Design I. We here present a farm house of the simplest and most unpretending kind, suitable for a farm of twenty, fifty, or an hundred acres. Buildings somewhat in this style are not unfrequently seen in the New England States, and in New ... Read more of Farm House at Scary Stories.caInformational Site Network Informational
Privacy
     Home - All Operas - Opera Stories - Opera History - Opera Physiology

Donizetti And Bellini
French Opera From Lulli To The Death Of Rameau
General View Of The Opera In Europe In The Eighteenth Century Until The Appearance Of Gluck
Gluck And Piccinni In Paris
Introduction And Progress Of The Ballet
Introduction Of Italian Opera Into England
Introduction Of The Opera Into France And England
Manners And Customs At The London Opera Half A Century Since
On The Nature Of The Opera And Its Merits As Compared With Other Forms Of The Drama
Opera In France After The Departure Of Gluck
Opera In France Under The Consulate Empire And Restoration
Opera In Italy Germany And Russia During And In Connection With The Republican And Napoleonic Wars
Rossini And His Period
Rossini Spohr Beethoven Weber And Hoffmann
Rousseau As A Critic And As A Composer Of Music
The French Opera Before And After The Revolution
The Italian Opera Under Handel
The Opera In England At The End Of The Eighteenth And Beginning Of The Nineteenth Century
The Origin Of The Opera In Italy And Its Introduction Into Germany


History Of The Opera From Its Origin In Italy To The Present Tim




Donizetti And Bellini








Sigismondi, the librarian of the Neapolitan Conservatory, had a horror
of Rossini's music, and took care that all his printed works in the
library should be placed beyond the reach of the young and innocent
pupils. He was determined to preserve them, as far as possible, from the
corrupt but seductive influence of this composer's brilliant,
extravagant, meretricious style. But Donizetti, who at this time was
studying at Naples, had heard several of the proscribed operas, and was
most anxious to examine, on the music paper, the causes of the effects
which had so delighted his ear at the theatre. The desired scores were
on the highest shelf of the library; and the careful, conscientious
librarian had removed the ladder by means of which alone it seemed
possible to get to them.

[Sidenote: DONIZETTI AND ROSSINI.]

Donizetti stood watching the shelves which held the operas of Rossini
like a cat before a bird cage; but the ladder was locked up, and the key
in safe keeping in Sigismondi's pocket. Under a northern climate, the
proper mode of action for Donizetti would have been to invite the jailor
to a banquet, ply him with wine, and rob him of his keys as soon as he
had reached a sufficiently advanced state of intoxication. Being in
Italy, Donizetti should have made love to Sigismondi's daughter, and
persuaded her to steal the keys from the old man during his mid-day
siesta. Perhaps, however, Sigismondi was childless, or his family may
have consisted only of sons; in any case, the young musician adopted
neither of the schemes, by combining which the troubadour Blondel was
enabled to release from captivity his adored Richard.[99] He resorted to
a means which, if not wonderfully ingenious, was at least to the point,
and which promised to be successful. He climbed, monkey-like, or
cat-like, not to abandon our former simile, to the top shelf, and had
his claws on the Barber of Seville, when who should enter the library
but Sigismondi.

The old man was fairly shocked at this perversity on the part of Gaetan
Donizetti, reputed the best behaved student of the Academy. His morals
would be corrupted, his young blood poisoned!--but fortunately the
librarian had arrived in time, and he might yet be saved.

Donizetti sprang to the ground with his prey--the full score of the
Barber of Seville--in his clutches. He was about to devour it, when a
hand touched him on the shoulder: he turned round, and before him stood
the austere Sigismondi.

The old librarian spoke to Gaetan as to a son; appealed to his sense of
propriety, his honour, his conscience; and asked him, almost with tears
in his eyes, how he could so far forget himself as to come secretly into
the library to read forbidden books--and Rossini's above all? He pointed
out the terrible effects of the course upon which the youthful Donizetti
had so nearly entered; reminded him that one brass instrument led to
another; and that when once he had given himself up to violent
orchestration, there was no saying where he would stop.

[Sidenote: DONIZETTI AND ROSSINI.]

Donizetti could not or would not argue with the venerable and determined
Sigismondi. At least, he did not oppose him; but he inquired whether, as
a lesson in cacophony, it was not worth while just to look at Rossini's
notorious productions. He reminded his stern adviser, that he had
already studied good models under Mayer, Pilotti, and Mattei, and that
it was natural he should now wish to complete his musical education, by
learning what to avoid. He quoted the well known case of the Spartans
and their Helots; inquired, with some emotion, whether the frightful
example of Rossini was not sufficient to deter any well meaning
composer, with a little strength of character, from following in his
unholy path; and finally declared, with undisguised indignation, that
Rossini ought to be made the object of a serious study, so that once for
all his musical iniquities might be exposed and his name rendered a
bye-word among the lovers and cultivators of pure, unsophisticated art!

"Come to my arms, Gaetano," cried Sigismondi, much moved. "I can refuse
nothing to a young man like you, now that I know your excellent
intentions. A musician, who is imbued with the true principles of his
art, may look upon the picture of Rossini's depravity not only without
danger, but with positive advantage. Some it might weaken and
destroy;--you it can only fortify and uphold. Let us open these
monstrous scores; their buffooneries may amuse us for an hour.

"Il Barbiere di Siviglia! I have not much to say about that,"
commenced Sigismondi. "It is a trifle; besides, full justice was done to
it at Rome. The notion of re-setting one of the master-pieces of the
great Paisiello,--what audacity! No wonder it was hissed!"

"Under Paisiello's direction," suggested Donizetti.

"All a calumny, my young friend; pure calumny, I can assure you. There
are so many Don Basilios in the musical world! Rossini's music was
hissed because it was bad and because it recalled to the public
Paisiello's, which was good." "But I have heard," rejoined Donizetti,
"that at the second representation there was a great deal of applause,
and that the enthusiasm of the audience at last reached such a point,
that they honoured Rossini with a torch-light procession and conducted
him home in triumph."

"An invention of the newspapers," replied Sigismondi; "I believe there
was a certain clique present prepared to support the composer through
everything, but the public had already expressed its opinion. Never mind
this musical burlesque, and let us take a glance at one of Rossini's
serious operas."

Donizetti wished for nothing better. This time he had no occasion to
scale the shelf in his former feline style. The librarian produced the
key of the mysterious closet in which the ladder was kept. The young
musician ran up to the Rossini shelf like a lamp-lighter and brought
down with him not one but half-a-dozen volumes.

"Too many, too many," said Sigismondi, "one would have been quite
enough. Well, let us open Otello."

In the score which the old and young musician proposed to examine
together, the three trombone parts, according to the Italian custom,
were written on one and the same staff, thus 1º, 2º, 3º tromboni.
Sigismondi began his lecture on the enormities of Rossini as displayed
in Otello by reading the list of the instruments employed.

"Flutes, two flutes; well there is not much harm in that. No one will
hear them; only, with diabolical perfidy, one of these modern flutists
will be sure to take a piccolo and pierce all sensitive ears with his
shrill whistling.

