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Friday, 11 December 2009

Digging into the past

Some years ago I was given a pair of 19th century bound volumes labelled plays. The bindings gave no clue as to who had had the contents bound. Inside were some dozen librettos for performances by the Royal Italian Opera at Covent Garden. Each libretto listed the work to be performed, the orchestral members (by surname) and conductor (always Michael Costa) along with the artists involved. For some productions the designers of the scenery were named, always the same people. No dates were given. All operas were sung in Italian, including Fidelo and Les Huguenots.

There were various interesting points. No director was ever named. The orchestral players are all men and are listed by surname only, but the chorus members are not mentioned at all. The repertoire consists of operas by Rossini, Donizetti, Meyerbeer, Bellini, Mozart and Beethoven. As I have no information on the original owner of the wordbooks, I have no way of knowing whether the selection is the complete picture. For instance there is no Verdi, despite I Masnadieri being premiered in London in 1847.

I have finally got in contact with the Royal Opera House archives and they have been able to confirm the dates for the librettos, they range from 1849 to 1854, with most being clustered around just a couple of years. Interestingly the House's archives are not complete as a lot was lost in the fire in 1857.

This is the second time recently that we have been attempting to trace an exact date for a musical document. Previous D. had had access to a fragment of manuscript with a partial rehearsal schedule call for Aldeburgh on it under Britten's direction, requiring some fascinating research into Aldeburgh performances under Benjamin Britten.

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