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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




Introduction And Progress Of The Ballet








The Ballets of Versailles.--Louis XIV. astonished at his own
importance.--Louis retires from the stage; congratulations
addressed to him on the subject; he re-appears.--Privileges of
Opera dancers and singers.--Manners and customs of the Parisian
public.--The Opera under the regency.--Four ways of presenting a
petition.--Law and the financial scheme.--Charon and paper
money.--The Duke of Orleans as a composer.--An orchestra in a court
of justice.--Handel in Paris.--Madame Sallé; her reform in the
Ballet, and her first appearance in London.


[Sidenote: A CORPS OF NOBLES.]

After the Opera comes the Ballet. Indeed, the two are so intimately
mixed together that it would be impossible in giving the history of the
one to omit all mention of the other. The Ballet, as the name
sufficiently denotes, comes to us from the French, and in the sense of
an entertainment exclusively in dancing, dates from the foundation of
the Académie Royale de Musique, or soon afterwards. During the first
half of the 17th century, and even earlier, ballets were performed at
the French court, under the direction of an Italian, who, abandoning his
real name of Baltasarini, had adopted that of Beaujoyeux. He it was who
in 1581 produced the "Ballet Comique de la Royne," to celebrate the
marriage of the Duc de Joyeuse. This piece, which was magnificently
appointed, and of which the representation is said to have cost
3,600,000 francs, was an entertainment consisting of songs, dances, and
spoken dialogue, and appears to have been the model of the masques which
were afterwards until the middle of the 17th century represented in
England, and of most of the ballets performed in France until about the
same period. There were dancers engaged at the French Opera from its
very commencement, but it was difficult to obtain them in any numbers,
and, worst of all, there were no female dancers to be found. The company
of vocalists could easily be recruited from the numerous cathedral
choirs; for the Ballet there were only the dancing-masters of the
capital to select from, the profession of dancing-mistress not having
yet been invented. Nymphs, dryads, and shepherdesses were for some time
represented by young boys, who, like the fauns, satyrs, and all the rest
of the dancing troop wore masks. At last, however, in 1681, Terpsichore
was worthily represented by dancers of her own sex, and an aristocratic
corps de ballet was formed, with Madame la Dauphine, the Princess de
Conti, and Mdlle. de Nantes as principal dancers, supported by the
Dauphin, the Prince de Conti and the Duke de Vermandois. They appeared
in the Triomphe de l'Amour, and the astounding exhibition was fully
appreciated. Previously, the ladies of the court, when they appeared in
ballets, had confined themselves to reciting verses, which sometimes,
moreover, were said for them by an orator engaged for the purpose. To
see a court lady dancing on the stage was quite a novelty; hence, no
doubt, the success of that spectacle.

[Sidenote: QUADRILLES AND COUNTRY DANCES.]

The first celebrated ballerina at the French Opera was Mademoiselle La
Fontaine, styled la reine de la danse--a title of which the value was
somewhat diminished by the fact that there were only three other
professional danseuses in Paris. Lulli, however, paid great attention to
the ballet, and under his direction it soon gained importance. To Lulli,
who occasionally officiated as ballet-master, is due the introduction of
rapid style of dancing, which must have contrasted strongly with the
stately solemn steps that were alone in favour at the Court during the
early days of Louis XIV's reign. The minuet-loving Louis had notoriously
an aversion for gay brilliant music. Thus he failed altogether to
appreciate the talent of "little Baptiste" not Lulli, but Anet, a pupil
of Corelli, who is said to have played the sonatas of his master very
gracefully, and with an "agility" which at that time was considered
prodigious. The Great Monarch preferred the heavy monotonous strains of
his own Baptiste, the director of the Opera. It may here be not out of
place to mention that Lulli's introduction of a lively mode of dancing
into France (it was only in his purely operatic music that he was so
lugubriously serious) took place simultaneously with the importation
from England of the country-dance--and corrupted into contre-danse,
which is now the French for quadrille. Moreover, when the French took
our country-dance, a name which some etymologists would curiously enough
derive from its meaningless corruption--we adopted their minuet which
was first executed in England by the Marquis de Flamarens, at the Court
of Charles II. The passion of our English noblemen for country-dances is
recorded as follows in the memoirs of the Count de Grammont:--"Russel
was one of the most vigorous dancers in England, I mean for
country-dances (contre-danses). He had a collection of two or three
hundred arranged in tables, which he danced from the book; and to prove
that he was not old, he sometimes danced till he was exhausted. His
dancing was a good deal like his clothes; it had been out of fashion
twenty years."

Every one knows that Louis XIV. was a great actor; and even his mother,
Anne of Austria, appeared on the stage at the Court of Madrid to the
astonishment and indignation of the Spaniards, who said that she was
lost for them, and that it was not as Infanta of Spain, but as Queen of
France, that she had performed.

On the occasion of Louis XIV.'s marriage with Marie Therèse, the
celebrated expression Il n'y plus de Pyrenées was illustrated by a
ballet, in which a French nymph and a Spanish nymph sang a duet while
half the dancers were dressed in the French and half in the Spanish
costume.

