Americas and Oceania Collections blog

Exploring the Library’s collections from the Americas and Oceania

Introduction

The Americas and Oceania Collections blog promotes our collections relating to North, Central and South America, the Caribbean, and Oceania by providing new readings of our historical holdings, highlighting recent acquisitions, and showcasing new research on our collections. It is written by our curators and collection specialists across the Library, with guest posts from Eccles Centre staff and fellows. Read more about this blog

28 November 2022

Tracing Italian Opera Performers in the Nineteenth Century Americas

Barry Robinson is the Robert Haywood Morrison Professor of History at Queens University of Charlotte and was a 2020 British Library Eccles Centre Visiting Fellow.

In August 1895 a committee of prominent musicians and members of the Italian community in Lima, Peru announced a benefit concert to be held on behalf of the seventy-seven-year-old composer Carlos Enrique Pasta. Their stated purpose was “to alleviate the pitiful situation in which the well-known and respectable maestro finds himself in his old age.”1 Pasta had first come to Lima in 1855 as part of the many waves of Italian performers who travelled through and to the Americas during the nineteenth century.

Italian migrants like Pasta brought European content to American audiences, but they also created new performances that drew from local themes and contemporary politics. Pasta’s zarzuela ¡Pobre indio! debuted in Lima on 3 March 1868. The performance included two yaravies and a huayno (indigenous Andean folk ballads and dance, respectively), with the overture incorporating the chorus of the Peruvian National Anthem.2 This cultural exchange filtered back across the Atlantic, with productions of American-inspired work making their way to the most prominent opera houses of Europe.

Pasta’s best remembered work, the opera Atahualpa, recast the Inca emperor as a tragic and nuanced figure, set to a melancholy and melodious score. His librettist, Antonio Ghislanzoni, also authored the libretto for Verdi’s Aida. Pasta returned to Italy for the debut of Atahualpa in November 1875 at Genoa’s Teatro Paganini, where critics reported “applause galore – more than twenty calls to the maestro – Bravo Maestro Pasta!”3 Atahualpa’s success continued at the Teatro alla Scala in Milan, but by January 1877 Pasta had returned to Lima for the opera’s Peruvian debut at the Teatro Principal.4 He continued to compose zarzuelas over the next few years. As of 1887 he was offering his services to the citizens of Lima as a piano and voice teacher.5

Newspaper cutting
Image 1: Pasta’s announcement of his musical services in 1887. 'El Comercio' (Lima, Peru) 9 October 1887. British Library e-resources, Readex: World Newspaper Archive.

Along with my colleague, Dr. Lucia Galleno, I have been constructing a database of hundreds of individuals like Carlo Enrico Pasta to track the movement of Italian opera performers (singers, musicians, and empresarios) from Italy to the Americas in the nineteenth century. We are employing traditional historical research along with techniques from the digital humanities and geospatial analysis to identify broader patterns among the companies, theatres, and performers who formed part of this influential cultural transference. Their stories might best be visualized as a fluid network of journeys spanning the Atlantic and centering on urban hubs with theatres connecting to the international tour circuits.6

Lima makes for a revealing node from which to begin charting these transatlantic opera networks. Italian opera served as a vibrant element of the city’s cultural life, drawing large crowds of passionate supporters who often engaged in vigorous public critiques and debates, occasionally spilling over into physical violence.7 In 1896, the year after the benefit concert for Maestro Pasta, famed Peruvian literary figure Manuel Moncloa y Covarrubias recalled the vigorous partisanship surrounding the career of soprano Clotilde Barilli in the 1850s, labelling it “a scandal of colossal proportions.”8 Barilli’s fans developed such a furious rivalry with those of the O’Loghlin theatre company that in the 1852 season grave wounds were delivered with a rapiers and firearms, to the point that General Pedro Cisneros de la Torre called in an infantry battalion to restore order. In his Mujeres de teatro, Moncloa y Covarrubias notes that, given the politically fluid nature of those times, this action put the inhabitants of the entire city in a state of great alarm.9

Title page of a book
Image 2: The British Library’s 1888 edition of Manuel y Covarrubia’s '¡Al fin solos!', signed by the author with a dedication to Don Pablo Patrón, found in a volume entitled 'Spanish and Portuguese Plays, etc: 1750-1896'. Moncloa y Covarrubias, Manuel. '¡Al Fin Solos!: Disparate cómico en un acto y en prosa', 1888, BL shelfmark: General Reference Collection 11726.b.13.(11.).

