The Lively Arts of the London Stage, 1675-1725.
Kathryn Lowerre (ed.)
65.00 [pounds sterling], hb., 324 pp. 14 b&w ill.
Not unlike Kathryn Lowerre's acclaimed monograph Music and Musicians on the London Stage, 1695-1705 (2009) which charts the use of music in London theatres from the death of Henry Purcell in 1695, this edited collection of essays focuses on a "cross-section of performance history" (1) of the London stage from 1675 to 1723. Lowerre's unorthodox timeline stems from the often-overlooked fact that theatre-goers during this period could choose between an opening night of a play by John Dryden or John Gay, or the first masque by Henry Purcell, or an opera by George Frideric Handel. The volume's emphasis on "intersection" or "cross-section" can also be observed by the choice of essays which would ordinarily be found dispersed in different types of journals, but are here in a dialogue with each other and brought together into a well-formed synthesis.
The book consists of thirteen chapters organized into three parts. The first part, entitled "First, Music: Settings of Congreve's Judgment of Paris", deals with a series of performances based on a competition in 1701 between four composers (John Eccles, Gottfried Finger, Daniel Purcell, and John Weldon), to see who could provide the best setting for William Congreve's libretto. The first chapter by Olive Baldwin and Thelma Wilson provides a detailed account of the singers who took part in the competition. Robert Rawson then convincingly outlines the musical reasons why Gottfried Finger's compositional style failed to impress the English judges despite the fact that the Moravian composer was one of the most successful in London after Purcell's death. Finally Matt Robertson masterfully tackles the mystery of whether the works were staged complete with costumes and scenery or simply as concert performances.
The eight chapters of Part Two which constitute the core of the book consider the closely intertwined relationship between artists, performers, and genres of the period. Jennifer Cable meticulously examines the early eighteenth-century English cantatas written after the Italian style by three composers, John Eccles, Daniel Purcell, and Johann Christoph Pepusch, as they attempted to respond to the increasing popularity of Italian vocal music in London. Sean M. Parr then argues that Johann Christoph Pepusch's cantata The Union of the Three Sister Arts represented much more than a pleasant afterpiece. Jennifer Thorp surveys the popularity and the traditions of commedia dell'arte characters such as Scaramouche and Harlequin within the context of "grotesque" dancing. The next two chapters by Timothy Neufeldt and Amanda Eubanks Winkler focus their attention on different aspects of the pastoral mode in the period. Neufeldt convincingly argues against scholars such as Robert D. Hume by suggesting that Jeremy Collier's attack on London theatres in his Short View of the English Stage did affect the playwrights, while Winkler closely analyses the impact of Anne Bracegirdle singing a breeches role in the apparently innocent pastoral, The Fickle Shepherdess, during the Collier Controversy. In the following chapters Anthony Rooley and Jennifer Danby consider respectively the way songs written for Bracegirdle and Arabella Hunt contributed to the period's "Fair Singer" topos, and then the way the male, mad rants in Nathaniel Lee's plays capitalized on the talents of the actors Charles Hart and Michael Mohun in portraying passionate lovers and controlling warriors. Danby postulates that the Lee/Hart/Mohun collaboration was crucial to the shifting representation of masculinity on the London stage after 1675. Part Two concludes with an account by Suzana Ograjenoek of the considerable artistic achievement of Giovanni Bononcini's opera Astianatte, largely neglected after its notorious 1727 performance.
In the volume's concluding section which focuses on comedy and farce, Melissa Bissonette reexamines John Gay's farce, Three Hours after Marriage, which starred Colley Cibber, while Lowerre investigates the use and effect of musical quotation in comedies within the context of the theatrical rivalry between Drury Lane theatre and Lincoln's Inn Fields. Overall this interdisciplinary collection successfully conveys the rich and vast array of performances that formed the London stage in an often overlooked half century.