The Italian Opera Under Handel





Handel at Hamburgh.--Handel in London.--The Queen's Theatre.--The

Royal Academy of Music.--Operatic Feuds.--Porpora and the

Nobility's Opera.





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

are:--



1711, when he produced Rinaldo, his first opera, at the Queen's

Theatre, in the Haymarket;



1720, when the Royal Academy of Music was established under his

management at the same theatre, (which, with the accession of George I.,

had become "the King's");



1734, when in commencing the season at the King's Theatre with a new

company, he had to contend against the "Nobility's Opera" just opened at

the Theatre in Lincoln's Inn Fields, under the direction of Porpora;



1735, when he moved to Covent Garden, Porpora and "la nobilita

Britannica" going at the same time to the King's Theatre.



[Sidenote: HANDEL AT HAMBURGH.]



Both operas failed in 1737, and Handel then went back to the King's

Theatre, for which he wrote his last opera Deidamia in 1740.



Of Handel's arrival in England, and of the manner in which his first

opera was received, I have spoken in the preceding chapter. Of his

previous life in Germany but little is recorded; indeed, he left that

country at the age of twenty-five. It is known, however, that he was for

some time engaged at the Hamburgh theatre, where operas had been

performed in the German language since 1678. Rinuccini's Dafne, set to

music by Schutz, was represented, as has been already mentioned, at

Dresden in 1627, (or according to other accounts 1630); but this was a

private affair in honour of a court marriage, and the first opera

produced in Germany in public, and in the German language, was Thiele's

Adam and Eve, which was given at Hamburgh in 1678. The reputation of

Keiser at the court of Wolfenbüttel caused the directors of the Hamburgh

Theatre, towards the close of the century, to send and offer him an

engagement; he accepted it, and in the course of twenty-seven years

produced as many as one hundred and sixty operas. Mattheson states that

both Handel and Hasse (who was afterwards director of the celebrated

Dresden Opera) formed their styles on that of Keiser.[20] Mattheson,

himself a composer, succeeded Keiser as conductor of the orchestra at

the Hamburgh Theatre, holding that post, however, conjointly with

Handel, whose quarrel and duel with Mattheson have often been related.

Handel was presiding in the orchestra while Mattheson was on the stage

performing in an opera of his own composition. The opera being

concluded, Mattheson proposed to take Handel's place at the harpsichord,

which the latter refused to give up. The rival conductors quarrelled as

they were leaving the theatre. The quarrel led to a blow and the blow to

a fight with swords in the market place, which was terminated by

Mattheson breaking the point of his sword on one of his antagonist's

buttons, or as others have it, on the score of his own opera, which

Handel carried beneath his coat.



Handel went from Hamburgh to Hanover, where, as we have seen, he

received an invitation from some English noblemen to visit London, and,

with the permission and encouragement of the Elector, accepted it.



[Sidenote: HANDEL AT HAMBURGH.]



Handel's Rinaldo was followed at the King's Theatre by his Il Pastor

Fido (1712), his Teseo (1713), and his Amadigi (1715). Soon after

the production of Amadigi, the performances at the King's Theatre seem

to have ceased until 1720, when the "Royal Academy of Music" was formed.

This so-called "Academy" was the result of a project to establish a

permanent Italian opera in London. It was supported by a number of the

nobility, with George I. at their head, and a fund of £50,000 was

raised among the subscribers, to which the king contributed £1,000. The

management of the "Academy" was entrusted to a governor, a deputy

governor, and twenty directors, (why not to a head master and

assistants?) and for the first year the Duke of Newcastle was appointed

governor; Lord Bingley, deputy governor; while among the directors were

the Dukes of Portland and Queensberry, the Earls of Burlington, Stair

and Waldegrave, Lords Chetwynd and Stanhope, Sir John Vanburgh,

(architect of the theatre), Generals Dormer, Wade, and Hunter, &c. The

worse than unmeaning title given to the new opera was of course imitated

from the French; the governor, deputy governor, and directors being

doubtless unacquainted with the circumstances under which the French

Opera received the misnomer which it still retains.[21] They might have

known, however, that the "Académie Royale" of Paris, at that time under

the direction of Rameau, was held in very little esteem, except by the

French themselves, as an operatic theatre, and moreover, that Italian

music was never performed there at all. Indeed, for half a century

afterwards, the French execrated Italian music and would not listen to

Italian singers--which gives us some notion of what musical taste in

France must have been at the time of our Royal Academy being founded.

The title would have been absurd even if the French Opera had been the

finest in Europe; as it was nothing of the kind, and as it was,

moreover, sworn to its own native psalmody, to give such a title to an

Italian theatre, supported by musicians and singers of the greatest

excellence, was a triple absurdity. Strangely enough, even in the

present day, the Americans, as ingenious as the English of George I.'s

reign, call their magnificent Italian Opera House at New York the

Academy of Music. As a matter of association, it would be far more

reasonable to call it the "St. Charles's Theatre," or the "Scale

Theatre."



