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date: 25 February 2021


  • 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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