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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




Rossini And His Period








[Sidenote: ROSSINI.]

Innovators in art, whether corrupters or improvers, are always sure to
meet with opposition from a certain number of persons who have formed
their tastes in some particular style which has long been a source of
delight to them, and to interfere with which is to shock all their
artistic sympathies. How often have we seen poets of one generation not
ignored, but condemned and vilified by the critics and even by the poets
themselves of the generation preceding it. Musicians seem to suffer even
more than poets from this injustice of those who having contracted a
special and narrow admiration for the works of their own particular
epoch, will see no merit in the productions of any newer school that may
arrive. Byron, Shelley, Keats, Tennyson have one and all been attacked,
and their poetic merit denied by those who in several instances had
given excellent proofs of their ability to appreciate poetry. Almost
every distinguished composer of the last fifty years has met with the
same fate, not always at the hands of the ignorant public, for it is
this ignorant public with its naïve, uncritical admiration, which has
sometimes been the first to do justice to the critic-reviled poets and
composers, but at those of musicians and of educated amateurs.
Ignorance, prejudice, malice, are the causes too often assigned for the
non-appreciation of the artist of to-day by the art-lover, partly of
to-day, but above all of yesterday. It should be remembered however,
that there is a conservatism in taste as in politics, and that both have
their advantages, though the lovers of noise and of revolution may be
unable to see them; that the extension of the suffrage, the excessive
use of imagery, the special cultivation of brilliant orchestral effects,
may, in the eyes of many, really seem injurious to the true interests of
government, poetry and music; finally that as in old age we find men
still keeping more or less to the costumes of their prime, and as the
man who during the best days of his life has habituated himself to drink
port, does not suddenly acquire a taste for claret, or vice versâ,--so
those who had accustomed their musical stomachs to the soft strains of
Paisiello and Cimarosa, could not enjoy the sparkling, stimulating
music of Rossini. So afterwards to the Rossinians, Donizetti poured
forth nothing but what was insipid and frivolous; Bellini was languid
and lackadaisical; Meyerbeer with his restlessness and violence, his new
instruments, his drum songs, trumpet songs, fencing and pistol songs,
tinder-box music, skating scenes and panoramic effects, was a noisy
charlatan; Verdi, with his abruptness, his occasional vulgarity and
his general melodramatic style, a mere musical Fitzball.

It most not be supposed, however, that I believe in the constant
progress of art; that I look upon Meyerbeer as equal to Weber, or Weber
as superior to Mozart. It is quite certain that Rossini has not been
approached in facility, in richness of invention, in gaiety, in
brilliancy, in constructiveness, or in true dramatic power by any of the
Italian, French, or German theatrical composers who have succeeded him,
though nearly all have imitated him one way or another: I will exclude
Weber alone, an original genius, belonging entirely to Germany[80] and
to himself. It is, at least, quite certain that Rossini is by far the
greatest of the series of Italian composers, which begins with himself
and seems to have ended with Verdi; and yet, while neither Verdi nor
Bellini, nor Donizetti, were at all justly appreciated in this country
when they first made their appearance, Rossini was--not merely sneered
at and pooh-poohed; he was for a long time condemned and abused every
where, and on the production of some of his finest works was hissed and
hooted in the theatres of his native land. But the human heart is not so
black as it is sometimes painted, and the Italian audiences who whistled
and screeched at the Barber of Seville did so chiefly because they did
not like it. It was not the sort of music which had hitherto given them
pleasure, and therefore they were not pleased.

[Sidenote: ROSSINI'S BIOGRAPHERS.]

Rossini had already composed several operas for various Italian theatres
(among which may be particularly mentioned L'Italiana in Algeri,
written for Venice in 1813, the composer having then just attained his
majority) when the Barbiere di Siviglia was produced at Rome for the
Carnival of 1816. The singers were Vitarelli, Boticelli, Zamboni, Garcia
and Mesdames Giorgi-Righetti, and Rossi. A number of different versions
of the circumstances which attended, preceded, and followed the
representation of this opera, have been published, but the account
furnished by Madame Giorgi-Righetti, who introduced the music of Rossini
to the world, is the one most to be relied upon and which I shall adopt.
I may first of all remind the reader that a very interesting life of
Rossini, written with great verve and spirit, full of acute
observations, but also full of misstatements and errors of all
kinds,[81] has been published by Stendhal, who was more than its
translator, but not its author. Stendhal's "Vie de Rossini" is founded
on a work by the Abbé Carpani. To what extent the ingenious author of
the treatise De l'Amour, and of the admirable novel La Charteuse de
Parme, is indebted to the Abbé, I cannot say; but if he borrowed from
him his supposed facts, and his opinions as a musician, he owes him all
the worst portion of his book. The brothers Escudier have also published
a "Vie de Rossini," which is chiefly valuable for the list of his
works, and the dates of their production.

[Sidenote: THE BARBER OF SEVILLE.]

To return to the Barber of Seville, of which the subject was
librsuggested to Rossini by the author of the libretto, Sterbini.
Sterbini proposed to arrange it for music in a new form; Rossini
acquiesced, and the librettists went to work. The report was soon spread
that Rossini was about to reset Paisiello's libretto. For this some
accused Rossini of presumption, while others said that in taking
Paisiello's subject he was behaving meanly and unjustly. This was
absurd, for all Metastasio's lyrical dramas have been set to music by
numbers of composers; but this fact was not likely to be taken into
consideration by Rossini's enemies. Paisiello himself took part in the
intrigues against the young composer, and wrote a letter from Naples,
begging one of his friends at Rome to leave nothing undone that could
contribute to the failure of the second Barber. When the night of
representation, at the Argentina Theatre, arrived, Rossini's enemies
were all at their posts, declaring openly what they hoped and intended
should be the fate of the new opera. His friends, on the other hand,
were not nearly so decided, remembering, as they did, the
uncomplimentary manner in which Rossini's Torvaldo had been received
only a short time before. The composer, says Madame Giorgi-Righetti "was
weak enough to allow Garcia to sing beneath Rosina's balcony a Spanish
melody of his own arrangement. Garcia maintained, that as the scene was
in Spain the Spanish melody would give the drama an appropriate local
colour; but, unfortunately, the artist who reasoned so well, and who was
such an excellent singer, forgot to tune his guitar before appearing on
the stage as "Almaviva." He began the operation in the presence of the
public. A string broke. The vocalist proceeded to replace it; but before
he could do so, laughter and hisses were heard from all parts of the
house. The Spanish air, when Garcia was at last ready to sing it, did
not please the Italian audience, and the pit listened to it just enough
to be able to give an ironical imitation of it afterwards.

