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Duchess in the spotlight

Published: 31 May 2019
Lady Elizabeth Montagu

A new exhibition mounted in an AHRC-funded collaboration led by Music’s Professor Jeanice Brooks is set to shine a light on a Georgian Duchess and her relationship with the era’s operatic culture.

Elizabeth Montagu, 3rd Duchess of Buccleuch and Queensberry (1743-1827), will be the focus of A Passion for Opera: The Duchess and the Georgian Stage when it opens at Boughton House in Northamptonshire this August. The exhibition is the result of a partnership between Boughton House - Elizabeth’s ancestral home -­ the Department of Music at the University of Southampton and the Royal College of Music. It will explore the intense world of Georgian operatic culture and music-making through the Duchess’s legacy and trace her family’s interactions with the contemporary stars of the opera and concert stages of Europe.

Looking behind the closed doors of the Georgian era, it will feature artefacts unearthed from the Buccleuch family archives and Elizabeth Montagu’s music collection at Boughton House, including her annotated opera scores, dinner books that list house visits by the great opera stars, and musical caricatures.

The exhibition’s curator, Paul Boucher of Boughton House, said: “Our new exhibition will offer a stunning profile of Duchess Elizabeth and her musical family during the Georgian era. We will explore what it was like to visit the opera, meet some of the stars and see the instruments – different pianos and an early nineteenth century harp – that Elizabeth and her daughters had to hand to enjoy this music at home.”

 “The insights offered by the AHRC-funded research team have been illuminating not only for our understanding of Elizabeth and the Montagu family during this period but our reading of the Georgian era, and we’re looking forward to sharing their findings this summer.”

Professor Jeanice Brooks of the Department of Music at the University of Southampton, said: “The Montagu Music Collection at Boughton and the rich Buccleuch archives provide a fascinating glimpse into the rich world of Georgian music making.

“They allow us to explore the experience of going to the opera, to investigate the interactions of opera stars with their noble admirers, and to consider the efforts made to establish opera 'at home' in Edinburgh as well as in London. The materials shed light on the Italian singing masters who taught English amateur and professional pupils, and reveal rare evidence of how operatic music was performed in aristocratic homes.”

The exhibition will be previewed at a special event in conjunction with Oundle International Festival on Saturday 6 July. Built around Domenico Corri’s extraordinary 1810 bel canto singing manual, dedicated to Duchess Elizabeth, the performance will offer a rare opportunity to discover hidden treasures of eighteenth-century Italian opera unearthed from the Montagu Music Collection alongside favourites by Mozart and Rossini.

Tickets are priced from £50 and are on sale now at the Oundle International Festival website.

From 2pm a separate symposium, exploring the musical life of Elizabeth and her family and their relationship with London’s opera scene, will reveal some extraordinary archival discoveries. Tickets for the symposium are priced at £10, with a full day package priced at £55.

Boughton’s special exhibition will open to the public throughout August, during the House’s summer opening season. During the opening, House tours will begin at 1pm, with the last tour at 3.30pm daily. To find out more, For more information visit the Boughton House website.

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