Informational Site NetworkInformational Site Network
     Home - All Operas - Opera Stories - Opera History - Opera Physiology

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

The Opera In The Abstract

"L'Opera toujours
Fait bruit et merveilles:
On y voit les sourds
Boucher leurs oreilles."


To most of the world (and we say it advisedly,) the opera is a sealed
book. We do not mean a bare representation with its accompanying
screechings, violinings and bass-drummings. Everybody has seen that--But
the race of beings who constitute that remarkable combination; their
feelings, positions, social habits; their relation to one another; what
they say and eat;[a] whether the tenor ever notices as they (the world)
do, the fine legs of the contralto in man's dress, and whether the basso
drinks pale ale or porter; all these things have been hitherto wrapped
in an inscrutable mystery. In regard to mere actors, not singers, this
feeling is confined to children; but the operators of an opera are
essentially esoteric. They are enclosed by a curtain more impenetrable
than the Chinese wall. You may walk all around them; nay, you may even
know an inferior artiste, but there is a line beyond which even the fast
men, with all their impetuosity, are restrained from invading.

[a] We actually knew a man who, when a tenor was spoken of, as having
gone through his role, thought that that worthy had been eating his

You walk in the street with a young female, on whom you flatter yourself
you are making an impression; suddenly she cries out, "Oh, there's
Bawlini; do look! dear creature, isn't he?" You may as well turn round
and go home immediately; the rest of your walk won't be worth half the
dream you had the night before. This shows an importance to be attached
to these remarkable persons, which, together with the mystery which
encircles them, is exceedingly aggravating to the feelings of a large
body of respectable citizens. Among those who are mostly afflicted, we
may mention all women, but most especially boarding school misses.
Mothers of families are much perturbed; they wonder why the tenor is so
intimate with the donna, considering they are not married; and fathers
of families wonder "where under the sun that manager gets the money to
pay a tenor twelve hundred dollars a month, when state sixes are so
shockingly depressed." We were going to enumerate those we thought
particularly afflicted by a praiseworthy desire to know something more
of these obscurities, but they are too many for us. In every class of
society, nay, in the breast of almost every person, there exists a
desire to be rightly informed on these subjects. It was to supply this
want that we have devoted ourselves more especially to the actors who
do, to the exclusion of the auditors who are "done."

Shakspeare observes, that "all the world's a stage;" the converse of
this proposition is no less worthy of being regarded as a great moral
truth,--that all the stage is a world. Every condition of life may be
found typified in one or other of the officials or attaches of an opera
house; from the king upon the throne, symbolized by the haughty and
magisterial impresario, to the chiffonier in the gutter, represented
by the unfortunate chorister who is attired as a shabby nobleman on the
stage, but who goes home to a supper of leeks. Between these two
degrees, of dignity and unimportance, come those many shades of social
position corresponding to the happy situations of Secretary of State,
Secretary of the Treasury, and divers other dignitaries, set forth in
the stage director, the treasurer, the chorus-master, &c.

The tenor, basso, prima donna and baritone may be considered as
belonging to what is called "society;"--that well-to-do and ornamental
portion of the community, who having no vocation save to frequent balls,
soirees, concerts and operas, and fall in love--serve as objects of
admiration to those persons less favoured by fortune, who make the
clothes and dress the hair of the former class.

Our simile need not be carried further, it being apparent to the most
inconsiderate reader, that it is quite as truthful as that hatched by
the swan of Avon. We shall now commence our observations upon the most
interesting members of a troupe; those best known to the community
before whom they nightly appear; and leave unnoticed those disagreeable
but influential ones who raise the price of tickets, or stand in a
little box near the door and palm off all the back seats upon the

Next: Of The Tenore

Add to Informational Site Network

Viewed 2487