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Opera Salaries in Eighteenth-Century London

Judith Milhous and Robert D. Hume
Journal of the American Musicological Society
Vol. 46, No. 1 (Spring, 1993), pp. 26-83
DOI: 10.2307/831805
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/831805
Page Count: 58
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Opera Salaries in Eighteenth-Century London
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Abstract

Until the last fifteen years, very few salaries have been known for Italian opera singers or ballet dancers in eighteenth-century London. Two major new sources are presented here for the first time: Chancery testimony concerning salaries in the 1780s, and a series of manuscript annotations giving salaries of principals for eight seasons between 1796 and 1808. Added to recent discoveries concerning the first decade of the century, the Royal Academy of Music in the 1720s, and Chancery testimony about the pay scale in the 1760s, this information makes an overview possible. The top and bottom of the salary scale (£1,500 to £100) remained surprisingly stable from the 1720s to the 1790s. During the last third of the century ballet emerges from relative insignificance and attains virtual parity in cost and status with opera itself. The star system was established as early as 1708, and the size of the theater was always a key determinant in limiting salaries. The huge new opera house of 1791, coupled with Napoleonic-era inflation, quickly increased salaries at the top end of the scale, culminating in the £5,250 paid to Catalani in 1808. The gap between top and bottom salaries was always enormous, but in the later years of this survey the gap was widening substantially.

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