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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




Opera In France Under The Consulate Empire And Restoration








The History of the Opera, under the Consulate and the Empire, is perhaps
more remarkable in connexion with political than with musical events.
Few persons at present know much of Spontini's operas, though la
Vestale in its day was celebrated in Paris, London and especially in
Berlin; nor of Cherubini's, though the overtures to Anacreon and les
Abencerrages are still heard from time to time at "classical" concerts;
but every one remembers the plot to assassinate the First Consul which
was to have been put into execution at the Opera, and the plot to
destroy the Emperor, the Empress and all their retinue, which was to
take effect just outside its doors. Then there is the appearance of the
Emperor at the Opera, after his hasty arrival in Paris from Moscow, on
the very night before his return to meet the Russians with the allies
who had now joined them, at Bautzen and Lutzen--the same night by the
way on which les Abencerrages was produced, with no great success.
Then again there is the evening of the 29th of March, 1814, when
Iphigénie en Aulide was performed to an accompaniment of cannon which
the Piccinnists, if they could only have heard it, would have declared
very appropriate to Gluck's music; that of the 1st of April, when by
desire, of the Russian emperor and the Prussian king, la Vestale was
represented; and finally that of the 17th of May, 1814, when OEdipe à
Colone was played before Louis XVIII., who had that morning made his
triumphal entry into Paris.

[Sidenote: AN OPERATIC PLOT.]

* * * * *

On the 10th of October, 1800, a band of republicans had sworn to
assassinate the First Consul at the Opera. A new work was to be produced
that evening composed by Porta to a libretto founded on Corneille's
tragedy of les Horaces. The most striking scene in the piece, that in
which the Horatii swear to conquer or perish, was to be the signal for
action; all the lights were to be put out at the same moment, fireworks
and grenades were to be thrown into the boxes, the pit and on to the
stage; cries of "fire" and "murder" were to be raised from all parts of
the house, and in the midst of the general confusion the First Consul
was to be assassinated in his box. The leaders of the plot, to make
certain of their cue, had contrived to be present at the rehearsal of
the new opera, and everything was prepared for the next evening and the
post of each conspirator duly assigned to him, when one of the number,
conscience smitten and unable to sleep during the night of the 9th,
went at daybreak the next morning to the Prefect of Police and informed
him of all the details of the plot.

The conspiracy said Bonaparte, some twenty years afterwards at St.
Helena, "was revealed by a captain in the line.[87] What limit is
there," he added, "to the combinations of folly and stupidity! This
officer had a horror of me as Consul but adored me as general. He was
anxious that I should be torn from my post, but he would have been very
sorry that my life should be taken. I ought to be made prisoner, he
said, in no way injured, and sent to the army to continue to defeat the
enemies of France. The other conspirators laughed in his face, and when
he saw them distribute daggers, and that they were going beyond his
intentions, he proceeded at once to denounce the whole affair."

Bonaparte, after the informer had been brought before him, suggested to
the officers of his staff, the Prefect of Police and other functionaries
whom he had assembled, that it would be as well not to let him appear at
the Opera in the evening; but the general opinion was, that on the
contrary, he should be forced to go, and ultimately it was decided that
until the commencement of the performance everything should be allowed
to take place as if the conspiracy had not been discovered.

[Sidenote: AN OPERATIC PLOT.]

In the evening the First Consul went to the Opera, attended by a number
of superior officers, all in plain clothes. The first act passed off
quietly enough--in all probability, far too quietly to please the
composer, for some two hundred persons among the audience, including the
conspirators, the police and the officers attached to Bonaparte's
person, were thinking of anything but the music of les Horaces. It was
necessary, however, to pay very particular attention to the music of the
second act in which the scene of the oath occurred.

The sentinels outside the Consul's box had received orders to let no one
approach who had not the pass word, issued an hour before for the opera
only; and as a certain number of conspirators had taken up their
positions in the corridors, to extinguish the lights at the signal
agreed upon, a certain number of Bonaparte's officers were sent also
into the corridors to prevent the execution of this manoeuvre. The
scene of the oath was approaching, when a body of police went to the
boxes in which the leaders of the plot were assembled, found them with
fireworks and grenades in their hands, notified to them their arrest in
the politest manner, cautioned them against creating the slightest
disturbance, and led them so dexterously and quietly into captivity,
that their disappearance from the theatre was not observed, or if so,
was doubtless attributed to the badness of Porta's music. The officers
in the corridors carried pistols, and at the proper moment seized the
appointed lamp-extinguishers. Then the old Horatius came forward and
exclaimed--

"Jurez donc devant moi, par le ciel qui m'écoute.
Que le dernier de vous sera mort ou vainqueur."

The orchestra "attacked" the introduction to the quartett. The fatal
prelude must have sounded somewhat unmusical to the ear of the First
Consul; but the conspirators were now all in custody and assembled in
one of the vestibules on the ground floor.

* * * * *

[Sidenote: LES MYSTERES D'ISIS.]

On the 24th of December, 1800, the day on which the "infernal machine"
was directed against the First Consul on his way to the Opera, a French
version of Haydn's Creation was to be executed. Indeed, the
performance had already commenced, when, during the gentle adagio of
the introduction, the dull report of an explosion, as if of a cannon,
was heard, but without the audience being at all alarmed. Immediately
afterwards the First Consul appeared in his box with Lannes, Lauriston,
Berthier, and Duroc. Madame Bonaparte, as she was getting into her
carriage, thought of some alteration to make in her dress, and returned
to her apartments for a few minutes. But for this delay her carriage
would have passed before the infernal machine at the moment of its
explosion. Ten minutes afterwards she made her appearance at the Opera
with her daughter, Mademoiselle Hortense Beauharnais, Madame Murat, and
Colonel Rapp. The performance of the Creation continued as if nothing
had happened; and the report, which had interfered so unexpectedly with
the effect of the opening adagio, was explained in various ways; the
account generally received in the pit being, that a grocer going into
his cellar with a candle, had set light to a barrel of gunpowder. Two
houses were said to have been blown up. This was at the beginning of the
first part of the Creation; at the end of the second, the number had
probably increased to half a dozen.

Under the consulate and the empire, the arts did not flourish greatly in
France; not for want of direct encouragement on the part of the ruler,
but rather because he at the same time encouraged far above everything
else the art of war. Until the appearance of Spontini with la Vestale,
the Académie, under Napoleon Bonaparte, whether known as Bonaparte or
Napoleon, was chiefly supported by composers who composed without
inventing, and who, with the exception of Cherubini, were either very
feeble originators or mere plagiarists and spoliators. Even Mozart did
not escape the French arrangers. His Marriage of Figaro had been
brought out in 1798, with all the prose dialogue of Beaumarchais's
comedy substituted for the recitative of the original opera. Les
Mystères d'Isis, an adaptation, perversion, disarrangement of Die
Zauberflötte, with several pieces suppressed, or replaced by fragments
from the Nozze di Figaro, Don Giovanni, and Haydn's symphonies, was
produced on the 23rd of August, 1801, under the auspices of Morel the
librettist, and Lachnith the musician.