The musical direction of our Royal Academy of Music was confided to

Handel, who, besides composing for the theatre himself, engaged

Buononcini and Ariosti to write for it. He also proceeded to Dresden,

already celebrated throughout Europe for the excellence of its Italian

Opera, and engaged Senesino, Berenstadt, Boschi, and Signora Durastanti.



Handel's first opera at the Royal Academy of Music was Radamisto,

which was hailed on its production as its composer's masterpiece. "It

seems," says Dr. Burney, "as if he was not insensible of its worth, as

he dedicated a book of the words to the king, George I., subscribing

himself his Majesty's 'most faithful subject,' which, as he was neither

a Hanoverian by birth, nor a native of England, seems to imply his

having been naturalised here by a bill in Parliament."



[Sidenote: ACADEMIES OF MUSIC.]



Buononcini, (who, compared with Handel, was a ninny, though others said

that to him Handel was scarcely fit to hold a candle, &c.) produced his

first opera also in 1720. It was received with much favour, and by the

Buononcinists with enthusiasm.



The next opera was Muzio Scevola, composed by Handel, Buononcini, and

Ariosti together. It is said that the task of joint production was

imposed upon the three musicians by the masters of the Academy, by way

of competitive examination, and with a view to test the abilities of

each in a decisive manner. If there were any grounds for believing the

story, it might be asked, who among the directors were thought, or

thought themselves qualified to act as judges in so difficult and

delicate a matter.



In the meanwhile the opera of the three composers did but little good to

the theatre, which, in spite of its admirable company, was found a

losing speculation, after a little more than a year, to the extent of

£15,000. Thirty-five thousand pounds remained to be paid up, but the

rest of the subscription money was not forthcoming, and the directors

were unable to obtain it until after they had advertised in the

newspapers that defaulters would be proceeded against "with the utmost

rigour of the law."



A new mode of subscription was then devised, by which tickets were

granted for the season of fifty performances on receipt of ten guineas

down, and an engagement to pay five guineas more on the 1st of February,

and a second five guineas on the 1st of May. Thus originated the

operatic subscription list which has been continued with certain

modifications, and with a few short intervals, up to the present day.



Buononcini's Griselda, which passes for his best opera, was produced

in 1722, with Anastasia Robinson in the part of the heroine. Handel's

Ottone and Flavio were brought out in 1723; his Giulio Cesare and

Tamerlano in 1724; his Rodelinda in 1725; his Scipione and

Alessandro in 1726; his Admeto and Ricardo in 1727; his Siroe

and Tolomeo in 1728--when the Royal Academy of Music, which had been

carried on with varying success, and on the whole with considerable ill

success, finally closed.



[Sidenote: FAILURE OF ITALIAN OPERA IN LONDON.]



Buononcini's last opera, Astyanax, was produced in 1727, after which

the Duchess of Marlborough, his constant patroness, gave the composer a

pension of five hundred a year. A few years afterwards, however, he

stole a madrigal, the invention of a Venetian named Lotti, and the theft

having been discovered and clearly proved, Buononcini left the country

in disgrace. Similar thefts are practised in the present day, but with

discretion and with ingeniously worded title pages. Buononcini should

have simply called his plagiarism a "Venetian Madrigal, dedicated to the

Duchess of Marlborough by G. Buononcini." This unfortunate composer,

whom Swift had certainly described in a prophetic spirit as "a ninny,"

left England in 1733, with an Italian Count whose title appears to have

been about as authentic as Buononcini's madrigal, and who pretended to

possess the art of making gold, but abstained from practising it

otherwise than by swindling. Buononcini was for a time the dupe of this

impostor. In the meanwhile he continued the exercise of his profession,

at Paris, where we lose sight of him. In 1748, however, he went to

Vienna, and by command of the Emperor composed the music for the

festivities given in celebration of the peace of Aix-la-Chapelle. Thence

he proceeded with Montecelli, the composer, to Venice, where the affair

of the madrigal was probably by this time forgotten. At all events, no

importance was attached to it, and Buononcini was engaged to write an

opera for the Carnival. He was at this time nearly ninety years of age.

The date of his death is not recorded, but Dr. Burney tells us that he

is supposed to have lived till nearly a hundred.



[Sidenote: THE BEGGARS' OPERA.]



Besides the annual subscriptions, to the Royal Academy of Music the

whole of the original capital of £50,000 was spent in seven years. In

spite, then, of the admirable works produced by Handel, the unrivalled

company by which they were executed, and the immense sums of money

lavished upon the entertainment generally, the Italian Opera in London

proved in 1728 what it had proved twelve years before, a positive and

unmistakable failure. This could scarcely have been owing, as has been

surmised, to the violence of the disputes concerning the merits of

Handel and Buononcini, the composers, or of Faustina and Cuzzoni, the

singers, for the natural effect of such contests would have been to keep

up an interest in the performances. Probably few at that time had any

real love for Italian music. A certain number, no doubt, attended the

Italian Opera for the sake of fashion, but the greater majority of the

theatre-going public were quite indifferent to its charms. Dr.

