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Retrospect Opera

Organization Resurrecting Music Played
At David Garrick's Shakespeare Jubilee

One of the most important events in the evolution of William Shakespeare’s popularity was David Garrick’s three-day Shakespeare Jubilee in September 1769. As the 250th anniversary of that event approaches next year, a small English charity called Retrospect Opera is working on a recording of the music composed for the Jubilee.

Retrospect Opera is devoted to researching and recording operas and related dramatic musical works by British composers from the 18th century to the early 20th century. “Britain has a rich and vibrant history of dramatic musical works, but all too few of are remembered today,” says the organization’s website. Retrospect Opera releases CDs of these works with full libretti and essays on the context of the composition.

The organization has released five works, including Charles Dibdin’s Christmas Gambols from 1788, which prompted a follow-up effort to produce Dibdin’s compositions for the Shakespeare Jubilee, the Queen Mab cantata and The Jubilee, Garrick’s musical comedy derived from the celebration. Also on the recording will be Dibdin’s serenata Datchet Mead, or The Fairy Court again featuring Queen Mab and written in 1797 to celebrate the marriage of Princess Charlotte, George III’s eldest daughter.

The Jubilee was one of the major triumphs of the first phase of Dibdin’s career when he was working closely with the celebrated actor-manager Garrick (1717–1779). Garrick organized a great Shakespeare festival after being asked to help fund a statue of Shakespeare for Stratford-upon-Avon’s town hall. The three-day festival had a ceremonious opening, and Dibdin’s cantata Queen Mab was a notable highlight of the first day, according to Retrospect Opera. Heavy rain on the second and third days forced the cancellation of many of the events, but Garrick quickly adapted part of his planned celebration, with Dibdin’s music, for performance back in London at his own Drury Lane theatre. The Jubilee, or Shakespeare’s Garland premiered there on October 14, and proved  a big hit.

The Shakespeare Jubilee itself is credited with catapulting the growing trend of Bardolotry in the 18th century and kicked off Stratford-upon-Avon’s Shakespeare-centric tourism industry.

Retrospect Opera is currently seeking funds to complete the project; the organization says it is about 80 percent funded—and notable Shakespeare scholars Stephen Greenblatt and Sir Jonathan Bate have endorsed the project. “Dibdin was a hugely important figure in the history of British theatre and music, so it is a wonderful initiative to bring his work back to life,” Bate writes on the Retrospect Opera website. “Anyone interested in Shakespeare will be especially fascinated by the works he created for David Garrick’s celebrated Shakespeare Jubilee of 1769—that was the moment when the cult of Shakespeare really took off, and for his part in this, Charles Dibdin fully deserves to be revived.”

A direct link to the Dibdin Shakespeare music project is at http://www.retrospectopera.org.uk/DIBDIN/Shakespeare.html.

December 21, 2018

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