Of The Tenore

"In short, I may, I am sure, with truth assert, that whether in the

allegro or in the piano, the adagio, the largo or the

forte, he never had his equal."--CONNOISSEUR. No. 130.

"Famed for the even tenor of his conduct, and his conduct as a


The Tenor is a small man, seldom exceeding the medium height. His voice

comparatively speaking, a small voice, and consequently not likely

to issue from over-grown lungs. His proportions are, or at least ought

to be, as symmetrical as possible. His hair, nine times out of ten, is

black, and always curls. His beard is reasonably bushy; but his

moustache is the most artistically cultivated and carefully nurtured

collection of hair that ever adorned the superior lip of man. His

features are likely to be handsome, sometimes, however, effeminately so.

His dress is a little extravagant; not extravagant in the mode and

manner of a fast man or a dandy--for it is not punctiliously fashionable

like that of the latter, without any deviation from tailor's plates;

neither does it resemble that of the former in the gentlemanly roughness

of its appearance; consequently he rejoices not in entire suits of grey

or plaid, those very sporting coats, those English country-gentleman's

shoes, those amply bowed cravats, and those shirts that are so

resplendent with the well executed heads of terrier dogs. No! the primo

tenore has a passion, first, for satin,--secondly, for jewelry,--and

lastly, for hats, boots and gloves. He dotes on satin scarfs, cravats

and ties, and his gorgeous satin vests, of all the hues of the rainbow,

astound the saunterer on the morning promenade. His love for pins,

studs, rings and chains is almost enough to lead us to believe that his

blood is mingled with that of the Mohawks. Boots that fit like gloves,

and gloves that fit like the skin, render him the envy of dandies. His

hat is smooth and glossy to an excess, and its peculiar formation makes

it considered "un peu trop fort," even by the most daring of


The tenor rises late; partly because he is naturally indolent; partly

because the prime basso drank him slightly exhilarated the evening

previous; and partly out of affectation and the desire to appear a very

fine gentleman. Having spent a long time in making a negligee

toilette, he orders his breakfast. Seated in his comprehensive arm

chair, and attired in all the splendor of a well-tinselled satin or

velvet calotte, a dazzling robe de chambre, and slippers of the most

brilliant colors, he takes his matutinal repast. And now we begin to

discover some of the thousand vexations and annoyances that harass the

life of this poor object of popular support. His breakfast is but the

skeleton of that useful and nourishing repast. No rich beef-steaks! no

tender chops! no fragrant ham nor well-seasoned omelettes, transfer

their nutritive properties through his system. Any indulgence in these

wholesome articles of food is considered direct destruction to the

tender organ of the tenor. A hunting breakfast every day, or a glass of

wine at an improper hour, if persisted in for any length of time, it is

supposed would ruin the most delightful voice that ever sung an aria.

A large cup of cafe au lait, with an egg beaten in it, is all the

morning meal of which the poor artiste (as he styles himself,) is

permitted to partake. This feat accomplished, he takes up the newspaper

in which he spells out the puff which he paid the reporter to insert,

and after satisfying himself that he has received his quid pro quo, he

lounges away the morning until a sufficient space of time has elapsed to

render the use of the voice no longer deleterious, as it is immediately

after eating. And then come two or three hours of study that is no

trifle. The tenor is a man; and it seems to be a great moral law, that

whether it come in the form of labor, disease, ennui or indigestion,

suffering shall be the badge of all our tribe. Even prima donnas, who

defy gods and men with more temerity than all living creatures, are

constrained to concede the obligation of this universal moral edict. The

tenor then yields homage to human nature and the public, in the labor of

climbing stubborn scales, rehearsing new operas, and sometimes, though

not often, in receiving the impertinence of arrogant prima donnas,

during several hours every day. After these fatiguing efforts, he makes

his grande toilette, and prepares himself to astound the town no less

by his personal attractions than by his song. The chief promenade of the

city, where he condescends to mete out to highly favoured audiences the

treasures of his organ, is made the day-theatre of his glory.

Accompanied by his friend the primo basso, he saunters along very

quietly, attracting the gaze of the curious, and calling forth the

passionate remarks of enthusiastic young ladies, who feel it would be a

pleasure to die, if they could only leave such a gentleman behind on

earth to sing "Tu che a Dio," in the event of their being "snatched

away in beauty's bloom."

The basso is the chosen male companion of the tenor's walk; firstly,

because he is no rival, and secondly, because the gross physical

endowments of the former are such as to bring out the latter's

symmetrical proportions in such strong relief.

Sometimes the tenor is seen riding out with the prima donna, with whom

he is nearly always a favorite. He is the gentleman who makes himself

useful in assisting her to destroy time; he performs for her those

thousand and one little delicate attentions for which all women are so

truly grateful; and then he sings with her every night those sentimental

duos, that necessarily produce their effect upon the feminine bosom.

Whether walking with his gigantic friend, or riding with his fair one,

the tenor behaves himself with the greatest propriety and gentleman-like

bearing, excepting always a certain air which leads us to believe that

he thinks "too curious old port" of himself. He is more grave, but

apparently more vain when on foot, than when seated in the carriage with

the prima donna; at which time his gesticulation becomes very animated,

sometimes very extravagant; though we must always accord it the

attraction of gracefulness.

