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I stopped dead short. "You said I was not a gentleman, Lord —,” I said. "I was only going to place us on an equality. But your Lordship's politeness renders it unnecessary. I shall expect to have the honour of hearing soon from your Lordship." I left him.
The public are sick of duels; and so am I. Every lacquey-school novel has two or three. I received his shot in my side, and missed him. He lives to mock at his plebeian victim. But, though I die like the Roman gladiator, I shall yet be avenged.
I write these lines from a bed, from which I shall never rise, with a hand that will soon be cold in death, and a mind whose already decayed energies will soon, in this world at least, cease to exist. I know not what may be the death-bed of a patriot; mine assuredly is no bed of roses. I look on what I am, and compare it with what I might have been had I followed an honest calling, or even stuck to my profession, instead of becoming the tool of an oligarchical faction and a political
A SONG IN EXILE.
BY THE AUTHOR OF CORN-LAW RHYMES."
Poland's tears and Liberty's.
Why not London, Englishmen ?
Thou, oh Father, tremblest not!
Recreant France, thy conquerors.
Bribed the Goth to purchase her.
Sheffield, March 2, 1834.
THE NECESSITY AND THE POWER OF GIVING AN OPERA TO THE ENGLISH.
WE trust we have established three points in our position:-First, that the legitimate opera surpasses any modification of dialogue and music in the nature and degree of pleasurable sensations it excites; secondly, that both with respect to the poetry and music, this construction is susceptible of the utmost regularity, yet not incapable of any extension of the ornamental parts; and, thirdly, that the finest models exist in Metastasio, and in the composers of the last and present century. It remains, then, only to treat of the encouragement given to the foreign exemplars and to our own, and of the talents of our poets, composers, and artists.
Two distinct courses mark the progress of the foreign and the English musical drama.
The performance of operas had scarcely been tried in England, before the highest classes determined to put an end to the struggle made by the original introducers, and a subscription amounting to 50,000l. was raised in 1720, under the auspices of a chartered institution called "The Royal Academy of Music," and a board consisting of a governor, deputygovernor, and twenty directors, elected from amongst persons of the highest rank and best taste, the King himself subscribing 1000/. to establish a complete performance, instead of the mutilated dramas which we have already described. They went to work judiciously, commencing their task by engaging a poet to write the libretti; the three finest composers then known-Bononcini, Attilio, and Handel; and to the last they entrusted the engagement of the singers for whom he was to write. This at once gave a local habitation and a name to the Italian theatre— a supremacy which has never since been compensated. The highest patronage was secured; nor has the exclusive principle thus begun been ever relaxed. The plan of private boxes, which extends to so large a portion of the house that it may be justly termed universal, and is indeed made entirely so by letting the spare boxes for the night, the high price of admission, both to pit and gallery, and the rule of full dress which, till the last few years, was observed, and, to a great extent, still prevails, though by custom and acquiescence rather than positive institution;— these adjuncts, we say, give to the King's Theatre (even this title does something) a superiority in every respect unknown to the other houses; and without intending to detract from the exalted excellence of the performance, we may be permitted to point out, that this very excellence is ensured by the rank and taste of the subscribers, and of the audience generally, by the power and extent of the funds thus raised, and, last not least, by the comparative infrequency (two nights in the week) of the performance, and the long-continued repetition of the same pieces*.
*The usual period for running an opera is a month at the first; but in some later seasons, when it has been thought expedient to try every sort of stimulus, this allowance has been doubled. In 1828, the house opened in the second week in January. The operas given were, "Margerita d'Anjou," "Zelmira," "Tancredi," ," "Otello," "La Rosa Rossa e la Rosa Bianca," "La Clemenza di Tito,” “Il Crociato," ," "Il Barbiere di Seviglia," "Semiramide," "Il Don Giovanni," "La Donna del Lago," "Medea," "La Cenerentola," "Nina," and "La Gazza Ladra." In these fifteen operas there was little novelty, but much diversity.