The British Library Reader Pass has provided an invaluable opportunity to connect nineteenth century Italian migrants more fully to the communities in which they lived and performed, and to trace their movement across the Atlantic from cities like London, Madrid, and Milan through our focal point of Lima, Peru, and around the Americas to cultural hubs such as New York, Havana, and New Orleans.

The career of Clorinda Corradi Pantanelli, credited by Basadre with “definitively popularizing” Italian opera in Peru during the season that began on 2 September, 1840, illustrates the scope of this movement.10 After initiating her career in Italy and Spain in the 1820s and 1830s, Corradi Pantanelli sang in Havana, Cuba as a part of a company managed by her husband, Raffaele Pantanelli, from 1836 to 1839. During an interim 1837 season at the St. Charles Theatre in New Orleans, two other performers “absconded” from the company and the empresario engaged in a heated financial dispute with the owner of the St. Charles.11

Opening pages of a libretto
Image 3: Libretto for Clorinda Corradi Pantanelli’s performance of 'La Vendetta' at the Teatro alla Scala in Milan during the 1831-1832 season. Bassi, Calisto. 'La vendetta: melodramma tragico in due atti: da rappresentarsi nell'I.R. Teatro alla Scala il Carnevale dell'anno 1831-32', 1832, BL shelfmark: General Reference Collection DRT Digital Store 906.g.2.(1.).

Corradi Pantanelli’s company arrived in Peru in 1840. The immediate popularity of Corradi Pantanelli’s performance in Lima prompted conservative literary figure Felipe Pardo y Aliaga to publish an essay entitled “Opera y nacionalismo” in October 1840, in which he critiqued what he viewed as a liberal, mercantile fascination with this foreign art form as an ornament of national modernity. Pardo y Aliaga protested that “Nonsensical nationalism has produced few more original phenomena than the one observed on the occasion of the arrival of the Italian company that today charms this capital.”12

Corradi Pantanelli’s company remained in Lima until April 1844, when they continued southward to Chile. They opened the newly constructed Teatro Victoria in Valparaiso in December.13 Corradi Pantanelli continued to perform in Chile over the next decade. Records of the University of Chile show that she took a post as a professor at the National Conservatory of Music in May of 1861.14

The career of mezzo-soprano Estefanía Collamarini provides a final example of the migrant trajectories of these performers. In 1898 Moncloa y Covarrubias characterized Collamarini as “the most splendidly beautiful Carmen we have had [in Lima]”.15 The following year Collamarini ranged as widely as Mexico City, San Francisco, and even Kansas City, Missouri, where she personally funded a reorganization of the stranded Lombardi Opera Company to enable it to complete its tour of the United States.16 Collamarini returned to South America where she continued to perform through at least 1905, when she performed at the Teatro de Sao Pedro d’Alcantara in Rio de Janeiro.17

Portrait of a woman
Image 4: Moncloa y Covarrubias, Manuel. 'Mujeres de teatro: apuntes, perfiles, y recuerdos' (Callao, Imp. El Progreso, 1910) p. 47.

The British Library affords world class access to a wealth of source material that is not accessible at our home institution, including memoirs, catalogues of performances, photos and paintings, diagrams of theatres, an outstanding general reference collection, and excellent nineteenth century newspaper collections (including both hard copy and digital databases). The Eccles Centre Visiting Fellowship has enabled me to track the locations and management of theatres, the movement of individuals and opera companies, and the public reactions and responses to their performances in the major cities of South and North America. These materials help us to transcend the violence of abstraction by putting a personal and individual contour onto the data, adding a human voice to the historic drama that the performers experiences represent.

Notes:

