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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 Of Italian Opera Into England








Operatic Feuds.--Objections to Nose-pulling.--Arsinoe.--Camilla and
the Boar.--Steele on insanity.--Handel and Clayton.--Nicolini and
the lion.--Rinaldo and the sparrows.--Hamlet set to music.--Three
enraged musicians.--Three charming singers.


It was not until the close of the 17th century that England was visited
by any Italian singers of note, among the first of whom was the
well-known Margarita de l'Epine. This vocalist's name frequently occurs
in the current literature of the period, and Swift in his "Journal to
Stella" speaks in his own graceful way of having heard "Margarita and
her sister and another drab, and a parcel of fiddlers at Windsor." This
was in 1711, nineteen years after her arrival in England--a proof that
even then Italian singers, who had once obtained the favour of the
English public, were determined to profit by it as long as possible.
Margarita was an excellent musician, and a virtuous and amiable woman;
but she was ugly and was called Hecate by her husband, who had married
her for her money.

[Sidenote: OPERATIC FEUDS.]

The history of the Opera in England is, more than in any other country,
the history of feuds and rivalries between theatres and singers. The
rival of Margarita de l'Epine was Mrs. Tofts, who in 1703 was singing
English and Italian songs at the theatre in Lincoln's Inn Fields.
Instead of enjoying the talent of both, the London public began to
dispute as to which was the best; and what was still more absurd, to
create disturbances at the very theatres where they sang, so that the
English party prevented Margarita de l'Epine from being heard, while the
Italians drowned the voice of Mrs. Tofts.[11] Once, when the amiable
Margarita was singing at Drury Lane, she was not only hissed and hooted,
but an orange was thrown at her by a woman who was recognised as being
or having been in the service of the English vocalist. Hence
considerable scandal and the following public statement which appeared
in the Daily Courant of February 8th, 1704.

"Ann Barwick having occasioned a disturbance at the Theatre Royal on
Saturday last, the 5th of February, and being thereupon taken into
custody, Mrs. Tofts, in vindication of her innocencey, sent a letter to
Mr. Rich, master of the said Theatre, which is as followeth:--'Sir, I
was very much surprised when I was informed that Ann Barwick, who was
lately my servant, had committed a rudeness last night at the playhouse
by throwing of oranges and hissing when Mrs. L'Epine, the Italian
gentlewoman, sang. I hope no one will think it was in the least with my
privity, as I assure you it was not. I abhor such practices, and I hope
you will cause her to be prosecuted that she may be punished as she
deserves. I am, sir, your humble servant, KATHARINE TOFTS.'"

[Sidenote: ARSINOE.]

At this period the unruly critics of the pit behaved with as little
ceremony to those who differed from them among the audience as to those
performers whom they disliked on the stage. In proof of this, we may
quote a portion of the very amusing letter written by a linen-draper
named Heywood (under the signature of James Easy), to the
Spectator,[12] on the subject of nose-pulling. "A friend of mine, the
other night, applauding what a graceful exit Mr. Wilkes made," says Mr.
Easy, "one of these nose-wringers overhearing him, pulled him by the
nose. I was in the pit the other night," he adds, "when it was very
crowded. A gentleman leaning upon me, and very heavily, I civilly
requested him to remove his hand; for which he pulled me by the nose. I
would not resent it in so public a place, because I was unwilling to
create a disturbance; but have since reflected upon it as a thing that
is unmanly and disingenuous, renders the nose-puller odious, and makes
the person pulled by the nose look little and contemptible. This
grievance I humbly request you will endeavour to redress."

Fifty years later, at the Grand Opera of Paris, a gentleman in the pit
applauded the dancing of Mademoiselle Asselin. "Il faut être bien bête
pour applaudir une telle sauteuse," said his neighbour, upon which a
challenge was given and received, the two amateurs went out and fought,
when the aggressor fell mortally wounded.

In the letters of Frenchmen and Englishmen from Italy, describing the
Italian theatres of the eighteenth century, we read neither of pelting
with oranges, nor of nose-pulling, nor of duelling. One of the most
remarkable things in the demeanour of the audience appears to have been
the unceremonious manner in which the aristocratic occupants of the
boxes behaved towards the people in the pit. The nobles, who were
somewhat given to expectoration, thought nothing of spitting down into
the parterre, and "what is still more extraordinary," says Baretti, who
notices this curious habit, "those who received it on their faces and
heads, did not seem to resent it much." We are told, however, that "they
made the most curious grimaces in the world."

But to return to the rival singers of London. In 1705, then, Mrs. Tofts
and Margarita were both engaged at Drury Lane; the former taking the
principal part in Arsinoe, which was performed in English, the latter
singing Italian songs before and after the Opera. Arsinoe ("the first
Opera," says the Spectator, "that gave us a taste for Italian music")
was the composition of Clayton, the maestro who afterwards wrote music
for Addison's unfortunate Rosamond, and who described the purpose and
character of his first work in the following words:--"The design of this
entertainment being to introduce the Italian manner of singing to the
English stage, which has not been before attempted, I was obliged to
have an Italian Opera translated, in which the words, however mean in
several places, suited much better with that manner of music than others
more poetical would do. The style of this music is to express the
passions, which is the soul of music, and though the voices are not
equal to the Italian, yet I have engaged the best that were to be found
in England; and I have not been wanting, to the utmost of my diligence,
in the instructing of them. The music, being recitative, may not at
first meet with that general acceptation, as is to be hoped for, from
the audience's being better acquainted with it; but if this attempt
shall be a means of bringing this manner of music to be used in my
native country, I shall think my study and pains very well employed."

