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over a particular idiom. The musician speaks the language of all ages and all nations. A universal language affecting immediately the senses and the imagination, is by its nature, the language of sentiment, and of the passions. Its accents, going directly to the heart, without passing, as it were, through the mind, must produce effects unknown to any other; and the very vagueness of character which attends it, and which prevents it from giving to its accents the precision of speech, procures for it an unrivalled influence over the fancy, by the circum. stance of its devolving on that faculty the business of interpretation. This influence, music enjoys in common with pantomime or gesticulation, that other universal language. Experience teaches us how imperiously the mind is swayed, by both these modes of addressing it. The lyric drama must then produce a much more profound impression than common tragedy. If the tragedy of Merope causes me to shed tears, the alarms and the anguish of this unfortunate mother properly expressed at the opera, must completely fill and overpower my mind; pierce and lacerate my heart. The musician who should fail to produce these effects, would be unworthy of his art.”
“But passion has its repose and its intervals. In this respect the theatrical art follows the footsteps of nature. The personages of the drama should not be always agitated, nor can we always weep in the theatre. The subalterns of the piece, however important to its action, cannot utter the same passionate accents as the heroes. Every pathetic crisis, must, in addition, be prepared by degrees.-It follows, therefore, that there must be two periods altogether distinct in the lyric drama, the tranquil.period on the one hand, and the passionate on the other. The first care of the musical composer was, then, to frame two kinds of declamation essentially different, and fitted, the one to render the tranquil discourse, the other to express the language of the passions in all its force, variety and disorder. This last kind is denominated the air, or aria; the first has been called the recitative, which is nothing more than a noted declamation, supported and conducted by a simple bass, and which expresses the natural infexions and intonations of speech, by intervals rather more marked, and sensible, than those which occur in ordinary elocution.”
“ After the revival of letters, the dramatic art made rapid strides to perfection, in most of the countries of Europe. In Italy, the barbarous taste of the preceding age soon underwent a salutary revolution, and as soon as the project of sing. ing upon the stage was formed, it was perceived, that tragedy and comedy were alone susceptible of being set to music, and not the “marvellous” or epic machinery. By a most fortunate concurrence, there arose at the same time, the most pathetic and forceful of lyric poets, the illustrious Metastasio, together with a host of musicians in Italy and Germany, endowed with splendid genius, and at the head of whom posterity will always distinguish the names of Vinci, Hasse and Pergolesi. Then it was that the musical or lyric drama attained a high degree of excellence. All the great pictures, all the most interesting, pathetic and terrible situations, all the springs of tragedy, were appropriated to the musical art, and received from it a kind of expression and a character of warmth, which captivated alike the men of judgment and taste, and the populace. Music having been consecrated in Italy, from the period of its origin, to the expression of natural feeling, and of the passions, its true destination,—the lyric poet could not fall into a mistake with respect to what the composer expected from him; nor could the composer, on the other hand, lead the former astray from the path of nature and of truth. Under such circumstances, we must not be surprised if in the country of taste, and the arts, tragedy without music has been almost entirely neglected. However touching a mere tragical representation may be, it must always appear cold and feeble, by the side of one animated by music. France, had she equalled her neighbours in music, would not probably have enjoyed her Racine.”
“Why then, may it be asked, has not the Italian opera with means so potent, produced effects as striking as those related of ancient tragedy? Let us briefly examine how it has hap. pened, that so many sublime efforts of genius, on the part of the poet, and the composer, have proved in some manner abortive.”
“When a theatrical exhibition serves only as an amusement for a particular and idle class of men, such as what is called the “good company” of a nation, it is impossible for it to retain a character of dignity or great elevation. Whatever genius the poet may possess, his work will necessarily savour, in the execution, and in a variety of its details, of the frivolity of its destination. Sophocles, in composing his tragedies, laboured for his country,--for religion,-for the most august solemnities of the republic. Of all the modern poets, Metastasio, perhaps, enjoyed the easiest lot, honoured and protected as he was by the House of Austria; yet how different were his
station, and functions at Vienna, from those of Sophocles at Athens?--Among the ancients, the theatre was an affair of state; with us, if the police deigns to meddle with it, nothing more is done than to impose shackles, and fashion it in the most preposterous manner. The spectator, the actor, and the manager have all usurped a ridiculous dominion over the lyric drama, and the poet and the musician, its true inventors, themselves victims to this tyranny, are scarcely even consulted as to the manner of its execution.”
