Opera In France Under The Consulate Empire And Restoration





The History of the Opera, under the Consulate and the Empire, is perhaps

more remarkable in connexion with political than with musical events.

Few persons at present know much of Spontini's operas, though la

Vestale in its day was celebrated in Paris, London and especially in

Berlin; nor of Cherubini's, though the overtures to Anacreon and les

Abencerrages are still heard from time to time at "classical" concerts;

but every one remembers the plot to assassinate the First Consul which

was to have been put into execution at the Opera, and the plot to

destroy the Emperor, the Empress and all their retinue, which was to

take effect just outside its doors. Then there is the appearance of the

Emperor at the Opera, after his hasty arrival in Paris from Moscow, on

the very night before his return to meet the Russians with the allies

who had now joined them, at Bautzen and Lutzen--the same night by the

way on which les Abencerrages was produced, with no great success.

Then again there is the evening of the 29th of March, 1814, when

Iphigénie en Aulide was performed to an accompaniment of cannon which

the Piccinnists, if they could only have heard it, would have declared

very appropriate to Gluck's music; that of the 1st of April, when by

desire, of the Russian emperor and the Prussian king, la Vestale was

represented; and finally that of the 17th of May, 1814, when OEdipe à

Colone was played before Louis XVIII., who had that morning made his

triumphal entry into Paris.



[Sidenote: AN OPERATIC PLOT.]



* * * * *



On the 10th of October, 1800, a band of republicans had sworn to

assassinate the First Consul at the Opera. A new work was to be produced

that evening composed by Porta to a libretto founded on Corneille's

tragedy of les Horaces. The most striking scene in the piece, that in

which the Horatii swear to conquer or perish, was to be the signal for

action; all the lights were to be put out at the same moment, fireworks

and grenades were to be thrown into the boxes, the pit and on to the

stage; cries of "fire" and "murder" were to be raised from all parts of

the house, and in the midst of the general confusion the First Consul

was to be assassinated in his box. The leaders of the plot, to make

certain of their cue, had contrived to be present at the rehearsal of

the new opera, and everything was prepared for the next evening and the

post of each conspirator duly assigned to him, when one of the number,

conscience smitten and unable to sleep during the night of the 9th,

went at daybreak the next morning to the Prefect of Police and informed

him of all the details of the plot.



The conspiracy said Bonaparte, some twenty years afterwards at St.

Helena, "was revealed by a captain in the line.[87] What limit is

there," he added, "to the combinations of folly and stupidity! This

officer had a horror of me as Consul but adored me as general. He was

anxious that I should be torn from my post, but he would have been very

sorry that my life should be taken. I ought to be made prisoner, he

said, in no way injured, and sent to the army to continue to defeat the

enemies of France. The other conspirators laughed in his face, and when

he saw them distribute daggers, and that they were going beyond his

intentions, he proceeded at once to denounce the whole affair."



Bonaparte, after the informer had been brought before him, suggested to

the officers of his staff, the Prefect of Police and other functionaries

whom he had assembled, that it would be as well not to let him appear at

the Opera in the evening; but the general opinion was, that on the

contrary, he should be forced to go, and ultimately it was decided that

until the commencement of the performance everything should be allowed

to take place as if the conspiracy had not been discovered.



[Sidenote: AN OPERATIC PLOT.]



In the evening the First Consul went to the Opera, attended by a number

of superior officers, all in plain clothes. The first act passed off

quietly enough--in all probability, far too quietly to please the

composer, for some two hundred persons among the audience, including the

conspirators, the police and the officers attached to Bonaparte's

person, were thinking of anything but the music of les Horaces. It was

necessary, however, to pay very particular attention to the music of the

second act in which the scene of the oath occurred.



The sentinels outside the Consul's box had received orders to let no one

approach who had not the pass word, issued an hour before for the opera

only; and as a certain number of conspirators had taken up their

positions in the corridors, to extinguish the lights at the signal

agreed upon, a certain number of Bonaparte's officers were sent also

into the corridors to prevent the execution of this manoeuvre. The

scene of the oath was approaching, when a body of police went to the

boxes in which the leaders of the plot were assembled, found them with

fireworks and grenades in their hands, notified to them their arrest in

the politest manner, cautioned them against creating the slightest

disturbance, and led them so dexterously and quietly into captivity,

that their disappearance from the theatre was not observed, or if so,

was doubtless attributed to the badness of Porta's music. The officers

in the corridors carried pistols, and at the proper moment seized the

appointed lamp-extinguishers. Then the old Horatius came forward and

exclaimed--



"Jurez donc devant moi, par le ciel qui m'écoute.

Que le dernier de vous sera mort ou vainqueur."



The orchestra "attacked" the introduction to the quartett. The fatal

prelude must have sounded somewhat unmusical to the ear of the First

Consul; but the conspirators were now all in custody and assembled in

one of the vestibules on the ground floor.



* * * * *



[Sidenote: LES MYSTERES D'ISIS.]



On the 24th of December, 1800, the day on which the "infernal machine"

was directed against the First Consul on his way to the Opera, a French

version of Haydn's Creation was to be executed. Indeed, the

performance had already commenced, when, during the gentle adagio of

the introduction, the dull report of an explosion, as if of a cannon,

was heard, but without the audience being at all alarmed. Immediately

afterwards the First Consul appeared in his box with Lannes, Lauriston,

Berthier, and Duroc. Madame Bonaparte, as she was getting into her

carriage, thought of some alteration to make in her dress, and returned

to her apartments for a few minutes. But for this delay her carriage

would have passed before the infernal machine at the moment of its

explosion. Ten minutes afterwards she made her appearance at the Opera

with her daughter, Mademoiselle Hortense Beauharnais, Madame Murat, and

Colonel Rapp. The performance of the Creation continued as if nothing

had happened; and the report, which had interfered so unexpectedly with

the effect of the opening adagio, was explained in various ways; the

account generally received in the pit being, that a grocer going into

his cellar with a candle, had set light to a barrel of gunpowder. Two

houses were said to have been blown up. This was at the beginning of the

first part of the Creation; at the end of the second, the number had

probably increased to half a dozen.



Under the consulate and the empire, the arts did not flourish greatly in

France; not for want of direct encouragement on the part of the ruler,

but rather because he at the same time encouraged far above everything

else the art of war. Until the appearance of Spontini with la Vestale,

the Académie, under Napoleon Bonaparte, whether known as Bonaparte or

Napoleon, was chiefly supported by composers who composed without

inventing, and who, with the exception of Cherubini, were either very

feeble originators or mere plagiarists and spoliators. Even Mozart did

not escape the French arrangers. His Marriage of Figaro had been

brought out in 1798, with all the prose dialogue of Beaumarchais's

comedy substituted for the recitative of the original opera. Les

Mystères d'Isis, an adaptation, perversion, disarrangement of Die

Zauberflötte, with several pieces suppressed, or replaced by fragments

from the Nozze di Figaro, Don Giovanni, and Haydn's symphonies, was

produced on the 23rd of August, 1801, under the auspices of Morel the

librettist, and Lachnith the musician.