Les Misères d'Isis was the appropriate name given to this sad
medley by the musicians of the orchestra. Lachnith was far from being
ashamed of what he had done. On the contrary, he gloried in it, and
seemed somehow or other to have persuaded himself that the pieces which
he had stolen from Mozart and Haydn were his own compositions. One
evening, when he was present at the representation of Les Mystères
d'Isis, he was affected to tears, and exclaimed, "No, I will compose no
more! I could never go beyond this!"

Don Giovanni, in the hands of Kalkbrenner, fared no better than the
Zauberflötte in those of Lachnith. It even fared worse; for
Kalkbrenner did not content himself with spoiling the general effect of
the work, by means of pieces introduced from Mozart's other operas, and
from Haydn's symphonies: he mutilated it so as completely to alter its
form, and further debased it by mixing with its pure gold the dross of
his own vile music.

[Sidenote: KALKBRENNER'S DON GIOVANNI.]

In Kalkbrenner's Don Giovanni, the opera opened with a recitative,
composed by Kalkbrenner himself. Next came Leporello's solo, followed by
an interpolated romance, in the form of a serenade, which was sung by
Don Juan, under Donna Anna's window. The struggle of Don Juan with Donna
Anna, the entry of the commandant, his combat with Don Juan, the trio
for the three men and all the rest of the introduction, was cut out. The
duet of Donna Anna and Ottavio was placed at the end of the act, and as
Don Juan had killed the commandant off the stage, it was of course
deprived of its marvellous recitative, which, to be duly effective, must
be declaimed by Donna Anna over the body of her father. The whole of the
opera was treated in the same style. The first act was made to end as it
had begun, with a few phrases of recitative of Kalkbrenner's own
production. The greater part of the action of Da Ponte's libretto was
related in dialogue, so that the most dramatic portion of the music lost
all its significance. The whole opera, in short, was disfigured, cut to
pieces, destroyed, and further defiled by the musical weeds which the
infamous Kalkbrenner introduced among its still majestic ruins. At this
period the supreme direction of the Opera was in the hands of a jury,
composed of certain members of the Institute of France. It seems never
to have occurred to this learned body that there was any impropriety in
the trio of masques being executed by three men, and in the two soprano
parts being given to tenors,--by which arrangement the part of Ottavio,
Mozart's tenor, instead of being the lowest in the harmony, was made the
highest. The said trio was sung by three archers, of course to entirely
new words! Let us pass on to another opera, which, if not comparable to
Don Giovanni, was at least a magnificent work for France in 1807, and
which had the advantage of being admirably executed under the careful
direction of its composer.

* * * * *

Spontini had already produced La Finta Filosofa, which, originally
brought out at Naples, was afterwards performed at the Italian Theatre
of Paris, without success; La Petite Maison, written for the Opéra
Comique, and violently hissed; and Milton also composed for the Opéra
Comique, and favourably received. When La Vestale was submitted to the
jury of the Académie, it was refused unanimously on the ground of the
extravagance of its style, and of the audacity of certain innovations in
the score. Spontini appealed to the Empress Josephine, and it was owing
to her influence, and through a direct order of the court that La
Vestale was put upon the stage. The jury was inexorable, however, as
regarded certain portions of the work, and the composer was obliged to
submit it to the orchestral conductor, who injured it in several places,
but without spoiling it. Spontini wished to give the part of the tenor
to Nourrit; but Lainez protested, went to the superintendant of the
imperial theatres, represented that he had been first tenor and first
lover at the Opera for thirty years, and finally received full
permission to make love to the Vestal of the Académie.

The Emperor Napoleon had the principal pieces in La Vestale executed
by his private band, nearly a year before the opera was brought out at
the Académie. He had sufficient taste to admire the music, and predicted
to Spontini the success it afterwards met with. He is said, in
particular, to have praised the finale, the first dramatic finale
written for the French Opera.

[Sidenote: SPONTINI.]

La Vestale was received by the public with enthusiasm. It is said to
have been admirably executed, and we know that Spontini was difficult on
this point, for we are told by Mr. Ebers that he objected to the
performance of La Vestale, in London, on the ground "that the means of
representation there were inadequate to do justice to his composition."
This was twenty years after it was first brought out in Paris, when all
Rossini's finest and most elaborately constructed operas (such as
Semiramide, for instance), had been played in London, and in a manner
which quite satisfied Rossini. Probably, however, it was in the
spectacular department that Spontini expected the King's Theatre would
break down. However that may have been, La Vestale was produced in
London, and met with very little success. The part of "La Vestale" was
given to a Madame Biagioli, who objected to it as not sufficiently good
for her. From the accounts extant of this lady's powers, it is quite
certain that Spontini, if he had heard her, would have considered her
not nearly good enough for his music. It would, of course, have been far
better for the composer, as for the manager and the public, if Spontini
had consented to superintend the production of his work himself; but
failing that, it was scandalous in defiance of his wishes to produce it
at all. Unfortunately, this is a kind of scandal from which operatic
managers in England have seldom shrunk.

Spontini's Fernand Cortez, produced at the Académie in 1809, met with
less success than La Vestale. In both these works, the spectacular
element played an important part, and in Fernand Cortez, it was found
necessary to introduce a number of Franconi's horses. A journalist of
the period proposed that the following inscription should be placed
above the doors of the theatre:--Içi on joue l'opéra à pied et à
cheval.

Spontini, as special composer for the Académie of grand operas with
hippic and panoramic effects, was the predecessor of M. M. Meyerbeer,
and Halévy; and Heine, in his "Lutèce"[88] has given us a very witty,
and perhaps, in the main, truthful account of Spontini's animosity
towards Meyerbeer, whom he is said to have always regarded as an
intriguer and interloper. I may here, however, mention as a proof of the
attractiveness of La Vestale from a purely musical point of view, that
it was once represented with great success, not only without magnificent
or appropriate scenery, but with the scenery belonging to another piece!
This was on the 1st of April, 1814, the day after the entry of the
Russian and Prussian troops into Paris. Le Triomphe de Trajan had been
announced; the allied sovereigns, however, wished to hear La Vestale,
and the performance was changed. But there was not time to prepare the
scenery for Spontini's opera, and that of the said Triomphe was made
to do duty for it.

[Sidenote: A MURDER AT THE OPERA.]