1. El Comercio (Lima, Peru) 19 August 1895. British Library e-resources, Readex: World Newspaper Archive.
2. Jorge Basadre, Historia de la República del Perú (Lima, 1961-1968), Vol. IV, p. 1903, BL shelfmark: W31/3274. Basadre points out that this debut occurred during a period of heightened indigenismo in Lima. A zarzuela differs from an opera in that it intersperses the music and singing with sections of unaccompanied spoken verse. Vera Wolkowicz views the huayno and yaraví as part of the early foundation of national Peruvian music, and cites Pasta as the first composer of any nationality to incorporate Andean folk elements into his compositions. Vera Wolkowicz, Inca Music Reimagined: Indigenist Discourses in Latin American Art Music (Oxford University Press, 2022) p. 57.
3. Carlo Civallero, “Gazzetino di Genova,” 29 November and 9 Dicembre, in: Appolonio e Caprin, L'Arte: Rassegna di teatri, scienzi e lettere con annessa Agenzia. Trieste, 30 November 1875 No. 33, p. 3 and 13 December 1875, No. 34, p. 3.
4. On August 6, 2015, Lima’s Gran Teatro Nacional hosted a resurrected performance of Pasta’s Atahualpa for the first time since the nineteenth century. El Comercio (Lima, Peru) 7 August 2015. British Library e-resources, Readex: World Newspaper Archive.
5. El Comercio (Lima, Peru) 9 October 1887, British Library e-resources, Readex: World Newspaper Archive. The Hotel de Francia é Inglaterra was located at 204 Calle Judíos.
6. John Rosselli has identified a number of seasonal patterns to this movement, which he categorizes into three distinct circuits: 1) Austral America (including Brazil, Uruguay, and Argentina), 2) the Circum-Caribbean, including Havana, Caracas, and major cities in the Eastern United States, and 3) a Pacific circuit extending from Mexico up to San Francisco and down through Central America to Peru and Chile. John Roselli, “The Opera Business and the Italian Immigrant Community in Latin America 1820-1930: The Example of Buenos Aires.” Past & Present, May, 1990, No. 127, pp 165-166.
7. Robert Stevenson’s Foundations of New World Opera (Lima: Pacific Press, 1973) BL shelfmark YM.1991.b.9 and Chad Gasta’s Transatlantic Arias: Early Opera in Spain and the New World (Madrid: Iberoamericana, 2013) BL shelfmark YD.2014.a.786, identify Peru as a center of early New World Opera through the eighteenth century, but scholars of nineteenth century opera tend to overlook Peru.
8. Moncloa y Covarrubias often used the pen name M. Cloamón. M. Cloamón, “De telón adentro,” El Comercio (Lima, Peru) 29 May, 1896, British Library e-resources, Readex: World Newspaper Archive. His extensive Diccionario teatral del Perú (Badiola y Berrio, 1905) offers a vital foundation for identifying specific Italian opera performers at a date and theatre in Lima, and identifying their company and the works they performed.
9. Enrica Jemma Glickman, “Italian Dramatic Companies and the Peruvian Stage in the 1870s,” Latin American Theatre Review, Spring 1973, p. 43; Manuel Moncloa y Covarrubias, Mujeres de teatro: apuntes, perfiles, y recuerdos (Callao, Imp. El Progreso, 1910) p. 11.
10. Jorge Basadre, Historia de la República del Perú (Lima, 1961-1968), Vol. II, p. 399, BL shelfmark W31/3272.
11. Times-Picayune (New Orleans, Louisiana) 8 June 1837. British Library e-resources, Readex: World Newspaper Archive; Katherine K. Preston, Opera on the Road: Traveling Opera Troupes in the United States, 1825-60. (Music in American Life. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1993) pp. 113-117, BL shelfmark 93/24434.
12. Felipe Pardo y Aliaga, “Opera y nacionalismo,” in: El espejo de mi tierra. Edición y estudio preliminar de Alberto Tauro (Lima: Editorial Universo, 1971) pp. 74-89, BL shelfmark X.907/12764.
13. José Manuel Izquierdo Konig details the process of constructing the Teatro Victoria in: “The Invention of an Opera House: The 1844 Teatro Victoria in Valparaiso, Chile,” Cambridge Opera Journal, Vol. 32, 2021, p. 140.
14. Anales de la Universidad de Chile: memorias científicas y literarias, Volume 18 (Universidad de Chile, 1861) p. 603, BL shelfmark Ac.2693.
15. Moncloa y Covarrubias, Diccionario teatral del Perú (Badiola y Berrio, 1905) p. 51.
16. Manuel Mañon, Historia del Teatro Principal de México (México, 1932) p. 209, BL shelfmark, 11795.tt.36; “Stranded Opera Company Reorganizes.” New York Times (1857-1922); Oct 24, 1899.
17. Richard Langham Smith and Clair Rowden, eds. Carmen Abroad: Bizet's Opera on the Global Stage (Cambridge University Press, 2020) p. 162, BL shelfmark YC.2022.b.205.

23 November 2022

Black Theatre Makers: Una Marson

The British Library has digitised and made available online the only known copy of Una Marson’s pioneering play ‘At What a Price’ (1932).

