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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




General View Of The Opera In Europe In The Eighteenth Century Until The Appearance Of Gluck








Great Italian Singers.--Ferri in Sweden.--Opera in Vienna.--Scenic
decorations.--Singers of the Eighteenth Century.--Singers'
nicknames.--Farinelli's one note.


[Sidenote: QUEEN CHRISTINA AND FERRI.]

Handel, by his great musical genius, conferred a two-fold benefit on the
country of his adoption. He endowed it with a series of Oratorios which
stand alone in their grandeur, for which the English of the present day
are deeply grateful, and for which ages to come will honour his name;
and before writing a note of his great sacred works, during the thirty
years which he devoted to the production and superintendence of Italian
Opera in England, he raised that entertainment to a pitch of excellence
unequalled elsewhere, except perhaps at the magnificent Dresden Theatre,
which, for upwards of a quarter of a century was directed by the
celebrated Hasse, and where Augustus, of Saxony, took care that the
finest musicians and singers in Europe should be engaged.

Rousseau, in the Dictionnaire Musicale, under the head of "Orchestra,"
writing in 1754[27], says:--

"The first orchestra in Europe in respect to the number and science of
the symphonists, is that of Naples. But the orchestra of the opera of
the King of Poland, at Dresden, directed by the illustrious Hasse, is
better distributed, and forms a better ensemble."

Most of Handel's and Porpora's best vocalists were engaged from the
Dresden Theatre, but the great Italian singers had already become
citizens of the world, and settled or established themselves temporarily
as their interests dictated in Germany, England, Spain, or elsewhere,
and at the beginning of the eighteenth century there were Italian Operas
at Naples, Turin, Dresden, Vienna, London, Madrid, and even
Algiers--everywhere but in France, which, as has already been pointed
out, did not accept the musical civilisation of Italy until it had been
adopted by every other country in Europe, including Russia. The great
composers, and above all, the great singers who abounded in this
fortunate century, went to and fro in Europe, from south to north, from
east to west, and were welcomed everywhere but in Paris, where, until a
few years before the Revolution, it seemed to form part of the national
honour to despise Italian music.

As far back as 1645, Queen Christina of Sweden sent a vessel of war to
Italy, to bring to her Court Balthazar Ferri, the most distinguished
singer of his day. Ferri, as Rousseau, quoting from Mancini, tells us in
his "Musical Dictionary," could without taking breath ascend and descend
two octaves of the chromatic scale, performing a shake on every note
unaccompanied, and with such precision that if at any time the note on
which the singer was shaking was verified by an instrument, it was found
to be perfectly in tune.

Ferri was in the service of three kings of Poland and two emperors of
Germany. At Venice he was decorated with the Order of St. Mark; at
Vienna he was crowned King of Musicians; at London, while he was singing
in a masque, he was presented by an unknown hand with a superb emerald;
and the Florentines, when he was about to visit their city, went in
thousands to meet him, at three leagues distance from the gates.

[Sidenote: OPERA IN VIENNA.]

The Italian Opera was established in Vienna under the Emperor Leopold
I., with great magnificence, so much so indeed, that for many years
afterwards it was far more celebrated as a spectacle than as a musical
entertainment. Nevertheless, Leopold was a most devoted lover of music,
and remained so until his death, as the history of his last moments
sufficiently shows. We have seen a French maid of honour die to the
fiddling of her page; the Emperor of Germany expired to the
accompaniment of a full orchestra. Feeling that his end was approaching
he sent for his musicians, and ordered them to commence a symphony,
which they went on playing until he died.

Apostolo Zeno, whom Rousseau calls the Corneille, and Metastasio, whom
he terms the Racine of the Opera, both resided for many years at Vienna,
and wrote many of their best pieces for its theatre. Several of Zeno's,
and a great number of Metastasio's works have been set to music over and
over again, but when they were first brought out at Vienna, many of them
appear to have obtained success more as grand dramatic spectacles than
as operas. During the latter half of the eighteenth century, Vienna
witnessed the production of some of the greatest master-pieces of the
musical drama (for instance, the Orpheus, Alcestis, &c., of Gluck,
and the Marriage of Figaro, of Mozart); but when Handel was in England
directing the King's Theatre in the Haymarket, and when the Dresden
Opera was in full musical glory (before as well as after the arrival of
Hasse), the Court Theatre of Vienna was above all remarkable for its
immense size, for the splendour of its decorations, and for the general
costliness and magnificence of its spectacles. Lady Mary Wortley
Montague visited the Opera, at Vienna, in 1716, and sent the following
account of it to Pope.

"I have been last Sunday at the Opera, which was performed in the garden
of the Favorita; and I was so much pleased with it, I have not yet
repented my seeing it. Nothing of the kind was ever more magnificent,
and I can easily believe what I am told, that the decorations and
habits cost the Emperor thirty thousand pounds sterling. The stage was
built over a very large canal, and at the beginning of the second act
divided into two parts, discovering the water, on which there
immediately came, from different parts, two fleets of little gilded
vessels that gave the representation of a naval fight. It is not easy to
imagine the beauty of this scene, which I took particular notice of. But
all the rest were perfectly fine in their kind. The story of the Opera
is the enchantment of Alcina, which gives opportunities for a great
variety of machines, and changes of scenes which are performed with
surprising swiftness. The theatre is so large that it is hard to carry
the eye to the end of it, and the habits in the utmost magnificence to
the number of one hundred and eight. No house could hold such large
decorations; but the ladies all sitting in the open air exposes them to
great inconveniences, for there is but one canopy for the Imperial
Family, and the first night it was represented, a shower of rain
happening, the opera was broken off, and the company crowded away in
such confusion that I was almost squeezed to death."

[Sidenote: SCENIC DECORATIONS.]

One of these open air theatres, though doubtless on a much smaller scale
than that of Vienna, stood in the garden of the Tuileries, at Paris, at
the beginning of the eighteenth century. It was embowered in trees and
covered with creeping plants, and the performances took place there in
the day-time. These garden theatres were known to the Romans, witness
the following lines of Ovid:--

"Illic quas tulerant nemorosa palatia, frondes
Simpliciter positæ; scena sine arte fuit."
De Arte Amandi, Liber I., v. 105.

I myself saw a little theatre of the kind, in 1856, at Flensburgh, in
Denmark. There was a pleasure-ground in front, with benches and chairs
for the audience. The stage door at the back opened into a cabbage
garden. The performances, which consisted of a comedy and farce took
place in the afternoon, and ended at dusk.

* * * * *

I have already spoken of the magnificence and perfection of the scenic
pictures exhibited at the Italian theatres in the very first days of the
Opera. In the early part of the seventeenth century immense theatres
were constructed so as to admit of the most elaborate spectacular
displays. The Farnesino Theatre, at Parma, built for dramas,
tournaments, and spectacles of all kinds, and which is now a ruin,
contained at least fifty thousand spectators.[28]

In the 18th century the Italians seem to have thought more of the music
of their operas, and to have left the vanities of theatrical decorations
to the Germans.

