If the siren call of Restoration music drama has tantalized generations of scholars, anyone who sails its waters is in for a challenge. The heterogeneity and hybridity of the repertory itself; the terminological caprice with which contemporary witnesses referred to it; and the black holes in its source material: all of these factors contribute to a labyrinthine universe that is almost impossible to chart. And yet this is exactly what its latest intrepid chronicler has set out to do. Andrew R. Walkling’s Masque and opera in England, 1656–1688 is the first part of a diptych, to be complemented by a forthcoming volume on the genre of dramatick opera. Walkling’s project is remarkably ambitious. As the author announces in the Introduction to this first book, his aim is to redress the ‘dearth of originality’ and ‘culture of superficiality’ in accounts of large-scale Restoration music drama since the 1980s (p.5). Based on the historicist perspective familiar to those who know his previous work, Walkling proposes a new approach to this repertory: My account is simultaneously empirical and interpretive, inscribing the arc of a broad historical narrative while maintaining a sharp focus on the particular and the incidental. Details are as crucial as is the wide view to the establishment of a clear understanding of past practices and phenomena. (p.7) These aspirations are refreshing, for it is true that some accounts of Restoration music drama have tended to over-generalize, and to reiterate often speculative conclusions. Equally remarkable is the shape in which Walkling tells his story. The book is divided into two parts, respectively focusing upon masque and opera. While each part in itself follows a largely chronological course, the book as a whole does not present a linear history. Rather, it relates several histories, tracing various creative and contextual strands across the repertory. Part I opens with a chapter on court balls and Shrovetide entertainments, including a case study of The Queen’s Masque (1671). The next chapter is dedicated to theatrical entertainments with youthful, ‘recreational’ performers (p.71). Examples range from the court adaptation of John Dryden’s The Indian Emperor (1668) to Calisto (1675), a masque in which young courtiers acted alongside professional dancers and singers. The first part ends with a discussion of masques and plays at court after 1675, making reference to Rare en Tout, Venus and Adonis and Dido and Aeneas. Part II then jumps back in time to Richard Flecknoe’s and William Davenant’s operatic experiments of the 1650s, before investigating the controversial employment of foreign musicians at the Restoration court (1660–89), and its implications for works such as the Ballet et Musique pour le Divertissement du Roy de la Grande Bretagne and Ariane, ou le Mariage de Bacchus. The final chapter provides an account of ‘Through-composed drama in the 1680s’ (p.291), epitomized by Albion and Albanius and Cadmus et Hermione. Everything about this book emanates its author’s encyclopaedic knowledge of and profound commitment to his material. Walkling peruses a plethora of sources, from royal orders, briefs, letters, petitions, registers and Warrant Books to prefaces, newspaper reports and the occasional (auto)biography. Some documents allow him to identify performers, often complete with age and marital status. Others invite him to rethink the dating of works such as Mithridates, which he suggests may have existed in a court version before it was presented at Drury Lane (p.123). Yet other documents beg reinterpretation, such as Nicholas Staggins’s and John Blow’s petition for a royal grant to erect an ‘Academy or Opera of Musick’: while the ‘Opera’ in question has generally been read as an institution, Walkling suggests it might also refer to a physical space (p.130). As these examples illustrate, issues of performance, personnel, organization and administration generally take precedence over textual and musical analysis. Walkling’s findings range from the minute to the spectacular. The former are largely contained in elaborate tables and copious footnotes that will mostly reward readers undeterred by vertiginous detail; the latter are found in the most thorough case studies spread across the book. Particularly inspiring are those passages identifying networks of creators and performers. For instance, based on a close inspection of the few surviving sources documenting the French comedy Rare en Tout (1677), Walkling ventures to attribute the role of Isabelle to Isabella Bennet, the then nine- or ten-year-old Duchess of Grafton. He also elucidates the entourage of her father, Lord Chamberlain Arlington, including the librettist Anne de La Roche-Guilhen, the composer and wind player Jacques Paisible, and the French expatriate Seigneur de Saint-Évremond, who was entrusted with the organization of the production. Another highlight is the chapter on French musicians at the Restoration court—an essential point of reference for anyone interested in this subject. If Charles II’s ‘francophilia’ has become something of a cliché in discussions of this repertory, Walkling clarifies just to what extent the French influence on English music drama amounted to an actual influx of French composers, choreographers and performers, some of whom spent years in England. One of the author’s most ground-breaking discoveries in this respect is the existence of secret payments made to a small group of French performers who, as it would appear, were maintained at court in the precarious aftermath of the Test Act. These pages are a salient illustration of Walkling’s particular brand of historical detective work. Through the meticulous inspection of various types of evidence, he breathes life into the distant landscape of Restoration music drama, populating it with concrete names and faces. Throughout his account, Walkling lets the sources guide the way. While this strategy is inevitable, its consequence for the present volume is a certain lack of focus. Every work is examined from a different perspective, which occasionally obscures the grounds for comparison between sections. At the same time, some works receive less attention than their source materials seem to warrant. Cupid and Death is a case in point: although two printed librettos and an autograph score survive for this masque, it is discussed comparatively briefly. This imbalance is most tangible in Part II, chapter 4, where a handful of paragraphs on Cupid and Death drown in more than 20 pages on scenic ornament in The Siege of Rhodes. Walkling’s forthcoming edition of Cupid and Death with Robert Thompson may explain why he limited its discussion here. Still, it seems strange