"Hautboys, two hautboys; also good. Here Rossini follows the old
school. I say nothing against his two hautboys; indeed, I quite approve
of them.

[Sidenote: DONIZETTI AND ROSSINI.]

"Clarionets! a barbarous invention, which the Tedeschi might have
kept them for themselves. They may be very good pipes for calling cows,
but should be used for nothing else.

"Bassoons; useless instruments, or nearly so. Our good masters
employed them for strengthening the bass; but now the bassoon has
acquired such importance, that solos are written for it. This is also a
German innovation. Mozart would have done well to have left the bassoon
in its original obscurity.

"1st and 2nd Horns; very good. Horns and hautboys combine admirably. I
say nothing against Rossini's horns.

"3rd and 4th Horns! How many horns does the man want? Quattro Corni,
Corpo di Bacco! The greatest of our composers have always been
contented with two. Shades of Pergolese, of Leo, of Jomelli! How they
must shudder at the bare mention of such a thing. Four horns! Are we at
a hunting party? Four horns! Enough to blow us to perdition."

The indignation and rage of the old musician went on increasing as he
followed the gradual development of a crescendo until he arrived at
the explosion of the fortissimo. Then Sigismondi uttered a cry of
despair, struck the score violently with his fist, upset the table which
the imprudent Donizetti had loaded with the nefarious productions of
Rossini, raised his hands to heaven and rushed from the room,
exclaiming, "a hundred and twenty-three trombones! A hundred and
twenty-three trombones!"

Donizetti followed the performer and endeavoured to explain the mistake.

"Not 123 trombones, but 1st, 2nd, 3rd trombones," he gently observed.
Sigismondi however, would not hear another word, and disappeared from
the library crying "a hundred and twenty-three trombones," to the last.

Donizetti came back, lifted up the table, placed the scores upon it and
examined them in peace. He then, in his turn, concealed them so that he
might be able another time to find them whenever he pleased without
clambering up walls or intriguing to get possession of ladders.

[Sidenote: ANNA BOLENA.]

The inquiring student of the Conservatory of Naples was born, in 1798,
at Bergamo, and when he was seventeen years of age was put to study
under Mayer, who, before the appearance of Rossini, shared with Paer the
honour of being the most popular composer of the day. His first opera
Enrico di Borgogna was produced at Venice in 1818, and obtained so
much success that the composer was entrusted with another commission for
the same city in the following year. After writing an opera for Mantua
in 1819 Il Falegname di Livonia, Donizetti visited Rome, where his
Zoraide di Granata procured him an exemption from the conscription and
the honour of being carried in triumph and crowned at the Capitol.
Hitherto he may be said to have owed his success chiefly to his skilful
imitation of Rossini's style, and it was not until 1830, when Anna
Bolena was produced at Milan (and when, curiously enough, Rossini had
just written his last opera), that he exhibited any striking signs of
original talent. This work, which is generally regarded as Donizetti's
master-piece, or at least was some time ago (for of late years no one
has had an opportunity of hearing it), was composed for Pasta and
Rubini, and was first represented for Pasta's benefit in 1831. It was in
this opera that Lablache gained his first great triumph in London.

Donizetti visited Paris in 1835, and there produced his Marino
Faliero, which contains several spirited and characteristic pieces,
such as the opening chorus of workmen in the Arsenal and the gondolier
chorus at the commencement of the second act. The charming Elisir
d'Amore, the most graceful, melodious, moreover the most
characteristic, and in many respects the best of all Donizetti's works,
was written for Milan in 1832. In this work Signor Mario made his
re-appearance at the Italian Opera of Paris in 1839; he had previously
sung for some time at the Académie Royale in Robert and other operas.

Lucia di Lammermoor, Donizetti's most popular opera, containing some
of the most beautiful melodies in the sentimental style that he has
composed, and altogether his best finale, was produced at Naples in
1835. The part of "Edgardo" was composed specially for Duprez, that of
"Lucia" for Persiani.

The pretty little opera or operetta entitled Il Campanello di Notte
was written under very interesting circumstances to save a little
Neapolitan theatre from ruin. Donizetti heard that the establishment was
in a failing condition, and that the performers were without money and
in great distress. He sought them out, supplied their immediate wants,
and one of the singers happening to say that if Donizetti would give
them a new opera, their fortunes would be made: "As to that," replied
the Maestro, "you shall have one within a week." To begin with, a
libretto was necessary, but none was to be had. The composer, however,
possessed considerable literary talent, and recollecting a vaudeville
which he had seen some years before in Paris, called La Sonnette de
Nuit, he took that for his subject, re-arranged it in an operatic form,
and in nine days the libretto was written, the music composed, the parts
learnt, the opera performed, and the theatre saved. It would have been
difficult to have given a greater proof of generosity, and of fertility
and versatility of talent. I may here mention that Donizetti designed,
and wrote the words, as well as the music of the last act of the
Lucia; that the last act of La Favorite was also an afterthought of
his; and that he himself translated into Italian the libretti of Betly
and La Fille du Regiment.

[Sidenote: VICTOR HUGO AT THE OPERA.]

When Lucrezia Borgia (written for Milan in 1834) was produced in
Paris, in 1840, Victor Hugo, the author of the admirable tragedy on
which it is founded, contested the right of the Italian librettists, to
borrow their plots from French dramas; maintaining that the
representation of such libretti in France constituted an infringement of
the French dramatists' "droits d'auteur." He gained his action, and
Lucrezia Borgia became, at the Italian Opera of Paris, La Rinegata,
the Italians at the court of Pope Alexander the Sixth being
metamorphosed into Turks. A French version of Lucrezia Borgia was
prepared for the provinces, and entitled Nizza di Grenada.

[Sidenote: AUTHORS' RIGHTS.]

A year or two afterwards, Verdi's Hernani experienced the same fate at
the Théâtre Italien as Lucrezia Borgia. Then the original authors of
La Pie Voleuse, La Grace de Dieu, &c., followed Victor Hugo's
example, and objected to the performance of La Gazza Ladra and Linda
di Chamouni, &c. Finally, an arrangement was made, and at present
exists, by which Italian operas founded on French dramas may be
performed in Paris on condition of an indemnity being paid to the French
dramatists. Marsolier, the author of the Opéra Comique, entitled Nina,
ou la Folle par Amour, set to music by Dalayrac, had applied for an
injunction twenty-three years before, to prevent the representation of
Paisiello's Nina, in Paris; but the Italian disappeared before the
question was tried. The principle, however, of an author's right of
property in a work, or any portion of a work, had been established
nearly two centuries before. In a "privilege" granted to St. Amant in
1653, for the publication of his Moise Sauvé, it is expressly
forbidden to extract from that "epic poem" subjects for novels and
plays. These cautions proved unnecessary, as the work so strictly
protected contained no available materials for plays, novels, or any
other species of literary composition, including even "epic poems;" but

