VIEW THE MOBILE VERSION of Informational Site Network Informational
     Home - All Operas - Opera Stories - Opera History - Opera Physiology

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

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

Opera In Italy Germany And Russia During And In Connection With The Republican And Napoleonic Wars


Nothing shows better the effect on art of the long continental wars at
the end of the eighteenth and beginning of the nineteenth century than
the fact that Mozart's two greatest works, written for Vienna and Prague
immediately before the French Revolution, did not become known in
England and France until about a quarter of a century after their
production. Fortunate Austria, before the great break up of European
territories and dynasties, possessed the two first musical capitals in
Europe. Opera had already declined in Berlin, and its history, even
under the direction of the flute-playing Frederic, possesses little
interest for English readers after the departure or rather flight of
Madame Mara. Italy was still the great nursery of music, but her maestri
composed their greatest works for foreign theatres, and many of them
were attached to foreign courts. Thus, Paisiello wrote his Barbiere di
Siviglia for St. Petersburgh, whither he had been invited by the
Empress Catherine, and where he was succeeded by Cimarosa. Cimarosa,
again, on his return from St. Petersburgh, wrote his masterpiece, Il
Matrimonio Segretto, for the Emperor Leopold II., at Vienna. Of the
Opera at Stockholm, we have heard nothing since the time of Queen
Christina. The Dresden Opera, which, in the days of Handel, was the
first in Europe, still maintained its pre-eminence at the beginning of
the second half of the eighteenth century, when Rousseau published his
"Musical Dictionary," and described at length the composition of its
admirable orchestra. But the state and the resources of the kings of
Saxony declined with the power of Poland, and the Dresden Opera, though,
thanks to the taste which presided at the court, its performances were
still excellent, had quite lost its peculiar celebrity long before
Napoleon came, and carried away its last remaining glories in the shape
of the composer, Paer, and Madame Paer and Brizzi, its two principal


The first great musical work produced in Russia, Paisiello's Barbiere
di Siviglia, was performed for the first time at St. Petersburgh, in
1780. In this opera work, of which the success soon became European, the
composer entered thoroughly into the spirit of all Beaumarchais's best
scenes, so admirably adapted for musical illustration. Of the solos, the
three most admired were Almaviva's opening romance, Don Basil's La
Calomnia, and the air for Don Bartholo; the other favourite pieces
being a comic trio, in which La Jeunesse sneezes, and L'Eveillé yawns in
the presence of the tutor (I need scarcely remark that the personages
just named belong to Beaumarchais's comedy, and that they are not
introduced in Rossini's opera), another trio, in which Rosina gives the
letter to Figaro, a duet for the entry of the tenor in the assumed
character of Don Alonzo, and a quintett, in which Don Basil is sent to
bed, and in which the phrase buona sera is treated with great

Pergolese rendered a still greater service to Russia than did Paisiello
by writing one of his masterpieces for its capital, when he took the
young Bortnianski with him from St. Petersburgh to Italy, and there
educated the greatest religious composer that Russia, not by any means
deficient in composers, has yet known.


We have seen that Paisiello, some years after his return to Italy, was
engaged by Napoleon as chapel-master, and that the services of Paer were
soon afterwards claimed and secured by the emperor as composer of his
chamber music. This was not the first time that Paer had been forced to
alter his own private arrangements in consequence of the very despotic
patronage accorded to music by the victorious leaders of the French
army. In 1799 he was at Udine, where his wife was engaged as prima
donna. Portogallo's la Donna di genio volubile was about to be
represented before a large number of the officers under the command of
Bernadotte, when suddenly it appeared impossible to continue the
performance owing to the very determined indisposition of the primo
basso. This gentleman had gone to bed in the middle of the day
disguised as an invalid. He declared himself seriously unwell in the
afternoon, and in the evening sent a message to the theatre to excuse
himself from appearing in Portogallo's opera. Paer and his wife
understood what this meant. The performance was for Madame Paer's
benefit; and Olivieri, the perfidious basso, from private pique, had
determined, if possible, to prevent it taking place. Paer's spirit was
roused by the attitude of the primo buffo, which was still that of a
man confined to his bed; and he resolved to frustrate his infamous
scheme, which, though simple, appeared certain of success, inasmuch as
no other comic basso was to be found anywhere near Udine. The audience
was impatient, Madame Paer in tears, the manager in despair, when Paer
desired that the performance might begin; saying, that Providence would
send them a basso who would at least know his part, and that in any case
Madame Paer must get ready for the first scene. Madame Paer obeyed the
marital injunction, but in a state of great trepidation; for she had no
confidence in the capabilities of the promised basso, and was not by any
means sure that he even existed. The curtain was about to rise, when the
singer who was to have fallen from the clouds walked quietly on to the
stage, perfectly dressed for the part he was about to undertake, and
without any sign of hesitation on his countenance. The prima donna
uttered a cry of surprise, burst into a fit of laughter, and then rushed
weeping into the arms of her husband,--for it was Paer himself who had
undertaken to replace the treacherous Olivieri.

"No," said Madame Paer; "this is impossible! It shall never be said that
I allowed you, a great composer, who will one day be known throughout
Europe, to act the buffoon. No! the performance must be stopped!"