Arbuthnot, one of the few literary men of the day who seems to have

really cared for music, writes as follows, in the London Journal,

under the date of March 23rd, 1728:--"As there is nothing which

surprises all true lovers of music more than the neglect into which the

Italian operas are at present fallen, so I cannot but think it a very

extraordinary instance of the fickle and inconstant temper of the

English nation, a failing which they have always been endeavouring to

cast upon their neighbours in France, but to which they themselves have

just as good a title, as will appear to any one who will take the

trouble to consult our historians." He points out that after adopting

the Italian Opera with eagerness, we began, as soon as we had obtained

it in perfection, to make it a pretext for disputes instead of enjoying

it, and concludes that it was supported among us for a time, not from

genuine taste, but simply from fashion. He observes that The Beggars'

Opera, then just produced, was "a touchstone to try British taste on,"

and that it has "proved effectual in discovering our true inclinations,

which, however artfully they may have been disguised for a while, will

one time or another, start up and disclose themselves. Æsop's story of

the cat, who, at the petition of her lover, was changed into a fine

woman, is pretty well known, notwithstanding which alteration, we find

that upon the appearance of a mouse, she could not resist the temptation

of springing out of her husband's arms to pursue it, though it was on

the very wedding night. Our English audience have been for some time

returning to their cattish nature, of which some particular sounds from

the gallery have given us sufficient warning. And since they have so

openly declared themselves, I must only desire that they will not think

they can put on the fine woman again just when they please, but content

themselves with their skill in caterwauling. For my own part, I cannot

think it would be any loss to real lovers of music, if all those false

friends who have made pretensions to it only in compliance with the

fashion, would separate themselves from them; provided our Italian Opera

could be brought under such regulations as to go on without them. We

might then be able to sit and enjoy an entertainment of this sort, free

from those disturbances which are frequent in English theatres, without

any regard, not only to performers, but even to the presence of Majesty

itself. In short, my comfort is, that though so great a desertion may

force us so to contract the expenses of our operas, as would put an end

to our having them in as great perfection as at present, yet we shall be

able at least to hear them without interruption."



The Faustina and Cuzzoni disputes, to which Arbuthnot alludes, where he

speaks of "those disturbances which are frequent in English theatres,"

appear to have been quite as violent as those with which the names of

Handel and Buononcini are associated. Most of this musical party-warfare

(of which the most notorious examples are those just mentioned, the

Gluck and Piccinni contests in Paris, and the quarrels between the

admirers of Madame Mara and Madame Todi in the same city) has been

confined to England and France, though a very pretty quarrel was once

got up at the Dresden Theatre, between the followers of Faustina, at

that time the wife of Hasse the composer, and Mingotti. The Italians

have shown themselves changeable and capricious, and have often hissed

one night those whom they have applauded the night afterwards; but, in

the Italian Theatres, we find no instances of systematic partisanship

maintained obstinately and stolidly for years, and I fancy that it is

only among unmusical nations, or in an unmusical age, that anything of

the kind takes place. The ardour and duration of such disputes are

naturally in proportion to the ignorance and folly of the disputants. In

science, or even in art, where the principles of art are well

understood, they are next to impossible. Self-styled connoisseurs,

however, with neither taste nor knowledge can go on squabbling about

composers and singers, especially if they never listen to them, to all

eternity.



[Sidenote: FAUSTINA AND CUZZONI.]



Faustina and Cuzzoni were both admirable vocalists, and in entirely

different styles, so that there was not even the shadow of a pretext

for praising one at the expense of the other. Tosi, their contemporary,

in his Osservazzioni sopra il Canto Figurato,[22] thus compares them:

"The one," he says (meaning Faustina), "is inimitable for a privileged

gift of singing and enchanting the world with an astonishing felicity in

executing difficulties with a brilliancy I know not whether derived from

nature or art, which pleases to excess. The delightful soothing

cantabile of the other, joined to the sweetness of a fine voice, a

perfect intonation, strictness of time, and the rarest productions of

genius in her embellishments, are qualifications as peculiar and

uncommon as they are difficult to be imitated. The pathos of the one and

the rapidity of the other are distinctly characteristic. What a

beautiful mixture it would be, if the excellences of these two angelic

beings could be united in a single individual!"



Quantz, the celebrated flute-player, and teacher of that instrument to

Frederic the Great, came to London in 1727, and heard Handel's Admeto

executed to perfection at the Royal Academy of Music. The principal

parts were filled by Senesino, Cuzzoni and Faustina, and Quantz's

account of the two latter agrees, with that given by Signor Tosi.

Cuzzoni had a soft limpid voice, a pure intonation, a perfect shake. Her

style was simple, noble and touching. In allegro movements, her rapidity

of execution was not remarkable, &c., &c. Her acting was cold, and

though she was very beautiful, her beauty produced no effect on the

stage. Faustina, on the other hand, was passionate and full of

expression, as an actress, while as a vocalist she was remarkable for

the fluency and brilliancy of her articulation, and could sing with ease

what would have been considered difficult passages for the violin. Her

rapid repetition of the same note--(the violin "tremolo") was one of

her most surprising feats. This artifice was afterwards imitated with

the greatest success by Farinelli, Monticelli, Visconti, and the

charming Mingotti, and at a later period, Madame Catalani produced some

of her greatest effects in the same style.



