Theatre and Dance History
Ballad operas contain important evidence about playwrights, players, entertainment trends, dance numbers, theatrical politics and management. This catalogue not only shows which playwrights dominated ballad opera production, but also attests to the lively participation of amateurs. Because this catalogue records the cast of each ballad opera premiere, users can re-assemble a player’s ballad opera roles to determine whether a player was typecast in this repertory.
By assembling a theatre’s ballad opera repertory, users can see what types of production each theatre favoured, and how theatres competed against each other. By ordering ballad operas chronologically in order of premiere dates, users may reconstruct a time-line to see which types of ballad operas were in fashion in any given period, and how production of new ballad operas virtually ceased after 1737.
Until 1737, ballad operas were a favourite medium for on-stage commentary about theatrical politics, as in Edward Phillip’s The Stage-Mutineers; or, A Play-House to Be Lett (1733). Users are advised to search by keywords or dates relating to theatrical events to find such works.
Advertisements are richly informative about productions, promotion methods and complementary entertainments. For instance, on 20 April 1730 Theopilus Cibber’s Patie and Peggy was flagged as ‘A New Scotch Ballad Opera’ containing a ‘new Prologue to the Opera by Mr. Cibber, jun. and a new Epilogue on the Beaus, address'd to the Ladies by Mrs. Cibber’. Advertisements indicate with what frequency ‘Printed Books of the Opera, with the Musick prefix'd to each Song’ were sold at the theatre and to which works ‘several Entertainments of Dancing’ were appended. We encourage users to read closely any advertisements transcribed for a ballad opera.
Productions at fairs and booths have been largely passed over by historians; newspaper announcements show, however, that fairs contributed heavily to ballad opera production, mounting or adapting existing ballad operas and providing summer employment for players. For instance, on 22 August 1732 at FIELDING's and HIPPISLEY's Great THEATRICAL BOOTH’, John Hippesley adapted Henry Fielding’s The Mock Doctor. It was renamed ‘The FORC'D PHYSICIAN … and intermix'd with Variety of Songs to old Ballad Tunes and Country-Dances.’ Hippisley led the cast, with the ‘rest of the Parts to be perform'd by Persons from all the Theatres’. This was spiced up with ‘several Entertainments of Dancing between the Acts’ and an ‘Extraordinary Band of MUSICK …of Violins, Hautboys, Bassoons, Kettledrums and Trumpets’ as well as ‘the famous PHILLIPS’ who ‘performs on the Stage his surprising Postures’. Members of the gentry were expected to attend, since the ‘Passage to the Booth’ was ‘illuminated, for the Conveniency of the Company, and Persons of Quality's Coaches [could] drive up the Yard’. Users can assemble bills for a specific fringe venue to build an overview of its offerings.