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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

Of The Primo Basso

"And for the bass, the beast can only bellow;

* * * * *

An Ignorant, noteless, timeless, tuneless fellow."


The Primo Basso is to the primo tenore what the draught horse is to the
racer; drawing along the heavy business of an opera, whilst the other
goes capering and curvetting through whole pages of chromatics, and runs
bounding with unerring precision over the most fearful musical
intervals. The basso, consequently, to uphold the vast superstructure
of song, must be a man furnished with a strong supporting and sustaining
voice. He usually plays the part of tyrants, either of the domestic
circle or of the throne; and the tyrants of fiction always have been
represented as over-grown individuals, from the time of the Titans down
to the giants who met with their well-merited fate from the invincible
arm of that doughty nursery hero--Jack the Giant Killer. It is a most
fortunate circumstance then for the basso, that while his powerful voice
must necessarily proceed from gigantic lungs, and these organs again are
chiefly found planted in largely developed frames, his huge proportions
only the better qualify him for his department of operatic personae. His
form is heavy, and would be muscular, if ease and indolence,
unrestrained appetite, and no more exertion than is requisite to blow
the bass-bellows during half a dozen evenings in the week, did not
permit an undue accumulation of adipose substance. His hair is generally
black, but not of that rich, glossy, curling kind, which decks the
fair brow of the delicate little tenor. His features are gross and
sensual, exhibiting about the amount of intelligence which may be
looked for in one of those bedecked and garlanded animals, whose
appearance among us announces the future sale of show beef. His dress is
an exhibition of slovenly grandeur. Each article of clothing is in
itself very handsome, perhaps very gaudy; but the manner in which it is
dragged on the figure, makes the tout ensemble coarse and common,
slovenly and disagreeable. His animal propensities hold the intellectual
faculties in bondage, and every approach to sentiment is excluded by the
clogged up avenues to thought. His manner of living is sensualite en
action. His life is an existence, tossed and troubled by the
vicissitudes of sleeping and feeding, with occasional interruptions of
mechanical vocalization. He possesses an organ, which it is supposed
cannot be impaired by indulgence in the pleasures of the table, and he
always acts as if he wished to put this supposition to the test. When he
orders his breakfast, therefore, he does not look down the carte in
order to see what viands he must avoid, but only to ascertain how many
dishes are likely to be objects agreeable to his palate. Substantials
form all his meals. No mild cafe au lait, composes the meal which is
to announce that he has commenced his daily labours of mastication.
After a morning's deglutition worthy of the anaconda, he suffers
digestion to prepare him for a walk, while he indulges in piles of
cigars. As this smoking effort is a long one, he is about ready to join
his elegant friend, the tenor, when the latter calls on him to go out
and astound the town. What a majestic stride the heavy, beefy fellow
puts on as he saunters down the street! How his body seems to say--for
his face is void of expression; how his body seems to say; "gentlemen,
you're all very well,--but it won't do; I out-weigh a dozen of you, and
the ladies have to surrender to such a superior weight of metal."

The basso seldom loves the prima donna. He regards her as a very
troublesome lady, who devils him at rehearsals, because he won't sing
in time; on the stage, because she wants to show her importance; and in
the salon, because she requires so much attention.

The only wonder is, how he and the delicate, sensitive tenor, persons
presenting such a decided contrast to each other, should live together
on terms of such apparent friendship. The reason, however, is, that the
association is not one arising from choice, but from necessity. Between
the tenor and the baritone, there is a something too much of similarity
in voice and physique to render them just the most inseparable friends
in the world; but in the vast musical gulf between the tenor and the
basso, all professional rivalry is buried.

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Previous: Of The Tenore

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