The Gilded Stage: A Social History of Opera by Daniel Snowman - review by Tim Blanning

Tim Blanning

High Notes

The Gilded Stage: A Social History of Opera


Atlantic Books 482pp £40 order from our bookshop

This consistently entertaining and stimulating history of opera gets off to cracking start with a quotation from a doleful letter to The Times written in 1853 by a gentleman identifying himself only as ‘C T’. Although in possession of a ticket for which he had paid the princely sum of seven shillings, he was denied entry to the Royal Opera House ‘because the cut of my dress coat was not what it ought to be according to the ideas of the doorkeeper’. Neither prolonged protests nor subsequent attempts to obtain a refund got him anywhere. This episode neatly illustrates the dual themes of continuity and change that run through Daniel Snowman’s book. On the one hand, the abrasive approach to customer relations has not changed; on the other hand, ‘C T’ would certainly not be denied entry on sartorial grounds today.

Drawing on a knowledge of musical history distinguished by both depth and breadth, Snowman manages to keep four kinds of analysis going in a mutually supportive way: political, social, cultural and financial. Here, too, everything has changed but everything has stayed the same. François Mitterand’s motive in building

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