The introduction to Figaro's air seemed to be liked; but when Zamboni
entered, with another guitar in his hand, a loud laugh was set up, and
not a phrase of Largo al factotum was heard. When Rosina made her
appearance in the balcony, the public were quite prepared to applaud
Madame Giorgi-Righetti in an air which they thought they had a right to
expect from her; but only hearing her utter a phrase which led to
nothing, the expressions of disapprobation recommenced. The duet between
"Almaviva" and "Figaro" was accompanied throughout with hissing and
shouting. The fate of the work seemed now decided.

At length Rosina came on, and sang the cavatina which had so long been
looked for. Madame Giorgi-Righetti was young, had a fresh beautiful
voice, and was a great favourite with the Roman public. Three long
rounds of applause followed the conclusion of her air, and gave some
hope that the opera might yet be saved. Rossini, who was at the
orchestral piano, bowed to the public, then turned towards the singer,
and whispered "oh natura!"

This happy moment did not last, and the hisses recommenced with the duet
between Figaro and Rosina. The noise increased, and it was impossible to
hear a note of the finale. When the curtain fell Rossini turned towards
the public, shrugged his shoulders and clapped his hands. The audience
were deeply offended by this openly-expressed contempt for their
opinion, but they made no reply at the time.

The vengeance was reserved for the second act, of which not a note
passed the orchestra. The hubbub was so great, that nothing like it was
ever heard at any theatre. Rossini in the meanwhile remained perfectly
calm, and afterwards went home as composed as if the work, received in
so insulting a manner, had been the production of some other musician.
After changing their clothes, Madame Giorgi-Righetti, Garcia, Zamboni,
and Botticelli, went to his house to console him in his misfortune. They
found him fast asleep.

[Sidenote: THE BARBER OF SEVILLE.]

The next day he wrote the delightful cavatina, Ecco ridente il cielo,
to replace Garcia's unfortunate Spanish air. The melody of the new solo
was borrowed from the opening chorus of Aureliano in Palmira, written
by Rossini in 1814, for Milan, and produced without success; the said
chorus having itself figured before in the same composer's Ciro in
Babilonia, also unfavourably received. Garcia read his cavatina as
it was written, and sang it the same evening. Rossini, having now made
the only alteration he thought necessary, went back to bed, and
pretended to be ill, that he might not have to take his place in the
evening at the piano.

At the second performance, the Romans seemed disposed to listen to the
work of which they had really heard nothing the night before. This was
all that was needed to ensure the opera's triumphant success. Many of
the pieces were applauded; but still no enthusiasm was exhibited. The
music, however, pleased more and more with each succeeding
representation, until at last the climax was reached, and Il Barbiere
produced those transports of admiration among the Romans with which it
was afterwards received in every town in Italy, and in due time
throughout Europe. It must be added, that a great many connoisseurs at
Rome were struck from the first moment with the innumerable beauties of
Rossini's score, and went to his house to congratulate him on its
excellence. As for Rossini, he was not at all surprised at the change
which took place in public opinion. He was as certain of the success of
his work the first night, when it was being hooted, as he was a week
afterwards, when every one applauded it to the skies.

[Sidenote: THE BARBER OF SEVILLE.]

In Paris, more than three years afterwards, with Garcia still playing
the part of "Almaviva," and with Madame Ronzi de Begnis as "Rosina,"
Il Barbiere was not much better received than on its first production
at Rome. It was less astonishing that it should fail before an audience
of Parisians (at that time quite unacquainted with Rossini's style) than
before a highly musical public like that of Rome. In each case, the work
of Paisiello was made the excuse for condemning that of Rossini; but
Rossini's Barber was not treated with indignity at the Italian Theatre
of Paris. It was simply listened to very coldly. Every one was saying,
that after Paisiello's opera it was nothing, that the two were not to be
compared, &c., when, fortunately, some one proposed that Paisiello's
Barber should be revived. Paer, the director of the music, and who is
said to have been rendered very uneasy by Rossini's Italian successes,
thought that to crush Rossini by means of his predecessor, was no bad
idea. The St. Petersburgh Barber of 1788 was brought out; but it was
found that he had grown old and feeble; or, rather, the simplicity of
the style was no longer admired, and the artists who had already lost
the traditions of the school, were unable to sing the music with any
effect. Rossini's Barber has now been before the world for nearly half
a century, and we all know whether it is old-fashioned; whether the airs
are tedious; whether the form of the concerted pieces, and of the grand
finale, leaves anything to be desired; whether the instrumentation is
poor; whether, in short, on any one point, any subsequent work of the
same kind even by Rossini himself, has surpassed, equalled, or even
approached it. But the thirty years of Paisiello's Barber bore heavily
upon the poor old man, and he was found sadly wanting in that gaiety and
brilliancy which have given such celebrity to Rossini's hero, and after
which Beaumarchais's sparkling epigrammatic dialogue appears almost
dull.[82] Paisiello's opera was a complete failure. And when Rossini's
Barbiere was brought out again, every one was struck by the contrast.
It profited by the very artifice which was to have destroyed it, and
Rossini's enemies took care for the future not to establish comparisons
between Rossini and Paisiello. Madame Ronzi de Begnis, too, had been
replaced very advantageously by Madame Fodor. With two such admirable
singers as Fodor and Garcia in the parts of "Rosina" and "Almaviva,"
with Pellegrini as "Figaro," and Begnis as "Basil," the success of the
opera increased with each representation: and though certain musical
quid-nuncs continued to shake their heads when Rossini's name was
mentioned in a drawing-room, his reputation with the great body of the
theatrical public was now fully established.

