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Title: Physiology of The Opera
Author: Swaby, John H., -1891
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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Physiology of the Opera.

     "I both compose and perform Sir: and though I say it, perhaps few
     even of the profession possess the _contra-punto_ and the
     _chromatic_ better."

     CONNOISSEUR. No. 130.

     "I see, Sir--you
      Have got a travell'd air, which shows you one
      To whom the opera is by no means new."

     BYRON.



PHYSIOLOGY

OF

THE OPERA.

[Illustration]

BY SCRICI.

PHILADELPHIA. WILLIS P. HAZARD, 178 CHESNUT ST. 1852.

COPYRIGHT SECURED ACCORDING TO LAW.



Introduction.


As an introduction to the dissertation upon which we are about to enter,
such an antiquarian view of the subject might be taken as would tend to
establish a parallel between the ancient Greek tragedy and the modern
sanguinary Italian opera, the strong resemblance therein being displayed
of Signor Salvi trilling on the stage, to the immortal Thespis jargoning
from a dung-cart. But we shall indulge in no such wearying pedantry.
Our intention being merely to "hold the mirror up to nature," in
presenting our immaterial reflector to the public, we invite our readers
to a view of the present only--a period of time in which they take most
interest, since they adorn it with their own presence.

We feel satisfied that few of the ladies who take a peep into this
mirror, will find any cause to break it in a fit of petulancy after
having looked upon the attractive reflection of their own lovely
features. Few young gentlemen will throw down a glass that gives them a
just idea of their striking and distingué appearance behind a large
moustache and a gilded _lorgnette_. Old papas, who rule 'change and keep
a "stall," cannot be offended with that which teaches them how dignified
and creditable is their position, as they sit up proudly and exhibit
their family's extravagance and ostentation as an evidence of the
stability of their commercial relations. Few mammas will carp at a book
which assures them that society does not esteem them less highly because
they use an opera box as a sort of matrimonial show window in which they
place their beautiful daughters, "got up regardless of expense," as
delicate wares in the market of Hymen.

In these our humble efforts to present to our readers an amusing yet
faithful picture of the opera, we hope our manner of treating the
subject has been to nothing extenuate nor aught set down in malice. This
book has not for its end the unlimited censure of foreign opera singers,
or native opera goers. We do not therefore, expect to gratify the
malignant demands of persons of over-strained morality, who maintain
that the opera is a bad school of musical science, or a worse school of
morals; and exclaim with the very correct Mr. Coleridge, who was
_shocked_ in a--_concert room_,

    "Nor cold nor stern my soul, yet I detest
      These scented rooms; where to a gaudy throng,
    Heaves the proud harlot her distended breast,
      In intricacies of laborious song.

    "These feel not music's genuine power, nor deign
      To melt at nature's passion-warbled plaint;
    But when the long-breath'd singer's up-trilled strain
      Bursts in a squall--they gape for wonderment."

Neither do we coincide in sentiment with those who, conceiving that
every folly and absurdity sanctioned by fashion, is converted into
reason and common sense, believe that "the whole duty of man" consists
in _spending the day_ with Max Maretzeck on the occasion of his musical
jubilees, and being roasted by gas in the hours of broad day-light.
Consequently the reader will find no one line herein written with the
intention of flattering the vanity of those who ride to the opera every
night in a splendid coach, followed by spotted dogs.

Having thus declared the impartial manner in which it is our purpose to
pursue the physiological discussion of our subject, and the various
phenomena involved in its consideration, we proceed at once to unveil
the operatic existence to the reader, fatigued no doubt by an
introductory salaam already protracted beyond the limits of propriety.



CHAPTER I.

The Opera in the Abstract.

    "L'Opéra toujours
    Fait bruit et merveilles:
    On y voit les sourds
    Boucher leurs oreilles."

    BERANGER.


To most of the world (and we say it advisedly,) the opera is a sealed
book. We do not mean a bare representation with its accompanying
screechings, violinings and bass-drummings. Everybody has seen that--But
the race of beings who constitute that remarkable combination; their
feelings, positions, social habits; their relation to one another; what
they say and eat;[a] whether the tenor ever notices as they (the world)
do, the fine legs of the contralto in man's dress, and whether the basso
drinks pale ale or porter; all these things have been hitherto wrapped
in an inscrutable mystery. In regard to mere actors, not singers, this
feeling is confined to children; but the operators of an opera are
essentially esoteric. They are enclosed by a curtain more impenetrable
than the Chinese wall. You may walk all around them; nay, you may even
know an inferior artiste, but there is a line beyond which even the fast
men, with all their impetuosity, are restrained from invading.

