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Research Colloquium: Charlotte Bentley

October 23, 2018 @ 5:15 pm - 7:15 pm


Charlotte Bentley (University of Cambridge)

New Orleans and the Creation of Transatlantic Opera, 1819-1859


This paper is about nineteenth-century New Orleans and the people who made it a vital, if unexpected, part of an emerging operatic world. Managers, performers, and professionals of all sorts—musicians and non-musicians—forged connections that led to the establishment of a transatlantic system of opera production, while also helping to shape opera’s meanings for new audiences inside and outside of the theatre. Home to the first (and for some thirty years, the only) permanent opera company in the United States, New Orleans offers an unusually vivid insight into the processes involved in opera’s spread beyond Europe in this period.

At the geographical and cultural heart of the city sat the francophone Théâtre d’Orléans (fl. 1819-1859), run by Paris-born entrepreneur John Davis and his son, Pierre. I will use this institution as a starting point to explore how opera reached audiences across boundaries of class, nationality, language, and race in the city, as well as how individuals connected to the theatre strove to disseminate ideas about opera in wider society, through periodicals, sheet music, and novels. The theatre struck a delicate balance between local, national, and international processes and concerns, and I argue that this allowed New Orleans to develop a transatlantic identity that was both unique and at the same time deeply connected with Europe and the United States.

Challenging the notion of an operatic world determined by centres and peripheries, I position New Orleans as a place ‘in-between’, or, to borrow Fabrício Prado’s term, an ‘interaction zone’: between America and Europe, between an emerging nation and an imperial legacy, and in myriad other ways besides. Opera, I argue, played a vital role in the meaningful construction of this in-betweenness for people on both sides of the Atlantic in the first half of the nineteenth century, not simply reflecting levels of global interconnection, but actively helping to create them.



Charlotte Bentley is a Junior Research Fellow at Emmanuel College, Cambridge. She completed her PhD at the University of Cambridge in 2017 under the supervision of Dr Benjamin Walton. Her research interests include cultural transnationalism in the nineteenth century, the role of human agency in globalisation, and opera in Paris at the fin de siècle. Her work on French grand opéra in New Orleans has appeared in Cambridge Opera Journal, and she has a chapter in Suzanne Aspden’s edited collection Operatic Geographies, which is due to be published by Chicago in November 2018. Meanwhile her article on Jules Massenet’s opera La Navarraise is forthcoming in the Journal of the Royal Musical Association. Charlotte is currently preparing a monograph about opera in New Orleans and developing a new research project, which will explore operatic networks across the Americas in the nineteenth century, with a particular focus on Cuba.

The Colloquia feature leading figures, as well as younger scholars, from across the world. They present their research in papers on all kinds of music-related topics. Graduate students Jason Weir and Rosie McMahon organise the series. Presentations are followed by discussion and a drinks reception. Students, staff, and the general public are warmly encouraged to attend.


October 23, 2018
5:15 pm - 7:15 pm
Event Category:


Faculty of Music
01865 (2)76133


Denis Arnold Hall, Faculty of Music
St Aldate's
Oxford,OX1 1DB
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01865 276125