Of The Opera In The Concrete





"Lord! said my mother, what is all this story about?



"A cock and a bull, said Yorick--and one of the best of its kind I

ever heard."--TRISTRAM SHANDY.



Prince Henry. "'Wilt thou rob this leather-jerkin,

crystal-button, nott-pated, agate-ring, puke stocking,

caddis-garter, smooth-tongue, Spanish-pouch,--"



Francis. "O Lord, sir, who do you mean?"



P. Hen. "Why then, your brown bastard is your only drink: for,

look you, Francis, your white canvas doublet will sully; in

Barbary, sir, it cannot come to so much." FIRST PART OF KING HENRY

IV.



"If this were played upon a stage, now, I would condemn it as an

improbable fiction." TWELFTH NIGHT.





When the curtain rises the scene represents a dark forest, where some

quite well dressed, but desperate, foreign-looking gentlemen are engaged

at a game of cards, which, from the abandoned appearance of the players,

we are warranted to believe, must be some such low pastime as "all

fours," or a hand at poker. The desperate gentlemen cantatorially

inform the audience that their profession is that of outlaws, and remark

that having no particular business then to engage them, they are staking

quite extravagant sums on some cards, which the curious observer will

discover to have a very unctuous appearance. How the outlaws ever came

to be reduced to such straightened circumstances as to put up with these

"lodgings upon the cold ground," or how they ever fell into such an

improper course of life, we are not told, but we remember once hearing a

fast man suggest that they were evidently "nobs who had overdrawn the

badger by driving fast cattle, and going it high"--the exact

signification of which words we did not understand, but supposed them to

refer to scions of nobility who had squandered their patrimonies in

riotous living. That these men are lost beyond the hope of redemption,

is clear from the fact that they express their determination to employ

themselves in no more useful or moral way; and how long they would

persist in this pernicious amusement is rendered uncertain, by the

entrance of their leader or chieftain--who, it is needless to say, is

the tenor. From, the first moment that the spectator casts his eye on

this obviously unfortunate individual, he is at once interested in his

case, observing to himself, that if the fellow is somewhat addicted to

low company, still he's a very gentlemanly character, and to all

appearance



"The mildest manner'd man

That ever sculled ship or cut a throat."



His looks are sad and melancholy, and would indicate that he is either

suffering from a cold in the head, or that his outlaws had been a little

more successful at "all fours" than himself. The "dejected haviour of

his visage" seems to touch the audience, for they immediately give him

several rounds of applause, no doubt with the intention of raising his

spirits. This kind manifestation of their feelings is responded to by

one or two low bows, and then he turns towards his outlaws to obtain a

becoming reception from them.



He is greeted by his followers with the greatest enthusiasm; though, to

their inquiries after his health, he makes no reply, but walks languidly

down to the foot-lights, and relates to both audience and outlaws, how

deplorable will be his condition unless he receive the assistance of

the latter in carrying out his designs. He goes on to state that the

"voice of a certain damsel of Arragon has slid into his heart like dew

upon a parched flower"--a simile which the reader will observe to be

equally felicitous as novel. He adds, however, that a great old villain

and tyrant (who of course must be the basso,) has carried off the

Spanish maiden, and is about to compel her to marry him. The bandits

become at once highly indignant, and with one accord seize their arms

and declare that they will follow their chief to the castle of the old

phylogynist, and boulverse all his designs by some insinuating digs of

the poignard. The despondent chief seems comforted by this assurance of

their "most distinguished consideration," and remarks that the young

lady will no doubt be a consoling angel amidst the griefs of exile.






While he has been informing the audience and his friends of the state of

his feelings, he has from time to time indulged in gestures about as

strong as we can well conceive of, but now and then when an

extraordinarily deep sentiment, and a very high note, choose the same

moment for their expression, he is obliged to poise himself on one

foot, extend the other behind him, elevating the heel and depressing the

toe, fold his hands over his breast, throw back the head and shake his

body like a newfoundland dog just issuing from the water--the refractory

note and the hidden emotion are always brought to light by these

gesticulatory expedients.



