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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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The American Opera Company

The American Opera Company

Good Intentions, Managerial Disaster

(p.410) 6 The American Opera Company
Opera for the People

Katherine K. Preston

Oxford University Press

This chapter focuses on the philanthropist Jeannette Thurber, who founded the American (National) Opera Company (1885) to encourage high-caliber performances of continental operas translated into English. Her company was heavily subsidized by New York society and supported by establishment music critics. But both Thurber and her musical director Theodore Thomas misunderstood the American opera audience, and mounted serious works designed for cultural uplift, to the neglect of Italian and French operas that were popular among the general public. Society members were not interested in English-language opera because it was not sufficiently exclusive; middle-class operagoers were repelled both by the trappings of elitism and the expensive tickets. A close reinterpretation of the company’s failure reveals much about American operatic taste; it is also important in the context of this book because scholars have blamed the company’s spectacular demise on a general lack of support for English-language opera.

Keywords:   Jeannette Thurber, Theodore Thomas, American Opera Company, National Opera Company, society, music-drama, French opera, elitism, exclusive, expensive

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