Faustina and Cuzzoni made their first appearance together at Venice in

1719. In 1725, Faustina went to Vienna, and met with an enthusiastic

reception from the habitués of the Court Theatre. She left Vienna the

same year for London, where she arrived when Cuzzoni's reputation was at

its height.



[Sidenote: FAUSTINA AND CUZZONI.]



Cuzzoni made her first appearance in London in 1723, and was a member of

Handel's company when the singers were engaged, at the suggestion of the

regent, to give a series of performances in Paris; this engagement,

which was due in the first instance to the solicitations of the

Marchioness de Prie, was, as I have already mentioned, never carried

out. Whether the Faustina and Cuzzoni disputes originated with a cabal

against the singer in possession of the public favour, or whether the

admirers of the accepted favorite felt it their duty to support her by

attacking all new comers, is not by any means clear; but Faustina had

scarcely arrived when the feud commenced. Quanta tells us that as soon

as one began to sing, the partisans of the other began to hiss. The

Cuzzoni party, which was headed by the Countess of Pembroke, made a

point of hissing whenever Faustina appeared. Faustina, who if not

better-looking, was more agreeable than Cuzzoni, had most of the men on

her side. Her patronesses were the Countess of Burlington and Lady

Delawar.



The most remarkable of the many disturbances caused by the rivalry

between these two singers (forced upon them as it was) took place in

June 1727. The London Journal of June 10th in that year, tells us in

its description of the affair, that "the contention at first was only

carried on by hissing on one side and clapping on the other, but

proceeded at length to the melodious use of cat-calls and other

accompaniments which manifested the zeal and politeness of that

illustrious assembly." We are further informed that the Princess

Catherine was there, but neither her Royal Highness's presence, nor the

laws of decorum could restrain the glorious ardour of the combatants.

The appearance of Faustina appears to have been the signal for the

commencement of this disgraceful riot, to judge from the following

epigram on the proceedings of the night.



"Old poets sing that beasts did dance,

Whenever Orpheus played;

So to Faustina's charming voice

Wise Pembroke's asses brayed."



Cuzzoni had also her poet, and her departure from England was the

occasion of the following pretty but silly lines, addressed to her by

Ambrose Phillips:--



"Little Syren of the stage,

Charmer of an idle age,

Empty warbler, breathing lyre,

Wanton gale of fond desire;

Bane of every manly art,

Sweet enfeebler of the heart,

O, too pleasing is thy strain,

Hence to Southern climes again!

Tuneful mischief, vocal spell,

To this island bid farewell;

Leave us as we ought to be,

Leave the Britons rough and free."





The Britons had shown themselves sufficiently "rough and free," while

Cuzzoni was singing to them. The circumstances of this vocalist's

leaving London were rather curious, and show to what an extent the

Faustina and Cuzzoni disputes must have disgusted the directors of the

Academy; the caprice of one of them must also have irritated Handel

considerably, for it is related that once when Cuzzoni, at a rehearsal,

positively refused to sing an air that Handel had written for her, she

could only be convinced of the necessity of doing so by the composer

threatening to throw her out of the window. It was known that each was

about to sign a new contract, and Cuzzoni's patronesses made her take an

oath not to accept lower terms than Faustina. The directors ingeniously

and politely took advantage of this, and offered her exactly one guinea

less.



[Sidenote: FAUSTINA AND CUZZONI.]



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

field of battle.



However, Faustina, after the failure of the Academy in the following

year, herself returned to Italy, and met her rival at Venice in 1729,

and again, in 1730. Cuzzoni returned to London in 1734, and sang at the

Opera in Lincoln's-Inn Fields, established under the direction of

Porpora, in opposition to Handel. She visited London a third time in

1750, when a concert was given for her benefit; but the poor little

syren was now old and infirm; she had lost her voice, and even the

enemies of Faustina would not come to applaud her. This stage queen had

a most melancholy end. From England she went to Holland, where she was

imprisoned for debt, being allowed, however, to go out in the evenings

(doubtless under the guardianship of a jailer) and sing at the theatres,

by which means she gained enough money to obtain her liberation. Having

quite lost her voice, she is said to have maintained herself for some

time at Bologna by button-making. The manner of her death is not known;

but probably she had the same end as those stage-queens mentioned by the

dramatic critic in Candide: "On les adore quand elles sont belles, on

les jette a la voirie quand elles sont mortes."



The career of Faustina on the other hand did not belie her auspicious

name. In 1727, at Venice, she met Hasse, whose music owed much of its

success to her admirable singing. The composer fell in love with this

charming vocalist, married her, and in 1730 accepted an offer from

Augustus, King of Poland, and Elector of Saxony, to direct the Opera of

Dresden. Here Faustina renewed her successes, and for fifteen years

reigned with undisputed supremacy at the Court Theatre. Then, however, a

new Cuzzoni appeared in the person of Signora Mingotti.



