ASMCF Funded Conference Report : Theatre on the Move in Times of Conflict, 1750-1850

This two-day conference took place on 18th and 19th September at Magdalen College, Oxford, and was co-organised by Annelies Andries (University of Oxford) and Clare Siviter (University of Bristol). It brought together scholars from the fields of theatre history, musicology, languages, history, politics, and area studies, and sought to explore the movement of theatre across linguistic, cultural, and national boundaries between 1750 and 1850, with a special focus on conflict as a driver of such movement.


The conference opened with the panel ‘War Mediated: from Poetry to Opera’. Alessandra Palidda (Oxford Brookes University) demonstrated how French revolutionary songs penetrated the musical life of Republican Milan (1796-1797), while Eric Schneeman (University of Texas, San Antonio) discussed how Gluck’s Iphigénie en Aulide was used in upon the return of the king in 1808 to create a German identity through nostalgia for pre-Napoleonic Prussia. Filippo Bruschi (Venice Institute of the Arts) explored how conceptions of war changed in the second half of the eighteenth century through translations of Goldoni’s La Guerra (1764).


The second panel focused on early-nineteenth-century theatre in the Dutch Republic. Lotte Jensen (Raboud University) showed how Dutch playwrights and actors sought to protest Napoleon’s oppressive regime in translated or original plays, revealing some surprisingly lenient decisions from the French censors. She also introduced the ONSTAGE database as a valuable resource for this kind of research. Charlotte Vrielink (University of Amsterdam) documented how through the ‘Creative Amsterdam’ project she is able to trace the development of the nineteenth-century theatrical landscape in Amsterdam, including the introduction of international theatre such as the French and German playhouses.


The first day ended with a keynote, sponsored by Music & Letters, by Benjamin Walton (Cambridge) who offered theoretical reflections on wartime, as expanded beyond the actual war event (Favret, 2009), and its implication for the opera criticism, experience and circulation in the early nineteenth century. This keynote was rounded off by a response from Katherine Hambridge (Durham University), who provoked a discussion on the advantages and disadvantages of the expanded understanding of wartime.


Having focused on occupation, the depiction of war, and a theoretical approach on the first day, the second day started with a more on the grounds explorations of how the military contributed to musical and theatrical life. Eamonn O’Keeffe (University of Oxford) used Napoleonic-era manuscript music books to show the both general and national diversity of the repertoire played by military musicians. Katherine Astbury (Warwick University) then discussed the performances of French prisoners of war for British crowds and fellow inmates at in the hulks and in Portchester Castle, one of which has recently been re-created thanks to her AHRC project.


The fourth panel zoomed in on various kinds of theatre in the Holy Roman Empire. The paper of Barbara Babic (University of Vienna) studied French Biblical melodrama that was imported into Vienna during Napoleonic Wars, showing how the translations added scenes of war’s horrors in response to the violent French occupations. Austin Glatthorn (Durham University) investigated how late eighteenth-century plays revealed the nuanced ways in which the inhabitants of the Holy Roman Empire represented themselves as a ‘nation’, ‘Reich’, or ‘Volk’. The adaptation of French operas and plays for the Viennese stage discussed by Martin Skamletz (Hochschule der Künste Bern) showed instances of resistance, evoking similarities with the resistance on the Dutch stages discussed by Lotte Jensen the previous day.


The afternoon commenced with the second keynote, sponsored by the Association for the Study of Modern and Contemporary France, by Julia Prest (University of St Andrews). Using her database of performances on Saint-Domingue, Julia spoke about the representation of revolution and revolt in the theatre in Saint-Domingue during the French then Haitian Revolution, and how this was portrayed on the Paris stage. The response by Charlotte Bentley (University of Cambridge) extended the topic in two ways: she drew attention to the musical representations of revolt and further followed the journey of these actors to Cuba and New Orleans.


The final panel, ‘French Theatre on Conflict’, looked at what happened to issues of conflict and theatre after the fall of Napoleon. Kelly Lynn Christensen (Stanford University) disclosed the fallacy of assuming a parallel development between theatre and politics through a case study of the Opéra-Comique during the July Revolution and the circulation of actors across France during the events in Paris. Damien Mahiet (Brown University) explored how Donzetti’s Fille du Régiment evoked the family romance and trauma of post-Revolutionary and Napoleonic France. Finally, Mark Everist (University of Southampton) brought the conference to a close by examining the use of the stage as a form of soft power during the British visit to Paris to conclude the Peace of Paris and the end of the Crimean War (1853-1856).


In the closing round panel, participants further debated ideas on the specific conditions of theatrical circulation and encounter during this period of conflict. We are planning on following up the conference with a ‘Performance as Research’ workshop at the University of Bristol in December 2019 and a concert-lecture on songs of migration in January 2020, both generously supported by the British Academy/Leverhulme Small Research Grant scheme. More details will be available via the project’s website:


In the organisation of the conference, the organisers would like to thank the following organisations for their generous financial support: The John Fell Fund, Magdalen College, The Association for the Study of Modern and Contemporary France, Music & Letters, Romanticism and Eighteenth-Century Studies Oxford, and The Oxford University Faculty of Music.

Annelies Andries  and Clare Siviter

This project was awarded a prize through the Initiative Fund. More information on the deadline for applications can be found here.


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