[Sidenote: CAMILLA AND THE BOAR]

Mr. Hogarth, in his interesting "Memoirs of the Opera," remarks that
"though Arsinoe is utterly unworthy of criticism, yet there is
something amusing in the folly of the composer. The very first song may
be taken as a specimen. The words are--

Queen of Darkness, sable night,
Ease a wandering lover's pain;
Guide me, lead me
Where the nymph whom I adore,
Sleeping, dreaming,
Thinks of love and me no more.

The first two lines are spoken in a meagre sort of recitative. Then
there is a miserable air, the first part of which consists of the next
two lines, and concludes with a perfect close. The second part of the
air is on the last two lines; after which, there is, as usual, a da
capo, and the first part is repeated; the song finishing in the middle
of a sentence,--

"Guide me, lead me
Where the nymph whom I adore"--

which, I venture to say, has not been beaten by Bunn, or Fitzball, or
any of our worst librettists at their worst moments.

The music of Camilla, the second opera in the Italian style, performed
in England, was by Marco Antonio Buononcini, the brother of Handel's
future rival. The work was produced at the original Opera House, erected
by Sir John Vanburgh, on the site of the present building, in 1705.[13]
It was sung half in English and half in Italian. Mrs. Tofts played the
part of "Camilla," and kept to her mother tongue. Valentini played
that of the hero, and kept to his. Both the Buononcinis were composers
of high ability and the music of Camilla is said to have been very
beautiful. The melodies given to the two principal singers were
original, expressive, and well harmonized. Mrs. Tofts' impersonation of
the Amazonian lady was much admired by persons of taste, and there was a
part for a pig which threw the vulgar into ecstacies.

"Mr. Spectator," wrote a correspondent, "your having been so humble as
to take notice of the epistles of the animal, embolden me, who am the
wild boar that was killed by Mrs. Tofts, to represent to you that I
think I was hardly used in not having the part of the lion in Hydaspes
given to me. It would have been but a natural step for me to have
personated that noble creature, after having behaved myself to
satisfaction in the part above mentioned; but that of a lion is too
great a character for one that never trode the stage before but upon two
legs. As for the little resistance I made, I hope it may be excused when
it is considered that the dart was thrown at me by so fair a hand. I
must confess I had but just put on my brutality; and Camilla's charms
were such, that beholding her erect mien, hearing her charming voice,
and astonished with her graceful motion, I could not keep up to my
assumed fierceness, but died like a man."

[Sidenote: STEELE ON INSANITY.]

Mrs. Tofts quitted the stage in 1709, in consequence of mental
derangement. We have seen Mademoiselle Desmâtins, half fancying in her
excessive, vanity that she was really the queen or princess she had been
representing the same night on the stage, and ordering the servants, on
her return home, to prepare her throne and serve her on their bended
knees. Poor Mrs. Tofts laboured under a similar delusion; only, in her
case, it was not a moral malady, but the hallucination of a diseased
intellect. "In the meridian of her beauty," says Hawkins, in his History
of Music, "and possessed of a large sum of money, which she had acquired
by singing, Mrs. Tofts quitted the stage, and was married to Mr. Joseph
Smith, a gentleman, who being appointed consul for the English nation,
at Venice, she went thither with him. Mr. Smith was a great collector of
books, and patron of the arts. He lived in great state and magnificence;
but the disorder of his wife returning, she dwelt sequestered from the
world, in a remote part of the house, and had a large garden to range
in, in which she would frequently walk, singing and giving way to that
innocent frenzy which had seized her in the early part of her life."

The terrible affliction, which had fallen upon the favourite operatic
vocalist, is touched upon by Steele, with singular want of feeling, of
taste, and even of common decency, in No. 20 of the Tatler. "The
theatre," he says, "is breaking, and there is a great desolation among
the gentlemen and ladies who were the ornaments of the town, and used to
shine in plumes and diadems, the heroes being most of them pressed, and
the queens beating hemp." Then with more brutality than humour he adds,
"The great revolutions of this nature bring to my mind the distress of
the unfortunate 'Camilla,' who has had the ill luck to break before her
voice, and to disappear at a time when her beauty was in the height of
its bloom. This lady entered so thoroughly into the great characters she
acted, that when she had finished her part she could not think of
retrenching her equipage, but would appear in her own lodgings with the
same magnificence as she did upon the stage. This greatness of soul has
reduced that unhappy princess to a voluntary retirement, where she now
passes her time among the woods and forests, thinking on the crowns and
sceptres she has lost, and often humming over in her solitude:--

'I was born of royal race,
Yet must wander in disgrace, &c.'

"But for fear of being overheard, and her quality known, she usually
sings it in Italian:--

'Nacqui al regno, nacqui al trono,

E pur sono,
Sventatura pastorella.'"

[Sidenote: STEELE AND DRURY LANE.]

