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William Henry Fry

America's first opera composer

Born August 10, 1815, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Died December 21, 1864, Santa Cruz, West Indies (now U.S. Virgin Islands)
About William Henry Fry

One of the most prominent musical figures of his generation, Fry might be considered the father of American opera; his Leonora, with a libretto by the composer's brother, is often considered the first opera by an American composer to be performed in the United States. The permiere of Leonora was funded in part by the composer; the work was revived in New York a few years later by the Academy of Music. An earlier work of Fry's, Aurelia the Vestal, remains unperformed to this day.

Fry is best known today as a passionate advocate for American music and music educator. Fry's own works have been criticized as derivative, and his operatic writings are said to have been strongly influenced by the Italian opera of the early 19th century; it is impossible to read any criticism or review of Leonora without reading the name of Bellini or the adjective "italianate".

  • Aurelia the Vestal (composed 1841) [unproduced]
  • Leonora, grand opera in three acts
    Libretto by J.R. Fry after the play The Lady of Lyons by Edward Bulwer-Lytton.
    June 4, 1845, Chestnut St. Theater, Philadelphia
  • Giulio e Leonore (March 29, 1858, Academy of Music, New York) [4-act rev. of Leonore]
  • Notre Dame of Paris
    Libretto after the novel Notre Dame de Paris by Victor Hugo.
    1864, Philadelphia, Theodore Thomas, cond.

Discography Search for recordings of the music of William Henry Fry at Amazon.com

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Last update: January 1, 2009