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Before The Curtain
Of The Barytone
Of The Opera In The Concrete
Of The Prima Donna
Of The Primo Basso
Of The Suggeritore Or Prompter
Of The Tenore
The Opera In The Abstract

Physiology Of The Opera


I'm fond of fire and crickets, and all that,
A lobster salad, and champagne, and chat.


From this genteel place the reader must not be surprised, if I should
convey him to a cellar, or a common porter-house.


Sweet is old wine in bottles, ale in barrels.


The curtain falls, much to the delight of those gentlemen whose sole
motive for frequenting the opera, is to have an opportunity of what they
term "chaffing" with some fair lady friend, whilst repairing thither,
and returning from thence, as well as during the enchanting moments
when the "drop" displays one of those accommodating landscapes, which
the audience, at their option, may convert either into the lake of Como,
or the ruins of Palmyra. If we may trust the assertion of many fair
mouths, we must infer that the curtain has fallen, much to the regret of
certain young ladies who declare that they could sit and hear Bosio
forever--a period of time which we have always been taught to regard as
very long indeed.

But the curtain has fallen, and the gentlemen who have been foolish
enough to send bouquets to the prima donna in the morning, all seem
suddenly to be struck with the bright idea, that by giving a few knocks
of a cane, or a few taps of a gloved hand, they can "call out" that
divine woman, and by some adroit manoeuvre render themselves
distinguishable, and obvious to her from out that mass of heads and
black coats. The persons who occupy the elevated portions of the house,
who have paid a small price for their admittance, like all other persons
who pay small prices, make large demands for their money, and
consequently unite with the prima donna's admirers in an attempt to get
a last, long, lingering look at the lady. They really "do" all the
applause, thundering with their heavy canes and beating their hands
together until they resemble small lumps of crude beef steaks. After the
requisite amount of delay which is imposed upon the audience to give
them an adequate idea of the obligation the prima donna will confer,
should she see fit to exhibit herself, a human head is seen to project
from behind the curtain, but is drawn back with that kind of jerk which
is said to be peculiar to a turtle establishing his right to the
homestead exemption. This little aiguillon of the prompter has the
desired effect, for the gentlemen in the parquette, who expect the prima
donna to observe them to the entire exclusion of the other five
hundred men in white cravats and black coats, become perfectly frantic,
and the sojourners in "paradise" threaten to take advantage of their
position and empty themselves on the heads of the higher orders of
society, who happen for the present to be below them. The excitement now
begins to infuse itself into all present; the most apathetic old
habitues commence to stretch forth their necks, to wriggle on their
seats, and manifest other signs of sympathy, with the more inflammable
portion of the audience. At length the tenor comes forward from the
side of the curtain, with a sickly smile of inexpressible pleasure on
his countenance. He leads by the hand the prima donna, whose downcast
eyes, and modest demeanor, entirely mislead the audience, giving them
the fullest assurance of her "beautiful disposition," and wholly
contradicting the assertion that she ever stamps her foot at the leader,
or tears the hair of her maid. The brace of singers make one
acknowledgment of gratitude immediately after issuing from behind the
ruins of Palmyra, thence proceeding in front of said ruins, make
another, and the moment before their disappearance perpetrate a third.
This is not sufficient for those enamoured ones who think that by some
evident mistake the prima donna has not recognised them, so the
patting of gloves and the tapping of canes is again resorted to, which,
together with the efforts of the "upper circles," again extracts the
tenor and his "inamorata" together, with the drowsy basso. The
last-named person wears an air of great reluctance at thus being
detained on the stage, instead of being permitted to go home to his
pates and fricasees. The three go through the reverential with due
regard to time and position, and then withdraw, leaving the house to
contemplate the gas light, and reflect upon the briefness of all human

During all this time the ladies have been standing in an apparently half
decided state, as to what was ultimately to become of them, alternately
looking on the stage and picking up hoods and shawls which they
immediately let fall again. Now that their suspense is ended, they
commence to hood and shawl; and many is the gentleman who announces in
whispers that he is unspeakably happy in being permitted to place a
cloak upon shoulders that rival alabaster.

Harry Brown is unfortunate, for Miss Smith's cousin George has
anticipated him, having already astutely seized upon a shawl, during the
"calling out" which he carefully keeps until the blissful moment arrives
for enveloping that lady. Miss Smith thanks cousin George, as she always
calls him, with such a sweet smile that Harry Brown immediately becomes
occupied in a protracted search after his hat, muttering to himself
"hang these cousins."

The audience go out of the boxes together with the going out of the
gas, and masses of people stand crowded together in the lobbies, while
the house is slowly emptying itself.

