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The dansomania under which the French metropolis labours, is an illustration of this, independently of a multitude of other traits to be culled at random. The attachment borne by the Parisians to the ballet is not less passionate, than that which the Greeks entertained for the Olympic games, objects, indeed, rather more dignified and masculine. It is, as you know, recorded, that the whole body of the citizens of Athens, ran in pursuit of a bird which escaped from the bosom of Alcibiades, when that orator was addressing them on highly important interests of state. I could find no difficulty in multiplying instances of national levity, not less striking, which fell under my observation during my sojourn in France. The public festivals of Paris abound with them. I recollect to have seen multitudes of elderly men and women, perhaps a sixth of the adult population of Paris, returning from an annual fair held in the park of St. Cloud in the month of September, with rattles in their hands, and seemingly much delighted with the noise of their plaything!
One of the most remarkable of the modern improvements in the French opera, is the attention paid to propriety of costume, especially when the personages of antiquity are brought on the stage. In this particular, the Parisians, in all their theatrical exhibitions, eminently excel the rest of the worM. The case, however, was the reverse, two centuries ago. "Every actor," says Addison, speaking in one of his Spectators of the French theatre of his day, " that comes on the stage is a beau. The shepherds are all embroidered, and acquit themselves better than our English dancing masters. I have seen a couple of rivers appear in red stockings; and Alpheus, instead of having his head covered with sedge and bull-rushes, making love in a full-bottom periwig, and a plume of feathers. I remember the last opera I saw in that merry nation, (the French) was the Rape of Proserpine, where Pluto, to make the more tempting figure, puts himself in a French equipage, and brings Ascalaphus along with him as his valetde chambre" I can add to this, that even as late as the beginning of the last century, Julius Caesar was seen on the principal theatres both of England and France, in an-attire like that which Addison here mentions in the case of Alpheus.
Whatever may be the classical exactness of the scenery, and dresses of the Grand Opera, nothing can exceed the indecency of the costume, appropriated to the female dancers. The Italian opera of London is obnoxious to the same reproach, although not in an equal degree. I am not surprised that the bishop of that capital, was desirous of abating this Vol. III. 2 C
nuisance, by means of an act of parliament, or that it should have fallen under the ban of " the Society for the suppression of vice." The Parisian corps de ballet appear on the stage in a condition very little different, in effect, from that in which the wrestlers are said to have contended, at the Olympic games, after the misfortune which befel Orcippus. When the change to which this circumstance led, took place, all women and girls were, as you may recollect, prohibited on pain of death from appearing at the stadium. Were I to legislate for France, I certainly would enact a similar rule with respect to the Grand Opera, although perhaps, under a sanction somewhat less severe. It was not inaptly said by a French wit, that in order to insure success to a representation at this theatre; il ne falloit qifallonger les danses, et racourcir les jupes." The state of the public morals of the French metropolis is not, in all probability, such, as that evil can now result from the licentiousness ©f the stage in any respect. The Opera, however, has, no doubt, had its share in the formation of the present character of the nation. It is certainly in many points, a type or reflection of that character.
Such is the magnificence of the Academie Imperiale de Musique, that, notwithstanding the crowds which frequent it, the government, to which it exclusively belongs, is annually brought in debt by the establishment. The surplus of the disbursements over the receipts forms an item of the public expenses, in the budget of the minister of finance. The preparation of such an opera as " The Triumphs of Trajan," could not have cost less than ten or fifteen thousand dollars. The conqueror appears on the stage in a car drawn by a number of horses, and attended by a crowd of nearly six hundred persons, all of whom are engaged in the regular service of the Academy. It is subject to a formal code of laws, and governed by a special " administration," the members of which are appointed by the Emperor. The performers are paid out of the national treasury. The salary even of the most eminent, is but trifling, when compared with what they might earn from the public, if they enjoyed a free agency in the exertion of their powers. They are not suffered to leave the metropolis without a particular license from the " administration," not even for the purpose of regaling the Provincials. When allowed to visit foreign countries, the motive and the condition are, invariably,—the promotion of some political purpose, and not the advancement of their private fortunes.
The dissoluteness of the lives of this gentry, beggars all description. An opera heroine and a femme galante, have been, at all times, regarded as synonimes, and no reason, as you may be well assured, now exists, why they should be differently considered. The scandalous chronicle of the opera, although equal in corruption, and not much superior in refinement, to that of a brothel, is a subject of great interest for all ranks of society, and much the theme of polite discourse. The amours of Vestris, and of Elleviou, the Coryphreus of the French comic opera, are not only hawked about the streets, and embodied in volumes, but current in the drawing-room, and familiar to every boudoir. These gentlemen seem to have been eminently hommesa bonnes fortunes, and to have broken many hearts, as well in the regions of fashion, as in the sphere of their professional converse. The triumphs and infidelities of "the god of the dance," surpass in number and eclat, those related by the poets, of the good old monarch of Olympus himself.