Like other illustrious stars, Louis XIV. took his farewell of the stage
more than once before he finally left it. His Histrionic Majesty was in
the habit both of singing and dancing in the court ballets, and took
great pleasure in reciting such graceful compliments to himself as the
following:--

"Plus brilliant et mieux fait que tous les dieux ensemble
La terre ni le ciel n'ont rien qui me ressemble."
(Thétis et Pélée.--Benserade. 1654),

"Il n'est rien de si grand dans toute la nature
Selon l'âme et le coeur au point où je me vois;
De la terre et de moi qui prendra la mesure
Trouvera que la terre est moins grande que moi."
(L'Impatience.--Benserade. 1661).

On the 15th February, 1669, Louis XIV. sustained his favourite character
of the Sun, in Flora, the eighteenth ballet in which he had played a
part--and the next day solemnly announced that his dancing days were
over, and that he would exhibit himself no more. The king had not only
given his royal word, but for nine months had kept it, when Racine
produced his Britannicus, in which the following lines are spoken by
"Narcisse" in reference to Nero's performances in the amphitheatre.

Pour toute ambition pour vertu singulière
Il excelle à conduire un char dans la carrière;
A disputer des prix indignes des ses mains,
A se donner lui-même en spectacle aux Romains,
A venir prodiguer sa voix sur un théâtre
A réciter des chants qu'il veut qu'on idolâtre;
Tandis que des soldats, de moments en moments,
Vont arracher pour lui des applaudissements.

[Sidenote: LOUIS RETURNS TO THE STAGE.]

The above lines have often been quoted as an example of virtuous
audacity on the part of Racine, who, however, did not write them until
the monarch who at one time did not hesitate to "se donner lui même en
spectacle, &c.," had confessed his fault and vowed never to repeat it;
so that instead of a lofty rebuke, the verses were in fact an indirect
compliment neatly and skilfully conveyed. So far from profiting by
Racine's condemnation of Nero's frivolity and shamelessness, and
retiring conscience-stricken from the stage (of which he had already
taken a theatrical farewell) Louis XIV. reappeared the year afterwards,
in Les amants magnifiques, a Comédie-ballet, composed by Molière and
himself, in which the king figured and was applauded as author,
ballet-master, dancer, mime, singer, and performer on the flute and
guitar. He had taken lessons on the latter instrument from the
celebrated Francisco Corbetta, who afterwards made a great sensation in
England at the Court of Charles II.

If Louis XIV. did not scruple to assume the part of an actor himself,
neither did he think it unbecoming that his nobles should do the same,
even in presence of the general public and on the stage of the Grand
Opera. "We wish, and it pleases us," he says in the letters patent
granted to the Abbé Perrin, the first director of the Académie Royale de
Musique (1669) "that all gentlemen (gentilshommes) and ladies may sing
in the said pieces and representations of our Royal Academy without
being considered for that reason to derogate from their titles of
nobility, or from their privileges, rights and immunities." Among the
nobles who profited by this permission and appeared either as singers,
or as dancers at the Opera, were the Seigneur du Porceau, and Messieurs
de Chasré and Borel de Miracle; and Mesdemoiselles de Castilly, de Saint
Christophe, and de Camargo. Another privilege accorded to the Opera was
of such an infamous nature that were it not for positive proof we could
scarcely believe it to have existed. It had full control, then, over all
persons whose names were once inscribed on its books; and if a young
girl went of her own accord, or was persuaded into presenting herself at
the Opera, or was led away from her parents and her name entered on the
lists by her seducer--then in neither case had her family any further
power over her. Lettres de cachet even were issued, commanding the
persons named therein to join the Opera; and thus the Count de Melun got
possession of both the Camargos. The Duke de Fronsac was enabled to
perpetrate a similar act of villany. He it is who is alluded to in the
following lines by Gilbert:--

"Qu'on la séduise! Il dit: ses eunuques discrets,
Philosophes abbés, philosophes valets,
Intriguent, sèment l'or, trompent les yeux d'un père,
Elle cède, on l'enlève; en vain gémit sa mère.
Echue à l'Opéra par un rapt solennel,
Sa honte la dérobe au pouvoir paternel."

[Sidenote: INVENTION OF THE BALLET.]

As for men they were sent to the Opera as they were sent to the
Bastille. Several amateurs, abbés and others, the beauty of whose voices
had been remarked, were arrested by virtue of lettres de cachet, and
forced to appear at the Académie Royale de Musique, which had its
conscription like the army and navy. On the other hand, we have seen
that the pupils and associates of the Académie enjoyed certain
privileges, such as freedom from parental restraint and the right of
being immoral; to which was afterwards added that of setting creditors
at defiance. The pensions of singers, dancers, and musicians belonging
to the Opera were exempted from all liability to seizure for debt.

The dramatic ballet, or ballet d'action, was invented by the Duchess
du Maine. We soon afterwards imported it into England as, in Opera, we
imported the chorus, which was also a French invention, and one for
which the musical drama can scarcely be too grateful. The dramatic
ballet, however, has never been naturalized in this country. It still
crosses over to us occasionally, and when we are tired of it goes back
again to its native land; but even as an exotic, it has never fairly
taken root in English soil.