Moise Sauvé has nevertheless been the salvation of several French
authors whose property might otherwise have been trespassed upon to a
considerable extent. Nevertheless, the principle of an author's sole,
inalienable interest in the incidents he may have invented or combined,
without reference to the new form in which they may be presented,
cannot, as a matter of course, be entertained anywhere; but the system
of "author's rights" so energetically fought for and conquered by
Beaumarchais has a very wide application in France, and only the other
day it was decided that the translators and arrangers of Le Nozze di
Figaro, for the Théâtre Lyrique must share their receipts with the
descendants and heirs of the author of Le Mariage de Figaro. It will
appear monstrous to many persons in England who cannot conceive of
property otherwise than of a material, palpable kind, that
Beaumarchais's representatives should enjoy any interest in a work
produced three-quarters of a century ago; but as his literary
productions possess an actual, easily attainable value, it would be
difficult to say who ought to profit by it, if not those who, under any
system of laws, would benefit by whatever other possessions he might
have left. It may be a slight advantage to society, in an almost
inappreciable degree, that "author's rights" should cease after a
certain period; but, if so, the same principle ought to be applied to
other forms of created value. The case was well put by M. de Vigny, in
the "Revue des Deux Mondes," in advocating the claims of a
grand-daughter, or great grand-daughter of Sedaine. He pointed out, that
if the dramatist in question, who was originally an architect, had built
a palace, and it had lasted until the present day, no one would have
denied that it descended naturally to his heirs; and that as, instead of
building in stone, he devoted himself to the construction of operas and
plays, the results of his talent and industry ought equally to be
regarded as the inalienable property of his descendants.

[Sidenote: LA FAVORITE.]

But to return to Lucrezia Borgia, which, with Lucia and La
Favorite, may be ranked amongst the most successful of Donizetti's
productions. The favour with which Lucrezia is received by audiences
of all kinds may be explained, in addition to the merit of much of the
music, by the manner in which the principal parts are distributed, so
that the cast, to be efficient, must always include four leading
singers, each of whom has been well-provided for by the composer. It
contains less recitative than any of Rossini's operas--a great
advantage, from a popular point of view, it having been shown by
experience that the public of the present day do not care for recitative
(especially when they do not understand a word of it), but like to pass
as quickly as possible from one musical piece to another. From an
artistic point of view the shortness of Donizetti's recitatives is not
at all to be regretted, for the simple reason that he has never written
any at all comparable to those of Rossini, whose dramatic genius he was
far from possessing. The most striking situation in the drama, a
thoroughly musical situation of which a great composer, or even an
energetic, passionate, melo-dramatic composer, like Verdi, would have
made a great deal, is quite lost in the hands of Donizetti. The
Brindisi is undeniably pretty, and was never considered vulgar until
it had been vulgarised. But Donizetti has shown no dramatic power in the
general arrangement of the principal scene, and the manner in which the
drinking song is interrupted by the funeral chorus, has rather a
disagreeable, than a terrible or a solemn effect. The finale to the
first act, or "prologue," is finely treated, but "Gennaro's" dying scene
and song, is the most dramatic portion of the work, which it ought to
terminate, but unfortunately does not. I think it might be shown that
Lucrezia marks the distance about half way between the style of
Rossini and that of Verdi. Not that it is so much inferior to the works
of the former, or so much superior to those of the latter; but that
among Donizetti's later operas, portions of Maria di Rohan (Vienna,
1843), might almost have been written by the composer of Rigoletto;
whereas, the resemblance for good or for bad, between these two
musicians, of the decadence, is not nearly so remarkable, if we compare
Lucrezia Borgia with one of Verdi's works. Still, in Lucrezia we
already notice that but little space is accorded to recitative, which
in the Trovatore finds next to none; we meet with choruses written in
the manner afterwards adopted by Verdi, and persisted in by him to the
exclusion of all other modes; while as regards melody, we should
certainly rather class the tenor's air in I Lombardi with that in
Lucrezia Borgia, than the latter with any air ever composed by
Rossini.

When Donizetti revisited Paris in 1840, he produced in succession I
Martiri (the work written for Nourrit and objected to by the Neapolitan
censorship), La Fille du Regiment, written for the Opéra Comique, and
La Favorite, composed in the first instance for the Théâtre de la
Renaissance, but re-arranged for the Académie, when the brief existence
of the Théâtre de la Renaissance had come to an end. As long as it
lasted, this establishment, opened for the representation of foreign
operas in the French language, owed its passing prosperity entirely to a
French version of the Lucia.

Jenny Lind, Sontag, Alboni, have all appeared in La Figlia del
Reggimento with great success; but when this work was first produced in
Paris, with Madame Thillon in the principal part, it was not received
with any remarkable favour. It is full of smooth, melodious, and highly
animated music, but is, perhaps, wanting in that piquancy of which the
French are such great admirers, and which rendered the duet for the
vivandières, in Meyerbeer's Etoile du Nord, so much to their taste.
L'Ange de Nigida, converted into La Favorite (and founded in the
first instance on a French drama, Le Comte de Commingues) was brought
out at the Académie, without any expense in scenery and "getting up,"
and achieved a decided success. This was owing partly to the pretty
choral airs at the commencement, partly to the baritone's cavatina
(admirably sung by Barroilhet, who made his début in the part of
"Alphonse"); but, above all, to the fourth act, with its beautiful
melody for the tenor, and its highly dramatic scene for the tenor and
soprano, including a final duet, which, if not essentially dramatic in
itself, occurs at least in a most dramatic situation.

The whole of the fourth act of La Favorite, except the cavatina, Ange
si pur, which originally belonged to the Duc d'Albe, and the andante
of the duet, which was added at the rehearsals, was written in three
hours. Donizetti had been dining at the house of a friend, who was
engaged in the evening to go to a party. On leaving the house, the host,
after many apologies for absenting himself, intreated Donizetti to
remain, and finish his coffee, which Donizetti, being inordinately fond
of that stimulant, took care to do. He asked at the same time for some
music paper, began his fourth act, and finding himself in the vein for
composition, went on writing until he had completed it. He had just put
the final stroke to the celebrated "Viens dans une autre patrie," when
his friend returned, at one in the morning, and congratulated him on the
excellent manner in which he had employed his time.

[Sidenote: L'ELISIR D'AMORE.]

After visiting Rome, Milan, and Vienna, for which last city he wrote
Linda di Chamouni, Donizetti returned to Paris, and in 1843 composed
Don Pasquale for the Théâtre Italien, and Don Sebastien for the
Académie. The lugubrious drama to which the music of Don Sebastien is
wedded, proved fatal to its success. On the other hand, the brilliant
gaiety of Don Pasquale, rendered doubly attractive by the admirable
execution of Grisi, Mario, Tamburini, and Lablache, delighted all who
heard it. The pure musical beauty of the serenade, and of the quartett,
one of the finest pieces of concerted music Donizetti ever wrote, were
even more admired than the lively animated dialogue-scenes, which are in
Donizetti's very best style; and the two pieces just specified, as well
as the baritone's cavatina, Bella siccome un angelo, aided the general
success of the work, not only by their own intrinsic merit, but also by
the contrast they present to the comic conversational music, and the
buffo airs of the bass. The music of Don Pasquale is probably the
cleverest Donizetti ever wrote; but it wants the charm which belongs
to that of his Elisir d'Amore, around which a certain sentiment, a
certain atmosphere of rustic poetry seems to hang, especially when we
are listening to the music of "Nemorino" or "Norina." Even the comic
portions in the Elisir are full of grace, as for instance, the
admirable duet between "Norina" and "Dulcamara;" and the whole work
possesses what is called "colour," that is to say, each character is
well painted by the music, which, moreover, is always appropriate to
the general scene. To look for "colour," or for any kind of poetry in a
modern drawing-room piece of intrigue, like Don Pasquale, with the
notaries of real life, and with lovers in black coats, would be absurd.
I may mention that the libretto of Don Pasquale is a re-arrangement of
Pavesi's Ser Marcantonio (was "Ser" Marcantonio an Englishman?)
produced in 1813.

