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Before The Curtain
Of The Barytone
Of The Opera In The Concrete
Of The Prima Donna
Of The Primo Basso
Of The Suggeritore Or Prompter
Of The Tenore
The Opera In The Abstract

Physiology Of The Opera

Of The Tenore

"In short, I may, I am sure, with truth assert, that whether in the
allegro or in the piano, the adagio, the largo or the
forte, he never had his equal."--CONNOISSEUR. No. 130.

"Famed for the even tenor of his conduct, and his conduct as a

The Tenor is a small man, seldom exceeding the medium height. His voice
is, comparatively speaking, a small voice, and consequently not likely
to issue from over-grown lungs. His proportions are, or at least ought
to be, as symmetrical as possible. His hair, nine times out of ten, is
black, and always curls. His beard is reasonably bushy; but his
moustache is the most artistically cultivated and carefully nurtured
collection of hair that ever adorned the superior lip of man. His
features are likely to be handsome, sometimes, however, effeminately so.
His dress is a little extravagant; not extravagant in the mode and
manner of a fast man or a dandy--for it is not punctiliously fashionable
like that of the latter, without any deviation from tailor's plates;
neither does it resemble that of the former in the gentlemanly roughness
of its appearance; consequently he rejoices not in entire suits of grey
or plaid, those very sporting coats, those English country-gentleman's
shoes, those amply bowed cravats, and those shirts that are so
resplendent with the well executed heads of terrier dogs. No! the primo
tenore has a passion, first, for satin,--secondly, for jewelry,--and
lastly, for hats, boots and gloves. He dotes on satin scarfs, cravats
and ties, and his gorgeous satin vests, of all the hues of the rainbow,
astound the saunterer on the morning promenade. His love for pins,
studs, rings and chains is almost enough to lead us to believe that his
blood is mingled with that of the Mohawks. Boots that fit like gloves,
and gloves that fit like the skin, render him the envy of dandies. His
hat is smooth and glossy to an excess, and its peculiar formation makes
it considered "un peu trop fort," even by the most daring of

The tenor rises late; partly because he is naturally indolent; partly
because the prime basso drank him slightly exhilarated the evening
previous; and partly out of affectation and the desire to appear a very
fine gentleman. Having spent a long time in making a negligee
toilette, he orders his breakfast. Seated in his comprehensive arm
chair, and attired in all the splendor of a well-tinselled satin or
velvet calotte, a dazzling robe de chambre, and slippers of the most
brilliant colors, he takes his matutinal repast. And now we begin to
discover some of the thousand vexations and annoyances that harass the
life of this poor object of popular support. His breakfast is but the
skeleton of that useful and nourishing repast. No rich beef-steaks! no
tender chops! no fragrant ham nor well-seasoned omelettes, transfer
their nutritive properties through his system. Any indulgence in these
wholesome articles of food is considered direct destruction to the
tender organ of the tenor. A hunting breakfast every day, or a glass of
wine at an improper hour, if persisted in for any length of time, it is
supposed would ruin the most delightful voice that ever sung an aria.
A large cup of cafe au lait, with an egg beaten in it, is all the
morning meal of which the poor artiste (as he styles himself,) is
permitted to partake. This feat accomplished, he takes up the newspaper
in which he spells out the puff which he paid the reporter to insert,
and after satisfying himself that he has received his quid pro quo, he
lounges away the morning until a sufficient space of time has elapsed to
render the use of the voice no longer deleterious, as it is immediately
after eating. And then come two or three hours of study that is no
trifle. The tenor is a man; and it seems to be a great moral law, that
whether it come in the form of labor, disease, ennui or indigestion,
suffering shall be the badge of all our tribe. Even prima donnas, who
defy gods and men with more temerity than all living creatures, are
constrained to concede the obligation of this universal moral edict. The
tenor then yields homage to human nature and the public, in the labor of
climbing stubborn scales, rehearsing new operas, and sometimes, though
not often, in receiving the impertinence of arrogant prima donnas,
during several hours every day. After these fatiguing efforts, he makes
his grande toilette, and prepares himself to astound the town no less
by his personal attractions than by his song. The chief promenade of the
city, where he condescends to mete out to highly favoured audiences the
treasures of his organ, is made the day-theatre of his glory.
Accompanied by his friend the primo basso, he saunters along very
quietly, attracting the gaze of the curious, and calling forth the
passionate remarks of enthusiastic young ladies, who feel it would be a
pleasure to die, if they could only leave such a gentleman behind on
earth to sing "Tu che a Dio," in the event of their being "snatched
away in beauty's bloom."

The basso is the chosen male companion of the tenor's walk; firstly,
because he is no rival, and secondly, because the gross physical
endowments of the former are such as to bring out the latter's
symmetrical proportions in such strong relief.

Sometimes the tenor is seen riding out with the prima donna, with whom
he is nearly always a favorite. He is the gentleman who makes himself
useful in assisting her to destroy time; he performs for her those
thousand and one little delicate attentions for which all women are so
truly grateful; and then he sings with her every night those sentimental
duos, that necessarily produce their effect upon the feminine bosom.