At this moment the final chords of the overture were heard. Poor Madame
Paer resigned herself to her fate, and went weeping on to the stage to
begin a comic duet with her husband, who seemed in excellent spirits,
and commenced his part with so much verve and humour, that the
audience rewarded his exertions with a storm of applause. Paer's gaiety
soon communicated itself to his wife. If Paer was to perform at all, it
was necessary that his performance should outshine that of all possible
rivals, and especially that of the miscreant Olivieri, who was now
laughing between his sheets at the success which he fancied must have
already attended his masterly device. The prima donna had never sung
so charmingly before, but the greatest triumph of the evening was gained
by the new basso. Olivieri, who previously had been pronounced
unapproachable in Portogallo's opera, was now looked upon as quite an
inferior singer compared to the buffo caricato who had so
unexpectedly presented himself before the Udine public. Paer, in
addition to his great, natural histrionic ability, knew every note of
la Donna. Olivieri had studied only his own part. Paer, in directing
the rehearsals, had made himself thoroughly acquainted with all of them,
and gave a significance to some portions of the music which had never
been expressed or apprehended by his now defeated, routed, utterly
confounded rival.


At present comes the dark side of the picture. Olivieri, dangerously ill
the night before, was perfectly well the next morning, and quite ready
to resume his part in la Donna di genio volubile. Paer, on the other
hand, was quite willing to give it up to him; but both reckoned without
the military connoisseurs of Udine, and above all without Bernadotte,
who arrived the day after Paer's great success, when all the officers of
the staff were talking of nothing else. Olivieri was announced to appear
in his old character; but when the bill was shown to the General, he
declared that the original representative might go back to bed, for that
the only buffo he would listen to was the illustrious Paer. In vain the
director explained that the composer was not engaged as a singer, and
that nothing but the sudden indisposition of Olivieri would have induced
him to appear on the stage at all. Bernadotte swore he would have Paer,
and no one else; and as the unfortunate impresario continued his
objections, he was ordered into arrest, and informed that he should
remain in prison until the maestro Paer undertook once more the part
of "Pippo" in Portogallo's opera.

The General then sent a company of grenadiers to surround Paer's house;
but the composer had heard of what had befallen the manager, and,
foreseeing his own probable fate, if he remained openly in Udine, had
concealed himself, and spread a report that he was in the country.
Lancers and hussars were dispatched in search of him, but naturally
without effect. In the supposed absence of Paer, the army was obliged to
accept Olivieri; and when six or seven representations of the popular
opera had taken place and the military public had become accustomed to
Olivieri's performance of the part of "Pippo," Paer came forth from his
hiding place and suffered no more from the warlike dilettanti-ism of


There would be no end to my anecdotes if I were to attempt to give a
complete list of all those in which musicians and singers have been made
to figure in connection with all sorts of events during the last great
continental war. The great vocalists, and many of the great composers of
the day, continued to travel about from city to city, and from court to
court, as though Europe were still in a state of profound peace.
Sometimes, as happened once to Paer, and was nearly happening to him a
second time, they were taken prisoners; or they found themselves shut up
in a besieged town; and a great cantatrice, Madame Fodor, who chanced
to be engaged at the Hamburg opera when Hamburg was invested, was
actually the cause of a sortie being made in her favour. On one
occasion, while she was singing, the audience was disturbed by a cannon
ball coming through the roof of the theatre and taking its place in the
gallery; but the performances continued nevertheless, and the officers
and soldiers of the garrison continued to be delighted with their
favourite vocalist. Madame Fodor, however, on her side, was beginning to
get tired of her position; not that she cared much about the bombardment
which was renewed from time to time, but because the supply of milk had
failed, cows and oxen having been alike slaughtered for the sustenance
of the beleaguered garrison. Without milk, Madame Fodor was scarcely
able to sing; at least, she had so accustomed herself to drink it every
evening during the intervals of performance, that she found it
inconvenient and painful to do without it. Hearing in what a painful
situation their beloved vocalist found herself, the French army
gallantly resolved to remedy it without delay. The next evening a
sortie was effected, and a cow brought back in triumph. This cow was
kept in the property and painting room in the theatre, above the stage,
and was lowered like a drop scene, to be milked whenever Madame Fodor
was thirsty. So, at least, says the operatic anecdote on the subject,
though it would perhaps have been a more convenient proceeding to have
sent some trustworthy person to perform the milking operation up stairs.
In any case, the cow was kept carefully shut up and under guard.
Otherwise the animal's life would not have been safe, so great was the
scarcity of provision in Hamburg at the time, and so great the general
hunger for beef of any kind.

