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

The Italian Opera Under Handel

Handel at Hamburgh.--Handel in London.--The Queen's Theatre.--The
Royal Academy of Music.--Operatic Feuds.--Porpora and the
Nobility's Opera.

The great dates of Handel's career as an operatic composer and director

1711, when he produced Rinaldo, his first opera, at the Queen's
Theatre, in the Haymarket;

1720, when the Royal Academy of Music was established under his
management at the same theatre, (which, with the accession of George I.,
had become "the King's");

1734, when in commencing the season at the King's Theatre with a new
company, he had to contend against the "Nobility's Opera" just opened at
the Theatre in Lincoln's Inn Fields, under the direction of Porpora;

1735, when he moved to Covent Garden, Porpora and "la nobilita
Britannica" going at the same time to the King's Theatre.


Both operas failed in 1737, and Handel then went back to the King's
Theatre, for which he wrote his last opera Deidamia in 1740.

Of Handel's arrival in England, and of the manner in which his first
opera was received, I have spoken in the preceding chapter. Of his
previous life in Germany but little is recorded; indeed, he left that
country at the age of twenty-five. It is known, however, that he was for
some time engaged at the Hamburgh theatre, where operas had been
performed in the German language since 1678. Rinuccini's Dafne, set to
music by Schutz, was represented, as has been already mentioned, at
Dresden in 1627, (or according to other accounts 1630); but this was a
private affair in honour of a court marriage, and the first opera
produced in Germany in public, and in the German language, was Thiele's
Adam and Eve, which was given at Hamburgh in 1678. The reputation of
Keiser at the court of Wolfenbüttel caused the directors of the Hamburgh
Theatre, towards the close of the century, to send and offer him an
engagement; he accepted it, and in the course of twenty-seven years
produced as many as one hundred and sixty operas. Mattheson states that
both Handel and Hasse (who was afterwards director of the celebrated
Dresden Opera) formed their styles on that of Keiser.[20] Mattheson,
himself a composer, succeeded Keiser as conductor of the orchestra at
the Hamburgh Theatre, holding that post, however, conjointly with
Handel, whose quarrel and duel with Mattheson have often been related.
Handel was presiding in the orchestra while Mattheson was on the stage
performing in an opera of his own composition. The opera being
concluded, Mattheson proposed to take Handel's place at the harpsichord,
which the latter refused to give up. The rival conductors quarrelled as
they were leaving the theatre. The quarrel led to a blow and the blow to
a fight with swords in the market place, which was terminated by
Mattheson breaking the point of his sword on one of his antagonist's
buttons, or as others have it, on the score of his own opera, which
Handel carried beneath his coat.

Handel went from Hamburgh to Hanover, where, as we have seen, he
received an invitation from some English noblemen to visit London, and,
with the permission and encouragement of the Elector, accepted it.


Handel's Rinaldo was followed at the King's Theatre by his Il Pastor
Fido (1712), his Teseo (1713), and his Amadigi (1715). Soon after
the production of Amadigi, the performances at the King's Theatre seem
to have ceased until 1720, when the "Royal Academy of Music" was formed.
This so-called "Academy" was the result of a project to establish a
permanent Italian opera in London. It was supported by a number of the
nobility, with George I. at their head, and a fund of £50,000 was
raised among the subscribers, to which the king contributed £1,000. The
management of the "Academy" was entrusted to a governor, a deputy
governor, and twenty directors, (why not to a head master and
assistants?) and for the first year the Duke of Newcastle was appointed
governor; Lord Bingley, deputy governor; while among the directors were
the Dukes of Portland and Queensberry, the Earls of Burlington, Stair
and Waldegrave, Lords Chetwynd and Stanhope, Sir John Vanburgh,
(architect of the theatre), Generals Dormer, Wade, and Hunter, &c. The
worse than unmeaning title given to the new opera was of course imitated
from the French; the governor, deputy governor, and directors being
doubtless unacquainted with the circumstances under which the French
Opera received the misnomer which it still retains.[21] They might have
known, however, that the "Académie Royale" of Paris, at that time under
the direction of Rameau, was held in very little esteem, except by the
French themselves, as an operatic theatre, and moreover, that Italian
music was never performed there at all. Indeed, for half a century
afterwards, the French execrated Italian music and would not listen to
Italian singers--which gives us some notion of what musical taste in
France must have been at the time of our Royal Academy being founded.
The title would have been absurd even if the French Opera had been the
finest in Europe; as it was nothing of the kind, and as it was,
moreover, sworn to its own native psalmody, to give such a title to an
Italian theatre, supported by musicians and singers of the greatest
excellence, was a triple absurdity. Strangely enough, even in the
present day, the Americans, as ingenious as the English of George I.'s
reign, call their magnificent Italian Opera House at New York the
Academy of Music. As a matter of association, it would be far more
reasonable to call it the "St. Charles's Theatre," or the "Scale

The musical direction of our Royal Academy of Music was confided to
Handel, who, besides composing for the theatre himself, engaged
Buononcini and Ariosti to write for it. He also proceeded to Dresden,
already celebrated throughout Europe for the excellence of its Italian
Opera, and engaged Senesino, Berenstadt, Boschi, and Signora Durastanti.

