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





Great Italian Singers.--Ferri in Sweden.--Opera in Vienna.--Scenic

decorations.--Singers of the Eighteenth Century.--Singers'

nicknames.--Farinelli's one note.





[Sidenote: QUEEN CHRISTINA AND FERRI.]



Handel, by his great musical genius, conferred a two-fold benefit on the

country of his adoption. He endowed it with a series of Oratorios which

stand alone in their grandeur, for which the English of the present day

are deeply grateful, and for which ages to come will honour his name;

and before writing a note of his great sacred works, during the thirty

years which he devoted to the production and superintendence of Italian

Opera in England, he raised that entertainment to a pitch of excellence

unequalled elsewhere, except perhaps at the magnificent Dresden Theatre,

which, for upwards of a quarter of a century was directed by the

celebrated Hasse, and where Augustus, of Saxony, took care that the

finest musicians and singers in Europe should be engaged.



Rousseau, in the Dictionnaire Musicale, under the head of "Orchestra,"

writing in 1754[27], says:--



"The first orchestra in Europe in respect to the number and science of

the symphonists, is that of Naples. But the orchestra of the opera of

the King of Poland, at Dresden, directed by the illustrious Hasse, is

better distributed, and forms a better ensemble."



Most of Handel's and Porpora's best vocalists were engaged from the

Dresden Theatre, but the great Italian singers had already become

citizens of the world, and settled or established themselves temporarily

as their interests dictated in Germany, England, Spain, or elsewhere,

and at the beginning of the eighteenth century there were Italian Operas

at Naples, Turin, Dresden, Vienna, London, Madrid, and even

Algiers--everywhere but in France, which, as has already been pointed

out, did not accept the musical civilisation of Italy until it had been

adopted by every other country in Europe, including Russia. The great

composers, and above all, the great singers who abounded in this

fortunate century, went to and fro in Europe, from south to north, from

east to west, and were welcomed everywhere but in Paris, where, until a

few years before the Revolution, it seemed to form part of the national

honour to despise Italian music.



As far back as 1645, Queen Christina of Sweden sent a vessel of war to

Italy, to bring to her Court Balthazar Ferri, the most distinguished

singer of his day. Ferri, as Rousseau, quoting from Mancini, tells us in

his "Musical Dictionary," could without taking breath ascend and descend

two octaves of the chromatic scale, performing a shake on every note

unaccompanied, and with such precision that if at any time the note on

which the singer was shaking was verified by an instrument, it was found

to be perfectly in tune.



Ferri was in the service of three kings of Poland and two emperors of

Germany. At Venice he was decorated with the Order of St. Mark; at

Vienna he was crowned King of Musicians; at London, while he was singing

in a masque, he was presented by an unknown hand with a superb emerald;

and the Florentines, when he was about to visit their city, went in

thousands to meet him, at three leagues distance from the gates.



[Sidenote: OPERA IN VIENNA.]



The Italian Opera was established in Vienna under the Emperor Leopold

I., with great magnificence, so much so indeed, that for many years

afterwards it was far more celebrated as a spectacle than as a musical

entertainment. Nevertheless, Leopold was a most devoted lover of music,

and remained so until his death, as the history of his last moments

sufficiently shows. We have seen a French maid of honour die to the

fiddling of her page; the Emperor of Germany expired to the

accompaniment of a full orchestra. Feeling that his end was approaching

he sent for his musicians, and ordered them to commence a symphony,

which they went on playing until he died.



Apostolo Zeno, whom Rousseau calls the Corneille, and Metastasio, whom

he terms the Racine of the Opera, both resided for many years at Vienna,

and wrote many of their best pieces for its theatre. Several of Zeno's,

and a great number of Metastasio's works have been set to music over and

over again, but when they were first brought out at Vienna, many of them

appear to have obtained success more as grand dramatic spectacles than

as operas. During the latter half of the eighteenth century, Vienna

witnessed the production of some of the greatest master-pieces of the

musical drama (for instance, the Orpheus, Alcestis, &c., of Gluck,

and the Marriage of Figaro, of Mozart); but when Handel was in England

directing the King's Theatre in the Haymarket, and when the Dresden

Opera was in full musical glory (before as well as after the arrival of

Hasse), the Court Theatre of Vienna was above all remarkable for its

immense size, for the splendour of its decorations, and for the general

costliness and magnificence of its spectacles. Lady Mary Wortley

Montague visited the Opera, at Vienna, in 1716, and sent the following

account of it to Pope.



"I have been last Sunday at the Opera, which was performed in the garden

of the Favorita; and I was so much pleased with it, I have not yet

repented my seeing it. Nothing of the kind was ever more magnificent,

and I can easily believe what I am told, that the decorations and

habits cost the Emperor thirty thousand pounds sterling. The stage was

built over a very large canal, and at the beginning of the second act

divided into two parts, discovering the water, on which there

immediately came, from different parts, two fleets of little gilded

vessels that gave the representation of a naval fight. It is not easy to

imagine the beauty of this scene, which I took particular notice of. But

all the rest were perfectly fine in their kind. The story of the Opera

is the enchantment of Alcina, which gives opportunities for a great

variety of machines, and changes of scenes which are performed with

surprising swiftness. The theatre is so large that it is hard to carry

the eye to the end of it, and the habits in the utmost magnificence to

the number of one hundred and eight. No house could hold such large

decorations; but the ladies all sitting in the open air exposes them to

great inconveniences, for there is but one canopy for the Imperial

Family, and the first night it was represented, a shower of rain

happening, the opera was broken off, and the company crowded away in

such confusion that I was almost squeezed to death."



[Sidenote: SCENIC DECORATIONS.]



One of these open air theatres, though doubtless on a much smaller scale

than that of Vienna, stood in the garden of the Tuileries, at Paris, at

the beginning of the eighteenth century. It was embowered in trees and

covered with creeping plants, and the performances took place there in

the day-time. These garden theatres were known to the Romans, witness

the following lines of Ovid:--



"Illic quas tulerant nemorosa palatia, frondes

Simpliciter positæ; scena sine arte fuit."

De Arte Amandi, Liber I., v. 105.



I myself saw a little theatre of the kind, in 1856, at Flensburgh, in

Denmark. There was a pleasure-ground in front, with benches and chairs

for the audience. The stage door at the back opened into a cabbage

garden. The performances, which consisted of a comedy and farce took

place in the afternoon, and ended at dusk.



* * * * *



I have already spoken of the magnificence and perfection of the scenic

pictures exhibited at the Italian theatres in the very first days of the

Opera. In the early part of the seventeenth century immense theatres

were constructed so as to admit of the most elaborate spectacular

displays. The Farnesino Theatre, at Parma, built for dramas,

tournaments, and spectacles of all kinds, and which is now a ruin,

contained at least fifty thousand spectators.[28]



In the 18th century the Italians seem to have thought more of the music

of their operas, and to have left the vanities of theatrical decorations

to the Germans.



