Sivut kuvina
PDF
ePub

he once gave him a rip in his flesh-colour doublet; but this was only to make work for himself, in his private character of a tailor. I must not omit that it was this second lion who treated me with so much humanity behind the scenes.

The acting lion at present is, as I am informed, a country gentleman who does it for his diversion, but desires his name may be concealed. He says very handsomely, in his own excuse, that he does not act for gain, that he indulges an innocent

pleasure in it; and that it is better to pass away an evening 10 in this manner, than in gaming and drinking; but at the same

time says, with a very agreeable raillery upon himself, that if his name should be known, the ill-natured world might call him, The ass in the lion's skin. This gentleman's temper is made out of such a happy mixture of the mild and the choleric, that he outdoes both his predecessors, and has drawn together greater audiences than have been known in the memory of man.

I must not conclude my narrative without taking notice of a groundless report that has been raised, to a gentleman's dis

advantage of whom I must declare myself an admirer; namely, 20 that Signior Nicolini and the lion have been seen sitting peace

ably by one another and smoking a pipe together behind the scenes; by which their common enemies would insinuate, that it is but a sham combat which they represent upon the stage; but, upon inquiry I find, that if any such correspondence has passed between them, it was not till the combat was over, when the lion was to be looked upon as dead, according to the received rules of the drama. Besides, this is what is practised every day in Westminster-hall, where nothing is more usual than to see

a couple of lawyers, who have been tearing each other to pieces 30 in the court, embracing one another as soon as they are out of it.

I would not be thought, in any part of this relation, to reflect upon Signior Nicolini, who in acting this part only complies with the wretched taste of his audience; he knows very well that the lion has many more admirers than himself; as they say of the famous equestrian statue on the Pont-Neuf at Paris, that more people go to see the horse than the king 1 who sits upon it. On the contrary, it gives me a just indignation to see a person whose

action gives new majesty to kings, resolution to heroes, and 40 softness to lovers, thus sinking from the greatness of his be

THE ITALIAN OPERA.

357

haviour, and degraded into the character of the London Prenticen. I have often wished that our tragedians would copy after this great master in action. Could they make the same use of their arms and legs, and inform their faces with as significant looks and passions, how glorious would an English tragedy appear with that action, which is capable of giving a dignity to the forced thoughts, cold conceits, and unnatural expressions of an Italian opera! In the mean time, I have related this combat of the lion,

to shew what are present the reigning entertainments of the 10 politer part of Great Britain.

Audiences have often been reproached by writers for the coarseness of their taste: but our present grievance does not seem to be the want of a good taste, but of common sense.

2.-C.

No. 18. History of the Italian Opera in England; the prevailing fondness for it unreasonable and extravagant.

Equitis quoque jam migravit ab aure voluptas
Omnis ad incertos oculos et gaudia vana.

HOR. Ep. ii. 1. 187.
But even our knights from wit and genius fly
To pageant shows, that charm the wandering eye.

FRANCIS. It is my design in this paper to deliver down to posterity a faithful account of the Italian opera, and of the gradual progress which it has made upon the English stage n; for there is no question but our great grand-children will be very curious to know the reason why their forefathers used to sit together like

an audience of foreigners in their own country, and to hear 20 whole plays acted before them in a tongue which they did not understand.

Arsinoe " was the first opera that gave us a taste of Italian music. The great success this opera met with produced some attempts of forming pieces upon Italian plans, which should give a more natural and reasonable entertainment than what can be met with in the elaborate trifles of that nation. This alarmed the poetasters and fiddlers of the town, who were used to deal in a more ordinary kind of ware; and therefore laid down an

established rule, which is received as such to this day, That nothing 30 is capable of being well set to music, that is not nonsense.

This maxim was no sooner received, but we immediately fell to translating the Italian operas; and as there was no great danger of hurting the sense of those extraordinary pieces, our authors would often make words of their own which were entirely foreign to the meaning of the passages they pretended to translate; their chief care being to make the numbers of the English verse answer to those of the Italian, that both of them might go to the same tune. Thus the famous song in Camilla ”,

Barbara, si, t’intendo, etc.

