Thomas Arne

Thomas Arne

Love in a Village

In stark contrast to its unassuming title, Love in a Village (1762), the first pastiche opera in English, took London by storm and went on to become the most popular comic opera of the eighteenth century both there and in Dublin. What’s more, it held its own until the Victorian era, by which point it had traveled as far as St. Petersburg, Calcutta, and Australia.

The vocal and instrumental score featured the advanced italianate technique of Thomas Arne (the leading English composer of the day) and a host of his illustrious peers—e.g., Boyce, Galuppi, Geminiani, Giardini, and Handel, beloved of posh visitors to the pleasure gardens of Vauxhall and Ranelagh— winningly adapted to Isaac Bickerstaff’s gently satirical spoken comedy of manners. Love in a Village served as a sentimental antidote to John Gay’s cynical Beggar’s Opera (1728)—the first successful ballad opera and most performed mainpiece on the London stage of the century. As a musical playwright in 1760s London, Bickerstaff enjoyed such success as only Henry Fielding had known in the 1730s with his ballad opera imitations of The Beggar’s Opera.

Love in a Village became the first full-length opera to mirror the middle-class sensibilities of a public responsible for the rise of the novel under Richardson, Fielding, and Smollett.  Neglected for nearly the past century, in spite of commemorations of Arne’s death (1978) and birth (2010), the unique surviving manuscript full score was finally edited, and published, by Artaria in New Zealand in 2011; yet no one has accepted the implicit invitation (or challenge) to perform from this edition. Moreover, since then, another editorial team independently pursued a similar project and soon signed a contract to publish with German publisher Bärenreiter.

The richly scored manuscript boasts so much greater orchestral detail than the Walsh keyboard-vocal score of 1763 (and others derived from it, the only versions previously available for performance) that the complete work has never been more ripe for revival.

The performance will constitute the first-ever (post-18th-century) historically informed public revival of the complete contents of the manuscript full score, and will be framed by a student curated exhibit and a full complement of scholarly panels and discussions.