Handel's first opera at the Royal Academy of Music was Radamisto,
which was hailed on its production as its composer's masterpiece. "It
seems," says Dr. Burney, "as if he was not insensible of its worth, as
he dedicated a book of the words to the king, George I., subscribing
himself his Majesty's 'most faithful subject,' which, as he was neither
a Hanoverian by birth, nor a native of England, seems to imply his
having been naturalised here by a bill in Parliament."


Buononcini, (who, compared with Handel, was a ninny, though others said
that to him Handel was scarcely fit to hold a candle, &c.) produced his
first opera also in 1720. It was received with much favour, and by the
Buononcinists with enthusiasm.

The next opera was Muzio Scevola, composed by Handel, Buononcini, and
Ariosti together. It is said that the task of joint production was
imposed upon the three musicians by the masters of the Academy, by way
of competitive examination, and with a view to test the abilities of
each in a decisive manner. If there were any grounds for believing the
story, it might be asked, who among the directors were thought, or
thought themselves qualified to act as judges in so difficult and
delicate a matter.

In the meanwhile the opera of the three composers did but little good to
the theatre, which, in spite of its admirable company, was found a
losing speculation, after a little more than a year, to the extent of
£15,000. Thirty-five thousand pounds remained to be paid up, but the
rest of the subscription money was not forthcoming, and the directors
were unable to obtain it until after they had advertised in the
newspapers that defaulters would be proceeded against "with the utmost
rigour of the law."

A new mode of subscription was then devised, by which tickets were
granted for the season of fifty performances on receipt of ten guineas
down, and an engagement to pay five guineas more on the 1st of February,
and a second five guineas on the 1st of May. Thus originated the
operatic subscription list which has been continued with certain
modifications, and with a few short intervals, up to the present day.

Buononcini's Griselda, which passes for his best opera, was produced
in 1722, with Anastasia Robinson in the part of the heroine. Handel's
Ottone and Flavio were brought out in 1723; his Giulio Cesare and
Tamerlano in 1724; his Rodelinda in 1725; his Scipione and
Alessandro in 1726; his Admeto and Ricardo in 1727; his Siroe
and Tolomeo in 1728--when the Royal Academy of Music, which had been
carried on with varying success, and on the whole with considerable ill
success, finally closed.


Buononcini's last opera, Astyanax, was produced in 1727, after which
the Duchess of Marlborough, his constant patroness, gave the composer a
pension of five hundred a year. A few years afterwards, however, he
stole a madrigal, the invention of a Venetian named Lotti, and the theft
having been discovered and clearly proved, Buononcini left the country
in disgrace. Similar thefts are practised in the present day, but with
discretion and with ingeniously worded title pages. Buononcini should
have simply called his plagiarism a "Venetian Madrigal, dedicated to the
Duchess of Marlborough by G. Buononcini." This unfortunate composer,
whom Swift had certainly described in a prophetic spirit as "a ninny,"
left England in 1733, with an Italian Count whose title appears to have
been about as authentic as Buononcini's madrigal, and who pretended to
possess the art of making gold, but abstained from practising it
otherwise than by swindling. Buononcini was for a time the dupe of this
impostor. In the meanwhile he continued the exercise of his profession,
at Paris, where we lose sight of him. In 1748, however, he went to
Vienna, and by command of the Emperor composed the music for the
festivities given in celebration of the peace of Aix-la-Chapelle. Thence
he proceeded with Montecelli, the composer, to Venice, where the affair
of the madrigal was probably by this time forgotten. At all events, no
importance was attached to it, and Buononcini was engaged to write an
opera for the Carnival. He was at this time nearly ninety years of age.
The date of his death is not recorded, but Dr. Burney tells us that he
is supposed to have lived till nearly a hundred.


