Conservation of music manuscripts from the Foyle Opera Rara collection

Internationally recognised as a treasure trove of opera history, the Foyle Opera Rara Collection comprises the library, archives and art collection of Opera Rara. Highlights include autograph manuscripts in the hands of Donizetti, Mayr, Mercadante and Pacini and collections of letters written between composers, librettists and publishers.  These manuscripts offer a unique insight into the production of operas and into the operatic community in the 19th century – a period considered by many scholars, musicians and enthusiasts to be a golden age of opera.

The NMCT grant will allow the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama to conserve 33 manuscripts that are currently in poor physical condition due to acidification, prevalence of iron gall ink, fragile bindings and previous storage in inadequate conditions. They will be cleaned, repaired and stabilised which will allow us to open up access to the physical items responsibly and to digitise them to promote worldwide access.

The stabilised manuscripts will enrich our teaching and research, inform and inspire creative projects, and enhance our wider public engagement activities through creative workshops, interactive exhibitions, and public talks. At the completion of the conservation project, we will stage a public event showcasing these manuscripts in an exhibition and informing people about the conservation work.

The project is also giving the next generation of conservators practical experience of detailed and varied conservation work: Cardiff University’s MSc Conservation students will undertake placements, working on the collection under the conservator’s supervision.

2019
Donizetti autograph manuscript of Pia de’ Tolomei.
Donizetti autograph manuscript of Pia de’ Tolomei.
Letter from composer Saverio Mercadante to the librettist Felice Romani, May 1838.
Letter from composer Saverio Mercadante to the librettist Felice Romani, May 1838.
Student conservator Caitlin surface cleaning a music manuscript
Student conservator Caitlin surface cleaning a music manuscript. Images courtesy of RWCMD.