Una Maud Marson was born in Jamaica in 1905. Throughout her lifetime she would live and work in the Caribbean, the UK and the USA. An editor, poet, playwright, activist, writer and BBC producer, Marson had a versatile and prolific career. The phenomenal breadth and range of Una Marson’s creative and critical outputs are yet to be fully appreciated, but there has been a recent renewed interest in the contributions she made to the cultural landscape of the British Empire and North America. Una Marson was the subject of a BBC production, Una Marson: Our Lost Caribbean Voice, which brought to life her incredible career and creations. Many of those creations can be found here, in the British Library, including her poetry collections. However, some of her works are a little harder to find.

A young woman wearing a check dress standing and reading the West Indian Radio Newspaper.
Fig. 1: Una Maud Victoria Marson (1905–1965) by unknown photographer BBC Picture Archives, public domain.

Through a recent project at the British Library, the Eccles Centre for American Studies has been supporting the research of Professor Kate Dossett and her project ‘Black Cultural Archives & the Making of Black Histories’. Part of this project involved examining the Lord Chamberlain’s Play’s (LCP) collection for plays produced in Britain written by Black playwrights. The LCP’s are the largest collection of manuscripts in the British Library. The collection consists of plays collected by the Office of the Lord Chamberlain from the years 1824 to 1968. They were collected because the censorship laws which existed at the time specified that plays had to be approved for a licence before a performance. This collection therefore provides an illuminating record of drama performed in the UK up to 1968. The research project has utilised this collection to find and promote the, often hidden, work of Black theatre makers in the early twentieth century.

One of the plays within the collection is Una Marson’s, ‘At What a Price’. Marson first wrote this play whilst living in Jamaica where it staged in 1932. The play was so successful that she used the profits to travel to London, England, where it was staged before British audiences. In London she got involved in anti-racist activism and became secretary to the League of Coloured Peoples, which fought for racial equality in the UK. The league and its founder, Harold Moody, sponsored Marson’s London production of her play in 1933. Yet, despite its international popularity no copy of the play’s script is known to have survived beyond the one kept in the Lord Chamberlain’s Plays collection.

The typescript of the play At What a Price; the ink is blue.
Fig. 2: Add MS 66878 D, f.1. of ‘At What a Price’, by Una Marson, now available on BL Digitised Manuscripts.

The play follows Ruth Maitland, a young Jamaican woman who moves from the countryside to Kingston, Jamaica, to work as a stenographer where she is pursued by a white Englishman. The play examines women’s agency in love and work, as well as issues of interracial relations and sexual harassment. The unique play script that Una Marson and her production team sent to the Lord Chamberlain’s Office has now been digitised in its entirety and has been made accessible through the British Library’s Digitised Manuscripts website. Researchers can now view this play and the related reader’s report from the Lord Chamberlain’s Office which outlines the department’s response in terms of whether the play was suitable for licensing. These images are available to view here

With the digitisation of this play and related Lord Chamberlain’s Office correspondence, we hope to preserve and widen access to Una Marson’s many and varied cultural outputs. With the digitisation of this play, and others created by black theatre makers, researchers and audiences can discover ways in which black playwrights across the British Empire and Americas were frequently creating new cultural narratives and were at the forefront of movements for change that were an integral part of the British theatrical landscape in the early 20th century.

Jessica Gregory, Project Officer, Modern Archives and Manuscripts

Digitisation funded by the Eccles Centre for American Studies.


Further Reading:
Una Marson | The British Library (bl.uk)
The British Library MS Viewer (bl.uk)
Black Theatre and the Archive: Making Women Visible, 1900-1950 - Digital scholarship blog

15 November 2022

North American Indigenous Print Heritage Early Career Fellowship

The British Library welcomes approaches from those interested in applying for an AHRC Early Career Fellowship in Cultural & Heritage Institutions. The Americas curatorial section specifically welcome expressions of interest for the outlined priority research area, “North American Indigenous Print Heritage”.

How to Apply

- Read the information about the scheme on the 'Early Career Fellowships in cultural and heritage institutions' webpage, paying particular attention to the 'How to apply' section.

- Details about this specific fellowship, and other fellowships across different Independent Research Organisations (IROs), can be found on the spreadsheet titled "IRO priority research areas"

- Sign up for one of the following Town Hall events by registering here:

Mon 21 Nov, 2-4pm (GMT), online

Tues 6 Dec, 11am-2pm (GMT), V&A in person (recorded)

In the instance that you are unable to attend these and have questions about the research theme, please email the British Library's Research Development Team with 'N. American Print Heritage' in the subject line, research.development@bl.uk . Questions about the application process should be sent to the coordinator of the scheme, whose details are listed on the 'Expressions of Interest Form'.

- The deadline for submission of Expressions of Interest Form is 4pm (GMT) 16 January 2023.