Les Misères d'Isis was the appropriate name given to this sad

medley by the musicians of the orchestra. Lachnith was far from being

ashamed of what he had done. On the contrary, he gloried in it, and

seemed somehow or other to have persuaded himself that the pieces which

he had stolen from Mozart and Haydn were his own compositions. One

evening, when he was present at the representation of Les Mystères

d'Isis, he was affected to tears, and exclaimed, "No, I will compose no

more! I could never go beyond this!"



Don Giovanni, in the hands of Kalkbrenner, fared no better than the

Zauberflötte in those of Lachnith. It even fared worse; for

Kalkbrenner did not content himself with spoiling the general effect of

the work, by means of pieces introduced from Mozart's other operas, and

from Haydn's symphonies: he mutilated it so as completely to alter its

form, and further debased it by mixing with its pure gold the dross of

his own vile music.



[Sidenote: KALKBRENNER'S DON GIOVANNI.]



In Kalkbrenner's Don Giovanni, the opera opened with a recitative,

composed by Kalkbrenner himself. Next came Leporello's solo, followed by

an interpolated romance, in the form of a serenade, which was sung by

Don Juan, under Donna Anna's window. The struggle of Don Juan with Donna

Anna, the entry of the commandant, his combat with Don Juan, the trio

for the three men and all the rest of the introduction, was cut out. The

duet of Donna Anna and Ottavio was placed at the end of the act, and as

Don Juan had killed the commandant off the stage, it was of course

deprived of its marvellous recitative, which, to be duly effective, must

be declaimed by Donna Anna over the body of her father. The whole of the

opera was treated in the same style. The first act was made to end as it

had begun, with a few phrases of recitative of Kalkbrenner's own

production. The greater part of the action of Da Ponte's libretto was

related in dialogue, so that the most dramatic portion of the music lost

all its significance. The whole opera, in short, was disfigured, cut to

pieces, destroyed, and further defiled by the musical weeds which the

infamous Kalkbrenner introduced among its still majestic ruins. At this

period the supreme direction of the Opera was in the hands of a jury,

composed of certain members of the Institute of France. It seems never

to have occurred to this learned body that there was any impropriety in

the trio of masques being executed by three men, and in the two soprano

parts being given to tenors,--by which arrangement the part of Ottavio,

Mozart's tenor, instead of being the lowest in the harmony, was made the

highest. The said trio was sung by three archers, of course to entirely

new words! Let us pass on to another opera, which, if not comparable to

Don Giovanni, was at least a magnificent work for France in 1807, and

which had the advantage of being admirably executed under the careful

direction of its composer.



* * * * *



Spontini had already produced La Finta Filosofa, which, originally

brought out at Naples, was afterwards performed at the Italian Theatre

of Paris, without success; La Petite Maison, written for the Opéra

Comique, and violently hissed; and Milton also composed for the Opéra

Comique, and favourably received. When La Vestale was submitted to the

jury of the Académie, it was refused unanimously on the ground of the

extravagance of its style, and of the audacity of certain innovations in

the score. Spontini appealed to the Empress Josephine, and it was owing

to her influence, and through a direct order of the court that La

Vestale was put upon the stage. The jury was inexorable, however, as

regarded certain portions of the work, and the composer was obliged to

submit it to the orchestral conductor, who injured it in several places,

but without spoiling it. Spontini wished to give the part of the tenor

to Nourrit; but Lainez protested, went to the superintendant of the

imperial theatres, represented that he had been first tenor and first

lover at the Opera for thirty years, and finally received full

permission to make love to the Vestal of the Académie.



The Emperor Napoleon had the principal pieces in La Vestale executed

by his private band, nearly a year before the opera was brought out at

the Académie. He had sufficient taste to admire the music, and predicted

to Spontini the success it afterwards met with. He is said, in

particular, to have praised the finale, the first dramatic finale

written for the French Opera.



[Sidenote: SPONTINI.]



La Vestale was received by the public with enthusiasm. It is said to

have been admirably executed, and we know that Spontini was difficult on

this point, for we are told by Mr. Ebers that he objected to the

performance of La Vestale, in London, on the ground "that the means of

representation there were inadequate to do justice to his composition."

This was twenty years after it was first brought out in Paris, when all

Rossini's finest and most elaborately constructed operas (such as

Semiramide, for instance), had been played in London, and in a manner

which quite satisfied Rossini. Probably, however, it was in the

spectacular department that Spontini expected the King's Theatre would

break down. However that may have been, La Vestale was produced in

London, and met with very little success. The part of "La Vestale" was

given to a Madame Biagioli, who objected to it as not sufficiently good

for her. From the accounts extant of this lady's powers, it is quite

certain that Spontini, if he had heard her, would have considered her

not nearly good enough for his music. It would, of course, have been far

better for the composer, as for the manager and the public, if Spontini

had consented to superintend the production of his work himself; but

failing that, it was scandalous in defiance of his wishes to produce it

at all. Unfortunately, this is a kind of scandal from which operatic

managers in England have seldom shrunk.



Spontini's Fernand Cortez, produced at the Académie in 1809, met with

less success than La Vestale. In both these works, the spectacular

element played an important part, and in Fernand Cortez, it was found

necessary to introduce a number of Franconi's horses. A journalist of

the period proposed that the following inscription should be placed

above the doors of the theatre:--Içi on joue l'opéra à pied et à

cheval.



Spontini, as special composer for the Académie of grand operas with

hippic and panoramic effects, was the predecessor of M. M. Meyerbeer,

and Halévy; and Heine, in his "Lutèce"[88] has given us a very witty,

and perhaps, in the main, truthful account of Spontini's animosity

towards Meyerbeer, whom he is said to have always regarded as an

intriguer and interloper. I may here, however, mention as a proof of the

attractiveness of La Vestale from a purely musical point of view, that

it was once represented with great success, not only without magnificent

or appropriate scenery, but with the scenery belonging to another piece!

This was on the 1st of April, 1814, the day after the entry of the

Russian and Prussian troops into Paris. Le Triomphe de Trajan had been

announced; the allied sovereigns, however, wished to hear La Vestale,

and the performance was changed. But there was not time to prepare the

scenery for Spontini's opera, and that of the said Triomphe was made

to do duty for it.



[Sidenote: A MURDER AT THE OPERA.]



