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John Rosselli

Though the term has at times been used of Travelling troupes , in English it is more often applied to groups of singers who put on opera in a single theatre.

In Italy, where public opera was for many years given only during a season of about two months, a company was as a rule the group of singers contracted for that season only, most of whom moved on after it had ended. At most, the Naples royal theatres (S Carlo and Fondo) between about 1740 and 1860 engaged artists for a year. Opera houses capable of fielding two groups of soloists (the S Carlo and La Scala, Milan, in most years) were said to have a ‘double company’. After the breakdown of the seasonal system in the late 19th century a company was a group assembled, however briefly, to perform an opera or operas ( see Season ).

In Central Europe, where opera was long centred on courts, companies were more nearly permanent. At Eszterháza during Haydn’s tenure the median length of stay of Italian singers was between two and three years, but German singers stayed much longer (as did a very few Italians). Haydn could therefore count on a known array of (by and large mediocre) resources. In Paris, singers engaged by the opera houses under royal or, after the Revolution, government patronage were paid monthly salaries and approximated to the condition of civil servants; some stayed on for many years. Provincial French opera houses from the late 18th century to the early 20th usually engaged a company once a year for a season that might last from four to ten months. Much the same was and to some extent is still true of Central Europe. Since the 1950s, however, singers have been highly mobile; even those formally attached to a company (those of the two London opera houses included) may at times perform elsewhere....

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Ian Bradley

English comic-opera collaborators. The impact of the comic operas of the librettist W.S. Gilbert (1836–1911) and the composer Arthur Sullivan (1842–1900) in the United States was immediate and lasting. H.M.S. Pinafore, the team’s second significant collaboration, established its transatlantic reputation. In the absence of international copyright agreements, a pirate production opened in Boston on 25 November 1878, exactly six months after the London first night. Within a few months Pinafore mania was sweeping the country. The opera was at one point being performed simultaneously in eight New York theaters within five blocks of each other. By the time the “authorized” version opened at the Fifth Avenue Theater in New York on 1 December 1879, more than 150 productions had played across the United States.

It was a mark of the instant and intense popularity of the first of the major Savoy operas, as Gilbert and Sullivan’s operas became known, that the next work in the canon, ...

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M. Elizabeth C. Bartlet and Thomas Bauman

Both universalist and emphatically humanist in outlook since its founding in 1540, the Society of Jesus has always functioned as one of the principal educational arms of the Catholic Church and the papacy. This role developed most fully in the colleges and seminaries established by the Jesuits in Catholic lands. Here instruction stressed not only theology and philosophy but also literature. As early as the 16th century, dramatic representations were staged at these institutions, drawing together elements from the humanist theatre, medieval mystery plays and Shrovetide entertainments. The Bible served as the basic source material, but secular and often local subjects were used too, invariably with a strong emphasis on the allegorical and symbolic, and music often had an important role.

Early examples of Jesuit drama with music are recorded from the Low Countries (Josephus by Georg Maropedius, given in 1544 in Antwerp and published in Utrecht, 1552–3), Spain (...

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Edward A. Langhans and Robert E. Benson

Edward A. Langhans and Robert E. Benson

Modern assumptions – that an audience usually sits in a darkened auditorium watching a brightly lit stage – apply only since the late 19th century. Before then, the audience normally sat in a house that was dimly lit, peering at a dimly lit stage, and earlier still spectators needed individual candles in the light of which they could read their librettos (or other literature). Period prints showing brilliantly illuminated stages and auditoriums are misleading. It has been estimated that at Drury Lane Theatre in London during the 17th and 18th centuries there may have been about 88 candles in the auditorium, giving a total illumination approximately equivalent to one 75-watt lamp.

When Renaissance theatrical performances began to take place indoors, in academies and palace banquet halls in late 15th-century Italy, the illumination came from oil lamps and candles in chandeliers and sconces (and, if it was daylight outside, windows). Revived classical plays made use of the new Renaissance toy, perspective scenery. In his ...

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John Rosselli

In opera as in the straight theatre, matinées (extra afternoon performances) became possible when the main performance time shifted from early afternoon to about 7 p.m. or later, in the second half of the 18th century. Opera matinées were, however, long seen as fit only for plebeian audiences. In Naples, the Bourbon government forbade them at the leading theatre, the S Carlo; but from 1817 at least they were common at small opera houses with lower-class audiences, not only on Sundays (when the working population was most likely to be free) but as part of a twice-daily schedule on other days. In Paris, the Sunday matinée became established from 1868 as the occasion for family visits to the national theatres, opera houses included; it has generally been favoured in continental and Latin American countries. In the English-speaking countries, where Sunday performances have at most times been ruled out by custom or by law, American opera companies have been readier than British to put on Saturday and sometimes other matinée performances of heavyweight works; the New York Metropolitan gave in ...

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Poster  

(Fr. affiche; Ger. Plakat; It. manifesto, cartello, cartellone)

A placard or ‘great bill’, normally printed in eye-catching style, to be displayed in prominent positions for the purpose of announcing details of a forthcoming event and attracting the public. The word originates from the custom of attaching bills to the posts that marked the area for pedestrians in London streets before the Great Fire. ...

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Edward A. Langhans

(Fr., Ger. souffleur; It. rammentatore, suggeritore)

One who assists performers with their lines and cues. In My Life in Art the Russian actor-director Constantin Stanisklavsky wrote:

If you look into the kennel of the prompter you are reminded of mediaeval inquisition. The prompter in the theatre is sentenced to eternal torture that makes one fear for his life. He has a dirty box lined with dusty felt. Half of his body is beneath the floor of the stage in the dampness of a cellar, the other half, at the level of the stage, is heated by the hundreds of lamps in the footlights on both sides of him. All the dust created at the rising of the curtain or the sweeping of robes across the stage strikes him square in the mouth. And he is forced to speak without stop during performance and rehearsal in an unnaturally squeezed and often strained voice so that he may be heard by the actors alone, and not by the spectators....

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Edward A. Langhans

[props] (Fr. accessoires; Ger. Requisiten; It. accessori; Sp. utilería)

Any objects used on stage that cannot be designated as costumes, scenery or lights: furniture, table lamps, food, flowers, carried spears, statuary and the like. A property may be as small as a snuff box or as large as a fabricated horse; it may be part of a costume (like a cap, which is a costume if worn but a prop if handled); it may be a personal or a hand prop, used by performers (carried, thrown, eaten from, read etc.); or it may serve only as trim or ‘dressing’ (such as pictures on a wall or chairs that are not used but decorate the stage and complete the design).

The dividing lines between properties, scenery and costumes are sometimes hazy. But the Scene Shop will usually see to the horse in Les Troyens, Siegfried’s anvil or a cannon, which are as much machines as props or scenic units, while the Costume Shop will probably take care of canes, sceptres, magic wands and Desdemona’s handkerchief. Many theatres have in-house departments for wigs, costumes, properties and scenery, but some have such shops scattered around town and/or use outside suppliers. Though some props can be purchased, many are specially designed and built, just as are costumes and wigs. Since most operas are set in past periods or realms of the imagination, they rarely call for modern costumes and properties. In his own day Mozart might have seen ...

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Theatre in Venice, built by the Grimani in 1678. The largest and most exclusive opera house in the city, it was renamed after Malibran in 1834, then used for all kinds of popular entertainment; it was restructured in 1919 but soon became a cinema. See Venice (opera) §3 and Venice (opera) §8...