The Duchess du Maine was celebrated for her Nuits de Sceaux, or Nuits
Blanches, as they were called, which the nobles of Louis XIV.'s Court
found as delightful as they found Versailles dull. The Duchess used to
get up lotteries among her most favoured guests, in which the prizes
were so many permissions to give a magnificent entertainment. The
letters of the alphabet were placed in a box, and the one who drew O had
to get up an opera; C stood for a comedy; B for a ballet; and so on. The
hostess of Sceaux had not only a passion for theatrical performances,
but also a great love of literature, and the idea occurred to her of
realising on the stage of her own theatre something like one of those
pantomimes of antiquity of which she had read the descriptions with so
much pleasure. Accordingly, she took the fourth act of Les Horaces,
had it set to music by Mouret, just as if it were to be sung, and caused
this music to be executed by the orchestra alone, while Balon and
Mademoiselle Prévost, who were celebrated as dancers, but had never
attempted pantomime before, played in dumb show the part of the last
Horatius, and of Camilla, the sister of the Curiatii. The actor and
actress entered completely into the spirit of the new drama, and
performed with such truthfulness and warmth of emotion as to affect the
spectators to tears.

Mouret, the musical director of Les Nuits Blanches, composed several
operas and ballets for the Académie; but when the establishment at
Sceaux was broken up, after the discovery of the Spanish conspiracy, in
which the Duchess du Maine was implicated, he considered himself ruined,
went mad and died at Charenton in the lunatic asylum.

* * * * *

[Sidenote: THE FREE LIST.]

"Long live the Regent, who would rather go to the Opera than to the
Mass," was the cry when on the death of Louis XIV., the reins of
government were assumed by the Duke of Orleans. At this time the whole
expenses of the Opera, including chorus, ballet, musicians, scene
painters, decorators, &c.--from the prima donna to the
bill-sticker--amounted only to 67,000 francs a year, being considerably
less than half what is given now to a first-rate soprano alone. The
first act of the Regent in connexion with the Opera was to take its
direction out of the hands of musicians, and appoint the Duc d'Antin
manager. The new impresario, wishing to reward Thévanard, who was at
that time the best singer in France, offered him the sum of 600 francs.
Thévanard indignantly refused it, saying "that it was a suitable
present, at most, for his valet," upon which d'Antin proposed to
imprison the singer for his insolence, but abstained from doing so, for
fear of irritating the public with whom Thévanard was a prodigious
favourite. He, however, resigned the direction of the Opera, saying that
he "wished to have nothing more to do with such canaille."

The next operatic edict of the Regent had reference to the admission of
authors, who hitherto had enjoyed the privilege of free entry to the
pit. In 1718 the Regent raised them to the amphitheatre--not as a mark
of respect, but in order that they might be the more readily detected
and expelled in case of their forming cabals to hiss the productions of
their rivals, which, standing up in the pit in the midst of a dense
crowd, they had been able to do with impunity. Even to the present day,
when authors exchange applause much more freely than hisses, the
regulations of the French theatre do not admit them to the pit, though
they have free access to every other part of the house.

At the commencement of the 18th century, the Opera was the scene of
frequent disturbances. The Count de Talleyrand, MM. de Montmorency,
Gineste, and others, endeavouring to force their way into the theatre
during a rehearsal, were repulsed by the guard, and Gineste killed. The
Abbés Hourlier and Barentin insulted M. Fieubet; they were about to come
to blows when the guard separated them and carried off the obstreperous
ecclesiastics to For l'Evèque, where they were confined for a fortnight.
On their release Hourlier and Barentin, accompanied by a third abbé,
took their places in the balcony over the stage, and began to sing,
louder even than the actors, maintaining, when called to order, that the
Opera was established for no other purpose, and that if they had a right
to sing anywhere, it was at the Académie de Musique.

[Sidenote: PETER THE GREAT AT THE OPERA.]

A balustrade separated the stage balconies from the stage, but continual
attempts were made to get over it, and even to break into the actresses'
dressing rooms, which were guarded by sentinels. At this period about a
third of the habitués used to make their appearance in a state of
intoxication, the example being set by the Regent himself, who could
proceed direct from his residence in the Palais Royal to the Opera,
which adjoined it. To the first of the Regent's masked balls the
Councillor of State, Rouillé, is said to have gone drunk from personal
inclination, and the Duke de Noailles in the same condition, out of
compliment to the administrator of the kingdom.

When Peter the Great visited the French Opera, in 1717, he does not
appear to have been intoxicated, but he went to sleep. When he was asked
whether the performance had wearied him, he is said to have replied,
that on the contrary he liked it to excess, and had gone to sleep from
motives of prudence. This story, however, does not quite accord with the
fact that Peter introduced public theatrical performances into Russia,
and encouraged his nobles to attend them.

Nothing illustrates better the heartless selfishness of Louis XV. than
his conduct, not at the Opera, but at his own theatre in the Louvre,
immediately after the occurrence of a terrible and fatal accident. The
Chevalier de Fénélon, an ensign in the palace guard, in endeavouring to
climb from one box to another, lost his fooling, and fell headlong on to
a spiked balustrade, where he remained transfixed through the neck. The
theatre was stained with blood in a horrible manner, and the unfortunate
chevalier was removed from the balustrade a dead man. Just then, the
Very Christian king made his appearance. He gave the signal for the
performance to commence, and the orchestra struck up as if nothing had
happened.

Some idea of the morality of the French stage during the regency and
the reign of Louis XV., may be formed from the fact that, in spite of
the great license accorded to the members of the Académie, or at least,
tolerated and encouraged by the law, it was found absolutely necessary
in 1734 to expel the prima donna Mademoiselle Pélissier, who had
shocked even the management of the Opera. She was, however, received
with open arms in London. Let us not be too hard on our neighbours.