Le Triomphe de Trajan was a work in which Napoleon's clemency to a

treacherous or patriotic German prince was celebrated, and it has been

said that the programme of the 1st of April was changed, because the

allied sovereigns disliked the subject of the opera. But it was

perfectly natural that they should wish to hear Spontini's master-piece,

and that they should not particularly care to listen to a pièce

d'occasion, set to music by a French composer of no name.



I have said that Cherubini's Abencerrages, of which all but the

overture is now forgotten, was produced in 1813, and that the emperor

attended its first representation the night before his departure from

Paris, to rejoin his troops, and if possible, check the advance of the

victorious allies. No other work of importance was produced at the

French Académie until Rossini's Siège de Corinthe was brought out in

1825. This, the first work written by the great Italian master specially

for the French Opera, was represented at the existing theatre in the Rue

Lepelletier, the opera house in the Rue Richelieu having been pulled

down in 1820.



* * * * *



[Sidenote: A MURDER AT THE OPERA.]



In the year just mentioned, on the 13th of February, being the last

Sunday of the Carnival, an unusually brilliant audience had assembled at

the Académie Royale. Le Rossignol, an insipid, and fortunately, very

brief production, was the opera; but the great attraction of the evening

consisted in two ballets, La Carnaval de Venise, and Les Noces de

Gamache. The Duke and Duchess de Berri were present, and when Le

Carnaval de Venise, Le Rossignol, and the first act of Les Noces de

Gamache, had been performed, the duchess rose to leave the theatre. Her

husband accompanied her to the carriage, and was taking leave of her,

intending to return to the theatre for the last act of the ballet, when

a man crept up to him, placed his left arm on the duke's left side,

pulled him violently towards him, and as he held him in his grasp,

thrust a dagger through his body. The dagger entered the duke's right

side, and the pressure of the assassin's arm, and the force with which

the blow was given, were so great, that the weapon went through the

lungs, and pierced the heart, a blade of six inches inflicting a wound

nine inches long. The news of the duke's assassination spread through

the streets of Paris as if by electricity; and M. Alexandre Dumas, in

his interesting Memoirs, tells us almost the same thing that Balzac says

about it in one of his novels; that it was known at the farther end of

Paris, before a man on horseback, despatched at the moment the blow was

struck, could possibly have reached the spot. On the other hand, M.

Castil Blaze shows us very plainly that the terrible occurrence was not

known within the Opera; or, at least, only to a few officials, until

after the conclusion of the performance, which went on as if nothing had

happened. The duke was carried into the director's room, where he was

attended by Blancheton, the surgeon of the Opera, and at once bled in

both arms. He, himself, drew the dagger from the wound, and observed at

the same time that he felt it was mortal. The Count d'Artois, and the

Duke and Duchess d'Angoulême arrived soon afterwards. There lay the

unhappy prince, on a bed hastily arranged, and already inundated, soaked

with blood, surrounded by his father, brother, sister, and wife, whose

poignant anguish was from time to time alleviated by some faint ray of

hope, destined, however, to be quickly dispelled.



Five of the most celebrated doctors in Paris, with Dupuytren among the

number, had been sent for; and as the patient was now nearly suffocating

from internal hæmorrhage, the orifice of the wound was widened. This

afforded some relief, and for a moment it was thought just possible that

a recovery might be effected. Another moment, and it was evident that

there was no hope. The duke asked to see his daughter, and embraced her

several times; he also expressed a desire to see the king. Now the

sacrament was administered to him, but, on the express condition exacted

by the Archbishop of Paris, that the Opera House should afterwards be

destroyed. Two other unacknowledged daughters of his youth were brought

to the dying man's bedside, and received his blessing. He had already

recommended them to the duchess's care.



"Soon you will have no father," she said to them, "and I shall have

three daughters."



In the meanwhile the Spanish ballet was being continued, amidst the

mirth and applause of the audience, who testified by their demeanour

that it was Carnival time, and that the jours gras had already

commenced. The house was crowded, and the boleros and sequidillas with

which the Spaniards of the Parisian ballet astonished and dazzled Don

Quixote and his faithful knight, threw boxes, pit, and gallery, into

ecstasies of delight.



Elsewhere, in the room next his victim, stood the assassin, interrogated

by the ministers, Decazes and Pasquier, with the bloody dagger before

them on the table. The murderer simply declared that he had no

accomplices,[89] and that he took all the responsibility of the crime on

himself.



At five in the morning, Louis XVIII. was by the side of his dying

nephew. An attempt had been made, the making of which was little less

than an insult to the king, to dissuade him from being present at the

duke's last moments.



[Sidenote: A MURDER AT THE OPERA.]



"The sight of death does not terrify me," replied His Majesty, "and I

have a duty to perform." After begging that his murderer might be

forgiven, and entreating the duchess not to give way to despair, the

Duke de Berri breathed his last in the arms of the king, who closed his

eyes at half-past six in the morning.



* * * * *



Opera was now to be heard no more in the Rue Richelieu. The holy

sacrament had crossed the threshold of a profane building, and it was

necessary that this profane building should be destroyed; indeed, a

promise to that effect had been already given. All the theatres were

closed for ten days, and the Opera, now homeless, did not re-commence

its performances until upwards of two months afterwards, when it took

possession for a time of the Théâtre Favart. In the August of the same

year the erection of the theatre in the Rue Lepelletier was commenced.

The present Théâtre de l'Opéra, (the absurd title of Académie having

recently been abandoned), was intended when it was first built, to be

but a temporary affair. Strangely enough it has lasted forty years,

during which time it has seen solidly constructed opera-houses perish by

fire in all parts of Europe. May the new opera-house about to be erected

in Paris, under the auspices of Napoleon III., be equally fortunate.



I am here reminded that both the Napoleons have proved themselves good

and intelligent friends to the Opera. In the year eleven of the French

republic, the First Consul and his two associates, the Minister of the

French republic, the three Consuls, the Ministers of the interior and

police, General Junot, the Secretary of State, and a few more officials

occupied among them as many as seventeen boxes at the opera, containing

altogether ninety-four places. Bonaparte had a report drawn up from

which it appeared that the value of these boxes to the administration,

was sixty thousand four hundred francs per annum, including fifteen

thousand francs for those kept at his own disposition. Thereupon he

added to the report the following brief, but on the whole satisfactory

remark.



"A datter du premier nivose toutes ces loges seront payées par ceux qui

les occupent."



The error in orthography is not the printers', but Napoleon Bonaparte's,

and the document in which it occurs, is at present in the hands of M.

Regnier of the Comédie Française.



A month afterwards, Napoleon, or at least the consular trio of which he

was the chief, assigned to the Opera a regular subsidy of 600,000 francs

a year; he at the same time gave it a respectable name. Under the

Convention it had been entitled "Théâtre de la République et des Arts;"

the First Consul called it simply, "Théâtre des Arts," an appellation it

had borne before.[90]



Hardly had the new theatre in the Rue Lepelletier opened its doors,

when a singer of the highest class, a tenor of the most perfect kind,

made his appearance. This was Adolphe Nourrit, a pupil of Garcia, who,

on the 10th of September, 1821, made his first appearance with the

greatest success as "Pylade" in Iphigénie en Tauride. It was not,

however, until Auber's Muette de Portici was produced in 1828, that

Nourrit had an opportunity of distinguishing himself in a new and

important part.