* * * * *


Madame Huberti, after flying from Paris during the Reign of Terror,
married the Count d'Entraigues, and would seem to have terminated her
operatic career happily and honourably; but she was destined some years
afterwards to die a horrible death. The countess always wore the order
of St. Michael, which had been given to her by the then unacknowledged
Louis XVIII., in token of the services she had rendered to the royalist
party, by enabling her husband to escape from prison and preserving his
portfolio which contained a number of political papers of great
importance. The Count afterwards entered the service of Russia, and was
entrusted by the government with several confidential missions. Hitherto
he had been working in the interest of the Bourbons against Napoleon;
but when the French emperor and the emperor Alexander formed an
alliance, after the battles of Eylau and Friedland, he seems to have
thought that his connexion with Russia ought to terminate. However this
may have been, he found means to obtain a copy of the secret articles
contained in the treaty of Tilsit[73] and hastened to London to
communicate them to the English government. For this service he is said
to have received a pension, and he now established himself in England,
where he appears to have had continual relations with the foreign
office. The French police heard how the Count d'Entraigues was employed
in London, and Fouché sent over two agents to watch him and intercept
his letters. These emissaries employed an Italian refugee, to get
acquainted with and bribe Lorenzo, the Count's servant, who allowed his
compatriot to read and even to take copies of the despatches frequently
entrusted to him by his master to take to Mr. Canning. He, moreover,
gave him a number of the Count's letters to and from other persons. One
evening a letter was brought to M. d'Entraigues which obliged him to go
early the next morning from his residence at Barnes to London. Lorenzo
had observed the seal of the foreign office on the envelope, and saw
that his treachery would soon be discovered. Everything was ready for
the journey, when he stabbed his master, who fell to the ground mortally
wounded. The Countess was getting into the carriage. To prevent her
charging him with her husband's death, the servant also stabbed her, and
a few moments afterwards, in confusion and despair, blew his own brains
out with a pistol which he in the first instance appears to have
intended for M. d'Entraigues. This horrible affair occurred on the 22nd
of July, 1812.

Nothing fatal happened to Madame Colbran, though she was deeply mixed up
with politics, her name being at one time quite a party word among the
royalists at Naples. Those who admired the king made a point of
admiring his favourite singer. A gentleman from England asked a friend
one night at the Naples theatre how he liked the vocalist in question.

"Like her? I am a royalist," was the reply.

When the revolutionists gained the upper hand, Madame Colbran was
hissed; but the discomfiture of the popular party was always followed by
renewed triumphs for the singer.

Madame Colbran must not lead us on to her future husband, Rossini, whose
epoch has not yet arrived. The mention of Paer's wife has already taken
us far away from the composers in vogue at the end of the eighteenth


Two of the three best comic operas ever produced, Le Nozze di Figaro
and Il Matrimonio Segretto (I need scarcely name Rossini's Il
Barbiere di Siviglia as the third), were written for Vienna within six
years (1786-1792), and at the special request of emperors of Germany.
Cimarosa was returning from St. Petersburgh when Leopold II., Joseph the
Second's successor, detained him at Vienna, and invited him to compose
something for his theatre. The maestro had not much time, but he did
his best, and the result was, Il Matrimonio Segretto. The Emperor was
delighted with the work, which seemed almost to have been improvised,
and gave the composer twelve thousand francs, or, as some say, twelve
thousand florins; in either case, a very liberal sum for the period when
Cimarosa, Paisiello and Gughelmi had mutually agreed, whatever more
they might receive for their operas, never to take less than two
thousand four hundred francs.

The libretto of Il Matrimonio Segretto, by Bertatti, is imitated from
that of a forgotten French operetta, Sophie ou le Mariage Caché, which
is again founded on Garrick and Coleman's Clandestine Marriage. The
Emperor Leopold was unable to be present at the first performance of
Cimarosa's new work, but he heard of its enormous success, and
determined not to miss a note at the second representation. He was in
his box before the commencement of the overture, and listened to the
performance throughout with the greatest attention, but without
manifesting any opinion as to the merits of the music. As the Sovereign
did not applaud, the brilliant audience who had assembled to hear Il
Matrimonio a second time, were obliged, by court etiquette, to remain
silent without giving the slightest expression to the delight the music
afforded them. This icy reception was very different to the one obtained
by the opera the night before, when the marks of approbation from all
parts of the house had been of the most enthusiastic kind. However, when
the piece was at an end, the Emperor rose and said aloud--

"Bravo, Cimarosa, bravissimo! The whole opera is admirable, delightful,
enchanting. I did not applaud that I might not lose a single note of
this masterpiece. You have heard it twice, and I must have the same
pleasure before I go to bed. Singers and musicians, pass into the next
room! Cimarosa will come too, and will preside at the banquet prepared
for you. When you have had sufficient rest we will begin again. I
encore the whole opera, and, in the mean while, let us applaud it as
it deserves." Leopold clapped his hands, and for some minutes the whole
theatre resounded with plaudits. After the banquet, the entire opera was

The only other example of such an occurrence as the above is to be found
in the career of Terence, whose Eunuchus on its first production, was
performed twice the same day, or, rather, once in the morning, and once
in the evening.

A similar amount of success obtained by Paer's Laodicea had quite an
opposite result; for, as nearly the whole opera was encored, piece by
piece, it was found impossible to conclude it the same evening, and the
performance of the last act was postponed until the next night.

Mozart's Nozze di Figaro, produced six years before the Matrimonio
Segretto, was far less justly appreciated,--indeed, at Vienna, was not
appreciated at all. This admirable work, so full of fresh spontaneous
melody, and of rich, varied harmony was actually hissed by the Viennese!
They even hissed Non piu andrai, which seems equally calculated to
delight the educated and the most uneducated ear. Mozart has made
allusion to this almost incredible instance of bad taste very happily
and ingeniously in the supper scene of Don Giovanni.


Joseph II. cared only for Italian music, and never gave his entire
approbation to anything Mozart produced, though the musicians of the
period acknowledged him to be the greatest composer in Europe.