Immediately after this, the scene having changed to the castle of the

tyrant, the "Aragonese vergine" (the prima donna), is discovered

reclining on an old box covered with green baize, which long-continued

acquaintance with theatrical properties, enables the audience to

recognize as a velvet lounge. This lady seems to be in great

affliction, for which, however, we can discover no adequate cause,

except that she is in such an unbecoming place for an unprotected

female. The applause of the audience is overwhelming, and three very

low, but extremely graceful and lady-like curtsies which she rises "to

do," are the consequence.



The beaux are now in all the excitement that dandies dare permit

themselves to yield to, alternately exclaiming, "how grand she is! how

beautiful! heavens, but isn't she beautiful!" and then bringing down the

focus of the opera-glass on the peerless woman.



The distressed female now launches off into a recitative, in which she

expresses, in no measured terms, her utter aversion to the hateful old

tyrant, and then, falling on one knee, strikes into a cavatina, in which

she says she hopes her lover, who necessarily must be the outlaw chief,

(who again must necessarily be the tenor), will come immediately and run

off with her--a wish that is probably often entertained by young ladies

in reference to their particular lovers, but which is seldom avowed in

this public way.






During the cavatina, she has been doing some very high singing, and

making a great many of the newfoundland dog shakes, the lady part of the

audience sitting wrapt in admiration, with the eyes fastened on the

stage as intently as if they were witnessing a marriage ceremony, gently

murmuring their approbation in detached sentences, such as "sweet,

lovely, charming, exquisite;" while the fast men by the door, utter the

words "knocker, fast nag," and declare that her time is "two thirty."



One of these very sporting young gentlemen asserts his readiness to

"back her against the field." Just as the prima donna makes a very

steep raise in the scale with a dreadful velocity of utterance, the same

individual expresses his desire to withdraw the offer, observing that

she is making her "brushes" too soon, and that he fears "she'll be too

distressed to come home handsome."



A troupe of maidens with very plethoric ancles, now make their

appearance, encumbered by large gilt paste-board caskets, containing

some exceedingly brilliant paste-jewelry, intended as bridal presents

for the unprotected female. They have, however, the strangest mode of

offering these tokens of friendship that we have ever seen.






They arrange themselves in a line on one side of the stage, apparently

measuring their proximity to or distance from the foot-lights, with

reference to the relative thickness of their ankles, until the lady

nearest the audience seems to be the subject of a violent attack of

elephantiasis. This done, they repeatedly sing five bars, and stretch

out the right hand containing the present, in a line, forming, with the

body, an angle of about ninety degrees.



A certain king of Castile in disguise, who is another of the many

admirers of the heroine, breaks in on this little ceremony, expresses a

strong wish to see her, and is told by one of the maidens, that the

subject of his admirations is very much depressed in spirits, being

considerably smitten with the afore-mentioned outlaw chieftain. The king

is shocked at his adored one's want of taste in making a preference so

little flattering to himself, and endeavours to force her to escape with

him; but the young lady being highly indignant, draws a dagger, and

threatens "to go into him," if he don't cease taking such

liberties--thereby attracting considerable applause from some gentlemen

in a back box, who have a strong penchant for dog-fighting. The outlaw

happens to come in at the very nick of time, and after some quite

serious altercation between him and the disguised king, at the moment

when the "fancy" part of the audience are expecting a "set to," and

admiring the courage of the little tenor (the outlaw), which they

technically denominate the "game" of the "light weight," the heroine

rushes between them with a drawn sword, threatening to destroy herself

if they do not desist, and calling upon them to remember the honour of

her mansion--thereby, no doubt, alluding to the possibility of an

indictment for keeping a disorderly house.



The old tyrant, of whom we have heard a great deal, but have not as yet

seen, returns home late at night to his castle, and finding two unknown

gentlemen in his house without an invitation, conversing with his

shut-up lady, he charges them with the impropriety of their behaviour.