[Sidenote: LA MUETTE DE PORTICI.]



La Muette was the first of those important works to which the French

Opera owes its actual celebrity in Europe. Le Siège de Corinthe,

translated and adapted from Maometto II., with additions (including

the admirable blessing of the flags) written specially for the Académie,

had been brought out eighteen months before, but without much success.

Maometto II. was not one of Rossini's best works, the drama on which

it was constructed was essentially feeble and uninteresting, and the

manner in which the whole was "arranged" for the French stage, was

unsatisfactory in many respects. Le Siège de Corinthe was greatly

applauded the first night, but it soon ceased to have any attraction for

the public. Rossini had previously written Il Viaggio a Reims for the

coronation of Charles X., and this work was re-produced at the Academy

three years afterwards, with several important additions (such as the

duet for "Isolier" and the "Count," the chorus of women, the

unaccompanied quartett, the highly effective drinking chorus, and the

beautiful trio of the last act), under the title of le Comte Ory. In

the meanwhile La Muette had been brought out, to be followed the year

afterwards by Guillaume Tell, which was to be succeeded in its turn by

Meyerbeer's Robert le Diable, Les Huguenots and Le Prophète,

(works which belong specially to the Académie and with which its modern

reputation is intimately associated), by Auber's Gustave III.,

Donizetti's la Favorite, &c.



La Muette de Portici had the great advantage of enabling the Académie

to display all its resources at once. It was brought out with

magnificent scenery and an excellent corps de ballet, with a première

danseuse, Mademoiselle Noblet as the heroine, with the new tenor,

Nourrit, in the important part of the hero, and with a well taught

chorus capable of sustaining with due effect the prominent rôle

assigned to it. For in the year 1828 it was quite a novelty at the

French Opera to see the chorus taking part in the general action of the

drama.



[Sidenote: LA MUETTE DE PORTICI.]



If we compare La Muette with the "Grand Operas" produced subsequently

at the Académie, we find that it differs from them all in some important

respects. In the former, instead of a prima donna we have a prima

ballerina in the principal female part. Of course the concerted pieces

suffer by this, or rather the number of concerted pieces is diminished,

and to the same cause may, perhaps, be attributed the absence of finales

in La Muette. It chiefly owed its success (which is still renewed from

time to time whenever it is re-produced) to the intrinsic beauty of its

melodies and to the dramatic situations provided by the ingenious

librettist, M. Scribe, and admirably taken advantage of by the composer.

But the part of Fenella had also great attractions for those unmusical

persons who are found in almost every audience in England and France,

and for whom the chief interest in every opera consists in the

skeleton-drama on which it is founded. To them the graceful Fenella with

her expressive pantomime is no bad substitute for a singer whose words

would be unintelligible to them, and whose singing, continued throughout

the Opera, would perhaps fatigue their dull ears. These ballet-operas

seem to have been very popular in France about the period when La

Muette was produced, the other most celebrated example of the style

being Auber's Le Dieu et la Bayadère. In the present day it would be

considered that a prima ballerina, introduced as a principal character

in an opera, would interfere too much with the combinations of the

singing personages.



I need say nothing about the charming music of La Muette, which is

well known to every frequenter of the Opera, further than to mention,

that the melody of the celebrated barcarole and chorus, "Amis, amis le

soleil va paraitre" had already been heard in a work of Auber's, called

Emma; and that the brilliant overture had previously served as an

instrumental preface to Le Maçon.



La Muette de Portici was translated and played with great success in

England. But shameful liberties were taken with the piece; recitatives

were omitted, songs were interpolated: and it was not until Masaniello

was produced at the Royal Italian Opera that the English public had an

opportunity of hearing Auber's great work without suppressions or

additions.



The greatest opera ever written for the Académie, and one of the three

or four greatest operas ever produced, was now about to be brought out.

Guillaume Tell was represented for the first time on the 3rd of

August, 1829. It was not unsuccessful, or even coldly received the first

night, as has often been stated; but the result of the first few

representations was on the whole unsatisfactory. Musicians and

connoisseurs were struck by the great beauties of the work from the very

beginning; but some years passed before it was fully appreciated by the

general public. The success of the music was certainly not assisted by

the libretto--one of the most tedious and insipid ever put together; and

it was not until Rossini's masterpiece had been cut down from five to

three acts, that the Parisians, as a body, took any great interest in

it.



[Sidenote: GUILLAUME TELL.]



Guillaume Tell is now played everywhere in the three act form. Some

years ago a German doctor, who had paid four francs to hear Der

Freischütz at the French Opera, proceeded against the directors for the

recovery of his money, on the plea that it had been obtained from him on

false pretences, the work advertised as Der Freischütz not being

precisely the Der Freischütz[91] which Karl Maria von Weber composed.

The doctor might amuse himself (the authorities permitting) by bringing

an action against the managers of the Berlin theatre every time they

produce Rossini's Guillaume Tell--which is often enough, and always in

three acts.



The original cast of Guillaume Tell included Nourrit, Levasseur,

Dabadie, A. Dupont, Massol, and Madame Cinti-Damoreau. The singers and

musicians of the Opera were enthusiastic in their admiration of the new

work, and the morning after its production assembled on the terrace of

the house where Rossini lived and performed a selection from it in his

honour. One distinguished artist who took no part in this ceremony had,

nevertheless, contributed in no small degree to the success of the

opera. This was Mademoiselle Taglioni, whose tyrolienne danced to the

music of the charming unaccompanied chorus, was of course understood and

applauded by every one from the very first.



After the first run of Guillaume Tell, the Opera returned to La

Muette de Portici, and then for a time Auber's and Rossini's

masterpieces were played alternate nights. On Wednesday, July 3rd, 1830,

La Muette de Portici was performed, and with a certain political

appropriateness;--for the "days of July" were now at hand, and the

insurrectionary spirit had already manifested itself in the streets of

Paris. The fortunes of La Muette de Portici have been affected in

various ways by the revolutionary character of the plot. Even in London

it was more than once made a pretext for a "demonstration" by the

radicals of William the Fourth's time. At most of the Italian theatres

it has been either forbidden altogether or has had to be altered

considerably before the authorities would allow it to be played. Strange

as it may appear, in absolute Russia it has been represented times out

of number in its original shape, under the title of Fenella.



[Sidenote: FRENCH NATIONAL SONGS.]