The tirana composed by Garcia Se il mio nome saper voi bramate,
which he appears to have abandoned after the unfavourable manner in
which it was received at Rome, was afterwards re-introduced into the
Barber by Rubini.

The whole of the Barber of Seville was composed from beginning to end
in a month. Ecco ridente il cielo (the air adapted from Aureliano in
Palmira) was, as already mentioned, added after the first
representation. The overture, moreover, had been previously written for
Aureliano in Palmira, and (after the failure of that work) had been
prefixed to Elizabetta regina d'Inghilterra which met with some
success, thanks to the admirable singing of Mademoiselle Colbran, in the
principal character.

* * * * *

Rossini took his failures very easily, and with the calm confidence of a
man who knew he could do better things and that the public would
appreciate them. When his Sigismondo was violently hissed at Venice he
sent a letter to his mother with a picture of a large fiasco,
(bottle). His Torvaldo e Dorliska, which was brought out soon
afterwards, was also hissed, but not so much.

[Sidenote: THE BARBER OF SEVILLE.]

This time Rossini sent his mother a picture of a fiaschetto (little
bottle).

* * * * *

The motive of the allegro in the trio of the last act of (to return
for a moment to) the Barber of Seville, is, as most of my readers are
probably aware, simply an arrangement of the bass air sung by "Simon,"
in Haydn's Seasons. The comic air, sung by "Berta," the duenna, is a
Russian dance tune, which was very fashionable in Rome, in 1816. Rossini
is said to have introduced it into the Barber of Seville, out of
compliment to some Russian lady.

* * * * *

Rossini's first opera la Pietra del Paragone, was written when he was
seventeen years of age, for the Scala at Milan, where it was produced in
the autumn of 1812. He introduced the best pieces out of this work into
the Cenerentola, which was brought out five years afterwards at Rome.
Besides la Pietra del Paragone, he laid il Turco in Italia, and la
Gazzetta under contribution to enrich the score of Cinderella. The
air Miei rampolli, the duet un Soave non so chè, the drinking chorus
and the burlesque proclamation of the baron belonged originally to la
Pietra del Paragone; the sestett, the stretta of the finale, the
duet zitto, zitto, to the Turco in Italia, (produced at Milan in
1814), Miei rampolli had also been inserted in la Gazzetta.

The principal female part in the Cenerentola, though written for a
contralto, has generally, (like those of Rosina and Isabella, and also
written for contraltos), been sung by sopranos, such as Madame Fodor,
Madame Cinti, Madame Sontag, &c. When sung by Mademoiselle Alboni, these
parts are executed in every respect in conformity with the composer's
intentions.

* * * * *

[Sidenote: ROSSINI'S INNOVATIONS.]

Rossini's first serious opera, or at least the first of those by which
his name became known throughout Europe, was Tancredi, written for
Venice in 1813, the year after la Pietra del Paragone. In this opera,
we find indicated, if not fully carried out, all those admirable changes
in the composition of the lyric drama which were imputed to him by his
adversaries as so many artistic crimes. Lord Mount Edgcumbe, in his
objections to Rossini's music, strange and almost inexplicable as they
appear, yet only says in somewhat different language what is advanced by
Rossini's admirers, in proof of his great merit. The connoisseur of a
past epoch describes the changes introduced by Rossini into dramatic
music, for an enemy, fairly enough; only he regards as detestable
innovations what others have accepted as admirable reforms. It appeared
to Rossini that the number of airs written for the so-called lyric
dramas of his youth, delayed the action to a most wearisome extent. In
Tancredi, concerted pieces in which the dramatic action is kept up,
are introduced in situations where formerly there would have been only
monologues. In Tancredi the bass has little to do, but more than in
the operas of the old-school, where he was kept quite in the back
ground, the ultima parte being seldom heard except in ensembles. By
degrees the bass was brought forward, until at last he became an
indispensable and frequently the principal character in all tragic
operas. In the old opera the number of characters was limited and
choruses were seldom introduced. Think, then, how an amateur of the
simple, quiet old school must have been shocked by a thoroughly
Rossinian opera, such as Semiramide, with its brilliant, sonorous
instrumentation, its prominent part for the bass or baritone, its long
elaborate finale, and above all its military band on the stage! Mozart
had already anticipated every resource that has since been adopted by
Rossini, but to Rossini belongs, nevertheless, the merit of having
brought the lyric drama to perfection on the Italian stage, and forty
and even thirty years ago it was to Rossini that its supposed
degradation was attributed.

"So great a change," says Lord Mount Edgcumbe, "has taken place in the
character of the (operatic) dramas, in the style of the music and its
performance, that I cannot help enlarging on that subject before I
proceed further. One of the most material alterations is, that the grand
distinction between serious and comic operas is nearly at an end, the
separation of the singers for their performance, entirely so.[83] Not
only do the same sing in both, but a new species of drama has arisen, a
kind of mongrel between them called semi seria, which bears the same
analogy to the other two that that nondescript melodrama does to the
legitimate tragedy and comedy of the English stage."

And of which style specimens may be found in Shakespeare's plays and in
Mozart's Don Giovanni! The union of the serious and the comic in the
same lyric work was an innovation of Mozart's, like almost all the
innovations attributed by Lord Mount Edgcumbe to Rossini. Indeed, nearly
all the operatic reforms of the last three-quarters of a century that
have endured, have had Mozart for their originator.

