Prospecting before us; an anti-occasion for dancers in London’s opera world

One of the most famous theatrical prints of the late 18th century is entitled ‘The prospect before us’. It shows two dancers centre stage at the new Pantheon Opera House, the building and institution that replaced London’s King’s Theatre which burned down in 1789. The angle of the view in the print is unusual in that it is taken from behind the dancers looking through the proscenium into a packed auditorium.

The print marked the opening of the new theatre, which was intended to replace the King’s Theatre as London’s premiere venue for elite opera and dance. The King’s Theatre had been in a perpetual crisis since it had been taken over by William Taylor in the early 1780s, and Taylor’s opponents used the fire as an excuse to seize power.

However, in the process, the dancers lost out, and an alternative print also entitled ‘The prospect before us’, parodied the original, for the ‘prospect’ before the dancers was ruin and starvation. This detailed print has been little studied and has not been thoroughly decoded, and this paper, in undertaking both, will analyse the nature of the dancers’ protest in the context of London’s theatre history.

Michael Burden is Professor in Opera Studies at the University of Oxford, and is Fellow in Music at New College, where he is also Dean. His published research is on the theatre music of Henry Purcell, on the staging of opera and dance in London in the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries, and the administration of the Pyne-Harrison and English Opera Companies. His study of the soprano Regina Mingotti’s London years was published in 2013. He is Past President of the British Society for 18th-century Studies, a Visitor to the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, a trustee of RISM, and director of productions of New Chamber Opera, He organises the annual Oxford Dance Symposium with Jennifer Thorp, with whom he co-edited the Ballet de la Nuit in 2009.


Michael Burden
Symposium Title: 
Dancing for Anniversaries and Occasions: Chamber, Court, Theatre & Assembly 2015
Author affiliation: 
New College, University of Oxford