The Lady Scribes are very happy to welcome Regency adventure author Shana Galen as our guest blogger today. Her novella, The Spy Wore Blue, is available for pre-order and will be released August 6th!
If you’ve ever read one of my books, you might expect to see me post about spies during the Regency period in England. In fact, my latest novella, The Spy Wore Blue: A Lord and Lady Spy novella is about a spy first introduced in Lord and Lady Spy. But Blue is only one of the characters in the novella. The other is his estranged wife, Helena Giles.
Helena is an opera singer living and working at the Teatro di San Carlo in Naples, Italy. In the novella, Blue makes frequent reference to the fact that Helena has lived up to the reputation of her fellow opera singers. What was that reputation? What was so naughty about singing opera?
Historically, women have not been allowed to perform on stage. In Shakespeare’s time, men played the women’s roles. It was considered unseemly for a woman to flaunt herself of stage. By the Regency era, this prohibition had been lifted, but no respectable woman would have dared set foot on stage. No matter how much acclaim the renowned actresses of the day—Sarah Siddons or Hannah Murphy—or the well-known opera singers—Catalani and Billington—might have received, respectable women did not perform in front of the masses.
Of course, it was perfectly acceptable for a young lady to show her talents on the pianoforte or to sing in front of a small group of family and friends, but performing on the stage at Drury Lane or Covent Garden were frowned upon. Part of the “naughtiness” of opera singers is rooted in truth. Opera singers as well as actresses had to change clothing quickly. Although there were dressing rooms during the Regency, anyone who has participated in a theatrical production knows that sometimes quick changes are necessary and performers are exposed. Further, actors and novelists have long been referred to as starving artists. It’s not surprising, therefore, that opera singers had reputations for trading sexual favors for a man’s monetary protection. This was probably not true of all opera singers or actresses, but these women certainly had more freedom than women in more traditional roles. Opera singers traveled the world, performing at various opera houses. They worked long hours to rehearse and then perform plays and operas. They formed close relationships with men who were not their fathers or brothers.
Two well-known opera singers from the Regency period are Angelica Catalani and Elizabeth Billington. Catalani was an Italian soprano who was rumored to have a range of three octaves. She made her London debut at the King’s Theater in 1806 and lived in England for many years. Like many of the great opera singers of her time, Catalani taught singing as well as performed.
Elizabeth Billington was a British opera singer who was described as having a sweet and flexible soprano voice but who was criticized as lacking feeling or acting talent. She is a prime example of one of the “naughty” opera singers. In 1792 a memoir about her was published which contained letters from Billington to her mother detailing her multiple affairs, illegitimate children, incest in her family, and the homosexual liaisons of her husband. The memoir was later discredited, but Billington was forced to flee to the Continent. She later returned to England and performed Artaxerxes at Covent Garden. We know this is an opera Jane Austen herself saw performed. Was Billington the opera singer she saw singing the role of Mandane?
When I was writing the character of Helena in The Spy Wore Blue I included a bit of Catalani and Billington in my character of Helena. Like these well-known opera singers, Helena is a soprano and performs in London. Like Billington, she flees to the Continent and takes a position with the respected Teatro di San Carlo, where Billington also made a triumphant comeback. And like the opera singers of her time, Helena has certainly earned her naughty reputation. But much like Billington, not all of the rumors may be believed.
Who are some of your favorite actors or musicians, and do you think they will be remembered two hundred years from now? One person who comments will win a copy of the first book in this series, Lord and Lady Spy (U.S. and Canada only).
The Spy Wore Blue: A Lord and Lady Spy Novella—August 2013
An exciting new novella in the popular Lord and Lady Spy series. Blue, an elite spy, tracks an assassin to Naples and the theater where his estranged wife performs. As he falls in love with his Helena again, Blue races to apprehend the assassin before he destroys them both.