[Sidenote: DONIZETTI'S REPERTOIRE.]

In the same year that Donizetti brought out Don Pasquale in Paris, he
produced Maria di Rohan at Vienna. The latter work contains an
admirable part for the baritone, which has given Ronconi the opportunity
of showing that he is not only an excellent buffo, but is also one of
the finest tragic actors on the stage. The music of Maria di Rohan is
highly dramatic: that is to say, very appropriate to the various
personages, and to the great "situations" of the piece. In pourtraying
the rage of the jealous husband, the composer exhibits all that
earnestness and vigour for which Verdi has since been praised--somewhat
sparingly, it is true, but praised nevertheless by his admirers. The
contralto part, on the other hand, is treated with remarkable elegance,
and contains more graceful melodies than Verdi is in the habit of
composing. I do not say that Donizetti is in all respects superior to
Verdi; indeed, it seems to me that he has not produced any one opera so
thoroughly dramatic as Rigoletto; but as Donizetti and Verdi are
sometimes contrasted, and as it was the fashion during Donizetti's
lifetime, to speak of his music as light and frivolous, I wish to
remark that in one of his latest operas he wrote several scenes, which,
if written by Verdi, would be said to be in that composer's best style.

Donizetti's last opera, Catarina Comaro, was produced in Naples in the
year 1844. This was his sixty-third dramatic work, counting those only
which have been represented. There are still two operas of Donizetti's
in existence, which the public have not heard. One, a piece in one act,
composed for the Opéra Comique, and which is said every now and then to
be on the point of being performed; the other, Le Duc d'Albe, which,
as before-mentioned, was written for the Académie Royale, on one of the
two libretti returned by Rossini to Scribe, after the composer of
William Tell came to his mysterious resolution of retiring from
operatic life.

Of Donizetti's sixty-three operas, about two-thirds are quite unknown to
England, and of the nine or ten which may still be said to keep the
stage, the earliest produced, Anna Bolena, is the composer's
thirty-second work. Anna Bolena, L'Elisir d'Amore, Lucrezia
Borgia, Lucia di Lammermoor, and Roberto Devereux, are included
between the numbers 31 and 52, while between the numbers 53 and 62, La
Fille du Regiment, La Favorite, Linda di Chamouni, Don Pasquale,
and Maria di Rohan, are found. The first five of Donizetti's most
popular operas, were produced between the years 1830 and 1840; the last
five between the years 1840 and 1844. Donizetti appears, then, to have
produced his best serious operas during the middle period of his
career--unless it be considered that La Favorite, Linda di Chamouni,
and Maria di Rohan, are superior to Anna Bolena, Lucrezia Borgia,
and Lucia di Lammermoor; and to the same epoch belongs L'Elisir
d'Amore, which in my opinion is the freshest, most graceful, and most
melodious of his comic operas, though some may prefer La Fille du
Regiment or Don Pasquale, both full of spirit and animation.

It is also tolerably clear, from an examination of Donizetti's works in
the order in which they were produced, that during the last four or five
years of his artistic life he produced more than his average number of
operas, possessing such merit that they have taken their place in the
repertoires of the principal opera houses of Europe. Donizetti had lost
nothing either in fertility or in power, while he appeared in some
respects to be modifying and improving his style. Thus, in the Swiss
opera of Linda di Chamouni (Vienna, 1842), we find, especially in the
music of the contralto part, a considerable amount of local colour--an
important dramatic element which Donizetti had previously overlooked,
or, at least, had not turned to any account; while Maria di Rohan
contains the best dramatic music of a passionate kind that Donizetti has
ever written.

[Sidenote: DONIZETTI'S DEATH.]

In composing, Donizetti made no use of the pianoforte, and wrote, as may
be imagined, with great rapidity, never stopping to make a correction,
though he is celebrated among the modern Italian composers for the
accuracy of his style. Curiously enough, he never went to work without
having a small ivory scraper by his side; and any one who has studied
intellectual peculiarities will understand, that once wanting this
instrument, he might have felt it necessary to scratch out notes and
passages every minute. Mr. J. Wrey Mould, in his interesting "memoir,"
tells us that this ivory scraper was given to Donizetti by his father
when he consented, after a long and strenuous opposition, to his
becoming a musician. An unfilial son might have looked upon the present
as not conveying the highest possible compliment that could be paid him.
The old gentleman, however, was quite right in impressing upon the
bearer of his name, that having once resolved to be a composer, he had
better make up his mind to produce as little rubbish as possible.

The first signs of the dreadful malady to which Donizetti ultimately
succumbed, manifested themselves during his last visit to Paris, in
1845. Fits of absence of mind, followed by hallucinations and all the
symptoms of mental derangement followed one another rapidly, and with
increasing intensity. In January, 1846, it was found necessary to place
the unfortunate composer in an asylum at Ivry, and in the autumn of
1847, his medical advisers recommended as a final experiment, that he
should be removed to Bergamo, in the hope that the air and scenes of his
birth-place would have a favourable influence in dispelling, or, at
least, diminishing the profound melancholy to which he was now subject.
During his journey, however, he was attacked by paralysis, and his
illness assumed a desperate and incurable character.

Donizetti was received at Bergamo by the Maestro Dolci, one of his
dearest friends. Here paralysis again attacked him, and a few days
afterwards, on the 8th of April, 1848, he expired, in his fifty-second
year, having, during the twenty-seven years of his life, as a composer,
written sixty-four operas; several masses and vesper services; and
innumerable pieces of chamber music, including, besides arias,
cavatinas, and vocal concerted pieces, a dozen quartetts for stringed
instruments, a series of songs and duets, entitled Les soirées du
Pausilippe, a cantata entitled la Morte d'Ugolino, &c., &c.

Antoine, Donizetti's attendant at Ivry, became much attached to him, and
followed him to Bergamo, whence he forwarded to M. Adolphe Adam, a
letter describing his illustrious patient's last moments, and the public
honours paid to his memory at the funeral.

[Sidenote: DONIZETTI'S DEATH.]

