The Beggar's Wedding
(Music and libretto) Charles Coffey
Notes on the opera made by Alf Mattison for his (never completed) book on the history of theatre in Leeds - source Leeds Libraries
Likely Rose & Crown pub
King Charles Croft
The Rose and Crown (c.1887) - source Leodis.net
The First Opera Performed in Leeds
The Beggar's Wedding is the not only the first recorded opera to have been performed in Leeds, but the first recorded theatrical performance of any kind.
We know from the diary of Ralph Thoresby that local clergy were railing against attending theatrical performances in 1722, however the Leeds Mercury newspaper's record of the performance on 4 November 1729 (by Mr Herbert's Company of Comedians) is the first named performance in Leeds.
The Beggar's Wedding was first performed in Dublin in March 1729 with limited success - in a revised form (retitled Phebe) the opera had much greater success in London.
The actors in this Leeds performance would have been a travelling company, going from town to town largely performing in large rooms in pubs (such as the Rose & Crown provided). The concept of being a dedicated 'opera singer' was relatively rare in Leeds until later in the 19th century.
Map of Leeds (1725) - source Wikipedia
Audiences were entertained by English comic or ballad opera in London, but it was the Italian opera that was taking theatres by storm.
Handel's first opera, Rinaldo, had been a great success in 1711, and by 1729 he had already had 19 premieres in London.
It would be nearly 100 hundred years before Leeds saw its first non-English opera!
John Gay's satirical swipe at Italian opera, The Beggar's Opera, premiered in 1728 and ran for a greater a number of performances that even the hits of Handel (although Gay and his fellow British composers couldn't manage the long-term success of Handel and his Italian opera contemporaries). The Beggar's Opera launched a long line of imitators, hoping to cash in on the notoreity of Gay's piece - The Beggar's Wedding was undoubtedly one of these works.
A Scene from The Beggar's Opera (William Hogarth, 1731) - source Tate
Colonial Williamsburg is one of North America's most iconic museums, exploring what life was like in a thriving Virginian town during the 18th century.
Through their music collections, they often perform and record popular music of the time, which includes many British ballad operas which made their way to North America through British colonialists.
The recording highlighted here contains many tunes and operas familiar to British audiences in the early and mid 18th century - including The Beggar's Wedding, The Beggar's Opera, and Love in a Village (all of which were performed in Leeds during the 1700s).
Leeds Corn Exchange, Leeds Libraries, Leeds Museums, University of Leeds, West Yorkshire Archive Service
The Original Chinese Conjuror (Northern Opera Group, August 2018)
credit: Pelly & Me Photography