Servandoni, for some time scene painter and decorator at the Académie
Royale of Paris not finding that theatre sufficiently vast for his
designs, sought a new field for his ambition at the Opera-House of
Dresden, where Augustus of Poland engaged him to superintend the
arrangement of the stage. Servandoni painted a number of admirable
scenes for this theatre, in the midst of which four hundred mounted
horsemen were able to manoeuvre with ease.

In 1760 the Court of the Duke of Wurtemburg, at Stuttgardt, was the most
brilliant in Europe, owing partly, no doubt, to the enormous subsidies
received by the Duke from France for a body of ten thousand men, which
he maintained at the service of that power. The Duke had a French
theatre, and two Italian theatres, one for Opera Seria, and the other
for Opera Buffa. The celebrated Noverre was his ballet-master, and there
were a hundred dancers in the corps de ballet, besides twenty
principal ones, each of whom had been first dancer at one of the chief
theatres of Italy. Jomelli was chapel-master and director of the Opera
at Stuttgardt from 1754 until 1773.

[Sidenote: SCENIC DECORATIONS.]

In the way of stage decorations, theatrical effects, and the various
other spectacular devices by which managers still seek to attract to
their Operas those who are unable to appreciate good music, we have made
no progress since the 17th century. We have, to be sure, gas and the
electric light, which were not known to our forefathers; but St.
Evrémond tells us that in Louis the XIV.'s time the sun and moon were
so well represented at the Académie Royale, that the Ambassador of
Guinea, assisting at one of its performances, leant forward in his box,
when those orbs appeared and religiously saluted them. To be sure, this
anecdote may be classed with one I have heard in Russia, of an actor
who, playing the part of a bear in a grand melodrama, in which a storm
was introduced, crossed himself devoutly at each clap of thunder; but
the stories of Servandoni's and Bernino's decorations are no fables.
Like the other great masters of stage effect in Italy, Bernino was an
architect, a sculptor and a painter. His sunsets are said to have been
marvellous; and in a spectacular piece of his composition, entitled The
Inundation of the Tiber, a mass of water was seen to come in from the
back of the stage, gradually approaching the orchestra and washing down
everything that impeded its onward course, until at last the audience,
believing the inundation to be real, rose in terror and were about to
rush from the theatre. Traps, however, were ready to be opened in all
parts of the stage. The Neptune of the troubled theatrical waves gave
the word,

----"et dicto citiùs tumida æquora placat."

But in Italy, even at the time when such wonders were being effected in
the way of stage decorations, the music of an opera was still its prime
attraction; indeed, there were theatres for operas and theatres for
spectacular dramas, and it is a mistake to attempt the union of the two
in any great excellence, inasmuch as the one naturally interferes with
and diverts attention from the other.

Of Venice and its music, in the days when grand hunts, charges of
cavalry, triumphal processions in which hundreds of horsemen took part,
and ships traversing the ocean, and proceeding full sail to the
discovery of America were introduced on to the stage;[29] of Venice and
its music even at this highly decorative period, St. Evrémond has given
us a brief but very satisfactory account in the following doggrel:--

"A Venise rien n'est égal:
Sept opéras, le carneval;
Et la merveille, l'excellence,
Point de choeurs et jamais de danse,
Dans les maisons, souvent concert,
Où tout se chante à livre ouvert."

The operatic chorus, as has already been observed, is an invention
claimed by the French[30]; on the other hand, from the very foundation
of the Académie Royale, the French rendered their Operas ridiculous by
introducing ballets into the middle of them. We shall find Rousseau
calling attention to this absurd custom which still prevails at the
Académie, where if even Fidelio was to be produced, it would be
considered necessary to "enliven" one or more of the scenes with a
divertissement--so unchanging and unchangeable are the revolutionary
French in all that is futile.

[Sidenote: THE OPERA AT VIENNA.]

We have seen that in the first years of the 18th century, the Opera at
Vienna was chiefly remarkable for its size, and the splendour and
magnificence of its scenery. But it soon became a first-rate musical
theatre; and it was there, as every one who takes an interest in music
knows, that nearly all the masterpieces of Gluck and Mozart[31] were
produced. The French sometimes speak of Gluck's great works as if they
belonged exclusively to the repertory of their Académie. I have already
mentioned that four years before Gluck went to Paris (1774), his Orfeo
was played in London. This opera was brought out at Vienna in 1764, when
it was performed twenty-eight times in succession. The success of
Alceste was still greater; and after its production in 1768, no other
opera was played for two years. At this period, the imperial family did
not confine the interest they took in the Opera to mere patronage; four
Austrian archduchesses, sisters of the Emperor Charles VII., themselves
appeared on the stage, and performed, among other pieces, in the
Egeria of Metastasio and Hasse, and even in Gluck's works. Charles
VII. himself played on the harpsichord and the violoncello; and the
Empress mother, then seventy years of age, once said, in conversing with
Faustina (Hasse's widow at that time), "I am the oldest dramatic singer
in Europe; I made my début when I was five years old." Charles VI.
too, Leopold's successor, if not a musician, had, at least, considerable
taste in music; and Farinelli informed Dr. Burney that he was much
indebted to this sovereign for an admonition he once received from him.
The Emperor told the singer that his performance was surprising, and,
indeed, prodigious; but that all was unavailing as long as he did not
succeed in touching the heart. It would appear that at this time
Farinelli's style was wanting in simplicity and expressiveness; but an
artist of the intelligence and taste which his correspondence with
Metastasio proves him to have possessed, would be sure to correct
himself of any such failings the moment his attention was called to
them.

[Sidenote: SINGERS OF THE EIGHTEENTH CENTURY.]

The 18th century produced a multitude of great singers. Their voices
have gone with them; but we know from the music they sang, from the
embellishments and cadences which have been noted down, and which are as
good evidence now as when they were first executed, that those
virtuosi had brought the vocal art to a perfection of which, in these
later days, we meet with only the rarest examples. Is music to be
written for the sake of singers, or are singers to learn to sing for the
sake of music? Of the two propositions, I decidedly prefer the latter;
but it must, at the same time, be remarked, that unless the executive
qualities of the singer be studied to a considerable extent, the singer
will soon cease to pay much attention to his execution. Continue to give
him singable music, however difficult, and he will continue to learn to
sing, counting the difficulties to be overcome only as so many
opportunities for new triumphs; but if the music given to him is such as
can, perhaps even must, be shouted, it is to be expected that he will
soon cease to study the intricacies and delicacies of his art; and in
time, if music truly vocal be put before him, he will be unable to sing.