[Sidenote: ROSSINI'S INNOVATIONS.]

"The construction of these newly invented pieces," continues Lord Mount
Edgcumbe, "is essentially different from the old. The dialogue which
used to be carried on in recitative, and which in Metastasio's operas,
is often so beautiful and interesting, is now cut up (and rendered
unintelligible, if it were worth listening to), into pezzi concertati,
or long singing conversations, which present a tedious succession of
unconnected, ever-changing motivos, having nothing to do with each
other: and if a satisfactory air is for a moment introduced, which the
ear would like to dwell upon, to hear modulated, varied and again
returned to, it is broken off before it is well understood, by a sudden
transition into a totally different melody, time and key, and recurs no
more; so that no impression can be made or recollection of it preserved.
Single songs are almost exploded ... even the prima donna who would
formerly have complained at having less than three or four airs allotted
to her, is now satisfied with one trifling cavatina for a whole
opera."

* * * * *

Lord Mount Edgcumbe has hitherto given a tolerably true account of the
reforms introduced by Rossini into the operatic music of Italy; only,
instead of calling Rossini's concerted pieces and finales, "a tedious
succession of unconnected, ever-changing motivos," he ought to describe
them as highly interesting, well connected and eminently dramatic. He
goes on to condemn Rossini for his new distribution of characters, and
especially for his employment of bass voices in chief parts "to the
manifest injury of melody and total subversion of harmony, in which the
lowest part is their peculiar province." Here, however, it occurs to
Lord Mount Edgcumbe, and he thereupon expresses his surprise, "that the
principal characters in two of Mozart's operas should have been written
for basses."

* * * * *

When the above curious, and in its way valuable, strictures on Rossini's
music were penned, not only Tancredi, but also Il Barbiere,
Otello, La Cenerentola, Mosè in Egitto, La Gazza Ladra, and
other of his works had been produced. Il Barbiere succeeded at once
in England, and Lord Mount Edgcumbe tells us that for many years after
the first introduction of Rossini's works into England "so entirely did
he engross the stage, that the operas of no other master were ever to be
heard, with the exception of those of Mozart; and of his only Don
Giovanni and le Nozze di Figaro were often repeated.... Every other
composer, past and present, was totally put aside, and these two alone
named or thought of." Rossini, then, if wrongly applauded, was at least
applauded in good company. It appears from Mr. Ebers's "Seven years of
the King's Theatre," that of all the operas produced from 1821 to 1828,
nearly half were Rossini's, or in exact numbers fourteen out of
thirty-four, but it must be remembered that the majority of these were
constantly repeated, whereas most of the others were brought out only
for a few nights and then laid aside. During the period in question the
composer whose works, next to Rossini, were most often represented, was
Mozart with Don Giovanni, Le Nozze, La Clemenza di Tito, and Cosi
fan Tutti. The other operas included in the repertoire were by Paer,
Mayer, Zingarelli, Spontini, (la Vestale), Mercadante, Meyerbeer, (Il
Crociato in Egitto) &c.

* * * * *

[Sidenote: TANCREDI.]

Our consideration of the causes of Rossini's success, and want of
success, has led us far away from the first representation of Tancredi
at the theatre of La Fenice. Its success was so great, that each of its
melodies became for the Venetians a second "Carnival of Venice;" and
even in the law courts, the judges are said to have been obliged to
direct the ushers to stop the singing of Di tanti palpiti, and Mi
rivedrai te rivedrò.

"I thought after hearing my opera, that the Venetians would think me
mad," said Rossini. "Not at all; I found they were much madder than I
was." Tancredi was followed by Aureliano, produced at Milan in 1814,
and, as has already been mentioned, without success. The introduction,
however, containing the chorus from which Almaviva's cavatina was
adapted, is said to have been one of Rossini's finest pieces. Otello,
the second of Rossini's important serious operas, was produced in 1816
at Naples (Del Fondo Theatre). The principal female part, as in the
now-forgotten Elizabetta, and as in a great number of subsequent
works, was written for Mademoiselle Colbran. The other parts were
sustained by Benedetti, Nozzari, and the celebrated Davide.

* * * * *

In Otello, Rossini continued the reforms which he had commenced in
Tancredi. He made each dramatic scene one continued piece of music,
used recitative but sparingly, and when he employed it, accompanied it
for the first time in Italy, with the full band. The piano was now
banished from the orchestra, forty-two years after it had been banished
by Gluck from the orchestras of France.

Davide, in the part of Otello," created the greatest enthusiasm. The
following account of his performance is given by a French critic, M.
Edouard Bertin, in a letter from Venice, dated 1823:--

[Sidenote: OTELLO.]

"Davide excites among the dilettanti of this town an enthusiasm and
delight which could scarcely be conceived without having been witnessed.
He is a singer of the new school, full of mannerism, affectation, and
display, abusing, like Martin, his magnificent voice with its prodigious
compass (three octaves comprised between four B flats). He crushes the
principal motive of an air beneath the luxuriance of his ornamentation,
and which has no other merit than that of difficulty conquered. But he
is also a singer full of warmth, verve, expression, energy, and
musical sentiment; alone he can fill up and give life to a scene; it is
impossible for another singer to carry away an audience as he does, and
when he will only be simple, he is admirable; he is the Rossini of song.
He is a great singer; the greatest I ever heard. Doubtless, the manner
in which Garcia plays and sings the part of "Otello" is preferable,
taking it altogether, to that of Davide. It is purer, more severe, more
constantly dramatic; but with all his faults Davide produces more
effect, a great deal more effect. There is something in him, I cannot
say what, which, even when he is ridiculous, commands, enhances
attention. He never leaves you cold; and when he does not move you, he
astonishes you; in a word, before hearing him, I did not know what the
power of singing really was. The enthusiasm he excites is without
limits. In fact, his faults are not faults for Italians, who in their
opera seria do not employ what the French call the tragic style, and
who scarcely understand us, when we tell them that a waltz or quadrille
movement is out of place in the mouth of a Cæsar, an Assur, or an
Otello. With them the essential thing is to please: they are only
difficult on this point, and their indifference as to all the rest is
really inconceivable: here is an example of it. Davide, considering
apparently that the final duet of Otello did not sufficiently show off
his voice, determined to substitute for it a duet from Armida (Amor
possente nome), which is very pretty, but anything rather than severe.
As it was impossible to kill Desdemona to such a tune, the Moor, after
giving way to the most violent jealousy, sheathes his dagger, and begins
in the most tender and graceful manner his duet with Desdemona, at the
conclusion of which he takes her politely by the hand, and retires,
amidst the applause and bravos of the public, who seem to think it quite
natural that the piece should finish in this manner, or, rather, that it
should not finish at all: for after this beautiful dénouement, the
action is about as far advanced as it was in the first scene. We do not
in France carry our love of music so far as to tolerate such absurdities
as these, and perhaps we are right."