The strange gentlemen (the outlaw chief and the king in disguise), not

particularly relishing these observations, beg him not to be so violent

in his language. This seems only to incense the old fellow the more, who

has just suggested "coffee and pistols," when the aforesaid king's

followers entering, make the tyrant acquainted with the fact that he's

been blowing up a king. The parasitical old tyrant immediately

endeavours to excuse himself for the mistake he has made; says he hopes

his royal highness will not be offended, that he had not the pleasure of

his acquaintance, and all that sort of thing. The king rejoins that he

is perfectly excuseable; that no offence has been done--that the cause

of his own unlooked-for presence arises from the fact that he is out for

the emperorship--that he is about doing a little electioneering, and

that he just stopped in to learn the state of public feeling in his

district, and solicit his (the tyrant's) vote. The tyrant being a good

deal flattered by this appeal to his chief weak point--namely, his own

fancied knowledge of party politics--says that the king does him great

honour--"supreme honour"--and invites him to spend the night in the

castle; which kind invitation his majesty graciously accepts.



In the meantime, the outlaw, having observed how much more cordially the

tyrant is received than himself, has made his exit. The king's followers

all draw up in line and conclude the act by a song, the burden of which

is that their master's nomination is the only one "fit to be made."



The next act discovers the tyrant awaiting the arrival of the

unfortunate heroine, to whom he is going to be married in a few minutes.

All is jollity in the castle, till a gentleman clothed as a pilgrim,

interrupts the general hilarity; for when the bride enters, he throws

off the dreadful black cloak and reveals the outlaw chieftain. He

pitches himself into a variety of passionate attitudes, to the great

terror of a whole boarding school of young ladies, whom their teacher

has permitted to visit the opera to improve their style of singing. The

bride elect rushes up to him, and so they both step down to the

foot-lights. The outlaw gentleman passes his right hand round the waist

of the lady, and clasps in his left both of her's, elevating them to a

line with the breast. They remain stationary for a moment, whilst the

orchestra is playing the symphony, looking as fondly into each other's

eyes as a pair of dear little turtle doves, and smiling as sweetly as

every gentleman and lady have a right to smile under such pleasant

circumstances. There they begin to assure each other simultaneously of

the pleasure they would find in immediately dying, placed in the

attitude which they are at present enjoying so highly; by a rare and

curious accident, both repeating the same words, with the exception of

the respective substitution of the pronouns "I, you, my, your, he, she,"

as often as such substitutions become necessary--as if one should say,

for example,



I'll } bet { my } money on the bob-tail mare.

You'll} {your}



He'll } bet {his} money on the bob-tail mare.

She'll} {her}



The outlaw is, however, obliged to run and hide himself, because he

hears the king knocking to come in, and he fears that he'll be killed if

he is discovered. The king enters, and with a very "fee, fi, fo, fum"

air, asks for the body of the outlaw. The tyrant tells a most bare-faced

falsehood, swears the outlaw is not in his house, and so, the king,

after considerable use of the word wretch, traitor, menditore, &c.,

carries off the bride as a hostage, to the great chagrin of the tyrant.

As soon as the king has departed with his fair companion, the tyrant

runs to the outlaw's hiding place, and dragging him forth by the

collar, declares that he'll kill him himself. The outlaw, under great

excitement, seizes his head in both hands in a manner so terrible, that

self-decapitation would seem to be inevitable, which so alarms the

aforesaid boarding school misses, that two of them go off into

hysterics, and they are carried into the lobby, where the cutting of

their laces is attended with an explosion similar to that of "popping" a

champagne cork. The outlaw prays the tyrant not to kill him just now,

and says he will give him permission to do so at any future period.

"Here, sir," adds he, still addressing himself to the tyrant, "is a very

fine cornet a piston, allow me to present it to you with the

assurance, that whenever you wish to obtain my presence for the purpose

of exterminating me, you will merely be obliged to sound the note of B

flat, and I will unhesitatingly comply with your wishes." In the words

of the poet Tennyson,



"Leave me here, and when you want me,

Sound upon the bugle horn."



The tyrant accepts the present upon the accompanying condition, but

having no great confidence in the word of a man who has been associating

so long a time with bad company, he requires him to make oath to that

effect; which being done, both gentlemen call upon the chorus to follow

them immediately in pursuit of the king and his captive lady. These

cowardly rascals stand some five minutes and sing about their readiness

to depart, instead of marching off instantly, as they are requested to

do.