"More than four thousand persons," he relates, "were present at the
ceremony. The procession was composed of the numerous clergy of Bergamo;
the most illustrious members of the community and its environs, and of
the civic guard of the town and suburbs. The discharges of musketry,
mingled with the light of three or four hundred large torches,
presented a fine effect--the whole was enhanced by the presence of
three military bands, and the most propitious weather it was possible to
behold. The service commenced at ten o'clock in the morning, and did not
conclude until half-past two. The young gentlemen of Bergamo insisted on
bearing the remains of their illustrious fellow-citizen, although the
cemetery in which they finally rested lay at a distance of a
league-and-a-half from the town. The road there was crowded along its
whole length by people who came from the surrounding country to witness
the procession--and, to give due praise to the inhabitants of Bergamo,
never, hitherto, had such great honours been bestowed upon any member of
that city."

* * * * *

Bellini, who was Donizetti's contemporary, but who was born nine years
after him, and died thirteen years before, was a native of Sicily. His
father was an organist at Catania, and under him the future composer of
Norma and La Sonnambula, took his first lessons in music. A Sicilian
nobleman, struck by the signs of genius which young Bellini evinced at
an early age, persuaded his father to send him to Naples, supporting his
arguments with an offer to pay his expenses at the celebrated
Conservatorio. Here one of Bellini's fellow pupils was Mercadante, the
future composer of Il Giuramento, an opera which, in spite of the
frequent attempts of the Italian singers to familiarize the English
public with its numerous beauties, has never been much liked in this
country. I do not say that it has not been justly appreciated on the
whole, but that the grace of some of the melodies, the acknowledged
merit of the orchestration and the elegance and distinction which seem
to me to characterize the composer's style generally, have not been
accepted as compensating for his want of passion and of that spontaneity
without which the expression of strong emotion of any kind is naturally
impossible. Mercadante could never have written Rigoletto, but,
probably, a composer of inferior natural gifts to Verdi might, with a
taste for study and a determination to bring his talent to perfection,
have produced a work of equal artistic merit to Il Giuramento. And
here we must take leave of Mercadante, whose place in the history of the
opera is not a considerable one, and who, to the majority of English
amateurs, is known only by his Bella adorata, a melody of which Verdi
has shown his estimation by borrowing it, diluting it, and re-arranging
it with a new accompaniment for the tenor's song in Luisa Miller.

[Sidenote: RUBINI.]

I should think Mercadante must have written better exercises, and passed
better examinations at the Conservatorio than his young friend Bellini,
though the latter must have begun at an earlier age to compose operas.
Bellini's first dramatic work was written and performed while he was
still a student. Encouraged by its success, he next composed music to a
libretto already "set" by Generali, and entitled Adelson e Salvino.
Adelson was represented before the illustrious Barbaja, who was at
that time manager of the two most celebrated theatres in Italy, the St.
Carlo at Naples, and La Scala at Milan,--as well as of the Italian opera
at Vienna, to say nothing of some smaller operatic establishments also
under his rule. The great impresario, struck by Bellini's promise,
commissioned him to write an opera for Naples, and, in 1826, his Bianca
e Fernando was produced at the St. Carlo. This work was so far
successful, that it obtained a considerable amount of applause from the
public, while it inspired Barbaja with so much confidence that he
entrusted the young composer, now twenty years of age, with the libretto
of il Pirata, to be composed for La Scala. The tenor part was written
specially for Rubini, who retired into the country with Bellini, and
studied, as they were produced, the simple, touching airs which he
afterwards delivered on the stage with such admirable expression.

Il Pirata was received with enthusiasm by the audiences of La Scala,
and the composer was requested to write another work for the same
theatre. La Straniera was brought out at Milan in 1828, the principal
parts being entrusted to Donzelli, Tamburini, and Madame Tosi. This,
Bellini's third work, appears, on the whole, to have maintained, but
scarcely to have advanced, his reputation. Nevertheless, when it was
represented in London soon after its original production, it was by no
means so favourably received as Il Pirato had been.

Bellini's Zaira, executed at Parma, in 1829, was a failure--soon,
however, to be redeemed by his fifth work, Il Capuletti ed i
Montecchi, which was written for Venice, and was received with all
possible expressions of approbation. In London, the new operatic version
of Romeo and Juliet was not particularly admired, and owed what
success it obtained entirely to the acting and singing of Madame Pasta
in the principal part. It may be mentioned that the libretto of
Bellini's I Montecchi had already served his master, Zingarelli, for
his opera of Romeo e Julietta.

[Sidenote: LA SONNAMBULA.]

The time had now arrived at which Bellini was to produce his
master-pieces, La Sonnambula and Norma; the former of which was
written for La Scala, in 1831, the latter, for the same theatre, in
the year following. The success of La Sonnambula has been great
everywhere, but nowhere so great as in England, where it has been
performed in English and in Italian, oftener than any other two or
perhaps three operas, while probably no songs, certainly no songs by a
foreign composer, were ever sold in such large numbers as All is lost
and Do not mingle. The libretto of La Sonnambula, by Romani, is one
of the most interesting and touching, and one of the best suited for
musical illustration in the whole répertoire of libretti. To the
late M. Scribe, belongs the merit of having invented the charming story
on which Romani's and Bellini's opera is founded; and it is worthy of
remark that he had already presented it in two different dramatic forms
before any one was struck with its capabilities for musical treatment. A
thoroughly, essentially, dramatic story can be presented on the stage in
any and every form; with music, with dialogue, or with nothing but dumb
action. Tried by this test, the plots of a great number of merely well
written comedies would prove worthless; and so in substance they are. On
the other hand, the vaudeville of La Somnambula, became, as
re-arranged by M. Scribe, the ballet of La Somnambule, (one of the
prettiest, by the way, from a choregraphic point of view ever produced);
which, in the hands of Romani, became the libretto of an opera; which
again, vulgarly treated, has been made into a burlesque; and, loftily
treated, might be changed (I will not say elevated, for the operatic
form is poetical enough), into a tragedy.

The beauties of La Sonnambula, so full of pure melody and of emotional
music, of the most simple and touching kind, can be appreciated by every
one; by the most learned musician and the most untutored amateur, or
rather let us say by any play-goer, who, not having been born deaf to
the voice of music, hears an opera for the first time in his life. It
was given, however, to an English critic, to listen to this opera, as
natural and as unmistakably beautiful as a bed of wild flowers, through

a special ear-trumpet of his own; and in number 197 of the most
widely-circulated of our literary journals, the following remarks on
La Sonnambula appeared. With the exception of one or two pretty
motivi, exquisitely given by Pasta and Rubini, the music is sometimes
scarcely on a level with that of Il Pirata, and often sinks below it;
there is a general thinness and want of effect in the instrumentation
not calculated to make us overlook the other defects of this
composition, which, in our humble judgment, are compensated by no
redeeming beauties. Bellini has soared too high; there is nothing of
grandeur, no touch of true pathos in the common place workings of his
mind. He cannot reach the Opera semi-seria; he should confine his
powers to the lowest walk of the musical drama, the one act Opera
buffa."

Equally ill fared Norma at the hands of another musical critic to
whose "reminiscences" I have often had to refer, but who tells us that
he did not hear the work in question himself. He speaks of it simply as
a production of which the scene is laid in Wales, and adds that "it
was not liked."

Yet Norma has been a good deal liked since its first production at
Milan, now nearly thirty years ago; and from Madame Pasta's first to
Madame Grisi's last appearance in the principal part, no great singer
with any pretension to tragic power has considered her claims fully
recognised until she has succeeded in the part of the Druid priestess.

