When a donkey tripped over an oil-filled footlight during a performance of Uncle Tom’s Cabin at the Florence Opera House in Kansas in 1884, the resulting fire was extinguished in time for the play to continue. Other opera houses were not so fortunate and fell victim to natural disasters or human neglect.
This is just one anecdote in Ann Satterthwaite’s scholarly assemblage of facts, figures and stories included in this fascinating if occasionally frustrating book about opera houses in America. A city planner in Washington DC, the author’s credentials are impeccable. It offers much to intrigue and enlighten about America’s post-bellum cultural heritage; it is perhaps best enjoyed as a reference book.