"It is too fine for our ears," said the presumptuous Joseph, speaking to
Mozart of the Seraglio. "Seriously, I think there are too many notes."

"Precisely the proper number," replied the composer.

The Emperor rewarded his frankness by giving him only fifty ducats for
his opera.[74]

Nevertheless, the Seraglio had caused the success of one of the
emperor's favourite enterprises. It was the first work produced at the
German Opera, established by Joseph II., at Vienna. Until that time,
Italian opera predominated everywhere; indeed, German opera, that is to
say, lyric dramas in the German language, set to music by German
composers, and sung by German singers, could not be said to exist. There
were a number of Italian musicians living at Vienna who were quite aware
of Mozart's superiority, and hated him for it; the more so, as by taking
such an important part in the establishment of the German Opera, he
threatened to diminish the reputation of the Italian school. The
Entführung aus dem Serail was the first blow to the supremacy of
Italian opera. Der Schauspieldirector was the second, and when, after
the production of this latter work at the new German theatre of Vienna,
Mozart proceeded to write the Nozze di Figaro for the Italians, he
simply placed himself in the hands of his enemies. At the first
representation, the two first acts of the Nozze were so shamefully
executed, that the composer went in despair to the emperor to denounce
the treachery of which he was being made the victim. Joseph had detected
the conspiracy and was nearly as indignant as Mozart himself. He sent a
severe message round to the stage, but the harm was now done, and the
remainder of the opera was listened to very coldly. Le Nozze di Figaro
failed at Vienna, and was not appreciated, did not even get a fair
hearing, until it was produced some months afterwards at Prague. The
Slavonians of Bohemia showed infinitely more good taste and intelligence
than the Germans (led away and demoralized, however, by an Italian
clique) at Vienna. At Prague, le Nozze di Figaro caused the greatest
enthusiasm, and Mozart replied nobly to the sympathy and admiration of
the Bohemians. "These good people," he said, "have avenged me. They know
how to do me justice, I must write something to please them." He kept
his word, and the year afterwards gave them the immortal Don Giovanni.


At the head of the clique which had sworn eternal enmity to Mozart, was
Salieri, a musician with a sort of Pontius Pilate reputation, owing his
infamous celebrity to the fact that his name is now inseparably coupled
with that of the sublime composer whom he would have destroyed. Salieri
(whom we have met with before in Paris as the would-be successor of
Gluck) was the most learned of the Italian composers at that time
residing in Vienna; and, therefore, must have felt the greatness of
Mozart's genius more profoundly than any of the others. When Don
Giovanni, after its success at Prague, was produced at Vienna, it was
badly put on the stage, imperfectly rehearsed, and represented
altogether in a very unsatisfactory manner. Nor, with improved execution
did the audience show any disposition to appreciate its manifold
beauties. Mozart's Don Giovanni was quite eclipsed by the Assur of
his envious and malignant rival.

"I will leave it to psychologists to determine," says M.
Oulibicheff,[75] "whether the day on which Salieri triumphed publicly
over Mozart, was the happiest or the most painful of his life. He
triumphed, indeed, thanks to the ignorance of the Viennese, to his own
skill as a director, (which enabled him to render the work of his rival
scarcely recognisable), and to the entire devotion of his subordinates.
He must have been pleased; but Salieri was not only envious, he was also
a great musician. He had read the score of Don Giovanni, and you know
that the works one reads with the greatest attention are those of one's
enemies. With what admiration and despair it must have filled the heart
of an artist who was even more ambitious of true glory than of mere
renown! What must he have felt in his inmost soul! And what serpents
must again have crawled and hissed in the wreath of laurel which was
placed on his head! In spite of the fiasco of his opera, which he seems
to have foreseen, and to which, at all events, he resigned himself with
great calmness, Mozart, doubtless, more happy than his conqueror, added
a few 'numbers,' each a masterpiece to his score. Four new pieces were
written for it, at the request of the Viennese singers."

M. Oulibicheff's compatriot Poushkin has written an admirable study on
the subject presented above in a few suggestive phrases by Mozart's
biographer. Unfortunately, it is impossible in these volumes to find a
place for the Russian poet's "Mozart and Salieri."

After the failure of Don Giovanni at Vienna, a number of persons were
speaking of it in a room where Haydn and the principal connoisseurs of
the place were assembled. Every one agreed in pronouncing it a most
estimable work, but, also, every one had something to say against it. At
last, Haydn, who, hitherto, had not spoken a word, was asked to give his

"I do not feel myself in a position to decide this dispute," he
answered. "All I know and can assure you of is that Mozart is the
greatest composer of our time."

[Sidenote: DON GIOVANNI.]

As Salieri's Assur completely eclipsed Don Giovanni, so, previously,
did Martini's Cosa Rara, the Nozze di Figaro. Both these phenomena
manifested themselves at Vienna, and the reader has already been
reminded that the fate of the Nozze di Figaro is alluded to in Don
Giovanni. All the airs played by the hero's musicians in the supper
scene are taken from the operas which were most in vogue when Mozart
produced his great work; such as La Cosa Rara, Frà due Litiganti
terzo gode, and I Pretendenti Burlati. Leporello calls attention to
the melodies as the orchestra on the stage plays them, and when, to
terminate the series, the clarionets strike up Non piu andrai, he
exclaims Questo lo conosco pur troppo! "I know this one only too
well!" With the exception of Non piu andrai, which the Viennese could
not tolerate the first time they heard it, none of the airs introduced
in the Don Giovanni supper scene would be known in the present day,
but for Don Giovanni.