[a] We actually knew a man who, when a tenor was spoken of, as having
gone through his _role_, thought that that worthy had been eating his
breakfast.

You walk in the street with a young female, on whom you flatter yourself
you are making an impression; suddenly she cries out, "Oh, there's
Bawlini; do look! dear creature, isn't he?" You may as well turn round
and go home immediately; the rest of your walk won't be worth half the
dream you had the night before. This shows an importance to be attached
to these remarkable persons, which, together with the mystery which
encircles them, is exceedingly aggravating to the feelings of a large
body of respectable citizens. Among those who are mostly afflicted, we
may mention all women, but most especially boarding school misses.
Mothers of families are much perturbed; they wonder why the tenor is so
intimate with the donna, considering they are not married; and fathers
of families wonder "where under the sun that manager gets the money to
pay a tenor twelve hundred dollars a month, when state sixes are so
shockingly depressed." We were going to enumerate those we thought
particularly afflicted by a praiseworthy desire to know something more
of these obscurities, but they are too many for us. In every class of
society, nay, in the breast of almost every person, there exists a
desire to be rightly informed on these subjects. It was to supply this
want that we have devoted ourselves more especially to the actors who
do, to the exclusion of the auditors who are "_done_."

Shakspeare observes, that "all the world's a stage;" the converse of
this proposition is no less worthy of being regarded as a great moral
truth,--that all the stage is a world. Every condition of life may be
found typified in one or other of the officials or attachés of an opera
house; from the king upon the throne, symbolized by the haughty and
magisterial impresario, to the _chiffonier_ in the gutter, represented
by the unfortunate chorister who is attired as a shabby nobleman on the
stage, but who goes home to a supper of leeks. Between these two
degrees, of dignity and unimportance, come those many shades of social
position corresponding to the happy situations of Secretary of State,
Secretary of the Treasury, and divers other dignitaries, set forth in
the stage director, the treasurer, the chorus-master, &c.

The tenor, basso, prima donna and baritone may be considered as
belonging to what is called "society;"--that well-to-do and ornamental
portion of the community, who having no vocation save to frequent balls,
soirées, concerts and operas, and fall in love--serve as objects of
admiration to those persons less favoured by fortune, who make the
clothes and dress the hair of the former class.

Our simile need not be carried further, it being apparent to the most
inconsiderate reader, that it is quite as truthful as that hatched by
the swan of Avon. We shall now commence our observations upon the most
interesting members of a troupe; those best known to the community
before whom they nightly appear; and leave unnoticed those disagreeable
but influential ones who raise the price of tickets, or stand in a
little box near the door and palm off all the back seats upon the
uninitiated.



CHAPTER II.

Of the Tenore.

     "In short, I may, I am sure, with truth assert, that whether in the
     _allegro_ or in the _piano_, the _adagio_, the _largo_ or the
     _forte_, he never had his equal."--CONNOISSEUR. No. 130.

     "Famed for the even tenor of his conduct, and his conduct as a
     tenor."--KNICKERBOCKER.


[Illustration]

The Tenor is a small man, seldom exceeding the medium height. His voice
is, comparatively speaking, a small voice, and consequently not likely
to issue from over-grown lungs. His proportions are, or at least ought
to be, as symmetrical as possible. His hair, nine times out of ten, is
black, and _always_ curls. His beard is reasonably bushy; but his
moustache is the most artistically cultivated and carefully nurtured
collection of hair that ever adorned the superior lip of man. His
features are likely to be handsome, sometimes, however, effeminately so.
His dress is a little extravagant; not extravagant in the mode and
manner of a fast man or a dandy--for it is not punctiliously fashionable
like that of the latter, without any deviation from tailor's plates;
neither does it resemble that of the former in the gentlemanly roughness
of its appearance; consequently he rejoices not in entire suits of grey
or plaid, those _very_ sporting coats, those English country-gentleman's
shoes, those amply bowed cravats, and those shirts that are so
resplendent with the well executed heads of terrier dogs. No! the primo
tenore has a passion, first, for satin,--secondly, for jewelry,--and
lastly, for hats, boots and gloves. He dotes on satin scarfs, cravats
and ties, and his gorgeous satin vests, of all the hues of the rainbow,
astound the saunterer on the morning promenade. His love for pins,
studs, rings and chains is almost enough to lead us to believe that his
blood is mingled with that of the Mohawks. Boots that fit like gloves,
and gloves that fit like the skin, render him the envy of dandies. His
hat is smooth and glossy to an excess, and its peculiar formation makes
it considered "_un peu trop fort_," even by the most daring of
hat-fanciers.

