896, it premièred
Stanford's Shamus O'Brien.
was D'Oyly Carte's attempt to establish an opera house dedicated
to English opera and opera in English, but after opening with a
of Sullivan's Ivanhoe in January
1891, D'Oyly Carte had insufficient
new productions ready to follow it and the project foundered and
sold it. It remains a theatre now best known for musicals.
in 1840, John Maddox presented continental opera in English there from
1843-50. However, he also produced a
number of Balfe operas as well as the premières of Loder's The Night Dancers in
1846 and Macfarren's King Charles II in 1849.
After that, it became devoted mainly to spoken drama, although Carl Rosa
used it for its first London
season in 1875. The theatre was demolished
Surrey Theatre, Lambeth (originally the Royal Circus).
Also known as the Royal Surrey Theatre.
in 1782 this mainly specialised in popular entertainment, although Robert
Elliston produced a number of Shakespeare plays, adding music to circumvent the
regulations. Later it mounted mainly
drama but also some operas, including the premières
of Rodwell's Lord
of the Isles (1833) and Balfe's The Devil in it (1852).
Alfred Bunn was manager for a short while.
The theatre was demolished in 1934.
details above are drawn mainly from George Biddlecombe, English opera from 1834 to
1864 with particular reference to the works of
Michael Balfe (New York: Garland Publishing, 1994), pp.332-337, Stanley Sadie, ed. The New Grove Dictionary
of Opera (London: Macmillan Publishers Ltd., 1992), Volume 3, pp.22-37 and Eric
W. White, The history of English Opera
(London: Faber & Faber, 1983), p.261.