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|Letter 30: The Opera House
Written by JulieW
(9/16/2007 12:46 p.m.)
It is all too easy to confuse it with the current Royal Opera House, Covent Garden and, of course ,that is an entirely different theatre.
The Opera House to which JA referred in Letter 30 was situated in the Hay Market.
Let's take a look at the London of that time, to see where it was situated.
Below is a key to the Regency A-Z of London( a most wonderful book which I thoroughly recommend, BTW!) which is produced by the Topographical Society of London n based on Richard Horwood's map of London.
Here is a close up, from the same book, of the Hay Market, which is to be found in Section 13 of that map:
The theatre was also known as The Kings Theatre, due to the royal patronage it enjoyed. It was quite a magnificent building compared with most theatres of the time.Here is a picture of the exterior of the building as it appeared when Cassandra and JA knew it.
And here is a plan of its sumptuous interior:
The other theatre in the Hay Market was The Little Theatre in the hay, which was of course mentioned by Lydia Bennet in P+P:
"Well, and so we breakfasted at ten, as usual. I thought it would never be over; for, by the bye, you are to understand that my uncle and aunt were horrid unpleasant all the time I was with them. If you'll believe me, I did not once put my foot out of doors, though I was there a fortnight. Not one party, or scheme, or anything! To be sure, London was rather thin; but, however, the Little Theatre was openů"
This was the only theatre in London with a Royal patent which allowed it to stage plays during the summer season when the other legitimate theatres were closed.
Below is the only picture I could find of the Little Theatre in the Hay, and it shows it next to its grand successor, the current Theatre Royal Haymarket. It is in a sad state of repair as a result of a fire, from which it never recovered . It was eventually demolished, but this gives you some idea of the smallness of its scale when compared to the opera house.
Back to the Opera house.
Here is a fabulously detailed description of it, from A Picture of London 1802, written and published as a guide for tourists to the capital by Richard Phillips. It tells you all you need to know ;-)
This magnificent theatre (situated at the lower end of the west side of the Haymarket) was originally built by Sir John Vanburg, at the beginning of the late century, and was first opened in April, 1705, under the appellation of the Queen's Theatre, for the exclusive performance of Italian operas.
In the year 1720, a plan was adopted for a more regular and certain support of the undertaking, than that of the casual attendance of the public ; and a fund of fifty, thousand pounds was raised by sub-scription , of which sum one thousand pounds was contributed by his Majesty George the First and the concern, under the arrangement of a governor, deputy-governor , and twenty directors, was called the ROYAL ACADEMY of MUSIC. To render the design as complete as possible, not only the first vocal performers', but a lyric poet and three of the best composers then in Europe who could be prevailed upon to visit this country, were soon afterwards engaged, viz. Handel, Attilio, and Bononcini.
Supported by the talents of these illustrious masters , the Opera long continued to flourish, and to attract the admiration of the first musical judges.
The managers, since that time, have ken multifarious. Messrs. Owen, Mac Swiney, Hoddice, the Earl of Middlesex, Mr. Handel, Signora Venisci, Messrs. Crawford, Yeates, Gordon, the Hon. Mr. Hobart ; Messrs. Brooks, O'Riley ; Sir John Gallini, Mrs. Tranchard, and Mr. Taylor, the present proprietor and manager. About twelve or thirteen years ago, the theatre was burnt down, but was immediately afterwards rebuilt on the same scite(sic), and in its present form.
Formerly, the opera performers were not only all Italians, (or nearly so) but consisted of the best that Italy could furnish. Latterly, however, dancing has so greatly prevailed as to have threatened to triumph over the more refined and noble art of music. To allow time for the performance of ballets, operas, which originally consisted of three acts, have been reduced to two ; and a ballet is now often extended to a greater length than an act of an opera.
Among the present vocal troop, we find the respectable names of Banti, Vinci, Roverdino, Morelli, Viganori and Giovanni, The composers are Saleri and Bianci.
The ballet master, D'Egville : and the principal dancers, Madame Hillsberg, Madamoiselle Parisot, and Mr. D'Egville, in each of whom we find a grace of attitude, and an agility of action, which form specimens of the first degree of excellence in their art.
The instrumental band has generally been esteemed the best in this kingdom ; but it is but justice to observe, that our own countrymen have, in this department of musical performance, attained the highest degree of accuracy and execution ; and not only, generally speaking, kept pace with the best performers of Italy and Germany, but in many instances have exceeded them. The leader of the band is Mr. Saloman, who succeeded the late justly celebrated Mr. Cramer, and who is a steady, bold, and pointed performer.
The scenery is, in general, rich and brilliant -, but the space behind the curtain is by no means equal to that which the Opera machinists enjoyed before the conflagration. The audience part of the house is, however, built on a scale of great magnitude. These are five tiers of elegantly-ornamented boxes, a spacious pit, and a most ample gallery.
The Opera generally opens for the season in December, and continues its representations on the Tuesday and Saturday of every week till June or July.
The price of admission to the boxes or pit is half a guinea, and to the gallery five shillings. The doors open a quarter before six, and the performance begins at seven.
See pages 215-7 A Picture of London by Richard Phillips (1802).
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