Personalities | William Shield | Classical Era | Opera
William Shield, who was both composer and librettist, belonged to a trio of musicians (with Charles Dibdin and Stephen Storace) who dominated the English comic opera stage in the late eighteenth century. Shield started out as an apprentice boat builder, but moved on to become a violinist. In 1772, he arrived in London from the north of England to take up a position of leader of the viola section of the Haymarket theatre orchestra. Shield’s first work was an ‘afterpiece’ called The Flitch of Bacon (1778). The Flitch was very successful and set up him as a popular composer, much-liked and admired by London audiences. Shield’s output included more than 50 works, both full-length operas and afterpieces. Most of these were written for performance at Covent Garden, where Shield was the house composer for 13 years. As their titles indicate – The Magic Cavern (1784), The Enchanted Castle (1786) and The Crusade (1790) – a fair number of Shield’s pieces dealt with exotic or magical themes and catered for the contemporary English taste for fantasy. In addition to writing his own works, Shield made adaptations of Grétry’s Richard Coeur-de-Lion.
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