Servandoni, for some time scene painter and decorator at the Académie

Royale of Paris not finding that theatre sufficiently vast for his

designs, sought a new field for his ambition at the Opera-House of

Dresden, where Augustus of Poland engaged him to superintend the

arrangement of the stage. Servandoni painted a number of admirable

scenes for this theatre, in the midst of which four hundred mounted

horsemen were able to manoeuvre with ease.



In 1760 the Court of the Duke of Wurtemburg, at Stuttgardt, was the most

brilliant in Europe, owing partly, no doubt, to the enormous subsidies

received by the Duke from France for a body of ten thousand men, which

he maintained at the service of that power. The Duke had a French

theatre, and two Italian theatres, one for Opera Seria, and the other

for Opera Buffa. The celebrated Noverre was his ballet-master, and there

were a hundred dancers in the corps de ballet, besides twenty

principal ones, each of whom had been first dancer at one of the chief

theatres of Italy. Jomelli was chapel-master and director of the Opera

at Stuttgardt from 1754 until 1773.



[Sidenote: SCENIC DECORATIONS.]



In the way of stage decorations, theatrical effects, and the various

other spectacular devices by which managers still seek to attract to

their Operas those who are unable to appreciate good music, we have made

no progress since the 17th century. We have, to be sure, gas and the

electric light, which were not known to our forefathers; but St.

Evrémond tells us that in Louis the XIV.'s time the sun and moon were

so well represented at the Académie Royale, that the Ambassador of

Guinea, assisting at one of its performances, leant forward in his box,

when those orbs appeared and religiously saluted them. To be sure, this

anecdote may be classed with one I have heard in Russia, of an actor

who, playing the part of a bear in a grand melodrama, in which a storm

was introduced, crossed himself devoutly at each clap of thunder; but

the stories of Servandoni's and Bernino's decorations are no fables.

Like the other great masters of stage effect in Italy, Bernino was an

architect, a sculptor and a painter. His sunsets are said to have been

marvellous; and in a spectacular piece of his composition, entitled The

Inundation of the Tiber, a mass of water was seen to come in from the

back of the stage, gradually approaching the orchestra and washing down

everything that impeded its onward course, until at last the audience,

believing the inundation to be real, rose in terror and were about to

rush from the theatre. Traps, however, were ready to be opened in all

parts of the stage. The Neptune of the troubled theatrical waves gave

the word,



----"et dicto citiùs tumida æquora placat."



But in Italy, even at the time when such wonders were being effected in

the way of stage decorations, the music of an opera was still its prime

attraction; indeed, there were theatres for operas and theatres for

spectacular dramas, and it is a mistake to attempt the union of the two

in any great excellence, inasmuch as the one naturally interferes with

and diverts attention from the other.



Of Venice and its music, in the days when grand hunts, charges of

cavalry, triumphal processions in which hundreds of horsemen took part,

and ships traversing the ocean, and proceeding full sail to the

discovery of America were introduced on to the stage;[29] of Venice and

its music even at this highly decorative period, St. Evrémond has given

us a brief but very satisfactory account in the following doggrel:--



"A Venise rien n'est égal:

Sept opéras, le carneval;

Et la merveille, l'excellence,

Point de choeurs et jamais de danse,

Dans les maisons, souvent concert,

Où tout se chante à livre ouvert."



The operatic chorus, as has already been observed, is an invention

claimed by the French[30]; on the other hand, from the very foundation

of the Académie Royale, the French rendered their Operas ridiculous by

introducing ballets into the middle of them. We shall find Rousseau

calling attention to this absurd custom which still prevails at the

Académie, where if even Fidelio was to be produced, it would be

considered necessary to "enliven" one or more of the scenes with a

divertissement--so unchanging and unchangeable are the revolutionary

French in all that is futile.



[Sidenote: THE OPERA AT VIENNA.]



We have seen that in the first years of the 18th century, the Opera at

Vienna was chiefly remarkable for its size, and the splendour and

magnificence of its scenery. But it soon became a first-rate musical

theatre; and it was there, as every one who takes an interest in music

knows, that nearly all the masterpieces of Gluck and Mozart[31] were

produced. The French sometimes speak of Gluck's great works as if they

belonged exclusively to the repertory of their Académie. I have already

mentioned that four years before Gluck went to Paris (1774), his Orfeo

was played in London. This opera was brought out at Vienna in 1764, when

it was performed twenty-eight times in succession. The success of

Alceste was still greater; and after its production in 1768, no other

opera was played for two years. At this period, the imperial family did

not confine the interest they took in the Opera to mere patronage; four

Austrian archduchesses, sisters of the Emperor Charles VII., themselves

appeared on the stage, and performed, among other pieces, in the

Egeria of Metastasio and Hasse, and even in Gluck's works. Charles

VII. himself played on the harpsichord and the violoncello; and the

Empress mother, then seventy years of age, once said, in conversing with

Faustina (Hasse's widow at that time), "I am the oldest dramatic singer

in Europe; I made my début when I was five years old." Charles VI.

too, Leopold's successor, if not a musician, had, at least, considerable

taste in music; and Farinelli informed Dr. Burney that he was much

indebted to this sovereign for an admonition he once received from him.

The Emperor told the singer that his performance was surprising, and,

indeed, prodigious; but that all was unavailing as long as he did not

succeed in touching the heart. It would appear that at this time

Farinelli's style was wanting in simplicity and expressiveness; but an

artist of the intelligence and taste which his correspondence with

Metastasio proves him to have possessed, would be sure to correct

himself of any such failings the moment his attention was called to

them.



[Sidenote: SINGERS OF THE EIGHTEENTH CENTURY.]



The 18th century produced a multitude of great singers. Their voices

have gone with them; but we know from the music they sang, from the

embellishments and cadences which have been noted down, and which are as

good evidence now as when they were first executed, that those

virtuosi had brought the vocal art to a perfection of which, in these

later days, we meet with only the rarest examples. Is music to be

written for the sake of singers, or are singers to learn to sing for the

sake of music? Of the two propositions, I decidedly prefer the latter;

but it must, at the same time, be remarked, that unless the executive

qualities of the singer be studied to a considerable extent, the singer

will soon cease to pay much attention to his execution. Continue to give

him singable music, however difficult, and he will continue to learn to

sing, counting the difficulties to be overcome only as so many

opportunities for new triumphs; but if the music given to him is such as

can, perhaps even must, be shouted, it is to be expected that he will

soon cease to study the intricacies and delicacies of his art; and in

time, if music truly vocal be put before him, he will be unable to sing.