In the third act, the king hides himself in a grave-yard during the

election for emperor, probably out of fear that he may be defeated.

While wandering among the grave-stones he overhears some of his

political enemies, (among whom is the outlaw chieftain,) plotting his

assassination. The conspirators cast lots for the office of assassin,

and the lot very naturally falls on the outlaw. The next moment the

report of cannon is heard, and the king's retinue come in, bringing with

them the heroine--who, we must confess, seems to have no real business

there,--and state that the polls have closed, and that the king has been

elected emperor. Thereupon the new emperor calls the conspirators up and

is about to have them killed, just as it might be expected an emperor

would do.



The heroine begs for the life of the miserable offenders, telling the

emperor that if he wishes to be considered a sovereign of

respectability, and not conduct himself like one who had "stolen a

precious diadem and put it in his pocket," he must pardon the

delinquents. The emperor relents, and pronounces a pardon for the

conspirators. He calls up the robber chieftain and the heroine, and

uniting their hands, expresses an ardent wish that they may, as the

libretto says, "love forever." The pleasure of the two lovers is

indescribable, and the whole company begin to sing the praises of such a

trump of an emperor. The air, which is chosen as the vehicle to carry

all this adulation to royal ears, is apparently one of those crashing,

clashing passages in the overture; and if the emperor does not hear the

voice of flattery, it is because the gentlemen who preside over the

kettle-drum and cymbals, seem to have entered into a conspiracy to

prevent it. The more zealous the chorus is in its efforts to make an

agreeable impression on their sovereign, and the louder the voice is

raised for this object, the more that irritable old drummer seems

anxious to defeat their sycophantic purposes. If you are one of those

excitable persons who are prone to take a side in every contest that

comes under their observation, whether it be two gentlemen ranging for

the presidency, or two bull-terriers "punishing" each other for the

possession of a bone, you immediately determine who you hope may carry

their point. In your admiration of the dogged perseverance of the old

drummer, you take part in favour of the instruments, and when you hear

that sudden and awful clash of the cymbals, which causes you to start

till you dig your elbow into an elderly gentleman on one side, and tread

on some corny toes on the other, you felicitate yourself upon the

victory of parchment and brass over throats; but the next moment your

pleasure is extinguished, for the tenor and soprano give their voices an

extra lift, and away they go up like rockets, far aloft above the din of

horns, cymbals and kettle drums.



The fourth and last act represents the terrace of a highly illuminated

palace, which may be seen in the back ground. Some masked gentlemen,

very bandy-legged and knock-kneed, dressed in tight hose, well

calculated to exhibit these deformities, are observed flirting with some

of the before mentioned thick-ankled ladies, who likewise rejoice in

dominos. Every thing indicates that this is a place, where people are in

the habit of being extremely jolly, and from which such stupid things as

parties to which a few friends are invited "very sociably", or family

re-unions, are entirely abolished. Presently all the company break out

with the expression of one general wish for the unbounded prosperity of

the outlaw chief and the heroine whom we saw betrothed in the last act,

and who have just been married. They make their exit shortly afterward

in great precipitation, having been frightened from the stage by the

appearance of a great, horrible-looking figure, clothed in black, which

seems to be a species of bug-bear, sent to scare such naughty people who

do nothing but dance, sing and make merry. The bug-bear exits shortly

after.



Again the highly profligate chorus enter, in no wise corrected by the

visitation of the gloomy looking gentleman, and assure the audience what

a pleasant thing it is for one man to flirt with another's wife from

behind a mask, or for an innocent young lady "going her first winter" to

whisper in a corner with a man about town; but getting weary of this

occupation, they at last retire, and the newly married couple--the

outlaw and his bride--again show themselves.



The outlaw seems to be struck with a highly poetic vein, for he tells

the lady that the noise of the polka in the palace has ceased, that the

gas has been stopped off, and that the stars are amusing themselves by

smiling on their happy union, "because they've nothing else to do."

