James Henry Mapleson
James Henry Mapleson (Colonel Mapleson) (4 May 1830 – 14 November 1901) was an English opera impresario, probably the leading figure instrumental in the development of opera production, and of the careers of singers, in London and New York City in the second half of the 19th century.
Life and career
Mapleson was born in London, England. He studied first as a singer and violinist at the Royal Academy of Music in London and served in the army.
In 1849, Mapleson organized a tour of the British provinces with a concert company that included Henriette Sontag, Luigi Lablache and pianist Sigismond Thalberg. In 1850, he led another concert company, including mezzo-soprano Pauline Viardot. He wrote as a music critic for The Atlas.
In the early 1850s, Mapleson travelled to Italy to study. In 1854 he sang in Verona under the name Enrico Mariani. Returning to London in 1854, he gave concerts but soon developed vocal difficulty requiring an operation that destroyed his voice. In 1856, he founded the first musical agency in London, and produced the first adaptation of Michael William Balfe's The Bohemian Girl in London. In 1858 he became an assistant to E. T. Smith, manager of the opera at the Haymarket Theatre until 1861 when Smith retired from the promotion of Italian opera.
Mapleson took over management of the Lyceum Theatre, in his first year presenting Il trovatore and bringing out the English premiere of Un ballo in maschera, both with Thérèse Tietjens, who performed with his companies for the rest of her career. One of Mapleson's early stars was Adelina Patti. From 1862-67 he managed Her Majesty's Theatre, presenting Italian, French and also German opera, and promoting such singers as De Murska, Mario, Giulia Grisi and Christina Nilsson. Her Majesty's burnt down in 1868, sending Mapleson to the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, where he introduced, among others, Italo Campanini, who became a Mapleson regular for many years. In the following two years there was a collaboration or coalition between the Drury Lane and Covent Garden companies, in partnership with Frederick Gye.
In 1871 to 1876 Mapleson resumed operations at Drury Lane. In 1875 he began work on a 2,000-seat National Opera House on the Thames embankment. By 1877, the building was well under way, but funds ran out, and Mapleson had to abandon the project. Eventually, the Metropolitan Police bought the site and built Scotland Yard there in 1887. Mapleson transferred again to Her Majesty's Theatre, which he rebuilt in 1877, producing opera there until 1881 and also in 1887 and 1889, and at Covent Garden until his last seasons in 1885 and 1887. At the same time, he brought an impressive company to New York City, promoting opera seasons at the Academy of Music there, beginning with Bizet's Carmen, and presenting many American premieres, between 1878 and 1886, and he also made tours of other cities in the United States with his company during that time. Mapleson's fortunes began to decline after 1881, and in 1883 the Metropolitan Opera House opened. Mapleson faced strong competition from the new company, forcing him to raise singers' salaries and incur other increased expenses. Mapleson's losses mounted, forcing him into bankruptcy by 1887.
Mapleson was married to opera singer Marie Roze (Marie-Hippolyte Ponsin) (1846-1926). He was the brother of Alfred Mapleson, music secretary and librarian to Queen Victoria; and uncle of Lionel Mapleson (1865-1937), violinist and Librarian of the Metropolitan Opera, New York, who created the Mapleson Cylinders.
Mapleson published his memoirs, The Mapleson Memoirs, 1848-1888, in 1888 (Belford, Clarke & Co., New York).
He died of from blood poisoning related to Bright's disease in London.
- H. Rosenthal and J. Warrack, Concise Oxford Dictionary of Opera (London, 1974 printing).
- Charles Santley, Student and Singer (London 1892).
- J. H. Mapleson, ed. H. Rosenthal, The Mapleson Memoirs (London 1966).
- Cone, John Frederick, First Rival of the Metropolitan Opera, Columbia University Press, New York (1983).
- Obituary: Colonel Mapleson, The Musical Times and Singing Class Circular, Vol. 42, No. 706 (Dec. 1, 1901), p. 827.