[Sidenote: MINGOTTI.]



Regina Valentini, a pupil and domestic at the Convent of the Ursulines,

possessed a beautiful voice, but so little taste for household work,

that to avoid its drudgery and the ridicule to which her inability to go

through it exposed her, she resolved to make what profit she could out

of her singing. Old Mingotti, the manager, was willing enough to aid her

in this laudable enterprise; and accordingly married her and put her

under the tuition of Porpora, the future opponent of Handel, and actual

rival of Hasse. In due time Mingotti made her first appearance at the

Dresden Opera, when her singing called forth almost unanimous applause;

we say "almost," because Hasse and some of his personal friends

persisted in denying her talent. The successful débutante was offered

a lucrative engagement at Naples, where she created the greatest

enthusiasm by her performance of the part of Aristea in the

Olimpiade, with music by Galuppi. Mingotti was now the great singer of

the day; she received propositions from managers in all parts of Europe,

but decided to return to the scene of her earnest triumphs at Dresden.

This was in 1748.



Haase was then composing his Demofonte. He knew well enough the

strong, and thought he had remarked the weak, points in Mingotti's

voice; and, in order to show the latter to the greatest possible

disadvantage, provided the unsuspecting singer with an adagio which rose

and fell upon the very notes which he considered the most doubtful in

her unusually perfect organ. To render the vocalist's deficiencies as

apparent as possible, he did the next thing to making her sing the

insidious adagio without accompaniment; for the only accompaniment he

wrote for it was a pizzicato of violins. Regina at the very first

rehearsal, understood the snare, said nothing about it, but studied her

adagio till she sang it with such perfection that what had been

intended to discover her weakness only served in the most striking

manner to exhibit her strength. The air which was to have ruined

Mingotti's reputation brought her the greatest success she had ever

obtained. Her execution was so faultless that Faustina herself could

find nothing to say against it. A story is told of Sir Charles Williams,

the English Minister at the Court of Dresden, who had taken a prominent

part in the Hasse and Faustina cabal, and had been in the habit of

saying that Mingotti was doubtless a brilliant singer, but that in the

expressive style and in passages of sustained notes she was heard to

disadvantage--a story is told of this candid and gentlemanly critic

going to Mingotti after she had sung her treacherous solo, and

apologizing to her publicly for ever having entertained a doubt as to

the completeness of her talent.



Hasse remained thirty-three years in the service of the Elector and made

the Dresden Opera the first in Europe; but in 1763 the troubles of

unhappy Poland having begun, he retired with Faustina on a small pension

to Vienna and thence to Venice, where they both died in the year 1783,

Hasse being then eighty-four years of age and his wife ninety.



* * * * *



The most celebrated of the other singers at the Royal Academy of Music

were Durastanti and Senesino, both of whom were engaged by Handel at

Dresden, and appeared in London at the opening of the new establishment.

In 1723, however, Cuzzoni arrived, and Durastanti, acknowledging the

superior merit of that singer, took her departure. At least the

acknowledgment was made for her in a song written by Pope, which she

addressed to the audience at her farewell performance, and which ended

with this couplet:--



"But let old charmers yield to new;

Happy soil, adieu, adieu!"



[Sidenote: SENESINO.]



Either singers were very different then from what they are now, or

Durastanti could not have understood these lines, which, strangely

enough, are said to have been written by Pope at the desire of her

patron, the Earl of Peterborough. Surely Anastasia Robinson, the future

Countess, would not have thanked the earl for such a compliment, in

however perfect a style it might have been expressed. Madame Durastanti

appears to have been much esteemed in England, and I read in the

Evening Post of March 7th, 1721, that "Last Thursday, His Majesty was

pleased to stand godfather, and the Princess and the Lady Bruce

godmothers, to a daughter of Mrs. Durastanti, chief singer in the opera

house. The Marquis Visconti for the king, and the Lady Lichfield for the

princess."



Senesino, successor to Nicolini, and the second of the noble order of

sopranists who appeared in England, was the principal contralto singer

("modo vir, modo foemina") in Handel's operas, until 1726, when the

state of his health compelled him to return to Italy. He came back to

England in 1730, and resumed his position at the King's Theatre, under

Handel. In 1733, when the rival company was formed at the Lincoln's Inn

Theatre, Senesino joined it, but retired after the appearance of

Farinelli, who at once eclipsed all other singers.