We have seen that Masaniello was represented in Paris four days before

the commencement of the outbreak which ended in the elder branch of the

Bourbons being driven from the throne. On the 26th of July, Guillaume

Tell was to have been represented, but the city was in such a state of

agitation, in consequence of the issue of the ordonnances, signed at

St. Cloud the day before, that the Opera was closed. On the 27th the

fighting began and lasted until the 29th, when the Opera was re-opened.

On the 4th of August, La Muette de Portici was performed, and created

the greatest enthusiasm,--the public finding in almost every scene some

reminder, and now and then a tolerably exact representation, of what had

just taken place within a stone's throw of the theatre. La Muette,

apart from its music, became now the great piece of the day; and the

representations at the Opera were rendered still more popular by

Nourrit singing "La Parisienne" every evening. The melody of this

temporary national song, like that of its predecessor (so infinitely

superior to it), "La Marseillaise" (according to Castil Blaze), was

borrowed from Germany. France, never wanting in national spirit, has yet

no national air. It has four party songs, not one of which can be

considered truly patriotic, and of which the only one that possesses any

musical merit, disfigured as it has been by its French adapters, is of

German origin.



Nourrit is said to have delivered "La Parisienne" with wonderful

vigour and animation, and to this and to Casimir Delavigne's verses (or

rather to Delavigne's name, for the verses in themselves are not very

remarkable) may be attributed the reputation which the French national

song, No. 4,[92] for some time enjoyed.



* * * * *



Guillaume Tell is Rossini's last opera. To surpass that admirable work

would have been difficult for its own composer, impossible for any one

else; and Rossini appears to have resolved to terminate his artistic

career when it had reached its climax. In carrying out this resolution,

he has displayed a strength of character, of which it is almost

impossible to find another instance. Many other reasons have been given

for Rossini's abstaining from composition during so many years, such as

the coldness with which Guillaume Tell was received (when, as we have

seen, its immediate reception by those whose opinion Rossini would

chiefly have valued, was marked by the greatest enthusiasm), and the

success of Meyerbeer's operas, though who would think of placing the

most successful of Meyerbeer's works on a level with Guillaume Tell?



"Je reviendrai quand les juifs auront fini leur sabbat," is a speech

(somewhat uncharacteristic of the speaker, as it seems to me),

attributed to Rossini by M. Castil Blaze; who, however, also mentions,

that when Robert le Diable was produced, every journal in Paris said

that it was the finest opera, except Guillaume Tell, that had been

produced at the Académie for years. It appears certain, now, that

Rossini simply made up his mind to abdicate at the height of his power.

There were plenty of composers who could write works inferior to

Guillaume Tell, and to them he left the kingdom of opera, to be

divided as they might arrange it among themselves. He was succeeded by

Meyerbeer at the Académie; by Donizetti and Bellini at the Italian

opera-houses of all Europe.



* * * * *



Rossini had already found a follower, and, so to speak, an original

imitator, in Auber, whose eminently Rossinian overture to La Muette,

was heard at the Académie the year before Guillaume Tell.



[Sidenote: ROSSINI'S FOLLOWERS.]



I need scarcely remind the intelligent reader, that the composer of

three master-pieces in such very different styles as Il Barbiere,

Semiramide, and Guillaume Tell, might have a dozen followers, whose

works, while all resembling in certain points those of their predecessor

and master, should yet bear no great general resemblance to one another.

All the composers who came immediately after Rossini, accepted, as a

matter of course, those important changes which he had introduced in the

treatment of the operatic drama, and to which he had now so accustomed

the public, that a return to the style of the old Italian masters, would

have been not merely injudicious, but intolerable. Thus, all the

post-Rossinian composers adopted Rossini's manner of accompanying

recitative with the full band; his substitution of dialogued pieces,

written in measured music, with a prominent connecting part assigned to

the orchestra, for the interminable dialogues in simple recitative,

employed by the earlier Italian composers; his mode of constructing

finales; and his new distribution of characters, by which basses and

baritones become as eligible for first parts as tenors, while great

importance is given to the chorus, which, in certain operas, according

to the nature of the plot, becomes an important dramatic agent. I may

repeat, by way of memorandum, what has before been observed, that nearly

all these forms originated with Mozart, though it was reserved for

Rossini to introduce and establish them on the Italian stage. In short,

with the exception of the very greatest masters of Germany, all the

composers of the last thirty or forty years, have been to some, and

often to a very great extent, influenced by Rossini. The general truth

of this remark is not lessened by the fact, that Hérold and Auber, and

even Donizetti and Bellini (the last, especially, in the simplicity of

his melodies), afterwards found distinctive styles; and that Meyerbeer,

after Il Crociato, took Weber, rather than Rossini, for his model--the

composer of Robert at the same time exhibiting a strongly marked

individuality, which none of his adverse critics think of denying, and

which is partly, no doubt, the cause of their adverse criticism.



* * * * *



[Sidenote: ROSSINI'S RETIREMENT.]



What will make it appear to some persons still more astonishing, that

Rossini should have retired after producing Guillaume Tell is, that he

had signed an agreement with the Académie, by which he engaged to write

three grand operas for it in six years. In addition to his "author's

rights," he was to receive ten thousand francs annually until the

expiration of the sixth year, and the completion of the third opera. No.

1 was Guillaume Tell. The librettos of Nos. 2 and 3 were Gustave and

Le Duc d'Albe, both of which were returned by Rossini to M. Scribe,

perhaps, with an explanation, but with none that has ever been made

public. Rossini was at this time thirty-seven years of age, strong and

vigorous enough to have outlived, not only his earliest, but his latest

compositions, had they not been the most remarkable dramatic works of

this century. If Rossini had been a composer who produced with

difficulty, his retirement would have been more easy to explain; but the

difficulty with him must have been to avoid producing. The story is

probably known to many readers of his writing a duet one morning, in

bed, letting the music paper fall, and, rather than leave his warm

sheets to pick it up, writing another duet, which was quite different

from the first. A hundred similar anecdotes are told of the facility

with which Rossini composed. Who knows but that he wished his career to

be measured against those of so many other composers whose days were cut

short, at about the age he had reached when he produced Guillaume

Tell? A very improbable supposition, certainly, when we consider how

little mysticism there is in the character of Rossini. However this may

be, he ceased to write operas at about the age when many of his

immediate predecessors and followers ceased to live.[93]



And even Rossini had a narrow escape. About the critical period, when

the composer of Guillaume Tell was a little more than half way between

thirty and forty, the Italian Theatre of Paris was burnt to the ground.

This, at first sight, appears to have nothing to do with the question;

but Rossini lived in the theatre, and his apartments were near the

roof. He had started for Italy two days previously; had he remained in

Paris, he certainly would have shared the fate of the other inmates who

perished in the flames.



