Opera In Italy Germany And Russia During And In Connection With The Republican And Napoleonic Wars


Nothing shows better the effect on art of the long continental wars at

the end of the eighteenth and beginning of the nineteenth century than

the fact that Mozart's two greatest works, written for Vienna and Prague

immediately before the French Revolution, did not become known in

England and France until about a quarter of a century
after their

production. Fortunate Austria, before the great break up of European

territories and dynasties, possessed the two first musical capitals in

Europe. Opera had already declined in Berlin, and its history, even

under the direction of the flute-playing Frederic, possesses little

interest for English readers after the departure or rather flight of

Madame Mara. Italy was still the great nursery of music, but her maestri

composed their greatest works for foreign theatres, and many of them

were attached to foreign courts. Thus, Paisiello wrote his Barbiere di

Siviglia for St. Petersburgh, whither he had been invited by the

Empress Catherine, and where he was succeeded by Cimarosa. Cimarosa,

again, on his return from St. Petersburgh, wrote his masterpiece, Il

Matrimonio Segretto, for the Emperor Leopold II., at Vienna. Of the

Opera at Stockholm, we have heard nothing since the time of Queen

Christina. The Dresden Opera, which, in the days of Handel, was the

first in Europe, still maintained its pre-eminence at the beginning of

the second half of the eighteenth century, when Rousseau published his

"Musical Dictionary," and described at length the composition of its

admirable orchestra. But the state and the resources of the kings of

Saxony declined with the power of Poland, and the Dresden Opera, though,

thanks to the taste which presided at the court, its performances were

still excellent, had quite lost its peculiar celebrity long before

Napoleon came, and carried away its last remaining glories in the shape

of the composer, Paer, and Madame Paer and Brizzi, its two principal



The first great musical work produced in Russia, Paisiello's Barbiere

di Siviglia, was performed for the first time at St. Petersburgh, in

1780. In this opera work, of which the success soon became European, the

composer entered thoroughly into the spirit of all Beaumarchais's best

scenes, so admirably adapted for musical illustration. Of the solos, the

three most admired were Almaviva's opening romance, Don Basil's La

Calomnia, and the air for Don Bartholo; the other favourite pieces

being a comic trio, in which La Jeunesse sneezes, and L'Eveillé yawns in

the presence of the tutor (I need scarcely remark that the personages

just named belong to Beaumarchais's comedy, and that they are not

introduced in Rossini's opera), another trio, in which Rosina gives the

letter to Figaro, a duet for the entry of the tenor in the assumed

character of Don Alonzo, and a quintett, in which Don Basil is sent to

bed, and in which the phrase buona sera is treated with great


Pergolese rendered a still greater service to Russia than did Paisiello

by writing one of his masterpieces for its capital, when he took the

young Bortnianski with him from St. Petersburgh to Italy, and there

educated the greatest religious composer that Russia, not by any means

deficient in composers, has yet known.


We have seen that Paisiello, some years after his return to Italy, was

engaged by Napoleon as chapel-master, and that the services of Paer were

soon afterwards claimed and secured by the emperor as composer of his

chamber music. This was not the first time that Paer had been forced to

alter his own private arrangements in consequence of the very despotic

patronage accorded to music by the victorious leaders of the French

army. In 1799 he was at Udine, where his wife was engaged as prima

donna. Portogallo's la Donna di genio volubile was about to be

represented before a large number of the officers under the command of

Bernadotte, when suddenly it appeared impossible to continue the

performance owing to the very determined indisposition of the primo

basso. This gentleman had gone to bed in the middle of the day

disguised as an invalid. He declared himself seriously unwell in the

afternoon, and in the evening sent a message to the theatre to excuse

himself from appearing in Portogallo's opera. Paer and his wife

understood what this meant. The performance was for Madame Paer's

benefit; and Olivieri, the perfidious basso, from private pique, had

determined, if possible, to prevent it taking place. Paer's spirit was

roused by the attitude of the primo buffo, which was still that of a

man confined to his bed; and he resolved to frustrate his infamous

scheme, which, though simple, appeared certain of success, inasmuch as

no other comic basso was to be found anywhere near Udine. The audience

was impatient, Madame Paer in tears, the manager in despair, when Paer

desired that the performance might begin; saying, that Providence would

send them a basso who would at least know his part, and that in any case

Madame Paer must get ready for the first scene. Madame Paer obeyed the

marital injunction, but in a state of great trepidation; for she had no

confidence in the capabilities of the promised basso, and was not by any

means sure that he even existed. The curtain was about to rise, when the

singer who was to have fallen from the clouds walked quietly on to the

stage, perfectly dressed for the part he was about to undertake, and

without any sign of hesitation on his countenance. The prima donna

uttered a cry of surprise, burst into a fit of laughter, and then rushed

weeping into the arms of her husband,--for it was Paer himself who had

undertaken to replace the treacherous Olivieri.

"No," said Madame Paer; "this is impossible! It shall never be said that

I allowed you, a great composer, who will one day be known throughout

Europe, to act the buffoon. No! the performance must be stopped!"

