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Title: Resituating transatlantic opera : the case of the Théâtre d'Orléans, New Orleans, 1819-1859
Author: Bentley, Charlotte Alice
ISNI:       0000 0004 7227 6487
Awarding Body: University of Cambridge
Current Institution: University of Cambridge
Date of Award: 2018
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This thesis examines the production and reception of French opera in New Orleans in the first half of the nineteenth century, through a focus on the city’s principal French-language theatre from 1819 to 1859, the Théâtre d’Orléans. Building on the small body of existing scholarship concerning the theatre’s history and repertoire, here I draw upon a greatly expanded range of sources—including court cases, sheet music, and novels—in order to understand more about the ways in which operatic culture shaped and was shaped by city life in this period. New Orleans’s operatic life relied on transatlantic networks of people and materials in order to thrive, and this thesis explores the city’s place within growing global operatic systems in the nineteenth century. The five chapters each reflect on different aspects of operatic translocation and its significance for New Orleans. The first two argue for the centrality of human agency to the development of transatlantic networks of production and performance by examining the management of the theatre and the international movement of singers in turn. Chapter 3 investigates the impact of French grand opéra on New Orleans, arguing that the genre provided a focus for the negotiation of local, national, and international identities among opposing critical (and linguistic) factions within the city, while also providing an impetus for the development of a material culture of opera. Chapter 4 explores opera-inspired composition in New Orleans through a focus on popular sheet music for the piano, in order to problematise our expectations of ‘local creativity’. Finally, Chapter 5 examines travel writing from both sides of the Atlantic in which the Théâtre d’Orléans features, arguing that the ‘idea’ of opera—including the imagined experience of Parisian opera-going— played an important role in articulating the authors’ perceptions of inter-cultural encounter in New Orleans. This thesis, therefore, seeks to unpick the processes involved in transatlantic opera from a number of angles. I resituate New Orleans, arguing that the city was not simply on the musical periphery, but that it was instead an integral part of an increasingly connected operatic world, which nonetheless sustained its own individual theatrical culture. This work, therefore, helps us both to challenge and expand ingrained ideas about French centralisation, North American cultural development, and cultural transfer up to the mid-nineteenth century.
Supervisor: Walton, Benjamin Sponsor: Arts and Humanities Research Council
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
Keywords: Opera ; Nineteenth Century ; transnational ; New Orleans ; Paris