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
hrough 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.