Steele's journal, The Theatre, entertains us with a brief account of

the vanity of one Signor Beneditti, who appears to have performed

principal parts, at least for a time, at the Opera in 1720. The paper,

which is written by Sir Richard Steele's coadjutor, Sir John Edgar,

commences with a furious onslaught on a company of French actors, who

were at that time performing in London, and of whose opening

representation we are told that "if we are any longer to march on two

legs, and not be quite prone, and on all four like the other animals"

we must "assume manhood and humane indignation against so barbarous an

affront. But I foresee," continues Sir John,[23] "that the theatre is to

be utterly destroyed, and sensation is to banish reflection as sound is

to beat down sense. The head and the heart are to be moved no more, but

the basest parts of the body to be hereafter the sole instruments of

human delight. A regular, orderly, and well-governed company of actors,

that lived in reputation and credit and under decent settlement are to

be torn to pieces and made vagabond, to make room for even foreign

vagrants, who deserved no reception but in Bridewell, even before they

affronted the assembly, composed of British nobility and gentry, with

representations that could introduce nothing of even French except, &c.

....Though the French are so boisterous and void of all moderation or

temper in their conduct, the Italians are a more tractable and elegant

nation. If the French players have laid aside all shame, the Italian

singers are as eminently nice and delicate, which the reader will

observe from the following account I have received from the Haymarket.



[Sidenote: CAPRICES OF SINGERS.]



"'Sir,--



"'It happened in casting parts for the new opera, Signor Beneditti

conceived he had been greatly injured, and applied to the board of

directors for redress. He set forth in the recitative tone, the

nearest approaching to ordinary speech, that he had never acted

anything in any other opera below the character of a sovereign, and

now he was to be appointed to be captain of a guard. On these

representations, we directed that he should make love to Zenobia,

with proper limitations. The chairman signified to him that the

board had made him a lover, but he must be content to be an

unfortunate one, and be rejected by his mistress. He expressed

himself very easy under this, and seemed to rejoice that,

considering the inconstancy of women, he could only feign, not

pursue the passion to extremity. He muttered very much against

making him only the guard to the character he had formerly appeared

in,'" &c.



A small and not uninteresting volume might be written about the caprices

of singers and their behaviour under real or imaginary slights. One of

the best stories of the kind is told of Crescentini, who, three-quarters

of a century later, at the first representation of Gli Orazi e

Curiazi, observed immediately before the commencement of the

performance, that the costume of Orazio was more magnificent than his

own. He sent for the stage manager, and burning with rage, addressed him

as follows:--



"Perche," he commenced, "avez vous donné oun habit blanc à ce

mossiou; et che vous m'en avez gratifié d'oun vert?"



It was explained to the singer that there was a tradition at the

Comédie Francaise by which the costume of the principal Horatius was

white and that of the chief of the Curiatii, green.



"Perché la bordoure rouze à un primo tenore, el la bordoure

noire à oun primo virtuoso?" continued the incensed sopranist.



"No one was thinking," replied the stage manager, "of your positions as

singers; our only object was to make the costumes as correct as

possible."



"Votre ousaze et votre ezatitoude sont des imbéciles," exclaimed

Crescentini; "zé mé lagnérai de votre condouite envers moi. Quant à

vous, mossiou Brizzi fate-mi il piacere dé vous déshabiller subito

et dé mé fairé passer questo vestito in baratto dou mien qué zé vais

vous envoyer. Per Bacco! non si dirà qu'oun tenore aura parou miou

vétou qu'oun primo oumo, surtout quand ce primo virtuoso est Girolamo

Crescentini d'Urbino."



An exchange took place on the spot, and throughout the evening a

Curiatius, six feet high, was seen wearing a little Roman costume, which

looked as if it would burst with each movement of the singer, while a

diminutive Horatius was attired in a long Alban tunic, of which the

skirt trailed along the ground.



* * * * *



[Sidenote: HANDEL AND HEIDEGGER.]



But the singers are taking us away from the Opera. Let us return to

Handel, all of whose vocalists together, admirable as they were, could

not save the Royal Academy of Music from ruin. After the final failure

of that enterprise in 1728, the directors entered into an arrangement

with Heidegger for opening the King's Theatre under their joint

management. Handel went to Italy to engage new singers, but did not make

a very brilliant selection. Heidegger, nevertheless, did his duty as a

manager, and introduced the principal members of the new company to

public notice in the following "puff direct," which, for cool unadorned

impudence, has not been surpassed even in the present day. "Mr. Handel,

who is just returned from Italy, has contracted with the following

persons to perform in the Italian Operas, Signor Bernacchi, who is

esteemed the best singer in Italy; Signora Merighi, a woman of a very

fine presence, an excellent actress, and a very good singer, with a

counter-tenor voice; Signora Strada, who hath a very fine treble voice,

a person of singular merit; Signor Annibale Pio Fabri, a most excellent

tenor, and a fine voice; his wife, who performs a man's part well;

Signora Bertoldi, who has a very fine treble voice, she is also a very

genteel actress, both in men and women's parts; a bass voice, from

Hamburgh, there being none worth engaging in Italy."



I fancy this was an attempt to carry on Italian Opera at a reduced

expenditure, for as soon as the speculation began to fail, the popular

Senesino was again engaged. Handel had had a serious quarrel with this

singer, but when a manager is in want of a star, and a star is tempted

with a lucrative engagement, personal feelings are not taken into

account. They ought to have been, however, in this particular case, at

least by Handel, for the breach between the composer and the singer was

renewed, and Senesino left the King's Theatre to join the company which

was being formed at the Lincoln's Inn Theatre, under the direction of

Porpora.