* * * * *

The great singers of the 17th century, to judge from the cantilenas of
Caccini's, Peri's, and Monteverde's operas, must have cultivated
expression rather than ornamentation; though what Mancini tells us about
the singing of Balthazar Ferri, and the manner in which it was received,
proves that the florid, highly-adorned style was also in vogue. These
early Italian virtuosi (a name which they adopted at the beginning of
the 17th century to distinguish themselves from mere actors) not only
possessed great acquirements as singers, but were also excellent
musicians; and many of them displayed great ability in matters quite
unconnected with their profession. Stradella, the only vocalist of whom
it is recorded that his singing saved his life, composed an opera, La
Forza dell Amor paterno, of which the manifold beauties caused him to
be proclaimed "beyond comparison the first Apollo of music:" the
following inscription being stamped by authority on the published
score--"Bastando il dirti, che il concerto di si perfetta melodia sia
valore d'un Alessandro, civè del Signor Stradella, riconoscinto senza
contrasto per il primo Apollo della musica." Atto, an Italian tenor,
who came to Paris with Leonora Baroni, and who had apartments given him
in Cardinal Mazarin's palace, was afterwards entrusted by that minister
with a political mission to the court of Bavaria, which, however, it
must be remembered, was just then presided over, not by an elector, but
by an electoress. Farinelli became the confidential adviser, if not the
actual minister (as has been often stated, but without foundation) of
the king of Spain. In the present day, the only virtuoso I know of
(the name has now a more general signification) who has been entrusted
with quasi-diplomatic functions is Vivier, the first horn player, and,
in his own way, the first humorist of the age; I believe it is no secret
that this facetious virtuoso fills the office of secretary to his
Excellency Vely Pasha.

[Sidenote: SINGERS OF THE EIGHTEENTH CENTURY.]

Bontempi, in his Historia Musica, gives the following account of the
school of singing directed by Mazzocchi, at Rome, in 1620: "At the
schools of Rome, the pupils were obliged to give up one hour every day
to the singing of difficult passages till they were well acquainted with
them; another to the practice of the shake; another to feats of
agility;[32] another to the study of letters; another to vocal
exercises, under the direction of a master, and before a looking-glass,
so that they might be certain they were making no disagreeable movement
of the muscles of the face, of the forehead, of the eyes, or of the
mouth. So much for the occupation of the morning. In the afternoon,
half-an-hour was devoted to the theory of singing; another half-hour to
counterpoint; an hour to hearing the rules of composition, and putting
them in practice on their tablets; another to the study of letters; and
the rest of the day to practising the harpsichord, to the composition of
some psalm, motet, canzonetta, or any other piece according to the
scholar's own ideas.

"Such were the ordinary exercises of the school in days when the
scholars did not leave the house. When they went out, they often walked
towards Monte Mario, and sang where they could hear the echo of their
notes, so that each might judge by the response of the justness of his
execution. They, moreover, sang at all the musical solemnities of the
Roman Churches; following, and observing with attention the manner and
style of an infinity of great singers who lived under the pontificate of
Urban VIII., so that they could afterwards render an account of their
observations to the master, who, the better to impress the result of
these studies on the minds of his pupils, added whatever remarks and
cautions he thought necessary."

With such a system as the above, it would have been impossible,
supposing the students to have possessed any natural disposition for
singing, not to have produced good singers. We have spoken already of
some of the best vocalists of the 18th century; of Faustina, Cuzzoni,
and Mingotti; of Nicolini, Senesino, and Farinelli. Of Farinelli's life,
however (which was so interesting that it has afforded to a German
composer the subject of one opera, to M. M. Scribe and Auber, that of
another, La part du Diable, and to M. Scribe the plan of "Carlo
Broschi," a tale), I must give a few more particulars; and this will
also be a convenient opportunity for sketching the careers of some two
or three others of the great Italian singers of this epoch, such as
Caffarelli, Gabrielli, Guadagni, &c.

First, as to his name. It is generally said that Carlo Broschi owed his
appellation of Farinelli to the circumstance of his father having been a
miller, or a flour merchant. This, however, is pure conjecture. No one
knows or cares who Carlo Broschi's father was, but he was called
"Farinelli," because he was the recognised protégé of the Farina
family; just as another singer, who was known to be one of Porpora's
favorite pupils, was named "Porporino."

[Sidenote: SINGERS' NICKNAMES.]

Descriptive nicknames were given to the celebrated musicians as well as
to the celebrated painters of Italy. Numerous composers and singers owed
their sobriquets

TO THEIR NATIVE COUNTRY; as--

Il Sassone (Hasse), born at Bergendorf, in Saxony;
Portogallo (Simao);
Lo Spagnuolo (Vincent Martin);
L'Inglesina (Cecilia Davies);
La Francesina (Elizabeth Duparc), who, after singing
for some years with success in Italy and at London,
was engaged by Handel in 1745, to take the principal
soprano parts in his oratorios:

TO THEIR NATIVE TOWN; as--

Buranello, of Burano (Galuppi);
Pergolese, of Pergola (Jesi);
La Ferrarese, of Ferrara (Francesca Gabrielli);
Senesino, of Sienna (Bernardi):

TO THE PROFESSION OF THEIR PARENTS; as--

La Cochetta (Catarina), whose father was cook
to Prince Gabrielli, at Rome:

TO THE PLACE THEY INHABITED; as--

Checca della Laguna, (Francesca of the Lagune):

TO THE NAME OF THEIR MASTER; as--

Caffarelli (Majorano), pupil of Caffaro;
Gizziello (Conti), pupil of Gizzi;
Porporino (Hubert), pupil of Porpora:

TO THE NAME OF THEIR PATRON; as--

Farinelli (Carlo Broschi), protected by the Farinas,
of Naples;
Gabrielli (Catarina), protected by Prince Gabrielli;

Cusanimo (Carestini), protected by the Cusani
family of Milan:

TO THE PART IN WHICH THEY HAD PARTICULARLY
DISTINGUISHED THEMSELVES; as--

Siface (Grossi), who had obtained a triumphant
success, as that personage, in Scarlatti's Mitridate.

But the most astonishing of all these nicknames was that given to
Lucrezia Aguiari, who, being a natural child, was called publicly, in
the playbills and in the newspapers, La Bastardina, or La
Bastardella.

Catarina, called Gabrielli, a singer to be ranked with the Faustinas and
Cuzzonis, naturally became disgusted with her appellation of la
cocchetta (little cook) as soon as she had acquired a little celebrity.
She accordingly assumed the name of Prince Gabrielli, her patron;
Francesca Gabrielli, who was in no way related to the celebrated
Catarina, keeping to that of Ferrarese, or Gabriellina, as she was
sometimes called.