Le Triomphe de Trajan was a work in which Napoleon's clemency to a
treacherous or patriotic German prince was celebrated, and it has been
said that the programme of the 1st of April was changed, because the
allied sovereigns disliked the subject of the opera. But it was
perfectly natural that they should wish to hear Spontini's master-piece,
and that they should not particularly care to listen to a pièce
d'occasion, set to music by a French composer of no name.

I have said that Cherubini's Abencerrages, of which all but the
overture is now forgotten, was produced in 1813, and that the emperor
attended its first representation the night before his departure from
Paris, to rejoin his troops, and if possible, check the advance of the
victorious allies. No other work of importance was produced at the
French Académie until Rossini's Siège de Corinthe was brought out in
1825. This, the first work written by the great Italian master specially
for the French Opera, was represented at the existing theatre in the Rue
Lepelletier, the opera house in the Rue Richelieu having been pulled
down in 1820.

* * * * *

[Sidenote: A MURDER AT THE OPERA.]

In the year just mentioned, on the 13th of February, being the last
Sunday of the Carnival, an unusually brilliant audience had assembled at
the Académie Royale. Le Rossignol, an insipid, and fortunately, very
brief production, was the opera; but the great attraction of the evening
consisted in two ballets, La Carnaval de Venise, and Les Noces de
Gamache. The Duke and Duchess de Berri were present, and when Le
Carnaval de Venise, Le Rossignol, and the first act of Les Noces de
Gamache, had been performed, the duchess rose to leave the theatre. Her
husband accompanied her to the carriage, and was taking leave of her,
intending to return to the theatre for the last act of the ballet, when
a man crept up to him, placed his left arm on the duke's left side,
pulled him violently towards him, and as he held him in his grasp,
thrust a dagger through his body. The dagger entered the duke's right
side, and the pressure of the assassin's arm, and the force with which
the blow was given, were so great, that the weapon went through the
lungs, and pierced the heart, a blade of six inches inflicting a wound
nine inches long. The news of the duke's assassination spread through
the streets of Paris as if by electricity; and M. Alexandre Dumas, in
his interesting Memoirs, tells us almost the same thing that Balzac says
about it in one of his novels; that it was known at the farther end of
Paris, before a man on horseback, despatched at the moment the blow was
struck, could possibly have reached the spot. On the other hand, M.
Castil Blaze shows us very plainly that the terrible occurrence was not
known within the Opera; or, at least, only to a few officials, until
after the conclusion of the performance, which went on as if nothing had
happened. The duke was carried into the director's room, where he was
attended by Blancheton, the surgeon of the Opera, and at once bled in
both arms. He, himself, drew the dagger from the wound, and observed at
the same time that he felt it was mortal. The Count d'Artois, and the
Duke and Duchess d'Angoulême arrived soon afterwards. There lay the
unhappy prince, on a bed hastily arranged, and already inundated, soaked
with blood, surrounded by his father, brother, sister, and wife, whose
poignant anguish was from time to time alleviated by some faint ray of
hope, destined, however, to be quickly dispelled.

Five of the most celebrated doctors in Paris, with Dupuytren among the
number, had been sent for; and as the patient was now nearly suffocating
from internal hæmorrhage, the orifice of the wound was widened. This
afforded some relief, and for a moment it was thought just possible that
a recovery might be effected. Another moment, and it was evident that
there was no hope. The duke asked to see his daughter, and embraced her
several times; he also expressed a desire to see the king. Now the
sacrament was administered to him, but, on the express condition exacted
by the Archbishop of Paris, that the Opera House should afterwards be
destroyed. Two other unacknowledged daughters of his youth were brought
to the dying man's bedside, and received his blessing. He had already
recommended them to the duchess's care.

"Soon you will have no father," she said to them, "and I shall have
three daughters."

In the meanwhile the Spanish ballet was being continued, amidst the
mirth and applause of the audience, who testified by their demeanour
that it was Carnival time, and that the jours gras had already
commenced. The house was crowded, and the boleros and sequidillas with
which the Spaniards of the Parisian ballet astonished and dazzled Don
Quixote and his faithful knight, threw boxes, pit, and gallery, into
ecstasies of delight.

Elsewhere, in the room next his victim, stood the assassin, interrogated
by the ministers, Decazes and Pasquier, with the bloody dagger before
them on the table. The murderer simply declared that he had no
accomplices,[89] and that he took all the responsibility of the crime on
himself.

At five in the morning, Louis XVIII. was by the side of his dying
nephew. An attempt had been made, the making of which was little less
than an insult to the king, to dissuade him from being present at the
duke's last moments.

[Sidenote: A MURDER AT THE OPERA.]

"The sight of death does not terrify me," replied His Majesty, "and I
have a duty to perform." After begging that his murderer might be
forgiven, and entreating the duchess not to give way to despair, the
Duke de Berri breathed his last in the arms of the king, who closed his
eyes at half-past six in the morning.

* * * * *

Opera was now to be heard no more in the Rue Richelieu. The holy
sacrament had crossed the threshold of a profane building, and it was
necessary that this profane building should be destroyed; indeed, a
promise to that effect had been already given. All the theatres were
closed for ten days, and the Opera, now homeless, did not re-commence
its performances until upwards of two months afterwards, when it took
possession for a time of the Théâtre Favart. In the August of the same
year the erection of the theatre in the Rue Lepelletier was commenced.
The present Théâtre de l'Opéra, (the absurd title of Académie having
recently been abandoned), was intended when it was first built, to be
but a temporary affair. Strangely enough it has lasted forty years,
during which time it has seen solidly constructed opera-houses perish by
fire in all parts of Europe. May the new opera-house about to be erected
in Paris, under the auspices of Napoleon III., be equally fortunate.

I am here reminded that both the Napoleons have proved themselves good
and intelligent friends to the Opera. In the year eleven of the French
republic, the First Consul and his two associates, the Minister of the
French republic, the three Consuls, the Ministers of the interior and
police, General Junot, the Secretary of State, and a few more officials
occupied among them as many as seventeen boxes at the opera, containing
altogether ninety-four places. Bonaparte had a report drawn up from
which it appeared that the value of these boxes to the administration,
was sixty thousand four hundred francs per annum, including fifteen
thousand francs for those kept at his own disposition. Thereupon he
added to the report the following brief, but on the whole satisfactory
remark.

"A datter du premier nivose toutes ces loges seront payées par ceux qui
les occupent."

The error in orthography is not the printers', but Napoleon Bonaparte's,
and the document in which it occurs, is at present in the hands of M.
Regnier of the Comédie Française.

