Personalities | John Gay | Late Baroque | Opera
A friend and collaborator of Alexander Pope and Jonathan Swift (1667–1745), John Gay invented the genre of ballad opera with The Beggar’s Opera. It premiered on 29 January 1728 at Lincoln’s Inn Fields, and performed 62 times in its first season. The popular perception that The Beggar’s Opera was an attack on Italian opera is untrue. It contains a mocking parody of the rivalry between Faustina and Cuzzoni, but Gay had previously contributed to Handel’s Acis and Galatea, and the success of The Beggar’s Opera cannot be securely attributed to the same audience that supported Italian operas at the King’s Theatre. The target of the satire was intended to be Walpole’s government, and censors suppressed the intended sequel Polly. Gay never repeated the success of The Beggar’s Opera, and died one year before his last ballad opera Achilles was popularly received at Covent Garden in 1733.
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