* * * * *



The great singers of the 17th century, to judge from the cantilenas of

Caccini's, Peri's, and Monteverde's operas, must have cultivated

expression rather than ornamentation; though what Mancini tells us about

the singing of Balthazar Ferri, and the manner in which it was received,

proves that the florid, highly-adorned style was also in vogue. These

early Italian virtuosi (a name which they adopted at the beginning of

the 17th century to distinguish themselves from mere actors) not only

possessed great acquirements as singers, but were also excellent

musicians; and many of them displayed great ability in matters quite

unconnected with their profession. Stradella, the only vocalist of whom

it is recorded that his singing saved his life, composed an opera, La

Forza dell Amor paterno, of which the manifold beauties caused him to

be proclaimed "beyond comparison the first Apollo of music:" the

following inscription being stamped by authority on the published

score--"Bastando il dirti, che il concerto di si perfetta melodia sia

valore d'un Alessandro, civè del Signor Stradella, riconoscinto senza

contrasto per il primo Apollo della musica." Atto, an Italian tenor,

who came to Paris with Leonora Baroni, and who had apartments given him

in Cardinal Mazarin's palace, was afterwards entrusted by that minister

with a political mission to the court of Bavaria, which, however, it

must be remembered, was just then presided over, not by an elector, but

by an electoress. Farinelli became the confidential adviser, if not the

actual minister (as has been often stated, but without foundation) of

the king of Spain. In the present day, the only virtuoso I know of

(the name has now a more general signification) who has been entrusted

with quasi-diplomatic functions is Vivier, the first horn player, and,

in his own way, the first humorist of the age; I believe it is no secret

that this facetious virtuoso fills the office of secretary to his

Excellency Vely Pasha.



[Sidenote: SINGERS OF THE EIGHTEENTH CENTURY.]



Bontempi, in his Historia Musica, gives the following account of the

school of singing directed by Mazzocchi, at Rome, in 1620: "At the

schools of Rome, the pupils were obliged to give up one hour every day

to the singing of difficult passages till they were well acquainted with

them; another to the practice of the shake; another to feats of

agility;[32] another to the study of letters; another to vocal

exercises, under the direction of a master, and before a looking-glass,

so that they might be certain they were making no disagreeable movement

of the muscles of the face, of the forehead, of the eyes, or of the

mouth. So much for the occupation of the morning. In the afternoon,

half-an-hour was devoted to the theory of singing; another half-hour to

counterpoint; an hour to hearing the rules of composition, and putting

them in practice on their tablets; another to the study of letters; and

the rest of the day to practising the harpsichord, to the composition of

some psalm, motet, canzonetta, or any other piece according to the

scholar's own ideas.



"Such were the ordinary exercises of the school in days when the

scholars did not leave the house. When they went out, they often walked

towards Monte Mario, and sang where they could hear the echo of their

notes, so that each might judge by the response of the justness of his

execution. They, moreover, sang at all the musical solemnities of the

Roman Churches; following, and observing with attention the manner and

style of an infinity of great singers who lived under the pontificate of

Urban VIII., so that they could afterwards render an account of their

observations to the master, who, the better to impress the result of

these studies on the minds of his pupils, added whatever remarks and

cautions he thought necessary."



With such a system as the above, it would have been impossible,

supposing the students to have possessed any natural disposition for

singing, not to have produced good singers. We have spoken already of

some of the best vocalists of the 18th century; of Faustina, Cuzzoni,

and Mingotti; of Nicolini, Senesino, and Farinelli. Of Farinelli's life,

however (which was so interesting that it has afforded to a German

composer the subject of one opera, to M. M. Scribe and Auber, that of

another, La part du Diable, and to M. Scribe the plan of "Carlo

Broschi," a tale), I must give a few more particulars; and this will

also be a convenient opportunity for sketching the careers of some two

or three others of the great Italian singers of this epoch, such as

Caffarelli, Gabrielli, Guadagni, &c.



First, as to his name. It is generally said that Carlo Broschi owed his

appellation of Farinelli to the circumstance of his father having been a

miller, or a flour merchant. This, however, is pure conjecture. No one

knows or cares who Carlo Broschi's father was, but he was called

"Farinelli," because he was the recognised protégé of the Farina

family; just as another singer, who was known to be one of Porpora's

favorite pupils, was named "Porporino."



[Sidenote: SINGERS' NICKNAMES.]



Descriptive nicknames were given to the celebrated musicians as well as

to the celebrated painters of Italy. Numerous composers and singers owed

their sobriquets



TO THEIR NATIVE COUNTRY; as--



Il Sassone (Hasse), born at Bergendorf, in Saxony;

Portogallo (Simao);

Lo Spagnuolo (Vincent Martin);

L'Inglesina (Cecilia Davies);

La Francesina (Elizabeth Duparc), who, after singing

for some years with success in Italy and at London,

was engaged by Handel in 1745, to take the principal

soprano parts in his oratorios:



TO THEIR NATIVE TOWN; as--



Buranello, of Burano (Galuppi);

Pergolese, of Pergola (Jesi);

La Ferrarese, of Ferrara (Francesca Gabrielli);

Senesino, of Sienna (Bernardi):



TO THE PROFESSION OF THEIR PARENTS; as--



La Cochetta (Catarina), whose father was cook

to Prince Gabrielli, at Rome:



TO THE PLACE THEY INHABITED; as--



Checca della Laguna, (Francesca of the Lagune):



TO THE NAME OF THEIR MASTER; as--



Caffarelli (Majorano), pupil of Caffaro;

Gizziello (Conti), pupil of Gizzi;

Porporino (Hubert), pupil of Porpora:



TO THE NAME OF THEIR PATRON; as--



Farinelli (Carlo Broschi), protected by the Farinas,

of Naples;

Gabrielli (Catarina), protected by Prince Gabrielli;



Cusanimo (Carestini), protected by the Cusani

family of Milan:



TO THE PART IN WHICH THEY HAD PARTICULARLY

DISTINGUISHED THEMSELVES; as--



Siface (Grossi), who had obtained a triumphant

success, as that personage, in Scarlatti's Mitridate.



But the most astonishing of all these nicknames was that given to

Lucrezia Aguiari, who, being a natural child, was called publicly, in

the playbills and in the newspapers, La Bastardina, or La

Bastardella.



Catarina, called Gabrielli, a singer to be ranked with the Faustinas and

Cuzzonis, naturally became disgusted with her appellation of la

cocchetta (little cook) as soon as she had acquired a little celebrity.

She accordingly assumed the name of Prince Gabrielli, her patron;

Francesca Gabrielli, who was in no way related to the celebrated

Catarina, keeping to that of Ferrarese, or Gabriellina, as she was

sometimes called.