The fast-men have collected about in front of the different box doors
from which the ladies are issuing, and are examining the relative claims
to beauty, which the fair observed ones merit, or as they term it, "are
getting their points." They are heard to make their comparisons upon the
singers too, with all the assurance of the old habitues, telling about
Salvi's falsetto, and Bettini's chest-voice, with a wondrous deal of
volubility. Where the crowds from the upper tiers unite with those of
the lower, one loud-voiced critic, who has just made his descent, is
heard to observe to a friend that "though Salvi is an old cock, he is
nevertheless a remarkably sound egg;" but why such a peculiarly
gallinaceous reference is made to that distinguished tenor, we must
unhesitatingly confess ignorance.

After the confusion attendant on the coming and going of carriages, cabs
and divers other vehicles, the fatigued audience are at length set in
motion towards their respective dwellings.

Again poor Harry Brown is a fit subject for our commiseration. The
ill-fated young man is placed by the side of Miss Smith's mother, a
rather antique lady; Cousin George somehow or other, has managed to
place himself beside Miss Smith. The carriage passes a lamp-post, and
though Harry Brown does observe Cousin George's left hand, the
disappearance of the right is something for which he cannot at all
account, except upon the laws of proximity which pertain to cousinship.
While the carriage proceeds homewards the party does not converse as
freely as they did a short time before, under the exhilaration arising
from gas-light and gossip. Harry Brown finds the ride a bore, Mrs. Smith
is so deaf, and still has her ideas of public amusement, confined to the
times when Mr. Kemble, Mr. Cooper and Mr. Cooke, performed in the
legitimate drama to crowded houses. Cousin George's position is such a
happy one, that conversation is to him a thing superfluous.

Those whose means authorise them, and very often those whose means do
not authorise them, go home to a nice supper, some delicate partridges,
cold capon, or deviled turkey, and a bottle or two of champagne. Under
the influences of the warm room and the viands, not to mention that
"warm champagny, old particular brandy-punchy feeling" induced by the
popping cork, the events of the whole evening are reviewed in a quite
thorough manner, though without much attention to a "lucidus ordo."

Let us follow the Smiths home, and see what is their mode of terminating
the evening. Scarcely have they settled themselves at table before a
glass of champagne is administered all round, and a very severe
criticism of Bosio is commenced by Cousin George, who says in a very
opinionated way, that he likes her pretty well, but prefers either
Truffi or Stefanoni. Miss Smith immediately espouses the cause of the
injured Bosio, whom she has often declared she could listen to
"forever," and calls on Harry Brown to come to the rescue of the
cantatrice's reputation. Harry, who has been sadly silent ever since the
miraculous disappearance of Cousin George's right hand in the carriage,
at once becomes a violent Bosioite, and maintains the vocal abilities of
that prima donna against the whole world; whereupon Miss Smith with one
of the most approving of smiles, exclaims, "Thank you, Mr. Brown; I
always knew you were a gentleman of taste. There, there, let me shake
hands with you." And as Miss Smith utters the last words, she extends
such a ridiculously little hand across the table, that it seems almost a
misnomer to apply that appellation to it. Mr. Brown seizes the proffered
member, and gives it as hearty a pressure as the publicity of the
occasion will permit. From the moment that he touches the magical little
hand, cousin George is eclipsed. Harry's knowledge of operas, music and
singers, becomes at once astonishingly enlarged, and he speaks on
operatic subjects like one having authority to do so. Fortunately for
cousin George, Miss Smith's brother Charles enters, his clothes strongly
redolent of Havannahs, he having just returned from his club. His sister
forbids him to come so near her, alleging as a ground for such a
prohibition, that those "horrid" cigars are so offensive to her. Her
brother moves good naturedly to the other side of the table, having
first applied his finger to his sister's cheek in a playful way, which
has a powerful effect upon poor Harry, causing him to feel exceedingly
as if he should like to do the same thing himself. The sister begins to
assure her brother of the inestimable amount of pleasure he has lost by
loitering at the "horrid" club, instead of accompanying her to the
delicious opera. The reply is that "the club" has voted Bosio a bore,
and that consequently he cannot think of wasting his valuable time by
going to hear her. The sister then makes some very severe remarks upon
clubs in the abstract, but is interrupted by her brother's inquiring if
she does not want to take a share in the great stakes which the club is
endeavouring to raise, in order to pit Tom Hyer against Harry Broome
the English champion. The sister pretends to be so provoked at the
raillerie of her brother, that she smiles in a way that makes her look
doubly pretty, calls him a "horrid creature," then turns to Harry Brown
and indulges in some rather pointed observations, relative to divers of
the good people who were among the audience at the opera.