It is "the Christian soldier" who wrote this; who rejoiced in this
anti-christian and cowardly spirit at the dark calamity which had
befallen an amiable and charming vocalist, whose only fault was that
she had aided the fortunes of a theatre abhorred by Steele. And what
cause had Steele for detesting the Italian Opera with the unreasonable
and really stupid hatred which he displayed towards it? Addison, as it
seems to me, has been most unfairly attacked for his strictures on the
operatic performances of his day. They were often just, they were never
ill-natured, and they were always enveloped in such a delightful garb of
humour, that there is not a sentence, certainly not a whole paper, and
scarcely even a phrase,[14] in all he has published about the Opera,
that a musician, unless already "enraged," would wish unwritten. It is
unreasonable and unworthy to connect Addison's pleasantries on the
subject of Arsinoe, Camilla, Hydaspes, and Rinaldo, with the
failure of his Rosamond, which, as the reader is aware, was set to
music by the ignorant impostor called Clayton. Addison, it is true, did
not write any of his admirably humorous papers about the Italian Opera
until after the production of Rosamond, but it was not until some time
afterwards that the Spectator first appeared. St. Evrémond, who was a
great lover of the Opera, wrote much more against it than Addison. In
fact, the new entertainment was the subject of the day. It was full of
incongruities, and naturally recommended itself to the attention of
wits; and we all know that, as a rule, wits do not deal in praise. All
that Rosamond proves is, that Addison liked the Opera or he would
never have written it.

But about this Christian Soldier who endeavours to convince his readers
that music is a thing to be despised because it does not appeal to the
understanding, and who laughs at the misfortunes of a poor lunatic
because she is no longer able to attract the public by her singing from
the dramatic theatre in which he took so deep an interest, and of which
he afterwards became patentee?[15]

[Sidenote: HANDEL V. AMBROSE PHILLIPS.]

Of course, if music appealed only to the understanding, mad Saul would
have found no solace in the tones of David's harp, and it would be
hideously irreverent to imagine the angels of heaven singing hymns to
their Creator. Steele, of course, knew this, and also that the pleasure
given by music is not a mere physical sensation, to be enjoyed as an
Angora cat enjoys the smell of flowers, but he seems to have thought it
was his duty (as it afterwards became his interest) to write up the
drama and write down the Opera at all hazards. Powerful penmanship it
must have been, however, that would have put down Handel, or that would
have kept up Mr. Ambrose Phillips. It would have been easier, at least
it would have been more successful, to have gone upon the other tack. We
all know Handel, and (if the expression be permitted) he becomes more
immortal every day. Steele, it is true, did not hold his music in any
esteem, but Mozart, a competent judge in such matters, did, and
reckoned it an honour to write additional accompaniments to the elder
master's greatest work. And who was this Ambrose Phillips? some reader,
not necessarily ignorant of his country's literature, may ask. He was
Racine's thief. He stole Andromaque, and gave it to the English as his
own, calling it prosaically and stupidly "The Distrest Mother," which is
as if we should call "Abel" "The Uncivil Brother," or "Philoctetes" "The
Man with the Bad Foot," or "Prometheus," "The Gentleman with the Liver
Complaint." Steele wrote a paper[16] on the reading of this new tragedy,
in which he declares that "the style of the play is such as becomes
those of the first education, and the sentiments worthy of those of the
highest figure." He also says, "I congratulate the age that they are at
last to see truth and human life represented in the incidents which
concern heroes and heroines."

Translated Racine was very popular just then with writers who regarded
Shakespeare as a dealer in the false sublime. "Would one think it was
possible," asks Addison, "at a time when an author lived that was able
to write the Phedra and Hippolytus (translate Phèdre, that is to
say), for a people to be so stupidly fond of the Italian Opera as scarce
to give a third day's hearing to that admirable tragedy."

Sensible people! It seems quite possible to us in the present day that
they should have preferred Handel's music to Racine's rhymed prose,
rendered into English rhymes by a man who had nothing of the poetical
spirit which Racine, though writing in an unpoetical language, certainly
possessed.

The triumphant success of Handel's Rinaldo was felt deeply by Steele
and by the Spectator's favourite composer Clayton, a bad musician, and
apart from the practice of his art, as base a scoundrel as ever libelled
a great man. But of course critics who besides expatiating on the
blemishes of Shakespeare dwelt on the beauties of Racine as improved by
Phillips, would be sure to enjoy the cacophony of Clayton;

"Qui Bavium non odit amet tua carmina Mævi."

[Sidenote: NICOLINI AND THE LION.]

However we must leave the chivalrous Steele and his faithful minstrel
for the present. We have done with the writer's triumphant gloating over
the insanity of the poor prima donna. We shall presently see the
musician publishing impudent falsehoods, under the auspices of his
literary patron, concerning Handel and his genius, and endeavouring,
always with the same protection, to form a cabal for the avowed purpose
of driving him from the country which he was so greatly benefiting.

Before Handel's arrival in England Steele had not only insulted operatic
singers, but in recording the success of Scarlatti's Pyrrhus and
Demetrius, had openly proclaimed his chagrin thereat. "This
intelligence," he says, "is not very agreeable to our friends of the
theatre."

* * * * *

Pyrrhus and Demetrius, in which the celebrated Nicolini made his first
appearance, was the last opera performed partly in English and partly in
Italian.

In 1710, Almahide, of which the music is attributed to Buononcini, was
played entirely in the Italian language, with Valentine, Nicolini,
Margarita de l'Epine, Cassani, and "Signora Isabella" (Isabella
Girardean), in the principal parts. The same year Hydaspes was
produced. This marvellous work, which is not likely to be forgotten by
readers of the Spectator, was brought out under the direction of
Nicolini, the sopranist, who performed the part of the hero. The other
singers were those included in the cast of Almahide, with the addition
of Lawrence, an English tenor, who was in the habit of singing in
Italian operas, and of whom it was humourously said by Addison, in his
proposition for an opera in Greek, that he "could learn to speak the
language as well as he does Italian in a fortnight's time." "Hydaspes"
is a sort of profane Daniel, who being thrown into an amphitheatre to be
devoured by a lion, is saved not by faith, but by love; the presence of
his mistress among the spectators inspiring him with such courage, that
after appealing to the monster in a minor key, and telling him that he
may tear his bosom but cannot touch his heart, he attacks him in the
relative major, and strangles him.

