Italian operagoing in London, 1700-1745

Date of Award


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Art and Music Histories


George Nugent


George Frederic Handel, England, Patronage

Subject Categories

Cultural History | Music


English men and women in London who went to the Italian opera in the first half of the eighteenth century understood the genre in a particular way. This basic assumption underlies the present account, which establishes the range of activities, motives and perceptions that contributed to the experience of Italian operagoing, 1700-1745. This experience was formed during the first two decades of the eighteenth century with the gradual establishment of five so-called aspects of Italian operagoing; i.e., traditions and practices that came to be identified with Italian opera for eighteenth-century London operagoers. These aspects, discussed in the opening chapter, include venue (the operahouse); the artform; the subscription; the season; and the company of Italian singers. George Frideric Handel (1685-1759), composer of Italian opera in London during this period, features heavily in this account. Handel's career switch from composer of Italian opera to composer of English oratorio is discussed in terms of his disengagement from the former. Seasonal patterns of works produced by Handel are examined to elucidate this decision-making process. The thesis draws on recently published documents to present a new interpretation of how Italian opera was run under Handel and the theatre manager, J. Heidegger, between 1729-1733. Four chronological periods of Italian opera administration in London are examined: the Royal Academy of Musick (1719-1728), the Handel-Heidegger Operas (1729-1733), Handel and the Nobility Opera (1733-1738), and Italian Opera under Lord Middlesex (1738-1745). Each period is examined with the view to establishing the extent to which it was more market- or patronage-oriented. This depended upon who took primary responsibility for producing (in the broadest sense of the term) operas: the amateurs (nobility, royalty), or the professionals (theatre managers and related personnel). A prosopographical analysis of British subscribers to Italian opera is here attempted for the first time. A general profile of the Italian operagoer in London in the first half of the eighteenth century, is drawn from a sample of 129 long-term subscribers. The sample is culled from the 425 names known to us for the 1720s, 1730s, and 1740s. Social, educational, and political backgrounds are examined. Several key networks of subscriber families are identified, based on parent and spouse relationships. Finally, the subscribers are assigned to categories or "ways of belonging", a hierarchical scale of patronage commitment to the genre.


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