Besides the annual subscriptions, to the Royal Academy of Music the
whole of the original capital of £50,000 was spent in seven years. In
spite, then, of the admirable works produced by Handel, the unrivalled
company by which they were executed, and the immense sums of money
lavished upon the entertainment generally, the Italian Opera in London
proved in 1728 what it had proved twelve years before, a positive and
unmistakable failure. This could scarcely have been owing, as has been
surmised, to the violence of the disputes concerning the merits of
Handel and Buononcini, the composers, or of Faustina and Cuzzoni, the
singers, for the natural effect of such contests would have been to keep
up an interest in the performances. Probably few at that time had any
real love for Italian music. A certain number, no doubt, attended the
Italian Opera for the sake of fashion, but the greater majority of the
theatre-going public were quite indifferent to its charms. Dr.
Arbuthnot, one of the few literary men of the day who seems to have
really cared for music, writes as follows, in the London Journal,
under the date of March 23rd, 1728:--"As there is nothing which
surprises all true lovers of music more than the neglect into which the
Italian operas are at present fallen, so I cannot but think it a very
extraordinary instance of the fickle and inconstant temper of the
English nation, a failing which they have always been endeavouring to
cast upon their neighbours in France, but to which they themselves have
just as good a title, as will appear to any one who will take the
trouble to consult our historians." He points out that after adopting
the Italian Opera with eagerness, we began, as soon as we had obtained
it in perfection, to make it a pretext for disputes instead of enjoying
it, and concludes that it was supported among us for a time, not from
genuine taste, but simply from fashion. He observes that The Beggars'
Opera, then just produced, was "a touchstone to try British taste on,"
and that it has "proved effectual in discovering our true inclinations,
which, however artfully they may have been disguised for a while, will
one time or another, start up and disclose themselves. Æsop's story of
the cat, who, at the petition of her lover, was changed into a fine
woman, is pretty well known, notwithstanding which alteration, we find
that upon the appearance of a mouse, she could not resist the temptation
of springing out of her husband's arms to pursue it, though it was on
the very wedding night. Our English audience have been for some time
returning to their cattish nature, of which some particular sounds from
the gallery have given us sufficient warning. And since they have so
openly declared themselves, I must only desire that they will not think
they can put on the fine woman again just when they please, but content
themselves with their skill in caterwauling. For my own part, I cannot
think it would be any loss to real lovers of music, if all those false
friends who have made pretensions to it only in compliance with the
fashion, would separate themselves from them; provided our Italian Opera
could be brought under such regulations as to go on without them. We
might then be able to sit and enjoy an entertainment of this sort, free
from those disturbances which are frequent in English theatres, without
any regard, not only to performers, but even to the presence of Majesty
itself. In short, my comfort is, that though so great a desertion may
force us so to contract the expenses of our operas, as would put an end
to our having them in as great perfection as at present, yet we shall be
able at least to hear them without interruption."

The Faustina and Cuzzoni disputes, to which Arbuthnot alludes, where he
speaks of "those disturbances which are frequent in English theatres,"
appear to have been quite as violent as those with which the names of
Handel and Buononcini are associated. Most of this musical party-warfare
(of which the most notorious examples are those just mentioned, the
Gluck and Piccinni contests in Paris, and the quarrels between the
admirers of Madame Mara and Madame Todi in the same city) has been
confined to England and France, though a very pretty quarrel was once
got up at the Dresden Theatre, between the followers of Faustina, at
that time the wife of Hasse the composer, and Mingotti. The Italians
have shown themselves changeable and capricious, and have often hissed
one night those whom they have applauded the night afterwards; but, in
the Italian Theatres, we find no instances of systematic partisanship
maintained obstinately and stolidly for years, and I fancy that it is
only among unmusical nations, or in an unmusical age, that anything of
the kind takes place. The ardour and duration of such disputes are
naturally in proportion to the ignorance and folly of the disputants. In
science, or even in art, where the principles of art are well
understood, they are next to impossible. Self-styled connoisseurs,
however, with neither taste nor knowledge can go on squabbling about
composers and singers, especially if they never listen to them, to all


Faustina and Cuzzoni were both admirable vocalists, and in entirely
different styles, so that there was not even the shadow of a pretext
for praising one at the expense of the other. Tosi, their contemporary,
in his Osservazzioni sopra il Canto Figurato,[22] thus compares them:
"The one," he says (meaning Faustina), "is inimitable for a privileged
gift of singing and enchanting the world with an astonishing felicity in
executing difficulties with a brilliancy I know not whether derived from
nature or art, which pleases to excess. The delightful soothing
cantabile of the other, joined to the sweetness of a fine voice, a
perfect intonation, strictness of time, and the rarest productions of
genius in her embellishments, are qualifications as peculiar and
uncommon as they are difficult to be imitated. The pathos of the one and
the rapidity of the other are distinctly characteristic. What a
beautiful mixture it would be, if the excellences of these two angelic
beings could be united in a single individual!"

Quantz, the celebrated flute-player, and teacher of that instrument to
Frederic the Great, came to London in 1727, and heard Handel's Admeto
executed to perfection at the Royal Academy of Music. The principal
parts were filled by Senesino, Cuzzoni and Faustina, and Quantz's
account of the two latter agrees, with that given by Signor Tosi.
Cuzzoni had a soft limpid voice, a pure intonation, a perfect shake. Her
style was simple, noble and touching. In allegro movements, her rapidity
of execution was not remarkable, &c., &c. Her acting was cold, and
though she was very beautiful, her beauty produced no effect on the
stage. Faustina, on the other hand, was passionate and full of
expression, as an actress, while as a vocalist she was remarkable for
the fluency and brilliancy of her articulation, and could sing with ease
what would have been considered difficult passages for the violin. Her
rapid repetition of the same note--(the violin "tremolo") was one of
her most surprising feats. This artifice was afterwards imitated with
the greatest success by Farinelli, Monticelli, Visconti, and the
charming Mingotti, and at a later period, Madame Catalani produced some
of her greatest effects in the same style.

