Opera in America

In OPERA IN AMERICA: A CULTURAL HISTORY, John Dizikes comprehensively discusses the paradox of the genre’s popularity in an untitled, nonmonarchical society. In American, lack of aristocratic patronage created the impresario-manager who had to be sensitive to popular taste or risk financial disaster. Puritanism inhibited opera and theater in general in New England. For its earliest development, opera required the continental European atmosphere of New Orleans, Louisiana, and Charleston, South Carolina.

French opera competed with English ballad opera in New Orleans in the 1790’s. By 1825, heterogeneous New York audiences could enjoy several of the still popular operas by Gioachino Rossini as performed by touring companies such as that of Manuel Garcia. Continuing patterns thus began early: private rather than government sponsorship in culturally diverse cities, popular works to support experimental repertory, and musical theater in parallel development with opera theater.

Large permanent companies, when they appeared in the latter half of the nineteenth century, derived support from new rather than old wealth. They succeeded best in cities with large immigrant populations from Europe. New York’s Metropolitan Opera Association, founded in 1883, is a good example of this combination.

In Dizikes’ book, opera’s development in America appears with commentary on its parallel growth in Europe and ongoing events in the world at large. This method of presentation vividly shows the degree to which external forces have continually shaped the fragile yet tenacious musical form known as opera.