At this moment the final chords of the overture were heard. Poor Madame

Paer resigned herself to her fate, and went weeping on to the stage to

begin a comic duet with her husband, who seemed in excellent spirits,

and commenced his part with so much verve and humour, that the

audience rewarded his exertions with a storm of applause. Paer's gaiety

soon communicated itself to his wife. If Paer was to perform at all, it

was necessary that his performance should outshine that of all possible

rivals, and especially that of the miscreant Olivieri, who was now

laughing between his sheets at the success which he fancied must have

already attended his masterly device. The prima donna had never sung

so charmingly before, but the greatest triumph of the evening was gained

by the new basso. Olivieri, who previously had been pronounced

unapproachable in Portogallo's opera, was now looked upon as quite an

inferior singer compared to the buffo caricato who had so

unexpectedly presented himself before the Udine public. Paer, in

addition to his great, natural histrionic ability, knew every note of

la Donna. Olivieri had studied only his own part. Paer, in directing

the rehearsals, had made himself thoroughly acquainted with all of them,

and gave a significance to some portions of the music which had never

been expressed or apprehended by his now defeated, routed, utterly

confounded rival.


At present comes the dark side of the picture. Olivieri, dangerously ill

the night before, was perfectly well the next morning, and quite ready

to resume his part in la Donna di genio volubile. Paer, on the other

hand, was quite willing to give it up to him; but both reckoned without

the military connoisseurs of Udine, and above all without Bernadotte,

who arrived the day after Paer's great success, when all the officers of

the staff were talking of nothing else. Olivieri was announced to appear

in his old character; but when the bill was shown to the General, he

declared that the original representative might go back to bed, for that

the only buffo he would listen to was the illustrious Paer. In vain the

director explained that the composer was not engaged as a singer, and

that nothing but the sudden indisposition of Olivieri would have induced

him to appear on the stage at all. Bernadotte swore he would have Paer,

and no one else; and as the unfortunate impresario continued his

objections, he was ordered into arrest, and informed that he should

remain in prison until the maestro Paer undertook once more the part

of "Pippo" in Portogallo's opera.

The General then sent a company of grenadiers to surround Paer's house;

but the composer had heard of what had befallen the manager, and,

foreseeing his own probable fate, if he remained openly in Udine, had

concealed himself, and spread a report that he was in the country.

Lancers and hussars were dispatched in search of him, but naturally

without effect. In the supposed absence of Paer, the army was obliged to

accept Olivieri; and when six or seven representations of the popular

opera had taken place and the military public had become accustomed to

Olivieri's performance of the part of "Pippo," Paer came forth from his

hiding place and suffered no more from the warlike dilettanti-ism of



There would be no end to my anecdotes if I were to attempt to give a

complete list of all those in which musicians and singers have been made

to figure in connection with all sorts of events during the last great

continental war. The great vocalists, and many of the great composers of

the day, continued to travel about from city to city, and from court to

court, as though Europe were still in a state of profound peace.

Sometimes, as happened once to Paer, and was nearly happening to him a

second time, they were taken prisoners; or they found themselves shut up

in a besieged town; and a great cantatrice, Madame Fodor, who chanced

to be engaged at the Hamburg opera when Hamburg was invested, was

actually the cause of a sortie being made in her favour. On one

occasion, while she was singing, the audience was disturbed by a cannon

ball coming through the roof of the theatre and taking its place in the

gallery; but the performances continued nevertheless, and the officers

and soldiers of the garrison continued to be delighted with their

favourite vocalist. Madame Fodor, however, on her side, was beginning to

get tired of her position; not that she cared much about the bombardment

which was renewed from time to time, but because the supply of milk had

failed, cows and oxen having been alike slaughtered for the sustenance

of the beleaguered garrison. Without milk, Madame Fodor was scarcely

able to sing; at least, she had so accustomed herself to drink it every

evening during the intervals of performance, that she found it

inconvenient and painful to do without it. Hearing in what a painful

situation their beloved vocalist found herself, the French army

gallantly resolved to remedy it without delay. The next evening a

sortie was effected, and a cow brought back in triumph. This cow was

kept in the property and painting room in the theatre, above the stage,

and was lowered like a drop scene, to be milked whenever Madame Fodor

was thirsty. So, at least, says the operatic anecdote on the subject,

though it would perhaps have been a more convenient proceeding to have

sent some trustworthy person to perform the milking operation up stairs.

In any case, the cow was kept carefully shut up and under guard.

Otherwise the animal's life would not have been safe, so great was the

scarcity of provision in Hamburg at the time, and so great the general

hunger for beef of any kind.

* * * * *


Madame Huberti, after flying from Paris during the Reign of Terror,

married the Count d'Entraigues, and would seem to have terminated her

operatic career happily and honourably; but she was destined some years

afterwards to die a horrible death. The countess always wore the order

of St. Michael, which had been given to her by the then unacknowledged

Louis XVIII., in token of the services she had rendered to the royalist

party, by enabling her husband to escape from prison and preserving his

portfolio which contained a number of political papers of great

importance. The Count afterwards entered the service of Russia, and was

entrusted by the government with several confidential missions. Hitherto

he had been working in the interest of the Bourbons against Napoleon;