Soon afterwards, Mademoiselle Petit, a dancer, was exiled for negligence
of attire and indiscretion behind the scenes. I must add that this
negligence was extreme. The most curious part of the affair, was that
the Abbé de la Marre, author of several libretti, undertook the young
lady's defence, and published a pamphlet in justification of her
conduct, which is to be found among his OEuvres diverses.

Another danseuse, however, named Mariette, ruled at the Opera like a
little autocrat. "The Princess," as she was named, from the regard the
Prince de Carignan, titular director of the academy, was known to
entertain for her, applied to the actual managers, Lecomte and
Leboeuf, for a payment of salary which she had already received, and
which they naturally refused to give twice. Upon this they were not only
dismissed from their places (which they had purchased) but were exiled
by lettres de cachet.

[Sidenote: PELISSIER AT TABLE.]

The prodigality of favourite and favoured actresses under the regency
was extreme. The before-mentioned Mademoiselle Pélissier and her friend
Mademoiselle Deschamps, both gluttonous to excess, were noted for their
contempt of all ordinary food, and of everything that happened to be
nearly in season, or at all accessible, not merely to vulgar citizens,
but to the generality of opulent sensualists. It is not said that they
aspired to the dissolution of pearls in their sauces, but if green peas
were served to them when the price of the dish was less than sixty
francs, they sent them away in disdain. Mademoiselle Pélissier was in
the receipt of 4,000 francs (£160) a year from the Opera. Mademoiselle
Deschamps, who was only a figurante, contrived to get on with a salary
of only sixteen pounds. And yet we have seen that they were neither of
them economical.

One of the most facetious members of the Académie under the regency, was
Tribou, a performer, who seems to have been qualified for every branch
of the histrionic profession, and to have possessed a certain literary
talent besides. This humourist had some favour to ask of the Duke of
Orleans. He presented a petition to him, and after the regent had read
it, said gravely--

"If your Highness would like to read it again, here is the same thing in
verse."

"Let me see it," said the Duke.

Tribou presented his petition in verse, and afterwards expressed his
readiness to sing it. He sang, and no sooner had he finished, than he
added--

"If mon Seigneur will permit me, I shall be happy to dance it."

"Dance it?" exclaimed the regent; "by all means!"

When Tribou had concluded his pas, the duke confessed that he had
never before heard of a petition being either danced or sung, and for
the love of novelty, granted the actor his request.

During the regency, wax was substituted for tallow in the candelabra of
the Opera. This improvement was due to Law, who gave a large sum of
money to the Académie for that special purpose. On the other hand,
Mademoiselle Mazé, one of the prettiest dancers at the Opera, was ruined
three years afterwards by the failure of this operatic benefactor's
financial scheme. The poor girl put on her rouge, her mouches, and her
silk stockings, and in her gayest attire, drowned herself publicly in
the middle of the day at La Grenouillière.

[Sidenote: HOW TO CROSS THE STYX.]

After the break up of Law's system, the regent, terrified by the murmurs
and imprecations of the Parisians, endeavoured to turn the whole current
of popular hatred against the minister, by dismissing him from the
administration of the finances. When Law presented himself at the Palais
Royal, the regent refused to receive him; but the same evening, he
admitted him by a private door, apologized to him, and tried to console
him. Two days afterwards, he accompanied Law to the Opera; but to
preserve him from the fury of the people, he was obliged to have him
conducted home by a party of the Swiss guard.

In the fourth act of Lulli's Alceste, Charon admits into his bark
those shades who are able to pay their passage across the Styx, and
sends back those who have no money.

"Give him some bank notes," exclaimed a man in the pit to one of these
penniless shades. The audience took up the cry, and the scene between
Charon and the shades was, at subsequent representations, the cause of
so much tumult, that it was found necessary to withdraw the piece.

The Duke of Orleans appears to have had a sincere love of music, for he
composed an opera himself, entitled Panthée, of which the words were
written by the Marquis de La Fare. Panthée was produced at the Duke's
private theatre. After the performance, the musician, Campra, said to
the composer,

"The music, your Highness, is excellent, but the poem is detestable."

The regent called La Fare.

"Ask Campra," he said, "what he thinks of the Opera; I am sure he will
tell you that the poem is admirable, and the music worthless. We must
conclude that the whole affair is as bad as it can be."

The Duke of Orleans had written a motet for five voices, which he wished
to send to the Emperor Leopold, but before doing so, entrusted it for
revision to Bernier, the composer. Bernier handed the manuscript to the
Abbé de la Croix, whom the regent found examining it while Bernier
himself was in the next room regaling himself with his friends. The
immediate consequences of this discovery were a box on the ear for
Bernier, and ten louis for de La Croix.

The Regent also devoted some attention to the study of antiquity. He
occupied himself in particular with inquiries into the nature of the
music of the Greeks, and with the construction of an instrument which
was to resemble their lyre.

[Sidenote: MUSIC IN COURT.]

