The Recording
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Christmas Gambols was recreated for us by the inimitable Simon Butteriss and accompanied by an abridged version of Readings and Music. Incorporated in The Musical Tour of Mr Dibdin of 1788, the original script of some 100 pages is sadly too long to reproduce in its entirety. Instead, rather than complete our disc with unconnected songs, Simon has specially devised a new performance version of these songs and anecdotes, which he and Stephen Higgins (fortepiano) recorded between 19-22 June, at the Proper Music Studios, London, and it’s now being edited.

We are honoured that Dr Oskar Cox Jensen, historian at Queen Mary University of London,
and co-editor of Charles Dibdin and Late Georgian Culture (OUP, 2017), is supporting us:

Charles Dibdin the Elder was, by and large, a cantankerous old buffoon. But he also has a claim to have been the most significant cultural figure of the later Georgian period, giving more people more (and more varied) pleasure than anyone else. Among his various innovations, he was a key pioneer of the one-man-show, boasting well-crafted original songs and wide-ranging patter, and as such it’s wonderful news that one of these productions, Christmas Gambols, is being recorded by Retrospect Opera. It will provide a compelling snapshot of the taste of two centuries ago, from broad comedy to pathos; it will, above all, be highly melodious. I look forward to hearing it enormously. Please do support it.
Charles Dibdin
Dibdin by DevisCharles Dibdin (1745-1814) is a gigantic figure in the history of English song, probably the most important composer of English comic operas in the late 1700s, and, in addition, he was the most versatile entertainer of his age.

Dibdin sprang to fame at the age of nineteen, playing the part of Ralph in Samuel Arnold’s opera, The Maid of the Mill (1765). Three years later he established his reputation as a composer with The Padlock (1768), an opera in which he stole the show himself, playing the black servant, Mungo. James Boaden recalled: ‘Dibdin, by his music, and still more by his acting in a comic opera, called the Padlock, produced that degree of sensation in the public which is called a rage.’ His fame secured, in the 1770s Dibdin began writing his own librettos, producing both words and music for the two most enduringly successful operas of the decade, The Waterman (1774) and The Quaker (1775), both of them still being revived a century later. Despite all his success in the London theatres, though, Dibdin was touchy and quarrelsome, finding it increasingly hard to work in co-operative environments. Recognising this, in 1787 he staged the first of his one-man musical shows, or ‘Table Entertainments’ as he called them, Readings and Music. Back in 1767, Dibdin had been the first musician in Britain to perform on a piano in public. His interest in the instrument had continued, and in his Table Entertainments he stood, or sat, at a piano, telling dramatized stories and playing and singing songs. This format allowed him to display all his talents and became Dibdin’s principal means of engaging with his public. He opened his own little London theatre, called Sans Souci, in 1791, and continued to perform until 1809. During these decades, Dibdin wrote hundreds of songs, most of them introduced in his Table Entertainments, including the most famous of all, ‘Tom Bowling,’ originally part of The Oddities (1789). Dozens of these songs were still regularly sung decades later: no other eighteenth-century composer contributed more to the nineteenth-century English song repertoire.

Text © 2016 David Chandler
Christmas Gambols

Blind Man's BuffDespite Dibdin’s immense importance in the history of English song and musical theatre, very little of his music has been recorded. The full scores of all but one of his operas have, unfortunately, perished, and most of his Table Entertainments would be impossible to recreate, as the spoken parts exist only in very fragmentary form. But one of Dibdin’s shorter Table Entertainments does survive relatively complete: Christmas Gambols of 1795. This was designed specifically as a Christmas show and includes superb examples of the different song types Dibdin specialised in: the patriotic song (‘England’s Tree of Liberty’), the sentimental song (‘Love at Fifty’), the humorous song (‘The Margate Hoy’ and ‘The Rustic Orpheus’), the popular ballad (‘Jacky and the Cow’), and the song with naval interest (‘Ned that Died at Sea’). They are sung by different characters in Dibdin’s irresistible shaggy dog story, with a background of Christmas festivity in the mansion of a fine exemplar of Old England, Sir Alfred English. There are references to kissing under the mistletoe, playing blind man’s buff, Father Christmas, and decking the hall with boughs of holly. Christmas Gambols affords a delightful glimpse into late eighteenth-century popular entertainment and notions of Christmas long before Charles Dickens and Christmas cards.
Text © 2016 David Chandler
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