but when the French emperor and the emperor Alexander formed an

alliance, after the battles of Eylau and Friedland, he seems to have

thought that his connexion with Russia ought to terminate. However this

may have been, he found means to obtain a copy of the secret articles

contained in the treaty of Tilsit[73] and hastened to London to

communicate them to the English government. For this service he is said

to have received a pension, and he now established himself in England,

where he appears to have had continual relations with the foreign

office. The French police heard how the Count d'Entraigues was employed

in London, and Fouché sent over two agents to watch him and intercept

his letters. These emissaries employed an Italian refugee, to get

acquainted with and bribe Lorenzo, the Count's servant, who allowed his

compatriot to read and even to take copies of the despatches frequently

entrusted to him by his master to take to Mr. Canning. He, moreover,

gave him a number of the Count's letters to and from other persons. One

evening a letter was brought to M. d'Entraigues which obliged him to go

early the next morning from his residence at Barnes to London. Lorenzo

had observed the seal of the foreign office on the envelope, and saw

that his treachery would soon be discovered. Everything was ready for

the journey, when he stabbed his master, who fell to the ground mortally

wounded. The Countess was getting into the carriage. To prevent her

charging him with her husband's death, the servant also stabbed her, and

a few moments afterwards, in confusion and despair, blew his own brains

out with a pistol which he in the first instance appears to have

intended for M. d'Entraigues. This horrible affair occurred on the 22nd

of July, 1812.

Nothing fatal happened to Madame Colbran, though she was deeply mixed up

with politics, her name being at one time quite a party word among the

royalists at Naples. Those who admired the king made a point of

admiring his favourite singer. A gentleman from England asked a friend

one night at the Naples theatre how he liked the vocalist in question.

"Like her? I am a royalist," was the reply.

When the revolutionists gained the upper hand, Madame Colbran was

hissed; but the discomfiture of the popular party was always followed by

renewed triumphs for the singer.

Madame Colbran must not lead us on to her future husband, Rossini, whose

epoch has not yet arrived. The mention of Paer's wife has already taken

us far away from the composers in vogue at the end of the eighteenth



Two of the three best comic operas ever produced, Le Nozze di Figaro

and Il Matrimonio Segretto (I need scarcely name Rossini's Il

Barbiere di Siviglia as the third), were written for Vienna within six

years (1786-1792), and at the special request of emperors of Germany.

Cimarosa was returning from St. Petersburgh when Leopold II., Joseph the

Second's successor, detained him at Vienna, and invited him to compose

something for his theatre. The maestro had not much time, but he did

his best, and the result was, Il Matrimonio Segretto. The Emperor was

delighted with the work, which seemed almost to have been improvised,

and gave the composer twelve thousand francs, or, as some say, twelve

thousand florins; in either case, a very liberal sum for the period when

Cimarosa, Paisiello and Gughelmi had mutually agreed, whatever more

they might receive for their operas, never to take less than two

thousand four hundred francs.

The libretto of Il Matrimonio Segretto, by Bertatti, is imitated from

that of a forgotten French operetta, Sophie ou le Mariage Caché, which

is again founded on Garrick and Coleman's Clandestine Marriage. The

Emperor Leopold was unable to be present at the first performance of

Cimarosa's new work, but he heard of its enormous success, and

determined not to miss a note at the second representation. He was in

his box before the commencement of the overture, and listened to the

performance throughout with the greatest attention, but without

manifesting any opinion as to the merits of the music. As the Sovereign

did not applaud, the brilliant audience who had assembled to hear Il

Matrimonio a second time, were obliged, by court etiquette, to remain

silent without giving the slightest expression to the delight the music

afforded them. This icy reception was very different to the one obtained

by the opera the night before, when the marks of approbation from all

parts of the house had been of the most enthusiastic kind. However, when

the piece was at an end, the Emperor rose and said aloud--

"Bravo, Cimarosa, bravissimo! The whole opera is admirable, delightful,

enchanting. I did not applaud that I might not lose a single note of

this masterpiece. You have heard it twice, and I must have the same

pleasure before I go to bed. Singers and musicians, pass into the next

room! Cimarosa will come too, and will preside at the banquet prepared

for you. When you have had sufficient rest we will begin again. I

encore the whole opera, and, in the mean while, let us applaud it as

it deserves." Leopold clapped his hands, and for some minutes the whole

theatre resounded with plaudits. After the banquet, the entire opera was


The only other example of such an occurrence as the above is to be found

in the career of Terence, whose Eunuchus on its first production, was

performed twice the same day, or, rather, once in the morning, and once

in the evening.

A similar amount of success obtained by Paer's Laodicea had quite an

opposite result; for, as nearly the whole opera was encored, piece by

piece, it was found impossible to conclude it the same evening, and the

performance of the last act was postponed until the next night.

Mozart's Nozze di Figaro, produced six years before the Matrimonio

Segretto, was far less justly appreciated,--indeed, at Vienna, was not

appreciated at all. This admirable work, so full of fresh spontaneous

melody, and of rich, varied harmony was actually hissed by the Viennese!

They even hissed Non piu andrai, which seems equally calculated to

delight the educated and the most uneducated ear. Mozart has made

allusion to this almost incredible instance of bad taste very happily

and ingeniously in the supper scene of Don Giovanni.


Joseph II. cared only for Italian music, and never gave his entire

approbation to anything Mozart produced, though the musicians of the

period acknowledged him to be the greatest composer in Europe.

