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|AMS - Library of Congress Lecture Series|
The American Musicological Society and the Music Division of the Library of Congress are pleased to present a series of lectures highlighting musicological research conducted in the Division’s collections.
16 April 2019, 7 p.m., Montpelier Room, Madison Building, Library of Congress:
Katherine K. Preston (College of William and Mary), "America’s Forgotten Love Affair with Opera"
Katherine Preston describes the lecture as follows: “Nineteenth-century Americans loved to poke fun at European opera. Blackface minstrels created burlesques, wags published satires, and Mark Twain likened attending opera to visiting the dentist. This suggests that the popular modern image of opera as bombastic, pretentious, and affected has a long lineage. But a closer look at the evidence suggests that nineteenth-century Americans enjoyed both the lampoons and the operas themselves.
“Most scholarship on American opera performance history has focused on foreign-language companies, which has reinforced the image of operagoers as wealthy and elite. But this scholarship mostly dismissed opera in English translation as nonexistent or insignificant. A careful examination of periodicals, newspapers, scrapbooks, memoirs, diaries, and performing materials (including the stellar collection of periodicals and serials at the Library of Congress) reveals clearly that opera audiences during the period included tens of thousands of regular middle-class Americans who flocked to performances of operas in English, at ‘popular’ prices, and as spectacle and entertainment. Many of the vernacular opera companies, furthermore, were managed by women impresarios or artistic directors.
“My talk will reveal a completely forgotten but important chapter in American cultural history. I will briefly describe how foreign-language opera became elite, exclusive, and the target of satire. But my principal focus will be the important English-language troupes of the 1870s and 1880s, whose female managers created an American audience for English-language opera and supplied those audiences with the entertainment they craved. The paper will be accompanied by copious illustrations and should appeal to anyone interested in opera, women’s studies, theatre history, or American cultural history.”
Katherine K. Preston is the Bottoms Professor of Music, Emerita at the College of William & Mary. Her books include Music for Hire (1992), Opera on the Road (1994), and three editions, including George Bristow’s Symphony No. 2, ‘The Jullien’ (2011) and the co-edited Emily’s Songbook: Music in 1850s Albany (2011). Her most recent monograph, Opera for the People: English-Language Opera and Women Managers in Late Nineteenth-Century America (2017) is part of the series AMS Studies in Music, and is the inspiration for her lecture. The recipient of many fellowships, she is Past President of the Society for American Music.
Click here for information on previous lectures, including links to the webcasts: