English-Language Opera Analysis

Origins

(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

The history of opera written to an English libretto or book (either sung throughout or with spoken dialogue interspersed between the musical numbers) is one of long, deep valleys separated by but a few noteworthy crests. Following the invention of opera as a recognizable form by the Florentine camerata (a Humanistic discussion group that met in the late 1570’s and early 1580’s in the Florentine palace of Giovanni Bardi, Count of Vernio) just before the start of the seventeenth century, first France and then Germany joined Italy in developing a distinctly national form both in content and sound. This was not to be the case in Great Britain and, collaterally, the United States until the early twentieth century. Pure chance and ill fortune, combined with less definable causes such as public taste, account for the absence of an ongoing tradition. Equally curious, however, is the development of a sturdy form of English opera since the 1930’s and its dominance in international theater, so that without benefit of indigenous prototypes, a powerful force in the lyric theater has been produced out of the thinnest of rarefied air.