"It is too fine for our ears," said the presumptuous Joseph, speaking to

Mozart of the Seraglio. "Seriously, I think there are too many notes."

"Precisely the proper number," replied the composer.

The Emperor rewarded his frankness by giving him only fifty ducats for

his opera.[74]

Nevertheless, the Seraglio had caused the success of one of the

emperor's favourite enterprises. It was the first work produced at the

German Opera, established by Joseph II., at Vienna. Until that time,

Italian opera predominated everywhere; indeed, German opera, that is to

say, lyric dramas in the German language, set to music by German

composers, and sung by German singers, could not be said to exist. There

were a number of Italian musicians living at Vienna who were quite aware

of Mozart's superiority, and hated him for it; the more so, as by taking

such an important part in the establishment of the German Opera, he

threatened to diminish the reputation of the Italian school. The

Entführung aus dem Serail was the first blow to the supremacy of

Italian opera. Der Schauspieldirector was the second, and when, after

the production of this latter work at the new German theatre of Vienna,

Mozart proceeded to write the Nozze di Figaro for the Italians, he

simply placed himself in the hands of his enemies. At the first

representation, the two first acts of the Nozze were so shamefully

executed, that the composer went in despair to the emperor to denounce

the treachery of which he was being made the victim. Joseph had detected

the conspiracy and was nearly as indignant as Mozart himself. He sent a

severe message round to the stage, but the harm was now done, and the

remainder of the opera was listened to very coldly. Le Nozze di Figaro

failed at Vienna, and was not appreciated, did not even get a fair

hearing, until it was produced some months afterwards at Prague. The

Slavonians of Bohemia showed infinitely more good taste and intelligence

than the Germans (led away and demoralized, however, by an Italian

clique) at Vienna. At Prague, le Nozze di Figaro caused the greatest

enthusiasm, and Mozart replied nobly to the sympathy and admiration of

the Bohemians. "These good people," he said, "have avenged me. They know

how to do me justice, I must write something to please them." He kept

his word, and the year afterwards gave them the immortal Don Giovanni.


At the head of the clique which had sworn eternal enmity to Mozart, was

Salieri, a musician with a sort of Pontius Pilate reputation, owing his

infamous celebrity to the fact that his name is now inseparably coupled

with that of the sublime composer whom he would have destroyed. Salieri

(whom we have met with before in Paris as the would-be successor of

Gluck) was the most learned of the Italian composers at that time

residing in Vienna; and, therefore, must have felt the greatness of

Mozart's genius more profoundly than any of the others. When Don

Giovanni, after its success at Prague, was produced at Vienna, it was

badly put on the stage, imperfectly rehearsed, and represented

altogether in a very unsatisfactory manner. Nor, with improved execution

did the audience show any disposition to appreciate its manifold

beauties. Mozart's Don Giovanni was quite eclipsed by the Assur of

his envious and malignant rival.

"I will leave it to psychologists to determine," says M.

Oulibicheff,[75] "whether the day on which Salieri triumphed publicly

over Mozart, was the happiest or the most painful of his life. He

triumphed, indeed, thanks to the ignorance of the Viennese, to his own

skill as a director, (which enabled him to render the work of his rival

scarcely recognisable), and to the entire devotion of his subordinates.

He must have been pleased; but Salieri was not only envious, he was also

a great musician. He had read the score of Don Giovanni, and you know

that the works one reads with the greatest attention are those of one's

enemies. With what admiration and despair it must have filled the heart

of an artist who was even more ambitious of true glory than of mere

renown! What must he have felt in his inmost soul! And what serpents

must again have crawled and hissed in the wreath of laurel which was

placed on his head! In spite of the fiasco of his opera, which he seems

to have foreseen, and to which, at all events, he resigned himself with

great calmness, Mozart, doubtless, more happy than his conqueror, added

a few 'numbers,' each a masterpiece to his score. Four new pieces were

written for it, at the request of the Viennese singers."

M. Oulibicheff's compatriot Poushkin has written an admirable study on

the subject presented above in a few suggestive phrases by Mozart's

biographer. Unfortunately, it is impossible in these volumes to find a

place for the Russian poet's "Mozart and Salieri."

After the failure of Don Giovanni at Vienna, a number of persons were

speaking of it in a room where Haydn and the principal connoisseurs of

the place were assembled. Every one agreed in pronouncing it a most

estimable work, but, also, every one had something to say against it. At

last, Haydn, who, hitherto, had not spoken a word, was asked to give his


"I do not feel myself in a position to decide this dispute," he

answered. "All I know and can assure you of is that Mozart is the

greatest composer of our time."

[Sidenote: DON GIOVANNI.]

As Salieri's Assur completely eclipsed Don Giovanni, so, previously,

did Martini's Cosa Rara, the Nozze di Figaro. Both these phenomena

manifested themselves at Vienna, and the reader has already been

reminded that the fate of the Nozze di Figaro is alluded to in Don

Giovanni. All the airs played by the hero's musicians in the supper

scene are taken from the operas which were most in vogue when Mozart

produced his great work; such as La Cosa Rara, Frà due Litiganti

terzo gode, and I Pretendenti Burlati. Leporello calls attention to

the melodies as the orchestra on the stage plays them, and when, to

terminate the series, the clarionets strike up Non piu andrai, he

exclaims Questo lo conosco pur troppo! "I know this one only too

well!" With the exception of Non piu andrai, which the Viennese could

not tolerate the first time they heard it, none of the airs introduced

in the Don Giovanni supper scene would be known in the present day,

but for Don Giovanni.