[Sidenote: NICOLINI AND THE LION.]

"There is nothing of late years," says Addison, in one of the most
amusing of his papers on the Opera, "that has afforded matter of greater
amusement to the town than Signior Nicolini's combat with a lion in the
Haymarket, which has been very often exhibited to the general
satisfaction of most of the nobility and gentry in the kingdom of Great
Britain." Upon the first rumour of this intended combat, it was
confidently affirmed, and is still believed by many in both galleries,
that there would be a tame lion sent from the tower every Opera night,
in order to be killed by Hydaspes; this report, though altogether so
universally prevalent in the upper regions of the play-house, that some
of the most refined politicians in those parts of the audience gave it
out in whisper, that the lion was a cousin-german of the tiger who made
his appearance in King William's days, and that the stage would be
supplied with lions at the public expense, during the whole session.
Many likewise were the conjectures of the treatment which this lion was
to meet with from the hands of Signior Nicolini; some supposed that he
was to subdue him in recitative, as Orpheus used to serve the wild
beasts in his time, and afterwards to knock him on the head; some
fancied that the lion would not pretend to lay his paws upon the hero,
by reason of the received opinion, that a lion will not hurt a virgin.
Several who pretended to have seen the Opera in Italy, had informed
their friends, that the lion was to act a part in high Dutch, and roar
twice or thrice to a thorough bass, before he fell at the feet of
Hydaspes. To clear up a matter that was so variously reported, I have
made it my business to examine whether this pretended lion is really the
savage he appears to be, or only a counterfeit.

"But before I communicate my discoveries, I must acquaint the reader
that upon my walking behind the scenes last winter, as I was thinking on
something else, I accidentally justled against a monstrous animal that
extremely startled me, and upon my nearer survey much surprised, told me
in a gentle voice that I might come by him if I pleased, 'for,' says he,
'I do not intend to hurt any body.' I thanked him very kindly, and
passed by him; and in a little time after saw him leap upon the stage,
and act his part with very great applause. It has been observed by
several, that the lion has changed his manner of acting twice or thrice
since his first appearance; which will not seem strange, when I acquaint
my reader that the lion has been changed upon the audience three several
times. The first lion was a candle-snuffer, who being a fellow of a
testy choleric temper, overdid his part, and would not suffer himself to
be killed so easily as he ought to have done; besides, it was observed
of him, that he grew more surly every time he came out of the lion; and
having dropped some words in ordinary conversation, as if he had not
fought his best, and that he suffered himself to be thrown upon his back
in the scuffle, and that he would wrestle with Mr. Nicolini for what he
pleased, out of his lion's skin, it was thought proper to discard him;
and it is verily believed to this day, that had he been brought upon the
stage another time, he would certainly have done mischief. Besides, it
was objected against the first lion, that he reared himself so high upon
his hinder paws, and walked in so erect a posture, that he looked more
like an old man than a lion.

[Sidenote: NICOLINI AND THE LION.]

"The second lion was a tailor by trade, who belonged to the play-house,
and had the character of a mild and peaceable man in his profession. If
the former was too furious, this was too sheepish for his part; insomuch
that after a short modest walk upon the stage, he would fall at the
first touch of Hydaspes, without grappling with him, and giving him an
opportunity of showing his variety of Italian trips. It is said, indeed,
that he once gave him a rip in his flesh colour doublet; but this was
only to make work for himself, in his private character of a tailor. I
must not omit that it was this second lion who treated me with so much
humanity behind the scenes. The acting lion at present is, as I am
informed, a country gentleman who does it for his diversion, but desires
his name may be concealed. He says, very handsomely, in his own excuse,
that he does not act for gain; that he indulges an innocent pleasure in
it; and that it is better to pass away an evening in this manner, than
in gaming and drinking; but at the same time says, with a very agreeable
raillery upon himself, and that if his name should be known, the
ill-natured world might call him 'the ass in the lion's skin.' This
gentleman's temper is made out of such a happy mixture of the mild and
the choleric, that he outdoes both his predecessors, and has drawn
together greater audiences than have been known in the memory of man.

"I must not conclude my narrative without taking notice of a groundless
report that has been raised to a gentleman's disadvantage, of whom I
must declare myself an admirer; namely, that Signior Nicolini and the
lion have been sitting peaceably by one another, and smoking a pipe
together, behind the scenes; by which their enemies would insinuate, it
is but a sham combat which they represent upon the stage; but upon
enquiry I find, that if any such correspondence has passed between them,
it was not till the combat was over, when the lion was to be looked upon
as dead, according to the received rules of the drama. Besides, this is
what is practised every day in Westminster Hall, where nothing is more
usual than to see a couple of lawyers, who have been tearing each other
to pieces in the court, embracing one another.

"I would not be thought, in any part of this relation, to reflect upon
Signior Nicolini, who, in acting this part, only complies with the
wretched taste of his audience; he knows very well that the lion has
many more admirers than himself; as they say of the famous equestrian
statue on the Pont Neuf at Paris, that more people go to see the horse
than the king who sits upon it. On the contrary, it gives me a just
indignation to see a person whose action gives new majesty to kings,
resolution to heroes, and softness to lovers, thus sinking from the
greatness of his behaviour, and degraded into the character of a London
'prentice. I have often wished that our tragedians would copy after this
great master in action. Could they make the same use of their arms and
legs, and inform their faces with as significant looks and passions, how
glorious would an English tragedy appear with that action which is
capable of giving dignity to the forced thoughts, cold conceits, and
unnatural expressions of an Italian Opera! In the meantime, I have
related this combat of the lion, to show what are at present the
reigning entertainments of the politer part of Great Britain."

