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31 October


The Opera


(Music) William Wallace

(Libretto) Edward Fitzball


Notice in the Leeds Intelligencer of the "First Appearance of the GRAND ENGLISH OPERA COMPANY" featuring the celebrated soprano Louisa Pyne, who was already well known to Leeds audiences

The Venue

The Theatre

Hunslet Lane


The Theatre - source

Milestone moment

Rise of the touring opera company

Prior to the 1850s, there were two principal ways that opera was performed in Leeds.

(1) Theatre managers would assemble companies to perform seasons at their venues. This would see performers take on many roles a season, in spoken drama, comedy, pantomime, and opera. This is one of the reasons that English Ballad Opera thrived for so long - the music was manageable for performers who may not be able to cope with the more taxing Italian opera!

(2) Individual impresarios would assemble a company (predominantly of London-based singers) to tour select works to venues across the UK. One example of this is De Begnis' tours of the UK, which has previously been featured in the exhibition

Starting with the English Opera Company, constituted companies began to emerge, touring opera year round with dedicated companies of opera singers and producers.

They didn't necessarily, however, have their own instrumentalists. Even into the mid 20th century, many companies would rely on each theatre's own orchestra, with minimal rehearsal and not always the finest instrumentalists on offer to play the increasingly demanding operatic scores!


Touring companies dominated stages in Leeds from the 1850s to 1970s - the Carl Rosa Opera Company were one of the most prolific, and have been touring since 1873

Opera context


Maritana is by far the most popular work by the Irish composer, William Wallace.

It premiere at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, in 1845, and went on to have a busy life on stages in London and across the UK during the 19th century.

Moving away from the traditional native characters and stories of English language opera, Maritana captured the vogue for more exotic foreign narratives and musical influences. It tells the story of a gypsy woman (Maritana) who is loved by both the King of Spain, and the dashing Don Caesar.

Along with Balfe's The Bohemian Girl it was one of only a few English language operas to receive attention in the post-Gilbert and Sullivan era.


Maritana on the bill in 1916 at the Theatre Royal, Leeds


Rarely recorded, this 1996 edition is conducted by Proinnsías Ó Duinn, with RTÉ Philharmonic Choir and RTÉ Concert Orchestra

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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