* * * * *

Don Giovanni, composed by Mozart to Da Ponte's libretto (which is

founded on Molière's Festin de Pierre, which is imitated from Tirso di

Molina's El Burlador di Siviglia, which seems to have had its origin

in a very ancient legend[76]), was produced at Prague, on the 4th of

November, 1787. The subject had already been treated in a ballet, in

four acts, for which Gluck wrote the music (produced at Parma in 1758;

and long before the production of Mozart's Don Giovanni, it had been

dramatised in some shape or other in almost every country in Europe, and

especially in Spain, Italy, and France, where several versions of the

Italian Il Convitato di Pietra were being played, when Molière first

brought out his so-called Festin de Pierre. The original cast of Don

Giovanni at Prague was as follows:--

Donna Anna, Teresa Saporiti.

Elvira, Catarina Micelli.

Zerlina, Madame Bondini (Catarina Saporiti).

Don Giovanni, Bassi (Luigi).

Ottavio, Baglioni (Antonio).

Leporello, Ponziani (Felice).

Don Pedro, Lolli (Guiseppe).

Masetto, the same.

Righini, of Bologna, had produced his opera of Don Giovanni, ossia il

Convitato di Pietra, at Prague, only eight years before, for which

reason the title of Il Dissoluto Punito was given to Mozart's work. It

was not until some years afterwards that it received the name by which

it is now universally known.

[Sidenote: DON GIOVANNI.]

Although the part of Don Giovanni was written for a baritone, tenors,

such as Tacchinardi and Garcia, have often played it, and frequently

with greater success than the majority of baritones have obtained. But

no individual success of a favourite singer can compensate for the

transpositions and changes that have to be effected in Mozart's

masterpiece, when the character of the hero is assigned to a vocalist

who cannot execute the music which of right belongs to it. It has been

said that Mozart wrote the part of Don Giovanni for a baritone,

because it so happened that the baritone at the Prague theatre, Bassi,

was the best singer of the company; but it is not to be imagined that

the musical characterization of the personages in the most truly

dramatic opera ever written, was the result of anything but the

composer's well-considered design. "Don Giovanni was not intended for

Vienna, but for Prague," Mozart is reported to have said. "The truth,

however, is," he added, "that I wrote it for myself, and a few friends."

Accordingly, the great composer was not thinking of Bassi at the time.

It would be easy, moreover, to show, that though the most feminine of

male voices may suit the ordinary jeune premier, or premier

amoureux, there is nothing tenor-like in the temperament of a Don

Giovanni; deceiving all women, defying all men, breaking all laws,

human and divine, and an unbeliever in everything--even in the power of

equestrian statues to get off their horses, and sit down to supper.

[Sidenote: DON GIOVANNI.]

But, let us not consider whether or not Fin ch' han dal vino is

improved by being sung (as tenor Don Giovannis sometimes sing it) a

fourth higher than it was written by Mozart; or whether it is tolerable

that the concerted pieces in which Don Giovanni takes part should be,

not transposed (for that would be insufficient, or, rather, would

increase the difficulties of execution) but so altered, that in some

passages the original design of the composer is entirely perverted. Let

us simply repeat the maxim, on which it is impossible to lay too much

stress, that the work of a great master should not be touched,

re-touched, or in any manner interfered with, under any pretext. There

is, absolutely, no excuse for managers mutilating Don Giovanni; not

even the excuse that in its original form this inexhaustible opera does

not "draw." It has already lived, and with full, unfailing life, for

three-quarters of a century. It has survived all sorts of revolutions in

taste, and especially in musical taste. There are now no Emperors of

Germany. Prague has become a third-rate city. That German Opera, which

Mozart originated with his Entführung aus dem Serail, has attained a

grand development, and among its composers has numbered Beethoven,

Weber, and the latter's follower, and occasional imitator, Meyerbeer.

Rossini has appeared with his seductive melody, and his brilliant,

sonorous orchestra. But justice is still--more than ever--done to

Mozart. The verdict of Prague is maintained; and this year, as ten,

twenty, forty years ago, if the manager of the Italian Opera of London,

Paris, or St. Petersburgh, has had for some time past a series of empty

houses, he takes an opera, seventy-four years of age, and which,

according to all ordinary musical calculations, ought long since to have

had, at least, one act in the grave, dresses it badly, puts it badly on

the stage, with such scenery as would be thought unworthy of Verdi, and

hazardous for Meyerbeer, announces Don Giovanni, and every place in

the theatre is taken!