Lord Byron saw Otello at Venice, soon after its first production. He
speaks of it in one of his letters, dated 1818, in which he condemns
the libretto, but expresses his admiration of the music.

La Gazza Ladra was written for Milan, and brought out at the theatre
of "La Scala," in 1817. Four years afterwards it was produced in London
in the spring, and Paris in the autumn. The part of "Ninetta,"
afterwards so favourite a character with Sontag, Malibran, and Grisi,
was sung in 1821 by Madame Camporese in London, by Madame Fodor in
Paris. Camporese's performance was of the greatest merit, and highly
successful. Fodor's is said to have been perfection. The part of
"Pippo," originally written for a contralto, used at one time to be sung
at the English and French theatres by a baritone or bass. It was not
until some years after La Gazza Ladra was produced, that a contralto
(except for first parts), was considered an indispensable member of an
opera company.

Madame Fodor was not an Italian, but a Russian. She was married to a
Frenchman, M. Mainvielle, and, before visiting Italy, and, until her
début, had studied chiefly in Paris. Her Italian tour is said to have
greatly improved her style, which, when she first appeared in London, in
1816, left much to be desired. Camporese was of good birth, and was
married to a member of the Guistiniani family. She cultivated singing in
the first instance only as an accomplishment; but was obliged by
circumstances to make it her profession. In Italy she sang only at
concerts, and it was not until her arrival in England that she appeared
on the stage. She seems to have possessed very varied powers; appearing
at one time as "Zerlina" to Ronzi's "Donna Anna;" at another, as "Donna
Anna," to Fodor's "Zerlina."

[Sidenote: LA GAZZA LADRA.]

La Gazza Ladra is known to be founded on a French melo-drama, La Pie
Voleuse, of which the capabilities for operatic "setting," were first
discovered by Paer. Paer had seen Mademoiselle Jenny Vertpré in La Pie
Voleuse. He bought the play, and sent it to his librettist in ordinary
at Milan, with marginal notes, showing how it ought to be divided for
musical purposes. The opera book intended by Paer for himself was
offered to Rossini, and by him was made the groundwork of one of his
most brilliant productions.

La Gazza Ladra marks another step in Rossini's progress as a composer,
and accordingly we find Lord Mount Edgcumbe saying, soon after its
production in England:--"Of all the operas of Rossini that have been
performed here, that of la Gazza Ladra is most peculiarly liable to
all the objections I have made to the new style of drama, of which it is
the most striking example." The only opera of Rossini's which Lord Mount
Edgcumbe seems really to have liked was Aureliano in Palmira, written
in the composer's earliest style, and which failed.

"Its finales," (Lord Mount Edgcumbe is speaking of La Gazza Ladra)
"and many of its very numerous pezzi concertati, are uncommonly loud,
and the lavish use made of the noisy instruments, appears, to my
judgment, singularly inappropriate to the subject; which, though it
might have been rendered touching, is far from calling for such warlike
accompaniments. Nothing can be more absurd than the manner in which this
simple story is represented in the Italian piece, or than to be a young
peasant servant girl, led to trial and execution, under a guard of
soldiers, with military music." The quintett of La Gazza Ladra, is,
indeed, open to a few objections from a dramatic point of view.
"Ninetta" is afraid of compromising her father; but "Fernando" has
already given himself up to the authorities, in order to save his
daughter--in whose defence he does not say a word. An explanation seems
necessary, but then the drama would be at an end. There would be no
quintett, and we should lose one of Rossini's finest pieces. Would it be
worth while to destroy this quintett, in order to make the opera end
like the French melo-drama, and as the French operatic version of La
Gazza Ladra also terminates?

I have already spoken of La Cenerentola, produced in 1817 at Rome.
This admirable work has of late years been much neglected. The last time
it was heard in England at Her Majesty's Theatre, Madame Alboni played
the principal part, and excited the greatest enthusiasm by her execution
of the final air, Non piu mesta (the model of so many solos for the
prima donna, introduced with or without reason, at the end of
subsequent operas); but the cast was a very imperfect one, and the
performance on the whole (as usual, of late years, at this theatre)
very unsatisfactory.

[Sidenote: MOSE IN EGITTO.]