To the same prince was due the excellent idea of engaging the celebrated
Italian Opera Company of London, at that time under the direction of
Handel, to give a series of performances at the Académie. A treaty was
actually signed in presence of M. de Maurepas, the minister, by which
Buononcini the conductor, Francesca Cuzzoni, Margarita Durastanti,
Francesco Bernardi, surnamed Senesino, Gaetano Bernesta, and Guiseppe
Boschi were to come to Paris in 1723, and give twelve representations of
one or two Italian Operas, as they thought fit. Francine, the director
of the Académie, engaged to pay them 35,000 francs, and to furnish new
dresses to the principal performers. This treaty was not executed,
probably through some obstacle interposed by Francine; for the manager
signed it against his will, and on the 2nd of December following, the
regent, with whom it had originated, died. The absurd privileges secured
to the Académie Royale, and the consequent impossibility of giving
satisfactory performances of Italian Opera elsewhere than at the chief
lyrical theatre must have done much to check the progress of dramatic
music in France. From time to time Italian singers were suffered to make
their appearance at the Grand Opera; but at the regular Italian Theatre
established in Paris, as at the Comédie Française, singing was only
permitted under prescribed conditions, and the orchestra was strictly
limited, by severe penalties, rigidly enforced, to a certain number of
instruments, of which not more than six could be violins, or of the
violin family.

At the Comédie Italienne an ass appeared on the stage, and began to
bray.

"Silence," exclaimed Arlechinno, "music is forbidden here."

* * * * *

Among the distinguished amateurs of the period of the regency was M. de
Saint Montant, who played admirably on the viola, and had taught his
sons and daughters to do the same. Being concerned in a law suit, which
had to be tried at Nimes, he went with his family of musicians to visit
the judges, laid his case before them, one after the other, and by way
of peroration, gave them each a concert, with which they were so
delighted that they decided unanimously in favour of M. de Saint
Montant.

A law suit had previously been decided somewhat in the same manner, but
much more logically, in favour of Joseph Campra, brother of the composer
of that name, who was the conductor of the orchestra at the Opera of
Marseilles. The manager refused to pay the musicians on the ground that
they did not play well enough. In consequence, he was summoned by the
entire band, who, when they appeared in court, begged through Campra
that they might be allowed to plead their own cause. The judges granted
the desired permission, upon which the instrumentalists drew themselves
up in orchestral order and under the direction of Campra commenced an
overture of Lulli's. The execution of this piece so delighted the
tribunal that with one voice it condemned the director to pay the sum
demanded of him.

A still more curious dispute between a violinist and a dancer was
settled in a satisfactory way for both parties. The dancer was on the
stage rehearsing a new step. The violinist was in the orchestra
performing the necessary musical accompaniment.

"Your scraping is enough to drive a man mad," said the dancer.

"Very likely," said the musician, "and your jumping is only worthy of a
clown. Perhaps as you have such a very delicate ear," he added, "and
nature has refused you the slightest grace, you would like to take my
place in the orchestra?"

[Sidenote: LA CAMARGO.]

"Your awkwardness with the bow makes me doubt whether your most useful
limbs may not be your legs," replied the dancer. "You will never do any
good where you are. Why do you not try your fortune in the ballet? Give
me your violin," he continued, "and come up on to the stage. I know the
scale already. You can teach me to play minuets, and I will show you how
to dance them."

The proposed interchange of good offices took place, and with the
happiest results. The unmusical fiddler, whose name was Dupré, acquired
great celebrity in the ballet, and Léclair, the awkward dancer, became
the chief of the French school of violin playing.

Marie-Anne Cupis de Camargo did not lose so much time in discovering her
true vocation. She gave evidence of her genius for the ballet while she
was still in the cradle, and was scarcely six months old when the
variety of her gestures, the grace of her movements, and the precision
with which she marked the rhythm of the tunes her father played on the
violin led all who saw her to believe that she would one day be a great
dancer. The young Camargo, who belonged to a noble family of Spanish
origin, made her début at the Académie in 1726, and at once achieved a
decided success. People used to fight at the doors to obtain admittance

the nights she performed; all the new fashions were introduced under her
name, and in a very short space of time her shoemaker made his fortune.
All the ladies of the court insisted on wearing shoes à la Camargo.
But the triumph of one dancer is the despair of another. Mademoiselle
Prévost, who was the queen of the ballet until Mademoiselle de Camargo
appeared was not prepared to be dethroned by a débutante. She was so
alarmed by the young girl's success that she did her utmost to keep her
in the background, and contrived before long to get her placed among
the figurantes. But in spite of this loss of rank, Mademoiselle de
Camargo soon found an opportunity of distinguishing herself. In a
certain ballet, she formed one of a group of demons, and was standing on
the stage waiting for Dumoulin, who had to dance a pas seul, when the
orchestra began the soloist's air and continued to play it, though still
no Dumoulin appeared. Mademoiselle de Camargo was seized with a sudden
inspiration. She left the demoniac ranks, improvised a step in the place
of the one that should have been danced by Dumoulin and executed it with
so much grace and spirit that the audience were in raptures.
Mademoiselle Prévost, who had previously given lessons to young Camargo,
now refused to have anything to do with her, and the two danseuses
were understood to be rivals both by the public and by one another. The
chief characteristics of Camargo's dancing were grace, gaiety, and above
all prodigious lightness, which was the more remarkable at this period
from the fact that the mode chiefly cultivated at the Opera was one of
solemn dignity. However, she had not been long on the stage before she
learned to adopt from her masters and from the other dancers whatever
good points their particular styles presented, and thus formed a style
of her own which was pronounced perfection.

[Sidenote: STAGE COSTUME.]

Mademoiselle de Camargo, in spite of her charming vivacity when dancing,
was of a melancholy mood off the stage. She was not remarkably pretty,
but her face was highly expressive, her figure exquisite, her hands and
feet of the most delicate proportions, and she possessed considerable
wit. Dupré, the ex-violinist, who had leaped at a bound from the
orchestra to the stage, was in the habit of dancing with Camargo, and
also with Mademoiselle Sallé, another celebrity of this epoch, who
afterwards visited London, where she produced the first complete ballet
d'action ever represented, and at the same time introduced an important
reform in theatrical costume.