* * * * *

Although Mozart's genius was fully acknowledged by the greatest

musicians, among his contemporaries (the reader already knows what Haydn

said of him, and what Cimarosa replied when he was addressed as his

superior), his music found an echo in the hearts of only a very small

portion of the ordinary public. Admired at Prague, condemned at Vienna,

unknown in the rest of Europe, it may be said, with only too much truth,

that Mozart's master-pieces, speaking generally, met with no recognition

until after his death; with no fitting recognition until long

afterwards. From the slow, strong, oak-like growth of Mozart's fame, now

flourishing, and still increasing every day, we may see, not for his

name alone, but for his music, a continued celebrity and popularity,

which will probably endure as long as our modern civilization. I have

already spoken of the effects of the last general war in checking

literary and artistic communication between the nations of Europe. This

will, in part, account for Mozart's master-piece not having been

performed at the Italian Opera of Paris until 1811, nor in London until

after the peace, in 1817. In the Paris cast, the part of Don Giovanni

was assigned to a tenor, Tacchinardi; and when the opera was revived at

the same theatre (which was not until nine years afterwards),

Tacchinardi was replaced by Garcia.

The first "Don Giovanni" who appeared in London, was the celebrated

baritone, Ambrogetti. Among the other distinguished singers who have

appeared as "Don Giovanni," with great success, may be mentioned

Nourrit, the tenor; Lablache (in 1832), before he had identified himself

with the part of "Leporello;" Tamburini, and I suppose I must now add,

Mario; though this great artist has been seen and heard to more

advantage in other characters. The last great "Don Giovanni" known to

the present generation was Signor Tamburini. It is a remarkable fact,

well worth the consideration of managers, who are inclined to take

liberties with Mozart's master-piece, that when Garcia, the tenor,

appeared in London as "Don Giovanni," after Ambrogetti, the baritone, he

produced comparatively but little effect; though Garcia was one of the

most accomplished musicians, and, probably, the very best singer of his


Without going back again to the original cast, I may notice among the

most celebrated Donna Annas, Madame Ronzi de Begnis, Mademoiselle

Sontag, Madame Grisi, Mademoiselle Sophie Cruvelli, and Mademoiselle


Among the Zerlinas, Madame Fodor, Madame Malibran, Madame Persiani[77],

and Madame Bosio.

[Sidenote: DON GIOVANNI.]

Among the Don Ottavios, Rubini and Mario.

Porto is said to have been particularly admirable as Masetto, and

Angrisani and Angelini as the commandant.

Certainly, no one living has heard a better Leporello than Lablache.

Mr. Ebers tells us, in his "Seven Years of the King's Theatre," that

Don Giovanni was brought out by Mr. Ayrton in 1817, "in opposition to

a vexatious cabal," and "in despite of difficulties of many kinds which

would have deterred a less decided and persevering manager."

Nevertheless, "it filled the boxes and benches of the theatre for the

whole season, and restored to a flourishing condition the finances of

the concern, which were in an almost exhausted state."

* * * * *


The war, so injurious to the Opera, had a still more disastrous effect

on the ballet, a fact for which we have the authority of the manager and

author from whom I have just quoted. "The procrastinated war," says Mr.

Ebers, "which, until the treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle, had kept England and

France in hostilities, had rendered the importation of dancers from the

latter country almost impracticable." Mr. Waters, Mr. Ebers'

predecessor, had repeatedly endeavoured to prevail on French dancers to

come to England, "either with the congés, if attainable, or by such

clandestine means as could be carried into effect." He failed; and we

are told that his want of success in this respect was one cause of the

disagreement between himself and the committee of the theatre, which led

soon afterwards to his abandoning the management. Mr. Ebers, however,

testifies from his own experience to the almost insuperable difficulty

of inducing the directors of the French Opera to cede any of their

principal performers even for a few weeks to the late enemies of their

country. When the dancers were willing to accept the terms offered to

them, it was impossible to obtain leave from the minister entrusted with

the supreme direction of operatic affairs; if the minister was willing,

then objections came from the ballet itself. It was necessary to secure

the aid of the highest diplomatists, and the engagement of a few first

dancers and coryphées was made as important an affair as the signing

of a treaty of commerce. The special envoy, the Cobden of the affair,

was Monsieur Boisgerard, an ex-officer in the French army under the

Bourbons, and actually the second ballet-master of the King's Theatre;