But to return to my short anecdotal biographies of a few of these
singers.[33] Carlo Broschi, then, called "Farinelli," first
distinguished himself, at the age of seventeen, in a bravura with an
obligato trumpet accompaniment, which Porpora, his master, wrote
expressly for him, and for a German trumpet-player whose skill on that
instrument was prodigious. The air commenced with a sustained note,
given by the trumpet. This note was then taken up by the vocalist, who
held it with consummate art for such a length of time that the audience
fell into raptures with the beauty and fulness of his voice. The note
was then attacked, and held successively by the player and the singer,
pianissimo, crescendo, forte, fortissimo, diminuendo,
smorzando, perdendosi--of which the effect may be imagined from the
delirious transports of the lady who, on hearing this one note several
times repeated, hastened to proclaim in the same breath the unity of the
Deity and the uniqueness of Farinelli. This trumpet song occurs
originally in Porpora's Eomene; and Farinelli sang it for the first
time at Rome, in 1722. In London, in 1734, he introduced it in Hasse's
Artaserse, the opera in which he made his début, at the Lincoln's
Inn Theatre, under the direction of Porpora, his old preceptor.

[Sidenote: FARINELLI'S ONE NOTE.]

I, who have heard a good many fine singers, and one or two whose voices
I shall not easily forget, must confess myself unable to understand the
enthusiasm caused by Farinelli's one note, however wonderful the art
that produced it, however exquisite the gradations of sound which gave
it colour, and perhaps a certain appearance of life; for one musical
sound is, after all, not music. Bilboquet, in Dumersan and Varin's
admirable burlesque comedy of Les Saltimbanques, would, perhaps, have
understood it; and, really, when I read of the effect Farinelli
produced by keeping to one note, I cannot help thinking of the
directions given by the old humorist and scoundrel to an incompetent
débutant on the trombone. The amateur has the instrument put into his
hands, and, with great difficulty, succeeds in bringing out one note;
but, to save his life, he could not produce two. "Never mind," says
Bilboquet, "one note is enough. Keep on playing it, and people who are
fond of that note will be delighted." How little the authors of Les
Saltimbanques knew that one note had delighted and enchanted thousands!
Not only is truth stranger than fiction, but reality is more grotesque
even than a burlesque fancy.

Farinelli visited Paris in 1737, and sang before Louis XV., who,
according to Riccoboni, was delighted, though His Majesty cared very
little for music, and least of all for Italian music. It is also said
that, on the whole, Farinelli was by no means satisfied with his
reception in Paris, nor with the general distaste of the French for the
music of his country; and some writers go so far as to maintain that the
ill-will he always showed to France during his residence, in a
confidential position, at the Court of Madrid, was attributable to his
irritating recollections of his visit to the French capital. In 1752,
the Duke de Duras was charged with a secret mission to the Spanish Court
(concerning an alliance with France), which is supposed to have
miscarried through the influence of Farinelli; but there were plenty of
good reasons, independently of any personal dislike he may have had for
the French, for advising Ferdinand VI. to maintain his good
understanding with the cabinets of Vienna, London, and Turin.

[Sidenote: FARINELLI AT MADRID.]

Ferdinand's favourite singer remained ten years in his service; soothing
and consoling him with his songs, and, after a time, giving him valuable
political advice. Farinelli's quasi-ministerial functions did not
prevent him from continuing to sing every day. Every day, for ten years,
the same thing! Or rather, the same things, for His Majesty's particular
collection included as many as four different airs. Two of them were by
Hasse, Pallido il sole and Per questo dulce amplesso. The third was
a minuet, on which Farinelli improvised variations. It has been
calculated that during the ten years he sang the same airs, and never
anything else, about three thousand six hundred times. If Ferdinand VI.
had not, in the first instance, been half insane, surely this would have
driven him mad.

Caffarelli, hearing of Farinelli's success at Madrid, is said to have
made this curious observation: "He deserves to be Prime Minister; he has
an admirable voice."

[Sidenote: AN OPERATIC DUEL.]

Caffarelli was regarded as Farinelli's rival; and some critics,
including Porpora, who had taught both, considered him the greatest
singer of the two. This sopranist was notorious for his intolerable
insolence, of which numerous anecdotes are told. He would affect
indisposition, when persons of great importance were anxious to hear
him sing, and had engaged him for that purpose. "Omnibus hoc vitium
cantoribus;" but it may be said Caffarelli was capricious and
overbearing to an unusual extent. Metastasio, in one of his letters,
tells us that at a rehearsal which had been ordered at the Opera of
Vienna, all the performers obeyed the summons except Caffarelli; he
appeared, however, at the end of the rehearsal, and asked the company
with a very disdainful air, "What was the use of these rehearsals?" The
conductor answered, in a voice of authority, "that no one was called
upon to account to him for what was done; that he ought to be glad that
his failure in attendance had been suffered; that his presence or
absence was of little consequence to the success of the opera; but that
whatever he chose to do himself, he ought, at least, to let others do
their duty." Caffarelli, in a great rage, exclaimed "that he who had
ordered such a rehearsal was a solemn coxcomb." At this, all the
patience and dignity of the poet forsook him; "and getting into a
towering passion, he honoured the singer with all those glorious titles
which Caffarelli had earned in various parts of Europe, and slightly
touched, but in lively colours, some of the most memorable particulars
of his life; nor was he likely soon to come to a close; but the hero of
the panegyric, cutting the thread of his own praise, boldly called out
to his eulogist: 'Follow me, if thou hast courage, to a place where
there is none to assist thee, * * * * * The bystanders tremble; each
calls on his tutelar saint, expecting every moment to see poetical and
vocal blood besprinkle the harpsichords and double basses. But at length
the Signora Tesi, rising from under her canopy, where, till now, she had
remained a most tranquil spectator, walked with a slow and stately step
towards the combatants; when, O sovereign power of beauty! the frantic
Caffarelli, even in the fiercest paroxysm of his wrath, captivated and
appeased by this unexpected tenderness, runs with rapture to meet her;
lays his sword at her feet; begs pardon for his error; and generously
sacrificing to her his vengeance, seals, with a thousand kisses upon her
hand, his protestations of obedience, respect and humility. The nymph
signifies her forgiveness by a nod; the poet sheathes his sword; the
spectators begin to breathe again; and the tumultuous assembly breaks up
amid the joyous sounds of laughter."

Of Caffarelli a curious, and as it seems to me fabulous, story is told
to the effect that for five years Porpora allowed him to sing nothing
but a series of scales and exercises, all of which were written down on
one sheet of paper. According to this anecdote, Caffarelli, with a
patience which did not distinguish him in after life, asked seriously
after his five years' scale practice, when he was likely to get beyond
the rudiments of his art,--upon which Porpora suddenly exclaimed:--"Young
man you have nothing more to learn, you are the greatest singer in the
world." In London, however, coming after Farinelli, Caffarelli did not
meet with anything like the same success.

At Turin, when the Prince of Savoy told Caffarelli, after praising him
greatly, that the princess thought it hardly possible any singer could
please after Farinelli, "To night," exclaimed the sopranist, in the
fulness of his vanity, "she shall hear two Farinellis."

What would the English lady have said to this, who maintained that there
was but "one Farinelli?"