Mrs. Smith, who has up to this moment been very laudably occupied in
seeing that the young people get a due proportion of the well selected
viands, now comes in for a part of the conversation. She, good lady,
knows the fathers and grandfathers, mothers and grandmothers, of the
present generation, and can tell just what amount of homage each of the
dashing families of the city have a right to lay claim to. She declares
that Mrs. Simms has no right to assume the importance that she
does--that though her father was a very respectable man, still, when she
was a girl, the family lived in a very obscure part of the town, and
were wholly unknown among our first people. Miss Smith, however, who is
very much afraid that her mother is going to indulge in too minute and
wearisome an investigation of genealogies, conducts the conversation to
subjects which she supposes to be more interesting to the rest of the
party. She objects to the want of taste displayed by those awful looking
Misses Rogers, who deck themselves out like young girls, when every body
knows they have been in society for the last fifteen years--that their
mother has made herself notorious, as well as ridiculous, by angling for
every young man of desirable means in the city. Miss Smith likewise
expresses her wonder when that stupid Lieutenant Jones will marry Miss
Simms. She declares that "she is tired of seeing the two together; that
one cannot go to any public place, but the first persons who meet the
eye are Jones and Miss Simms; that if the weather is fair, and you walk
out, there are the loving couple in the street. Go to Newport, there
they are--go to the opera, there they are. If they can find means to run
incessantly to parties and balls, watering places and operas, why cannot
they get married?" Miss Smith concludes her observations on the
over-fond lovers, by emphasising the words "so stupid, is it not?" at
the same time giving them both an affirmative and interrogative
character. Harry Brown responds that it might be excessively
uninteresting to be always thus placed in proximity to Miss Simms, but
that there are other young ladies of his acquaintance, with whom such
extreme intimacy would be any thing but stupid. To this ambiguous use of
the word "stupid," Miss Smith makes no reply, but merely looks at Mr.
Brown as if she had not the slightest idea whatever that a very personal
allusion to herself had been made by that gentleman. Miss Smith again
indulges in reflections on society with a great deal of freedom and
pointedness of expression, which much amuses cousin George, who laughs
approvingly at what he terms the "sharpness" of his relative. Brother
Charles remains wholly unattentive to a kind of conversation which his
fair sister so often takes part in, and is absorbed in estimating, on
the back of a visiting card, the probability of his winning his bet on
the late election. Harry Brown, after his complimentary effort, sinks
into a state of silence, induced by the loquacity of Miss Smith, the
hilarity of cousin George, and the negligence of brother Charles. Alas
for Harry! he is considering the likelihood that such a censorious young
lady can have a kind heart--or would make a good wife. At this moment,
Mr. Smith, Senior, walks into the dining-room. A worthy, respectable,
and well-to-do man is Mr. Smith, the elder; he pays his taxes and he
loves his children, and who can do more? Miss Smith immediately rises
from the table, puts up her dear little mouth to her papa to be kissed.
The tender parent goes through the osculatory process in such an
affectionate manner, that Harry Brown is strongly impressed with the
idea that the old gentleman would make a trump of a father-in-law, and
he begins to suspect that Miss Smith's heart is not so bad after all.
The elderly Smith takes his seat, having first shaken Harry by the hand
in a friendly, familiar way, that indicates a very good opinion of that
worthy young person. The conversation again reverts to operatics, but
Harry seems to have forgotten all his late familiarity with such
subjects, and becomes suddenly very conversant with rail-roads, canals
and stocks, and launches out into an earnest conversation with Mr. Smith
on those interesting topics.

But everything must have an end, and so about midnight Mr. Brown walks
home through a foot of snow, because his mind is too much occupied with
thoughts of Miss Smith and her cousin George, to allow him to think of
calling a cab.

