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Franceschina, John. 'Introduction to Elizabeth Berkeley Craven's The Georgian Princess.' British Women Playwrights around 1800. 15 January 2001. 6 pars. <http://www.etang.umontreal.ca/bwp1800/essays/franceschina_georgian_intr.html>


Copyright © Contributor, 2001-2008. This essay is protected under the copyright laws of the United States and the Universal Copyright Convention. Publication (print or electronic) or commercial use of any of the copyrighted materials without direct authorization from the copyright holder is strictly prohibited.

1.

The Princess of Georgia,* a spectacular operatic fairy tale in two acts by Elizabeth Berkeley Craven, the Margravine of Anspach, was first produced on Wednesday, 28 February 1798, inaugurating the sixth year of private theatricals at Brandenburgh House, a country estate on the banks of the Thames in Hammersmith to which the Margrave retired in 1791. The theatre at Brandenburgh House had been erected in 1792 in imitation of the Gothic style of architecture popularized by Horace Walpole at his Strawberry Hill estate. Looking more like "a Bastille, than a temple dedicated to the Muses" (Times 7 November 1792:2), the interior of the theatre sported a single proscenium arch without an apron stage or proscenium doors, reflecting the style of continental European theatres. The stage itself was outfitted with wing-and-shutter devices, sky and room borders, traps, footlights, and state-of-the-art machinery employed to create spectacular transformation scenes and the special effects the Margravine stuffed into her plays. The auditorium had a slightly elevated parterre equipped with rows of backed benches, a single row of upper boxes, four on either side of the proscenium, and a large box reserved for the Margrave and his family, at the back of the room facing the stage. Illuminated by two hoops of candles suspended from an unusually low ceiling, the theatre at Brandenburgh House accommodated an audience of about 120 people.

2. Because of her exalted position, charisma, persistence, and wealth, the Margravine managed to secure the employment of major theatrical and musical artists in the regular performance of her private theatricals. Thomas Malton, a scene painter at Covent Garden celebrated for his depiction of London streets and famous buildings, John Peter Salomon, an organizer of professional concerts in London and who is credited with bringing Haydn to England, William Beckford, the notorious author of Vathek, and Joseph Mazzinghi, the musical director for the King's Theatre in the Haymarket were among the many celebrities charmed (or coerced) by the Margravine into servicing her productions. If the Morning Post advertisement for the 1823 sale of the theatre's costumes, properties, and scenery can be trusted, even the great De Loutherbourg who lived nearby in Hammersmith (and who since "retiring" from the stage in 1785 devoted himself to the study of "faith-healing") took part in the design of scenery: "[T]he entire Capital Scenery from Brandenburgh House painted expressly by the celebrated De Loutherbourgh, with wings, sky and room borders, lamps, float forms, rollers, and an infinity of well-adapted Machinery, Material, and Properties, on a scale suited to a Country Theatre, not too small" (cited in Rosenfeld 74).
3.

The audience at the Margravine's performances consisted mainly of invited friends recently emigrated from the continent (many of her productions were in French or adapted from French originals), though the Prince of Wales was said to have been in attendance on 25 April 1793 when the theatre gave its first public performance. Because of her scandalous lifestyle, Elizabeth Craven was generally shunned by polite society, in and out of court circles. Henry Angelo, the proprietor of a fencing academy adjacent to the King's Theatre in the Haymarket and occasional performer in the Margravine's theatricals, recalls a masquerade ball at Brandenburgh House (c.1791-1792) in which certain invited guests (or party crashers) displayed their displeasure toward the Margravine:

Two circumstances took place in the course of the evening worth mentioning. I was present at the first, which might have been an accident; the second was certainly disgraceful to those who had been enjoying every luxury and hospitality. The probability is, that it was purposely done.
   One of the doors, adjacent to the room, was a full-length portrait of the late King of Prussia, Frederick; the door was closed, and a beautiful large mirror was place before it. A mask, in a sailor's dress, perhaps fancying he saw a number of masks in the next room, and something having attracted his attention, rushed with impatience to get there, and dashing violently against it, shattered the glass in pieces. This might have been accidental; but, whoever he was, he took care directly to change his dress.... The second affair to which I allude was both wanton and malicious, and disgraceful to the parties. In one of the rooms the curtains were of beautiful rich silk, covered with point lace. On several places the lace had been purloined, the silk cut and torn, and the satin chairs and sofas ripped with a knife. The victuals were thrown under the tables, and many other depredations were committed.
   This masquerade, I believe, was the first and the last. (Reminiscences 2: 23-24)
Angelo, who had joined the company in 1796, and who performed the role of Morad in the original cast of The Princess of Georgia also provides a first-hand account of working with her Serene Highness:
The Margravine on all occasions was the prima donna, and mostly performed the juvenile characters; but whether she represented the heroine or the soubrette, her person and talents captivated every heart. Her en second, a beautiful and accomplished young lady, was Miss Sutherland. The excellent acting of the Hon. Keppel Craven, aided by his youth and elegant appearance, made both the French and English pieces go off with éclat. (Reminiscences 2: 25)
Angelo found, however, that the Margravine was a prima donna on and off the stage. When it happened that he improvised a short death speech during a performance of the Margravine's play, The Gauntlet, his employer was livid that an actor should dare speak a word that was not in the part. However, when Mr. Simmons, playing the role of Acba in The Princess of Georgia refused to encore his song, "I've read of Love, and all his Tricks," because he had been expressly forbidden to sing a song a second time in the Brandenburgh House Theatre, her highness chastised him for not disobeying her orders, complaining, "but this is my own piece" (Genest 7:437).
4. The Princess of Georgia was given an encore performance at Brandenburgh House on 8 March 1798. Slightly over a year later, the work was mounted at Covent Garden for Fawcett's benefit on Friday 19 April 1799. According to the Morning Chronicle 17 April 1799, Fawcett was responsible for securing the rights to the production and promised that "nothing shall be wanted on his Part to render it as acceptable to the Public as it was to the Nobility who had the pleasure of seeing it at the Brandenburgh house Theatre." What the Covent Garden audience saw was a slightly abbreviated version of the Margravine's opera. Two complete songs were omitted as was the second verse of Acba's "I've read of Love, and all his Tricks," which reads: I'm blind alike to Smile or Tear;
I eat, I drink, I see and hear
The merry Songsters on the Spray,
While love-sick Boys pine out each day.
O let me still unmov'd remain;
He wants no joy, that feels no Pain.
   O No! O No! O No!
He wants no joy, who feels no Pain.
Nainda's song, "The Morning Star," presumably sung at the beginning of Act 1, scene 3, is excluded from the manuscript entitled The Georgian Princess, and dated by the Examiner of Plays, John Larpent, 12 April 1799. It is a brief quatrain, performed at Brandenburgh House by the Margravine: The Morning Star, ah! see
How soft how mild her light:
She leads Iskouriah on her way,
Expelling sable Night!
Similarly, another unallocated quatrain—with music attributed to the Margravine—placed before the final chorus in Airs and Choruses in The Princess of Georgia is missing from the Larpent manuscript. The lyrics to the song suggest a placement at the end of Nainda's final speech in the play: Angels and Genii point the way secure
To Honour, Fame, to Friendship and to Love;
Like Stars, their Course is heav'nly, bright, and pure;
For, by Omniscient Pow'r alone, they move.

