Italian opera

(Important in The Counterfeit Guest)

The home of Italian opera in London during the eighteenth century was the King’s Theatre, Haymarket. Originally called the Queen’s Theatre, it was built in 1704 and presented approximately 60 nights of opera and ballet each season on Tuesdays and Saturday evenings. Attending the opera was a social as well as a musical experience. Visiting one’s friends in their box was a perfectly acceptable alternative to listening to the singers, and open spaces on either side of the pit were frequent places of assignation. Private conversations, rowdy behaviour, and even the presence of some patrons on stage could disrupt the performance. Actual criticism, when it was expressed, could take the form of hissing and the throwing of fruit. Paisiello’s Nina, however, was performed to much acclaim in the spring of 1797, the Oracle describing it as ‘unmatched in the magic power it has over the human breast, with respect to the tender simplicity, delicacy of expression, and pathetic effect.’