”With dances analogous to the drama”; the ballet d’action on London’s opera stage

The arrival of the ballet d’action in London’s 18th-century opera house has been well documented; the combination of the dancing master, Jean-Georges Noverre, and the Leader of the Dances, François Hippolyte Barthélémon, produced in the 1781–82 season what Price, Hume and Milhous consider the pinnacle of achievement for the dance at the King’s Theatre in the 18th century, the introduction of full-scale ballet. However, in a parallel development, dance also began to be included in the Italian operas, dance that expressed or reflected aspects of the drama. These operas were, of course, part of the Continental changes in the writing of opera, changes usually attributed to Gluck and Calzabigi; indeed, one of the first ‘reform’ operas staged in the city was the 1770 London version of their Orfeo ed Euridicean opera, in the Grecian Taste. London followed this with a number of works with dances integrated into the action, including two other versions of Orfeo in 1771 and 1773, Enea, e Lavinia in 1779, and Alina, Queen of Golconda in 1784. This paper will examine the interplay between dance and opera in these London stagings, and will end with a consideration of the elaborate performances Orpheus and Eurydice, a musical drama, in imitation of the Ancient Greek Theatrical Feasts in 1785.

Michael Burden
Author affiliation
New College, University of Oxford