July 20, 2016 Exhibition "#Opera Before Instagram: Portraits, 1890-1955" Opens Aug. 11

Press Contact: Donna Urschel (202) 707-1639
Public Contact: Raymond White (202) 707-1842, James Wintle (202) 707-2703

An exhibition opening next month at the Library of Congress will showcase photographs of early opera stars from a collection assembled by the late authority on opera Charles Jahant, in a format that will explore how Jahant might have used an Instagram account had he lived today.

"#Opera Before Instagram: Portraits, 1890–1955" will open on Thursday, Aug. 11 in the Performing Arts Reading Room Foyer on the first level of the Library’s James Madison Memorial Building, 101 Independence Ave. S.E., Washington, D.C. The exhibition is free and open to the public from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Saturday. It closes on Saturday, Jan. 21, 2017.

The Charles Jahant Collection in the Library of Congress Music Division contains nearly 2,000 photographs of opera singers from the late 19th century to the late 20th century. Jahant (1909–1994) was a well-known critic, radio panelist, teacher, lecturer and a member of the Advisory Council of the Metropolitan Opera Archives.

"#Opera Before Instagram" will imagine what Jahant’s Instagram account might have looked like, with pictures of his favorite opera singers, complete with captions giving his assessment of each singer’s talent and history. The 36 photographs on exhibit will represent a cross-section of important singers who performed in America. The label information in the exhibition will be drawn from Jahant’s own writings. They will capture his personal, and sometimes quirky, descriptions of opera singers just as he might have presented them on social media.

According to the exhibition’s curators Raymond White and James Wintle, senior specialists in the Library of Congress Music Division, in the past—before Instagram and other apps made photo-sharing as easy as pressing a button—pictures of popular opera singers were sold in gift shops across the operatic world. The most ardent fans would also write letters to their favorite singers to request photographs. Apart from a program booklet or ticket stub, it would have been the only remembrance that a dedicated fan could take home to commemorate a particularly wonderful night at the opera.

Jahant reviewed the Washington, D.C. music scene for the Christian Science Monitor from 1958 to 1978, and wrote program notes for the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, the Metropolitan Opera, and Avery Fisher Hall. Drawing on his comprehensive knowledge of opera, he also contributed articles to "The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Opera," "The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians" and other important publications.

Jahant began donating his photographs of opera singers to the Library of Congress in 1980. His collection represents a historical view of the art of operatic singing through photographs of the greatest singers of his time and before.

An online version of the exhibition will be available on the opening date at loc.gov/exhibits/. The exhibition director is Carroll Johnson-Welsh, a senior exhibition director in the Library’s Interpretive Programs Office.

The Library of Congress Music Division, with more than 21 million items, holds the world's largest music collection. Particular areas of strength include opera (scores and librettos), stage and screen musicals, chamber music, jazz and American popular song. The division is home to approximately 600 archival collections, most of them the personal papers (including music scores as well as correspondence, photographs, legal and financial documents, programs, clippings and other materials) documenting the lives and careers of stellar composers and performers. For more information, visit loc.gov/rr/perform/.

The Library of Congress is the world’s largest library, offering access to the creative record of the United States—and extensive materials from around the world—both on site and online. It is the main research arm of the U.S. Congress and the home of the U.S. Copyright Office. Explore collections, reference services and other programs and plan a visit at loc.gov, access the official site for U.S. federal legislative information at congress.gov, and register creative works of authorship at copyright.gov.

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PR 16-119
2016-07-20
ISSN 0731-3527