Brief biographical details about the life of John Rich (1692-1761) can be easily found in many reference books. He was the theatre manager who built the first Covent Garden theatre in 1732, and then ran it for twenty-nine years until his death; the last fourteen being in competition with David Garrick at Drury Lane. Before this he had run the Lincoln’s Inn Fields theatre for eighteen years, and it was there that he had his first major success with The Beggar’s Opera. During his life, he devised a new type of entertainment based on Italian commedia dell’arte, in which he starred as the harlequin ‘Mr Lun’. He supported George Frideric Handel, and provided the venues for performances of his later operas and oratorios. He founded the Beef-steak Club, later patronized by Royalty, and owned a substantial estate in Uxbridge, west of London. He was a major figure in the theatrical life of this country.
Yet for years, John Rich was considered to be an uneducated, illiterate buffoon who prostituted the stage in the eighteenth century with his trivial pantomimes; and theatre historians were happy to recycle this received wisdom unquestioningly. For two hundred years, the depiction was unchallenged. Recently, however, his life and work have come in for new appraisal, and the description has been found to be very far from the truth.
This is the story of his life, and contains much original research that cannot be found elsewhere.
Terry Jenkins is a retired opera singer. For 25 years he was a principal tenor with the English National Opera. He made his Covent Garden debut in 1976, and performed widely in Europe and the USA. He has published a number of articles about John Rich and eighteenth century theatre.