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16 July


The Opera

Thomas and Sally

(Music) Thomas Arne

(Libretto) Isaac Bickerstaff


Alf Mattison kept an extensive record of all performances that took place at The Theatre in its early years - source Leeds Libraries

The Venue

The Theatre

Hunslet Lane


The Theatre - source


The site on which The Theatre once stood!

Milestone moment

The First Opera in Leeds' First Theatre

Leeds lagged behind neighbouring towns and cities in building its first theatre; however in 1771 Tate Wilkinson opened 'The Theatre' south of the river on Hunslet Lane.

It offered a summer season of plays, operas, burlesques, and pantomimes, and stood as the only theatre in Leeds for many decades.

Operas were prominent in The Theatre for its near 100 year history, with each evening's entertainment consisting of at least two contrasting performances. With a limited local audience, The Theatre had a large rolling stock of different entertainments to keep audiences returning night after night.

Thomas and Sally was performed twice in The Theatre's opening season of 1771, and frequently returned. We also have record of the opera being performed at the New Concert Hall on Vicar Lane in 1767 (there are no records for the exact site of the concert hall, and it appears to have been demolished as early as 1781).

Condititions in The Theatre were shoddy, at best, as this account from 1810 demonstrates:

"The house is about the size of Richmond [Theatre Royal] … The theatre is miserable and cold, half the upper part of it admitting the wind and rain. The receipts are in general so bad that the manger does not think it worthwhile to repair it, and it is killing his wretched performers … Tho’ I have take every precaution by clothing myself in flannel, and wearing a cloath dress up to my throat, yet I have suffered greatly from colds and their pleasant consequences, but I must attribute it to the changes of free at the theatres, in dressing rooms running down with wet; at Leeds I was obliged to stand on my great coat to keep my feet from wet”


Map of Leeds (1847) showing The Theatre, next to Salem Chapel (now home to AQL) - source

Opera context

Thomas and Sally premiered at Covent Garden in 1760, and was perhaps the first British comic opera to be all sung - before then, operas heavily relied on spoken text to progress the story.

Its composer, Thomas Arne, was one of the most popular composers of his day and was one of few composers to achieve success writing an English language opera in the Italian operatic style (Artaxerxes).

Today he is best known for the tune 'Rule, Britannia' which first appeared in his opera Alfred (which was performed in Leeds by Northern Opera Group in 2017).


Print of two popular actors of the day in Thomas and Sally (c.1770) - source Victoria and Albert Museum


Much of Thomas Arne's music is available to listen to online, though unfortunately much of his (vast) operatic output was destroyed in a fire at Covent Garden in 1808.

Productions of his operas are rare, however you can watch a production of Thomas and Sally on Youtube.

Exhibition partners

Leeds Corn Exchange, Leeds Libraries, Leeds Museums, University of Leeds, West Yorkshire Archive Service

Main image

The Original Chinese Conjuror (Northern Opera Group, August 2018)

credit: Pelly & Me Photography

Exhibition curated by

Northern Opera Group



Supported by

National Lottery Heritage Fund


Leeds Inspired, part of Leeds City Council




David Ward (Artistic Director)


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