Faustina and Cuzzoni made their first appearance together at Venice in
1719. In 1725, Faustina went to Vienna, and met with an enthusiastic
reception from the habitués of the Court Theatre. She left Vienna the
same year for London, where she arrived when Cuzzoni's reputation was at
its height.


Cuzzoni made her first appearance in London in 1723, and was a member of
Handel's company when the singers were engaged, at the suggestion of the
regent, to give a series of performances in Paris; this engagement,
which was due in the first instance to the solicitations of the
Marchioness de Prie, was, as I have already mentioned, never carried
out. Whether the Faustina and Cuzzoni disputes originated with a cabal
against the singer in possession of the public favour, or whether the
admirers of the accepted favorite felt it their duty to support her by
attacking all new comers, is not by any means clear; but Faustina had
scarcely arrived when the feud commenced. Quanta tells us that as soon
as one began to sing, the partisans of the other began to hiss. The
Cuzzoni party, which was headed by the Countess of Pembroke, made a
point of hissing whenever Faustina appeared. Faustina, who if not
better-looking, was more agreeable than Cuzzoni, had most of the men on
her side. Her patronesses were the Countess of Burlington and Lady

The most remarkable of the many disturbances caused by the rivalry
between these two singers (forced upon them as it was) took place in
June 1727. The London Journal of June 10th in that year, tells us in
its description of the affair, that "the contention at first was only
carried on by hissing on one side and clapping on the other, but
proceeded at length to the melodious use of cat-calls and other
accompaniments which manifested the zeal and politeness of that
illustrious assembly." We are further informed that the Princess
Catherine was there, but neither her Royal Highness's presence, nor the
laws of decorum could restrain the glorious ardour of the combatants.
The appearance of Faustina appears to have been the signal for the
commencement of this disgraceful riot, to judge from the following
epigram on the proceedings of the night.

"Old poets sing that beasts did dance,
Whenever Orpheus played;
So to Faustina's charming voice
Wise Pembroke's asses brayed."

Cuzzoni had also her poet, and her departure from England was the
occasion of the following pretty but silly lines, addressed to her by
Ambrose Phillips:--

"Little Syren of the stage,
Charmer of an idle age,
Empty warbler, breathing lyre,
Wanton gale of fond desire;
Bane of every manly art,
Sweet enfeebler of the heart,
O, too pleasing is thy strain,
Hence to Southern climes again!
Tuneful mischief, vocal spell,
To this island bid farewell;
Leave us as we ought to be,
Leave the Britons rough and free."

The Britons had shown themselves sufficiently "rough and free," while
Cuzzoni was singing to them. The circumstances of this vocalist's
leaving London were rather curious, and show to what an extent the
Faustina and Cuzzoni disputes must have disgusted the directors of the
Academy; the caprice of one of them must also have irritated Handel
considerably, for it is related that once when Cuzzoni, at a rehearsal,
positively refused to sing an air that Handel had written for her, she
could only be convinced of the necessity of doing so by the composer
threatening to throw her out of the window. It was known that each was
about to sign a new contract, and Cuzzoni's patronesses made her take an
oath not to accept lower terms than Faustina. The directors ingeniously
and politely took advantage of this, and offered her exactly one guinea


Cuzzoni made her retreat, and Faustina remained in possession of the
field of battle.

However, Faustina, after the failure of the Academy in the following
year, herself returned to Italy, and met her rival at Venice in 1729,
and again, in 1730. Cuzzoni returned to London in 1734, and sang at the
Opera in Lincoln's-Inn Fields, established under the direction of
Porpora, in opposition to Handel. She visited London a third time in
1750, when a concert was given for her benefit; but the poor little
syren was now old and infirm; she had lost her voice, and even the
enemies of Faustina would not come to applaud her. This stage queen had
a most melancholy end. From England she went to Holland, where she was
imprisoned for debt, being allowed, however, to go out in the evenings
(doubtless under the guardianship of a jailer) and sing at the theatres,
by which means she gained enough money to obtain her liberation. Having
quite lost her voice, she is said to have maintained herself for some
time at Bologna by button-making. The manner of her death is not known;
but probably she had the same end as those stage-queens mentioned by the
dramatic critic in Candide: "On les adore quand elles sont belles, on
les jette a la voirie quand elles sont mortes."

The career of Faustina on the other hand did not belie her auspicious
name. In 1727, at Venice, she met Hasse, whose music owed much of its
success to her admirable singing. The composer fell in love with this
charming vocalist, married her, and in 1730 accepted an offer from
Augustus, King of Poland, and Elector of Saxony, to direct the Opera of
Dresden. Here Faustina renewed her successes, and for fifteen years
reigned with undisputed supremacy at the Court Theatre. Then, however, a
new Cuzzoni appeared in the person of Signora Mingotti.