Barbarous woman, yes, I know your meaning; which expresses the resentments of an angry lover, was translated 10 into that English lamentation,

Frail are a lover's hopes, etc. And it was pleasant enough to see the most refined persons of the British nation dying away and languishing to notes that were filled with a spirit of rage and indignation. It happened also very frequently, where the sense was rightly translated, the necessary transposition of words, which were drawn out of the phrase of one tongue into that of another, made the music appear very absurd in one tongue, that was very natural in the other. I remember an Italian verse that ran thus word for word,

And turn'd my rage into pity; which the English for rhyme's sake translated,

And into pity turn'd my rage. 20 By this means the soft notes that were adapted to pity in

the Italian fell upon the word rage in the English; and the angry sounds that were turned to rage in the original were made to express pity in the translation. It oftentimes happened likewise, that the finest notes in the air fell upon the most insignificant words in the sentence. I have known the word and pursued through the whole gamut, have been entertained with many a melodious the, and have heard the most beautiful graces, quavers, and divisions bestowed upon then, for, and from; to

the eternal honour of our English particles. 30 The next step to our refinement was the introducing of

Italian actors into our opera; who sung their parts in their own language, at the same time that our countrymen performed theirs in our native tongue. The King or hero of the play generally spoke in Italian, and his slaves answered him in English;

[blocks in formation]

the lover frequently made his court, and gained the heart of his princess, in a language which she did not understand. One would have thought it very difficult to have carried on dialogues after this manner, without an interpreter between the persons that conversed together; but this was the state of the English stage for about three years.

At length the audience grew tired of understanding half the opera; and therefore to ease themselves entirely of the fatigue of

thinking, have so ordered it at present, that the whole opera 10 is performed in an unknown tongue. We no longer understand

the language of our own stage, insomuch that I have often been afraid, when I have seen our Italian performers chattering in the vehemence of action, that they have been calling us names, and abusing us among themselves; but I hope, since we do put such an entire confidence in them, they will not talk against us before our faces, though they may do it with the same safety as if it were behind our backs. In the mean time, I cannot forbear thinking how naturally an historian who writes two or three

hundred years hence, and does not know the taste of his wise 20 forefathers, will make the following reflexion, ‘In the beginning

of the eighteenth century the Italian tongue was so well understood in England that operas were acted on the public stage in that language.'

One scarce knows how to be serious in the confutation of an absurdity that shows itself at the first sight. It does not want any great measure of sense to see the ridicule of this monstrous practice: but what makes it the more astonishing, it is not the taste of the rabble, but of persons of the greatest politeness, which has established it.

If the Italians have a genius for music above the English, the English have a genius for other performances of a much higher nature, and capable of giving the mind a much nobler entertainment. Would one think it was possible (at a time when an author n lived that was able to write the Phædra and Hippolitus) for a people to be so stupidly fond of the Italian opera, as scarce to give a third day's hearing to that admirable tragedy? Music is certainly a very agreeable entertainment; but if it would take the entire possession of our ears, if it would make

us incapable of hearing sense, if it would exclude arts that have 40 a much greater tendency to the refinement of human nature,

30

I must confess I would allow it no better quarter than Plato has done, who banishes it out of his commonwealth.

At present, our notions of music are so very uncertain, that we do not know what it is we like; only, in general, we are transported with any thing that is not English ; so it be of a foreign growth, let it be Italian, French, or High-Dutch, it is the same thing. In short, our English music is quite rooted out, and nothing yet planted in its stead n.

When a royal palace is burnt to the ground, every man is 10 at liberty to present his plan for a new one; and though it be but

indifferently put together, it may furnish several hints that may be of use to a good architect. I shall take the same liberty in a following paper, of giving my opinion upon the subject of music; which I shall lay down only in a problematical manner, to be considered by those who are masters in the art.-C.

No. 29. The recitative part of operatic music ; Purcell ; Lully.

Sermo lingua concinnus utraque
Suavior, ut Chio nota si commista Falerni est.

HOR. Sat, i. 10. 23. There is nothing that has more startled our English audience than the Italian recitativo at its first entrance upon the stage. People were wonderfully surprised to hear generals singing the

word of command, and ladies delivering messages in music. Our 20 countrymen could not forbear laughing when they heard a lover

chanting out a billet-doux, and even the superscription of a letter set to a tune. The famous blunder in an old play of Enter a king and two fiddlers, solus,' was now no longer an absurdity; when it was impossible for a hero in a desert, or a princess in her closet, to speak any thing unaccompanied with musical instruments.

But however this Italian method of acting in recitativo might appear at first hearing, I cannot but think it much more just than

that which prevailed in our English opera before this innovation; 30 the transition from an air to recitative music being more natural,

than the passing from a song to plain and ordinary speaking, which was the common method in Purcell's operas n.

The only fault I find in our present practice is, the making use of the Italian recitativo with English words.

« EdellinenJatka »