Mapleson, James Henry

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Mapleson, James Henry

Mapleson, James Henry, colorful English opera impresario who dubbed himself Colonel Mapleson ; b. London, May 4, 1830; d. there, Nov. 14, 1901. He was a student at the Royal Academy of Music in London. After playing violin in the orch. of the Royal Italian Opera at Her Majesty’s Theatre there (1848–49), he pursued vocal training in Milan with Mazzucato. He sang in Lodi and Verona using the name Enrico Mariani. Returning to London, he sang under his own name in Masaniello at Drury Lane in a performance which proved disastrous. He subsequently abandoned his singing aspirations and opened his own musical agency in 1856. In 1858 he served as manager of E.T. Smith’s Drury Lane season. He was manager of the Italian Opera at the Lyceum Theatre (1861–62), Her Majesty’s Theatre (1862–67), and Drury Lane (1868). In 1869–70 he was co-manager with Gye at Covent Garden. He was manager at Drury Lane (1871–76), Her Majesty’s Theatre (1877–81; 1887; 1889), and Covent Garden (1885, 1887). Between 1878 and 1897 he also presented operas at N.Y.’s Academy of Music and in other U.S. cities, his ventures fluctuating between success and disaster.

Mapleson was often the subject of news reports on both sides of the Atlantic as a result of his recurrent professional troubles and his conflicts with, and attachments to, various prima donnas. However, he succeeded in producing many operas new to British audiences and also introduced Nilsson, Nordica, and Jean de Reszke to London. He publ. a lively account of his career in The Mapleson Memoirs (2 vols., London, 1888; 2nd ed., rev, 1966 by H. Rosenthal). His nephew, Lionel Mapleson (b. London, Oct. 23, 1865; d. N.Y., Dec. 21, 1937), became a violinist in the orch. of the Metropolitan Opera in N.Y. in 1889. Soon thereafter he became its librarian, a position he held for 50 years. He amassed an invaluable collection of operatic memorabilia, including turn-of- the-century cylinder recordings of actual Metropolitan Opera performances. In 1985 these recordings were issued by the N.Y. Public Library.

—Nicolas Slonimsky/Laura Kuhn/Dennis McIntire