At sixty-five years of age, Caffarelli was still singing; but he had
made an enormous fortune--had purchased nothing less than a dukedom for
his nephew, and had built himself a superb palace, over the entrance of
which he placed the following modest inscription:--

"Amphion THEBAS, ego domum."

"Ille eum, sine tu!"

wrote a commentator beneath it.

* * * * *

Guadagni was the "creator" of the parts of Telemacco and Orfeo, in
the operas by Gluck, bearing those names. He sang in London in 1766, at
Venice the year afterwards, when he was made a Knight of St. Mark; at
Potsdam before the King of Prussia, in 1776, &c. Guadagni amassed a
large fortune, though he was at the same time noted for his generosity.
He has the credit of having lent large sums of money to men of good
family, who had ruined themselves. One of these impoverished gentlemen
said, after borrowing the sum of a hundred sequins from him--

"I only want it as a loan, I shall repay you."

"That is not my intention," replied the singer; "if I wanted to have it
back, I should not lend it to you."

* * * * *

[Sidenote: GABRIELLI.]

Gabrielli (Catarina) is described by Brydone, in his tour through
Sicily, in a letter, dated Palermo, July 27, 1770. She was at this time
upwards of thirty, but on the stage appeared to be scarcely eighteen;
and Brydone considers her to have been "the most dangerous syren of
modern times," adding, that she has made more conquests than any woman
living. "She was wonderfully capricious," he continues, "and neither
interest nor flattery, nor threats, nor punishment, had any power to
control her. Instead of singing her airs as other actresses do, for the
most part she hums them over a mezza voce, and no art whatever is
capable of making her sing when she does not choose it. The most
successful expedient has ever been found to prevail on her favourite
lover (for she always has one) to place himself in the centre of the pit
or the front box, and if they are on good terms, which is seldom the
case, she will address her tender airs to him, and exert herself to the
utmost. Her present inamorato promised to give us this specimen of his
power over her. He took his seat accordingly, but Gabrielli, probably
suspecting the connivance, would take no notice of him, so that even
this expedient does not always succeed. The viceroy, who is fond of
music, has tried every method with her to no purpose. Some time ago he
gave a great dinner, and sent an invitation to Gabrielli to be of the
party. Every other person came at the hour of invitation. The viceroy
ordered dinner to be put back, and sent to let her know that the company
had all arrived. The messenger found her reading in bed. She said she
was sorry for having made the company wait, and begged he would make her
apology, but really she had entirely forgotten her engagement. The
viceroy would have forgiven this piece of insolence, but when the
company went to the Opera, Gabrielli repeated her part with the utmost
negligence and indifference, and sang all her airs in what they call
sotto voce, that is, so low that they can scarcely be heard. The
viceroy was offended; but as he is a good tempered man, he was loth to
enforce his authority; but at last, by a perseverance in this insolent
stubbornness, she obliged him to threaten her with punishment in case
she any longer refused to sing. On this she grew more obstinate than
ever, declaring that force and authority would never succeed with her;
that he might make her cry, but never could make her sing. The viceroy
then sent her to prison, where she remained twelve days; during which
time she gave magnificent entertainments every day, paid the debts of
all the poor prisoners, and distributed large sums in charity. The
viceroy was obliged to give up struggling with her, and she was at last
set at liberty amidst the acclamations of the poor."

[Sidenote: GABRIELLI.]

Gabrielli said at this time that she should never dare to appear in
England, alleging as her reason that if, in a fit of caprice, which
might at any time attack her, she refused to sing, or lost her temper
and insulted the audience, they were said to be so ferocious that they
would probably murder her. She asserted, however, and, doubtless, with
truth, that it was not always caprice which prevented her singing, and
that she was often really indisposed and unable to sing, when the public
imagined that she absented herself from the theatre from caprice alone.

* * * * *

Mingotti used to say that the London public would admit that any one
might have a cold, a head-ache, or a fever, except a singer. In the
present day, our audiences often show the most unjustifiable anger
because, while half the people in a concert room are coughing and
sneezing, some favourite vocalist, with an exceptionally delicate
larynx, is unable to sing an air, of which the execution would be sure
to fatigue the voice even in its healthiest condition.

* * * * *

To Brydone's anecdotes of Gabrielli we may add another. The ambassador
of France at the court of Vienna was violently in love with our
capricious and ungovernable vocalist. In a fit of jealousy, he attempted
to stab her, and Gabrielli was only saved from transfixion by the
whalebone of her stays. As it was, she was slightly wounded. The
ambassador threw himself at the singer's feet and obtained her
forgiveness, on condition of giving up his sword, on which the offended
prima donna proposed to engrave the following words:--"The sword
of----, who on such a day in such a year, dared to strike La
Gabrielli." Metastasio, however, succeeded in persuading her to abandon
this intention.

In 1767 Gabrielli went to Parma, but wearied by the attentions of the
Infant, Don Philip ("her accursed hunch back"--gobbo maladetto--as she
called him), she escaped in secret the following year to St.
Petersburgh, where Catherine II. had invited her some time before. When
the empress enquired what terms the celebrated singer expected, the sum
of five thousand ducats was named.

"Five thousand ducats," replied Catherine; "not one of my field marshals
receives so much."

"Her majesty had better ask her field marshals to sing," said Gabrielli.

Catherine gave the five thousand ducats. "Whether the great Souvaroff's
jealousy was excited, is not recorded.

At this time the composer Galuppi was musical director at the Russian
court. He went to St. Petersburgh in 1766, and had just returned when
Dr. Burney saw him at Venice. Among the other great composers who
visited Russia in Catherine's reign were Cimarosa and Paisiello, the
latter of whom produced his Barbiere di Siviglia, at St. Petersburgh,
in 1780.

Most of the celebrated Italian vocalists of the 18th century visited
Vienna, Dresden, London and Madrid, as well as the principal cities of
their own country, and sometimes even Paris, where both Farinelli and
Caffarelli sang, but only at concerts. "I had hoped," says Rousseau,
"that Caffarelli would give us at the 'Concert Spirituel' some specimen
of grand recitative, and of the pathetic style of singing, that
pretended connoisseurs might hear once for all what they have so often
pronounced an opinion upon; but from his reasons for doing nothing of
the kind I found that he understood his audience better than I did."

* * * * *

[Sidenote: THE OPERA IN PRUSSIA AND RUSSIA.]

It was not until the accession of Frederick the Great, warrior, flute
player, and severe protector of the arts in general, that the Italian
Opera was established in Berlin; and it had been reserved for Catherine
the Great to introduce it into St. Petersburgh. In proportion as the
Opera grew in Prussia and Russia it faded in Poland, and its decay at
the court of the Elector of Saxony was followed shortly afterwards by
the first signs of the infamous partition.