But to return to my short anecdotal biographies of a few of these

singers.[33] Carlo Broschi, then, called "Farinelli," first

distinguished himself, at the age of seventeen, in a bravura with an

obligato trumpet accompaniment, which Porpora, his master, wrote

expressly for him, and for a German trumpet-player whose skill on that

instrument was prodigious. The air commenced with a sustained note,

given by the trumpet. This note was then taken up by the vocalist, who

held it with consummate art for such a length of time that the audience

fell into raptures with the beauty and fulness of his voice. The note

was then attacked, and held successively by the player and the singer,

pianissimo, crescendo, forte, fortissimo, diminuendo,

smorzando, perdendosi--of which the effect may be imagined from the

delirious transports of the lady who, on hearing this one note several

times repeated, hastened to proclaim in the same breath the unity of the

Deity and the uniqueness of Farinelli. This trumpet song occurs

originally in Porpora's Eomene; and Farinelli sang it for the first

time at Rome, in 1722. In London, in 1734, he introduced it in Hasse's

Artaserse, the opera in which he made his début, at the Lincoln's

Inn Theatre, under the direction of Porpora, his old preceptor.



[Sidenote: FARINELLI'S ONE NOTE.]



I, who have heard a good many fine singers, and one or two whose voices

I shall not easily forget, must confess myself unable to understand the

enthusiasm caused by Farinelli's one note, however wonderful the art

that produced it, however exquisite the gradations of sound which gave

it colour, and perhaps a certain appearance of life; for one musical

sound is, after all, not music. Bilboquet, in Dumersan and Varin's

admirable burlesque comedy of Les Saltimbanques, would, perhaps, have

understood it; and, really, when I read of the effect Farinelli

produced by keeping to one note, I cannot help thinking of the

directions given by the old humorist and scoundrel to an incompetent

débutant on the trombone. The amateur has the instrument put into his

hands, and, with great difficulty, succeeds in bringing out one note;

but, to save his life, he could not produce two. "Never mind," says

Bilboquet, "one note is enough. Keep on playing it, and people who are

fond of that note will be delighted." How little the authors of Les

Saltimbanques knew that one note had delighted and enchanted thousands!

Not only is truth stranger than fiction, but reality is more grotesque

even than a burlesque fancy.



Farinelli visited Paris in 1737, and sang before Louis XV., who,

according to Riccoboni, was delighted, though His Majesty cared very

little for music, and least of all for Italian music. It is also said

that, on the whole, Farinelli was by no means satisfied with his

reception in Paris, nor with the general distaste of the French for the

music of his country; and some writers go so far as to maintain that the

ill-will he always showed to France during his residence, in a

confidential position, at the Court of Madrid, was attributable to his

irritating recollections of his visit to the French capital. In 1752,

the Duke de Duras was charged with a secret mission to the Spanish Court

(concerning an alliance with France), which is supposed to have

miscarried through the influence of Farinelli; but there were plenty of

good reasons, independently of any personal dislike he may have had for

the French, for advising Ferdinand VI. to maintain his good

understanding with the cabinets of Vienna, London, and Turin.



[Sidenote: FARINELLI AT MADRID.]



Ferdinand's favourite singer remained ten years in his service; soothing

and consoling him with his songs, and, after a time, giving him valuable

political advice. Farinelli's quasi-ministerial functions did not

prevent him from continuing to sing every day. Every day, for ten years,

the same thing! Or rather, the same things, for His Majesty's particular

collection included as many as four different airs. Two of them were by

Hasse, Pallido il sole and Per questo dulce amplesso. The third was

a minuet, on which Farinelli improvised variations. It has been

calculated that during the ten years he sang the same airs, and never

anything else, about three thousand six hundred times. If Ferdinand VI.

had not, in the first instance, been half insane, surely this would have

driven him mad.



Caffarelli, hearing of Farinelli's success at Madrid, is said to have

made this curious observation: "He deserves to be Prime Minister; he has

an admirable voice."



[Sidenote: AN OPERATIC DUEL.]



Caffarelli was regarded as Farinelli's rival; and some critics,

including Porpora, who had taught both, considered him the greatest

singer of the two. This sopranist was notorious for his intolerable

insolence, of which numerous anecdotes are told. He would affect

indisposition, when persons of great importance were anxious to hear

him sing, and had engaged him for that purpose. "Omnibus hoc vitium

cantoribus;" but it may be said Caffarelli was capricious and

overbearing to an unusual extent. Metastasio, in one of his letters,

tells us that at a rehearsal which had been ordered at the Opera of

Vienna, all the performers obeyed the summons except Caffarelli; he

appeared, however, at the end of the rehearsal, and asked the company

with a very disdainful air, "What was the use of these rehearsals?" The

conductor answered, in a voice of authority, "that no one was called

upon to account to him for what was done; that he ought to be glad that

his failure in attendance had been suffered; that his presence or

absence was of little consequence to the success of the opera; but that

whatever he chose to do himself, he ought, at least, to let others do

their duty." Caffarelli, in a great rage, exclaimed "that he who had

ordered such a rehearsal was a solemn coxcomb." At this, all the

patience and dignity of the poet forsook him; "and getting into a

towering passion, he honoured the singer with all those glorious titles

which Caffarelli had earned in various parts of Europe, and slightly

touched, but in lively colours, some of the most memorable particulars

of his life; nor was he likely soon to come to a close; but the hero of

the panegyric, cutting the thread of his own praise, boldly called out

to his eulogist: 'Follow me, if thou hast courage, to a place where

there is none to assist thee, * * * * * The bystanders tremble; each

calls on his tutelar saint, expecting every moment to see poetical and

vocal blood besprinkle the harpsichords and double basses. But at length

the Signora Tesi, rising from under her canopy, where, till now, she had

remained a most tranquil spectator, walked with a slow and stately step

towards the combatants; when, O sovereign power of beauty! the frantic

Caffarelli, even in the fiercest paroxysm of his wrath, captivated and

appeased by this unexpected tenderness, runs with rapture to meet her;

lays his sword at her feet; begs pardon for his error; and generously

sacrificing to her his vengeance, seals, with a thousand kisses upon her

hand, his protestations of obedience, respect and humility. The nymph

signifies her forgiveness by a nod; the poet sheathes his sword; the

spectators begin to breathe again; and the tumultuous assembly breaks up

amid the joyous sounds of laughter."



Of Caffarelli a curious, and as it seems to me fabulous, story is told

to the effect that for five years Porpora allowed him to sing nothing

but a series of scales and exercises, all of which were written down on

one sheet of paper. According to this anecdote, Caffarelli, with a

patience which did not distinguish him in after life, asked seriously

after his five years' scale practice, when he was likely to get beyond

the rudiments of his art,--upon which Porpora suddenly exclaimed:--"Young

man you have nothing more to learn, you are the greatest singer in the

world." In London, however, coming after Farinelli, Caffarelli did not

meet with anything like the same success.



At Turin, when the Prince of Savoy told Caffarelli, after praising him

greatly, that the princess thought it hardly possible any singer could

please after Farinelli, "To night," exclaimed the sopranist, in the

fulness of his vanity, "she shall hear two Farinellis."



What would the English lady have said to this, who maintained that there

was but "one Farinelli?"



