Musical Borrowing
An Annotated Bibliography

Individual record

[+] Cormac, Joanne. “From Satirical Piece to Commercial Product: The Mid-Victorian Opera Burlesque and its Bourgeois Audience.” Journal of the Royal Musical Association 142, no. 1 (2017): 69-108.

In the midst of the English Victorian era’s focus on propriety, commercial theatres found ways to cater burlesque to the respectable bourgeoisie. Theatre managers promoted their offerings to middle-class tourists by removing sexual innuendo and references to drinking, lower-class subjects, and social satire. The 1860 production of Lucrezia Borgia! included more operatic numbers than previous performances, because it was assumed that the middle-class audience would have been familiar with continental opera. The English burlesque practice of interpolating various numbers grew out of the need to restructure and abridge Italian operas to fit English lyrics and audiences. Burlesques typically kept the arias with the most memorable melodies, while substituting dialogue for the action scenes and adding popular songs to increase interest. The production of Little Don Giovanni, although staged elaborately and requiring higher ticket prices, included a wide variety of numbers, including parlor songs and music-hall songs, reflecting the diverse nature of the English middle-class. The songs it used were those that listeners would have been able to play on the piano. Robert the Devil, on the other hand, drew mostly on operetta numbers. The juxtapositions of “high” and “low” music in mid-Victorian burlesque was intended for variety, and not as much for political commentary or satire. Tables describe the origins of every number in each of the three burlesques discussed.

Works: Anonymous: Lucrezia Borgia! (burlesque) (82-88, 91-95), Little Don Giovanni (88, 95-102), Robert the Devil (89, 102-6).

Sources: Donizetti: Lucrezia Borgia (83); Mozart: Don Giovanni (88); Meyerbeer: Robert le diable (89).

Index Classifications: 1800s

Contributed by: Meredith Rigby

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