 

Research Theme

Please note that the below proposed topics are indicative only, and we welcome conversations from those who are interested in developing a proposal on this theme with other approaches or concerns in mind. We also welcome approaches from those interested in developing a proposal across two of the Independent Research Organisations listed on the above spreadsheet, though please note that you will have to speak with the other IRO separately.

The Library holds considerable print materials related to Indigenous peoples in North America, from the early colonial period to contemporary works. Many of these publications have been inadequately or inappropriately catalogued. This creates difficulties for researchers working in this area to find materials, and even harder for Indigenous communities who are at a geographical distance to understand what holdings we have that are of relevance to them. We would welcome fellowship proposals that address questions arising from the management of these collections, and fostering connections with Indigenous Library and Information Science professionals.
We particularly welcome proposals that touch on:
• Ethical and methodological concerns arising from applying Indigenous librarianship praxis to a UK heritage collection;
• Using digital spaces to build relationships and foster partnerships with Indigenous communities and researchers;
• Applying digital humanities models to Indigenous print heritage, particularly overcoming practical barriers to implementing co-management models;
• Data sovereignty, metadata, and digitisation of Indigenous print heritage;
• Artificial Intelligence solutions to uncovering ‘hidden’ content;
• Practical solutions to overcoming accessibility barriers, and creating a supportive research experience for Indigenous library users in the UK;
• Potential educational uses of British Library print heritage materials.

Candidate Outline

Detailed information about eligibility is available on the funding body website (UK Research and Innovation). Applications from UK based and international candidates who are eligible for a UK visa are welcome. Candidates must have either a doctorate in a relevant subject, or equivalent professional experience and skills.

The successful fellow would be working closely with materials by or about Native Americans and/or First Nations peoples that are culturally sensitive. Consequently, the ideal candidate could demonstrate either lived experience of, or disciplinary expertise in North American Indigenous Studies. We would especially welcome applicants that have an interest in Indigenous librarianship or archival practices and protocols as this will facilitate engagement with best practice.

The Library would be particularly interested in hosting a fellow who demonstrates an interest in making cultural materials more accessible using library science and/or digital humanities methods, as several of the outlined priority research areas would involve questions regarding digital accessibility and data sovereignty. Existing training or experience in such techniques would be beneficial, though a willingness to develop these skills during the fellowship is also welcome.

Finally, we would particularly welcome hosting a fellow who is able to demonstrate experience of either carrying out community-based cultural activities, or collaborating with Indigenous communities on such initiatives. These skills will facilitate the building of trusting reciprocal relationships and networks with Indigenous communities and professionals.

Additional information

Potential fellows are encouraged to engage with networks of Indigenous librarians, and relevant communities whose cultures and histories are represented in the Library’s collection.

The fellow would also have the opportunity to engage with the University of Kent’s Centre for Indigenous and Settler Colonial Studies. The Centre for Indigenous and Settler Colonial Studies is the UK’s only Indigenous Studies research centre. It provides a meeting ground for UK based researchers, visiting Indigenous researchers and creative practitioners, and interested parties from other disciplines. The Centre would support the fellow by providing a forum for debate on emerging methodologies, a space for meeting researchers and building a network, and potentially hosting presentations by the fellow. The Centre’s Director, Professor David Stirrup, would provide support with understanding and experience of methodologies for ethical collaborative practices between UK cultural institutions and Indigenous communities. Specifically, he has experience of joint working with print heritage collections and Native American librarians, and could support with understanding of library systems, Indigenous librarianship practices, and relevant contacts related to these. Finally, as well as strengths in Indigenous Studies, the University of Kent has very strong and active Digital Humanities and Heritage Studies sections. The Centre is thus well placed to support interdisciplinary research, facilitate network building, and fostering new research directions in these complementary fields.

Applicants are also welcome to identify their own partnerships, and should indicate the status of any discussions in this respect in their "Expressions of Interest" submission.

Candidates interested in applying for a fellowship at the Library should refer to the following documents:

General information about the Library and our research
Library strategy and major programmes
Library policies and procedures
Accessibility statement for Library websites
Library catalogues and collection guides
Research collaboration
Annual Research Reports

North American Indigenous Print Heritage
Enabling Access for Everyone, the British Library’s Content Strategy
• Some bibliographies and guides to North American holdings (including works in Indigenous languages) can be found on the Eccles Centre for American Studies website. Please note that these are not comprehensive.
Blogs written by fellows and postgraduate students who have worked with the Library’s North American Indigenous holdings (and other topics).