« PreviousContinue »
Paris now became the object of her curiosity, and thither she directed her steps the succeding year; where her taste must have been highly gratified. The singing of Sacchini had attracted her attention. She received his instructions; and he soon alter quitted the stage of mortality.
Mrs. B. now returned to England, and performed repeatedly at Covent Garden theatre, with dTstinguished approbation. Her recent improvements must have made her a still greater favourite with the public-, her merits, heightened by assiduous cultivation, met with an ample remuneration.
It is, however, the peculiar property of real genius never to be content with present attainments. The intellectual energies, unwearied in their proi gress, are rapidly borne towards the goal of perfection. Such was the case of Mrs. Billington, who therefore turned her attention to Italy, the seat of the fine arts, where the human voice had always been the object of cultivation.
In the year 1794, accordingly Mr. and Mrs. Billington set out for Italy, and during her absence abroad she ever kept in view her improvement. Milan, Leghorn, Padua, Genoa, Florence, and Naples, witnessed the display of her wonderful powers, and bestowed a most flattering portion of approbation. With such tokens of applause her sensibility must have been exquisitely gratified.
Naples, indeed, was the priucipal scene of her success and triumph. The polished taste and refined mannersof the Neapolitans accorded with the delicate taste of the subject of our Memoirs. Here she attained to an amazing degree of popularity.
A circumstance, however, occurred during her stay at Naples, which must be mentioned, because it must have contributed in no small degree to her success. This was her introduction to court by Sir Willliam Hamilton and his lady; who, naturally proud of having so celebrated a singer from their own country, shewed her every possible attention. The King and Queen of Naples, in consequence of this introduction, were liberal in their favours— and such a flattering distinction was the sure passport to an extensive popularity. The British nobility then resident at Naples, were not wanting also in their countenance of Mrs. B. Thus circumstanced, we cannot wonder at the attachment of our heroine to Italy. So great was the attachment, that having married a native of Lyons in the ear 1797, she has since that period resided with im on an estate in the neighbourhood of Venice, delightful as to its situation and rural scenery.
Mrs. B. nevertheless, indulging a predilection for her native country, has visited England once more, and been most kindly received. At Covent Garden Theatre, on Saturday the 3d of October, did this lady make her appearance before a inost crouded audience, by whom she was congratulated with the ardour of enthusiasm. In giving an account ef her debut, and of her attainments in the Italian school, we despair of doing her justice, and shall, therefore, insert the following able criticisms, taken from a respectable print: the article will not fail to gratif y the readers of our Miscellany:
"Mrs. Billington, who has been so long the object of courtship by rival Managers, on Saturday night made her appearance before the English audience, after a study of seven years in the school of Italy. Every amateur of the art must rejoice on seeing the English stage thus strengthened and enriched, for music is the source of high and important influence both oil the morals and the taste of a nation. Every people, however barbarous, feel its powers, and it is only the inconsiderate who say, that it loses in force what it gains in science; or that it enervates in proportion as it polishes and softens the heart. If this same criticism upon Science were to be admitted as just, we apprehend that the spirit of the doctrine must not be confined to music, but extended to all the series of the elegant arts. Nothing, however, is so false, as the supposition that science undermines the simplicity of. natural taste, or deadens the sensibilities of the heart. We are subject, indeed, in the progress of every art, to the capricious fooleries of the inven-. live talent, and it too frequently happens that the love of novelty cherishes an extravagant style, by which, like the sated appetite of an epicure, a false taste is raised and gratified by niceties. It would be as unjust, however, tp ascribe these errors to true science, as to brand any of the cardinal virtues with the affectations of the\ hypocrite, or to renounce knowledge because it may be abused.
"In musk every people has a style; and the consent of mankind has called that the most perfect which is the most simple. Thus the affinity be", tvveen the music of Scotland and that of Italy, or. in other, words, between the most simple and the most polished—is greater than between that of any other two nations. Italy has cultivated, and to a very great degree preserved its science untainted by any vicious errors. It is not, however, altogether, pure. The Germans have at length invaded the school, and a false extravagance has become too popular. The success of the Germans in the powers of instruments has led them to discover the human voice may also be made an instrument, and that its natural compass may be enlarged to an almost unlimited degree.—Without entering into any curious investigation of the natural organ, by which the pathetic sound, so superior to that of any artificial instrument, is propagated and sustained, wt shall only observe, that its influence on the soul is greatest when it comes from the breast, and that it diminishes in its power over the affections as it is generated in the throat, or proceeds onty from the head. The last mode of propagating sound, (or what may be termed the nasal tone) is the fruitful source of all those playful and captivating delicacies which charm without affecting, and touch the ear without reaching the heart. He must be fastidious, however, that would object to this exquisite indul
fence; since the talent may be exerted without estroying the more valuable source of moral emotion—the heartfelt energies of the natural voice.
"We are led to this prefatory observation, because the return of Mrs. Billington maybe considered as an epoch in the English school. She is so peculiarly endowed with this new talent of execution, that it is likely to influence the style of the stage, and to give a fashion to the art. With the natural voice of Mrs. Billington the public are well acquainted. She is one of the instances which ought ever to be held up as a model of imitation to the student, as she shews what wonders may be achieved by indefatigable exercise. Not merely skill but power are to be acquired by labour; so true is it, that the faculties, as well as the muscles, are to be strengthened by use. Mrs. Billington's quality of voice, of course, remains the same, but it is improved in force, and mellowed by time. She is in fine health. Her emhonpoint is a little beyond the ton of the day; but her figure is grand; and derives from her deportment, step, and manners, an uncommon interest. In this respect she is also most highly improved. Her carriage is easy, collected, and graceful. Her attitudes and action are just; and in executing the most difficult of her cadences, the betrays none of those contortions which some of our singers so ridiculously, as well as painfully, fall into by habit.
"We come now to examine her performance of the character of Mandane, in the beautiful opera of Artaxerxes. Her advance and presentation to the audience was distinguished by its elegance of address. It prepossessed the spectator by its ease.— The duettino with Mr. Incledon, which immediately followed, gave an admirable scope for the display of her cantabile, in contrast with a voice, the richest and most powerful in natural melody that our stage possesses. And here we found the advantage which science gives to nature. Mr. IncleDon's voice, superior in every valuable requisite, had not the delicacy and taste Which high cultivation only can confer, and by which the delicious sympathy of the tones is heightened, and rendered irresistible. Mrs. Billington sung the duet with beauty and truth—but this air, as well as that which followed, and still more the fine air of "Let not rage thy bosom firing "—served to prove that the affecting is not so peculiarly her province as the bravura. In the latter she is not merely striking, but her powers exceed the grasp of our imagination. She imitates and goes beyond all the difficulties of the most exquisite violin; and she is therefore to ba considered as having reached the achme of instrumental singing. The new bravura song introduced by a daring hand into the work of Dr. Arne, was executed by her with such rapid, varied, and surprising feats of the voice (if we may be allowed the phrase) as to electrify the audience. It was a species of wonder, which made the mind doubt of it being human, it so nearly resembled the warbling of a bird. This song was originally composed for Mrs. Billington, by Bianchi, when at Naples, and sung by her in the Theatre of San Carlos, to the enchantment of all the amateurs of