[Sidenote: RINALDO AND THE SPARROWS.]

But the operatic year of 1710 is remarkable for something more than the
production of Almahide and Hydaspes; for in 1710 Handel arrived in
England, and the year after brought out his Rinaldo, the first of the
thirty-five operas which he gave to the English stage. For Handel we are
indebted to Hanover. It was at Hanover that the English noblemen who
invited him to London first met the great composer; and it was the
Elector of Hanover, afterwards George I., who granted him permission to
come, and who when he in his turn arrived in England to assume the
crown, added considerably to the pension which Queen Anne had already
granted to the former chapel-master of the Hanoverian court. In 1710 the
director of the theatre in the Haymarket was Aaron Hill, who no sooner
heard of Handel's arrival in London than he went to him, and requested
him to compose an opera for his establishment. Handel consented, and
Hill furnished him with a plan, sketched out by himself, on the subject
of Rinaldo and Armida in Tasso's Jerusalem Delivered, the writing of
the libretto being entrusted to an Italian poet of some note named
Rossi. In the advertisements of this opera Handel's name does not
appear; not at least in that which calls attention to its first
representation and which simply sets forth that "at the Queen's Theatre
in the Haymarket will be performed a new opera called Rinaldo."

It was in Rinaldo that the celebrated operatic sparrows made their
first appearance on the stage--with what success may be gathered from
the following notice of their performance, which I extract from No. 5 of
the Spectator.

"As I was walking in the streets about a fortnight ago," says Addison,
"I saw an ordinary fellow carrying a cage full of little birds upon his
shoulder; and as I was wondering with myself what use he would put them
to, he was met very luckily by an acquaintance, who had the same
curiosity. Upon his asking him what he had upon his shoulder, he told
him that he had been buying sparrows for the opera. 'Sparrows, for the
opera,' says his friend, licking his lips, 'What! are they to be
roasted?' 'No, no,' says the other, 'they are to enter towards the end
of the first act, and to fly about the stage.'

[Sidenote: RINALDO AND THE SPARROWS.]

"This strange dialogue wakened my curiosity so far that I immediately
bought the opera, by which means I perceived the sparrows were to act
the part of singing birds in a delightful grove, though upon a nearer
inquiry I found the sparrows put the same trick upon the audience that
Sir Martin Mar-all practised upon his mistress; for though they flew in
sight, the music proceeded from a concert of flageolets and bird-calls,
which were planted behind the scenes. At the same time I made this
discovery, I found by the discourse of the actors, that there were great
designs on foot for the improvement of the Opera; that it had been
proposed to break down a part of the wall, and to surprise the audience
with a party of a hundred horse; and that there was actually a project
of bringing the New River into the house, to be employed in jetteaus and
waterworks. This project, as I have since heard, is postponed till the
summer season, when it is thought that the coolness which proceeds from
fountains and cascades will be more acceptable and refreshing to people
of quality. In the meantime, to find out a more agreeable entertainment
for the winter season, the opera of Rinaldo is filled with thunder and
lightning, illuminations, and fireworks; which the audience may look
upon without catching cold, and indeed without much danger of being
burnt; for there are several engines filled with water, and ready to
play at a minute's warning, in case any such accident should happen.
However, as I have a very great friendship for the owner of this
theatre, I hope that he has been wise enough to insure his house before
he would let this opera be acted in it.

"But to return to the sparrows. There have been so many flights of them
let loose in this opera, that it is feared the house will never get rid
of them; and that in other plays they may make their entrance in very
wrong and improper scenes, so as to be seen flying in a lady's
bedchamber, or perching upon a king's throne; besides the inconveniences
which the heads of the audience may sometimes suffer from them. I am
credibly informed, that there was once a design of casting into an opera
the story of 'Whittington and his Cat,' and that in order to it there
had been set together a great quantity of mice, but Mr. Rich, the
proprietor of the playhouse, very prudently considered that it would be
impossible for the cat to kill them all, and that consequently the
princes of the stage might be as much infested with mice as the prince
of the island was before the cat's arrival upon it, for which reason he
would not permit it to be acted in his house. And, indeed, I cannot
blame him; for as he said very well upon that occasion, 'I do not hear
that any of the performers in our opera pretend to equal the famous pied
piper who made all the mice of a great town in Germany follow his music,
and by that means cleared the place of those noxious little animals.'

"Before I dismiss this paper, I must inform my reader that I hear that
there is a treaty on foot between London and Wise,[17] (who will be
appointed gardeners of the playhouse) to furnish the opera of Rinaldo
and Armida with an orange grove; and that the next time it is acted the
singing birds will be impersonated by tom tits: the undertakers being
resolved to spare neither pains nor money for the gratification of their
audience."

[Sidenote: HAMLET SET TO MUSIC.]