The tenor rises late; partly because he is naturally indolent; partly
because the prime basso drank him slightly exhilarated the evening
previous; and partly out of affectation and the desire to appear a very
fine gentleman. Having spent a long time in making a _negligée
toilette_, he orders his breakfast. Seated in his comprehensive arm
chair, and attired in all the splendor of a well-tinselled satin or
velvet _calotte_, a dazzling _robe de chambre_, and slippers of the most
brilliant colors, he takes his matutinal repast. And now we begin to
discover some of the thousand vexations and annoyances that harass the
life of this poor object of popular support. His breakfast is but the
skeleton of that useful and nourishing repast. No rich beef-steaks! no
tender chops! no fragrant ham nor well-seasoned omelettes, transfer
their nutritive properties through his system. Any indulgence in these
wholesome articles of food is considered direct destruction to the
tender organ of the tenor. A hunting breakfast every day, or a glass of
wine at an improper hour, if persisted in for any length of time, it is
supposed would ruin the most delightful voice that ever sung an _aria_.
A large cup of _café au lait_, with an egg beaten in it, is all the
morning meal of which the poor _artiste_ (as he styles himself,) is
permitted to partake. This feat accomplished, he takes up the newspaper
in which he _spells out_ the puff which he paid the reporter to insert,
and after satisfying himself that he has received his _quid pro quo_, he
lounges away the morning until a sufficient space of time has elapsed to
render the use of the voice no longer deleterious, as it is immediately
after eating. And then come two or three hours of study that is no
trifle. The tenor is a man; and it seems to be a great moral law, that
whether it come in the form of labor, disease, ennui or indigestion,
suffering shall be the badge of all our tribe. Even prima donnas, who
defy gods and men with more temerity than all living creatures, are
constrained to concede the obligation of this universal moral edict. The
tenor then yields homage to human nature and the public, in the labor of
climbing stubborn scales, rehearsing new operas, and sometimes, though
not often, in receiving the impertinence of arrogant prima donnas,
during several hours every day. After these fatiguing efforts, he makes
his _grande toilette_, and prepares himself to astound the town no less
by his personal attractions than by his song. The chief promenade of the
city, where he condescends to mete out to highly favoured audiences the
treasures of his organ, is made the day-theatre of his glory.
Accompanied by his friend the _primo basso_, he saunters along very
quietly, attracting the gaze of the curious, and calling forth the
passionate remarks of enthusiastic young ladies, who feel it would be a
pleasure to die, if they could only leave such a gentleman behind on
earth to sing "_Tu che a Dio_," in the event of their being "snatched
away in beauty's bloom."

The basso is the chosen male companion of the tenor's walk; firstly,
because he is no rival, and secondly, because the gross physical
endowments of the former are such as to bring out the latter's
symmetrical proportions in such strong relief.

Sometimes the tenor is seen riding out with the prima donna, with whom
he is nearly always a favorite. He is the gentleman who makes himself
useful in assisting her to destroy time; he performs for her those
thousand and one little delicate attentions for which all women are so
truly grateful; and then he sings with her every night those sentimental
duos, that necessarily produce their effect upon the feminine bosom.

Whether walking with his gigantic friend, or riding with his fair one,
the tenor behaves himself with the greatest propriety and gentleman-like
bearing, excepting always a certain air which leads us to believe that
he thinks "too curious old port" of himself. He is more grave, but
apparently more vain when on foot, than when seated in the carriage with
the prima donna; at which time his gesticulation becomes very animated,
sometimes very extravagant; though we must always accord it the
attraction of gracefulness.

