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Opera for the PeopleEnglish-Language Opera and Women Managers in Late 19th-Century America$
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Katherine Preston

Print publication date: 2017

Print ISBN-13: 9780199371655

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: November 2017

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780199371655.001.0001

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Emma Abbott, the “People’s Prima Donna”

Emma Abbott, the “People’s Prima Donna”

(p.311) 5 Emma Abbott, the “People’s Prima Donna”
Opera for the People

Katherine K. Preston

Oxford University Press

The focus of this chapter is the most successful grand opera company of the decade, the troupe of Emma Abbott. This prima donna was thoroughly trained in the Italian school and performed primarily translated versions of the same continental repertory mounted by companies like James Mapleson’s. A self-made woman who thoroughly understood marketing, Abbott created a new audience of middle-class American opera lovers by providing an entertainment-oriented middlebrow style of opera that was located on the operatic continuum somewhere between comic or light opera and the socially or culturally elite foreign-language styles performed in Italian or German. Her goals, however, were antithetical to some establishment critics who wanted to remove opera from the world of popular entertainment; they dismissed her as a charlatan who enjoyed “popular” rather than “artistic” success. Despite their efforts, Abbott was extremely popular, financially successful, and tremendously influential on American musical culture during the 1880s.

Keywords:   Emma Abbott, James Mapleson, marketing, middlebrow, culturally elite, charlatan, artistic success, popular success

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