A month afterwards, Napoleon, or at least the consular trio of which he
was the chief, assigned to the Opera a regular subsidy of 600,000 francs
a year; he at the same time gave it a respectable name. Under the
Convention it had been entitled "Théâtre de la République et des Arts;"
the First Consul called it simply, "Théâtre des Arts," an appellation it
had borne before.[90]

Hardly had the new theatre in the Rue Lepelletier opened its doors,
when a singer of the highest class, a tenor of the most perfect kind,
made his appearance. This was Adolphe Nourrit, a pupil of Garcia, who,
on the 10th of September, 1821, made his first appearance with the
greatest success as "Pylade" in Iphigénie en Tauride. It was not,
however, until Auber's Muette de Portici was produced in 1828, that
Nourrit had an opportunity of distinguishing himself in a new and
important part.

[Sidenote: LA MUETTE DE PORTICI.]

La Muette was the first of those important works to which the French
Opera owes its actual celebrity in Europe. Le Siège de Corinthe,
translated and adapted from Maometto II., with additions (including
the admirable blessing of the flags) written specially for the Académie,
had been brought out eighteen months before, but without much success.
Maometto II. was not one of Rossini's best works, the drama on which
it was constructed was essentially feeble and uninteresting, and the
manner in which the whole was "arranged" for the French stage, was
unsatisfactory in many respects. Le Siège de Corinthe was greatly
applauded the first night, but it soon ceased to have any attraction for
the public. Rossini had previously written Il Viaggio a Reims for the
coronation of Charles X., and this work was re-produced at the Academy
three years afterwards, with several important additions (such as the
duet for "Isolier" and the "Count," the chorus of women, the
unaccompanied quartett, the highly effective drinking chorus, and the
beautiful trio of the last act), under the title of le Comte Ory. In
the meanwhile La Muette had been brought out, to be followed the year
afterwards by Guillaume Tell, which was to be succeeded in its turn by
Meyerbeer's Robert le Diable, Les Huguenots and Le Prophète,
(works which belong specially to the Académie and with which its modern
reputation is intimately associated), by Auber's Gustave III.,
Donizetti's la Favorite, &c.

La Muette de Portici had the great advantage of enabling the Académie
to display all its resources at once. It was brought out with
magnificent scenery and an excellent corps de ballet, with a première
danseuse, Mademoiselle Noblet as the heroine, with the new tenor,
Nourrit, in the important part of the hero, and with a well taught
chorus capable of sustaining with due effect the prominent rôle
assigned to it. For in the year 1828 it was quite a novelty at the
French Opera to see the chorus taking part in the general action of the
drama.

[Sidenote: LA MUETTE DE PORTICI.]

If we compare La Muette with the "Grand Operas" produced subsequently
at the Académie, we find that it differs from them all in some important
respects. In the former, instead of a prima donna we have a prima
ballerina in the principal female part. Of course the concerted pieces
suffer by this, or rather the number of concerted pieces is diminished,
and to the same cause may, perhaps, be attributed the absence of finales
in La Muette. It chiefly owed its success (which is still renewed from
time to time whenever it is re-produced) to the intrinsic beauty of its
melodies and to the dramatic situations provided by the ingenious
librettist, M. Scribe, and admirably taken advantage of by the composer.
But the part of Fenella had also great attractions for those unmusical
persons who are found in almost every audience in England and France,
and for whom the chief interest in every opera consists in the
skeleton-drama on which it is founded. To them the graceful Fenella with
her expressive pantomime is no bad substitute for a singer whose words
would be unintelligible to them, and whose singing, continued throughout
the Opera, would perhaps fatigue their dull ears. These ballet-operas
seem to have been very popular in France about the period when La
Muette was produced, the other most celebrated example of the style
being Auber's Le Dieu et la Bayadère. In the present day it would be
considered that a prima ballerina, introduced as a principal character
in an opera, would interfere too much with the combinations of the
singing personages.

I need say nothing about the charming music of La Muette, which is
well known to every frequenter of the Opera, further than to mention,
that the melody of the celebrated barcarole and chorus, "Amis, amis le
soleil va paraitre" had already been heard in a work of Auber's, called
Emma; and that the brilliant overture had previously served as an
instrumental preface to Le Maçon.

La Muette de Portici was translated and played with great success in
England. But shameful liberties were taken with the piece; recitatives
were omitted, songs were interpolated: and it was not until Masaniello
was produced at the Royal Italian Opera that the English public had an
opportunity of hearing Auber's great work without suppressions or
additions.

The greatest opera ever written for the Académie, and one of the three
or four greatest operas ever produced, was now about to be brought out.
Guillaume Tell was represented for the first time on the 3rd of
August, 1829. It was not unsuccessful, or even coldly received the first
night, as has often been stated; but the result of the first few
representations was on the whole unsatisfactory. Musicians and
connoisseurs were struck by the great beauties of the work from the very
beginning; but some years passed before it was fully appreciated by the
general public. The success of the music was certainly not assisted by
the libretto--one of the most tedious and insipid ever put together; and
it was not until Rossini's masterpiece had been cut down from five to
three acts, that the Parisians, as a body, took any great interest in
it.

[Sidenote: GUILLAUME TELL.]

Guillaume Tell is now played everywhere in the three act form. Some
years ago a German doctor, who had paid four francs to hear Der
Freischütz at the French Opera, proceeded against the directors for the
recovery of his money, on the plea that it had been obtained from him on
false pretences, the work advertised as Der Freischütz not being
precisely the Der Freischütz[91] which Karl Maria von Weber composed.
The doctor might amuse himself (the authorities permitting) by bringing
an action against the managers of the Berlin theatre every time they
produce Rossini's Guillaume Tell--which is often enough, and always in
three acts.

The original cast of Guillaume Tell included Nourrit, Levasseur,
Dabadie, A. Dupont, Massol, and Madame Cinti-Damoreau. The singers and
musicians of the Opera were enthusiastic in their admiration of the new
work, and the morning after its production assembled on the terrace of
the house where Rossini lived and performed a selection from it in his
honour. One distinguished artist who took no part in this ceremony had,
nevertheless, contributed in no small degree to the success of the
opera. This was Mademoiselle Taglioni, whose tyrolienne danced to the
music of the charming unaccompanied chorus, was of course understood and
applauded by every one from the very first.

After the first run of Guillaume Tell, the Opera returned to La
Muette de Portici, and then for a time Auber's and Rossini's
masterpieces were played alternate nights. On Wednesday, July 3rd, 1830,
La Muette de Portici was performed, and with a certain political
appropriateness;--for the "days of July" were now at hand, and the
insurrectionary spirit had already manifested itself in the streets of
Paris. The fortunes of La Muette de Portici have been affected in
various ways by the revolutionary character of the plot. Even in London
it was more than once made a pretext for a "demonstration" by the
radicals of William the Fourth's time. At most of the Italian theatres
it has been either forbidden altogether or has had to be altered
considerably before the authorities would allow it to be played. Strange
as it may appear, in absolute Russia it has been represented times out
of number in its original shape, under the title of Fenella.

[Sidenote: FRENCH NATIONAL SONGS.]