Frederick the Great's favourite composers were Hasse, Agricola, and
Graun, the last of whom wrote a great number of Italian operas for the
Berlin Theatre. When Dr. Burney was at Berlin, in 1772, there were fifty
performers in the orchestra. There was a large chorus, and a numerous
ballet, and several principal singers of great merit. The king defrayed
the expenses of the whole establishment. He also officiated as general
conductor, standing in the pit behind the chef d'orchestre, so as to
have a view of the score, and drilling his musical troops in true
military fashion. We are told that if any mistake was committed on the
stage, or in the orchestra, the king stopped the offender, and
admonished him; and it is really satisfactory to know, that if a singer
ventured to alter a single passage in his part (which almost every
singer does in the present day) His Majesty severely reprimanded him,
and ordered him to keep to the notes written by the composer. It was not
the Opera of Paris, nor of London, nor of New York that should have been
called the Academy, but evidently that of Berlin.

The celebrated Madame Mara sang for many years at the Berlin Opera. When
her father Herr Schmaling first endeavoured to get her engaged by the
king of Prussia, Frederick sent his principal singer Morelli to hear her
and report upon her merits.

[Sidenote: AN OPERATIC MARTINET.]

"She sings like a German," said the prejudiced Morelli, and the king,
who declared that he should as soon expect to receive pleasure from the
neighing of his horse as from a German singer, paid no further attention
to Schmaling's application. The daughter, however, had heard of the
king's sarcasm, and was determined to prove how ill-founded it was.
Mademoiselle Schmaling made her début with great success at Dresden,
and afterwards, in 1771, went to Berlin. The king, when the young
vocalist was presented to him, after a few uncourteous observations,
asked her if she could sing at sight, and placed before her a very
difficult bravura song. Mademoiselle Schmaling executed it to
perfection, upon which Frederick paid her a multitude of compliments,
made her a handsome present, and appointed her prima donna of his
company.

When Madame Mara in 1780 wished to visit England with her husband, (who
was a dissipated violoncellist, belonging to the Berlin orchestra) the
king positively prohibited their departure, and on their escaping to
Vienna, sent a despatch to the Emperor Joseph II., requesting him to
arrest the fugitives and send them back. The emperor, however, merely
gave them a hint that they had better get out of Vienna as soon as
possible, when he would inform the king that his messenger had arrived
too late. Afterwards, as soon as it was thought she could do so with
safety, Madame Mara made her appearance at the Viennese Opera and sang
there with great success for nearly two years.

According to another version of Madame Mara's flight, she was arrested
before she had passed the Prussian frontier, and separated from her
husband, who was shut up in a fortress, and instead of performing on the
violoncello in the orchestra of the Opera, was made to play the drum at
the head of a regiment. The tears of the singer had no effect upon the
inflexible monarch, and it was only by giving up a portion of her salary
(so at least runs this anecdote of dubious authenticity) that she could
obtain M. Mara's liberation. In any case it is certain that the position
of this "prima donna" by no means "assoluta," at the court of a
very absolute king, was by no means an agreeable one, and that she had
not occupied it many years before she endeavoured to liberate herself
from it by every device in her power, including such disobedience of
orders as she hoped would entail her prompt dismissal. On one occasion,
when the Cæsarevitch, afterwards Paul I., was at Berlin, and Madame Mara
was to take the principal part in an opera given specially in his
honour, she pretended to be ill, and sent word to the theatre that she
would be unable to appear. The king informed her on the morning of the
day fixed for the performance that she had better get well, for that
well or ill she would have to sing. Nevertheless Madame Mara remained at
home and in bed. Two hours before the time fixed for the commencement of
the opera, a carriage, escorted by a few dragoons, stopped at her door,
and an officer entered her room to announce that he had orders from His
Majesty to bring her alive or dead to the theatre.

"But you see I am in bed, and cannot get up," remonstrated the vocalist.

"In that case I must take the bed too," was the reply.

It was impossible not to obey. Bathed in tears she allowed herself to be
taken to her dressing room, put on her costume, but resolved at the same
time to sing in such a manner that the king should repent of his
violence. She conformed to her determination throughout the first act,
but it then occurred to her that the Russian grand duke would carry
away a most unworthy opinion of her talent. She quite changed her
tactics, sang with all possible brilliancy, and is reported in
particular to have sustained a shake for such a length of time and with
such wonderful modulations of voice, that his Imperial Highness was
enchanted, and applauded the singer enthusiastically.

[Sidenote: THE MARATISTES AND TODISTES.]

In Paris Madame Mara was received with enthusiasm, and founded the
celebrated party of the Maratistes, to which was opposed the almost
equally distinguished sect of the Todistes. Madame Todi was a
Portuguese, and she and Madame Mara were the chief, though contending,
attractions at the Concert Spirituel of Paris, in 1782. These rivalries
between singers have occasioned, in various countries and at various
times, a good many foolish verses and mots. The Mara and Todi
disputes, however, inspired one really good stanza, which is as
follows:--

"Todi par sa voix touchante,
De doux pleurs mouille mes yeux;
Mara plus vive, plus brillante,
M'étonne, me transporte aux cieux.
L'une ravit et l'autre enchante,
Mais celle qui plait le mieux,
Est toujours celle qui chante."

Of Madame Mara's performances in London, where she obtained her greatest
and most enduring triumphs, I shall speak in another chapter.

* * * * *

A good notion of the weak points in the Opera in Italy during the early
part of the 18th century is given, that is to say, is conveyed
ironically, in the celebrated satire by Marcello, entitled Teatro a la
Moda, &c., &c.[34]

[Sidenote: MARCELLO'S SATIRE.]

The author begins by telling the poet, that "there is no occasion for
his reading, or having read, the old Greek and Latin authors: for this
good reason, that the ancients never read any of the works of the
moderns. He will not ask any questions about the ability of the
performers, but will rather inquire whether the theatre is provided with
a good bear, a good lion, a good nightingale, good thunder, lightning
and earthquakes. He will introduce a magnificent show in his last scene,
and conclude with the usual chorus in honour of the sun, the moon or the
manager. In dedicating his libretto to some great personage, he will
select him for his riches rather than his learning, and will give a
share of the gratuity to his patron's cook, or maître d'hôtel, from whom
he will obtain all his titles, that he may blazon them on his title
pages with an &c., &c. He will exalt the great man's family and
ancestors; make an abundant use of such phrases as liberality and
generosity of soul; and if he can find any subject of eulogy (as is
often the case), he will say, that he is silent through fear of hurting
his patron's modesty; but that fame, with her hundred brazen trumpets,
will spread his immortal name from pole to pole. He will do well to
protest to the reader that his opera was composed in his youth, and may
add that it was written in a few days: by this he will show that he is a
true modern, and has a proper contempt for the antiquated precept,
nonumque prematur in annum. He may add, too, that he became a poet
solely for his amusement, and to divert his mind from graver
occupations; but that he had published his work by the advice of his
friends and the command of his patrons, and by no means from any love of
praise or desire of profit. He will take care not to neglect the usual
explanation of the three great points of every drama, the place, time,
and action; the place, signifying in such and such a theatre; the time,
from eight to twelve o'clock at night; the action, the ruin of the
manager. The incidents of the piece should consist of dungeons, daggers,
poison, boar-hunts, earthquakes, sacrifices, madness, and so forth;
because the people are always greatly moved by such unexpected things. A
good modern poet ought to know nothing about music, because the
ancients, according to Strabo, Pliny, &c., thought this knowledge
necessary. At the rehearsals he should never tell his meaning to any of
the performers, wisely reflecting that they always want to do everything
in their own way. If a husband and wife are discovered in prison, and
one of them is led away to die, it is indispensable that the other
remain to sing an air, which should be to lively words, to relieve the
feelings of the audience, and make them understand that the whole
affair is a joke. If two of the characters make love, or plot a
conspiracy, it should always be in the presence of servants and
attendants. The part of a father or tyrant, when it is the principal
character, should always be given to a soprano; reserving the tenors and
basses for captains of the guard, confidants, shepherds, messengers, and
so forth.