Mosè in Egitto was produced at the San Carlo[84] Theatre, at Naples,
in 1818; the principal female part being written again for Mademoiselle
Colbran. In this work, two leading parts, those of "Faraoni" and "Mosè,"
were assigned to basses. The once proscribed, or, at least contemned
basso, was, for the first time brought forward, and honoured with full
recognition in an Italian opera seria. The story of the Red Sea, and
of the chorus sung on its banks, has often been told; but I will repeat
it in a few words, for the benefit of those readers who may not have met
with it before. The Passage of the Red Sea was intended to be
particularly grand; but, instead of producing the effect anticipated, it
was received every night with laughter. The two first acts were always
applauded; but the Red Sea was a decided obstacle to the success of the
third. Tottola, the librettist, came to Rossini one morning, with a
prayer for the Israelites, which he fancied, if the composer would set
it to music, might save the conclusion of the opera. Rossini, who was in
bed at the time, saw at once the importance of the suggestion, wrote on
the spur of the moment, and in a few minutes, the magnificent Del tuo
stellato soglio. It was performed the same evening, and excited
transports of admiration. The scene of the Red Sea, instead of being
looked forward to as a source of hilarity, became now the chief
"attraction" of the opera. The performance of the prayer produced a sort
of frenzy among the audience, and a certain Neapolitan doctor, whose
name has not transpired, told either Stendhal or the Abbé Carpani (on
whose Letters, as before mentioned, Beyle's "Vie de Rossini par
Stendhal" is founded), that the number of nervous indispositions among
the ladies of Naples was increased in a remarkable manner by the change
of key, from the minor to the major, in the last verse.

Mosè was brought out in London, as an oratorio, in the beginning of
1822. Probably, dramatic action was absolutely necessary for its
success; at all events, it failed as an oratorio. The same year it was
produced as an opera at the King's Theatre; but with a complete
transformation in the libretto, and under the title of Pietro
l'Eremita. The opera attracted throughout the season, and no work of
Rossini's was ever more successful on its first production in this
country. The subscribers to the King's Theatre were in ecstacies with
it, and one of the most distinguished supporters of the theatre, after
assuring the manager that he deserved well of this country, offered to
testify his gratitude by proposing him at White's!

[Sidenote: MOSE IN EGITTO.]

In the autumn of the same year Mosè was produced at the Italian Opera
of Paris, and in 1827, a French version of it was brought out at the
Académie. The Red Sea appears to have been a source of trouble
everywhere. At the Académie, forty-five thousand francs were sunk in it,
and to so little effect, or rather with such bad effect, that the
machinists' and decorators' waves had to be suppressed after the first
evening. In London the Red Sea became merely a river. The river,
however, failed quite as egregiously as the larger body of water, and
had to be drained off before the second performance took place.

Mosè is quite long enough and sufficiently complete in its original
form. Several pieces, however, out of other operas, by Rossini, were
added to it in the London version of the work. In Paris, in accordance
with the absurd custom (if it be not even a law) at the Académie, Mosè
could not be represented without the introduction of a ballet. The
necessary dance music was taken from Ciro in Babilonia and Armida,
and the opera was further strengthened as it was thought (weakened as it
turned out), by the introduction of a new air for Mademoiselle Cinti,
and several new choruses.

The Mosè of the Académie, with its four acts of music (one more than
the original opera) was found far too long. It was admired, and for a
little while applauded; but when it had once wearied the public, it was
in vain that the directors reduced its dimensions. It became smaller and
smaller, until it at last disappeared.

Zelmira, written originally for Vienna, and which is said to have
contained Madame Colbran Rossini's best part, was produced at Naples in
1822. The composer and his favourite prima donna were married in the
spring of the same year at Castelnaso, near Bologna.

"The recitatives of Zelmira" says Carpani, in his Le Rossinane ossia
lettere musico-teatrali, "are the best and most dramatic that the
Italian school has produced; their eloquence is equal to that of the
most beautiful airs, and the spectator, equally charmed and surprised,
listens to them from one end to the other. These recitatives are
sustained by the orchestra; Otello, Mosè in Egitto, are written
after the same system, but I will not attribute to Rossini the honour of
a discovery which belongs to our neighbours. Although the French Opera
is still barbarous from a vocal point of view, there are some points
about it which may be advantageously borrowed. The introduction of
accompanied recitative is of the greatest importance for our opera
seria, which, in the hands of the Mayers, Paers, the Rossinis, has at
last become dramatic."

Zelmira was brought out in London in 1824, under the direction of
Rossini himself, and with Madame Colbran Rossini in the principal part.
The reception of the composer, when he made his appearance in the
orchestra, was most enthusiastic, and at the end of the opera, he was
called on to the stage, which, in England, was, then, quite a novel
compliment.

[Sidenote: ROSSINI AND GEORGE IV.]

At the same time, all possible attention was paid to Rossini, in
private, by the most distinguished persons in the country. He was
invited by George IV. to the Pavilion at Brighton, and the King gave
orders that when his guest entered the music room, his private band
should play the overture to the Barber of Seville. The overture being
concluded, his Majesty asked Rossini what piece he would like to hear
next. The composer named God save the King.

The music of Zelmira was greatly admired by connoisseurs, but made no
impression on the public, and though Madame Colbran-Rossini's
performance is said to have been admirable, it must be remembered that
she had already passed the zenith of her powers. Born in Madrid, in
1785, she appears to have retired from the stage, as far as Italy was
concerned, in 1823, after the production of Semiramide. At least, I
find no account of her having sung anywhere after the season of 1824, in
London, though her name appears in the list of the celebrated company
assembled the same year by Barbaja, at Vienna. Mademoiselle Colbran
figures among the sopranos with Mesdames Mainvielle-Fodor, Féron, Esther
Mombelli,[85] Dardanelli, Sontag, Unger, Giuditta, Grisi, and Grimbaun.
The contraltos of this unrivalled troupe were Mesdames
Cesare-Cantarelli and Eckerlin; the tenors, Davide, Nozzari, Donzelli,
Rubini, and Cicimarra; the basses, Lablache, Bassi, Ambroggi,
Tamburini, and Bolticelli. Rossini had undertaken to write an opera
entitled Ugo rè d'Italia, for the King's Theatre. The engagement had
been made at the beginning of the season, in January, and the work was
repeatedly announced for performance, when, at the end of May, it was
said to be only half finished. He had, at this time, quarrelled with the
management, and accepted the post of director at the Italian Opera of
Paris. The end of Ugo rè d'Italia is said by Mr. Ebers to have been,
that the score, as far as it was written, was deposited with Messrs.
Ransom, the bankers. Messrs. Ransom, however, have informed me, that
they never had a score of Rossini's in their possession.