It is unknown why these two brief arias were cut from the Covent Garden production. Perhaps three numbers, disguising, and a "flying" entrance in a storm were deemed sufficient for the character of Nainda (after all, the Queen of the Night—in many ways a parallel character—in The Magic Flute, has only two bravura arias). At Brandenburgh House, the additional songs may have been necessary to negotiate a scene change or special effect, or simply to give the Margravine more time on stage!

5.

The Princess of Georgia was the third of the Margravine's dramatic efforts to reach the boards of the professional theatre in London. The Miniature Picture ran four nights at Drury Lane beginning Wednesday 24 May 1780, and The Silver Tankard; or, The Point at Portsmouth (with music by the Margravine, Tommaso Giordani, and Dr. Samuel Arnold) began a six-performance run at the Haymarket Theatre on Wednesday 18 July 1781. Turning on disguise, transvestism, and gender role-reversal, The Miniature Picture was described by Genest as a "moderate C. in 3 acts" (6:134) whose greatest claim to fame was its prologue, written by Richard Brinsley Sheridan. So popular in fact was Sheridan's prologue to Lady Craven's play that he adapted it for reuse as the prologue to his own play Pizarro. The Silver Tankard, damned by William Beckford as "totally void of Wit, Humour or Incident, and full of vulgar expressions much more becoming the mouth of a Billingsgate woman than the pen of a fine Lady" (Oliver 73), was praised by John O'Keefe who argued, "it was very well written, had good songs, and fine music by Dr. Arnold, and was played often" (2:3).

6.

Typical of opera libretti of the period—particularly operas trading on spectacular effect—The Georgian Princess is highly predictable in its plotting, retreading a number of well known themes. Yet—especially in the context of the social and political reverberations throughout Europe when these words were originally spoken—the Margravine's subtle exploration of the concepts of liberty, manly beauty, and women's roles in society still resonate today.

John Franceschina
The Pennsylvania State University

John Franceschina, associate professor of theatre history at the Pennsylvania State University, is the author of Sisters of Gore, Gore On Stage, Homosexualities in the English Theatre from Lyly to Wilde, Duke Ellington's Music for the Theatre, the Dramatic Works of the Marquis de Sade, and the forthcoming Women and the Profession of Theatre 1810-1860, and Against the Grain: a Social History of Theatre.

  * Please note that in production, the opera is called The Princess of Georgia. The manuscript from which this edition is derived bears the title, The Georgian Princess. (back)

For Reference:

  • Angelo, Henry. The Reminiscences of Henry Angelo. With an introduction by Lord Howard de Walden, and notes and memoir by H. Lavers Smith, B. A. 2 vols. 1904; reprint ed., New York: Benjamin Blom, 1969.
  • Anspach, Margravine of [Elizabeth Berkeley Craven,]. Airs and Choruses in The Princess of Georgia. Privately printed, 1798.
  • Genest, John. Some Account of the English Stage from the Restoration in 1660 to 1830. 10 vols. Bath: 1832; reprint ed., New York: Burt Franklin, n.d.
  • O,Keeffe, John. Recollections of The Life of John O'Keeffe, Written by Himself. London: Henry Colburn, 1826.
  • Oliver, J. W. The Life of William Beckford. London: Oxford University Press, 1932.
  • Rosenfeld, Sybil. Temples of Thespis: Some Private Theatres and Theatricals in England and Wales, 1700-1820. London: The Society for Theatre Research, 1978.
  • Van Lennep, William, Emmet L. Avery, Arthur H. Scouten, George Winchester Stone Jr., and Charles Beecher Hogan. The London Stage 1660-1800. Part 5, 1776-1800. 3 vols. Carbondale, Illinois: Southern Illinois University Press, 1968.