Steele, in No. 14 of the Spectator, tells us that--"The sparrows and
chaffinches at the Haymarket fly, as yet, very irregularly over the
stage; and instead of perching on the trees and performing their parts,
these young actors either get into the galleries or put out the
candles," for which and other reasons equally good, he decides that Mr.
Powell's Puppet-show is preferable as a place of entertainment to the
Opera, and that Handel's Rinaldo is inferior as a production of art to
a puppet-show drama. Indeed, though Steele, in the Tatler, and Addison
in the Spectator, have said very civil things about Nicolini, neither
of them appears to have been impressed in the slightest degree by
Handel's music, nor does it even seem to have occurred to them that the
composer's share in producing an opera was by any means considerable.
Steele, thought the Opera a decidedly "unintellectual" entertainment
(how much purely intellectual enjoyment is there, we wonder, in the
pleasure derived from the contemplation of a virgin, by Raphael, and
what is the meaning in criticising art of looking at it merely in its
intellectual aspect?); but he at the same time bears testimony to the
high (æsthetic) gratification he derived from the performance of
Nicolini, who "by the grace and propriety of his action and gesture,
does honour to the human figure," and who "sets off the character he
bears in an opera by his action as much as he does the words of it by
his voice."[18]

In 1711, in addition to Handel's Rinaldo, Antiochus, an opera, by
Apostolo Zeno and Gasparini, was performed, and about the same time, or
soon afterwards, Ambleto, by the same author and composer, was brought
out. If we smile at Signor Verdi for attempting to turn Macbeth into
an opera, what are we to say to Zeno's and Gasparini's experiment with
the far more unsuitable tragedy of Hamlet? In Macbeth, the songs and
choruses of witches, the banquet with the apparition of the murdered
Banquo, and above all, the sleep-walking scene might well inspire a
composer of genius; but a "Hamlet" without philosophy, or, worse still,
a "Hamlet" who searches his own soul to orchestral accompaniments--this
must indeed be absurd. I learn from Dr. Burney, that Ambleto was
written for Venice, that it was represented at the Queen's Theatre, in
London, and that "the overture had four movements ending with a jig!" An
overture to Hamlet "ending with a jig!" To think that this was
tolerated, and that we are shocked in the present day by burlesques put
forth as such! The Spectator, while apparently keeping a sharp look
out for all that is ridiculous, or that can be represented as ridiculous
in the operatic performances of the day, has not a word to say against
Ambleto. But it must be remembered that since Milton's time, "Nature's
sweetest child" had ceased to be appreciated in England even by the most
esteemed writers--who, however, for the most part, if they were not good
critics, could claim no literary merit beyond that of style. In a paper
on Milton, one of whose noblest sonnets is in praise of Shakespeare,
Addison, after showing how, by certain verbal expedients, bathos may be
avoided and sublimity attained, calmly points to the works of Lee and
Shakespeare as affording instances of the false sublime[19], adding
coolly that, "in these authors the affectation of greatness often
hurts the perspicuity of the style."

[Sidenote: THREE ENRAGED MUSICIANS.]

I have spoken of Steele's and Clayton's consternation, at the success of
Rinaldo. Some months after the production of that work, the despicable
Clayton, supported by two musicians named Nicolino Haym, and Charles
Dieupart, (who were becomingly indignant at a foreigner like Handel
presuming to entertain a British audience), wrote a letter to the
Spectator, which Steele published in No. 258 of that journal,
introducing it by a preface, full of wisdom, in which it is set forth
that "pleasure and recreation of one kind or other are absolutely
necessary to relieve our minds and bodies from too constant attention
and labour," and that, "where public diversions are tolerated, it
behoves persons of distinction, with their power and example, to preside
over them in such a manner as to check anything that tends to the
corruption of manners, or which is too mean or trivial for the
entertainment of reasonable creatures." The letter from the "enraged
musicians" is described as coming "from three persons who, as soon as
named, will be thought capable of advancing the present state of
music"--that is to say, of superseding Handel. But the same perverse
public, which in spite of the Spectator's remonstrances, preferred
Rinaldo to translated Racine, persisted in admiring Handel's music,
and in paying no heed whatever to the cacophony of Clayton. Here is the
letter from the three miserable musicasters to their patron and
fellow-conspirator.

"We, whose names are subscribed, think you the properest person to
signify what we have to offer the town in behalf of ourselves, and the
art which we profess,--music. We conceive hopes of your favour from the
speculations on the mistakes which the town run into with regard to
their pleasure of this kind; and believing your method of judging is,
that you consider music only valuable, as it is agreeable to and
heightens the purpose of poetry, we consent that it is not only the true
way of relishing that pleasure, but also that without it a composure of
music is the same thing as a poem, where all the rules of poetical
numbers are observed, though the words have no sense or meaning; to say
it shorter, mere musical sounds in our art are no other than
nonsense-verses are in poetry." [A beautiful melody then, apart from
words, said no more to these musicians, and to the patron whose idiotic
theory they are so proud to have adopted than a set of nonsense-verses!]
"Music, therefore, is to aggravate what is intended by poetry; it must
always have some passion or sentiment to express, or else violins,
voices, or any other organs of sound, afford an entertainment very
little above the rattles of children. It was from this opinion of the
matter, that when Mr. Clayton had finished his studies in Italy, and
brought over the Opera of Arsinoe, that Mr. Haym and Mr. Dieupart, who
had the honour to be well-known and received among the nobility and
gentry, were zealously inclined to assist, by their solicitations, in
introducing so elegant an entertainment, as the Italian music grafted
upon English poetry." [Such poetry, for instance, as

[Sidenote: THREE ENRAGED MUSICIANS.]

