Personalities | Charles Dibdin | Classical Era | Opera
In the late eighteenth century, Charles Dibdin – composer, actor and singer – catered for the English taste for Singspiels and afterpieces, which were short operas or pantomimes provided as extra entertainment after the main work had finished. Initially, Dibdin favoured the Italianate style, but after The Waterman (1774), he turned to a more English ballad kind of composition. Dibdin did not entirely abandon European influences. He was among the first to introduce English audiences to the ensemble finale in which the entire cast of an opera buffa gradually gathered on the stage in the last scene of an act.
Dibdin’s life was crammed with difficulties, including severe financial problems and an inability to work amicably with others. Debts forced him to flee to France in 1776. After his quarrel with the manager of Covent Garden theatre in 1778, no other London management would employ him. He opened his own theatre, but mishandled it and ended up in debtors’ prison. His plan to emigrate to India foundered because he was seasick and unable to make the journey. Eventually, Dibdin built a small theatre, ironically named the Sans Souci – ‘without care’ – where he gave shows called table entertainments.
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