Here we have the three greatest requisites and incitements to perfection, though not in the same order-power to remunerate the greatest talent, leisure to improve it to the utmost, and judgment to award the due measure of praise or censure. Such is the fair representation of the stimulus, the reward, and the direction which have for the last century awaited the exercise of foreign musical and dramatic talent in England. But this is by no means all the advantage the foreigner enjoys above the national theatres. The elites of the whole continental world are engaged at enormous salaries-Italy, Germany, France, contribute their finest and best performers; and it forms no unimportant part of the subject to observe how this excellence is reared and nurtured abroad. Every town of the least note in Italy has its Opera*, for which musical
*The arrangements of these companies is thus amusingly described by the author quoted subsequently in the text. It serves to show the interest that national and dramatic music especially excites throughout all Italy. "The mechanism of an Italian theatre is as follows:-the impresario is frequently one of the most wealthy and considerable persons of the little town he inhabits. It most commonly proves a ruinous undertaking. He forms a company, consisting of a prima donna, tenore, basso cantante, basso buffo, a second female singer, and a basso. He engages a maestro (composer) to write a new opera, who has to adapt his airs to the voices and capacities of the company. The poem (libretto) is purchased at the rate of from sixty to eighty francs from some unlucky son of the Muses, who is generally a poor hungry abbé, the hanger-on to some rich family of the neighbourhood. The character of the parasite, so admirably painted by Terence, is still found in all its glory in Lombardy, where the smallest town can boast of five or six families, with an income of five thousand livres. The impresario, who, as we before observed, is generally the head of one of these families, intrusts the care of the financial department of the concern to a registrario, who is commonly some pettifogging lawyer, who holds the situation of his steward. The next thing that usually happens is that the impresario falls in love with the prima donna; and one of the great objects of curiosity among the gossips of the little town, is to know if he will give her his arm in public.
"The troop, thus organised, at length gives its first representation, after a month of cabal and intrigues, that form subjects of conversation for the whole period. This prima recita forms an era of the utmost importance in the simple annals of this little town, and of which larger towns can form no idea. During a whole month, eight or ten thousand persons do nothing but discuss the merits and defects both of the music and singers, with all the stormy vivacity which is native to the Italian clime. This first representation, if no unforeseen disaster occur, is generally followed by twenty or thirty others, after which the company breaks up. This is what is generally called a stagione (season.) The last and best is that of the carnival. The singers who are not scriturati (engaged) in any of these companies, are usually to be found at Milan or Bologna: there they have agents, whose business it is to find them engagements, or to manœuvre them into better situations when an opportunity offers. At length the most important of evenings arrives. The maestro takes his place at the piano; the theatre overflows; people have flocked from ten leagues distance; the curious form an encampment around the theatre in their calashes; all the inns are filled to excess, where insolence reigns at its height. All occupations have ceased; at the moment of the performance the town has the aspect of a desert. All the passions-all the solicitudes-all the life of a whole population is concentrated in the theatre. The overture commences; so intense is the attention that the buzzing of a fly could be heard. On its conclusion, the most tremendous uproar ensues. It is either applauded to the clouds or hissed or rather howled at without mercy. It is not in Italy as in other countries, where the first representation is seldom decisive, and where either vanity or timidity prevents each man from intruding his individual opinion, lest it should be found in discordance with the opinions of the majority. In an Italian theatre, they shout, they scream, they stamp, they belabour the backs of the seats with their canes, with all the violence of persons possessed. It is thus that they force upon others the judgment which they have formed, and strive to prove that it is the only sound April.-VOL. XL. NO. CLX. 2 H
dramas are expressly composed. "After his success at Bologna," says the biographer of Rossini," which is considered as the head-quarters of Italian music, Rossini received offers from every town in Italy. Every impresario (director) was required, as a sine quâ non, to furnish his theatre with an opera from the pen of Rossini." Thus, Italy presents a series of hot-beds in which talent is stimulated to the utmost. We presume there is scarcely an instance to be found in England of an original composition brought out at a provincial theatre. Such works must have the impress of metropolitan approbation before they can be listened to or endured in the country, to say nothing of the impossibility the provincial manager would encounter of paying the labours of the composer. These are the circumstances which, together with the daily intermixture of music with religion in Italy, tend, perhaps, as much as climate and constitution, to exalt the excellence of Italian singers, over and above the stimulus applied by the eternal repetition of music in their churches and streets, and the excellent foundation given to no small numbers in their conservatorios. From all these causes, music becomes almost a part of their nature, and certainly an article of the first necessity.
In England, the music of the drama is in every sense made secondary. We have shown how subordinate a part it holds in the structure of opera -how its effects are interrupted and dissipated by dialogue. But even this is scarcely the worst. By the station assumed by, and allowed to the foreign drama, it is at once depressed to a lower-an indefinitely lower place. Opinion is enlisted against English opera at the very outset. It is demitted to the English theatres, a term, in this sense, of reproach. Will any body living, after seeing an opera at the King's Theatre, venture to compare the music, the house, the band, the singers, or the company of Covent-garden or Drury-lane, with what they witness, enjoy, and admire at the Haymarket? Unquestionably not. Let any person attend one Italian opera, and the English theatre is degraded for ever in his estimation †. It is very questionable whether this sense of
one; for, strange to say, there is no intolerance equal to that of the eminently sensitive. At the close of each air, the same terrific uproar ensues; the bellowings of an angry sea could give but a faint idea of its fury.