At sixty-five years of age, Caffarelli was still singing; but he had

made an enormous fortune--had purchased nothing less than a dukedom for

his nephew, and had built himself a superb palace, over the entrance of

which he placed the following modest inscription:--



"Amphion THEBAS, ego domum."



"Ille eum, sine tu!"



wrote a commentator beneath it.



* * * * *



Guadagni was the "creator" of the parts of Telemacco and Orfeo, in

the operas by Gluck, bearing those names. He sang in London in 1766, at

Venice the year afterwards, when he was made a Knight of St. Mark; at

Potsdam before the King of Prussia, in 1776, &c. Guadagni amassed a

large fortune, though he was at the same time noted for his generosity.

He has the credit of having lent large sums of money to men of good

family, who had ruined themselves. One of these impoverished gentlemen

said, after borrowing the sum of a hundred sequins from him--



"I only want it as a loan, I shall repay you."



"That is not my intention," replied the singer; "if I wanted to have it

back, I should not lend it to you."



* * * * *



[Sidenote: GABRIELLI.]



Gabrielli (Catarina) is described by Brydone, in his tour through

Sicily, in a letter, dated Palermo, July 27, 1770. She was at this time

upwards of thirty, but on the stage appeared to be scarcely eighteen;

and Brydone considers her to have been "the most dangerous syren of

modern times," adding, that she has made more conquests than any woman

living. "She was wonderfully capricious," he continues, "and neither

interest nor flattery, nor threats, nor punishment, had any power to

control her. Instead of singing her airs as other actresses do, for the

most part she hums them over a mezza voce, and no art whatever is

capable of making her sing when she does not choose it. The most

successful expedient has ever been found to prevail on her favourite

lover (for she always has one) to place himself in the centre of the pit

or the front box, and if they are on good terms, which is seldom the

case, she will address her tender airs to him, and exert herself to the

utmost. Her present inamorato promised to give us this specimen of his

power over her. He took his seat accordingly, but Gabrielli, probably

suspecting the connivance, would take no notice of him, so that even

this expedient does not always succeed. The viceroy, who is fond of

music, has tried every method with her to no purpose. Some time ago he

gave a great dinner, and sent an invitation to Gabrielli to be of the

party. Every other person came at the hour of invitation. The viceroy

ordered dinner to be put back, and sent to let her know that the company

had all arrived. The messenger found her reading in bed. She said she

was sorry for having made the company wait, and begged he would make her

apology, but really she had entirely forgotten her engagement. The

viceroy would have forgiven this piece of insolence, but when the

company went to the Opera, Gabrielli repeated her part with the utmost

negligence and indifference, and sang all her airs in what they call

sotto voce, that is, so low that they can scarcely be heard. The

viceroy was offended; but as he is a good tempered man, he was loth to

enforce his authority; but at last, by a perseverance in this insolent

stubbornness, she obliged him to threaten her with punishment in case

she any longer refused to sing. On this she grew more obstinate than

ever, declaring that force and authority would never succeed with her;

that he might make her cry, but never could make her sing. The viceroy

then sent her to prison, where she remained twelve days; during which

time she gave magnificent entertainments every day, paid the debts of

all the poor prisoners, and distributed large sums in charity. The

viceroy was obliged to give up struggling with her, and she was at last

set at liberty amidst the acclamations of the poor."



[Sidenote: GABRIELLI.]



Gabrielli said at this time that she should never dare to appear in

England, alleging as her reason that if, in a fit of caprice, which

might at any time attack her, she refused to sing, or lost her temper

and insulted the audience, they were said to be so ferocious that they

would probably murder her. She asserted, however, and, doubtless, with

truth, that it was not always caprice which prevented her singing, and

that she was often really indisposed and unable to sing, when the public

imagined that she absented herself from the theatre from caprice alone.



* * * * *



Mingotti used to say that the London public would admit that any one

might have a cold, a head-ache, or a fever, except a singer. In the

present day, our audiences often show the most unjustifiable anger

because, while half the people in a concert room are coughing and

sneezing, some favourite vocalist, with an exceptionally delicate

larynx, is unable to sing an air, of which the execution would be sure

to fatigue the voice even in its healthiest condition.



* * * * *



To Brydone's anecdotes of Gabrielli we may add another. The ambassador

of France at the court of Vienna was violently in love with our

capricious and ungovernable vocalist. In a fit of jealousy, he attempted

to stab her, and Gabrielli was only saved from transfixion by the

whalebone of her stays. As it was, she was slightly wounded. The

ambassador threw himself at the singer's feet and obtained her

forgiveness, on condition of giving up his sword, on which the offended

prima donna proposed to engrave the following words:--"The sword

of----, who on such a day in such a year, dared to strike La

Gabrielli." Metastasio, however, succeeded in persuading her to abandon

this intention.



In 1767 Gabrielli went to Parma, but wearied by the attentions of the

Infant, Don Philip ("her accursed hunch back"--gobbo maladetto--as she

called him), she escaped in secret the following year to St.

Petersburgh, where Catherine II. had invited her some time before. When

the empress enquired what terms the celebrated singer expected, the sum

of five thousand ducats was named.



"Five thousand ducats," replied Catherine; "not one of my field marshals

receives so much."



"Her majesty had better ask her field marshals to sing," said Gabrielli.



Catherine gave the five thousand ducats. "Whether the great Souvaroff's

jealousy was excited, is not recorded.



At this time the composer Galuppi was musical director at the Russian

court. He went to St. Petersburgh in 1766, and had just returned when

Dr. Burney saw him at Venice. Among the other great composers who

visited Russia in Catherine's reign were Cimarosa and Paisiello, the

latter of whom produced his Barbiere di Siviglia, at St. Petersburgh,

in 1780.



Most of the celebrated Italian vocalists of the 18th century visited

Vienna, Dresden, London and Madrid, as well as the principal cities of

their own country, and sometimes even Paris, where both Farinelli and

Caffarelli sang, but only at concerts. "I had hoped," says Rousseau,

"that Caffarelli would give us at the 'Concert Spirituel' some specimen

of grand recitative, and of the pathetic style of singing, that

pretended connoisseurs might hear once for all what they have so often

pronounced an opinion upon; but from his reasons for doing nothing of

the kind I found that he understood his audience better than I did."



* * * * *



[Sidenote: THE OPERA IN PRUSSIA AND RUSSIA.]



It was not until the accession of Frederick the Great, warrior, flute

player, and severe protector of the arts in general, that the Italian

Opera was established in Berlin; and it had been reserved for Catherine

the Great to introduce it into St. Petersburgh. In proportion as the

Opera grew in Prussia and Russia it faded in Poland, and its decay at

the court of the Elector of Saxony was followed shortly afterwards by

the first signs of the infamous partition.