The art of stage decoration had made considerable progress, even before
the Opera was founded, but it was not until long after Mademoiselle
Sallé had given the example in London that any reasonable principles
were observed in the selection and design of theatrical dresses. In
1730, warriors of all kinds, Greek, Roman, and Assyrian, used to appear
on the French stage in tunics belaced and beribboned, in cuirasses, and
in powdered wigs bearing tails a yard long, surmounted by helmets with
plumes of prodigious height. The tails, of which there were four, two in
front and two behind, were neatly plaited and richly pomatumed, and when
the warrior became animated, and waved his arm or shook his head, a
cloud of hair powder escaped from his wig. It appeared to Mademoiselle
Sallé, who, besides being an admirable dancer, was a woman of taste in
all matters of art, that this sort of thing was absurd; but the reforms
she suggested were looked upon as ridiculous innovations, and nearly
half a century elapsed before they were adopted in France.

This ingenious ballerina enjoyed the friendship and regard of many of
the most distinguished writers of her time. Voltaire celebrated her in
verse, and when she went to London she took with her a letter of
introduction from Fontenelle to Montesquieu, who was then ambassador at
the English Court. Another danseuse, Mademoiselle Subligny came to
England with letters of introduction from Thiriot and the Abbé Dubois to
Locke. The illustrious metaphysician had no great appreciation of
Mademoiselle de Subligny's talent, but he was civil and attentive to her
out of regard to his friends, who were also hers, and, in the words of
Fontenelle, constituted himself her "homme d'affaires."

[Sidenote: PHILOSOPHERS AND ACTRESSES.]

Mademoiselle Sallé was not only esteemed by literature, she was adored
by finance, and Samuel Bernard, the Court banker and money lender, gave
her a hundred golden louis for dancing before the guests at the marriage
of his daughter with the President Molé. The same opulent amateur sent a
thousand francs to Mademoiselle Lemaure, by way of thanking her for
resuming the part of "Délie," in the "Les Fêtes Grecques et Romaines,"
on the occasion of the Duchess de Mirepoix's marriage. I must mention
that at this period it was not the custom in good society for young
ladies to appear at the Opera before their marriage. Their mothers were
determined either to keep their daughters out of harm's way, or to
escape a dangerous rivalry as long as possible; but once attached to a
husband the newly-married girl could show herself at the Opera as often
as she pleased, and it was a point of etiquette that through the Opera
she should make her entrance into fashionable life. These débutantes
of the audience department presented themselves to the public in their
richest attire, in their most brilliant diamonds; and if the effect was
good the gentlemen in the pit testified their approbation by clapping
their hands.

But to return to Mademoiselle Sallé. What she proposed to introduce
then, and did introduce into London, in addition to her own admirable
dancing, were complete dramatic ballets, with the personages attired in
the costumes of the country and time to which the subject belonged. To
give some notion of the absurdity of stage costumes at this period we
may mention that forty-two years afterwards, when Mademoiselle Sallé's
reform had still had no effect in France, the "Galathea," in Rousseau's
Pygmalion, wore a damask dress, made in the Polish style, over a
basket hoop, and on her head on enormous pouf, surmounted by three
ostrich feathers!

In her own Pygmalion, Mademoiselle Sallé carried out her new principle
by appearing, not in a Polish costume, nor in a Louis Quinze dress, but
in drapery imitated as closely as possible from the statues of
antiquity. Of her performance, and of Pygmalion generally, a good
account is given in the following letter, written by a correspondent in
London, under the date of March 15th, 1734, to the "Mercure de France."
In the style we do not recognise the author of the "Essay on the
Decadence of the Romans," and of the "Spirit of Laws," but it is just
possible that M. de Montesquieu may have responded to M. de Fontenelle's
letter of introduction, by writing a favourable criticism of the
bearer's performance, for the "influential journal" in which the notice
actually appeared.

"Mdlle. Sallé," says the London correspondent, "without considering the
embarrassing position in which she places me, desires me to give you an
account of her success. I have to tell you in what manner she has
rendered the fable of Pygmalion, and that of Ariadne and Bacchus; and of
the applause with which these two ballets of her composition have been
received by the Court of England.

"Pygmalion has now been represented for nearly two months, and the
public is never tired of it. The subject is developed in the following
manner.

[Sidenote: MADEMOISELLE SALLE.]

"Pygmalion comes into his studio with his pupils, who perform a
characteristic dance, chisel and mallet in hand. Pygmalion tells them to
draw aside a curtain at the back of the studio, which, like the front is
adorned with statues. The one in the middle above all the others
attracts the looks and admiration of every one. Pygmalion gazes at it
and sighs; he touches its feet, presses its waist, adorns its arms with
precious bracelets, and covers its neck with diamonds, and, kissing the
hands of his dear statue, shows that he is passionately in love with it.
The amorous sculptor expresses his distress in pantomime, falls into a
state of reverie, and then throwing himself at the feet of a statue of
Venus, prays to the goddess to animate his beloved figure.