* * * * *

Don Giovanni, composed by Mozart to Da Ponte's libretto (which is
founded on Molière's Festin de Pierre, which is imitated from Tirso di
Molina's El Burlador di Siviglia, which seems to have had its origin
in a very ancient legend[76]), was produced at Prague, on the 4th of
November, 1787. The subject had already been treated in a ballet, in
four acts, for which Gluck wrote the music (produced at Parma in 1758;
and long before the production of Mozart's Don Giovanni, it had been
dramatised in some shape or other in almost every country in Europe, and
especially in Spain, Italy, and France, where several versions of the
Italian Il Convitato di Pietra were being played, when Molière first
brought out his so-called Festin de Pierre. The original cast of Don
Giovanni at Prague was as follows:--

Donna Anna, Teresa Saporiti.
Elvira, Catarina Micelli.
Zerlina, Madame Bondini (Catarina Saporiti).
Don Giovanni, Bassi (Luigi).
Ottavio, Baglioni (Antonio).
Leporello, Ponziani (Felice).
Don Pedro, Lolli (Guiseppe).
Masetto, the same.

Righini, of Bologna, had produced his opera of Don Giovanni, ossia il
Convitato di Pietra, at Prague, only eight years before, for which
reason the title of Il Dissoluto Punito was given to Mozart's work. It
was not until some years afterwards that it received the name by which
it is now universally known.

[Sidenote: DON GIOVANNI.]

Although the part of Don Giovanni was written for a baritone, tenors,
such as Tacchinardi and Garcia, have often played it, and frequently
with greater success than the majority of baritones have obtained. But
no individual success of a favourite singer can compensate for the
transpositions and changes that have to be effected in Mozart's
masterpiece, when the character of the hero is assigned to a vocalist
who cannot execute the music which of right belongs to it. It has been
said that Mozart wrote the part of Don Giovanni for a baritone,
because it so happened that the baritone at the Prague theatre, Bassi,
was the best singer of the company; but it is not to be imagined that
the musical characterization of the personages in the most truly
dramatic opera ever written, was the result of anything but the
composer's well-considered design. "Don Giovanni was not intended for
Vienna, but for Prague," Mozart is reported to have said. "The truth,
however, is," he added, "that I wrote it for myself, and a few friends."
Accordingly, the great composer was not thinking of Bassi at the time.
It would be easy, moreover, to show, that though the most feminine of
male voices may suit the ordinary jeune premier, or premier
amoureux, there is nothing tenor-like in the temperament of a Don
Giovanni; deceiving all women, defying all men, breaking all laws,
human and divine, and an unbeliever in everything--even in the power of
equestrian statues to get off their horses, and sit down to supper.

[Sidenote: DON GIOVANNI.]

But, let us not consider whether or not Fin ch' han dal vino is
improved by being sung (as tenor Don Giovannis sometimes sing it) a
fourth higher than it was written by Mozart; or whether it is tolerable
that the concerted pieces in which Don Giovanni takes part should be,
not transposed (for that would be insufficient, or, rather, would
increase the difficulties of execution) but so altered, that in some
passages the original design of the composer is entirely perverted. Let
us simply repeat the maxim, on which it is impossible to lay too much
stress, that the work of a great master should not be touched,
re-touched, or in any manner interfered with, under any pretext. There
is, absolutely, no excuse for managers mutilating Don Giovanni; not
even the excuse that in its original form this inexhaustible opera does
not "draw." It has already lived, and with full, unfailing life, for
three-quarters of a century. It has survived all sorts of revolutions in
taste, and especially in musical taste. There are now no Emperors of
Germany. Prague has become a third-rate city. That German Opera, which
Mozart originated with his Entführung aus dem Serail, has attained a
grand development, and among its composers has numbered Beethoven,
Weber, and the latter's follower, and occasional imitator, Meyerbeer.
Rossini has appeared with his seductive melody, and his brilliant,
sonorous orchestra. But justice is still--more than ever--done to
Mozart. The verdict of Prague is maintained; and this year, as ten,
twenty, forty years ago, if the manager of the Italian Opera of London,
Paris, or St. Petersburgh, has had for some time past a series of empty
houses, he takes an opera, seventy-four years of age, and which,
according to all ordinary musical calculations, ought long since to have
had, at least, one act in the grave, dresses it badly, puts it badly on
the stage, with such scenery as would be thought unworthy of Verdi, and
hazardous for Meyerbeer, announces Don Giovanni, and every place in
the theatre is taken!

* * * * *

Although Mozart's genius was fully acknowledged by the greatest
musicians, among his contemporaries (the reader already knows what Haydn
said of him, and what Cimarosa replied when he was addressed as his
superior), his music found an echo in the hearts of only a very small
portion of the ordinary public. Admired at Prague, condemned at Vienna,
unknown in the rest of Europe, it may be said, with only too much truth,
that Mozart's master-pieces, speaking generally, met with no recognition
until after his death; with no fitting recognition until long
afterwards. From the slow, strong, oak-like growth of Mozart's fame, now
flourishing, and still increasing every day, we may see, not for his
name alone, but for his music, a continued celebrity and popularity,
which will probably endure as long as our modern civilization. I have
already spoken of the effects of the last general war in checking
literary and artistic communication between the nations of Europe. This
will, in part, account for Mozart's master-piece not having been
performed at the Italian Opera of Paris until 1811, nor in London until
after the peace, in 1817. In the Paris cast, the part of Don Giovanni
was assigned to a tenor, Tacchinardi; and when the opera was revived at
the same theatre (which was not until nine years afterwards),
Tacchinardi was replaced by Garcia.