[Sidenote: MARCELLO'S SATIRE.]

"The modern composer is told that there is no occasion for his being
master of the principles of composition, a little practice being all
that is necessary. He need not know anything of poetry, or give himself
any trouble about the meaning of the words, or even the quantities of
the syllables. Neither is it necessary that he should study the
properties of the stringed or wind instruments; if he can play on the
harpsichord, it will do very well. It will, however, be not amiss for
him to have been for some years a violin-player, or music-copier for
some celebrated composer, whose original scenes he may treasure up, and
thus supply himself with subjects for his airs, recitations, or
choruses. He will by no means think of reading the opera through, but
will compose it line by line; using for the airs, motivi which he has
lying by him; and if the words do not go well below the notes, he will
torment the poet till they are altered to his mind. When the singer
comes to a cadence, the composer will make all the instruments stop,
leaving it to the singer to do whatever he pleases. He will serve the
manager on very low terms, considering the thousands of crowns that the
singers cost him:--he will, therefore, content himself with an inferior
salary to the lowest of these, provided that he is not wronged by the
bear, the attendants or the scene-shifters being put above him. When he
is walking with the singers, he will always give them the wall, keep his
hat in his hand, and remain a step in the rear; considering that the
lowest of them, on the stage, is at least a general, a captain of the
guards, or some such personage. All the airs should be formed of the
same materials--long divisions, holding notes, and repetitions of
insignificant words, as amore, amore, impero, impero, Europa, Europa,
furori, furori, orgoglio, orgoglio, &c.; and therefore the composer
should have before him a memorandum of the things necessary for the
termination of every air. This will enable him to eschew variety, which
is no longer in use. After ending a recitative in a flat key, he will
suddenly begin an air in three or four sharps; and this by way of
novelty. If the modern composer wishes to write in four parts, two of
them must proceed in unison or octave, only taking care that there shall
be a diversity of movement; so that if the one part proceeds by minims
or crotchets, the other will be in quavers or semiquavers. He will charm
the audience with airs, accompanied by the stringed instruments
pizzicati or con sordini, trumpets, and other effective
contrivances. He will not compose airs with a simple bass accompaniment,
because this is no longer the custom; and, besides, he would take as
much time to compose one of these as a dozen with the orchestra. The
modern composer will oblige the manager to furnish him with a large
orchestra of violins, oboes, horns, &c., saving him rather the expense
of double basses, of which there is no occasion to make any use, except
in tuning at the outset. The overture will be a movement in the French
style, or a prestissimo in semiquavers in a major key, to which will
succeed a piano in the minor; concluding with a minuet, gavot or jig,
again in the major key. In this manner the composer will avoid all
fugues, syncopations, and treatment of subjects, as being antiquated
contrivances, quite banished from modern music. The modern composer will
be most attentive to all the ladies of the theatre, supplying them with
plenty of old songs transposed to suit their voices, and telling each of
them that the Opera is supported by her talent alone. He will bring
every night some of his friends, and seat them in the orchestra; giving
the double bass or violoncello (as being the most useless instruments)
leave of absence to make room for them.

[Sidenote: MARCELLO'S SATIRE.]

"The singer is informed that there is no occasion for having practised
the solfeggio; because he would thus be in danger of acquiring a firm
voice, just intonation, and the power of singing in tune; things wholly
useless in modern music. Nor is it very necessary that he should be able
to read or write, know how to pronounce the words or understand their
meaning, provided he can run divisions, make shakes, cadences, &c. He
will always complain of his part, saying that it is not in his way,
that the airs are not in his style, and so on; and he will sing an air
by some other composer, protesting that at such a court, or in the
presence of such a great personage, that air carried away all the
applause, and he was obliged to repeat it a dozen times in an evening.
At the rehearsals he will merely hum his airs, and will insist on having
the time in his own way. He will stand with one hand in his waistcoat
and the other in his breeches' pocket, and take care not to allow a
syllable to be heard. He will always keep his hat on his head, though a
person of quality should speak to him, in order to avoid catching cold;
and he will not bow his head to anybody, remembering the kings, princes,
and emperors whom he is in the habit of personating. On the stage he
will sing with shut teeth, doing all he can to prevent a word he says
from being understood, and, in the recitatives, paying no respect either
to commas or periods. While another performer is reciting a soliloquy or
singing an air, he will be saluting the company in the boxes, or
listening with musicians in the orchestra, or the attendants; because
the audience knows very well that he is Signor So-and-so, the musico,
and not Prince Zoroastro, whom he is representing. A modern virtuoso
will be hard to prevail on to sing at a private party. When he arrives
he will walk up to the mirror, settle his wig, draw down his ruffles,
and pull up his cravat to show his diamond brooch. He will then touch
the harpsichord very carelessly, and begin his air three or four times,
as if he could not recollect it. Having granted this great favour, he
will begin talking (by way of gathering applause) with some lady,
telling her stories about his travels, correspondence and professional
intrigues; all the while ogling his companion with passionate glances,
and throwing back the curls of his peruke, sometimes on one shoulder,
sometimes on the other. He will every minute offer the lady snuff in a
different box, in one of which he will point out his own portrait; and
will show her some magnificent diamond, the gift of a distinguished
patron, saying that he would offer it for her acceptance were it not for
delicacy. Thus he will, perhaps, make an impression on her heart, and,
at all events, make a great figure in the eyes of the company. In the
society of the literary men, however eminent, he will always take
precedence, because, with most people, the singer has the credit of
being an artist, while the literary man has no consideration at all. He
will even advise them to embrace his profession, as the singer has
plenty of money as well as fame, while the man of letters is very apt to
die of hunger. If the singer is a bass, he should constantly sing tenor
passages as high as he can. If a tenor, he ought to go as low as he can
in the scale of the bass, or get up, with a falsetto voice, into the
regions of the contralto, without minding whether he sings through his
nose or his throat. He will pay his court to all the principal
cantatrici and their protectors; and need not despair, by means of
his talent and exemplary modesty, to acquire the title of a count,
marquis, or chevalier.

