‘Ballad Opera: Commercial Song in Enlightenment Garb

Joncus, Berta. 2017. ‘Ballad Opera: Commercial Song in Enlightenment Garb. In: Robert Gordon and Olaf Jubin, eds. The Oxford Handbook of the British Musical. New York: Oxford University Press, pp. 31-63. ISBN 9780199988747 [Book Section]

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Ballad opera transformed London's theatre by making English song, for the first time, the key to commercial success for stage works. Alongside a chronology of the 180 or so ballad operas written between 1728 and 1760, this article explores how ballad opera generated the first modern popular singers, so becoming a prototype for present-day English and American musical theatre.

The jaw-dropping success of John Gay's _ Beggar’s Opera_ established a new genre, of which three types developed, according to venue. Licensed theatres staged sentimental, putatively native 'Operas' tailored around star sopranos such as Kitty Clive. Non-licensed theatres accommodated ballad operas with political intent, or those of particular local interest. Finally, ballad operas written for publication, not staging, deployed song to expose court scandal or protest against the government. The appeal of ballad opera depended on its songs, which pretended to instruct by appealing to popular prejudice, particularly against women. Although the Licensing Act of 1737 choked off new works, ballad opera staples flourished on the London stage throughout the century.

Key words: ballad opera, stars, popular song, nationalism, women, Kitty Clive

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January 2017Published

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01 Oct 2018 09:48

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01 Oct 2018 09:48



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