The first "Don Giovanni" who appeared in London, was the celebrated
baritone, Ambrogetti. Among the other distinguished singers who have
appeared as "Don Giovanni," with great success, may be mentioned
Nourrit, the tenor; Lablache (in 1832), before he had identified himself
with the part of "Leporello;" Tamburini, and I suppose I must now add,
Mario; though this great artist has been seen and heard to more
advantage in other characters. The last great "Don Giovanni" known to
the present generation was Signor Tamburini. It is a remarkable fact,
well worth the consideration of managers, who are inclined to take
liberties with Mozart's master-piece, that when Garcia, the tenor,
appeared in London as "Don Giovanni," after Ambrogetti, the baritone, he
produced comparatively but little effect; though Garcia was one of the
most accomplished musicians, and, probably, the very best singer of his

Without going back again to the original cast, I may notice among the
most celebrated Donna Annas, Madame Ronzi de Begnis, Mademoiselle
Sontag, Madame Grisi, Mademoiselle Sophie Cruvelli, and Mademoiselle

Among the Zerlinas, Madame Fodor, Madame Malibran, Madame Persiani[77],
and Madame Bosio.

[Sidenote: DON GIOVANNI.]

Among the Don Ottavios, Rubini and Mario.

Porto is said to have been particularly admirable as Masetto, and
Angrisani and Angelini as the commandant.

Certainly, no one living has heard a better Leporello than Lablache.

Mr. Ebers tells us, in his "Seven Years of the King's Theatre," that
Don Giovanni was brought out by Mr. Ayrton in 1817, "in opposition to
a vexatious cabal," and "in despite of difficulties of many kinds which
would have deterred a less decided and persevering manager."
Nevertheless, "it filled the boxes and benches of the theatre for the
whole season, and restored to a flourishing condition the finances of
the concern, which were in an almost exhausted state."

* * * * *


The war, so injurious to the Opera, had a still more disastrous effect
on the ballet, a fact for which we have the authority of the manager and
author from whom I have just quoted. "The procrastinated war," says Mr.
Ebers, "which, until the treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle, had kept England and
France in hostilities, had rendered the importation of dancers from the

latter country almost impracticable." Mr. Waters, Mr. Ebers'
predecessor, had repeatedly endeavoured to prevail on French dancers to
come to England, "either with the congés, if attainable, or by such
clandestine means as could be carried into effect." He failed; and we
are told that his want of success in this respect was one cause of the
disagreement between himself and the committee of the theatre, which led
soon afterwards to his abandoning the management. Mr. Ebers, however,
testifies from his own experience to the almost insuperable difficulty
of inducing the directors of the French Opera to cede any of their
principal performers even for a few weeks to the late enemies of their
country. When the dancers were willing to accept the terms offered to
them, it was impossible to obtain leave from the minister entrusted with
the supreme direction of operatic affairs; if the minister was willing,
then objections came from the ballet itself. It was necessary to secure
the aid of the highest diplomatists, and the engagement of a few first
dancers and coryphées was made as important an affair as the signing
of a treaty of commerce. The special envoy, the Cobden of the affair,
was Monsieur Boisgerard, an ex-officer in the French army under the
Bourbons, and actually the second ballet-master of the King's Theatre;
but all official correspondence connected with the negotiation had to be
transmitted through the medium of the English ambassador at Paris to the
Baron de la Ferté. Boisgerard arrived in Paris furnished with letters of
introduction from the five noblemen who at that time formed a "committee
of superintendence" to aid Mr. Ebers in the management of the King's
Theatre, and directed all his attention and energy towards forming an
engagement with Bigottini and Noblet, the principal danseuses, and
Albert, the premier danseur of the French Opera. In spite of his
excellent recommendations, of the esteem in which he was himself held by
his numerous friends in Paris, and of the interest of a dancer named
Deshayes, who appears to have readily joined in the conspiracy, and who
was afterwards rewarded for his aid with a lucrative engagement as first
ballet-master at the London Opera House--in spite of all these
advantages it was impossible, for some time, to obtain any concessions
from the Académie. To begin with, Bigottini, Noblet and Albert refused
point blank to leave Paris. M. Boisgerard, however, as a ballet-master
and a man of the world, understood that this was intended only as an
invitation for larger offers; and finally all three were engaged,
conditionally on their congés being obtained from the directors of the
theatre. Now the real difficulty began; now the influence of the five
English noblemen was brought to bear; now despatches were interchanged
between the British ambassador in Paris and the Baron de la Ferté,
intendant of the royal theatres; now consultations took place between
the said intendant and the Viscount de la Rochefoucault, aide-de-camp of
the king, entrusted with the department of fine arts in the ministry of
the king's household; and between the said artistic officer of the
king's household and Duplanty, the administrator of the Royal Academy of
Music, and of the Italian Opera. The result of all this negotiation
was, that the administration first hesitated and finally refused to
allow Mademoiselle Bigottini to visit England on any terms; but, after
considerable trouble, the French agents in the service of Mr. Ebers
obtained permission for Albert and Noblet to accept engagements for two
months,--it being further arranged that, at the expiration of that
period, they should be replaced by Coulon and Fanny Bias. Albert was to
receive fifty pounds for every night of performance, and twenty-five
pounds for his travelling expenses. Noblet's terms were five hundred and
fifty pounds for the two months, with twenty-five pounds for expenses.
Coulon and Bias were each to receive the same terms as Noblet. Three
other dancers, Montessu, Lacombe, and Mademoiselle de Varennes, were at
the same time given over to Mr. Ebers for an entire season, and he was
allowed to retain all his prisoners--that is to say, those members of
the Académie, with Mademoiselle Mélanie at their head, whom previous
managers had taken from the French prior to the friendly and pacific
embassy of M. Boisgerard. An attempt was made to secure the services of
Mademoiselle Elisa, but without avail. M. and Mademoiselle Paul entered
into an agreement, but the administration refused to ratify it;
otherwise, with a little encouragement, Mr. Ebers would probably have
engaged the entire ballet of the Académie Royale.


