ABSTRACT

Costa was, first and foremost, an opera conductor. For 47 years, he was the leading opera conductor in Britain. The only local competition in the first three decades was from Julius Benedict, a pianist who directed occasionally at the minor houses, and Michael Balfe, who conducted competently in adverse circumstances at Her Majesty’s Theatre for seven seasons but was primarily a composer. Thereafter in the 1860s and 1870s there were several middling Italian conductors, of whom only Luigi Arditi was effective. Costa was the sole conductor at the houses where he worked, except for brief appearances by composer-conductors (Vaccai, Berlioz, Spohr, Gounod) and rare occasions when the leader Sainton deputized for him. The evolution of opera conducting in England was therefore almost exclusively in Costa’s hands. The critic Haweis credited him with creating the modern operatic orchestra.1 As discussed in Chapter 4, it was in the opera house that he laid down the template which he later applied at the Philharmonic and on the oratorio circuit.