Variety Theatre

Published by: mike on 10th Apr 2018 | View all blogs by mike

      This is just a note for Secretspi but others might be interested. There is a great interest in popular music but the Victorian era is rather excluded from this.   This concern is Variety Theatre.  Had there been such a divide between classical music and popular music?


     On Friday, I attended the first night of a play - or rather the first night of its West End run. I think the play originated in Hampstead. The subject is that of the man who founded Glyndebourne Opera House.  The narrative is a tale of one man’s dream.

       The film Fitzcarraldo is about someone with a similar obsession.  I suspect the author of the play would agree with me.  The Surrey countryside is far removed from the Amazonian jungle but the dream is the same.

     During the play,  another opera company is mentioned - ‘The Carl Rosa Opera Company’ which predates Glynebourne.  The company still exists but like micro-breweries, I think it might only use the name.  The original company had quite a few connections with Sadler’s Wells. 

     In a ‘Who’s Who’ entry, my grandfather gives one of his occupations as that of 1st Violinist of the Carl Rosa Opera Company.  I was not able to check this, but it is possibly true.  The composer recalls playing in the orchestra pits of Australian theaters.  This would have been around the early 1990’s    What he recalls is Vaudeville - what we call Variety Theatre.

        The Coliseum in London is the home of the English National Opera - another descendant of the Carl Rosa Opera Company.   The Coliseum was built as a Variety Theatre - as were many theaters along the Strand.    On one of the walls of the Coliseum is a poster from, I think, the 1920’s.  It lists performances of Russian ballet along with jugglers and comic acts.  (I cannot remember the poster well)  

      I am not sure of the connection between Variety Theatre and opera but there might not have been such a great divide. Gilbert and Sullivan’s operas were originally performed at the Savoy in the Strand.  I am, however. no theatrical historian.  

       According to my grandfather, Verdi was sung in the streets as much as any ballad,  He heard Souza in America. Souza was  an influence, but so was Maori music.  He claims that is was music heard around the world that formed the melodies of his marches. 

     Perhaps my little jigsaw piece fits into a larger puzzle.



  • SecretSpi
    by SecretSpi 3 months ago
    I don't know, Mike, but I get the feeling that the divide between 'classic' and 'pop' was strongest in the mid-late 20th century. Classic (including opera) has become popular through sports events, advertising, TV and film theme music and so on. And it's not unusual these days to get a symphony orchestra churning out Deep Purple, or a brass band playing Pharrell Williams.

    I do think operetta is due a revival, though.
  • Mat
    by Mat 3 months ago
    My Grandad played the fiddle in silent picture houses.
  • mike
    by mike 3 months ago
    Dear Secretspi,
    On Saturday I saw the National Youth Orchestra play Leonard Bernstein's Mass. I would call the work a melting pot of musical cultures and things might well go this way. It is odd how other cultures split. I go to the Southbank a lot. Classical Indian music is played in a concert venue while
    Bollywood is played in the Clore Ballroom.
    There isn't really an English music culture. It is all imported.
    Pop concerts are too expensive. Last week I went to two musicals, two concerts and a play for little more than the price of a ticket for a rock concert, or a seat at football match. I'm going to see a musical about the Selfish Giant' I think it might have flopped. I've got a front row seat for £10. (discounted) and I am going to Mahler and Beethoven tomorrow for £10. I can stay at home and watch TV, I suppose!
  • mike
    by mike 3 months ago
    Dear Mat,
    It is going back that way. I've booked to see 'The Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment play the film score to a silent black and white film of 1928. It is Der Rosenkavalier and Strauss wrote the film score!
  • mike
    by mike 3 months ago
    Dear Secret Sp,
    I've been on a quite a theatrical binge recently. Yesterday I saw Amadeus in the morning and The Marriage of Figaro in the evening. Amadeus had been re-imagined to included live musicians on the stage - paying Mozart and Mozart re-imagined! There were twenty musicians on the stage.
    Their base is in a church near the river and I called there this morning on the off chance. A lot of classicists play in churches now. They were quite friendly. I asked about putting a military band on the stage, The instrumentalists would have to move around etc. He could see no reason why not.
  • SecretSpi
    by SecretSpi 3 months ago
    It's always an eye-opener (ear-opener?) to realise how much good music you can see live at relatively low cost. I'd much rather hear most music in a smaller venue - I don't know who on earth want to cough up £150 or whatever it costs to see the Rolling Stones. I was never one for big concerts.
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