Thereupon they indulge in a gentle embrace, and start off simultaneously

in a duo, declaratory of the union of their two hearts in such an

anti-anatomical manner, that henceforth until their latest breath, one

cardiacal organ will suffice to perform the functions of two separate

bodies. Scarcely have they made this declaration of their abnormal

heart-union, before the sound of a horn falls on the ears of the o'er

happy couple. At this moment the outlaw forgets all good breeding, and

still influenced by his former brigand habits, swears a most horrible

oath in the presence of his young bride, and seems to be overcome by

great depression of spirits. The poor woman, observing nothing singular

about the blast of the horn--in all probability fancying that it is only

the tooting of a lazy post boy somewhat behind time, prays him to cheer

up, and let her see him smile. Before the outlaw can comply with this

small request the horn sounds again. "Behold," shrieks the young

husband, "the tiger seeks his prey." The bride surveys the apartment,

but observing no tiger or other ferocious animal, takes it for granted

that he has the mania a potu, induced by imbibing too much champagne at

the wedding feast. She immediately runs out into the bridal chamber,

with the intention of putting on those indefinite garments denominated

"things," and going to call up the court physician. The outlaw chieftain

stands a moment listening with breathless attention, and hearing no more

of the horn, comes to the conclusion that he has no just ground for

fear, and that it was only a dreadful ringing in the ears with which he

is sometimes afflicted. He thereupon rushes in pursuit of his bride, but

just as he arrives at the door of the bridal chamber, his progress is

arrested by the same black hob-goblin gentlemen who frighted the

dissipated chorus, as before related. This gentleman is recognized by

the outlaw in spite of his black clothes and mask, as the hateful old

tyrant who persecuted him to such an extent some time previously. The

outlaw groans a few times, and then the tyrant asks his victim if he

calls to mind his promise, and the words of the poet Tennyson,



"Leave me here, and when you want me

Sound upon the bugle horn."



The poor outlaw begs for his life; but the old tyrant remains

inexorable, and tells him that he must die.



The unhappy bride returns, and hearing her husband entreating the old

tyrant so fervently for a respite, unites her supplications with those

of her husband. To this the tyrant makes no direct answer, but merely

presents a poignard to the trembling outlaw, with a repetition of the

words of the poet Tennyson.



"Leave me here, and when you want me

Sound upon the bugle horn."



The outlaw perceiving no mode of escaping from this horn of the

dilemma, seizes the poignard, drives it in his breast, and sinks

mortally wounded. The poor bride shrieks, and falls upon his body. Now

succeeds a scene of pulling and dragging on the floor. The wounded

tenor is called upon to struggle and writhe in all the agonies of death,

and the prima donna to follow him up in order to raise his head on her

knee, and thus give him an opportunity of singing his dying solo. To do

this in such a manner as not to render the whole thing ridiculous and

farcical, instead of tragic and touching, requires all the grace and

ease imaginable. When well done it is impressive; when badly it is

laughable; but whether touching or laughable, it is sure to be relished

by a large part of the audience, for it always discloses who has done

most for the prima donna's bust, dame nature or the mantua maker.



The tenor's head being elevated to the proper height, he expresses it as

his dying wish that the prima donna will continue to live and cherish

his memory. They then lament their unhappy fate in a short duo. The

tenor dies; the prima donna appears to do the same, but the libretto

consoles you by declaring that she only swoons. The old tyrant--the

basso--chuckles like a wretch over the success of his successful plot,

declares it a revenge worthy of a demon; you concur in his sentiments,

and the curtain falls.



Gentle reader, are you wearied out with this insufferable nonsense? Do

not say that you are, or you will have established a reputation for want

of taste, beyond all controversy. Not to admire what we have written in

this chapter, is to condemn what we know you have often declared was a

"love of an opera." We have merely explained the plot of a well known

operatic chef d'oeuvre, which, goodness knows, required an

explanation.



Now do not be petulant, and very satirically exclaim,--"I wish he

would explain his explanation," thereby showing, both that you can be

excessively severe, and that you have read Byron. We do not intend to

endeavour to render luminous that which is so very clear and evident in

its meaning; it would be to "gild refined gold," and all that sort of

thing, and therefore we spare you the infliction.





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