* * * * *



Meyerbeer is a composer who defies classification, or who, at least, may

be classified in three different ways. As the author of the Crociato,

he belongs to Italy, and the school of Rossini; Robert le Diable

exhibits him as a composer chiefly of the German school, with a tendency

to follow in the steps of Weber; but Robert, les Huguenots, le

Prophète, l'Etoile du Nord, and, above all Dinorah, are also

characteristic of the composer himself. The committee of the London

International Exhibition has justly decided that Meyerbeer is a German

composer, and there is no doubt about his having been born in Germany,

and educated for some time under the same professor as Karl Maria Von

Weber; but it is equally certain that he wrote those works to which he

owes his great celebrity for the Académie Royale of Paris, and as we are

just now dealing with the history of the French Opera, this, I think, is

the proper place in which to introduce the most illustrious of living

and working composers.



[Sidenote: REHEARSALS.]



"The composer of Il Crociato in Egitto, an amateur, is a native of

Berlin, where his father, a Jew, who is since dead, was a banker of

great riches. The father's name was Beer, Meyer being merely a Jewish

prefix, which the son thought fit to incorporate with his surname. He

was a companion of Weber, in his musical studies. He had produced other

operas which had been well received, but none of them was followed by or

merited the success that attended Il Crociato." So far Mr. Ebers, who,

in a few words, tells us a great deal of Meyerbeer's early career. The

said Crociato, written for Venice, in 1824, was afterwards produced at

the Italian Opera of Paris in 1825, six years before Robert le Diable

was brought out at the Académie. In the summer of 1825, a few months

before its production in Paris, it was modified in London, and Mr. Ebers

informs us that the getting up of the opera, to which nine months were

devoted at the Théâtre Italien, occupied at the King's Theatre only one.

Such rapid feats are familiar enough to our operatic managers and

musical conductors. But it must be remembered that a first performance

in England is very often less perfect than a dress rehearsal in France;

and, moreover, that between bringing out an original work (or an old

work, in an original style), in Paris, and bringing out the same work

afterwards, more or less conformably to the Parisian[94] model, in

London, there is the same difference as between composing a picture and

merely copying one. No singers and musicians read better than those of

the French Académie, and it is a terrible mistake to suppose that so

much time is required at that theatre for the production of a grand

opera on account of any difficulty in making the artistes acquainted

with their parts. Guillaume Tell was many months in rehearsal, but

the orchestra played the overture at first sight in a manner which

astonished and delighted Rossini. The great, and I may add, the

inevitable fault of our system of management in England is that it is

impossible to procure for a new opera a sufficient number of rehearsals

before it is publicly produced. It is surprising how few "repetitions"

suffice, but they would not suffice if the same perfection was thought

necessary on the first night which is obtained at the Paris and Berlin

Operas, and which, in London, in the case of very difficult, elaborate

works, is not reached until after several representations.



However, Il Crociato was brought out in London after a month's

rehearsal. The manager left the musical direction almost entirely in the

hands of Velluti, who had already superintended its production at

Venice, and Florence, and who was engaged, as a matter of course, for

the principal part written specially for him. The opera (of which the

cast included, besides Velluti, Mademoiselle Garcia, Madame Caradori and

Crivelli the tenor) was very successful, and was performed ten nights

without intermission when the "run" was brought to a termination by the

closing of the theatre. The following account of the music by Lord Mount

Edgcumbe, shows the sort of impression it made upon the old amateurs of

the period.



[Sidenote: MEYERBEER'S CROCIATO.]



It was "quite of the new school, but not copied from its founder,

Rossini; original, odd, flighty, and it might even be termed

fantastic, but at times beautiful; here and there most delightful

melodies and harmonies occurred, but it was unequal, solos were as rare

as in all the modern operas, but the numerous concerted pieces much

shorter and far less noisy than Rossini's, consisting chiefly of duets

and terzettos, with but few choruses and no overwhelming accompaniments.

Indeed, Meyerbeer has rather gone into the contrary extreme, the

instrumental parts being frequently so slight as to be almost meagre,

while he has sought to produce new and striking effects from the voices

alone."



Before speaking of Meyerbeer's better known and more celebrated works, I

must say a few words about Velluti, a singer of great powers, but of a

peculiar kind ("non vir sed Veluti") who, as I have said before,

played the principal part in Il Crociato. He was the last of his

tribe, and living at a time when too much license was allowed to singers

in the execution of the music entrusted to them, so disgusted Rossini by

his extravagant style of ornamentation, that the composer resolved to

write his airs in future in such elaborate detail, that to embellish

them would be beyond the power of any singer. Be this how it may,

Rossini did not like Velluti's singing, nor Velluti Rossini's

music--which sufficiently proves that the last of the sopranists was not

a musician of taste.[95] Mr. Ebers tells us that "after making the tour

of the principal Italian and German theatres, Velluti arrived in Paris,

where the musical taste was not prepared for him," and that, "Rossini

being at this time engaged at Paris under his agreement to direct there,

Velluti did not enter into his plans, and having made no engagement

there, came over to England without any invitation, but strongly

recommended by Lord Burghersh." The re-appearance of a musico in London

when the race was thought to be extinct, caused a great sensation, and

not altogether of an agreeable kind. However, the Opera was crowded the

night of his début; to the old amateurs it recalled the days of

Pacchierotti, to the young ones, it was simply a strange and unexpected

novelty. Some are said to have come to the theatre expressly to oppose

him, while others were there for the avowed purpose of supporting him,

from a feeling that public opinion had dealt harshly with the

unfortunate man. Velluti had already sung at concerts, where his

reception was by no means favourable. Indeed, Lord Mount Edgcumbe tells

us "that the scurrilous abuse lavished upon him before he was heard, was

cruel and illiberal," and that "it was not till after long deliberation,

much persuasion, and assurances of support that the manager ventured to

engage him for the remainder of the season."



[Sidenote: VELLUTI.]



Velluti's demeanour on entering the stage was highly prepossessing. Mr.

Ebers says that "it was at once graceful and dignified," and that "he

was in look and action the son of chivalry he represented."



He adds, that "his appearance was received with mingled applause and

disapprobation; but that "the scanty symptoms of the latter were

instantly overwhelmed." The effect produced on the audience by the first

notes Velluti uttered was most peculiar. According to Mr. Ebers, "there

was a something of a preternatural harshness about them, which jarred

even more strongly on the imagination than on the ear;" though, as he

proceeded, "the sweetness and flexibility of those of his tones which

yet remained unimpaired by time, were fully perceived and felt." Lord

Mount Edgcumbe informs us, that "the first note he uttered gave a shock

of surprise, almost of disgust, to inexperienced ears;" though,

afterwards, "his performance was listened to with great attention and

applause throughout, with but few audible expressions of

disapprobation speedily suppressed." The general effect of his

performance is summed up in the following words:--"To the old he brought

back some pleasing recollections; others, to whom his voice was new,

became reconciled to it, and sensible of his merits; whilst many

declared, to the last, his tones gave them more pain than pleasure."