"The goddess answers his prayer. Three flashes of light are seen, and to
an appropriate symphony the marble beauty emerges by degrees from her
state of insensibility. To the surprise of Pygmalion and his pupils she
becomes animated, and evinces her astonishment at her new existence, and
at the objects by which she is surrounded. The delighted Pygmalion
extends his hand to her; she feels, so to speak, the ground beneath her
with her feet, and takes some timid steps in the most elegant attitudes
that sculpture could suggest. Pygmalion dances before her, as if to
instruct her; she repeats her master's steps, from the easiest to the
most difficult. He endeavours to inspire her with the tenderness he
feels himself, and succeeds in making her share that sentiment. You can
understand, sir, what all the passages of this action become, executed
and danced with the fine and delicate grace of Mdlle. Sallé. She
ventured to appear without basket, without skirt, without a dress, in
her natural hair, and with no ornament on her head. She wore nothing, in
addition to her boddice and under-petticoat, but a simple robe of
muslin, arranged in drapery after the model of a Greek statue.

"You cannot doubt, sir, of the prodigious success this ingenious ballet,
so well executed, obtained. At the request of the king, the queen, the
royal family, and all the court, it will be performed on the occasion
of Mademoiselle Sallé's benefit, for which all the boxes and places in
the theatre and amphitheatre have been taken for a month past. The
benefit takes place on the first of April.

"Do not expect that I can describe to you Ariadne like Pygmalion: its
beauties are more noble and more difficult to relate; the expressions
and sentiments are those of the profoundest grief, despair, rage and
utter dejection; in a word all the great passions perfectly declaimed by
means of dances, attitudes and gestures suggested by the position of a
woman who is abandoned by the man she loves. You may announce, sir, that
Mademoiselle Sallé becomes in this piece the rival of the Journets, the
Duclos, and the Lecouvreurs. The English, who preserve so tender a
recollection of their famous Oldfield, whom they have just laid in
Westminster Abbey among their great statesmen (!) look upon her as
resuscitated in Mademoiselle Sallé when she represents Ariadne.

"P. S. The first of this month the Prince of Orange, accompanied by the
Prince of Wales, the Duke of Cumberland and the Princesses, went to
Covent Garden Theatre [Théâtre du Commun Jardin the French newspaper
has it] to see the tragedy of King Henry IV., when there was a numerous
assembly; and all the receipts of the representation were for the
benefit of Mademoiselle Sallé."

[Sidenote: MADEMOISELLE SALLE.]

[Sidenote: A PROFITABLE PERFORMANCE.]

M. Castil Blaze, who publishes the whole of the above letter, with the
exception of the postscript, in his history of the Académie Royale, is
wrong in concluding from Mademoiselle Sallé having appeared at Covent
Garden, that she was engaged to dance there by Handel, who was at that
time director of the Queen's Theatre (reign of Anne) in the Haymarket.
M. Victor Schoelcher may also be in error when, in speaking of the
absurd fable that Handel being in Paris heard a canticle by Lulli,[10]
and coming back to England gave it to the English, as God Save the King,
he assures us that Handel never set foot in Paris at all. It is certain
that Handel went to Italy to engage new singers in 1733, and it is by no
means improbable that he passed through Paris on his way. At all events,
M. Castil Blaze assures us that in that year he visited the Académie
Royale de Musique, and that "while lavishing sarcasms and raillery on
our French Opera," he appreciated the talent of Mademoiselle Sallé. "A
thousand crowns (three thousand francs) was the sum," he continues,
"that the virtuose asked for composing two ballets and dancing in them
at London during the carnival of 1734. The director of a rival
enterprise watched for her arrival in that city, and offered her three
thousand guineas instead of the three thousand crowns which she had
agreed to accept from Handel; adding that nothing prevented her from
making this change, inasmuch as she had signed no engagement. 'And my
word,' answered the amiable dancer; 'is my word to count for nothing?'
This reply, applauded and circulated from mouth to mouth, prepared
Mademoiselle Sallé's success, and had the most fortunate influence on
the representation given for her benefit. All the London journals gave
magnificent accounts of the triumphs of Marie Taglioni, and of the marks
of admiration and gratitude that she received. Equally flattering
descriptions reached us from the icy banks of the Neva. Mere trifles,
niaiseries, debolleze! This furore, this enthusiasm, this
fanaticism, this royal, imperial liberality was very little, or rather
was nothing, in comparison with the homage which the sons of Albion
offered to and lavished upon the divine Sallé. History tells us that at
the representation given for her benefit people fought at the doors of
the theatre; that an infinity of amateurs were obliged to conquer at the
point of the sword, or at least with their fists, the places which had
been sold to them by auction, and at exorbitant prices. As Mademoiselle
Sallé made her last curtsey and smiled upon the pit with the most
charming grace, furious applause burst forth from all parts and seemed
to shake the theatre to its foundation. While the whirlwind howled,
while the thunder roared, a hailstorm of purses, full of gold, fell upon
the stage, and a shower of bonbons followed in the same direction. These
bonbons, manufactured at London, were of a singular kind; guineas--not
like the doubloons, the louis d'or in paste, that are exhibited in the
shop-windows of our confectioners, but good, genuine guineas in metal
of Peru, well and solidly bound together--formed the sweetmeat; the
papillote was a bank-note. Projectiles a thousand times, and again a
thousand times precious. Arguments which sounded still when the fugitive
tempest of applause was at an end. Our favourite virtuoses place now
on their heads, after pressing them for a moment to their hearts, the
wreaths thrown to them by an electrified public. Mademoiselle Sallé put
the proofs of gratitude offered by her host of admirers into her pockets
or rather into bags. The light and playful troop of little Loves who
hovered around the new dancer, picked up the precious sugar-plums as
they fell, and eight dancing satyrs carried away in cadence the
improvised treasures. This performance brought Mademoiselle Sallé more
than two hundred thousand francs."