Frederick the Great's favourite composers were Hasse, Agricola, and

Graun, the last of whom wrote a great number of Italian operas for the

Berlin Theatre. When Dr. Burney was at Berlin, in 1772, there were fifty

performers in the orchestra. There was a large chorus, and a numerous

ballet, and several principal singers of great merit. The king defrayed

the expenses of the whole establishment. He also officiated as general

conductor, standing in the pit behind the chef d'orchestre, so as to

have a view of the score, and drilling his musical troops in true

military fashion. We are told that if any mistake was committed on the

stage, or in the orchestra, the king stopped the offender, and

admonished him; and it is really satisfactory to know, that if a singer

ventured to alter a single passage in his part (which almost every

singer does in the present day) His Majesty severely reprimanded him,

and ordered him to keep to the notes written by the composer. It was not

the Opera of Paris, nor of London, nor of New York that should have been

called the Academy, but evidently that of Berlin.



The celebrated Madame Mara sang for many years at the Berlin Opera. When

her father Herr Schmaling first endeavoured to get her engaged by the

king of Prussia, Frederick sent his principal singer Morelli to hear her

and report upon her merits.



[Sidenote: AN OPERATIC MARTINET.]



"She sings like a German," said the prejudiced Morelli, and the king,

who declared that he should as soon expect to receive pleasure from the

neighing of his horse as from a German singer, paid no further attention

to Schmaling's application. The daughter, however, had heard of the

king's sarcasm, and was determined to prove how ill-founded it was.

Mademoiselle Schmaling made her début with great success at Dresden,

and afterwards, in 1771, went to Berlin. The king, when the young

vocalist was presented to him, after a few uncourteous observations,

asked her if she could sing at sight, and placed before her a very

difficult bravura song. Mademoiselle Schmaling executed it to

perfection, upon which Frederick paid her a multitude of compliments,

made her a handsome present, and appointed her prima donna of his

company.



When Madame Mara in 1780 wished to visit England with her husband, (who

was a dissipated violoncellist, belonging to the Berlin orchestra) the

king positively prohibited their departure, and on their escaping to

Vienna, sent a despatch to the Emperor Joseph II., requesting him to

arrest the fugitives and send them back. The emperor, however, merely

gave them a hint that they had better get out of Vienna as soon as

possible, when he would inform the king that his messenger had arrived

too late. Afterwards, as soon as it was thought she could do so with

safety, Madame Mara made her appearance at the Viennese Opera and sang

there with great success for nearly two years.



According to another version of Madame Mara's flight, she was arrested

before she had passed the Prussian frontier, and separated from her

husband, who was shut up in a fortress, and instead of performing on the

violoncello in the orchestra of the Opera, was made to play the drum at

the head of a regiment. The tears of the singer had no effect upon the

inflexible monarch, and it was only by giving up a portion of her salary

(so at least runs this anecdote of dubious authenticity) that she could

obtain M. Mara's liberation. In any case it is certain that the position

of this "prima donna" by no means "assoluta," at the court of a

very absolute king, was by no means an agreeable one, and that she had

not occupied it many years before she endeavoured to liberate herself

from it by every device in her power, including such disobedience of

orders as she hoped would entail her prompt dismissal. On one occasion,

when the Cæsarevitch, afterwards Paul I., was at Berlin, and Madame Mara

was to take the principal part in an opera given specially in his

honour, she pretended to be ill, and sent word to the theatre that she

would be unable to appear. The king informed her on the morning of the

day fixed for the performance that she had better get well, for that

well or ill she would have to sing. Nevertheless Madame Mara remained at

home and in bed. Two hours before the time fixed for the commencement of

the opera, a carriage, escorted by a few dragoons, stopped at her door,

and an officer entered her room to announce that he had orders from His

Majesty to bring her alive or dead to the theatre.



"But you see I am in bed, and cannot get up," remonstrated the vocalist.



"In that case I must take the bed too," was the reply.



It was impossible not to obey. Bathed in tears she allowed herself to be

taken to her dressing room, put on her costume, but resolved at the same

time to sing in such a manner that the king should repent of his

violence. She conformed to her determination throughout the first act,

but it then occurred to her that the Russian grand duke would carry

away a most unworthy opinion of her talent. She quite changed her

tactics, sang with all possible brilliancy, and is reported in

particular to have sustained a shake for such a length of time and with

such wonderful modulations of voice, that his Imperial Highness was

enchanted, and applauded the singer enthusiastically.



[Sidenote: THE MARATISTES AND TODISTES.]



In Paris Madame Mara was received with enthusiasm, and founded the

celebrated party of the Maratistes, to which was opposed the almost

equally distinguished sect of the Todistes. Madame Todi was a

Portuguese, and she and Madame Mara were the chief, though contending,

attractions at the Concert Spirituel of Paris, in 1782. These rivalries

between singers have occasioned, in various countries and at various

times, a good many foolish verses and mots. The Mara and Todi

disputes, however, inspired one really good stanza, which is as

follows:--



"Todi par sa voix touchante,

De doux pleurs mouille mes yeux;

Mara plus vive, plus brillante,

M'étonne, me transporte aux cieux.

L'une ravit et l'autre enchante,

Mais celle qui plait le mieux,

Est toujours celle qui chante."



Of Madame Mara's performances in London, where she obtained her greatest

and most enduring triumphs, I shall speak in another chapter.



* * * * *



A good notion of the weak points in the Opera in Italy during the early

part of the 18th century is given, that is to say, is conveyed

ironically, in the celebrated satire by Marcello, entitled Teatro a la

Moda, &c., &c.[34]



[Sidenote: MARCELLO'S SATIRE.]



The author begins by telling the poet, that "there is no occasion for

his reading, or having read, the old Greek and Latin authors: for this

good reason, that the ancients never read any of the works of the

moderns. He will not ask any questions about the ability of the

performers, but will rather inquire whether the theatre is provided with

a good bear, a good lion, a good nightingale, good thunder, lightning

and earthquakes. He will introduce a magnificent show in his last scene,

and conclude with the usual chorus in honour of the sun, the moon or the

manager. In dedicating his libretto to some great personage, he will

select him for his riches rather than his learning, and will give a

share of the gratuity to his patron's cook, or maître d'hôtel, from whom

he will obtain all his titles, that he may blazon them on his title

pages with an &c., &c. He will exalt the great man's family and

ancestors; make an abundant use of such phrases as liberality and

generosity of soul; and if he can find any subject of eulogy (as is

often the case), he will say, that he is silent through fear of hurting

his patron's modesty; but that fame, with her hundred brazen trumpets,

will spread his immortal name from pole to pole. He will do well to

protest to the reader that his opera was composed in his youth, and may

add that it was written in a few days: by this he will show that he is a

true modern, and has a proper contempt for the antiquated precept,

nonumque prematur in annum. He may add, too, that he became a poet

solely for his amusement, and to divert his mind from graver

occupations; but that he had published his work by the advice of his

friends and the command of his patrons, and by no means from any love of

praise or desire of profit. He will take care not to neglect the usual

explanation of the three great points of every drama, the place, time,

and action; the place, signifying in such and such a theatre; the time,

from eight to twelve o'clock at night; the action, the ruin of the

manager. The incidents of the piece should consist of dungeons, daggers,

poison, boar-hunts, earthquakes, sacrifices, madness, and so forth;

because the people are always greatly moved by such unexpected things. A

good modern poet ought to know nothing about music, because the

ancients, according to Strabo, Pliny, &c., thought this knowledge

necessary. At the rehearsals he should never tell his meaning to any of

the performers, wisely reflecting that they always want to do everything

in their own way. If a husband and wife are discovered in prison, and

one of them is led away to die, it is indispensable that the other

remain to sing an air, which should be to lively words, to relieve the

feelings of the audience, and make them understand that the whole

affair is a joke. If two of the characters make love, or plot a

conspiracy, it should always be in the presence of servants and

attendants. The part of a father or tyrant, when it is the principal

character, should always be given to a soprano; reserving the tenors and

basses for captains of the guard, confidants, shepherds, messengers, and

so forth.



