The Opera Collection stands as a significant indication of the scope and depth to which the Music Library aspires in its efforts to provide scholars with primary source material of outstanding quality. The Music Library is one of six main centres in North America for the study of pre-1800 opera. This collection contains over 2,200 volumes, primarily rare manuscripts and printed first editions of operas and libretti composed between 1597 and 1900. Grants from the Office of the President of The University of Western Ontario and the Academic Development Fund enabled the Library to purchase two catalogues of rare opera materials in 1971 and 1974 from Mr. Richard Macnutt, a prominent English dealer in antiquarian music.
Subsequent financial aid from the Library System itself, the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRCC), the Faculty of Music, and the New York State Chapter of the Alumni, has been used to purchase additional items, including several from the Toulouse-Philidor Collection, formerly located at St. Michael's College Library, Tenbury, England. Most recent acquisitions include several as-yet-unpublished Italian operas in manuscript.
Portions of the collection have been examined and catalogued by graduate students in the Music Faculty under the direction of Dr. Don Neville. This catalogue, titled: Opera I. Being the catalogue of the collection: Opera 1600-1750 in contemporary editions and manuscripts now in the holdings of the Music Library of the University of Western Ontario, has been published by the Faculty of Music as the fourth volume of Studies in Music from the University of Western Ontario. Two supplements have subsequently been prepared as theses.
The Opera Collection has generated a good deal of research activity amongst Music Faculty and students. Lists of articles, papers and theses, current to 1990, prepared as parts of several SSHRCC grant submissions made on behalf of the collection over past years are available in the Music Library. Many eminent scholars from outside the confines of the Music Faculty have made use of the Collection.