* * * * *

After Rossini's departure from London, his Semiramide, produced at
Venice only the year before, was brought out with Madame Pasta, in the
principal character. The part of "Semiramide" had been played at the
Fenice Theatre, by Madame Colbran; it was the last Rossini wrote for
his wife, and Semiramide was the last opera he composed for Italy.
When we meet with Rossini again, it will be at the Académie Royale of
Paris, as the composer of the Siege of Corinth, Count Ory, and
William Tell.

[Sidenote: ROSSINI'S SINGERS.]

The first great representative of "Semiramide" was Pasta, who has
probably never been surpassed in that character. After performing it
with admirable success in London, she resumed in it the year afterwards,
1825, at the Italian Opera of Paris. Madame Pasta had already gained
great celebrity by her representation of "Tancredi" and of "Romeo," but
in Semiramide, she seems, for the first time, to have exhibited her
genius in all its fulness.[86]

The original "Arsace" was Madame Mariani, the first great "Arsace,"
Madame Pisaroni.

Since the first production of Semiramide, thirty years ago, all the
most distinguished sopranos and contraltos of the day have loved to
appear in that admirable work.

Among the "Semiramides," I may mention in particular Pasta, Grisi,
Viardot-Garcia, and Cruvelli. Although not usually given to singers who
particularly excel in the execution of light delicate music, the part of
"Semiramide" was also sung with success by Madame Sontag (Paris, 1829),
and Madame Bosio (St. Petersburgh, 1855).

Among the "Arsaces," may be cited Pisaroni, Brambilla, and Alboni.

Malibran, with her versatile comprehensive genius, appeared both as
"Arsace" and as "Semiramide," and was equally fortunate in each of these
very different impersonations.

I will now say a few words respecting those of the singers just named,
whose names are more especially associated with Rossini's earliest
successes in England.

Madame Pasta having appeared in Paris with success in 1816, was engaged
with her husband, Signor Pasta (an unsuccessful tenor), for the
following season at the King's Theatre. She made no great impression
that year, and was quite eclipsed by Fodor and Camporese, who were
members of the same company. The young singer, not discouraged, but
convinced that she had much to learn, returned to Italy, where she
studied unremittingly for four years. She reappeared at the Italian
Opera of Paris in 1821, as "Desdemona," in Rossini's Otello, then for
the first time produced in France. Her success was complete, but her
performance does not appear to have excited that enthusiasm which was
afterwards caused by her representation of "Medea," in Mayer's opera of
that name. In Medea, however, Pasta was everything; in Otello, she
had to share her triumph with Garcia, Bordogni, and Levasseur. From this
time, the new tragic vocalist gained constantly in public estimation.
Medea was laid aside; but Pasta gained fresh applause in every new
part she undertook, and especially in Tancredi and Semiramide.

[Sidenote: PASTA.]

Pasta made her second appearance at the King's Theatre in 1824, in the
character of "Desdemona." Her performance, from a histrionic as well as
from a vocal point of view, was most admirable; and the habitués could
scarcely persuade themselves that this was the singer who had come
before them four years previously, and had gone away without leaving a
regret behind. When Rossini's last Italian opera was produced, the same
season, the character of "Semiramide" was assigned to Madame Pasta, who
now sang it for the first time. She had already represented the part of
"Tancredi," and her three great Rossinian impersonations raised her
reputation to the highest point. In London, Madame Pasta did not appear
as "Medea" until 1826, when she already enjoyed the greatest celebrity.
It was found at the King's Theatre, as at the Italian Opera of Paris,
that Mayer's simple and frequently insipid music was not tolerable,
after the brilliant dramatic compositions of Rossini; but Pasta's
delineation of "Medea's" thirst for vengeance and despair, is said to
have been sublime.

A story is told of a distinguished critic persuading himself, that with
such a power of pourtraying "Medea's" emotions, Madame Pasta must
possess "Medea's" features; but for some such natural conformity he
seems to have thought it impossible that she could at once, by
intuition, enter profoundly and sympathetically into all "Medea's"
inmost feelings. Much might be said in favour of the critic's theory; it
is unnecessary to say a word in favour of a performance by which such a
theory could be suggested. We are told, that the believer in the
personal resemblance between Pasta and "Medea" was sent a journey of
seventy miles to see a visionary portrait of "Medea," recovered from the
ruins of Herculaneum. To rush off on such a journey with such an object,
may not have been very reasonable; to cause the journey to be
undertaken, was perfectly silly. Probably, it was a joke of our friend
Taylor's.

* * * * *

[Sidenote: PISARONI.]

