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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.

Upcoming Lectures

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 K. PrestonKatherine 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.


Past Lectures

Click here for information on previous lectures, including links to the webcasts:


  • Fall 2018: Hye-jung Park (Ohio State University), "From World War to Cold War: Music in America's Radio Propaganda in Korea"
  • Spring 2018: Daniel M. Callahan (Boston College), "Bernstein Conducting Himself"
  • Fall 2017: Randall Goldberg (Youngstown State University), "The Kishineff Massacre and Domestic Musical Practice in America"
  • Spring 2017: Christina Bashford, William Brooks, Gayle Sherwood Magee, Laurie Matheson, and Justin Vickers, "Johnnies, Tommies, and Sammies: Music and the WWI Alliance"
  • Fall 2016: Dominic McHugh, "In the Workshop of Lerner and Loewe: Archival Sources for the Genesis of My Fair Lady"
  • Spring 2016: R. Larry Todd, “Revisiting Mendelssohn’s Octet, or the Maturing of Precocity”
  • Fall 2015: Ryan Raul Bañagale, "The Ongoing Composition of Rhapsody in Blue"
  • Spring 2015: Paul Laird, "'A Hint of West Side Story': The Genesis of Bernstein's Chichester Psalms as Seen in the Library of Congress Bernstein Collection"
  • Fall 2014: Carol Hess, "Copland as Good Neighbor: Cultural Diplomacy in Latin America During World War II"
  • Spring 2014: Nancy Newman, "'A program not greatly to their credit': Finding New Perspectives on the Germania Musical Society through the American Memory Sheet Music Collection"
  • Fall 2013: Kendra Preston Leonard, "Meaning and Myth in Louise Talma’s First Period Works"
  • Spring 2013: Todd Decker, "Making Show Boat: Jerome Kern, Oscar Hammerstein II, and the Power of Performers"
  • Fall 2012: Barbara Heyman, "Samuel Barber: Serendipitous Discoveries"
  • Spring 2012: Thomas Brothers, "Louis Armstrong: The Making of a Great Melodist"
  • Fall 2011: William Meredith, "What the Autograph Can Tell Us:
    Beethoven’s Sonata in E Major, opus 109"
  • Winter 2011: Carol J. Oja, "Bernstein Meets Broadway:
    Race, the Blues, and On the Town (1944)"
  • Fall 2010: W. Anthony Sheppard, "American Musical Modernism and Japan"
  • Spring 2010: Steve Swayne, "William Schuman’s Puzzling Seventh Symphony"
  • Fall 2009: Walter Frisch, "Arnold Schoenberg's Creative Journey, 1897-1912"
  • Spring 2009: Jeffrey Magee, "Now It Can Be Told: The Unknown Irving Berlin"
  • Fall 2008: Annegret Fauser, "After Pearl Harbor: Music, War, and the Library of Congress"
  • Spring 2008: Judith Tick, "Ruth Crawford Seeger, Modernist Composer in the Folk Revival: Biography as Music History”

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