Whether walking with his gigantic friend, or riding with his fair one,
the tenor behaves himself with the greatest propriety and gentleman-like
bearing, excepting always a certain air which leads us to believe that
he thinks "too curious old port" of himself. He is more grave, but
apparently more vain when on foot, than when seated in the carriage with
the prima donna; at which time his gesticulation becomes very animated,
sometimes very extravagant; though we must always accord it the
attraction of gracefulness.

The time is thus agreeably walked, ridden and "chaffed" away, until the
hour for the substantial dinner comes to fortify mankind against the
slings and arrows of hunger and tedium. Then the tenor does dare to
partake of a few, of what are technically called "the delicacies of the
season." But still a restraint is put upon the appetite, for in a few
hours more he must go through labours for which the "fulness of satiety"
would little prepare him. A very worthy and elderly clergyman of the
Church of England once made known to the writer his opinion concerning
after-dinner sermons, in the following words; "I believe, sir, that
though sermons preached through the medium of simple roast beef and
plum-pudding may have been sermons invented by inspiration; they are
sure to be enunciated through the agency of the devil." So melting
strains of solos and duos, when sung through the medium of soups, pates
and fricasees, lose their liquidity, and film, mantle and stagnate into
monotony. How the tenor is occupied until the hour of supper, we shall
relate in another chapter; suffice it to say that he is at home--that is
to say, on the stage.

But when supper comes he is no longer prevented by fear of "lost voice"
or any other dire calamity, from giving way to the cravings of hunger
and thirst. He eats with the relish of hunger induced by labor, and
drinks with the excitement arising from the consciousness that he is,
what in the language of the turf is styled "the favorite." The ladies
and gentlemen of the troupe usually assemble at supper, and it is then
that the tenor again bestows his galanteries on the prima donna, and
says many more really complimentary things than are to be found set down
in his professional role.

In concluding this sketch of the tenor, the writer would, with all due
submission to the opinion of the public, venture to discover his
sentiments upon a question which often agitates society; viz., whether
the tenor is always sick when he announces himself to be seriously
indisposed. The writer hopes he will not render himself liable to the
charge of duplicity or an attempt at evasion, when he declares it to be
his impression, that on the occasion of such announcements, the tenor is
sometimes seriously indisposed but not always. The tenor, as we have
before observed, is but a man, and must needs be subject to diseases
like other men; but when we consider the delicacy of his conformation,
we must multiply the chances of his liability to indisposition. His
organization is such, that the most trifling irregularity in his general
health operates immediately upon the voice. Now, for the tenor, in the
slightest degree out of tone, to appear before a merciless audience,
consisting of blase opera goers, tyrannical critics, hired depreciators,
and unrelenting musical amateurs, would indicate the most utter folly
and imbecility. The tenor is well aware that a reputation for singing
divinely a few nights in the year, is more lucrative than a reputation
for ability to sing tolerably well, taking an average of all the nights
in that space of time. It is consequently more advantageous for him to
sing occasionally, when he feels his voice to be in full force and
vigour, and his spirits in a sufficiently animated condition to warrant
his appearing with every certainty of success. When, therefore, he does
not favour the public with the melody of his notes, it is, generally
speaking because, without really suffering from a serious attack of
disease, he considers that his appearance would insure a future
diminution in the offers of the impresario. Hence the affiches
usually proclaim nothing but truth itself, when they declare that the
tenor is seriously indisposed; but then we must be careful to
interpret the word indisposition by that one of its significations which
is equivalent to disinclination.

That some compulsory measures might be taken to make these gentlemen
"who can sing but won't sing" more complying, and willing to yield to
the wishes and request of managers and audiences, the writer has never
entertained a doubt. The ways and means of effecting such an object, he
will not take upon himself to devise or advise, but will merely state a
fact which probably may induce some one to enter upon a thorough
examination of the subject, and suggest the remedy. Upon one occasion,
when the Havannah troupe was performing in Philadelphia, and a favorite
tenor had been amusing himself by trifling with the public, until the
patience of that forbearing portion of mankind was entirely exhausted;
the treasury was beginning to fall extremely low, and the wearied out
director was well nigh driven to desperation. In this critical juncture
of affairs, the gentleman who was the legal adviser of the troupe was
applied to, to say whether there was not some compulsory process known
to the law, by which the refractory tenor could be brought to a
recognition of the right of the rest of the company to the use of his
voice to attract large audiences, and thereby replenish the empty
coffers of the treasury. Upon answer that there existed no such process,
the distracted director muttered a few maledictions upon our country,
with a sneer at our free institutions, and informed the astonished
counsellor, that in Havannah, when the tenor was supposed to be feigning
sickness, the proper authorities were resorted to for the right of an
examination of the offending party by a physician, and a certificate of
the state of his health. Upon the physician certifying that the signor
was able to go through his role, a few gendarmes were dispatched to
seize the delinquent and take such means as would sooner coerce him into
a compliance with the stipulations of his professional contract.

Every reasonable excuse, however, should be made for the necessity the
tenor is under to be careful of the delicate organ whereby he gains his
subsistence. When we reflect how many of these poor fellows lose their
voices and are consequently driven to throw themselves on the cold
charity of the public--or out of the window, we must be struck with the
inhumanity which would be exercised if this professional singer were
excluded from enjoying occasionally by permission, what every clergyman
in the land can always claim as a right--the disease which the Hibernian
servant expressively denominated "the brown gaiters in the throat."

Next: Of The Primo Basso

Previous: The Opera In The Abstract

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