Handel now set out once more for Italy, but again failed to engage any

singers of celebrity, with the exception of Carestini, whom he heard at

Bologna at the same time as Farinelli. That he should have preferred the

former to the latter seems unaccountable, for by the common consent of

musicians, critics, and the public, Farinelli, wherever he sang, was

pronounced the greatest singer of his time, and it appears certain that

no singer ever affected an audience in so powerful a manner. The

passionate (and slightly blasphemous) exclamation of the entranced

Englishwoman, "One God and one Farinelli," together with the almost

magical effect of Farinelli's voice in tranquilising the half demented

Ferdinand VI., seems to show that his singing must have been something

like the music of patriarchal times; which charmed serpents, and which

in a later age throws highly impressionable women into convulsions.



[Sidenote: THE NATIONAL ANTHEM.]



I have already mentioned that in going or returning to Italy this last

time, Handel appears to have passed through Paris, and to have paid a

contemptuous sort of attention to French music. It is then, if ever,

that he should be accused of having stolen for our national anthem, an

air left by Lulli--which he did not, and which Lulli could not have

composed. The ridiculous story which would make our English patriotic

hymn an adaptation from the French, is told for the first time I believe

in the Duchess of Perth's letters. But instead of "God save the Queen"

being translated from a canticle sung by the Ladies of St. Cyr, the

pretended canticle is a translation of "God save the Queen." Here is the

French version--



"Grand Dieu, sauvez le Roi!

Grand Dieu, vengez le Roi!

Vive le Roi!

Que toujours glorieux

Louis victorieux

Voie ses ennemis

Toujours soumis.



If it could be proved that this "canticle" was sung by the Ladies of St.

Cyr, England could no longer claim the authorship of "God save the

Queen," as far, at least, as the words are concerned; and it is evident

that the words, which are scarcely readable as poetry, though excellent

for singing, were written either for or with the music. M. Castil Blaze,

however (in Molière Musicien, Vol. I., page 501), points out that "si

l'on ignorait que la musique de cet air est, non pas de Handel, comme

plusieurs l'ont assuré mais de Henri Carey la version Française

prouverait du moins que cette melódie, scandée en sdruccioli ne peut

appartenir au siècle de Louis XIV.; nos vers à glissades etaient

parfaitement inconnus de Quinault et de Lulli, de Bernard et de

Rameau."



[Sidenote: THE NATIONAL ANTHEM.]



Mr. Schoelcher, like many other writers, attributes "God save the

King" to Dr. John Bull, but Mr. W. Chappell, in his "Popular Music of

the Olden Time," has shown that Dr. John Bull did not compose it in its

present form, and that in all probability Henry Carey did, and that

words and music together, as we know it in the present day, our national

anthem dates only from 1740. Lulli did not compose it, but it was not

composed before his time, nor before Handel's either. The air has been

so altered, or rather, developed, by the various composers who have

handled it since a simple chant on the four words "God save the King"

was harmonised by Dr. John Bull, and afterwards converted from an

indifferent tune into an admirable one (through the fortunate blundering

of a copyist, as it has been surmised), that it may almost be said to

have grown. What an interesting thing to be able to establish the fact

of its gradual formation, like the political system of that nation to

whose triumphs it has long been an indispensable accompaniment! But how

humiliating to find that somebody marked in Dr. Bull's manuscript a

sharp where there should have been no sharp, and that our glorious

anthem owes its existence to a mistake! Mr. Chappell prints three or

four ballads and part songs in his work, beginning at the reign of James

I., either or all of which may have been the foundation of "God save

the King," but it appears certain that our national hymn in its present

form was first sung, and almost note for note as it is sung now, by H.

Carey, in 1740, in celebration of the taking of Portobello by Admiral

Vernon.[24]



Handel did not compose "God save the King;" but he had good reason for

singing it, considering the steady and liberal patronage he received

from our three first Georges. When, after the expiration of his contract

with Heidegger, he removed to Covent Garden, in 1735, still carrying on

the war against Porpora (who removed at the same time to the King's

Theatre), George II. subscribed £1,000 towards the expenses of Handel's

management, and it was the support of the King and the Royal Family that

enabled him to combat the influence that was brought to bear against him

by the aristocracy. Handel, according to Arbuthnot, owed his failure, in

a great measure, the first time, to the Beggars' Opera. The second

time, on the other hand, it was the Nobility's Opera that ruined him.

Handel, as we have seen, had only Carestini to depend upon. Porpora, his

rival, had secured two established favourites, Cuzzoni and Senesino

(both members of Handel's old company at the Academy), and had,

moreover, engaged Farinelli, by far the greatest singer of the epoch.

Nevertheless, Porpora failed almost at the same time as Handel, and at

the end of the year 1737, there was no Italian Opera at all in London.