"Guide me, lead me,
Where the nymph whom I adore

which occurred in Clayton's Arsinoe--Haym, it may be remembered, was
the ingenious musician who arranged Pyrrhus and Demetrius for the
Anglo-Italian stage, when half of the music was sung in one language,
and half in the other.] "For this end," continue the precious trio, "Mr.
Dieupart and Mr. Haym, according to their several opportunities,
promoted the introduction of Arsinoe, and did it to the best advantage
so great a novelty would allow. It is not proper to trouble you with
particulars of the just complaints we all of us have to make; but so it
is that without regard to our obliging pains, we are all equally set
aside in the present opera. Our application, therefore, to you is only
to insert this letter in your paper, that the town may know we have all
three joined together to make entertainments of music for the future at
Mr. Clayton's house, in York Buildings. What we promise ourselves is, to
make a subscription of two guineas, for eight times, and that the
entertainment, with the names of the authors of the poetry, may be
printed, to be sold in the house, with an account of the several authors
of the vocal as well as the instrumental music for each night; the money
to be paid at the receipt of the tickets, at Mr. Charles Lulli's. It
will, we hope, sir, be easily allowed that we are capable of undertaking
to exhibit, by our joint force and different qualifications, all that
can be done in music" [how charmingly modest!] "but lest you should
think so dry a thing as an account of our proposal should be a matter
unworthy of your paper, which generally contains something of public
use, give us leave to say, that favouring our design is no less than
reviving an art, which runs to ruin by the utmost barbarism under an
affectation of knowledge. We aim at establishing some settled notion of
what is music, at recovering from neglect and want very many families
who depend upon it, at making all foreigners who pretend to succeed in
England to learn the language of it as we ourselves have done, and not
be so insolent as to expect a whole nation, a refined and learned
nation, should submit to learn theirs. In a word, Mr. Spectator, with
all deference and humility, we hope to behave ourselves in this
undertaking in such a manner, that all Englishmen who have any skill in
music may be furthered in it for their profit or diversion by what new
things we shall produce; never pretending to surpass others, or
asserting that anything which is a science is not attainable by all men
of all nations who have proper genius for it. We say, sir, what we hope
for, it is not expected will arrive to us by contemning others, but
through the utmost diligence recommending ourselves."

Poor Clayton seems, here and there, to have really fancied that it was
his mission to put down Handel, and stuck to him for some time in most
pertinacious style. One is reminded of the writer who endeavoured to
turn Wilhelm Meister into ridicule, and of the epigram which that
attempt suggested to Goethe, ending:--

"Hat doch die Wallfisch seine Laus."

[Sidenote: THREE ENRAGED MUSICIANS.]

But Clayton was really a creator, and proposed nothing less than "to
revive an art which was running to ruin by the utmost barbarism under an
affectation of knowledge." One would have thought that this was going a
little too far. Handel affecting knowledge--Handel a barbarian? Surely
Steele in giving the sanction of his name to such assertions as these,
puts himself in a lower position even than Voltaire uttering his
celebrated dictum about the genius of Shakespeare; for after all,
Voltaire was the first Frenchman to discover any beauties in Shakespeare
at all, and it was in defending him against the stupid prejudices of
Laharpe that he made use of the unfortunate expression with which he has
so often been reproached, and which he put forward in the form of a
concession to his adversary.

Clayton and his second fiddles returned to the attack a few weeks
afterwards (January 18th, 1712). "It is industriously insinuated," they
complained, "that our intention is to destroy operas in general, but we
beg of you (that is to say, the Spectator, as represented by Steele,
who signs the number with his T) to insert this explanation of ourselves
in your paper. Our purpose is only to improve our circumstances by
improving the art which we profess" [the knaves are getting candid]. "We
see it utterly destroyed at present, and as we were the persons who
introduced operas, we think it a groundless imputation that we should
set up against the Opera itself," &c., &c.

What became of Clayton, Haym, and Dieupart, and their speculation, I do
not know, nor do I think that any one can care. At all events, even with
the assistance of Steele and the Spectator they did not extinguish
Handel.

The most celebrated vocalist at the theatre in the Haymarket, from the
arrival of Handel in England until after the formation of the Royal
Academy of Music, in 1720, was Anastasia Robinson, a contralto, who
was remarkable as much for her graceful acting as for her expressive
singing. She made her first appearance in a pasticcio called Creso,
in 1714, and continued singing in the operas of Handel and other
composers until 1724, when she contracted a private marriage with the
Earl of Peterborough and retired from the stage. Lady Delany, an
intimate friend of Lady Peterborough, communicated the following account
of her marriage and the circumstances under which it was made, to Dr.
Burney, who publishes it in his "History of Music."

[Sidenote: ANASTASIA ROBINSON.]

"Mrs. Anastasia Robinson was of middling stature, not handsome, but of a
pleasing, modest countenance, with large blue eyes. Her deportment was
easy, unaffected, and graceful. Her manner and address very engaging,
and her behaviour on all occasions that of a gentlewoman, with perfect
propriety. She was not only liked by all her acquaintance, but loved and
caressed by persons of the highest rank, with whom she appeared always
equal, without assuming. Her father's house, in Golden Square was
frequented by all the men of genius and refined taste of the times.
Among the number of persons of distinction who frequented Mr. Robinson's
house, and seemed to distinguish his daughter in a particular manner,
were the Earl of Peterborough and General H--. The latter had shown a
long attachment to her, and his attentions were so remarkable that they
seemed more than the effects of common politeness; and as he was a very
agreeable man, and in good circumstances, he was favourably received,
not doubting but that his intentions were honourable. A declaration of a
very contrary nature was treated with the contempt it deserved, though
Mrs. Robinson was very much prepossessed in his favour.