"Such, at the same time, is the taste of an Italian audience, that they at once distinguish whether the merit of an air belongs to the singer or the composer. The cry is Bravo David! bravo Maestro!' Rossini then rises from his seat at the piano, his countenance wearing an air of gravity, a thing very unusual with him; he makes three obeisances, which are followed by salvos of applause, mingled with a variety of short and panegyrical phrases. This done, they proceed to the next piece.
"Rossini presides at the piano during the first three representations, after which he receives his 800 or 1000 francs, is invited to a grand parting dinner, given by his friends, that is to say, by the whole town, and he then starts in his veturino, with his portmanteau much fuller of music paper than of other effects, to commence a similar course in some other town forty miles distant."
*When Torri first appeared in England, the writer was sitting next a professor of admirable taste and science, who had passed much of his time in Italy. After Torri's first air, he said, “Almost every house in Italy, I assure you, would produce as good a singer as this man. I do not wish to disparage his ability, but merely to shew how much better the art is there cultivated."
Three or four seasons ago, Laporte, at his benefit, gave "Tancredi," supported by Malibran, Sontag, &c. and the English farce of "The Lottery Ticket," in order to display his own ability in Wormwood-a most disgusting part. Nothing
national degradation is not increased by the adaptation of Italian operas through which it has been found imperative to amuse the public, instead of the original productions of native composers. It was indeed supposed that the general taste would be raised and improved by a nearer acquaintance with the finest Italian pieces, when Storace first incorporated their music with our operas and our language. But if that supposition form any ground at present for transmuting Mozart, and Rossini, and Bellini, it also serves to prove the assertion, that Englishmen can produce nothing so well worthy the approbation of their countrymen-an admission of the most fatal tendency.
When we continue the parallel, the same injurious inferiority will be found throughout. The band are lower in talent. Why? Because the funds of the King's Theatre are sufficient to pay the superiors of the profession-because an engagement in the one is more honourable than in the other-because the service of the one is devoted wholly to accompaniment because the nights of performance are fewer, the rehearsals more, and the correcting judgment of the audience far more certain and more awful. The singers at the English theatres feel the same depression. What ruins their style ?-the knowledge that, to gain an engagement, they must gain popularity. Now, the majority of audi ences are those who pay from four shillings to sixpence for their admittance. If it be not thought too contemptuous, they may fairly be said to be the vulgar. To their level, then, must the artist lower his style, if he desires to be encored three times, and, upon the strength of those plaudits, enabled to fix his own enormous nightly salary*.
It need scarcely be added, his notions of refinement are obliterated, his manner becomes essentially violent and vulgar, to suit the capacities of his audience; and, thus the art is debased and ruined, not so much to gratify the cupidity of the artist, as to suit the popular demand. The aristocracies of rank, wealth, and taste resort to the King's Theatre; they are seldom, if ever, seen at an English House; and can it be á matter of wonder when the two are compared?
The first postulate then to give a fair chance to English talent is, to place it upon a par with the foreign in respect to patronage, because it is demonstrated that this, if it be not employed absolutely to depress native ability, is at least diverted from its support. The King's Theatre, we are persuaded, is the place, and the only place, where the English can
could be more finely executed than Rossini's beautiful, inspiring, and affecting music. The principal actors in the broad English farce were Laporte, Mr. W. Bennett, Mrs. Humby, and, to the best of our recollection, Mrs. Orger. It so happened, that we dined next day in company with Matthews, and sat next him at dinner. The conversation turned on the opera of the previous evening. Matthews was there; and we shall not soon forget the vehemence of his anger at such a comparison of the merits of the two dramas. "Sir," said he, "it was done on purpose to disgrace us. There was the most splendid audience the metropolis could assemble. Nothing could be more excellent than the acting or the music of the opera; and to this was contrasted one of the most vulgar of our farces. I say nothing of the actors; but, Sir, I blushed for my country. I sat thus, Sir, (holding his head in an attitude of the most ludicrous depression) the whole night. I dare not look to the right or the left. I blushed, Sir, for my country." And he concluded by giving a most marvellous proof of his own faculty by an imitation of Laporte in his address, which he could have heard but once.
*The best singers-Braham, Phillips, Stephens, Paton, &c., have been of late years engaged, not for the season, but a given number of nights, at per night, and the sums may be well be called enormous.