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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.



On Sunday 27th January a PhD student, Clare Wheat, at the University of Huddersfield  has organised a performance of a World Premiere, semi-staged concert version of scenes from the Comic Opera by Thomas F. Dunhill called Something in the City. The opera was conceived and written in the late 1930s, the vocal score was published but not the libretto. It is thought that the outbreak of the Second World War prevented this and dashed any hopes of a performance at the time. The libretto was written by FJ Whitmarsh and BW Smith, who both worked in the publicity department of Shell (Anglo-Saxon Petroleum) and they approached Dunhill to write the score. 
The plot revolves around romantic entanglements within the London office of a 1930s city firm, called Frognal and Finch. This is an Historically Informed Performance which aims to use vocal techniques of the period with a view to creating the first performance of the work as it may have been performed. Principal performers include Richard Suart (ENO), Joanna Gamble (Opera North), Thomas D. Hopkinson (Opera North), Stephen Godward (National G & S Opera Company), Ben Noble, Mike Tipler and Clare Wheat. The performance commences at 7pm in St Paul’s Hall, University of Huddersfield with a pre-concert talk from 6. See here for larger poster picture.

Victorian Opera Northwest have released their recording of Alfred Cellier's Dorothy on Naxos 8660447. See here

The web page and libretto for Romer and Lemon's The Pacha's Bridal have been added.

Retrospect Opera have just released their recording of Edward Loder's Raymond and Agnes, the first complete recording of any of his operas.  This follows their recent recordings of other rarities including Ethel Smyth's The Boatswain's Mate, Charles Dibdin's Christmas Gambols and Edward Solomon and Francis Burnand's Pickwick.

The Library of Congress in the US has made available scans of many librettos from this era. Several are duplicates of librettos available elsewhere but there are several for which this is the only source. Links to the different opera librettos (shown as "LoC") have been included on the librettos page.  Note that their system brings up the pages in such a way that the image progressively sharpens. Sometimes this can take some time and refreshing the page may help. The system also does not always bring up the image but it can usually be found by going to the gallery view.

Routledge have just published Kurt Gänzl's, Victorian Vocalists.  It's a collection of lively biographies of 100 Victorian singers from different countries and backgrounds but all of whom have some connection through singing opera (Italian and English) in London. Written in Kurt's inimitable, chatty style it is very readable and a mine of information although without references if you want to follow up on any point and without an index if you want to cross reference. The printed edition comes in at a hefty £185, although it is available from various sources at around £150. The e-book version is under £36.  The singers covered are listed here.

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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