Retrospect Opera is proud to announce that it has just released a recording of Charles Dibdin’s The Wags of 1790. This was by far the most successful of his celebrated one-man shows, or, as he liked to call them (developing the idea of tabletalk), “Table Entertainments.” He would stand behind a piano, alternating speaking and singing to his audience, bringing a wide range of comic characters to life. He played The Wags 108 times in the 1790-91 theatre season, making it London’s most popular entertainment at that period of intense discussion about the French Revolution. The Entertainment is now brought to life again by the versatile talents of Simon Butteriss (https://www.simonbutteriss.com/home.html) accompanied by Stephen Higgins on a genuine 1801 Broadwood piano, the sort of instrument Dibdin would have used.
Many of the songs from The Wags became hugely popular, so this is a great introduction to the sound world of the 1790s. One striking proof of their currency is that, of the eight Dibdin songs in Jane Austen’s music collection – making him the best represented composer – four are from The Wags.
You can find further information and buy the recording here.
Theatrical works in the eighteenth-century did not play for continuous “runs” in the manner of modern popular theatre. The key figure is the number of performances a work was given in a particular season, making the most successful theatrical work of the British eighteenth-century David Garrick’s The Jubilee, with music by Charles Dibdin, which played for 91 performances in the 1769-70 season. To mark the 250th anniversary of this important musical play, Retrospect Opera has released a recording which includes all the sung music and a good deal of the spoken dialogue: http://www.retrospectopera.org.uk/CD_SALES/CD_details_Jubilee.html
The Jubilee is a comic representation of Garrick’s Shakespeare “Jubilee” of 1769, a 3-day festival in Stratford-upon-Avon that famously ended up getting washed out, but which achieved unprecedented publicity and represents a milestone in the history of Shakespeare’s reception. It deifies Shakespeare, but at the same time gently pokes fun at the fashion for literary tourism that the festival did so much to promote. Dibdin’s songs are richly melodic and extremely memorable, and several of them, celebrating Shakespeare as a sort of folk hero (“The lad of all lads was a Warwickshire lad”!), enjoyed a long cultural afterlife.
The Jubilee should be essential listening for anyone interested in the “god of our idolatry” idea of Shakespeare that Garrick bequeathed to the Romantics. It also teaches very well, and the 36-page booklet accompanying the recording includes suggestions for how the work, certainly within the possibilities of student performance, could be presented today.
As Retrospect Opera is constituted as a charity, all profits from the sale of The Jubilee go directly towards making more such recordings possible. Please support us, and please recommend this to your libraries.
Although the literature of 1790s Britain is very well known and extensively studied, and the visual arts are not too far behind, the music remains virtually unknown. Yet far from Britain being “the land without music,” music was everywhere and people responded to it very powerfully (see Wordsworth's “Power of Music”). Retrospect Opera, a charitable recording company, is now seeking to revive the sound of the 1790s by recording one of Charles Dibdin's celebrated one-man musical shows, “Christmas Gambols” of 1795. Dibdin (1745-1814) was the greatest singer-songwriter of the British Romantic period, and his one-man shows were a standard part of London's rich array of musical entertainments from the late 1780s to his retirement in 1809. Many of the songs from these shows enjoyed an exceptionally wide cultural diffusion and, as Oskar Cox Jensen has written, Dibdin “has a claim to have been the most significant cultural figure of the later Georgian period.”
Retrospect Opera relies a great deal on crowd funding to make its recordings possible, and all Romanticists and eighteenth-century scholars are warmly encouraged to support this recording of “Christmas Gambols,” which is guaranteed to transform many people's understanding of the 1790s. Donations of any size are very welcome, and anyone donating £25 or more will have their name listed on the Retrospect website and receive a copy of the recording (on CD, with a booklet containing the whole text and an introductory essay) upon release. Please visit the Retrospect Opera website for more details of this project and how to support it: http://www.retrospectopera.org.uk/.