However, he drew crowded audiences, and no opera but Meyerbeer's

Crociato was performed until the end of the season.



* * * * *



Some years after the production of Il Crociato, Meyerbeer had written

an opéra comique, entitled Robert le Diable, which was to have been

represented at the Ventadour Theatre, specially devoted to that kind of

performance. The company, however, at the "Théâtre de l'Opera Comique,"

was not found competent to execute the difficult music of Robert, and

the interesting libretto by M. M. Scribe and Delavigne, was altered and

reduced, so as to suit the Académie. The celebrated "pruning knife" was

brought out, and vigorously applied. What remained of the dialogue was

adapted for recitative, and the character of "Raimbaud" was cut out in

the fourth and fifth acts. With all these suppressions, the opera, as

newly arranged, to be recited or sung from beginning to end, was still

very long, and not particularly intelligible. However, the legend on

which Robert le Diable is founded is well suited for musical

illustration, and the plot, with a little attention and a careful study

of the book, may be understood, in spite of the absence of "Raimbaud,"

who, in the original piece, is said to have served materially to aid and

explain the progress of the drama.



[Sidenote: ROBERT LE DIABLE.]



If Robert le Diable had been produced at the Opéra Comique, in the

form in which it was originally conceived, the many points of

resemblance it presents to Der Freischütz would have struck every one.

Meyerbeer seems to have determined to write a romantic semi-fantastic

legendary opera, like Der Freischütz, and, in doing so, naturally

followed in the footsteps of Weber. He certainly treats these legendary

subjects with particular felicity, and I fancy there is more spontaneity

in the music of Robert le Diable, and Dinorah, than in any other

that he has composed; but this does not alter the fact that such

subjects were first treated in music, and in a thoroughly congenial

manner, by Karl Maria von Weber. Without considering how far Meyerbeer,

in Robert le Diable, has borrowed his instrumentation and harmonic

combinations from Weber, there can be no doubt about its being a work of

much the same class as Der Freischütz; and it would have been looked

upon as quite of that class, had it been produced, like Der

Freischütz, with spoken dialogue, and with the popular characters more

in relief.



Robert le Diable, converted into a grand opera, was produced at the

Académie, on the 21st of November, 1831. Dr. Véron, in his "Mémoires

d'un Bourgeois de Paris," has given a most interesting account of all

the circumstances which attended the rehearsals and first representation

of this celebrated work. Dr. Véron had just undertaken the management of

the Académie; and to have such an opera as Robert le Diable, with

which to mark the commencement of his reign, was a piece of rare good

fortune. The libretto, the music, the ballet, were all full of interest,

and many of the airs had the advantage (in Paris) of being somewhat in

the French style. The applause with which this, the best constructed of

all M. Meyerbeer's works, was received, went on increasing from act to

act; and, altogether, the success it obtained was immense, and, in some

respects, unprecedented.



Nourrit played the part of "Robert," Madame Cinti Damoreau that of

"Isabelle." Mademoiselle Dorus and Levasseur were the "Alice" and the

"Bertram." In the pas de cinq of the second act, Noblet, Montessu, and

Perrot appeared; and in the nuns' scene, the troop of resuscitated

virgins was led by the graceful and seductive Taglioni. All the scenery

was admirably painted, especially that of the moonlight tableau in the

third act. The costumes were rich and brilliant, the mise en scène,

generally, was remarkable for its completeness; in short, every one

connected with the "getting up" of the opera from Habeneck, the musical

conductor, to the property-men, gas-fitters and carpenters, whose names

history has not preserved, did their utmost to ensure its success.



In 1832, Robert le Diable was brought out at the King's Theatre, with

the principal parts sustained, as in Paris, by Nourrit, Levasseur, and

Madame Damoreau. The part of "Alice" appears to have been given to

Mademoiselle de Méric. This opera met with no success at the King's

Theatre, and was scarcely better received at Covent Garden, where an

English version was performed, with such alterations in Meyerbeer's

music as will easily be conceived by those who remember how the works of

Rossini, and, indeed, all foreign composers, were treated at this time,

on the English stage.



[Sidenote: ROBERT LE DIABLE.]



In 1832, and, indeed, many years afterwards, when Robert and Les

Huguenots had been efficiently represented in London by German

companies, Meyerbeer's music was still most severely handled by some of

our best musical critics. At present there is perhaps an inclination to

go to the other extreme; but, at all events, full justice has now been

rendered to M. Meyerbeer's musical genius. Let us hear what Lord Mount

Edgcumbe (whose opinion I do not regard as one of authority, but only as

an interesting index to that of the connoisseurs of the old school), has

to say of the first, and, on the whole, the most celebrated of

Meyerbeer's operas. He entertains the greatest admiration for Don

Giovanni, Fidelio, Der Freischütz, and Euryanthe; but neither the

subject, nor even the music of Robert le Diable, pleases him in the

least. "Never," he says, "did I see a more disagreeable or disgusting

performance. The sight of the resurrection of a whole convent of nuns,

who rise from their graves, and begin dancing, like so many bacchants,

is revolting; and a sacred service in a church, accompanied by an organ

on the stage, not very decorous. Neither does the music of Meyerbeer

compensate for a fable, which is a tissue of nonsense and improbability.

Of course, I was not tempted to hear it again in its original form, and

it did credit to the taste of the English public, that it was not

endured at the Opera House, and was acted only a very few nights."



Meyerbeer's second grand opera, Les Huguenots, was produced at the

Académie Royale on the 26th of January, 1836, after twenty-eight full

rehearsals, occasioning a delay which cost the composer a fine of thirty

thousand francs. The expense of getting up the Huguenots (in scenery,

dresses, properties, &c.), amounted to one hundred and sixty thousand

francs.



[Sidenote: LES HUGUENOTS.]



In London, and I believe everywhere on the continent except in Paris,

the most popular of M. Meyerbeer's three grand operas is Les

Huguenots. At the Académie, Robert le Diable seems still to carry

away the palm. Of late years, the admirable performance of Mario and

Grisi, and of Titiens and Giuglini, in the duet of the fourth act, has

had an immense effect in increasing the popularity of Les Huguenots

with the English. This duet, the septett for male voices, the blessing

of the daggers and the whole of the dramatic and animated scene of which

it forms part, are certainly magnificent compositions; but the duet for

"Raoul" and "Valentine" is the very soul of the work. At the theatres of

Italy, the opera in question is generally "cut" with a free hand; and it

is so long, that even after plentiful excisions an immense deal of

music, and of fine music, still remains. But who would go to hear Les

Huguenots, if the duet of the fourth act were omitted, or if the

performance stopped at the end of act III.? On the other hand, the

fourth act alone would always attract an audience; for, looked upon as a

work by itself, it is by far the most dramatic, the most moving of all

M. Meyerbeer's compositions. The construction of this act is most

creditable to the librettist; while the composer, in filling up, and

giving musical life to the librettist's design, has shown the very

highest genius. It ends with a scene for two personages, but the whole

act is of one piece. While the daggers are being distributed, while the

plans of the chief agents in the massacre are being developed in so

striking and forcible a manner, the scene between the alarmed "Raoul"

and the terrified "Valentine" is, throughout, anticipated; and equally

necessary for the success of the duet, from a musical as well as from a

dramatic point of view, is the massive concerted piece by which this

duet is preceded. To a composer, incapable or less capable than M.