We have seen that Masaniello was represented in Paris four days before
the commencement of the outbreak which ended in the elder branch of the
Bourbons being driven from the throne. On the 26th of July, Guillaume
Tell was to have been represented, but the city was in such a state of
agitation, in consequence of the issue of the ordonnances, signed at
St. Cloud the day before, that the Opera was closed. On the 27th the
fighting began and lasted until the 29th, when the Opera was re-opened.
On the 4th of August, La Muette de Portici was performed, and created
the greatest enthusiasm,--the public finding in almost every scene some
reminder, and now and then a tolerably exact representation, of what had
just taken place within a stone's throw of the theatre. La Muette,
apart from its music, became now the great piece of the day; and the
representations at the Opera were rendered still more popular by
Nourrit singing "La Parisienne" every evening. The melody of this
temporary national song, like that of its predecessor (so infinitely
superior to it), "La Marseillaise" (according to Castil Blaze), was
borrowed from Germany. France, never wanting in national spirit, has yet
no national air. It has four party songs, not one of which can be
considered truly patriotic, and of which the only one that possesses any
musical merit, disfigured as it has been by its French adapters, is of
German origin.

Nourrit is said to have delivered "La Parisienne" with wonderful
vigour and animation, and to this and to Casimir Delavigne's verses (or
rather to Delavigne's name, for the verses in themselves are not very
remarkable) may be attributed the reputation which the French national
song, No. 4,[92] for some time enjoyed.

* * * * *

Guillaume Tell is Rossini's last opera. To surpass that admirable work
would have been difficult for its own composer, impossible for any one
else; and Rossini appears to have resolved to terminate his artistic
career when it had reached its climax. In carrying out this resolution,
he has displayed a strength of character, of which it is almost
impossible to find another instance. Many other reasons have been given
for Rossini's abstaining from composition during so many years, such as
the coldness with which Guillaume Tell was received (when, as we have
seen, its immediate reception by those whose opinion Rossini would
chiefly have valued, was marked by the greatest enthusiasm), and the
success of Meyerbeer's operas, though who would think of placing the
most successful of Meyerbeer's works on a level with Guillaume Tell?

"Je reviendrai quand les juifs auront fini leur sabbat," is a speech
(somewhat uncharacteristic of the speaker, as it seems to me),
attributed to Rossini by M. Castil Blaze; who, however, also mentions,
that when Robert le Diable was produced, every journal in Paris said
that it was the finest opera, except Guillaume Tell, that had been
produced at the Académie for years. It appears certain, now, that
Rossini simply made up his mind to abdicate at the height of his power.
There were plenty of composers who could write works inferior to
Guillaume Tell, and to them he left the kingdom of opera, to be
divided as they might arrange it among themselves. He was succeeded by
Meyerbeer at the Académie; by Donizetti and Bellini at the Italian
opera-houses of all Europe.

* * * * *

Rossini had already found a follower, and, so to speak, an original
imitator, in Auber, whose eminently Rossinian overture to La Muette,
was heard at the Académie the year before Guillaume Tell.

[Sidenote: ROSSINI'S FOLLOWERS.]

I need scarcely remind the intelligent reader, that the composer of
three master-pieces in such very different styles as Il Barbiere,
Semiramide, and Guillaume Tell, might have a dozen followers, whose
works, while all resembling in certain points those of their predecessor
and master, should yet bear no great general resemblance to one another.
All the composers who came immediately after Rossini, accepted, as a
matter of course, those important changes which he had introduced in the
treatment of the operatic drama, and to which he had now so accustomed
the public, that a return to the style of the old Italian masters, would
have been not merely injudicious, but intolerable. Thus, all the
post-Rossinian composers adopted Rossini's manner of accompanying
recitative with the full band; his substitution of dialogued pieces,
written in measured music, with a prominent connecting part assigned to
the orchestra, for the interminable dialogues in simple recitative,
employed by the earlier Italian composers; his mode of constructing
finales; and his new distribution of characters, by which basses and
baritones become as eligible for first parts as tenors, while great
importance is given to the chorus, which, in certain operas, according
to the nature of the plot, becomes an important dramatic agent. I may
repeat, by way of memorandum, what has before been observed, that nearly
all these forms originated with Mozart, though it was reserved for
Rossini to introduce and establish them on the Italian stage. In short,
with the exception of the very greatest masters of Germany, all the
composers of the last thirty or forty years, have been to some, and
often to a very great extent, influenced by Rossini. The general truth
of this remark is not lessened by the fact, that Hérold and Auber, and
even Donizetti and Bellini (the last, especially, in the simplicity of
his melodies), afterwards found distinctive styles; and that Meyerbeer,
after Il Crociato, took Weber, rather than Rossini, for his model--the
composer of Robert at the same time exhibiting a strongly marked
individuality, which none of his adverse critics think of denying, and
which is partly, no doubt, the cause of their adverse criticism.

* * * * *

[Sidenote: ROSSINI'S RETIREMENT.]

What will make it appear to some persons still more astonishing, that
Rossini should have retired after producing Guillaume Tell is, that he
had signed an agreement with the Académie, by which he engaged to write
three grand operas for it in six years. In addition to his "author's
rights," he was to receive ten thousand francs annually until the
expiration of the sixth year, and the completion of the third opera. No.
1 was Guillaume Tell. The librettos of Nos. 2 and 3 were Gustave and
Le Duc d'Albe, both of which were returned by Rossini to M. Scribe,
perhaps, with an explanation, but with none that has ever been made
public. Rossini was at this time thirty-seven years of age, strong and
vigorous enough to have outlived, not only his earliest, but his latest
compositions, had they not been the most remarkable dramatic works of
this century. If Rossini had been a composer who produced with
difficulty, his retirement would have been more easy to explain; but the
difficulty with him must have been to avoid producing. The story is
probably known to many readers of his writing a duet one morning, in
bed, letting the music paper fall, and, rather than leave his warm
sheets to pick it up, writing another duet, which was quite different
from the first. A hundred similar anecdotes are told of the facility
with which Rossini composed. Who knows but that he wished his career to
be measured against those of so many other composers whose days were cut
short, at about the age he had reached when he produced Guillaume
Tell? A very improbable supposition, certainly, when we consider how
little mysticism there is in the character of Rossini. However this may
be, he ceased to write operas at about the age when many of his
immediate predecessors and followers ceased to live.[93]

And even Rossini had a narrow escape. About the critical period, when
the composer of Guillaume Tell was a little more than half way between
thirty and forty, the Italian Theatre of Paris was burnt to the ground.
This, at first sight, appears to have nothing to do with the question;
but Rossini lived in the theatre, and his apartments were near the
roof. He had started for Italy two days previously; had he remained in
Paris, he certainly would have shared the fate of the other inmates who
perished in the flames.

