“An Irishman in an opera!”: Music and nationalism on the London stage in the mid-1770s

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

On 21 September 1776 the short dramatic prelude by George Colman entitled New Brooms! was performed for the first time at the Drury Lane Theatre. Commissioned to celebrate the re-opening of the theatre under new management following the retirement of David Garrick (after almost three decades at the helm), New Brooms! was greeted with initial enthusiasm but only ran for 10 additional nights in the season; it was also given at Crow Street, Dublin in 1777. The short play served a dual function: on the one hand it was a way in which to pay homage to Garrick’s dominating presence on the London stage; on the other, it was a public statement of intent on behalf of the new managers. It responded satirically to the popularity of all-sung opera and to what was seen as an increasingly excessive use of music within straight plays. Indeed, although opera was more popular in the last quarter of the century than it had been during Garrick’s tenure the all-sung variety was to all but disappear from the London stage by the late 1770s. Against the backdrop of the American War of Independence, this old argument was couched in strongly nationalistic terms, with Colman’s short satire exploiting (inter alia) stock characterisations of otherness (Irish and Italian; linguistic and musical). Taking New Brooms! as a case study, this paper will explore changing attitudes to the role of music in the theatre in the mid- to late 1770s and its implications within the wider context of British nationalism and Imperialism.


  • Thomas Liney, Niccolo Piccini, cultural nationalism, David Garrick, George Colman the elder
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationMusic Preferred. Essays in Musicology, Cultural History and analysis in honour of Harry White
EditorsRobin Elliott, Lorraine Byrne Bodley
Place of PublicationVienna
PublisherHollitzer Verlag
ISBN (Electronic)978-3-99012-403-1
ISBN (Print)978-3-99012-401-7
Publication statusPublished - 2018
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