[Sidenote: I PURITANI.]

Beatrice di Tenda, Bellini's next opera after Norma, cannot be
reckoned among his best works. It was written for Venice, in 1833, and
was performed in England for the first time, in 1836. It met with no
very great success in Italy or elsewhere.

In 1834, Bellini went to Paris, having been requested to write an opera
for the excellent Théâtre Italien of that capital. The company at the
period in question, included Grisi, Rubini, Tamburini and Lablache, all
of whom were provided with parts in the new work. I Puritani, was
played for the first time in London, for Grisi's benefit, in 1835, and
with precisely the same distribution of characters as in Paris. The
"Puritani Season" is still remembered by old habitués, as one of the
most brilliant of these latter days. Rubini's romance in the first act
A te o cara, Grisi's Polonaise, Son vergin vezzosa and the grand
duet for Tamburini and Lablache, produced the greatest enthusiasm in all
our musical circles, and the last movement of the duet was treated by
"arrangers" for the piano, in every possible form. This is the movement,
(destined, too soon, to find favour in the eyes of omnibus conductors,
and all the worst amateurs of the cornet), of which Rossini wrote from
Paris to a friend at Milan; "I need not describe the duet for the two
basses, you must have heard it where you are."

I Puritani was Bellini's last opera. The season after its production
he retired to the house of a Mr. Lewis at Puteaux, and there, while
studying his art with an ardour which never deserted him, was attacked
by a fatal illness. "From his youth up," says Mr. J. W. Mould, in his
interesting "Memoir of Bellini;" "Vincenzo's eagerness in his art was
such as to keep him at the piano day and night, till he was obliged
forcibly to leave it. The ruling passion accompanied him through his
short life, and by the assiduity with which he pursued it, brought on
the dysentery, which closed his brilliant career, peopling his last
hours with the figures of those to whom his works were so largely
indebted for their success. During the moments of delirium which
preceded his death, he was constantly speaking of Lablache, Tamburini
and Grisi, and one of his last recognisable impressions was, that he was
present at a brilliant representation of his last opera, at the Salle
Favart. His earthly career closed on Wednesday, the 23rd of September,
1835."

[Sidenote: BELLINI'S DEATH.]

Thus died Bellini, in the twenty-ninth year of his age. Immediately
after his death, and on the very eve of his interment, the Théâtre
Italien re-opened with the Puritani. "The work," says the writer from
whom I have just quoted, "was listened to throughout with a sad
attention, betraying evidently how the general thoughts of both audience
and artists were pre-occupied with the mournful fate of him so recently
amongst them, now extended senseless, soulless, and mute, upon his
funeral bier. The solemn and mournful chords which commence the opera,
excited a sorrowful emotion in the breasts of both those who sang and
those who heard. The feeling in which the orchestra and chorus
participated, ex-tended itself to the principal artists concerned, and
the foremost amongst them displayed neither that vigour nor that
neatness of execution which Paris was so accustomed to accept at their
hands; Tamburini in particular, was so broken down by the death of the
young friend, whose presence amongst them spurred the glorious quartett
on the season before, to such unprecedented exertions, that his
magnificent organ, superb vocalisation were often considerably at fault
during the evening, and his interrupted accent, joined to the melancholy
depicted on the countenances of Grisi, Rubini, and Lablache, sent those
to their homes with an aching heart who had presented themselves to that
evening's hearing of I Puritani, previously disposed, moreover, to
attend the mournful ceremony of the morrow."

A committee of Bellini's friends, including Rossini, Cherubini, Paer,
and Carafa, undertook the general direction of the funeral of which the
musical department was entrusted to M. Habeneck the chef d'orchestre
of the Académie Royale. The expenses of the ceremony were defrayed by M.
Panseron, of the Théâtre Italien. The most remarkable piece for the
programme of the funeral music, was a lacrymosa for four voices, without
accompaniment, in which the text of the Latin hymn was united to the
beautiful melody (and of a thoroughly religious character), sung by the
tenor in the third act of the Puritani. This lacrymosa was executed by
Rubini, Ivanoff, Tamburini, and Lablache. The service was performed in
the church of the Invalides, and Bellini's remains were interred in the
cemetery of Père la Chaise.

Rossini had always shown the greatest affection for Bellini; and Rosario
Bellini, a few weeks after his son's death, wrote a letter to the great
composer, thanking him for the almost paternal kindness which he had
shown to young Vincenzo during his lifetime, and for the honour he had
paid to his memory when he was no more. After speaking of the grief and
despair in which the loss of his beloved son had plunged him, the old
man expressed himself as follows:--

"You always encouraged the object of my eternal regret in his labours;
you took him under your protection; you neglected nothing that could
increase his glory and his welfare. After my son's death what have you
not done to honour his memory and render it dear to posterity! I learnt
this from the newspapers; and I am penetrated with gratitude for your
excessive kindness, as well as for that of a number of distinguished
artistes, which also I shall never forget. Pray, sir, be my interpreter,
and tell these artistes that the father and family of Bellini, as well
as our compatriots of Catana, will cherish an imperishable recollection
of this generous conduct. I shall never cease to remember how much you
did for my son; I shall make known everywhere, in the midst of my tears,
what an affectionate heart belongs to the great Rossini; and how kind,
hospitable, and full of feeling are the artistes of France."

[Sidenote: BELLINI AND DONIZETTI.]

If we compare Bellini with Donizetti, we find that the latter was the
more prolific of the two, judging simply by the number of works
produced; inasmuch as Donizetti, at the age of twenty-eight, had already
produced thirteen operas; whereas the number of Bellini's dramatic
works, when he died in his twenty-ninth year, amounted only to nine. But
of the baker's dozen thrown off by Donizetti at so early an age, not one
made any impression on the public, or on musicians, such as was caused
by I Capuletti, or Il Pirata, or La Straniera, to say nothing of
I Puritani, which, in the opinion of many good judges, holds forth
greater promise of dramatic excellence than is contained in any other of
Bellini's works, including those masterpieces in two such different
styles, La Sonnambula and Norma. When Donizetti had been composing
for a dozen years, and had produced thirty one operas (Anna Bolena was
his thirty-second), he had still written nothing which could be ranked
on an equality with Bellini's second-rate works, such as Il Pirata and
I Capuletti; and during the second half of Donizetti's operatic
career, not one work of his in three met with the success which
(Beatrice alone excepted) attended all Bellini's operas, as soon as
Bellini had once passed that merely experimental period when, to fail,
is, for a composer of real ability, to learn how not to fail a second
time. I do not say that the composer of Lucrezia, Lucia, and Elisir
d'Amore is so vastly inferior to the composer of La Sonnambula and
Norma; but, simply, that Donizetti, during the first dozen years of
his artistic life, did not approach the excellence shown by the young
Bellini during the nine years which made up the whole of his brief
musical career. More than that, Donizetti never produced a musical
tragedy equal to Norma, nor a musical pastoral equal to La
Sonnambula; while, dramatic considerations apart, he cannot be compared
to Bellini as an inventor of melody. Indeed, it would be difficult in
the whole range of opera to name three works which contain so many
simple, tender, touching airs, of a refined character, yet possessing
all the elements of popularity (in short, airs whose beauty is
universally appreciable) as Norma, La Sonnambula, and I Puritani.
The simplicity of Bellini's melodies is one of their chief
characteristics; and this was especially remarkable, at a time when
Rossini's imitators were exaggerating the florid style of their model in
every air they produced.