The time is thus agreeably walked, ridden and "chaffed" away, until the
hour for the substantial dinner comes to fortify mankind against the
slings and arrows of hunger and tedium. Then the tenor does dare to
partake of a few, of what are technically called "the delicacies of the
season." But still a restraint is put upon the appetite, for in a few
hours more he must go through labours for which the "fulness of satiety"
would little prepare him. A very worthy and elderly clergyman of the
Church of England once made known to the writer his opinion concerning
after-dinner sermons, in the following words; "I believe, sir, that
though sermons preached through the medium of simple roast beef and
plum-pudding may have been sermons invented by inspiration; they are
sure to be enunciated through the agency of the devil." So melting
strains of solos and duos, when sung through the medium of soups, patés
and fricasées, lose their liquidity, and film, mantle and stagnate into
monotony. How the tenor is occupied until the hour of supper, we shall
relate in another chapter; suffice it to say that he is at home--that is
to say, on the stage.

But when supper comes he is no longer prevented by fear of "lost voice"
or any other dire calamity, from giving way to the cravings of hunger
and thirst. He eats with the relish of hunger induced by labor, and
drinks with the excitement arising from the consciousness that he is,
what in the language of the turf is styled "the favorite." The ladies
and gentlemen of the troupe usually assemble at supper, and it is then
that the tenor again bestows his _galanteries_ on the prima donna, and
says many more really complimentary things than are to be found set down
in his professional role.

In concluding this sketch of the tenor, the writer would, with all due
submission to the opinion of the public, venture to discover his
sentiments upon a question which often agitates society; viz., whether
the tenor is always sick when he announces himself to be seriously
indisposed. The writer hopes he will not render himself liable to the
charge of duplicity or an attempt at evasion, when he declares it to be
his impression, that on the occasion of such announcements, the tenor is
_sometimes_ seriously indisposed but not _always_. The tenor, as we have
before observed, is but a man, and must needs be subject to diseases
like other men; but when we consider the delicacy of his conformation,
we must multiply the chances of his liability to indisposition. His
organization is such, that the most trifling irregularity in his general
health operates immediately upon the voice. Now, for the tenor, in the
slightest degree out of tone, to appear before a merciless audience,
consisting of blasé opera goers, tyrannical critics, hired depreciators,
and unrelenting musical amateurs, would indicate the most utter folly
and imbecility. The tenor is well aware that a reputation for singing
divinely a few nights in the year, is more lucrative than a reputation
for ability to sing tolerably well, taking an average of all the nights
in that space of time. It is consequently more advantageous for him to
sing occasionally, when he feels his voice to be in full force and
vigour, and his spirits in a sufficiently animated condition to warrant
his appearing with every certainty of success. When, therefore, he does
not favour the public with the melody of his notes, it is, generally
speaking because, without really suffering from a serious attack of
disease, he considers that his appearance would insure a future
diminution in the offers of the _impresario_. Hence the _affiches_
usually proclaim nothing but truth itself, when they declare that the
tenor is _seriously indisposed_; but then we must be careful to
interpret the word indisposition by that one of its significations which
is equivalent to _disinclination_.

That some compulsory measures might be taken to make these gentlemen
"who can sing but won't sing" more complying, and willing to yield to
the wishes and request of managers and audiences, the writer has never
entertained a doubt. The ways and means of effecting such an object, he
will not take upon himself to devise or advise, but will merely state a
fact which probably may induce some one to enter upon a thorough
examination of the subject, and suggest the remedy. Upon one occasion,
when the Havannah troupe was performing in Philadelphia, and a favorite
tenor had been amusing himself by trifling with the public, until the
patience of that forbearing portion of mankind was entirely exhausted;
the treasury was beginning to fall extremely low, and the wearied out
director was well nigh driven to desperation. In this critical juncture
of affairs, the gentleman who was the legal adviser of the troupe was
applied to, to say whether there was not some compulsory process known
to the law, by which the refractory tenor could be brought to a
recognition of the right of the rest of the company to the use of his
voice to attract large audiences, and thereby replenish the empty
coffers of the treasury. Upon answer that there existed no such process,
the distracted director muttered a few maledictions upon our country,
with a sneer at our _free institutions_, and informed the astonished
counsellor, that in Havannah, when the tenor was supposed to be feigning
sickness, the proper authorities were resorted to for the right of an
examination of the offending party by a physician, and a certificate of
the state of his health. Upon the physician certifying that the signor
was able to go through his role, a few _gendarmes_ were dispatched to
seize the delinquent and take such means as would sooner coerce him into
a compliance with the stipulations of his professional contract.