[Sidenote: MINGOTTI.]

Regina Valentini, a pupil and domestic at the Convent of the Ursulines,
possessed a beautiful voice, but so little taste for household work,
that to avoid its drudgery and the ridicule to which her inability to go
through it exposed her, she resolved to make what profit she could out
of her singing. Old Mingotti, the manager, was willing enough to aid her
in this laudable enterprise; and accordingly married her and put her
under the tuition of Porpora, the future opponent of Handel, and actual
rival of Hasse. In due time Mingotti made her first appearance at the
Dresden Opera, when her singing called forth almost unanimous applause;
we say "almost," because Hasse and some of his personal friends
persisted in denying her talent. The successful débutante was offered
a lucrative engagement at Naples, where she created the greatest
enthusiasm by her performance of the part of Aristea in the
Olimpiade, with music by Galuppi. Mingotti was now the great singer of
the day; she received propositions from managers in all parts of Europe,
but decided to return to the scene of her earnest triumphs at Dresden.
This was in 1748.

Haase was then composing his Demofonte. He knew well enough the
strong, and thought he had remarked the weak, points in Mingotti's
voice; and, in order to show the latter to the greatest possible
disadvantage, provided the unsuspecting singer with an adagio which rose
and fell upon the very notes which he considered the most doubtful in
her unusually perfect organ. To render the vocalist's deficiencies as
apparent as possible, he did the next thing to making her sing the
insidious adagio without accompaniment; for the only accompaniment he
wrote for it was a pizzicato of violins. Regina at the very first
rehearsal, understood the snare, said nothing about it, but studied her
adagio till she sang it with such perfection that what had been
intended to discover her weakness only served in the most striking
manner to exhibit her strength. The air which was to have ruined
Mingotti's reputation brought her the greatest success she had ever
obtained. Her execution was so faultless that Faustina herself could
find nothing to say against it. A story is told of Sir Charles Williams,
the English Minister at the Court of Dresden, who had taken a prominent
part in the Hasse and Faustina cabal, and had been in the habit of
saying that Mingotti was doubtless a brilliant singer, but that in the
expressive style and in passages of sustained notes she was heard to
disadvantage--a story is told of this candid and gentlemanly critic
going to Mingotti after she had sung her treacherous solo, and
apologizing to her publicly for ever having entertained a doubt as to
the completeness of her talent.

Hasse remained thirty-three years in the service of the Elector and made
the Dresden Opera the first in Europe; but in 1763 the troubles of
unhappy Poland having begun, he retired with Faustina on a small pension
to Vienna and thence to Venice, where they both died in the year 1783,
Hasse being then eighty-four years of age and his wife ninety.

* * * * *

The most celebrated of the other singers at the Royal Academy of Music
were Durastanti and Senesino, both of whom were engaged by Handel at
Dresden, and appeared in London at the opening of the new establishment.
In 1723, however, Cuzzoni arrived, and Durastanti, acknowledging the
superior merit of that singer, took her departure. At least the
acknowledgment was made for her in a song written by Pope, which she
addressed to the audience at her farewell performance, and which ended
with this couplet:--

"But let old charmers yield to new;
Happy soil, adieu, adieu!"

[Sidenote: SENESINO.]

Either singers were very different then from what they are now, or
Durastanti could not have understood these lines, which, strangely
enough, are said to have been written by Pope at the desire of her
patron, the Earl of Peterborough. Surely Anastasia Robinson, the future
Countess, would not have thanked the earl for such a compliment, in
however perfect a style it might have been expressed. Madame Durastanti
appears to have been much esteemed in England, and I read in the
Evening Post of March 7th, 1721, that "Last Thursday, His Majesty was
pleased to stand godfather, and the Princess and the Lady Bruce
godmothers, to a daughter of Mrs. Durastanti, chief singer in the opera
house. The Marquis Visconti for the king, and the Lady Lichfield for the

Senesino, successor to Nicolini, and the second of the noble order of
sopranists who appeared in England, was the principal contralto singer
("modo vir, modo foemina") in Handel's operas, until 1726, when the
state of his health compelled him to return to Italy. He came back to
England in 1730, and resumed his position at the King's Theatre, under
Handel. In 1733, when the rival company was formed at the Lincoln's Inn
Theatre, Senesino joined it, but retired after the appearance of
Farinelli, who at once eclipsed all other singers.