Male dancers have, I am glad to think, never been much esteemed in
England; and Albert, though successful enough, produced nothing like the
same impression in London which he was in the habit of causing in
Paris. Mademoiselle Noblet's dancing, on the other hand, excited the
greatest enthusiasm, and the subscribers made all possible exertions to
obtain a prolongation of her congé when the time for her return to the
Académie arrived. Noblet's performance in the ballet of Nina (of which
the subject is identical with that of Paisiello's opera of the same
name) is said to have been particularly admirable, especially for the
great dramatic talent which she exhibited in pourtraying the heroine's
melancholy madness. Nina was announced for Mademoiselle Noblet's
benefit, on a night not approved by the Lord Chamberlain--either because
it interfered with some of the court regulations, or for some other
reason not explained. The secretary to the committee of the Opera was
directed to address a letter to the Chamberlain, representing to him how
inconvenient it would be to postpone the benefit, as the congé of the
bénéficiaire was now on the point of expiring. Lord Hertford, with
becoming politeness, wrote the following letter, which shows with what
deep interest the graceful dancer inspired even those who knew her only
by reputation. The letter was addressed to the Marquis of Ailesbury, one
of the members of the operatic committee.

"MY DEAR LORD,--I have this moment (eleven o'clock) received your
letter, which I have sent to the Chamberlain's office to Mr. Mash;
and as Mademoiselle Noblet is a very pretty woman as I am told, I
hope she will call there to assist in the solicitation which
interests her so much. Not having been for many years at the opera,
except for the single purpose of attending his majesty, I am no
judge of the propriety of her request or the objections which may
arise to the postponement of her benefit for one day at so short a
notice. I hope the fair solicitress will be prepared with an answer
on this part of the subject, as it is always my wish to accommodate
you; and I remain most sincerely your very faithful servant,


"Manchester Square,

April 29th, 1821."

Mademoiselle Noblet's benefit having taken place, the subscribers,
horrified at the notion that they had now, perhaps, seen her for
the last time, determined, in spite of all obstacles, in spite even
of the very explicit agreement between the director of the King's
Theatre and the administration of the Académie Royale, that she
should remain in London. The danseuse was willing enough to
prolong her stay, but the authorities at the French Opera
protested. The Academy of Music was not going to be deprived in
this way of one of the greatest ornaments of its ballet, and the
Count de Caraman, on behalf of the Academy, called on the committee
to direct Mr. Ebers to send over to Paris, without delay, the
performers whose congés were now at an end. The members of the
committee replied that they had only power to interfere as regarded
the choice of operas and ballets, and that they had nothing to do
with agreements between the manager and the performers. They added,
"that they had certainly employed their influence with the English
ambassador at Paris at the commencement of the season, to obtain
the best artists from that city; but it appearing that the Academy
was not disposed to grant congés for London, even to artists, for
whose services the Academy had no occasion, the committee had
determined not again to meddle in that branch of the management."


The French now sent over an ambassador extraordinary, the Baron de la
Ferté himself, to negotiate for the restoration of the deserters. It was
decided, however, that they should be permitted to remain until the end
of the season; and, moreover, that two first and two second dancers
should be allowed annually to come to London, but only under the precise
stipulations contained in the following treaty, which was signed between
Mr. Ebers, on the one hand, and M. Duplantys on the part of Viscount de
la Rochefoucault, on the other.

"The administration of the Theatre of the Royal Academy of Music,
wishing to facilitate to the administration of the theatre of London,
the means of making known the French artists of the ballet without this
advantage being prejudicial to the Opera of Paris;

"Consents to grant to Mr. Ebers for each season, the first commencing on
the 10th of January, and ending the 20th of April, and the second
ending the 1st of August, two first dancers, two figurants, and two
figurantes; but in making this concession, the administration of the
Royal Academy of Music reserves the right of only allowing those dancers
to leave Paris to whom it may be convenient to grant a congé; this
rule applies equally to the figurants and figurantes. None of them
can leave the Paris theatre except by the formal permission of the

"And in return for these concessions, Mr. Ebers promises to engage no
dancer until he has first obtained the necessary authorization in
accordance with his demand.