but all official correspondence connected with the negotiation had to be

transmitted through the medium of the English ambassador at Paris to the

Baron de la Ferté. Boisgerard arrived in Paris furnished with letters of

introduction from the five noblemen who at that time formed a "committee

of superintendence" to aid Mr. Ebers in the management of the King's

Theatre, and directed all his attention and energy towards forming an

engagement with Bigottini and Noblet, the principal danseuses, and

Albert, the premier danseur of the French Opera. In spite of his

excellent recommendations, of the esteem in which he was himself held by

his numerous friends in Paris, and of the interest of a dancer named

Deshayes, who appears to have readily joined in the conspiracy, and who

was afterwards rewarded for his aid with a lucrative engagement as first

ballet-master at the London Opera House--in spite of all these

advantages it was impossible, for some time, to obtain any concessions

from the Académie. To begin with, Bigottini, Noblet and Albert refused

point blank to leave Paris. M. Boisgerard, however, as a ballet-master

and a man of the world, understood that this was intended only as an

invitation for larger offers; and finally all three were engaged,

conditionally on their congés being obtained from the directors of the

theatre. Now the real difficulty began; now the influence of the five

English noblemen was brought to bear; now despatches were interchanged

between the British ambassador in Paris and the Baron de la Ferté,

intendant of the royal theatres; now consultations took place between

the said intendant and the Viscount de la Rochefoucault, aide-de-camp of

the king, entrusted with the department of fine arts in the ministry of

the king's household; and between the said artistic officer of the

king's household and Duplanty, the administrator of the Royal Academy of

Music, and of the Italian Opera. The result of all this negotiation

was, that the administration first hesitated and finally refused to

allow Mademoiselle Bigottini to visit England on any terms; but, after

considerable trouble, the French agents in the service of Mr. Ebers

obtained permission for Albert and Noblet to accept engagements for two

months,--it being further arranged that, at the expiration of that

period, they should be replaced by Coulon and Fanny Bias. Albert was to

receive fifty pounds for every night of performance, and twenty-five

pounds for his travelling expenses. Noblet's terms were five hundred and

fifty pounds for the two months, with twenty-five pounds for expenses.

Coulon and Bias were each to receive the same terms as Noblet. Three

other dancers, Montessu, Lacombe, and Mademoiselle de Varennes, were at

the same time given over to Mr. Ebers for an entire season, and he was

allowed to retain all his prisoners--that is to say, those members of

the Académie, with Mademoiselle Mélanie at their head, whom previous

managers had taken from the French prior to the friendly and pacific

embassy of M. Boisgerard. An attempt was made to secure the services of

Mademoiselle Elisa, but without avail. M. and Mademoiselle Paul entered

into an agreement, but the administration refused to ratify it;

otherwise, with a little encouragement, Mr. Ebers would probably have

engaged the entire ballet of the Académie Royale.


Male dancers have, I am glad to think, never been much esteemed in

England; and Albert, though successful enough, produced nothing like the

same impression in London which he was in the habit of causing in

Paris. Mademoiselle Noblet's dancing, on the other hand, excited the

greatest enthusiasm, and the subscribers made all possible exertions to

obtain a prolongation of her congé when the time for her return to the

Académie arrived. Noblet's performance in the ballet of Nina (of which

the subject is identical with that of Paisiello's opera of the same

name) is said to have been particularly admirable, especially for the

great dramatic talent which she exhibited in pourtraying the heroine's

melancholy madness. Nina was announced for Mademoiselle Noblet's

benefit, on a night not approved by the Lord Chamberlain--either because

it interfered with some of the court regulations, or for some other

reason not explained. The secretary to the committee of the Opera was

directed to address a letter to the Chamberlain, representing to him how

inconvenient it would be to postpone the benefit, as the congé of the

bénéficiaire was now on the point of expiring. Lord Hertford, with

becoming politeness, wrote the following letter, which shows with what

deep interest the graceful dancer inspired even those who knew her only

by reputation. The letter was addressed to the Marquis of Ailesbury, one

of the members of the operatic committee.

"MY DEAR LORD,--I have this moment (eleven o'clock) received your

letter, which I have sent to the Chamberlain's office to Mr. Mash;

and as Mademoiselle Noblet is a very pretty woman as I am told, I

hope she will call there to assist in the solicitation which

interests her so much. Not having been for many years at the opera,

except for the single purpose of attending his majesty, I am no

judge of the propriety of her request or the objections which may

arise to the postponement of her benefit for one day at so short a

notice. I hope the fair solicitress will be prepared with an answer

on this part of the subject, as it is always my wish to accommodate

you; and I remain most sincerely your very faithful servant,


"Manchester Square,

April 29th, 1821."

Mademoiselle Noblet's benefit having taken place, the subscribers,

horrified at the notion that they had now, perhaps, seen her for

the last time, determined, in spite of all obstacles, in spite even

of the very explicit agreement between the director of the King's

Theatre and the administration of the Académie Royale, that she

should remain in London. The danseuse was willing enough to

prolong her stay, but the authorities at the French Opera

protested. The Academy of Music was not going to be deprived in

this way of one of the greatest ornaments of its ballet, and the

Count de Caraman, on behalf of the Academy, called on the committee

to direct Mr. Ebers to send over to Paris, without delay, the

performers whose congés were now at an end. The members of the

committee replied that they had only power to interfere as regarded

the choice of operas and ballets, and that they had nothing to do

with agreements between the manager and the performers. They added,

"that they had certainly employed their influence with the English

ambassador at Paris at the commencement of the season, to obtain

the best artists from that city; but it appearing that the Academy

was not disposed to grant congés for London, even to artists, for

whose services the Academy had no occasion, the committee had

determined not again to meddle in that branch of the management."


The French now sent over an ambassador extraordinary, the Baron de la

Ferté himself, to negotiate for the restoration of the deserters. It was

decided, however, that they should be permitted to remain until the end

of the season; and, moreover, that two first and two second dancers

should be allowed annually to come to London, but only under the precise

stipulations contained in the following treaty, which was signed between

Mr. Ebers, on the one hand, and M. Duplantys on the part of Viscount de

la Rochefoucault, on the other.

"The administration of the Theatre of the Royal Academy of Music,

wishing to facilitate to the administration of the theatre of London,

the means of making known the French artists of the ballet without this

advantage being prejudicial to the Opera of Paris;

"Consents to grant to Mr. Ebers for each season, the first commencing on

the 10th of January, and ending the 20th of April, and the second

ending the 1st of August, two first dancers, two figurants, and two

figurantes; but in making this concession, the administration of the

Royal Academy of Music reserves the right of only allowing those dancers

to leave Paris to whom it may be convenient to grant a congé; this

rule applies equally to the figurants and figurantes. None of them

can leave the Paris theatre except by the formal permission of the


"And in return for these concessions, Mr. Ebers promises to engage no

dancer until he has first obtained the necessary authorization in

accordance with his demand.