Steele's journal, The Theatre, entertains us with a brief account of
the vanity of one Signor Beneditti, who appears to have performed
principal parts, at least for a time, at the Opera in 1720. The paper,
which is written by Sir Richard Steele's coadjutor, Sir John Edgar,
commences with a furious onslaught on a company of French actors, who
were at that time performing in London, and of whose opening
representation we are told that "if we are any longer to march on two
legs, and not be quite prone, and on all four like the other animals"
we must "assume manhood and humane indignation against so barbarous an
affront. But I foresee," continues Sir John,[23] "that the theatre is to
be utterly destroyed, and sensation is to banish reflection as sound is
to beat down sense. The head and the heart are to be moved no more, but
the basest parts of the body to be hereafter the sole instruments of
human delight. A regular, orderly, and well-governed company of actors,
that lived in reputation and credit and under decent settlement are to
be torn to pieces and made vagabond, to make room for even foreign
vagrants, who deserved no reception but in Bridewell, even before they
affronted the assembly, composed of British nobility and gentry, with
representations that could introduce nothing of even French except, &c.
....Though the French are so boisterous and void of all moderation or
temper in their conduct, the Italians are a more tractable and elegant
nation. If the French players have laid aside all shame, the Italian
singers are as eminently nice and delicate, which the reader will
observe from the following account I have received from the Haymarket.



"'It happened in casting parts for the new opera, Signor Beneditti
conceived he had been greatly injured, and applied to the board of
directors for redress. He set forth in the recitative tone, the
nearest approaching to ordinary speech, that he had never acted
anything in any other opera below the character of a sovereign, and
now he was to be appointed to be captain of a guard. On these
representations, we directed that he should make love to Zenobia,
with proper limitations. The chairman signified to him that the
board had made him a lover, but he must be content to be an
unfortunate one, and be rejected by his mistress. He expressed
himself very easy under this, and seemed to rejoice that,
considering the inconstancy of women, he could only feign, not
pursue the passion to extremity. He muttered very much against
making him only the guard to the character he had formerly appeared
in,'" &c.

A small and not uninteresting volume might be written about the caprices
of singers and their behaviour under real or imaginary slights. One of
the best stories of the kind is told of Crescentini, who, three-quarters
of a century later, at the first representation of Gli Orazi e
Curiazi, observed immediately before the commencement of the
performance, that the costume of Orazio was more magnificent than his
own. He sent for the stage manager, and burning with rage, addressed him
as follows:--

"Perche," he commenced, "avez vous donné oun habit blanc à ce
mossiou; et che vous m'en avez gratifié d'oun vert?"

It was explained to the singer that there was a tradition at the
Comédie Francaise by which the costume of the principal Horatius was
white and that of the chief of the Curiatii, green.

"Perché la bordoure rouze à un primo tenore, el la bordoure
noire à oun primo virtuoso?" continued the incensed sopranist.

"No one was thinking," replied the stage manager, "of your positions as
singers; our only object was to make the costumes as correct as

"Votre ousaze et votre ezatitoude sont des imbéciles," exclaimed
Crescentini; "zé mé lagnérai de votre condouite envers moi. Quant à
vous, mossiou Brizzi fate-mi il piacere dé vous déshabiller subito
et dé mé fairé passer questo vestito in baratto dou mien qué zé vais
vous envoyer. Per Bacco! non si dirà qu'oun tenore aura parou miou
vétou qu'oun primo oumo, surtout quand ce primo virtuoso est Girolamo
Crescentini d'Urbino."

An exchange took place on the spot, and throughout the evening a
Curiatius, six feet high, was seen wearing a little Roman costume, which
looked as if it would burst with each movement of the singer, while a
diminutive Horatius was attired in a long Alban tunic, of which the
skirt trailed along the ground.

* * * * *


But the singers are taking us away from the Opera. Let us return to
Handel, all of whose vocalists together, admirable as they were, could
not save the Royal Academy of Music from ruin. After the final failure
of that enterprise in 1728, the directors entered into an arrangement
with Heidegger for opening the King's Theatre under their joint
management. Handel went to Italy to engage new singers, but did not make
a very brilliant selection. Heidegger, nevertheless, did his duty as a
manager, and introduced the principal members of the new company to
public notice in the following "puff direct," which, for cool unadorned
impudence, has not been surpassed even in the present day. "Mr. Handel,
who is just returned from Italy, has contracted with the following
persons to perform in the Italian Operas, Signor Bernacchi, who is
esteemed the best singer in Italy; Signora Merighi, a woman of a very
fine presence, an excellent actress, and a very good singer, with a
counter-tenor voice; Signora Strada, who hath a very fine treble voice,
a person of singular merit; Signor Annibale Pio Fabri, a most excellent
tenor, and a fine voice; his wife, who performs a man's part well;
Signora Bertoldi, who has a very fine treble voice, she is also a very
genteel actress, both in men and women's parts; a bass voice, from
Hamburgh, there being none worth engaging in Italy."

