Sir Geoffrey, Percy Mackaye, and Civic Art

  • Candace Barrington
Part of the The New Middle Ages book series (TNMA)


During the spring of 1917, New York’s Metropolitan Opera lavishly launched the premiere performances of Reginald de Koven and Percy MacKaye’s The Canterbury Pilgrims.1 One of the first full-length American grand operas to appear on the Metropolitan’s stage, the opera received primarily lukewarm reviews: it seemed neither very grand nor very American. Sung in English by a largely German cast, the opera was frequently critiqued for being no more intelligible to the audience than an opera in German or Italian.2 The only English words universally recognized by the audience were in Act Two, when the German-accented “Vife of Bat” cried “Shud upp-phh!”3 On the evening of the fifth performance, however, the audience was probably less concerned than before about discerning the fine points of the pilgrims’ journey to Canterbury, preoccupied instead with the news due from the White House at any minute.


American Drama American Audience Canterbury Tale Civic Institution Metropolitan Opus 


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© Candace Barrington 2007

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  • Candace Barrington

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