Meyerbeer, of turning to advantage the admirable but difficult situation

here presented, there would, of course, have been the risk of an

anti-climax; there was the danger that, after a stageful of fanatical

soldiers and monks, crying out at the top of their voices for blood, it

would be impossible further to impress the audience by any known musical

means. Meyerbeer, however, has had recourse to the expression of an

entirely different kind of emotion, or rather a series of emotions, full

of admirable variations and gradations; and everyone who has heard the

great duet of Les Huguenots knows how wonderfully he has succeeded. It

has been said that the idea of this scene originated with Nourrit. In

any case, it was an idea which Scribe lost no time in profiting by, and

the question does not in any way affect the transcendent merit of the

composer.



* * * * *



Le Prophète, M. Meyerbeer's third grand opera, was produced at the

Académie on the 16th of April, 1849, with Roger, Viardot-Garcia, and

Castellan, in the principal characters. This opera, like Les

Huguenots, has been performed with great success in London. The part of

"Jean" has given the two great tenors of the Royal Italian Opera--Mario

and Tamberlik--opportunities of displaying many of their highest

qualities as dramatic singers. The magnificent Covent Garden orchestra

achieves a triumph quite of its own, in the grand march of the

coronation scene; and the opera enables the management to display all

its immense resources in the scenic department.



* * * * *



[Sidenote: GUSTAVE III.]



In passing from Masaniello to Rossini's Guillaume Tell, and from

Rossini to Meyerbeer, we have lost sight too soon of the greatest

composer France ever produced, and one who is ranked in all countries

among the first composers of the century. I mean, of course, M. Auber,

of whose works I should have more to say, if I had not determined, in

this brief "History of the Opera" to pay but little attention to the

French "Opéra Comique," which, with the exception of a very few examples

(all by M. Auber)[96] is not a genre that has been accepted anywhere

out of France. In sketching, however, the history of the Grand Opera,

it would be impossible to omit Gustave III. Gustave ou le Bal

Masqué, composed on one of the two librettos returned to M. Scribe by

Rossini,[97] was performed for the first time on the 27th of February,

1833. This admirable work is not nearly so well known in England, or

even in France, as it deserves to be. The government of Louis Philippe

seems to have thought it imprudent to familiarize the Parisians with

regicide, by exhibiting it to them three or four times a week on the

stage, as the main incident of a very interesting drama; and after a

certain number of representations, Gustave, which, taken altogether,

is certainly Auber's masterpiece, was cut down to the ball-scene. In

England, no one objected to the theatrical assassination of Gustavus;

but unfortunately, also, no scruple was made about mutilating and

murdering Auber's music. In short, the Gustavus of Auber was far more

cruelly ill-treated in London than the Gustavus of Sweden at his own

masqued ball. Mr. Gye ought to produce Gustavus at the Royal Italian

Opera, where, for the first time in England, it would be worthily

represented. The frequenters of this theatre have long been expecting

it, though I am not aware that it has ever been officially promised.



The original caste of Gustave included Nourrit, Levasseur, Massol,

Dabadie, Dupont, Mademoiselle Falcon, Mademoiselle Dorus, and Madame

Dabadie. Nourrit, the original "Guillaume Tell," the original "Robert,"

the original "Raoul," the original "Gustave," was then at the height of

his fame; but he was destined to be challenged four years afterwards by

a very formidable rival. He was the first, and the only first tenor at

the Académie Royale de Musique, where he had been singing with a zeal

and ardour equal to his genius for the last sixteen years, when the

management engaged Duprez, to divide the principal parts with the

vocalist already in office. After his long series of triumphs, Nourrit

had no idea of sharing his laurels in this manner; nor was he at all

sure that he was not about to be deprived of them altogether. "One of

the two must succeed at the expense of the other," he declared; and

knowing the attraction of novelty for the public, he was not at all sure

that the unfortunate one would not be himself.



"Duprez knows me," he said, "and comes to sing where I am. I do not know

him, and naturally fear his approach." After thinking over the matter

for a few days he resolved to leave the theatre. He chose for his last

appearance the second act of Armide, in which "Renaud," the character

assigned to the tenor, has to exclaim to the warrior, "Artemidore"--



"Allez, allez remplir ma place,

Aux lieux d'où mon malheur me chasse," &c.



To which "Artemidore" replies--



"Sans vous que peut on entreprendre?

Celui qui vous bannit ne pourra se défendre

De souhaiter votre retour."



[Sidenote: NOURRIT.]



The scene was very appropriate to the position of the singer who was

about to be succeeded by Duprez. The public felt this equally with

Nourrit himself, and testified their sympathy for the departing Renaud,

by the most enthusiastic applause.



Nourrit took his farewell of the French public on the 1st of April,

1837, and on the 17th of the same month Duprez made his début at the

Académie, as "Arnold," in William Tell. The latter singer had already

appeared at the Comédie Française, where, at the age of fifteen, he was

entrusted with the soprano solos in the choruses of Athalie, and

afterwards at the Odéon, where he played the parts of "Almaviva," in the

Barber of Seville, and Ottavio," in Don Juan. He then visited Italy

for a short time, returned to Paris, and was engaged at the Opéra

Comique. Here his style was much admired, but his singing, on the whole,

produced no great impression on the public. He once more crossed the

Alps, studied assiduously, performed at various theatres in a great

number of operas, and by incessant practice, and thanks also to the

wonderful effect of the climate on his voice, attained the highest

position on the Italian stage, and was the favourite tenor of Italy at a

time when Rubini was singing every summer in London, and every winter in

Paris. Before visiting Italy the second time, Duprez was a "light

tenor," and was particularly remarkable for the "agility" of his

execution. A long residence in a southern climate appears to have quite

changed the nature of his voice; a transformation, however, which must

have been considerably aided by the nature of his studies. He returned

to France a tenore robusto, an impressive, energetic singer, excellin





Opera In France After The Departure Of Gluck Opera In Italy Germany And Russia During And In Connection With The Republican And Napoleonic Wars facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

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