I fancy this was an attempt to carry on Italian Opera at a reduced
expenditure, for as soon as the speculation began to fail, the popular
Senesino was again engaged. Handel had had a serious quarrel with this
singer, but when a manager is in want of a star, and a star is tempted
with a lucrative engagement, personal feelings are not taken into
account. They ought to have been, however, in this particular case, at
least by Handel, for the breach between the composer and the singer was
renewed, and Senesino left the King's Theatre to join the company which
was being formed at the Lincoln's Inn Theatre, under the direction of

Handel now set out once more for Italy, but again failed to engage any
singers of celebrity, with the exception of Carestini, whom he heard at
Bologna at the same time as Farinelli. That he should have preferred the
former to the latter seems unaccountable, for by the common consent of
musicians, critics, and the public, Farinelli, wherever he sang, was
pronounced the greatest singer of his time, and it appears certain that
no singer ever affected an audience in so powerful a manner. The
passionate (and slightly blasphemous) exclamation of the entranced
Englishwoman, "One God and one Farinelli," together with the almost
magical effect of Farinelli's voice in tranquilising the half demented
Ferdinand VI., seems to show that his singing must have been something
like the music of patriarchal times; which charmed serpents, and which
in a later age throws highly impressionable women into convulsions.


I have already mentioned that in going or returning to Italy this last
time, Handel appears to have passed through Paris, and to have paid a
contemptuous sort of attention to French music. It is then, if ever,
that he should be accused of having stolen for our national anthem, an
air left by Lulli--which he did not, and which Lulli could not have
composed. The ridiculous story which would make our English patriotic
hymn an adaptation from the French, is told for the first time I believe
in the Duchess of Perth's letters. But instead of "God save the Queen"
being translated from a canticle sung by the Ladies of St. Cyr, the
pretended canticle is a translation of "God save the Queen." Here is the
French version--

"Grand Dieu, sauvez le Roi!
Grand Dieu, vengez le Roi!
Vive le Roi!
Que toujours glorieux
Louis victorieux
Voie ses ennemis
Toujours soumis.

If it could be proved that this "canticle" was sung by the Ladies of St.
Cyr, England could no longer claim the authorship of "God save the
Queen," as far, at least, as the words are concerned; and it is evident
that the words, which are scarcely readable as poetry, though excellent
for singing, were written either for or with the music. M. Castil Blaze,
however (in Molière Musicien, Vol. I., page 501), points out that "si
l'on ignorait que la musique de cet air est, non pas de Handel, comme
plusieurs l'ont assuré mais de Henri Carey la version Française
prouverait du moins que cette melódie, scandée en sdruccioli ne peut
appartenir au siècle de Louis XIV.; nos vers à glissades etaient
parfaitement inconnus de Quinault et de Lulli, de Bernard et de


Mr. Schoelcher, like many other writers, attributes "God save the
King" to Dr. John Bull, but Mr. W. Chappell, in his "Popular Music of
the Olden Time," has shown that Dr. John Bull did not compose it in its
present form, and that in all probability Henry Carey did, and that
words and music together, as we know it in the present day, our national
anthem dates only from 1740. Lulli did not compose it, but it was not
composed before his time, nor before Handel's either. The air has been
so altered, or rather, developed, by the various composers who have
handled it since a simple chant on the four words "God save the King"
was harmonised by Dr. John Bull, and afterwards converted from an
indifferent tune into an admirable one (through the fortunate blundering
of a copyist, as it has been surmised), that it may almost be said to
have grown. What an interesting thing to be able to establish the fact
of its gradual formation, like the political system of that nation to
whose triumphs it has long been an indispensable accompaniment! But how
humiliating to find that somebody marked in Dr. Bull's manuscript a
sharp where there should have been no sharp, and that our glorious
anthem owes its existence to a mistake! Mr. Chappell prints three or
four ballads and part songs in his work, beginning at the reign of James
I., either or all of which may have been the foundation of "God save
the King," but it appears certain that our national hymn in its present
form was first sung, and almost note for note as it is sung now, by H.
Carey, in 1740, in celebration of the taking of Portobello by Admiral

Handel did not compose "God save the King;" but he had good reason for
singing it, considering the steady and liberal patronage he received
from our three first Georges. When, after the expiration of his contract
with Heidegger, he removed to Covent Garden, in 1735, still carrying on
the war against Porpora (who removed at the same time to the King's
Theatre), George II. subscribed £1,000 towards the expenses of Handel's
management, and it was the support of the King and the Royal Family that
enabled him to combat the influence that was brought to bear against him
by the aristocracy. Handel, according to Arbuthnot, owed his failure, in
a great measure, the first time, to the Beggars' Opera. The second
time, on the other hand, it was the Nobility's Opera that ruined him.
Handel, as we have seen, had only Carestini to depend upon. Porpora, his
rival, had secured two established favourites, Cuzzoni and Senesino
(both members of Handel's old company at the Academy), and had,
moreover, engaged Farinelli, by far the greatest singer of the epoch.
Nevertheless, Porpora failed almost at the same time as Handel, and at
the end of the year 1737, there was no Italian Opera at all in London.