for such a seminal piece not to feature more prominently in a history of English masque and opera. The occasional want of direction in this book might be due in part to the binary genre distinction at the heart of its structure. In choosing genre as an organizing principle, Walkling did not take the easiest route through the repertory. After all, theatre, masque and opera are the generic Bermuda triangle of Restoration studies: the repertory was at least as heterogeneous as the nascent theatrical terminology used by 17th-century theatre-goers. Add our modern conceptions of opera into the equation, and the confusion is complete. What is a masque? What is an opera? In an attempt to answer these perplexing questions, Walkling develops an amusing analogy with the ambiguous classifications of Jaffa cakes (cake or biscuit?) and tomatoes (fruit or vegetable?): Herein lies the key to the masque/opera conundrum: if we consider use rather than content, the external as opposed to the internal, as a basis for discrimination, a workable solution to the problem begins to emerge. In Restoration England, a given free-standing musical-theatrical work, regardless of its particular features, can most readily be characterized as a masque if its performance takes place at court; conversely, when it appears on the public stage, it is an opera. Such an approach is not without its own inconsistencies, but it goes a long way toward resolving generic confusion on our part. (p.20) A few additional parameters complete Walkling’s typology. For instance, while masques are characterized by the participation of courtly, ‘recreational’ performers (p.25), opera was dominated by professional or ‘occupational’ ones (p.58). Ingenious as this taxonomy may be from a theoretical perspective, its practical implementation raises several issues. First of all, the external evidence on which it is based is far from clear-cut. If performance context is key to genre, how does one categorize a work such as Dido and Aeneas, whose early history is uncertain? And how does one account for the porous wall between the public and courtly stages? Walkling discusses various productions that premiered at court before transferring to the theatre, and vice versa. The same commute was common among performers. All of this is not to mention an opera such as Albion and Albanius, commissioned by the king and rehearsed at court before it was presented at Dorset Garden. Does a work shed its genre as it changes venues? And what does that imply for its modern performance history? Secondly, it soon becomes clear that external factors do not tell the whole story. In Part II Walkling describes opera as ‘an essentially “technological” genre, combining a newly emerging musical technology (recitative) with the theatrical technology of scenic spectacle’ (p.148). To this he adds opera’s characteristic articulation of ‘a political and social philosophy … to exert some degree of ideological control over the spectators’ (p.148). These factors are as fluid as the contextual circumstances discussed above. For one, as the author himself acknowledges, ‘the presence/use of recitative in a theatrical work is not actually a necessary condition for that work to be through-composed … On the other hand, neither is the mere appearance of recitative sufficient to establish through-composition’ (pp.145–56). Walkling is acutely aware of these ambiguities, and carefully qualifies his classifications wherever necessary. As a result, however, the generic framework laid out in the Introduction becomes increasingly blurred. Several works are announced as anomalies or hybrids, deviating from a partly implicit norm. The Empress of Morocco is ranked among the masques in Part I, but not considered ‘a masque per se’ (p.20); Calisto is described as a ‘complex generic hybrid’ (p.110), while Rare en Tout, ‘despite John Verney’s description of it as an “opera” … is in fact a curious generic amalgam whose features are indebted to the comédie-ballet form’ (p.114). Venus and Adonis, the ‘Masque for ye entertainment of ye King’, must be regarded ‘as sui generis’ (p.134); and the opera Albion and Albanius is characterized as ‘the most masque-like of all Restoration theatrical entertainments’ (p.17). Tensions between external and internal evidence, contemporaneous and modern terms are inescapable in any discussion of Restoration music drama. In this case, however, they may be unnecessarily exacerbated by the conceptual and structural focus on genre. Can this unwieldy corpus ever really be categorized? Indeed, should it? Walkling himself explicitly doubts this in his Introduction: ‘Any attempt to bring unassailable clarity to the generic and documentary tangle that is English musical theatre between the mid-1650s and the beginning of the 1690s is pretty much doomed to failure’ (p.24). I could not help but wonder if a chronological approach might have made things easier. The greatest advantage of the present, systematic structure is the association of related works that are chronologically distant, such as early court masques on the one hand and Venus and Dido on the other. Still, there are several passages that might have benefited from a historically linear narrative. For instance, while the opera Ariane and the masque Calisto are only a year apart and, according to Walkling, may have shared several performers, they are presented in two different parts of the book, as examples of two different paradigms. Conversely, Venus and Adonis is categorized as a masque owing to its early court performance, but resurfaces in the opera chapters on account of its through-composed score and its French influences. These and other moments show that the straddle between chronology and genre is hard to sustain. It would be unfair to assess Walkling’s project on the basis of its first leg alone. After all, the large body of dramatick opera remains to be discussed, and the second book may well allow the reader to connect the historical dots. In the meantime, this first volume is a veritable treasure-trove for anyone with a keen interest in the people, networks and organizations behind Restoration masque and opera. The best way to enjoy its wealth is to sail along on its meandering course and discover the fascinating landscapes along the way. © The Author(s) 2018. Published by Oxford University Press. All rights reserved. This article is published and distributed under the terms of the Oxford University Press, Standard Journals Publication Model (https://academic.oup.com/journals/pages/open_access/funder_policies/chorus/standard_publication_model)
Early Music – Oxford University Press
Published: May 22, 2018
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