I have already spoken of the interest taken by the Parisian-s of every grade, in the concerns of the members of the greenroom, universally. That attracted by the "divinities" of the Grand Opera, is however much the most lively, inasmuch as they are admitted to occupy the highest rank in the yet decried profession of the stage, contributing as they do, not merely to banquet the public taste, but,—according to an official declaration of the government,—to adorn the national character. The Emperor himself might,—not without reason,—be jealous of some of the personages of his academy. I was convinced of this, by the moral effect of an unlucky accident, which I witnessed at the opera, during his warfare in the north of Europe against Russia. At the representation of a new ballet called Ulisses,ont of the female dancers, in the act of descending on the stage in a cloud, in the character of Minerva, fell precipitately from a height of nearly fifteen feet, and was much injured. The confusion, dismay, distress and anguish of the whole house on the occasion, are altogether indescribable. Never was there a more prodigal display of sensibility: never in any assembly a more general and violent paroxysm of sighing, shrieking, groaning, sobbing and swooning. The attention and sympathy of the "good city of Paris," were, I can vindertake to assert, more powerfully excited the next day, by this occurrence, than they had been by the contents of any one of the bulletins transmitted from '' the grand army," during the whole of the campaign of Poland then in its most critical period. The gazettes, the coffee-houses, even the faubourgs rung with the melancholy event. The sufferer received visits of condolence from most of the leading members of the haut ton, and was comforted in her misfortune, by a free benefit which the sympathy of the Parisians rendered so lucrative, that it must have enriched her for life. I should not forget, however, to add, that notwithstanding the intensity of their compassionate sorrow, and these benevolent efforts to alleviate her calamity, very many witticisms, and playful allusions wrre indulged about " the downfal of Minerva," la chute de Minerve, and the faux pas which occasioned the catastrophe.
Before I quit altogether the subject of the lyric drama, you will probably expect me to add something <oncerning the Italian opera of London, to which I have alluded in one or two instances. This establishment is far less celebrated than jhe Imperial academy at Paris, and certainly much less gorgeous. It is not, however,without considerable splendor, and possesses many more powerful attractions for " chromatic ears." The fine music of Italy, to which it is chiefly devoted, gives it an exquisite and uncloying relish for persons of good musical taste, notwithstanding the comparative inferiority of the orchestra, and the stage decorations. With respect to scenery, costume,—the organization and execution of the ballet, it is far behind the Parisian opera. On the whole, as a spectacle, it cannot sustain a comparison, whatever some of the honest citizens of London may imagine, when the " Siege of Troy" even to the consummation, by fire, of the destiny of that renowned city, is exhibited to them, amid so many dazzling appendages. You witness constantly at the opera of London, the grossest violations of the first principles of perspective, and the most ludicrous mismanagement in the mechanical details. The corps de ballet has some able members, such as Deshayes and the younger Vestris, but is wretchedly composed, in the mass.
The opera is now sung throughout in the Italian, and many of the best productions of the Roman school brought forward. The house is generally well filled, not indeed with persons who understand the language used on the stage, or who have much fondness for the music chaunted, but with the fashionable world, for whom it serves as a lounge, and a multitude of other persons, who regard it as a show. In truth, were it not for the intrinsic, invincible merits of the Italian music, and the stupendous powers of Catalani, it might justly be considered in this light alone, so miserably deficient are her associates in all the requisites of their art. Even this wonderful woman does not command a very strict attention from her English audience, extravagantly as she is applauded in the English gazettes, and however ample her pecuniary profits. I have almost uniformly had occasion to remark, I may add to fret at, a pretty genera!
chattering in every part of the house, during the time that she was performing such " feats of voice," and pouring forth such melodies, as seemed sufficient to work a miracle still more extraordinary than those ascribed to Orpheus or Amphion. Even at Paris, a real lover of music, who has the misfortune of being stationed in a box of the opera, with a number of French ladies, will find himself subject to a similar vexation, during the performance of the masterpieces of Gluck and Sacchini.
Catalani, of all modem singers, is unquestionably the most admirable and perfect. She is at the same time a good actress, and therefore does full justice both to Metastasio, and Pasiello. In her, the English have a treasure worth more than the whole aggregate of the riches of the same kind, to be found in Paris. I was in that capital, towards the close of her residence there, and present at the third concert which she gave to the astonished Parisians. The two first took place at the Grand Opera; for the use of which, it was said, she paid some thousand crowns each night. For the third she selected the Theatre Olympique, one of the most beautiful edifices of the kind that can be imagined. The house was admirably well lighted, and after the assembling of the company, among whom were the principal dignitaries of the empire, and most of the "bon ton," presented an exceedingly brilliant spectacle. The air of Piccini, s'il del mi divide, threw the Parisians into transports, which were revived with double violence, when she executed an air of Nazolini, and subsequently one from ftlitridate, with a boldness, a force, a facility, a precision, a mellowness, such as they, or perhaps the world, had never before witnessed. Unaccustomed previously to any thing of great vocal powers, I was myself overcome by my emotions of delight and astonishment." I have never been able to comprehend fully why it was that the French government, so eager to make Paris the emporium of whatever is excellent in the fine arts, suffered her to visit England. It is certain that her first application for a passport was rejected.
There still obtains at the Italian opera of London, an-abuse often anathematized by the well-wishers of the establishment, and of which the toleration is attended with the worst consequences. I allude to the privilege enjoyed by the beau monde, of assembling behind the scenes, after the lyric performance, and remaining there during the ballet. I have found myself— led by the curiosity natural to strangers—in this situation, in the midst of a numerous crowd of fashionable loungers, through whom it was by no means easy for the dancers, to make their