Handel joined Heidegger once more in 1738, at the King's Theatre. In two
years he wrote four operas, of which the fourth, Deidamia, was the
last he ever produced. After this he abandoned dramatic music, and, as a
composer of Oratorios, entered upon what was to him a far higher career.
Handel was at this time fifty-six years of age, and since his arrival in
England, in 1711, he had written no less than thirty-five Italian


Handel's Italian operas, as such, are now quite obsolete. The air from
Admeto is occasionally heard at a concert, and Handel is known to have
introduced some of his operatic melodies into his Oratorios, but there
is no chance of any one of his operas ever being reproduced in a
complete form. They were never known out of England, and in this country
were soon laid aside after their composer had fairly retired from
theatrical management. I think Mr. Hogarth[25] is only speaking with his
usual judiciousness, when he observes, that "whatever pleasure they must
have given to the audiences of that age, they would fail to do so
now.... The music of the principal parts," he continues, "were written
for a class of voices which no longer exists,[26] and for these parts no
performers could now be found. A series of recitatives and airs, with
only an occasional duet, and a concluding chorus of the slightest kind,
would appear meagre and dull to ears accustomed to the brilliant
concerted pieces and finales of the modern stage; and Handel's
accompaniments would appear thin and poor amidst the richness and
variety of the modern orchestra. The vocal parts, too, are to a great
extent, in an obsolete taste. Many of the airs are mere strings of dry,
formal divisions and unmeaning passages of execution, calculated to show
off the powers of the fashionable singers; and many others, admirable in
their design, and containing the finest traits of melody and expression,
are spun out a wearisome length, and deformed by the cumbrous trappings
with which they are loaded. Musical phrases, too, when Handel used them,
had the charm of novelty, have become familiar and common through
repetition by his successors."

Among the airs which Handel has taken from his Operas and introduced
into his Oratorios, may be mentioned Rendi l' sereno al ciglio, from
Sosarme, now known as Lord, remember David, and Dove sei amato
bene, in Rodelinda, which has been converted into Holy, Holy, Lord
God Almighty. That these changes have been made with perfect success,
proves, if any proof were still wanted by those who have ever given a
minute's consideration to the subject, that there is no such thing as
absolute definite expression in music. The music of an impassioned love
song will seem equally appropriate as that of a fervent prayer, except
to those who have already associated it intimately in their memories
with the words to which it has first been written. A positive feeling
of joy, or of grief, of exultation, or of depression, of liveliness, or
of solemnity, can be expressed by musical means without the assistance
of words, but not mixed feelings, into which several shades of sentiment
enter--at least not with definiteness; though once indicated by the
words, they will obtain from music the most admirable colours which will
even appear to have been invented expressly and solely for them. Gluck
arranged old music to suit new verses quite as much, or more, than
Handel--even Gluck who maintained that music ought to convey the precise
signification, not only of a dramatic situation, but of the very words
of a song, phrase by phrase, if not word by word.

* * * * *


During the period of Handel's presidency over our Italian Opera, works
not only by Handel and his colleagues, but also by Scarlatti, Hasse,
Porpora, Vinci, Veracini, and other composers were produced at the
King's Theatre, at Covent Garden, and at Porpora's Theatre in Lincoln's
Inn Fields. After Handel's retirement, operas by Galuppi, Pergolese,
Jomelli, Gluck, and Piccinni, were performed, and the most distinguished
singers in Europe continued to visit London. In 1741, when the Earl of
Middlesex undertook the management of the King's Theatre, Galuppi was
engaged as composer, and produced several operas: among others,
Penelope, Scipione, and Enrico. In 1742, the Olimpiade, with
music by Pergolese (a pupil of Hasse, and the future composer of the
celebrated Serva Padrona) was brought out. After Galuppi's return to
Italy, in 1744, the best of his new operas continued to be produced in
London. His Mondo della Luna was represented in 1760, when the English
public were delighted with the gaiety of the music, and with the
charming acting and singing of Signora Paganini. The year afterwards a
still greater success was achieved with the same composer's Filosofo di
Campagna, which, says Dr. Burney, "surpassed in musical merit all the
comic operas that were performed in England till the Buona Figliola."
Not only were Gluck's earlier and comparatively unimportant works
performed in London soon after their first production at Vienna, but his
Orfeo, the first of those great works written in the style which we
always associate with Gluck's name, was represented in London in 1770,
four years before Gluck went to Paris. Indeed, ever since the arrival of
Handel in this country, London has been celebrated for its Italian
Opera, whereas the French had no regular continuous performances of
Italian Opera until nearly a hundred years afterwards. Handel did much
to create a taste for this species of entertainment, and by the
excellent execution which he took care every opera produced under his
direction should receive, he set an example to his successors of which
the value can scarcely be over-estimated, and which it must be admitted
has, on the whole, been followed with intelligence and enterprise.

Next: General View Of The Opera In Europe In The Eighteenth Century Until The Appearance Of Gluck

Previous: Introduction Of Italian Opera Into England

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 440