* * * * *

[Sidenote: BELLINI'S SINGERS.]

Most of the great singers of the modern school,--indeed, all who have
appeared since and including Madame Pasta, have gained their reputation
chiefly in Bellini's and Donizetti's operas. They formed their style, it
is true, by singing Rossini's music; but as the public will not listen
for ever even to such operas as Il Barbiere and Semiramide, it was
necessary to provide the new vocalists from time to time with new parts;
and thus "Amina" and "Anna Bolena" were written for Pasta; "Elvino,"
&c., for Rubini; "Edgardo," in the Lucia, for Duprez; a complete
quartett of parts in I Puritani, for Grisi, Rubini, Tamburini, and
Lablache. Since Donizetti's Don Pasquale, composed for Grisi, Mario
(Rubini's successor), Tamburini, and Lablache, no work of any importance
has been composed for the Italian Opera of Paris--nor of London either,
I may add, in spite of Verdi's I Masnadieri, and Halévy's La
Tempesta, both manufactured expressly for Her Majesty's Theatre.

I have already spoken of Pasta's and Malibran's successes in Rossini's
operas. The first part written for Pasta by Bellini was that of "Amina"
in the Sonnambula; the second, that of "Norma." But though Pasta
"created" these characters, she was destined to be surpassed in both of
them by the former Marietta Garcia, now returned from America, and known
everywhere as Malibran. This vocalist, by all accounts the most poetic
and impassioned of all the great singers of her period, arrived in Italy
just when I Capuletti, La Sonnambula, and Norma, were at the
height of their popularity--thanks, in a great measure, to the admirable
manner in which the part of the heroine in each of these works was
represented by Pasta. Malibran appeared as "Amina," as "Norma," and also
as "Romeo," in I Capuletti. She "interpreted" the characters (to
borrow an expression, which is admissible, in this case, from the jargon
of French musical critics) in her own manner, and very ingeniously
brought into relief just those portions of the music of each which were
not rendered prominent in the Pasta versions. The new singer was
applauded enthusiastically. The public were really grateful to her for
bringing to light beauties which, but for her, would have remained in
the shade. But it was also thought that Malibran feared her illustrious
rival and predecessor too much, to attempt her readings. This was just
the impression she wished to produce; and when she saw that the public
had made up its mind on the subject, she changed her tactics, followed
Pasta's interpretation, and beat her on her own ground. She excelled
wherever Pasta had excelled, and proved herself on the whole superior to
her. Finally, she played the parts of "Norma" and "Amina" in her first
and second manner combined. This rendered her triumph decisive.

Now Malibran commenced a triumphal progress through Italy. Wherever she
sang, showers of bouquets and garlands fell at her feet; the horses were
taken from her carriage on her leaving the theatre, and she was dragged
home amid the shouts of an admiring crowd. These so-called
"ovations"[100] were renewed at every operatic city in Italy; and
managers disputed, in a manner previously unexampled, the honour and
profit of engaging the all-successful vocalist.

[Sidenote: MALIBRAN.]

The director of the Trieste opera gave Malibran four thousand francs a
night, and at the end of her engagement pressed her to accept a set of
diamonds. Malibran refused, observing, that what she had already
received was amply sufficient for her services, and more than she would
ever have thought of asking for them, had not the terms been proposed by
the director himself.

"Accept my present all the same," replied the liberal impresario; "I
can afford to offer you this little souvenir. It will remind you that I
made an excellent thing out of your engagement, and it may, perhaps,
help to induce you to come here again."

"The actions of this fiery existence," says M. Castil Blaze, "would
appear fabulous if we had not seen Marietta amongst us, fulfilling her
engagements at the theatre, resisting all the fatigue of the rehearsals,
of the representations, after galloping morning and evening in the Bois
de Boulogne, so as to tire out two horses. She used to breakfast during
the rehearsals on the stage. I said to her, one morning, at the
theatre:--'Marietta carissima, non morrai. Che farò, dunque? Nemica
sorte! Creperai.'

"Her travels, her excursions, her studies, her performances might have
filled the lives of two artists, and two very complete lives, moreover.
She starts for Sinigaglia, during the heat of July, in man's clothes,
takes her seat on the box of the carriage, drives the horses; scorched
by the sun of Italy, covered with dust, she arrives, jumps into the
sea, swims like a dolphin, and then goes to her hotel to dress. At
Brussels, she is applauded as a French Rosìna, delivering the prose of
Beaumarchais as Mademoiselle Mars would have delivered it. She leaves
Brussels for London, comes back to Paris, travels about in Brie, and
returns to London, not like a courier, but like a dove on the wing. We
all know what the life of a singer is in the capital of England, the
life of a dramatic singer of the highest talent. After a rehearsal at
the opera, she may have three or four matinée's to attend; and when the
curtain falls, and she can escape from the theatre, there are soirées
which last till day-break. Malibran kept all these engagements, and,
moreover, gave Sunday to her friends; this day of absolute rest to all
England, was to Marietta only another day of excitement."

[Sidenote: MALIBRAN.]

Malibran spoke Spanish, Italian, French, English, and a little German,
and acted and sang in the first four of these languages. In London, she
appeared in an English version of La Sonnambula (1838), when her
representation of the character of "Amina" created a general enthusiasm
such as can scarcely have been equalled during the "Jenny Lind
mania,"--perfect vocalist as was Jenny Lind. Malibran appears, however,
to have been a more impassioned singer, and was certainly a finer
actress than the Swedish Nightingale. "Never losing sight of the
simplicity of the character," says a writer in describing her
performance in La Sonnambula, "she gave irresistible grace and force
to the pathetic passages with which it abounds, and excited the feeling
of the audience to as high pitch as can be perceived. Her sleep-walking
scenes, in which the slightest amount of exaggeration or want of caution
would have destroyed the whole effect, were played with exquisite
discrimination; she sang the airs with refined taste and great power;
her voice, which was remarkable, rather for its flexibility and
sweetness than for its volume, was as pure as ever, and her style
displayed that high cultivation and luxuriance which marked the school
in which she was educated, and which is almost identified with the name
she formerly bore."

