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Wandering Minstrels: Travelling Opera in Britain – Conference Report

On 26 October, a group of OBERTO staff and students attended the ‘Wandering Minstrels: Travelling Opera in Britain’ study day at the Royal Academy of Music. Here are some of their responses to the day.

MA student Pauline Galea writes:

I particularly enjoyed Dr Paul Rodmell’s session on ‘Unsung Heroes, 1875-1919’.  His overview of the range of touring opera companies in England during that period, their repertoire and their performing schedule, painted a very vivid picture of the importance of the touring system.  It was interesting to note that opera companies then, as now, needed to maintain a balance of producing ‘old favourites’ to bring in the revenue, but also regularly commissioned new works, and also that the principal language for touring companies was English, with the attendant requirement to arrange translations.

MA student Anna Koukoullis writes:

I was most drawn to comments made by Dr John Ward, who presented a paper on the history of the Carl Rosa company. This was particularly interesting as it discussed Rosa’s thoughts not only on repertoire, but production issues. Dr Ward was able to show us a primary source that contained a sketch of the vision Rosa had for the staging of a particular project. Touring opera companies often find their ambitions for the staging of a work limited by being on the move, and performing in a variety of venues of differing size. This inspired me to ask the question, how does touring limit what companies can do visually and dramatically on stage? And do these limitations affect how they bring opera to the masses?

Carl-rosa-printCarl Rosa

PhD student Anna Maria Barry writes:

The most interesting session for me was ‘English Touring Opera and the Impact of Cinema Broadcasts’. This paper concerned a research project that is currently underway examining the fast-growing trend for operatic cinema broadcasts and the impact this may be having on the audiences for live opera. English Touring Opera traditionally serves audiences in towns and rural communities where live opera is not available. Now, however, the majority of these communities are able to access world-class cinema broadcasts from the Met and the Royal Opera House. The research project is surveying audiences in order to learn more about the perceived advantages and disadvantages of opera in the cinema. It is hoped that the results will allow English Touring Opera to adapt to a changing marketplace for opera. Although the project is still ongoing, initial audience responses raise some interesting and surprising questions about the nature of live performance.

Alexandra Wilson writes:

A highlight of the day was Professor Katherine Preston’s keynote paper about the tours made by British opera troupes to the US during the long nineteenth century. I have written about a concert tour that the Italian-American soprano Amelita Galli-Curci made to the UK during the 1920s, so it was interesting to learn how the process worked in reverse. Professor Preston gave a vivid account of the challenges that opera singers faced on the road, the alternating fads for Italian and English opera in nineteenth-century America, and the surprisingly important role that was played by women in setting up and managing operatic troupes.

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