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FB-57633-14
Women Managers of English-Language Opera Companies in Late 19th-Century America
Katherine Preston, College of William and Mary

Grant details: https://securegrants.neh.gov/publicquery/main.aspx?f=1&gn=FB-57633-14

Opera for the People: English-Language Opera and Women Managers in Late Nineteenth-Century America (Book)
Title: Opera for the People: English-Language Opera and Women Managers in Late Nineteenth-Century America
Author: Katherine K. Preston
Editor: Jann Pasler
Abstract: The focus of this book a widespread and popular English-opera movement in late-century America that is completely unknown to scholars today. From 1860 through 1900 scores of itinerant companies, some managed by women, crisscrossed the United States, mounting vernacular opera as popular theatre to large, enthusiastic, and socially heterogeneous audiences. Based on hitherto-unexamined primary documents and informed by theatre history, feminist studies, American Studies, musicology, and history, this book challenges the role of musical theatre in an emerging cultural hierarchy and provides insight into the work of female entrepreneurs who refused to be constrained by the dominant social order. The book expands our knowledge of American social and cultural history, including the emergence of musical management, use of marketing techniques, the role of English opera as a populist response to the growing elitism of foreign-language opera, and the work of businesswomen in entertainment.
Year: 2016
Primary URL Description: the book is not yet published. It is in the editorial process
Publisher: Oxford University Press
Type: Single author monograph

“’America’s Prima Donna’: Emma Abbott and Popular Opera in 1880s America" (Conference Paper/Presentation)
Title: “’America’s Prima Donna’: Emma Abbott and Popular Opera in 1880s America"
Author: Katherine K. Preston
Abstract: Italian opera in the late nineteenth century increasingly became identified in the United States as a musical-theatrical option that was elite and exclusive, especially as the nouveau riche of the 1870s and 1880s embraced opera as an opportunity for the ostentatious display of wealth. Middle-class Americans—who had happily and regularly patronized opera performances from the 1840s through the 1860s—were increasingly alienated by these “aristocratic” pretentions. The American prima donna Emma Abbott recognized this when she returned from Europe in 1876 following several years of musical training. Thoroughly educated in the Italian school of operatic performance in Milan and Paris, Abbott realized that many middle-class Americans still wished to support opera in English, and she decided to address that need. She created a public persona that resonated with the American public: as a moral and upstanding Christian, an apple-pie and approachable American from the heartland (with roots in Yankee New England), and a singer who gave her audiences what they wanted, which was the Italian repertory in translation, performed well but unpretentiously, and offered at affordable prices. The astonishing success of her company (1879-1891) is a little-known but important story of the creation of a middle-class audience for continental opera in the United States that helps us to understand better American musical culture (in general) during the 1870s and 1880s.
Date: 03/20/2015
Conference Name: Musicology/Muisc Theory Colloquium, School of Music, University of Iowa

“An American Prima Donna and Apple-Pie Opera” (Conference Paper/Presentation)
Title: “An American Prima Donna and Apple-Pie Opera”
Author: Katherine K. Preston
Abstract: Most Americans of the 21st century think of opera as musical theatre for snobs: expensive, exclusive, elite. But in the 1880s there were American singers who fought this image and mounted English-language opera as popular theatre. Emma Abbott, a native of Peoria Illinois, was the most successful. She was trained in Italy but returned home to sing in English because, she said, “that’s what the people want.” Abbott used her family’s deep New England roots, her “girl-next-door” persona, Yankee characteristics of pluck, hard work, and determination, and desire to please her audiences to sell opera as American popular entertainment. And she succeeded wildly: known as “the people’s prima donna,” she was the 19th century equivalent of a rock star. She died a multi-millionaire in 1891.
Date: 04/22/2015
Conference Name: Tack Faculty Lecture (the College of William and Mary), Kimball Theatre, Williamsburg, Virginia

“Trans-Atlantic Opera: English Opera Companies in Late 19th-Century America and Great Britain” (Conference Paper/Presentation)
Title: “Trans-Atlantic Opera: English Opera Companies in Late 19th-Century America and Great Britain”
Author: Katherine K. Preston
Abstract: This talk is an examination of the rich operatic cultural exchange between the United States and Great Britain during the late nineteenth century. My focus will be a little-known English-opera movement that flourished in America during the second half of the century, starting with the revival of English opera in the immediate post-war period. Significant changes in the American opera audience (as a direct result of the economic crisis of the 1870s) helped to set the stage for the significant English-opera movement that emerged in the 1880s, the heyday of English-opera performance in the United States. I will examine in some detail several important troupes, including the Caroline Richings, Euphrosyne Parepa Rosa, Clara Louise Kellogg, Emma Abbott, and Boston Ideals opera companies. The repertories of the final two troupes illustrate the two most popular strands of vernacular opera during the 1880s: the Abbott company performed translations of continental works (as well as some operas written in English); the Ideals relied on comic opera and operetta (in particular the extraordinarily popular works of Gilbert and Sullivan). These companies—and scores of other English-language troupes active in America during this period—featured singers (including Americans) who were active on both sides of the Atlantic; they also attracted non-elite middle-class American audiences with repertories that likewise represent a shared trans-Atlantic culture.
Date: 10/28/2013
Conference Name: Keynote lecture in “Wandering Minstrels: the Rich and Diverse History of Travelling Opera in Britain and Beyond,” The Royal Academy of Music, London, England,

“‘Opera as Popular Culture: the Creation of a Middle-Class Opera Audience in 1880s America’ in themed session ‘Beyond the Opera House: Perception of the Nineteenth-Century Prima Donna in Multiple Contexts” (Conference Paper/Presentation)
Title: “‘Opera as Popular Culture: the Creation of a Middle-Class Opera Audience in 1880s America’ in themed session ‘Beyond the Opera House: Perception of the Nineteenth-Century Prima Donna in Multiple Contexts”
Author: Katherine K. Preston
Abstract: The late 19th-century American audience for Italian opera was increasingly identified with the wealthy, especially as the nouveau riche of the 1870s and 1880s embraced opera as an opportunity for the ostentatious display of wealth. Middle-class Americans—who had strongly patronized opera performances from the 1840s through the 1860s—were increasingly alienated by these “aristocratic” pretentions. The American prima donna Emma Abbott recognized this when she returned from Europe in 1876. Thoroughly trained in the Italian school in Milan and Paris, Abbott realized that Americans yearned for opera in English, and she determined to meet that need. She created a public persona that resonated with the American public: a moral and upstanding Christian woman, an apple-pie and unpretentious American woman from the heartland (with roots in Yankee New England), and a singer who gave her audiences what they wanted: the Italian repertory in translation. The astonishing success of her company (1879-1891) is a little-known but important story of Italian-opera reception in late-century America.
Date: 06/20/2012
Conference Name: 17th Biennial International Conference on 19th-Century Music,” Edinburgh, Scotland,

“’Opera is Elite/Opera is Nationalistic: Cosmopolitan Views of Operatic Reception in the United States, 1870-1890"’ (Article)
Title: “’Opera is Elite/Opera is Nationalistic: Cosmopolitan Views of Operatic Reception in the United States, 1870-1890"’
Author: Katherine K. Preston
Abstract: This essay was part of a colloquy titled "Cosmopolitanism in the Age of Nationalism: 1848-1914.” The discussion centered on the various ways in which late nineteenth-century American audiences used opera attendance as a technique to create a cosmopolitan identity for themselves.
Year: 2013
Format: Journal
Periodical Title: Journal of the American Musicological Society
Publisher: American Musicological Society


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