Let us now see what becomes of those gentlemen who have been sitting in
the parquette, giving the opera their most anxious attention at all such
times as either the prima donna is on the stage, or any aria is sung,
but who have been giving quite unmistakeable signs of ennui and
weariness during the recitatives and choruses. If we have narrowly
observed the movements of this portion of the audience, we will have
remarked, that during the performance of the last act they have, from
time to time, cast hurried glances towards the avenues of egress, and
contorted their countenances in a way which would indicate that their
olfactories were greeted by certain savory odours, imperceptible to
every body but the possessors of the said olfactories. These gentlemen,
immediately after leaving the opera, may be seen to walk along the
street in companies of three or four, with a hurried step, until their
progress is arrested by the view of divers green, blue, pink, or crimson
coloured lamps, holding a very conspicuous position over the doors of
some houses of very suggestive exterior, or before some suspicious
hiatuses in the pavement, where those horrid monsters, who figure in
Christmas pantomimes, might easily be imagined to dwell. These lamps
seem to be possessed of a most incredible power of human attraction, for
no sooner does their light fall upon the vision of the nocturnal
wayfarer, than he is drawn within the portals over which they are
established. Upon mounting the steps into these houses, or descending
into these subterranean regions, the inquirer will discover a long,
brilliantly illuminated, gaudily papered chamber, whose walls are
ornamented with numerous over-grown mirrors, and French coloured
prints, representing young ladies in short dresses, standing in every
possible posture except that usually assumed by ladies of our
acquaintance. Along one side of this apartment, at the distance of about
three and a half feet from the wall, extends a marble slab, placed in a
horizontal position, and elevated three feet from the floor, forming a
species of enclosure. Within this enclosure, a number of men, habited to
the waist in white garments,--apparently a nameless order of
priesthood--are going through some inexplicable mystic rites, repeatedly
seizing up various large glass bottles containing transparent or opaque
liquids, and carrying them to different parts of this marble slab at the
request of various persons, who seem to be the worshippers in this
temple. At one end of the enclosure, a solitary man of a dark and sombre
hue, evidently a person held more sacred than the other priests, is seen
alternately to hammer portions of some hard matter, resembling stone in
appearance, and then split them by the magical application of a small
piece of blunt iron. He conducts this ceremony with the greatest
solemnity, occasionally pronouncing these incantatory words, "Plate or
shell, sah?" in a seemingly interrogative manner. The worshippers at
these shrines are some of the same young gentlemen whom we have seen
standing back in the opera boxes by the doors, making fast remarks on
all that was passing around them, or sitting in the parquette
endeavouring to annihilate the prima donna by the attractiveness of
their appearance. Others, of this same class of persons, merely pass
through this chamber, having first said in a low tone to the most
potential of the priests, "Four dozen broiled; ale for one, and brandy
and water for three." The priest immediately repeats these words so
fraught with significance, in a loud voice, which resounds through the
whole chamber. An invisible priest, at some distance from the first,
again repeats them, and thus the mysterious sound is passed from one
unseen priest to another, until it ceases to be heard in the distance.

Nothing more is seen of the last described devotees, for some time after
their leaving the mysterious apartment; but about midnight a confused
sound of human voices is heard to issue from another mysterious chamber.
Some of those voices express a dogged determination on the part of
their proprietors, to remain shut up within the present confines until
the matutinal hours; other voices assure a universal confidence in the
powers of a certain bob-tail mare, while one teaches in the Italian
language the secret of ever living happily.[b] At between two and three
o'clock in the morning, several of our operators are seen to emerge
from the aforesaid houses and subterranean abodes, in a very musical, as
well as affectionate frame of mind. One gentleman, totally regardless of
the lateness of the hour, after manifesting a strong desire to embrace a
large party of his friends, kindly invites them home to take tea with
him. Another walks homeward, expressing his notions on the secret of
living happily in a cantatory way. A third is assisted into a cab by his
associates, with directions to the driver to set him down at his
lodgings. Arrived there, he is put to bed, when he dreams that he is
falling down five hundred precipices; that afterwards a huge man is on
the point of cutting off his head, but a very prima donna like looking
lady comes in and intercedes for him, and she thus saves his life; that
he is just going to be married to the prima donna like looking lady,
when his pleasure is interrupted by the sound of ten thousand horns,
each one four times as large as that he saw the tyrant have in the
opera; whereupon he awakes, and discovers that there is a cry of fire,
and the firemen are making almost as much noise as the orchestra did,
when it was doing the crashing passages.

[b] Il segreto per esser felici.

* * * * *

In the morning, the chambermaid wonders why Mr. Higgins rings for water,
when she recollects filling the ewer full the night previous. Next day
Mr. Higgins examines his operatic accounts, and finds them to stand

To one pair kid gloves, $1.00
" opera ticket, (secured seat,) 1.50
" supper, 3.00
" cab-hire, 1.00
Total, 6.50

At that moment his land-lady sends in the bill for lodging, which,
by-the-by, she always seems to do when he is in one of his repentant
moods, and Mr. Higgins expresses a kind wish that all Italians were in a
climate somewhat warmer than that of the south of Europe.

The Smiths do not feel any inconvenience, physical or pecuniary, from
their visit to the opera, and petit souper afterwards. "When one has
money," says Mrs. Smith, in a very oracular tone, "what is the use of
it, except to let people know that one has got it!" Immediately after
this expression of her sentiments in regard to filthy lucre, Mrs. Smith
tells the servant not to give a shilling to the whimpering little boy
who has been sweeping the snow off the pavement; that a sixpence is
enough, and more than enough, for him, and that it is wrong to encourage
such exorbitance.

* * * * *

Now, that Mr. Higgins should feel thirsty in the morning, or that Mrs.
Smith should regret to part with a sixpence, concerns not us; we have
not been writing to correct public morals, but only to amuse the

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