Drury Lane was the last theatre at which Madame Malibran sang; but the
last notes she ever uttered were heard at Manchester, where she
performed only in oratorios and at concerts. Before leaving London,
Madame Malibran had a fall from her horse, and all the time she was
singing at Manchester, she was suffering from its effects. She had
struck her head, and the violence of the blow, together with the general
shock to her nerves, without weakening any of her faculties, seemed to
have produced that feverish excitement which gave such tragic poetry to
her last performances. At first, she would take no precautions, though
inflammation of the brain was to be feared, and, indeed, might be said
to have already declared itself. She continued to sing, and never was
her voice more pure and melodious, never was her execution more daring
and dazzling, never before had she sung with such inspiration and with a
passion which communicated itself in so electric a manner to her
audience. She was bled; not one of the doctors appears to have had
sufficient strength of mind to enforce that absolute rest which everyone
must have known was necessary for her existence, and she still went on
singing. There were no signs of any loss of physical power, while her
nervous force appeared to have increased. The last time she ever sang,
she executed the duet from Andronico, with Madame Caradori, who, by a
very natural sympathy, appeared herself to have received something of
that almost supernatural fire which was burning within the breast of
Malibran, and which was now fast consuming her. The public applauded
with ecstacy, and as the general excitement increased, the marvellous
vocalisation of the dying singer became almost miraculous. She
improvised a final cadence, which was the climax of her triumph and of
her life. The bravos of the audience were not at an end when she had
already sunk exhausted into the arms of Madame Alessandri, who carried
her, fainting, into the artist's room. She was removed immediately to
the hotel. It was now impossible to save her, and so convinced of this
was her husband, that almost before she had breathed her last, he was on
his way to Paris, the better to secure every farthing of her property!

* * * * *

[Sidenote: RUBINI.]

Rubini, though he first gained his immense reputation by his mode of
singing the airs of Il Pirata, Anna Bolena, and La Sonnambula,
formed his style in the first instance, on the operas of Rossini. This
vocalist, however, sang and acted in a great many different capacities
before he was recognised as the first of all first tenors. At the age of
twelve Rubini made his début at the theatre of Romano, his native town,
in a woman's part. This curious prima donna afterwards sat down at the
door of the theatre, between two candles, and behind a plate, in which
the admiring public deposited their offerings to the fair bénéficiare.
She is said to have been perfectly satisfied with the receipts and with
the praise accorded to her for her first performance. Rubini afterwards
went to Bergamo, where he was engaged to play the violin in the
orchestra between the acts of comedies, and to sing in the choruses
during the operatic season. A drama was to be brought out in which a
certain cavatina was introduced. The manager was in great trouble to
find a singer to whom this air could be entrusted. Rubini was mentioned,
the manager offered him a few shillings to sing it, the bargain was
made, and the new vocalist was immensely applauded. This air was the
production of Lamberti. Rubini kept it, and many years afterwards, when
he was at the height of his reputation, was fond of singing it in memory
of his first composer.

In 1835, twenty-three years after Rubini's first engagement at Bergamo,
the tenor of the Théâtre Italien of Paris was asked to intercede for a
chorus-singer, who expected to be dismissed from the establishment. He
told the unhappy man to write a letter to the manager, and then gave it
the irresistible weight of his recommendation by signing it "Rubini,
Ancien Choriste."

After leaving Bergamo, Rubini was engaged as second tenor in an operatic
company of no great importance. He next joined a wandering troop, and
among other feats he is said to have danced in a ballet somewhere in
Piedmont, where, for his pains, he was violently hissed.

In 1814, he was engaged at Pavia as tenor, where he received about
thirty-six shillings a month. Sixteen years afterwards, Rubini and his
wife were offered an engagement of six thousand pounds, and at last the
services of Rubini alone were retained at the Italian Opera of St.
Petersburgh, at the rate of twenty thousand pounds a year.

[Sidenote: RUBINI.]

Rubini was such a great singer, and possessed such admirable powers of
expression, especially in pathetic airs (it was well said of him,
"qu'il avait des larmes dans la voix,") that he may be looked upon as,
in some measure, the creator of the operatic style which succeeded that
of the Rossinian period up to the production of Semiramide, the last
of Rossini's works, written specially for Italy. The florid mode of
vocalization had been carried to an excess when Rubini showed what
effect he could produce by singing melodies of a simple emotional
character, without depending at all on vocalization merely as such. It
has already been mentioned that Bellini wrote Il Pirato with Rubini at
his side, and it is very remarkable that Donizetti never achieved any
great success, and was never thought to have exhibited any style of his
own until he produced Anna Bolena, in which the tenor part was
composed expressly for Rubini. Every one who is acquainted with Anna
Bolena, will understand how much Rossini's mode of singing the airs,
Ogni terra ove, &c., and Vivi tu, must have contributed to the
immense favour with which it was received.

Rubini will long be remembered as the tenor of the incomparable quartett
for whom the Puritani was written, and who performed together in it
for seven consecutive years in Paris and in London. Rubini disappeared
from the West in 1841, and was replaced in the part of "Arturo," by
Mario. Tamburini was the next to disappear, and then Lablache. Neither
Riccardo nor Giorgio have since found thoroughly efficient
representatives, and now we have lost with Grisi the original "Elvira,"
without knowing precisely where another is to come from.

[Sidenote: RUBINI'S BROKEN CLAVICLE.]

Before taking leave of Rubini, I must mention a sort of duel he once had
with a rebellious B flat, the history of which has been related at
length by M. Castil Blaze, in the Revue de Paris. Pacini's Talismano
had just been produced with great success at la Scala. Rubini made his
entry in this opera with an accompanied recitative, which the public
always applauded enthusiastically. One phrase in particular, which the
singer commenced by attacking the high B flat without preparation, and,
holding it for a considerable period, excited their admiration to the
highest point. Since Farinelli's celebrated trumpet song, no one note
had ever obtained such a success as their wonderful B flat of Rubini's.
The public of Milan went in crowds to hear it, and having heard it,
never failed to encore it. Un 'altra volta! resounded through the
house almost before the magic note itself had ceased to ring. The great
singer had already distributed fourteen B flats among his admiring
audiences, when, eager for the fifteenth and sixteenth, the Milanese
thronged to their magnificent theatre to be present at the eighth
performance of Il Talismano. The orchestra executed the brief prelude
which announced the entry of the tenor. Rubini appeared, raised his eyes
to heaven, extended his arms, planted himself firmly on his calves,
inflated his breast, opened his mouth, and sought, by the usual means,
to pronounce the wished-for B flat. But no B flat would come. Os habet,
et non clamabit. Rubini was dumb; the public did their best to
encourage the disconsolate singer, applauded him, cheered him, and gave
him courage to attack the unhappy B flat a second time. On this
occasion, Rubini was victorious. Determined to catch the fugitive note,
which for a moment had escaped him, the singer brought all the muscular
force of his immense lungs into play, struck the B flat, and threw it
out among the audience with a vigour which surprised and delighted them.
In the meanwhile, the tenor was by no means equally pleased with the
triumph he had just gained. He felt, that in exerting himself to the
utmost, he had injured himself in a manner which might prove very
serious. Something in the mechanism of his voice had given way. He had
felt the fracture at the time. He had, indeed, conquered the B flat, but
at what an expense; that of a broken clavicle!

However, he continued





Next: Rossini Spohr Beethoven Weber And Hoffmann

Previous: Opera In France Under The Consulate Empire And Restoration



Add to del.icio.us Add to Reddit Add to Digg Add to Del.icio.us Add to Google Add to Twitter Add to Stumble Upon
Add to Informational Site Network
Report
Privacy
SHAREADD TO EBOOK


Viewed 949