"He engages not under any pretext to keep the principal dancers a longer

time than has been agreed without a fresh permission, and above all, to

make them no offers with the view of enticing them from their permanent

engagements with the French authorities.

"The present treaty is for the space of * * *.

"In case of Mr. Ebers failing in one of the articles of the said treaty,

the whole treaty becomes null and void."



The prime mover in the diplomatic transactions which had the effect of

securing Mademoiselle Noblet far the London Opera was, as I have said,

the ballet master, Boisgerard, formerly an officer in the French army.

In a chapter which is intended to show to some extent the effect on

opera of the disturbed state of Europe consequent on the French

Revolution, it will, perhaps, not be out of place to relate a very

daring exploit performed by the said M. Boisgerard, which was the cause

of his adopting an operatic career. "This gentleman," says Mr. Ebers, in

the account published by him of his administration of the King's Theatre

from 1821 to 1828, "was a Frenchman of good extraction, and at the

period of the French Revolution, was attached to the royal party. When

Sir Sidney Smith was confined in the Temple, Boisgerard acted up to his

principles by attempting, and with great personal risk, effecting the

escape of that distinguished officer, whose friends were making every

effort for his liberation. Having obtained an impression of the seal of

the Directorial Government, he affixed it to an order, forged by

himself, for the delivery of Sir Sidney Smith into his care. Accompanied

by a friend, disguised like himself, in the uniform of an officer of the

revolutionary army, he did not scruple personally to present the

fictitious document to the keeper of the Temple, who, opening a small

closet, took thence some original document, with the writing and seal of

which, he carefully compared the forged order. Desiring the adventurers

to wait a few minutes, he then withdrew, and locked the door after him.

Giving themselves up for lost, the confederate determined to resist,

sword in hand, any attempt made to secure them. The period which thus

elapsed, may be imagined as one of the most horrible suspense to

Boisgerard and his companion; his own account of his feelings at the

time was extremely interesting. Left alone, and in doubt whether each

succeeding moment might not be attended by a discovery involving the

safety of his life, the acuteness of his organs of sense was heightened

to painfulness; the least noise thrilled through his brain, and the

gloomy apartment in which he sat seemed filled with strange images. They

preserved their self-possession, and, after the lapse of a few minutes,

their anxiety was determined by the re-appearance of the gaoler,

accompanied by his captive, who was delivered to Boisgerard. But here a

new and unlooked for difficulty occurred; Sir Sidney Smith, not knowing

Boisgerard, refused, for some time, to quit the prison; and considerable

address was required on the part of his deliverers to overcome his

scruples. At last, the precincts of the Temple were cleared; and, after

going a short distance in a fiacre, then walking, then entering another

carriage, and so on, adopting every means of baffling pursuit, the

fugitives got to Havre, where Sir Sidney was put on board an English

vessel. Boisgerard, on his return to Paris (for he quitted Sir Sidney at

Havre) was a thousand times in dread of detection; tarrying at an

auberge, he was asked whether he had heard the news of Sir Sidney's

escape; the querist adding, that four persons had been arrested on

suspicion of having been instrumental in it. However, he escaped all

these dangers, and continued at Paris until his visit to England, which

took place after the peace of Amiens. A pension had been granted to Sir

Sidney Smith for his meritorious services; and, on Boisgerard's arrival

here, a reward of a similar nature was bestowed on him through the

influence of Sir Sidney, who took every opportunity of testifying his


We have already seen that though the international character of the

Opera must always be seriously interfered with by international wars,

the intelligent military amateur may yet be able to turn his European

campaigning to some operatic advantage. The French officers acquired a

taste for Italian music in Italy. So an English officer serving in the

Peninsula, imbibed a passion for Spanish dancing, to which was due the

choregraphic existence of the celebrated Maria Mercandotti,--by all

accounts one of the most beautiful girls and one of the most charming

dancers that the world ever saw. This inestimable treasure was

discovered by Lord Fife--a keen-eyed connoisseur, who when Maria was but

a child, foretold the position she would one day occupy, if her mother

would but allow her to join the dancing school of the French Academy.

Madame Mercandotti brought her daughter to England when she was fifteen.

The young Spaniard danced a bolero one night at the Opera, repeated it a

few days afterwards at Brighton, before Queen Charlotte, and then set

off to Paris, where she joined the Académie. After a very short period

of study, she made her début with success, such as scarcely any dancer

had obtained at the French Opera, since the time of La Camargo--herself,

by the way, a Spaniard.

Mademoiselle Mercandotti came to London, was received with the greatest

enthusiasm, was the fashionable theme of one entire operatic season, had

a number of poems, valuable presents, and offers of undying affection

addressed to her, and ended by marrying Mr. Hughes Ball.

The production of this danseuse appears to have seen the last direct

result of that scattering of the amateurs of one nation among the

artists of another, which was produced by the European convulsions of

from 1789 to 1815.