* * * * *

Meyerbeer is a composer who defies classification, or who, at least, may
be classified in three different ways. As the author of the Crociato,
he belongs to Italy, and the school of Rossini; Robert le Diable
exhibits him as a composer chiefly of the German school, with a tendency
to follow in the steps of Weber; but Robert, les Huguenots, le
Prophète, l'Etoile du Nord, and, above all Dinorah, are also
characteristic of the composer himself. The committee of the London
International Exhibition has justly decided that Meyerbeer is a German
composer, and there is no doubt about his having been born in Germany,
and educated for some time under the same professor as Karl Maria Von
Weber; but it is equally certain that he wrote those works to which he
owes his great celebrity for the Académie Royale of Paris, and as we are
just now dealing with the history of the French Opera, this, I think, is
the proper place in which to introduce the most illustrious of living
and working composers.

[Sidenote: REHEARSALS.]

"The composer of Il Crociato in Egitto, an amateur, is a native of
Berlin, where his father, a Jew, who is since dead, was a banker of
great riches. The father's name was Beer, Meyer being merely a Jewish
prefix, which the son thought fit to incorporate with his surname. He
was a companion of Weber, in his musical studies. He had produced other
operas which had been well received, but none of them was followed by or
merited the success that attended Il Crociato." So far Mr. Ebers, who,
in a few words, tells us a great deal of Meyerbeer's early career. The
said Crociato, written for Venice, in 1824, was afterwards produced at
the Italian Opera of Paris in 1825, six years before Robert le Diable
was brought out at the Académie. In the summer of 1825, a few months
before its production in Paris, it was modified in London, and Mr. Ebers
informs us that the getting up of the opera, to which nine months were
devoted at the Théâtre Italien, occupied at the King's Theatre only one.
Such rapid feats are familiar enough to our operatic managers and
musical conductors. But it must be remembered that a first performance
in England is very often less perfect than a dress rehearsal in France;
and, moreover, that between bringing out an original work (or an old
work, in an original style), in Paris, and bringing out the same work
afterwards, more or less conformably to the Parisian[94] model, in
London, there is the same difference as between composing a picture and
merely copying one. No singers and musicians read better than those of
the French Académie, and it is a terrible mistake to suppose that so
much time is required at that theatre for the production of a grand
opera on account of any difficulty in making the artistes acquainted
with their parts. Guillaume Tell was many months in rehearsal, but
the orchestra played the overture at first sight in a manner which
astonished and delighted Rossini. The great, and I may add, the
inevitable fault of our system of management in England is that it is
impossible to procure for a new opera a sufficient number of rehearsals
before it is publicly produced. It is surprising how few "repetitions"
suffice, but they would not suffice if the same perfection was thought
necessary on the first night which is obtained at the Paris and Berlin
Operas, and which, in London, in the case of very difficult, elaborate
works, is not reached until after several representations.

However, Il Crociato was brought out in London after a month's
rehearsal. The manager left the musical direction almost entirely in the
hands of Velluti, who had already superintended its production at
Venice, and Florence, and who was engaged, as a matter of course, for
the principal part written specially for him. The opera (of which the
cast included, besides Velluti, Mademoiselle Garcia, Madame Caradori and
Crivelli the tenor) was very successful, and was performed ten nights
without intermission when the "run" was brought to a termination by the
closing of the theatre. The following account of the music by Lord Mount
Edgcumbe, shows the sort of impression it made upon the old amateurs of
the period.

[Sidenote: MEYERBEER'S CROCIATO.]

It was "quite of the new school, but not copied from its founder,
Rossini; original, odd, flighty, and it might even be termed
fantastic, but at times beautiful; here and there most delightful
melodies and harmonies occurred, but it was unequal, solos were as rare
as in all the modern operas, but the numerous concerted pieces much
shorter and far less noisy than Rossini's, consisting chiefly of duets
and terzettos, with but few choruses and no overwhelming accompaniments.
Indeed, Meyerbeer has rather gone into the contrary extreme, the
instrumental parts being frequently so slight as to be almost meagre,
while he has sought to produce new and striking effects from the voices
alone."

Before speaking of Meyerbeer's better known and more celebrated works, I
must say a few words about Velluti, a singer of great powers, but of a
peculiar kind ("non vir sed Veluti") who, as I have said before,
played the principal part in Il Crociato. He was the last of his
tribe, and living at a time when too much license was allowed to singers
in the execution of the music entrusted to them, so disgusted Rossini by
his extravagant style of ornamentation, that the composer resolved to
write his airs in future in such elaborate detail, that to embellish
them would be beyond the power of any singer. Be this how it may,
Rossini did not like Velluti's singing, nor Velluti Rossini's
music--which sufficiently proves that the last of the sopranists was not
a musician of taste.[95] Mr. Ebers tells us that "after making the tour
of the principal Italian and German theatres, Velluti arrived in Paris,
where the musical taste was not prepared for him," and that, "Rossini
being at this time engaged at Paris under his agreement to direct there,
Velluti did not enter into his plans, and having made no engagement
there, came over to England without any invitation, but strongly
recommended by Lord Burghersh." The re-appearance of a musico in London
when the race was thought to be extinct, caused a great sensation, and
not altogether of an agreeable kind. However, the Opera was crowded the
night of his début; to the old amateurs it recalled the days of
Pacchierotti, to the young ones, it was simply a strange and unexpected
novelty. Some are said to have come to the theatre expressly to oppose
him, while others were there for the avowed purpose of supporting him,
from a feeling that public opinion had dealt harshly with the
unfortunate man. Velluti had already sung at concerts, where his
reception was by no means favourable. Indeed, Lord Mount Edgcumbe tells
us "that the scurrilous abuse lavished upon him before he was heard, was
cruel and illiberal," and that "it was not till after long deliberation,
much persuasion, and assurances of support that the manager ventured to
engage him for the remainder of the season."

[Sidenote: VELLUTI.]

Velluti's demeanour on entering the stage was highly prepossessing. Mr.
Ebers says that "it was at once graceful and dignified," and that "he
was in look and action the son of chivalry he represented."

He adds, that "his appearance was received with mingled applause and
disapprobation; but that "the scanty symptoms of the latter were
instantly overwhelmed." The effect produced on the audience by the first
notes Velluti uttered was most peculiar. According to Mr. Ebers, "there
was a something of a preternatural harshness about them, which jarred
even more strongly on the imagination than on the ear;" though, as he
proceeded, "the sweetness and flexibility of those of his tones which
yet remained unimpaired by time, were fully perceived and felt." Lord
Mount Edgcumbe informs us, that "the first note he uttered gave a shock
of surprise, almost of disgust, to inexperienced ears;" though,
afterwards, "his performance was listened to with great attention and
applause throughout, with but few audible expressions of
disapprobation speedily suppressed." The general effect of his
performance is summed up in the following words:--"To the old he brought
back some pleasing recollections; others, to whom his voice was new,
became reconciled to it, and sensible of his merits; whilst many
declared, to the last, his tones gave them more pain than pleasure."
However, he drew crowded audiences, and no opera but Meyerbeer's
Crociato was performed until the end of the season.