"Soon after this, Lord Peterborough endeavoured to convince her of his
partial regard for her; but, agreeable and artful as he was, she
remained very much upon her guard, which rather increased than
diminished his admiration and passion for her. Yet still his pride
struggled with his inclination, for all this time she was engaged to
sing in public, a circumstance very grievous to her; but, urged by the
best of motives, she submitted to it, in order to assist her parents,
whose fortune was much reduced by Mr. Robinson's loss of sight, which
deprived him of the benefit of his profession as a painter.

"At length Lord Peterborough made his declaration to her on honourable
terms. He found it would be in vain to make proposals on any other, and
as he omitted no circumstance that could engage her esteem and
gratitude, she accepted them. He earnestly requested her keeping it a
secret till a more convenient time for him to make it known, to which
she readily consented, having a perfect confidence in his honour.

"Mrs. A. Robinson had a sister, a very pretty accomplished woman, who
married D'Arbuthnot's brother. After the death of Mr. Robinson, Lord
Peterborough took a house near Fulham, in the neighbourhood of his own
villa at Parson's-green, where he settled Mrs. Robinson and her mother.
They never lived under the same roof, till the earl, being seized with a
violent fit of illness, solicited her to attend him at Mount Bevis, near
Southampton, which she refused with firmness, but upon condition that,
though still denied to take his name, she might be permitted to wear her
wedding-ring; to which, finding her inexorable, he at length consented.

[Sidenote: ANASTASIA ROBINSON.]

"His haughty spirit was still reluctant to the making a declaration that
would have done justice to so worthy a character as the person to whom
he was now united; and indeed his uncontrollable temper and high opinion
of his own actions made him a very awful husband, ill suited to Lady
Peterborough's good sense, amiable temper, and delicate sentiments. She
was a Roman Catholic, but never gave offence to those of a contrary
opinion, though very strict in what she thought her duty. Her excellent
principles and fortitude of mind supported her through many severe
trials in her conjugal state. But at last he prevailed on himself to do
her justice, instigated, it is supposed by his bad state of health,
which obliged him to seek another climate, and she absolutely refused to
go with him unless he declared his marriage. Her attendance on him in
this illness nearly cost her her life.

"He appointed a day for all his nearest relations to meet him at the
apartment over the gateway of St. James's palace, belonging to Mr.
Poyntz, who was married to Lord Peterborough's niece, and at that time
preceptor of Prince William, afterwards Duke of Cumberland. He also
appointed Lady Peterborough to be there at the same time. When they were
all assembled, he began a most eloquent oration, enumerating all the
virtues and perfections of Mrs. A. Robinson, and the rectitude of her
conduct during his long acquaintance with her, for which he acknowledged
his great obligation and sincere attachment, declaring he was determined
to do her that justice which he ought to have done long ago, which was
presenting her to all his family as his wife. He spoke this harangue
with so much energy, and in parts so pathetically, that Lady
Peterborough, not being apprised of his intentions, was so affected that
she fainted away in the midst of the company.

"After Lord Peterborough's death, she lived a very retired life, chiefly
at Mount Bevis, and was seldom prevailed on to leave that habitation but
by the Duchess of Portland, who was always happy to have her company at
Bulstrode, when she could obtain it, and often visited her at her own
house.

"Among Lord Peterborough's papers, she found his memoirs, written by
himself, in which he declared he had been guilty of such actions as
would have reflected very much upon his character, for which reason she
burnt them. This, however, contributed to complete the excellency of her
principles, though it did not fail giving offence to the curious
inquirers after anecdotes of so remarkable a character as that of the
Earl of Peterborough."

[Sidenote: DUCAL CONNOISSEURS.]

The deserved good fortune of Anastasia Robinson reminds me of the
careers of two other vocalists of this period, one of them owed her
elevation to a fortunate accident; while the third, though she entered
upon the same possible road to the peerage as the second, yet never
attained it. "The Duke of Bolton," says Swift, in one of his letters,
"has run away with Polly Peachum, having settled four hundred a year on
her during pleasure, and upon disagreement, two hundred more." This was
the charming Lavinia Fenton, the original Polly of the Beggars' Opera,
between whom and the Duke the disagreement anticipated by the amiable
Swift never took place. Twenty-three years after the elopement, the
Duke's wife died, and Lavinia then became the Duchess of Bolton. She
was, according to the account given of her by Dr. Joseph Warton, "a very
accomplished and most agreeable companion; had much wit, good strong
sense, and a just taste in polite literature.

Her person was agreeable and well made," continues Dr. Warton, "though I
think she never could be called a beauty. I have had the pleasure of
being at table with her, when her conversation was much admired by the
first character of the age, particularly by old Lord Bathurst and Lord
Granville."

The beautiful Miss Campion, who was singing about the same time as Mrs.
Tofts, and who died in 1706, when she was only eighteen, did not
become the Duchess of Devonshire; but the heart-broken old Duke, who
appears to have been most fervently attached to her, buried her in his
family vault in the church of Latimers, Buckinghamshire, and placed a
Latin inscription on her monument, testifying that she was wise beyond
her years, and bountiful to the poor even beyond her abilities; and at
the theatre, where she had some times acted, modest and pure; but being
seized with a hectic fever, she had submitted to her fate with a firm
confidence and Christian piety; and that William, Duke of Devonshire,
had, upon her beloved remains, erected this tomb as sacred to her
memory.





Next: The Italian Opera Under Handel

Previous: Introduction And Progress Of The Ballet



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