Ballad opera transformed European stage song, merging high- with low-style airs, marketing singers, and promoting a ‘natural’ vocal production. It was arguably the earliest prototype of our modern popular music industry.

The unprecedented success of John Gay’s Beggar’s Opera (1728) precipitated a wave of rival productions, and ballad operas quickly became a staple London stage entertainment.

The Beggar's Opera, Act III. Print. After William Hogarth, by William Blake, 1790 [original picture, 1728]. © Trustees of the British Museum.