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A Music-Hall Guide to Victorian Living

The Ingleby Singers, usually of Valentine's Mansion in Ilford, exist, as a subset of a larger group of madrigal singers, solely to sing Mrs. Beaton's Book: A Musical-Hall Guide to Victorian Living. This confection of good advice and singing was first published in 1982. It was written by composer Michael Hurd who specialized in writing children's operas and cantatas. In Thursday's performance of it, it was interspersed with readings from the book itself, and recipes from a local nineteenth-century cookery book. To make the performance complete, it was all accompanied by an illustrative slide show.

The songs all draw heavily on the advice given in what is still one of England's most famous cookbooks, a commodious volume giving advice on everything from cookery to managing one's servants and budget for the aspiring middle classes of the 1850s and '60s. That, therefore, comprises the words and messages of the songs themselves: how many servants one can reasonably afford, given one's budget; why one should never chat about trivial subjects; cooking for charitable purposes; the importance of the lady of the house. It's all tongue-and-cheek and funny, while still being rather proper, the self-conscious modern composer appealing to his contemporaries while bringing to life a monument of Good Advice.

And so, my friends, lest you had any doubt: if you earn less than 500 pounds per year, you cannot afford to keep a full-time cook employed in your kitchen, let alone much other help other than part-time.


( 3 comments — Leave a comment )
Dec. 17th, 2008 09:18 pm (UTC)
A book of household management for the 21st century wouldn't go amiss - I can't think of any books that are as comprehensive as Mrs. Beeton's for the modern worl (ie, basic financial advice, basic recipes for family/entertaining, etiquette, etc.).

Maybe I should write one.
Dec. 17th, 2008 09:25 pm (UTC)
The modern Mrs. Beeton's has advice on meeting the Queen. Which is only one of the reasons I love it so.

Also, I wish we lived in an age where there were enough children's operas to have composers of them.
Dec. 18th, 2008 12:51 am (UTC)
Maybe there are and we just haven't heard of them? There is an educational-opera-outreach company in Iowa which does a handful of touring productions of operas-in-schools every year.

I wish I could tell from Hurd's obituary if his operas were meant to be performed *for* or *by* children. Or perhaps some of each?
( 3 comments — Leave a comment )

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