The Opera In The Abstract





"L'Opera toujours

Fait bruit et merveilles:

On y voit les sourds

Boucher leurs oreilles."



BERANGER.





To most of the world (and we say it advisedly,) the opera is a sealed

book. We do not mean a bare representation with its accompanying

screechings, violinings and bass-drummings. Everybody has seen that--But

the race of beings who constitute that remarkable combination; their

feelings, positions, social habits; their relation to one another; what

they say and eat;[a] whether the tenor ever notices as they (the world)

do, the fine legs of the contralto in man's dress, and whether the basso

drinks pale ale or porter; all these things have been hitherto wrapped

in an inscrutable mystery. In regard to mere actors, not singers, this

feeling is confined to children; but the operators of an opera are

essentially esoteric. They are enclosed by a curtain more impenetrable

than the Chinese wall. You may walk all around them; nay, you may even

know an inferior artiste, but there is a line beyond which even the fast

men, with all their impetuosity, are restrained from invading.



[a] We actually knew a man who, when a tenor was spoken of, as having

gone through his role, thought that that worthy had been eating his

breakfast.



You walk in the street with a young female, on whom you flatter yourself

you are making an impression; suddenly she cries out, "Oh, there's

Bawlini; do look! dear creature, isn't he?" You may as well turn round

and go home immediately; the rest of your walk won't be worth half the

dream you had the night before. This shows an importance to be attached

to these remarkable persons, which, together with the mystery which

encircles them, is exceedingly aggravating to the feelings of a large

body of respectable citizens. Among those who are mostly afflicted, we

may mention all women, but most especially boarding school misses.

Mothers of families are much perturbed; they wonder why the tenor is so

intimate with the donna, considering they are not married; and fathers

of families wonder "where under the sun that manager gets the money to

pay a tenor twelve hundred dollars a month, when state sixes are so

shockingly depressed." We were going to enumerate those we thought

particularly afflicted by a praiseworthy desire to know something more

of these obscurities, but they are too many for us. In every class of

society, nay, in the breast of almost every person, there exists a

desire to be rightly informed on these subjects. It was to supply this

want that we have devoted ourselves more especially to the actors who

do, to the exclusion of the auditors who are "done."



Shakspeare observes, that "all the world's a stage;" the converse of

this proposition is no less worthy of being regarded as a great moral

truth,--that all the stage is a world. Every condition of life may be

found typified in one or other of the officials or attaches of an opera

house; from the king upon the throne, symbolized by the haughty and

magisterial impresario, to the chiffonier in the gutter, represented

by the unfortunate chorister who is attired as a shabby nobleman on the

stage, but who goes home to a supper of leeks. Between these two

degrees, of dignity and unimportance, come those many shades of social

position corresponding to the happy situations of Secretary of State,

Secretary of the Treasury, and divers other dignitaries, set forth in

the stage director, the treasurer, the chorus-master, &c.



The tenor, basso, prima donna and baritone may be considered as

belonging to what is called "society;"--that well-to-do and ornamental

portion of the community, who having no vocation save to frequent balls,

soirees, concerts and operas, and fall in love--serve as objects of

admiration to those persons less favoured by fortune, who make the

clothes and dress the hair of the former class.



Our simile need not be carried further, it being apparent to the most

inconsiderate reader, that it is quite as truthful as that hatched by

the swan of Avon. We shall now commence our observations upon the most

interesting members of a troupe; those best known to the community

before whom they nightly appear; and leave unnoticed those disagreeable

but influential ones who raise the price of tickets, or stand in a

little box near the door and palm off all the back seats upon the

uninitiated.





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