Madame Pisaroni made her début in Italy in the year 1811, when she was
eighteen years of age. She at first came out as a soprano, but two years
afterwards, a severe illness having changed the nature of her voice, she
appeared in all the most celebrated parts, written for the musicos or
sopranists, who were now beginning to die out, and to be replaced by
ladies with contralto voices. Madame Pisaroni was not only not
beautiful, she was hideously ugly; I have seen her portrait, and am not
exaggerating. Lord Mount Edgcumbe tells us, that another favourite
contralto of the day Mariani (Rossini's original Arsace) was Pisaroni's
rival "in voice, singing, and ugliness;" adding, that "in the two first
qualities, she was certainly her inferior; though in the last it was
difficult to know to which the preference should be given." But the
anti-pathetic, revolting, almost insulting features of the great
contralto, were forgotten as soon as she began to sing. As the hideous
Wilkes boasted that he was "only a quarter of an hour behind the
handsomest man in Europe," so Madame Pisaroni might have said, that she
had only to deliver one phrase of music to place herself on a level with
the most personally prepossessing vocalist of the day. This
extraordinary singer on gaining a contralto, did not lose her original
soprano voice. After her illness, she is said to have possessed three
octaves (between four C's), but her best notes were now in the contralto
register. In airs, in concerted pieces, in recitative, she was equally
admirable. To sustain a high note, and then dazzle the audience with a
rapid descending scale of two octaves, was for her an easy means of
triumph. Altogether, her execution seems never to have been surpassed.
After making her début in Paris as "Arsace," Madame Pisaroni resumed
that part in 1829, under great difficulties. The frightfully ugly
"Arsace" had to appear side by side with a charmingly pretty
"Semiramide,"--the soprano part of the opera being taken by Mademoiselle
Sontag. But in the hour of danger the poor contralto was saved by her
thoroughly beautiful singing, and Pisaroni and Sontag, who as a vocalist
also left nothing to desire, were equally applauded. In London, Pisaroni
appears to have confined herself intentionally to the representation of
male characters, appearing as "Arsace," "Malcolm," in La Donna del
Lago, and "Tancredi;" but in Paris she played the principal female part
in L'Italiana in Algeri, and what is more, played it with wonderful
success.

* * * * *

The great part of "Arsace" was also that in which Mademoiselle Brambilla
made her début in England in the year 1827. Brambilla, who was a pupil
of the conservatory of Milan, had never appeared on any stage; but
though her acting is said to have been indifferent, her lovely voice,
her already excellent style, her youth and her great beauty, ensured
her success.

"She has the finest eyes, the sweetest voice, and the best disposition
in the world," said a certain cardinal of the youthful Brambilla, "if
she is discovered to possess any other merits, the safety of the
Catholic Church will require her excommunication." After singing in
London several years, and revisiting Italy, Brambilla was engaged in
Paris, where she again chose the part of "Arsace," for her début.

Many of our readers will probably remember that "Arsace" was also the
character in which Mademoiselle Alboni made her first appearance in
England, and on this side of the Alps. Until the opening night of the
Royal Italian Opera, 1847, the English public had never heard of
Mademoiselle Alboni; but she had only to sing the first phrase of her
part, to call forth unanimous applause, and before the evening was at an
end, she had quite established herself in the position which she has
ever since held.

[Sidenote: SONTAG.]

Sontag and Malibran both made their first appearance in England as
"Rosina," in the Barber of Seville. Several points of similarity might
be pointed out between the romantic careers of these two wonderfully
successful and wonderfully unfortunate vocalists. Mademoiselle Garcia
first appeared on the stage at Naples, when she was eight years old.
Mademoiselle Sontag was in her sixth year when she came out at
Frankfort. Each spent her childhood and youth in singing and acting, and
each, after obtaining a full measure of success, made an apparently
brilliant marriage, and was thought to have quitted the stage. Both,
however, re-appeared, one after a very short interval, the other, after
a retirement of something like twenty years. The position of
Mademoiselle Garcia's husband, M. Malibran, was as nothing, compared to
that of Count Rossi, who married Mademoiselle Sontag; the former was a
French merchant, established (not very firmly, as it afterwards
appeared) at New York; the latter was the Sardinian Ambassador at the
court of Vienna; but on the other hand, the Countess Rossi's end was far
more tragic, or rather more miserable and horrible than that of Madame
Malibran, itself sufficiently painful and heart-rending.

Though Rosina appears to have been one of Mademoiselle Sontag's best, if
not absolutely her best part, she also appeared to great advantage
during her brief career in London and Paris, in two other Rossinian
characters, "Desdemona" and "Semiramide." In her own country she was
known as one of the most admirable representatives of "Agatha," in Der
Freischütz, and she sang "Agatha's" great scena frequently, and
always with immense success, at concerts, in London. She also appeared
as "Donna Anna," in Don Giovanni, (from the pleasing, graceful
character of her talent, one would have fancied the part of "Zerlina"
better suited to her), but in Italian opera all her triumphs were gained
in the works of Rossini.

[Sidenote: MALIBRAN.]

When Marietta Garcia made her début in London, in the Barber of
Seville, she was, seriously, only just beginning her career, and was at
that time but seventeen years of age. She appeared the same year in
Paris, as the heroine in Torvaldo e Dorliska (Rossini's
"fiaschetto," now quite forgotten) and was then taken by her father on
that disastrous American tour which ended with her marriage. Having
crossed the Atlantic, Garcia converted his family into a complete opera
company, of which he himself was the tenor and the excellent musical
director (if there had only been a little more to direct). The daughter
was the prima donna, the mother had to content herself with secondary
parts, the son officiated as baritone and bass. In America, under a good
master, but with strange subordinates, and a wretched entourage,
Mademoiselle Garcia accustomed herself to represent operatic characters
of every kind. One evening, when an uncultivated American orchestra was
massacring Mozart's master-piece, Garcia, the "Don Giovanni" of the
evening, became so indignant that he rushed, sword in hand, to the foot
lights, and compelled the musicians to re-commence the finale to the
first act, which they executed the second time with care, if not with
skill. This was a severe school in which poor Marietta was being formed;
but without it we should probably never have heard of her appearing one
night as "Desdemona" or as "Arsace," the next as "Otello," or as
"Semiramide;" nor of her gaining fresh laurels with equal certainty in
the Sonnambula

and in Norma. But we have at present only to do with that period of
operatic history, during which, Rossini's supremacy on the Italian stage
was unquestioned. Towards 1830, we find two new composers appearing,
who, if they, to some extent, displaced their great predecessor, at the
same time followed in his steps. For some dozen years, Rossini had been
the sole support, indeed, the very life of Italian opera. Naturally, his
works were not without their fruit, and a great part of Donizetti's and
Bellini's music may be said to belong to Rossini, inasmuch as Rossini
was clearly Donizetti's and Bellini's progenitor.





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