* * * * *

Some years after the production of Il Crociato, Meyerbeer had written
an opéra comique, entitled Robert le Diable, which was to have been
represented at the Ventadour Theatre, specially devoted to that kind of
performance. The company, however, at the "Théâtre de l'Opera Comique,"
was not found competent to execute the difficult music of Robert, and
the interesting libretto by M. M. Scribe and Delavigne, was altered and
reduced, so as to suit the Académie. The celebrated "pruning knife" was
brought out, and vigorously applied. What remained of the dialogue was
adapted for recitative, and the character of "Raimbaud" was cut out in
the fourth and fifth acts. With all these suppressions, the opera, as
newly arranged, to be recited or sung from beginning to end, was still
very long, and not particularly intelligible. However, the legend on
which Robert le Diable is founded is well suited for musical
illustration, and the plot, with a little attention and a careful study
of the book, may be understood, in spite of the absence of "Raimbaud,"
who, in the original piece, is said to have served materially to aid and
explain the progress of the drama.

[Sidenote: ROBERT LE DIABLE.]

If Robert le Diable had been produced at the Opéra Comique, in the
form in which it was originally conceived, the many points of
resemblance it presents to Der Freischütz would have struck every one.
Meyerbeer seems to have determined to write a romantic semi-fantastic
legendary opera, like Der Freischütz, and, in doing so, naturally
followed in the footsteps of Weber. He certainly treats these legendary
subjects with particular felicity, and I fancy there is more spontaneity
in the music of Robert le Diable, and Dinorah, than in any other
that he has composed; but this does not alter the fact that such
subjects were first treated in music, and in a thoroughly congenial
manner, by Karl Maria von Weber. Without considering how far Meyerbeer,
in Robert le Diable, has borrowed his instrumentation and harmonic
combinations from Weber, there can be no doubt about its being a work of
much the same class as Der Freischütz; and it would have been looked
upon as quite of that class, had it been produced, like Der
Freischütz, with spoken dialogue, and with the popular characters more
in relief.

Robert le Diable, converted into a grand opera, was produced at the
Académie, on the 21st of November, 1831. Dr. Véron, in his "Mémoires
d'un Bourgeois de Paris," has given a most interesting account of all
the circumstances which attended the rehearsals and first representation
of this celebrated work. Dr. Véron had just undertaken the management of
the Académie; and to have such an opera as Robert le Diable, with
which to mark the commencement of his reign, was a piece of rare good
fortune. The libretto, the music, the ballet, were all full of interest,
and many of the airs had the advantage (in Paris) of being somewhat in
the French style. The applause with which this, the best constructed of
all M. Meyerbeer's works, was received, went on increasing from act to
act; and, altogether, the success it obtained was immense, and, in some
respects, unprecedented.

Nourrit played the part of "Robert," Madame Cinti Damoreau that of
"Isabelle." Mademoiselle Dorus and Levasseur were the "Alice" and the
"Bertram." In the pas de cinq of the second act, Noblet, Montessu, and
Perrot appeared; and in the nuns' scene, the troop of resuscitated
virgins was led by the graceful and seductive Taglioni. All the scenery
was admirably painted, especially that of the moonlight tableau in the
third act. The costumes were rich and brilliant, the mise en scène,
generally, was remarkable for its completeness; in short, every one
connected with the "getting up" of the opera from Habeneck, the musical
conductor, to the property-men, gas-fitters and carpenters, whose names
history has not preserved, did their utmost to ensure its success.

In 1832, Robert le Diable was brought out at the King's Theatre, with
the principal parts sustained, as in Paris, by Nourrit, Levasseur, and
Madame Damoreau. The part of "Alice" appears to have been given to
Mademoiselle de Méric. This opera met with no success at the King's
Theatre, and was scarcely better received at Covent Garden, where an
English version was performed, with such alterations in Meyerbeer's
music as will easily be conceived by those who remember how the works of
Rossini, and, indeed, all foreign composers, were treated at this time,
on the English stage.

[Sidenote: ROBERT LE DIABLE.]

In 1832, and, indeed, many years afterwards, when Robert and Les
Huguenots had been efficiently represented in London by German
companies, Meyerbeer's music was still most severely handled by some of
our best musical critics. At present there is perhaps an inclination to
go to the other extreme; but, at all events, full justice has now been
rendered to M. Meyerbeer's musical genius. Let us hear what Lord Mount
Edgcumbe (whose opinion I do not regard as one of authority, but only as
an interesting index to that of the connoisseurs of the old school), has
to say of the first, and, on the whole, the most celebrated of
Meyerbeer's operas. He entertains the greatest admiration for Don
Giovanni, Fidelio, Der Freischütz, and Euryanthe; but neither the
subject, nor even the music of Robert le Diable, pleases him in the
least. "Never," he says, "did I see a more disagreeable or disgusting
performance. The sight of the resurrection of a whole convent of nuns,
who rise from their graves, and begin dancing, like so many bacchants,
is revolting; and a sacred service in a church, accompanied by an organ
on the stage, not very decorous. Neither does the music of Meyerbeer
compensate for a fable, which is a tissue of nonsense and improbability.
Of course, I was not tempted to hear it again in its original form, and
it did credit to the taste of the English public, that it was not
endured at the Opera House, and was acted only a very few nights."

Meyerbeer's second grand opera, Les Huguenots, was produced at the
Académie Royale on the 26th of January, 1836, after twenty-eight full
rehearsals, occasioning a delay which cost the composer a fine of thirty
thousand francs. The expense of getting up the Huguenots (in scenery,
dresses, properties, &c.), amounted to one hundred and sixty thousand
francs.

[Sidenote: LES HUGUENOTS.]