"He engages not under any pretext to keep the principal dancers a longer
time than has been agreed without a fresh permission, and above all, to
make them no offers with the view of enticing them from their permanent
engagements with the French authorities.

"The present treaty is for the space of * * *.

"In case of Mr. Ebers failing in one of the articles of the said treaty,
the whole treaty becomes null and void."



The prime mover in the diplomatic transactions which had the effect of
securing Mademoiselle Noblet far the London Opera was, as I have said,
the ballet master, Boisgerard, formerly an officer in the French army.
In a chapter which is intended to show to some extent the effect on
opera of the disturbed state of Europe consequent on the French
Revolution, it will, perhaps, not be out of place to relate a very
daring exploit performed by the said M. Boisgerard, which was the cause
of his adopting an operatic career. "This gentleman," says Mr. Ebers, in
the account published by him of his administration of the King's Theatre
from 1821 to 1828, "was a Frenchman of good extraction, and at the
period of the French Revolution, was attached to the royal party. When
Sir Sidney Smith was confined in the Temple, Boisgerard acted up to his
principles by attempting, and with great personal risk, effecting the
escape of that distinguished officer, whose friends were making every
effort for his liberation. Having obtained an impression of the seal of
the Directorial Government, he affixed it to an order, forged by
himself, for the delivery of Sir Sidney Smith into his care. Accompanied
by a friend, disguised like himself, in the uniform of an officer of the
revolutionary army, he did not scruple personally to present the
fictitious document to the keeper of the Temple, who, opening a small
closet, took thence some original document, with the writing and seal of
which, he carefully compared the forged order. Desiring the adventurers
to wait a few minutes, he then withdrew, and locked the door after him.
Giving themselves up for lost, the confederate determined to resist,
sword in hand, any attempt made to secure them. The period which thus
elapsed, may be imagined as one of the most horrible suspense to
Boisgerard and his companion; his own account of his feelings at the
time was extremely interesting. Left alone, and in doubt whether each
succeeding moment might not be attended by a discovery involving the
safety of his life, the acuteness of his organs of sense was heightened
to painfulness; the least noise thrilled through his brain, and the
gloomy apartment in which he sat seemed filled with strange images. They
preserved their self-possession, and, after the lapse of a few minutes,
their anxiety was determined by the re-appearance of the gaoler,
accompanied by his captive, who was delivered to Boisgerard. But here a
new and unlooked for difficulty occurred; Sir Sidney Smith, not knowing
Boisgerard, refused, for some time, to quit the prison; and considerable
address was required on the part of his deliverers to overcome his
scruples. At last, the precincts of the Temple were cleared; and, after
going a short distance in a fiacre, then walking, then entering another
carriage, and so on, adopting every means of baffling pursuit, the
fugitives got to Havre, where Sir Sidney was put on board an English
vessel. Boisgerard, on his return to Paris (for he quitted Sir Sidney at
Havre) was a thousand times in dread of detection; tarrying at an
auberge, he was asked whether he had heard the news of Sir Sidney's
escape; the querist adding, that four persons had been arrested on
suspicion of having been instrumental in it. However, he escaped all
these dangers, and continued at Paris until his visit to England, which
took place after the peace of Amiens. A pension had been granted to Sir
Sidney Smith for his meritorious services; and, on Boisgerard's arrival
here, a reward of a similar nature was bestowed on him through the
influence of Sir Sidney, who took every opportunity of testifying his

We have already seen that though the international character of the
Opera must always be seriously interfered with by international wars,
the intelligent military amateur may yet be able to turn his European
campaigning to some operatic advantage. The French officers acquired a
taste for Italian music in Italy. So an English officer serving in the
Peninsula, imbibed a passion for Spanish dancing, to which was due the
choregraphic existence of the celebrated Maria Mercandotti,--by all
accounts one of the most beautiful girls and one of the most charming
dancers that the world ever saw. This inestimable treasure was
discovered by Lord Fife--a keen-eyed connoisseur, who when Maria was but
a child, foretold the position she would one day occupy, if her mother
would but allow her to join the dancing school of the French Academy.
Madame Mercandotti brought her daughter to England when she was fifteen.
The young Spaniard danced a bolero one night at the Opera, repeated it a
few days afterwards at Brighton, before Queen Charlotte, and then set
off to Paris, where she joined the Académie. After a very short period
of study, she made her début with success, such as scarcely any dancer
had obtained at the French Opera, since the time of La Camargo--herself,
by the way, a Spaniard.

Mademoiselle Mercandotti came to London, was received with the greatest
enthusiasm, was the fashionable theme of one entire operatic season, had
a number of poems, valuable presents, and offers of undying affection
addressed to her, and ended by marrying Mr. Hughes Ball.

The production of this danseuse appears to have seen the last direct
result of that scattering of the amateurs of one nation among the
artists of another, which was produced by the European convulsions of
from 1789 to 1815.

Next: Manners And Customs At The London Opera Half A Century Since

Previous: The French Opera Before And After The Revolution

Add to Add to Reddit Add to Digg Add to Add to Google Add to Twitter Add to Stumble Upon
Add to Informational Site Network

Viewed 443