Handel joined Heidegger once more in 1738, at the King's Theatre. In two

years he wrote four operas, of which the fourth, Deidamia, was the

last he ever produced. After this he abandoned dramatic music, and, as a

composer of Oratorios, entered upon what was to him a far higher career.

Handel was at this time fifty-six years of age, and since his arrival in

England, in 1711, he had written no less than thirty-five Italian

operas.



[Sidenote: CAPABILITIES OF MUSIC.]



Handel's Italian operas, as such, are now quite obsolete. The air from

Admeto is occasionally heard at a concert, and Handel is known to have

introduced some of his operatic melodies into his Oratorios, but there

is no chance of any one of his operas ever being reproduced in a

complete form. They were never known out of England, and in this country

were soon laid aside after their composer had fairly retired from

theatrical management. I think Mr. Hogarth[25] is only speaking with his

usual judiciousness, when he observes, that "whatever pleasure they must

have given to the audiences of that age, they would fail to do so

now.... The music of the principal parts," he continues, "were written

for a class of voices which no longer exists,[26] and for these parts no

performers could now be found. A series of recitatives and airs, with

only an occasional duet, and a concluding chorus of the slightest kind,

would appear meagre and dull to ears accustomed to the brilliant

concerted pieces and finales of the modern stage; and Handel's

accompaniments would appear thin and poor amidst the richness and

variety of the modern orchestra. The vocal parts, too, are to a great

extent, in an obsolete taste. Many of the airs are mere strings of dry,

formal divisions and unmeaning passages of execution, calculated to show

off the powers of the fashionable singers; and many others, admirable in

their design, and containing the finest traits of melody and expression,

are spun out a wearisome length, and deformed by the cumbrous trappings

with which they are loaded. Musical phrases, too, when Handel used them,

had the charm of novelty, have become familiar and common through

repetition by his successors."



Among the airs which Handel has taken from his Operas and introduced

into his Oratorios, may be mentioned Rendi l' sereno al ciglio, from

Sosarme, now known as Lord, remember David, and Dove sei amato

bene, in Rodelinda, which has been converted into Holy, Holy, Lord

God Almighty. That these changes have been made with perfect success,

proves, if any proof were still wanted by those who have ever given a

minute's consideration to the subject, that there is no such thing as

absolute definite expression in music. The music of an impassioned love

song will seem equally appropriate as that of a fervent prayer, except

to those who have already associated it intimately in their memories

with the words to which it has first been written. A positive feeling

of joy, or of grief, of exultation, or of depression, of liveliness, or

of solemnity, can be expressed by musical means without the assistance

of words, but not mixed feelings, into which several shades of sentiment

enter--at least not with definiteness; though once indicated by the

words, they will obtain from music the most admirable colours which will

even appear to have been invented expressly and solely for them. Gluck

arranged old music to suit new verses quite as much, or more, than

Handel--even Gluck who maintained that music ought to convey the precise

signification, not only of a dramatic situation, but of the very words

of a song, phrase by phrase, if not word by word.



* * * * *



[Sidenote: HANDEL AND OUR ITALIAN OPERA.]



During the period of Handel's presidency over our Italian Opera, works

not only by Handel and his colleagues, but also by Scarlatti, Hasse,

Porpora, Vinci, Veracini, and other composers were produced at the

King's Theatre, at Covent Garden, and at Porpora's Theatre in Lincoln's

Inn Fields. After Handel's retirement, operas by Galuppi, Pergolese,

Jomelli, Gluck, and Piccinni, were performed, and the most distinguished

singers in Europe continued to visit London. In 1741, when the Earl of

Middlesex undertook the management of the King's Theatre, Galuppi was

engaged as composer, and produced several operas: among others,

Penelope, Scipione, and Enrico. In 1742, the Olimpiade, with

music by Pergolese (a pupil of Hasse, and the future composer of the

celebrated Serva Padrona) was brought out. After Galuppi's return to

Italy, in 1744, the best of his new operas continued to be produced in

London. His Mondo della Luna was represented in 1760, when the English

public were delighted with the gaiety of the music, and with the

charming acting and singing of Signora Paganini. The year afterwards a

still greater success was achieved with the same composer's Filosofo di

Campagna, which, says Dr. Burney, "surpassed in musical merit all the

comic operas that were performed in England till the Buona Figliola."

Not only were Gluck's earlier and comparatively unimportant works

performed in London soon after their first production at Vienna, but his

Orfeo, the first of those great works written in the style which we

always associate with Gluck's name, was represented in London in 1770,

four years before Gluck went to Paris. Indeed, ever since the arrival of

Handel in this country, London has been celebrated for its Italian

Opera, whereas the French had no regular continuous performances of

Italian Opera until nearly a hundred years afterwards. Handel did much

to create a taste for this species of entertainment, and by the

excellent execution which he took care every opera produced under his

direction should receive, he set an example to his successors of which

the value can scarcely be over-estimated, and which it must be admitted

has, on the whole, been followed with intelligence and enterprise.





The French Opera Before And After The Revolution The Opera In England At The End Of The Eighteenth And Beginning Of The Nineteenth Century facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

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