"The prima donna receives ample instructions in her duties both on and
off the stage. She is taught how to make engagements and to screw the
manager up to exorbitant terms; how to obtain the "protection" of rash
amateurs, who are to attend her at all times, pay her expenses, make her
presents, and submit to her caprices. She is taught to be careless at
rehearsals, to be insolent to the other performers, and to perform all
manner of musical absurdities on the stage. She must have a music-master
to teach her variations, passages and embellishments to her airs; and
some familiar friend, an advocate or a doctor, to teach her how to move
her arms, turn her head, and use her handkerchief, without telling her
why, for that would only confuse her head. She is to endeavour to vary
her airs every night; and though the variations may be at cross purposes
with the bass, or the violin part, or the harmony of the accompaniments,
that matters little, as a modern conductor is deaf and dumb. In her airs
and recitatives, in action, she will take care every night to use the
same motions of her hand, her head, her fan, and her handkerchief. If
she orders a character to be put in chains, and addresses him in an air
of rage or disdain, during the symphony she should talk and laugh with
him, point out to him people in the boxes, and show how very little she
is in earnest. She will get hold of a new passage in rapid triplets, and
introduce it in all her airs, quick, slow, lively, or sad; and the
higher she can rise in the scale, the surer she will be of having all
the principal parts allotted her," &c., &c.

Enough, however, of this excellent but somewhat fatiguing irony; and let
me conclude this chapter with a few words about the librettists of the
18th century. The best libretti of Apostolo Zeno, Calsabigi and
Metastasio, such as the Demofonte, the Artaserse, the Didone, and
above all the Olimpiade, have been set to music by dozens of
composers. Piccinni, and Sacchini each composed music twice to the
Olimpiade; Jomelli set Didone twice and Demofonte twice; Hasse
wrote two operas on the libretto of the Nittetti, two on that of
Artemisia, two on Artaserse, and three on Arminio. The excellence
of these opera-books in a dramatic point of view is sufficiently shown
by the fact that many of them, including Metastasio's Didone,
Issipile and Artaserse have been translated into French, and played
with success as tragedies. The Clemenza di Tito, by the same author
(which in a modified form became the libretto of Mozart's last opera)
was translated into Russian and performed at the Moscow Theatre during
the reign of the Empress Elizabeth.

In the present day, several of Scribe's best comic operas have been
converted into comic dramas for the English stage, while others by the
same author have been made the groundwork of Italian libretti. Thus
Le Philtre and La Somnambule are the originals of Donizetti's
Elisir d'amore and Bellini's Sonnambula. Several of Victor Hugo's
admirably constructed dramas have also been laid under contribution by
the Italian librettists of the present day. Donizetti's Lucrezia is
founded on Lucrèce Borgia; Verdi's Ernani on Hernani, his
Rigoletto on Le Roi s'amuse.

[Sidenote: LIBRETTI.]

Our English writers of libretti are about as original as the rest of
our dramatists. The Bohemian Girl is not only identical in subject
with La Gitana, but is a translation of an unpublished opera founded
on that ballet and written by M. St. George. The English version is
evidently called The Bohemian Girl from M. St. George having entitled
his manuscript opera La Bohémienne, and from Mr. Bunn having mistaken
the meaning of the word. It is less astonishing that the manager of a
theatre should commit such an error than that no one should hitherto
have pointed it out. The heroine of the opera is not a Bohemian, but a
gipsey; and Bohemia has nothing to do with the piece, the action taking
place in some portion of the "fair land of Poland," which, as the
librettist informs us, was "trod by the hoof;" though whether in
Russian, in Austrian or in Prussian Poland we are not informed. La
Zingara has often been played at Vienna, and I have seen La Gitana at
Moscow. Probably the Austrians lay the scene of the drama in the
Russian, and the Russians in the Austrian, dominions. Fortunately, Mr.
Balfe has given no particular colour to the music of his Bohemian
Girl, which, as far as can be judged from the melodies sung by her, is
as much (and as little) a Bohemian girl as a gipsey girl, or a Polish
girl, or indeed any other girl. The libretti of Mr. Balfe's
Satanella, Rose of Castille, Maid of Honour, Bondsman, &c., are
all founded on French pieces. Mr. Wallace's Maritana, is, I need
hardly say, founded on the French drama of Don Cæsar de Bazan. But
there is unmistakeable originality in the libretto of this composer's
Lurline, though the chief incidents are, of course, taken from the
well-known German legend on which Mendelsohn commenced writing his opera
of Loreley.

[Sidenote: NATIONAL STYLES.]

One of the very few good original libretti in the English language is
that of Robin Hood, by Mr. Oxenford. The best of all English libretti,
in point of literary merit, being probably Dryden's Albion and
Albanius, while the best French libretto in all respects is decidedly
Victor Hugo's Esmeralda. Mr. Macfarren has, in many places, given
quite an English character to the music of Robin Hood, though, in
doing so, he has not (as has been asserted) founded a national style of
operatic music; for the same style applied to subjects not English might
be found as inappropriate as the music of The Barber of Seville would
be adapted to Tom and Jerry. A great deal can be written and very
little decided about this question of nationality of style in music. If
Auber's style is French, (instead of being his own, as I should say)
what was that of Rameau? If "The Marseillaise" is such a thoroughly
French air (as every one admits), how is it that it happens to be an
importation from Germany? The Royalist song of "Pauvre Jacques" passed
for French, but it was Dibdin's "Poor Jack." How is it that "Malbrook"
sounds so French, and "We won't go home till morning" so English--an
attempt, by the way, having been made to show that the airs common to
both these songs were sung originally by the Spanish Moors? I fancy the
great point, after all, is to write good music; and if it be written to
good English words, full of English rhythm and cadence, it will, from
that alone, derive a sufficiently English character.

Handel appears to me to have done far greater service to English Opera
than Arne or any of our English and pseudo-English operatic composers
whose works are now utterly forgotten, except by musical antiquaries;
for Handel established Italian Opera among us on a grand artistic scale,
and since then, at Her Majesty's Theatre, and subsequently at the
comparatively new Royal Italian Opera, all the finest works, whether of
the Italian, the German, or the French school, have been brought out as
fast as they have been produced abroad, and, on the whole, in very
excellent style. English Opera has no history, no unbroken line of
traditions; it has no regular sequence of operatic weeks by native
composers; but at our Italian Opera Houses, the whole history of
dramatic music has been exemplified, and from Gluck to Verdi is still
exemplified in the present day. We take no note, it is true, of the old
French composers,--Lulli, who begat Rameau, and Rameau, who begat no
one--and for the reason just indicated. There are plenty of amusing
stories about the Académie Royale from its very foundation, but the
true history of dramati





Next: French Opera From Lulli To The Death Of Rameau

Previous: The Italian Opera Under Handel



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