[Sidenote: MARCELLO'S SATIRE.]



"The modern composer is told that there is no occasion for his being

master of the principles of composition, a little practice being all

that is necessary. He need not know anything of poetry, or give himself

any trouble about the meaning of the words, or even the quantities of

the syllables. Neither is it necessary that he should study the

properties of the stringed or wind instruments; if he can play on the

harpsichord, it will do very well. It will, however, be not amiss for

him to have been for some years a violin-player, or music-copier for

some celebrated composer, whose original scenes he may treasure up, and

thus supply himself with subjects for his airs, recitations, or

choruses. He will by no means think of reading the opera through, but

will compose it line by line; using for the airs, motivi which he has

lying by him; and if the words do not go well below the notes, he will

torment the poet till they are altered to his mind. When the singer

comes to a cadence, the composer will make all the instruments stop,

leaving it to the singer to do whatever he pleases. He will serve the

manager on very low terms, considering the thousands of crowns that the

singers cost him:--he will, therefore, content himself with an inferior

salary to the lowest of these, provided that he is not wronged by the

bear, the attendants or the scene-shifters being put above him. When he

is walking with the singers, he will always give them the wall, keep his

hat in his hand, and remain a step in the rear; considering that the

lowest of them, on the stage, is at least a general, a captain of the

guards, or some such personage. All the airs should be formed of the

same materials--long divisions, holding notes, and repetitions of

insignificant words, as amore, amore, impero, impero, Europa, Europa,

furori, furori, orgoglio, orgoglio, &c.; and therefore the composer

should have before him a memorandum of the things necessary for the

termination of every air. This will enable him to eschew variety, which

is no longer in use. After ending a recitative in a flat key, he will

suddenly begin an air in three or four sharps; and this by way of

novelty. If the modern composer wishes to write in four parts, two of

them must proceed in unison or octave, only taking care that there shall

be a diversity of movement; so that if the one part proceeds by minims

or crotchets, the other will be in quavers or semiquavers. He will charm

the audience with airs, accompanied by the stringed instruments

pizzicati or con sordini, trumpets, and other effective

contrivances. He will not compose airs with a simple bass accompaniment,

because this is no longer the custom; and, besides, he would take as

much time to compose one of these as a dozen with the orchestra. The

modern composer will oblige the manager to furnish him with a large

orchestra of violins, oboes, horns, &c., saving him rather the expense

of double basses, of which there is no occasion to make any use, except

in tuning at the outset. The overture will be a movement in the French

style, or a prestissimo in semiquavers in a major key, to which will

succeed a piano in the minor; concluding with a minuet, gavot or jig,

again in the major key. In this manner the composer will avoid all

fugues, syncopations, and treatment of subjects, as being antiquated

contrivances, quite banished from modern music. The modern composer will

be most attentive to all the ladies of the theatre, supplying them with

plenty of old songs transposed to suit their voices, and telling each of

them that the Opera is supported by her talent alone. He will bring

every night some of his friends, and seat them in the orchestra; giving

the double bass or violoncello (as being the most useless instruments)

leave of absence to make room for them.



[Sidenote: MARCELLO'S SATIRE.]



"The singer is informed that there is no occasion for having practised

the solfeggio; because he would thus be in danger of acquiring a firm

voice, just intonation, and the power of singing in tune; things wholly

useless in modern music. Nor is it very necessary that he should be able

to read or write, know how to pronounce the words or understand their

meaning, provided he can run divisions, make shakes, cadences, &c. He

will always complain of his part, saying that it is not in his way,

that the airs are not in his style, and so on; and he will sing an air

by some other composer, protesting that at such a court, or in the

presence of such a great personage, that air carried away all the

applause, and he was obliged to repeat it a dozen times in an evening.

At the rehearsals he will merely hum his airs, and will insist on having

the time in his own way. He will stand with one hand in his waistcoat

and the other in his breeches' pocket, and take care not to allow a

syllable to be heard. He will always keep his hat on his head, though a

person of quality should speak to him, in order to avoid catching cold;

and he will not bow his head to anybody, remembering the kings, princes,

and emperors whom he is in the habit of personating. On the stage he

will sing with shut teeth, doing all he can to prevent a word he says

from being understood, and, in the recitatives, paying no respect either

to commas or periods. While another performer is reciting a soliloquy or

singing an air, he will be saluting the company in the boxes, or

listening with musicians in the orchestra, or the attendants; because

the audience knows very well that he is Signor So-and-so, the musico,

and not Prince Zoroastro, whom he is representing. A modern virtuoso

will be hard to prevail on to sing at a private party. When he arrives

he will walk up to the mirror, settle his wig, draw down his ruffles,

and pull up his cravat to show his diamond brooch. He will then touch

the harpsichord very carelessly, and begin his air three or four times,

as if he could not recollect it. Having granted this great favour, he

will begin talking (by way of gathering applause) with some lady,

telling her stories about his travels, correspondence and professional

intrigues; all the while ogling his companion with passionate glances,

and throwing back the curls of his peruke, sometimes on one shoulder,

sometimes on the other. He will every minute offer the lady snuff in a

different box, in one of which he will point out his own portrait; and

will show her some magnificent diamond, the gift of a distinguished

patron, saying that he would offer it for her acceptance were it not for

delicacy. Thus he will, perhaps, make an impression on her heart, and,

at all events, make a great figure in the eyes of the company. In the

society of the literary men, however eminent, he will always take

precedence, because, with most people, the singer has the credit of

being an artist, while the literary man has no consideration at all. He

will even advise them to embrace his profession, as the singer has

plenty of money as well as fame, while the man of letters is very apt to

die of hunger. If the singer is a bass, he should constantly sing tenor

passages as high as he can. If a tenor, he ought to go as low as he can

in the scale of the bass, or get up, with a falsetto voice, into the

regions of the contralto, without minding whether he sings through his

nose or his throat. He will pay his court to all the principal

cantatrici and their protectors; and need not despair, by means of

his talent and exemplary modesty, to acquire the title of a count,

marquis, or chevalier.