What M. Castil Blaze tells us about the bonbons of guineas and
bank-notes may or may not be true--I have no means of judging--but it is
not very likely that eight dancing satyrs appeared on the stage at
Mademoiselle Sallé's benefit, inasmuch as the ballet given on that
occasion was not Bacchus and Ariadne, as M. Castil Blaze evidently
supposes, but Pygmalion. The London correspondent of the Mercure de
France has mentioned that Pygmalion was to be performed by desire of
"the king and the queen, the royal family, and all the court," and
naturally that was the piece selected. According to the letter in the
Mercure the benefit was fixed for the first of April; indeed, the
writer in his postscript speaks of it as having taken place on that day,
but he says nothing about purses of gold, nor does he speak of guineas
wrapped up in bank-notes.

It appears from the Daily Journal that Mademoiselle Sallé took her
benefit on the 21st of March (which would be April 1, New Style), when
the first piece was Henry IV., with the humours of Sir John Falstaff,
and the second Pigmalion (with a Pig). It was announced that on this
occasion "servants would be permitted to keep places on the stage,"
whereas in most of the Covent Garden play bills of the period the
following paragraph appears:--"It is desired that no person will take it
ill their not being admitted behind the scenes, it being impossible to
perform the entertainment unless these passages are kept clear."

[Sidenote: MADEMOISELLE SALLE AND HANDEL.]

At this time Handel was at the Queen's Theatre, and it was not until the
next year, long after Mademoiselle Sallé had left England, that he moved
to Covent Garden. The rival who is represented as having offered such
magnificent terms to Mademoiselle Sallé with the view of tempting her
from her allegiance to Handel, must have been, if any one, Porpora;
though if M. Castil Blaze could have identified him as that celebrated
composer he would certainly have mentioned the name. Porpora, who
arrived in England in 1733, was in 1734 director of the "Nobility's
Theatre" in Lincoln's-Inn Fields.

The following is the announcement of Mademoiselle Sallé's first
appearance in England:--

"AT THE THEATRE ROYAL COVENT GARDEN, On Monday, 11th March, will be
performed a Comedy, called "The WAY of the WORLD, by the late
Mr. Congreve, with entertainments of dancing, particularly the
Scottish dance by Mr. Glover and Mrs. Laguerre, Mr. le Sac, and
Miss Boston, M. de la Garde and Mrs. Ogden.

"The French Sailor and his Lass, by Mademoiselle Sallé and Mr.
Malter.

"The Nassau, by Mr. Glover and Miss Rogers, Mr. Pelling and Miss
Nona, Mr. Le Sac and Mrs. Ogden, Mr. de la Garde and Miss Batson.

"With a new dance, called Pigmalion, performed by Mr. Malter and
Mademoiselle Sallé, M. Dupré, Mr. Pelling, Mr. Duke, Mr. le Sac,
Mr. Newhouse, and M. de la Garde.

"No servants will be permitted to keep places on the stage."

It appears that at the King's Theatre on the night of Mademoiselle
Sallé's benefit, at Covent Garden, there was "an assembly." "Two
tickets," says the advertisement, "will be delivered to every
subscriber, this day, at White's Chocholate House, in St. James's
Street, paying the subscription-money; and if any tickets remain more
than are subscribed for, they will be delivered the same day at the
Opera office in the Haymarket, at six and twenty shillings each.

"Every ticket will admit either one gentleman or two ladies.

"N. B.--Five different doors will be opened at twelve for the company to
go out, where chairs will easily be had.

N. B.--To prevent a crowd there will be but 700 tickets printed."

I find from the collection of old newspapers before me, that Handel,
whose Ariadne was first produced and whose Pastor Fido was revived
in 1734, is called in the playbills of the King's Theatre "Mr. Handell."
The following is the announcement of the performance given at that
establishment on the 4th June, 1734, "being the last time of performing
till after the holidays."

"AT the KING'S THEATRE in the HAYMARKET, on Tuesday next, being the 4th
day of June will be performed an Opera called

PASTOR FIDO,

Composed by Mr. Handell, intermixed with Choruses.

The Scenery after a particular manner.

Pit and Boxes will be put together, and no persons to be admitted
without tickets, which will be delivered that day at the Office of the
Haymarket, at half a guinea each.

GALLERY FIVE SHILLINGS.

[Sidenote: MR. HANDELL.]

BY HIS MAJESTY'S COMMAND.

No persons whatever to be admitted behind the scenes.

To begin at half an hour after six o'clock."

Handel had now been twenty-four years in London where he had raised the
Italian Opera to a pitch of excellence unequalled elsewhere in Europe,
except perhaps at Dresden, which during the first half of the 18th
century was universally celebrated for the perfection of its operatic
performances at the Court Theatre directed by Hasse. But of the
introduction of Italian Opera into England, and especially of the
arrival of Handel, his operatic enterprises, his successes and his
failures, I must speak in another chapter.





Next: Introduction Of Italian Opera Into England

Previous: On The Nature Of The Opera And Its Merits As Compared With Other Forms Of The Drama



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