"Enemy to the Muses!" : The Generic Challenge of the Early 18th-Century Ballad Opera

Authors

MIKYŠKOVÁ Anna

Year of publication 2020
Type Appeared in Conference without Proceedings
MU Faculty or unit

Faculty of Arts

Citation
Description The first three decades of the 18th century mark a peculiar period in the development of English music theatre. In the 1720s, London was swept by the grandeur of Italian opera which remained a musical and theatrical highlight for many years. However, partially due to the growing elitism of the London productions of Italian opera, popular taste slowly changed, and a new satirical version of Italian opera emerged: the uniquely English genre of ballad opera. The new genre was famously inaugurated by John Gay and Johann Christoph Pepusch’s The Beggar’s Opera (1728), whose success was achieved by the employment of popular songs, a highly efficient parody of Italian operas and the unprecedented metatheatrical response to contemporary anti-opera sentiments. The multiple ballad operas that kept flooding London theatres for the next ten years were to a great extent attempts at repeating Gay and Pepusch’s financial success. Nevertheless, the aim of this paper is to go beyond the generally known story of The Beggar’s Opera and to focus on later ballad operas which developed the original criticism further. An interesting case in point is James Ralph’s ballad opera The Fashionable Lady; or Harlequin’s Opera (1730) which provides an intriguing comment on the genre of ballad operas itself (especially in the underlying conflict between Mr. Ballad, opponent of Italian “squeakish Recitatives” and “paltry Eunuchs”, and Mr. Drama and other critics who despise the modern English entertainment business). The presentation will demonstrate that the genre of ballad operas, which was based on its satiric mode, also became a subject of its own parody.
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