Visual Preview

The King’s Theatre: Ballet and Italian Opera in London, 1706-1883

Where can you get a taste of Italian opera as well as 18th century London right here in Cambridge? In the current exhibit entitled “The King’s Theatre: Ballet and Italian opera in London 1706-1883” at Harvard’s Pusey Library, visitors can see an original opera score from Handel’s Otho, a book on ballet by renowned 19th century dancer Carlo Blasis, or manuals for opera singers.

The exhibit opened Sept. 30 in the Edward Shelton Exhibition Room of the Harvard Theatre Collection in Pusey and includes 60 items of ballet and Italian opera paraphernalia, with works dating back to 1723. The exhibition is being presented in collaboration with a newly-published catalogue of items available in the King’s Theatre Collection. Order forms for the catalogue are available in the Harvard Theatre Collection in Pusey Library.

This exhibition resides at Harvard as a gift from the private collection of John Milton and Ruth Neils Ward.

Morris Levy, the exhibition’s curator, worked with Ward both to write the catalogue for Ward’s collection and to arrange the exhibition. When asked what makes this particular exhibition unique, Levy explained that “the range of materials, including illustrations, documents about the King’s Theatre, [and] scores [creates] such a wide combination, representing almost 200 years of theatre history, when the King’s Theatre was really at the center of everything that was happening.”

Ward has been providing pieces from his personal collection to Harvard since the 1950s. This exhibition was designed so that many of the materials from Ward’s personal collection could be displayed together in one location.

A particularly interesting piece is a cartoon entitled “The Prospect Before Us,” depicting the struggles of theater performers after the destruction of the King’s Theatre in 1789 by a fire. Legal documents and books on display also form an interesting part of the exhibition as it offers insight into owner disputes that took place later in the theatre’s history.

“The King’s Theatre: Ballet and Italian Opera in London 1706-1883” runs through Dec. 5, and is open to the public, free of charge, weekdays from 9 a.m. until 4:45 p.m.