The time is thus agreeably walked, ridden and "chaffed" away, until the

hour for the substantial dinner comes to fortify mankind against the

slings and arrows of hunger and tedium. Then the tenor does dare to

partake of a few, of what are technically called "the delicacies of the

season." But still a restraint is put upon the appetite, for in a few

hours more he must go through labours for which the "fulness of satiety"

would little prepare him. A very worthy and elderly clergyman of the

Church of England once made known to the writer his opinion concerning

after-dinner sermons, in the following words; "I believe, sir, that

though sermons preached through the medium of simple roast beef and

plum-pudding may have been sermons invented by inspiration; they are

sure to be enunciated through the agency of the devil." So melting

strains of solos and duos, when sung through the medium of soups, pates

and fricasees, lose their liquidity, and film, mantle and stagnate into

monotony. How the tenor is occupied until the hour of supper, we shall

relate in another chapter; suffice it to say that he is at home--that is

to say, on the stage.

But when supper comes he is no longer prevented by fear of "lost voice"

or any other dire calamity, from giving way to the cravings of hunger

and thirst. He eats with the relish of hunger induced by labor, and

drinks with the excitement arising from the consciousness that he is,

what in the language of the turf is styled "the favorite." The ladies

and gentlemen of the troupe usually assemble at supper, and it is then

that the tenor again bestows his galanteries on the prima donna, and

says many more really complimentary things than are to be found set down

in his professional role.

In concluding this sketch of the tenor, the writer would, with all due

submission to the opinion of the public, venture to discover his

sentiments upon a question which often agitates society; viz., whether

the tenor is always sick when he announces himself to be seriously

indisposed. The writer hopes he will not render himself liable to the

charge of duplicity or an attempt at evasion, when he declares it to be

his impression, that on the occasion of such announcements, the tenor is

sometimes seriously indisposed but not always. The tenor, as we have

before observed, is but a man, and must needs be subject to diseases

like other men; but when we consider the delicacy of his conformation,

we must multiply the chances of his liability to indisposition. His

organization is such, that the most trifling irregularity in his general

health operates immediately upon the voice. Now, for the tenor, in the

slightest degree out of tone, to appear before a merciless audience,

consisting of blase opera goers, tyrannical critics, hired depreciators,

and unrelenting musical amateurs, would indicate the most utter folly

and imbecility. The tenor is well aware that a reputation for singing

divinely a few nights in the year, is more lucrative than a reputation

for ability to sing tolerably well, taking an average of all the nights

in that space of time. It is consequently more advantageous for him to

sing occasionally, when he feels his voice to be in full force and

vigour, and his spirits in a sufficiently animated condition to warrant

his appearing with every certainty of success. When, therefore, he does

not favour the public with the melody of his notes, it is, generally

speaking because, without really suffering from a serious attack of

disease, he considers that his appearance would insure a future

diminution in the offers of the impresario. Hence the affiches

usually proclaim nothing but truth itself, when they declare that the

tenor is seriously indisposed; but then we must be careful to

interpret the word indisposition by that one of its significations which

is equivalent to disinclination.

That some compulsory measures might be taken to make these gentlemen

"who can sing but won't sing" more complying, and willing to yield to

the wishes and request of managers and audiences, the writer has never

entertained a doubt. The ways and means of effecting such an object, he

will not take upon himself to devise or advise, but will merely state a

fact which probably may induce some one to enter upon a thorough

examination of the subject, and suggest the remedy. Upon one occasion,

when the Havannah troupe was performing in Philadelphia, and a favorite

tenor had been amusing himself by trifling with the public, until the

patience of that forbearing portion of mankind was entirely exhausted;

the treasury was beginning to fall extremely low, and the wearied out

director was well nigh driven to desperation. In this critical juncture

of affairs, the gentleman who was the legal adviser of the troupe was

applied to, to say whether there was not some compulsory process known

to the law, by which the refractory tenor could be brought to a

recognition of the right of the rest of the company to the use of his

voice to attract large audiences, and thereby replenish the empty

coffers of the treasury. Upon answer that there existed no such process,

the distracted director muttered a few maledictions upon our country,

with a sneer at our free institutions, and informed the astonished

counsellor, that in Havannah, when the tenor was supposed to be feigning

sickness, the proper authorities were resorted to for the right of an

examination of the offending party by a physician, and a certificate of

the state of his health. Upon the physician certifying that the signor

was able to go through his role, a few gendarmes were dispatched to

seize the delinquent and take such means as would sooner coerce him into

a compliance with the stipulations of his professional contract.

Every reasonable excuse, however, should be made for the necessity the

tenor is under to be careful of the delicate organ whereby he gains his

subsistence. When we reflect how many of these poor fellows lose their

voices and are consequently driven to throw themselves on the cold

charity of the public--or out of the window, we must be struck with the

inhumanity which would be exercised if this professional singer were

excluded from enjoying occasionally by permission, what every clergyman

in the land can always claim as a right--the disease which the Hibernian

servant expressively denominated "the brown gaiters in the throat."