"The prima donna receives ample instructions in her duties both on and

off the stage. She is taught how to make engagements and to screw the

manager up to exorbitant terms; how to obtain the "protection" of rash

amateurs, who are to attend her at all times, pay her expenses, make her

presents, and submit to her caprices. She is taught to be careless at

rehearsals, to be insolent to the other performers, and to perform all

manner of musical absurdities on the stage. She must have a music-master

to teach her variations, passages and embellishments to her airs; and

some familiar friend, an advocate or a doctor, to teach her how to move

her arms, turn her head, and use her handkerchief, without telling her

why, for that would only confuse her head. She is to endeavour to vary

her airs every night; and though the variations may be at cross purposes

with the bass, or the violin part, or the harmony of the accompaniments,

that matters little, as a modern conductor is deaf and dumb. In her airs

and recitatives, in action, she will take care every night to use the

same motions of her hand, her head, her fan, and her handkerchief. If

she orders a character to be put in chains, and addresses him in an air

of rage or disdain, during the symphony she should talk and laugh with

him, point out to him people in the boxes, and show how very little she

is in earnest. She will get hold of a new passage in rapid triplets, and

introduce it in all her airs, quick, slow, lively, or sad; and the

higher she can rise in the scale, the surer she will be of having all

the principal parts allotted her," &c., &c.



Enough, however, of this excellent but somewhat fatiguing irony; and let

me conclude this chapter with a few words about the librettists of the

18th century. The best libretti of Apostolo Zeno, Calsabigi and

Metastasio, such as the Demofonte, the Artaserse, the Didone, and

above all the Olimpiade, have been set to music by dozens of

composers. Piccinni, and Sacchini each composed music twice to the

Olimpiade; Jomelli set Didone twice and Demofonte twice; Hasse

wrote two operas on the libretto of the Nittetti, two on that of

Artemisia, two on Artaserse, and three on Arminio. The excellence

of these opera-books in a dramatic point of view is sufficiently shown

by the fact that many of them, including Metastasio's Didone,

Issipile and Artaserse have been translated into French, and played

with success as tragedies. The Clemenza di Tito, by the same author

(which in a modified form became the libretto of Mozart's last opera)

was translated into Russian and performed at the Moscow Theatre during

the reign of the Empress Elizabeth.



In the present day, several of Scribe's best comic operas have been

converted into comic dramas for the English stage, while others by the

same author have been made the groundwork of Italian libretti. Thus

Le Philtre and La Somnambule are the originals of Donizetti's

Elisir d'amore and Bellini's Sonnambula. Several of Victor Hugo's

admirably constructed dramas have also been laid under contribution by

the Italian librettists of the present day. Donizetti's Lucrezia is

founded on Lucrèce Borgia; Verdi's Ernani on Hernani, his

Rigoletto on Le Roi s'amuse.



[Sidenote: LIBRETTI.]



Our English writers of libretti are about as original as the rest of

our dramatists. The Bohemian Girl is not only identical in subject

with La Gitana, but is a translation of an unpublished opera founded

on that ballet and written by M. St. George. The English version is

evidently called The Bohemian Girl from M. St. George having entitled

his manuscript opera La Bohémienne, and from Mr. Bunn having mistaken

the meaning of the word. It is less astonishing that the manager of a

theatre should commit such an error than that no one should hitherto

have pointed it out. The heroine of the opera is not a Bohemian, but a

gipsey; and Bohemia has nothing to do with the piece, the action taking

place in some portion of the "fair land of Poland," which, as the

librettist informs us, was "trod by the hoof;" though whether in

Russian, in Austrian or in Prussian Poland we are not informed. La

Zingara has often been played at Vienna, and I have seen La Gitana at

Moscow. Probably the Austrians lay the scene of the drama in the

Russian, and the Russians in the Austrian, dominions. Fortunately, Mr.

Balfe has given no particular colour to the music of his Bohemian

Girl, which, as far as can be judged from the melodies sung by her, is

as much (and as little) a Bohemian girl as a gipsey girl, or a Polish

girl, or indeed any other girl. The libretti of Mr. Balfe's

Satanella, Rose of Castille, Maid of Honour, Bondsman, &c., are

all founded on French pieces. Mr. Wallace's Maritana, is, I need

hardly say, founded on the French drama of Don Cæsar de Bazan. But

there is unmistakeable originality in the libretto of this composer's

Lurline, though the chief incidents are, of course, taken from the

well-known German legend on which Mendelsohn commenced writing his opera

of Loreley.



[Sidenote: NATIONAL STYLES.]



One of the very few good original libretti in the English language is

that of Robin Hood, by Mr. Oxenford. The best of all English libretti,

in point of literary merit, being probably Dryden's Albion and

Albanius, while the best French libretto in all respects is decidedly

Victor Hugo's Esmeralda. Mr. Macfarren has, in many places, given

quite an English character to the music of Robin Hood, though, in

doing so, he has not (as has been asserted) founded a national style of

operatic music; for the same style applied to subjects not English might

be found as inappropriate as the music of The Barber of Seville would

be adapted to Tom and Jerry. A great deal can be written and very

little decided about this question of nationality of style in music. If

Auber's style is French, (instead of being his own, as I should say)

what was that of Rameau? If "The Marseillaise" is such a thoroughly

French air (as every one admits), how is it that it happens to be an

importation from Germany? The Royalist song of "Pauvre Jacques" passed

for French, but it was Dibdin's "Poor Jack." How is it that "Malbrook"

sounds so French, and "We won't go home till morning" so English--an

attempt, by the way, having been made to show that the airs common to

both these songs were sung originally by the Spanish Moors? I fancy the

great point, after all, is to write good music; and if it be written to

good English words, full of English rhythm and cadence, it will, from

that alone, derive a sufficiently English character.



Handel appears to me to have done far greater service to English Opera

than Arne or any of our English and pseudo-English operatic composers

whose works are now utterly forgotten, except by musical antiquaries;

for Handel established Italian Opera among us on a grand artistic scale,

and since then, at Her Majesty's Theatre, and subsequently at the

comparatively new Royal Italian Opera, all the finest works, whether of

the Italian, the German, or the French school, have been brought out as

fast as they have been produced abroad, and, on the whole, in very

excellent style. English Opera has no history, no unbroken line of

traditions; it has no regular sequence of operatic weeks by native

composers; but at our Italian Opera Houses, the whole history of

dramatic music has been exemplified, and from Gluck to Verdi is still

exemplified in the present day. We take no note, it is true, of the old

French composers,--Lulli, who begat Rameau, and Rameau, who begat no

one--and for the reason just indicated. There are plenty of amusing

stories about the Académie Royale from its very foundation, but the

true history of dramati





French Opera From Lulli To The Death Of Rameau Gluck And Piccinni In Paris facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

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