“ It is well known that in Italy, the boxes of the theatre are principally used for the purposes of conversation, and society. The custom is to pass five or six hours at the opera, but not with a view to attend to the whole of the performance. Nothing more is required of the poet than some situations highly pathetic, and a few fine scenes; the rest is a matter of indifference. When the musical composer has succeeded in treating the celebrated “morceaux” which every body has by heart, in a manner somewhat novel, and worthy of his profession, the effect for the moment, is enthusiasm, ecstacy, ravishment, but this soon ceases, and the audience no longer listen. Thus, two or three airs, a good duet, a remarkably fine scene, are sufficient to ensure success to an opera. The greatest apathy prevails in regard to its general merits, provided it has furnished some moments of rapture, and lasted the time appropriated for the duration of the visit to the theatre."
“ Among a nation passionately fond of vocal music, and where it has become an art that requires, besides a most excellent conformation of the physical organs, the most laborious, and persevering industry, the singer-of necessity, very soon usurped an undue ascendant over both the poet and the composer. Every sacrifice was to be made to his talent and his whims. The public, in compliance with its own predilections, called for such sacrifices, and took but little interest in the theatrical action, provided the singer was furnished with an opportunity of displaying his powers. The latter on his side, wanted but this, and cared nothing for the dramatical force, or congruity of the part assigned him.”
“The poet had then nothing to do but to prepare striking pictures and a few brilliant but unconnected passages: the musician was obliged to compose his airs in a style of the most figured harmony;-a style the most directly adverse to genuine theatrical music, in order to induce the singer to execute a few of a simple and truly sublime character which were indispensable to the interpretation of the plot. The abuse was at length carried so far, that the singer, when he did not find the airs allotted to him, agreeable to his fancy, substituted for them, others which had gained him applause in other pieces, and of which he altered the words as well as he could, in order to accommodate them to his situation and part. The manager, moreover, becoming acquainted with the taste and wishes of the public, dictated in the most absurd and arbitrary manner, to the poet and the composer.”
“ The aversion of Charles the sixth, the patron of Metas. tasio, for tragical dénouements, may also be enumerated among the causes, of the accidental inefficiency of the operatical representation. This prince wished every body to leave the theatre satisfied and tranquillized, and the poet was constrained to frame his pieces accordingly.”
“ Thus has it happened that the unrivalled resources of the lyric drama have been rendered comparatively impotent. The principles upon which it has been constituted in conformity to the untoward dispositions of the Italian public, and the manner in which it is executed on the stage, have conspired to deprive it of that absolute, unbounded sway, which it might otherwise have been made to exert over the minds of · men. We may justly be surprised that Metastasio has been
able to preserve any thing of nature or truth in his works, when we advert to the fetters by which he was shackled, to the necessity imposed on him of sacrificing the strength of his characters, and the coherence of his plot; of cutting out, as it were, all his pieces, from the same pattern;-of animating all his historical and tragical subjects with nearly the same personages."
But to return to the French opera. You can form no adequate conception of the paroxysms of delight and admiration, into which the Parisians are thrown, by the prowess of the principal dancers. Duport and Vestris are rewarded for an extraordinary bound, or other professional exploit, by re. iterated bravos, shouts, and cries, which shake the lofty dome, and I would say, almost the solid foundations of the immense edifice of the Academy. The poor poet, and the musical composer, must be mournfully sensible, that it is not the “inspired verse," nor “the divine lyre,” but the gymnastic art which “ wins the prize.” The French authors are fond of tracing a resemblance between the character of their nation, and that of the Greeks;--particularly between the Parisians and the Athenians. In one respect, certainly, a most striking affinity obtains; I mean in the frivolity of their tastes.
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 froin 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 world. 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 valet de chambre.” I can add to this, that even as late as the beginning of the last century, Julius Cæsar 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.