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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 day.


The era can be divided into two. The first part covers 1834-1866 and is sometimes titled English Romantic Opera.  Its chief protagonist was Michael William Balfe but 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, notably 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 Centres page.



Retrospect Opera have just released their recording of Solomon and Burnand's Pickwick . See here for details. This follows their well received recording of Ethel Smyth's The Boatswain's Mate, see here. The opera featured on BBC Radio 3's "Building a Library". The podcast can be found here. The opera is also being played on the BBC's Opera Matinee on Thursday, March 9 at 14.00 (UK time) - see here . It will be available there for 30 days after broadcast.

CRQ Editions have made available an off air recording of Balfe's The Bohemian Girl from a Covent Garden production broadcast on August 18, 1951. This was conducted by Sir Thomas Beecham using an edition put together by Dennis Arundel and himself with some altered text, inclusion of material from the French and German versions and recitatives rather than spoken dialogue. It suffers from sub hi fi sound but there are only a handful of places where the sound is particularly problematic. On the plus side, its origin as a staged performance together with Beecham's conducting gives it a flow and dynamism rarely encountered in Balfe performances today and no doubt stemmed partly from the fact that Beecham and his orchestra were still aware of the opera's performing tradition. The cast - Roberta Peters, Edith Coates, Anthony Marlowe, Murray Dickie, Jess Walters, Howell Glynne - are excellent and Peters, after a bit of an uncertain start and perhaps occasionally being over conscious of her English pronunciation, is superb.  It comes on a 3CD set, CRQ CD134/136.

Naxos have released Victorian Opera Northwest's recording of Balfe's Satanella on Naxos 8.660378-79. Satanella is sung by Sally Silver and the orchestra is conducted by Richard Bonynge, who also prepared the score. It includes just the musical numbers and not the dialogue.

cover  The Boydell Press has 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.

A CD of Loder's piano music played by Ian Hobson is available on Toccato Classics (TOCC0322). The booklet with an excellent introductory article by Nicholas Temperley is available 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 librettos for Joseph De Pinna's The Rose of the Alhambra , Mary á Beckett's Agnes Sorel , George Rodwell's The Spirit of the Bell and Edward Loder's The Covenanters have now been added. A list of sources, many online, for all English opera librettos between 1834 and 1870 can be found at Librettos.

Arnold Ian Smith has written a book entitled 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.

A collection of recordings and scores of some early 19th century theatre, art and popular songs is available at

A range of British and Irish music is available at

The Oriel Music Trust are offering a number of recordings of English Opera, both Victorian (see 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.

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