In London, and I believe everywhere on the continent except in Paris,
the most popular of M. Meyerbeer's three grand operas is Les
Huguenots. At the Académie, Robert le Diable seems still to carry
away the palm. Of late years, the admirable performance of Mario and
Grisi, and of Titiens and Giuglini, in the duet of the fourth act, has
had an immense effect in increasing the popularity of Les Huguenots
with the English. This duet, the septett for male voices, the blessing
of the daggers and the whole of the dramatic and animated scene of which
it forms part, are certainly magnificent compositions; but the duet for
"Raoul" and "Valentine" is the very soul of the work. At the theatres of
Italy, the opera in question is generally "cut" with a free hand; and it
is so long, that even after plentiful excisions an immense deal of
music, and of fine music, still remains. But who would go to hear Les
Huguenots, if the duet of the fourth act were omitted, or if the
performance stopped at the end of act III.? On the other hand, the
fourth act alone would always attract an audience; for, looked upon as a
work by itself, it is by far the most dramatic, the most moving of all
M. Meyerbeer's compositions. The construction of this act is most
creditable to the librettist; while the composer, in filling up, and
giving musical life to the librettist's design, has shown the very
highest genius. It ends with a scene for two personages, but the whole
act is of one piece. While the daggers are being distributed, while the
plans of the chief agents in the massacre are being developed in so
striking and forcible a manner, the scene between the alarmed "Raoul"
and the terrified "Valentine" is, throughout, anticipated; and equally
necessary for the success of the duet, from a musical as well as from a
dramatic point of view, is the massive concerted piece by which this
duet is preceded. To a composer, incapable or less capable than M.
Meyerbeer, of turning to advantage the admirable but difficult situation
here presented, there would, of course, have been the risk of an
anti-climax; there was the danger that, after a stageful of fanatical
soldiers and monks, crying out at the top of their voices for blood, it
would be impossible further to impress the audience by any known musical
means. Meyerbeer, however, has had recourse to the expression of an
entirely different kind of emotion, or rather a series of emotions, full
of admirable variations and gradations; and everyone who has heard the
great duet of Les Huguenots knows how wonderfully he has succeeded. It
has been said that the idea of this scene originated with Nourrit. In
any case, it was an idea which Scribe lost no time in profiting by, and
the question does not in any way affect the transcendent merit of the
composer.

* * * * *

Le Prophète, M. Meyerbeer's third grand opera, was produced at the
Académie on the 16th of April, 1849, with Roger, Viardot-Garcia, and
Castellan, in the principal characters. This opera, like Les
Huguenots, has been performed with great success in London. The part of
"Jean" has given the two great tenors of the Royal Italian Opera--Mario
and Tamberlik--opportunities of displaying many of their highest
qualities as dramatic singers. The magnificent Covent Garden orchestra
achieves a triumph quite of its own, in the grand march of the
coronation scene; and the opera enables the management to display all
its immense resources in the scenic department.

* * * * *

[Sidenote: GUSTAVE III.]

In passing from Masaniello to Rossini's Guillaume Tell, and from
Rossini to Meyerbeer, we have lost sight too soon of the greatest
composer France ever produced, and one who is ranked in all countries
among the first composers of the century. I mean, of course, M. Auber,
of whose works I should have more to say, if I had not determined, in
this brief "History of the Opera" to pay but little attention to the
French "Opéra Comique," which, with the exception of a very few examples
(all by M. Auber)[96] is not a genre that has been accepted anywhere
out of France. In sketching, however, the history of the Grand Opera,
it would be impossible to omit Gustave III. Gustave ou le Bal
Masqué, composed on one of the two librettos returned to M. Scribe by
Rossini,[97] was performed for the first time on the 27th of February,
1833. This admirable work is not nearly so well known in England, or
even in France, as it deserves to be. The government of Louis Philippe
seems to have thought it imprudent to familiarize the Parisians with
regicide, by exhibiting it to them three or four times a week on the
stage, as the main incident of a very interesting drama; and after a
certain number of representations, Gustave, which, taken altogether,
is certainly Auber's masterpiece, was cut down to the ball-scene. In
England, no one objected to the theatrical assassination of Gustavus;
but unfortunately, also, no scruple was made about mutilating and
murdering Auber's music. In short, the Gustavus of Auber was far more
cruelly ill-treated in London than the Gustavus of Sweden at his own
masqued ball. Mr. Gye ought to produce Gustavus at the Royal Italian
Opera, where, for the first time in England, it would be worthily
represented. The frequenters of this theatre have long been expecting
it, though I am not aware that it has ever been officially promised.

The original caste of Gustave included Nourrit, Levasseur, Massol,
Dabadie, Dupont, Mademoiselle Falcon, Mademoiselle Dorus, and Madame
Dabadie. Nourrit, the original "Guillaume Tell," the original "Robert,"
the original "Raoul," the original "Gustave," was then at the height of
his fame; but he was destined to be challenged four years afterwards by
a very formidable rival. He was the first, and the only first tenor at
the Académie Royale de Musique, where he had been singing with a zeal
and ardour equal to his genius for the last sixteen years, when the
management engaged Duprez, to divide the principal parts with the
vocalist already in office. After his long series of triumphs, Nourrit
had no idea of sharing his laurels in this manner; nor was he at all
sure that he was not about to be deprived of them altogether. "One of
the two must succeed at the expense of the other," he declared; and
knowing the attraction of novelty for the public, he was not at all sure
that the unfortunate one would not be himself.

"Duprez knows me," he said, "and comes to sing where I am. I do not know
him, and naturally fear his approach." After thinking over the matter
for a few days he resolved to leave the theatre. He chose for his last
appearance the second act of Armide, in which "Renaud," the character
assigned to the tenor, has to exclaim to the warrior, "Artemidore"--

"Allez, allez remplir ma place,
Aux lieux d'où mon malheur me chasse," &c.

To which "Artemidore" replies--

"Sans vous que peut on entreprendre?
Celui qui vous bannit ne pourra se défendre
De souhaiter votre retour."

[Sidenote: NOURRIT.]

The scene was very appropriate to the position of the singer who was
about to be succeeded by Duprez. The public felt this equally with
Nourrit himself, and testified their sympathy for the departing Renaud,
by the most enthusiastic applause.

Nourrit took his farewell of the French public on the 1st of April,
1837, and on the 17th of the same month Duprez made his début at the
Académie, as "Arnold," in William Tell. The latter singer had already
appeared at the Comédie Française, where, at the age of fifteen, he was
entrusted with the soprano solos in the choruses of Athalie, and
afterwards at the Odéon, where he played the parts of "Almaviva," in the
Barber of Seville, and Ottavio," in Don Juan. He then visited Italy
for a short time, returned to Paris, and was engaged at the Opéra
Comique. Here his style was much admired, but his singing, on the whole,
produced no great impression on the public. He once more crossed the
Alps, studied assiduously, performed at various theatres in a great
number of operas, and by incessant practice, and thanks also to the
wonderful effect of the climate on his voice, attained the highest
position on the Italian stage, and was the favourite tenor of Italy at a
time when Rubini was singing every summer in London, and every winter in
Paris. Before visiting Italy the second time, Duprez was a "light
tenor," and was particularly remarkable for the "agility" of his
execution. A long residence in a southern climate appears to have quite
changed the nature of his voice; a transformation, however, which must
have been considerably aided by the nature of his studies. He returned
to France a tenore robusto, an impressive, energetic singer, excellin





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Previous: Rossini And His Period



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