Katherine Preston’s new book, Opera for the People: English-Language Opera & Women Managers in Late 19th-Century America
(Oxford University Press, 2017) is the first complete overview of the repertoire, companies, performers, and managers that provided English-language opera to Americans after the Civil War. Preston is one of the pioneers of the musicological study of American musical culture during the nineteenth century. In one of her earlier books, Opera on the Road: Traveling Opera Troupes in the United States, 1825–60
(University of Illinois Press, 1993), Preston established that opera was one of the most popular forms of entertainment in the United States. In Opera for the People,
Preston focuses on English-language opera companies that traveled throughout the United States during the second half of the nineteenth century bringing European operas and operettas performed in English translation to big cities and small towns alike. She argues that the middle-class audience cultivated by English-language troupes eventually turned their attention to musical theater beginning around 1900. Many of the troupes Preston examines were managed by their leading prima donnas, which complicates the traditional view of nineteenth-century American women as confined to the private sphere. Despite wielding significant artistic and economic power, these women were accepted by their peers and the musical press. Bolstered by her stringent attention to detail and impressive primary research, Preston’s monograph finishes the account of the history of opera in America she began twenty-five years ago
Katherine K. Preston
is the David N. and Margaret C. Bottoms Professor (emerita) at the College of William and Mary. She has published multiple books including Music for Hire: Professional Musicians in Washington, D.C. 1877-1900
and a scholarly edition of George Bristow’s Symphony No. 2, along with many articles in journals and collected editions. A past president of the Society for American Music, Preston has been active in promoting the study of American music throughout her career and has received fellowships from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the National Humanities Center, and the Fulbright Foundation. She will deliver the annual American Musicological Society lecture
at the Library of Congress on April 16, 2019, which will be available on the Library’s website.