The gilded stage and beyond: why history and the arts should get together more often

Daniel Snowman
31 May 2010


What do you do when your opera house burns down? On 5 March 1856, the Royal Italian Opera at Covent Garden was destroyed by fire. The man in charge was Frederick Gye, and his diaries have survived. The blaze occurred a month before Gye's annual opera season was due to begin: artists had been booked, repertoire chosen, tickets sold…
The history of the ‘high arts’, such as opera, has often been consigned to the margins by mainstream historical research, while music scholars have sometimes been accused of taking an ‘autonomist’ approach to their discipline, ‘severing the artwork from its place within culture and society’. In this year’s Annual Fellows’ Lecture, Daniel Snowman (author of The Gilded Stage: A Social History of Opera Atlantic Books, 2009) examines the divide between the two historiographies, and explores possible ways in which the gap might be bridged.

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