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




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 recording is marred by the singer's distant and hollow acoustic.

The libretto for Mary á Beckett's Agnes Sorel has 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.

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.

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

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 A range of British and Irish music 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.  







 Any correspondence should be addressed to