Victorian English Opera







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, whose chief protagonist was Michael William Balfe but in which 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, primarily 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




Hayes (Kent) Philharmonic Choir is planning to sing Macfarren's cantata, Mayday, on Saturday, April 25, 2015 at Hayes Parish Church, Hayes St, Bromley, Kent BR2 7LH.  If you are interested in taking part then please see their website or contact them on , 07989 192928 or on twitter (@hayeschoir). Hayes is easily accessible from central and south London and north west Kent.

Comment and photographs of the 2014 New Sussex Opera performance of Weber's Oberon

An article of the changing ways that female singers were titled in the first half of the 19th century can be found here and one on the later history of Barnett's The Mountain Sylph here.

Matthew Spring, Bath Spa University, and Andrew Clarke, Independent Researcher, are organising a Loder Celebration in Bath, UK on Friday 16th and Saturday 17th October, 2015 hosted by the Bath Spa University Department of Music in partnership with the Holburne Museum of Art. The Celebration will compliment the publication of a book by Nicholas Temperley and a recording of the Edward Loder’s opera Raymond & Agnes, the sesquicentennial of whose death is being marked during 2015. A flyer with background on the Loder project can be found here. There is also an article by Andrew Lamb on Loder at MusicWeb International.

Retrospect Opera are planning recordings of Loder's Raymond and Agnes and Smyth's The Boatswain's Mate while Victorian Opera Northwest are planning to record Balfe's Satanella

The libretto for Barnett's The Mountain Sylph has been added here. Librettos for Thomson's Hermann ( here) and Loder's Raymond and Agnes ( here) have also been made available. An essay that relates the Raymond and Agnes libretto to Lewis's novel The Monk and to some of its dramatisations can be found here.

Paul Rodmell has recently published a book that covers in detail the last third of the Victorian era in his Opera in the British Isles, 1875-1918. (Farnham, UK: Ashgate Publishing Ltd., 2013)

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


Wallace Songs

SOMM have released a CD (SOMMCD 0131) of Wallace Songs sung by Sally Silver with Richard Bonynge at the piano.  An excerpt from "Through the pathless forest drear" can be heard here and from "Bird of the Wild Wing" here


Sullivan's The Beauty Stone

This Chandos recording (CHAN 10794 (2)) with the BBC National Orchestra of Wales under Rory Macdonald is the first fully professional recording of the opera and features Elin Manahan Thomas, Toby Spence, Rebecca Evans, Catherine Wyn-Rogers and Alan Opie.  See here for more details.


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 opera in English. They have just added the 1968 recording of Benedict's The Lily of Killarney.  

Michael William Balfe wrote a number of original operas for continental houses as well as translations and adaptations of some of his more popular English operas. Basil Walsh has opened a new site dedicated to these. See here.

British Opera Overtures

The orchestra of Victorian Opera Northwest under Richard Bonynge have recorded a number of Victorian English opera overtures and they are now available on SOMM CD 0123 : British Opera Overtures. More detail on the content can be found here.







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