Staging late-17th century English opera

The lack of pictorial evidence with reference to English theatre during the second half of the 17th century, leaves an area ripe for speculation. This paper will explore the French influence on theatre in England after 1660, as well as the development of the English public stages between 1660 and 1700, and include a discussion of typical English aspects, like the shutters and grooves, the forestage, the proscenium doors and how these may have influenced staging. It will also consider the relationship between actors and audience, and how this relationship may have been influenced by some aspects of the theatre: the way it was lit, the presence of spectators on the stage, etc. Using the masque in Purcell’s opera Dioclesian, it will consider how it was staged, how a machine with different platforms on which dances were performed was used, and how some features that held a special attraction for 17th century audiences, like machines and transformation scenes were conceived. Our research has also thrown up some very specific questions, to which we are seeking answers: were court shoes worn during dances of grotesques? Is there any rule about the ratio of high/low register of dances (Gods/ shepherds) in baroque operas and is that similar in different countries? Are there rules regarding the number of specific dance tunes as opposed to dances as a repeat of vocal music? This show-and-tell paper is supported by slides and video, and will illustrate the main features of an 18th-century baroque theatre, using pictures and technical illustrations of the Slottsteater in Drottningholm.

Frans Muller
Julie Muller
Symposium Title: 
'So Publick an Approbation': attitudes to dance in 18th Century England – 2000
Author affiliation: 
Freelance designer, Holland
Free University of Amsterdam, Holland