[Illustration]

Every reasonable excuse, however, should be made for the necessity the
tenor is under to be careful of the delicate organ whereby he gains his
subsistence. When we reflect how many of these poor fellows lose their
voices and are consequently driven to throw themselves on the cold
charity of the public--or out of the window, we must be struck with the
inhumanity which would be exercised if this professional singer were
excluded from enjoying occasionally by permission, what every clergyman
in the land can always claim as a right--the disease which the Hibernian
servant expressively denominated "the brown gaiters in the throat."



CHAPTER III.

Of the Primo Basso.

     "And for the bass, the beast can only bellow;

            *       *       *       *       *

     An Ignorant, noteless, timeless, tuneless fellow."

     BYRON.


[Illustration]

The Primo Basso is to the primo tenore what the draught horse is to the
racer; drawing along the heavy business of an opera, whilst the other
goes capering and curvetting through whole pages of chromatics, and runs
bounding with unerring precision over the most fearful musical
intervals. The basso, consequently, to uphold the vast superstructure
of song, must be a man furnished with a strong supporting and sustaining
voice. He usually plays the part of tyrants, either of the domestic
circle or of the throne; and the tyrants of fiction always have been
represented as over-grown individuals, from the time of the Titans down
to the giants who met with their well-merited fate from the invincible
arm of that doughty nursery hero--_Jack the Giant Killer_. It is a most
fortunate circumstance then for the basso, that while his powerful voice
must necessarily proceed from gigantic lungs, and these organs again are
chiefly found planted in largely developed frames, his huge proportions
only the better qualify him for his department of operatic personæ. His
form is heavy, and would be muscular, if ease and indolence,
unrestrained appetite, and no more exertion than is requisite to blow
the bass-bellows during half a dozen evenings in the week, did not
permit an undue accumulation of adipose substance. His hair is generally
black, but not of that rich, glossy, _curling_ kind, which decks the
fair brow of the delicate little tenor. His features are gross and
sensual, exhibiting about the amount of intelligence which may be
looked for in one of those bedecked and garlanded animals, whose
appearance among us announces the future sale of show beef. His dress is
an exhibition of slovenly grandeur. Each article of clothing is in
itself very handsome, perhaps very gaudy; but the manner in which it is
dragged on the figure, makes the _tout ensemble_ coarse and common,
slovenly and disagreeable. His animal propensities hold the intellectual
faculties in bondage, and every approach to sentiment is excluded by the
clogged up avenues to thought. His manner of living is _sensualité en
action_. His life is an existence, tossed and troubled by the
vicissitudes of sleeping and feeding, with occasional interruptions of
mechanical vocalization. He possesses an organ, which it is supposed
cannot be impaired by indulgence in the pleasures of the table, and he
always acts as if he wished to put this supposition to the test. When he
orders his breakfast, therefore, he does not look down the _carte_ in
order to see what viands he must avoid, but only to ascertain how many
dishes are likely to be objects agreeable to his palate. _Substantials_
form all his meals. No mild _café au lait_, composes the meal which is
to announce that he has commenced his daily labours of mastication.
After a morning's deglutition worthy of the anaconda, he suffers
digestion to prepare him for a walk, while he indulges in piles of
cigars. As this smoking effort is a long one, he is about ready to join
his elegant friend, the tenor, when the latter calls on him to go out
and astound the town. What a majestic stride the heavy, beefy fellow
puts on as he saunters down the street! How his body seems to say--for
his face is void of expression; how his body seems to say; "gentlemen,
you're all very well,--but it won't do; I out-weigh a dozen of you, and
the ladies have to surrender to such a superior weight of metal."

The basso seldom loves the prima donna. He regards her as a very
troublesome lady, who _devils_ him at rehearsals, because he won't sing
in time; on the stage, because she wants to show her importance; and in
the _salon_, because she requires so much attention.

The only wonder is, how he and the delicate, sensitive tenor, persons
presenting such a decided contrast to each other, should live together
on terms of such apparent friendship. The reason, however, is, that the
association is not one arising from choice, but from necessity. Between
the tenor and the baritone, there is a something too much of similarity
in voice and _physique_ to render them just the most inseparable friends
in the world; but in the vast musical gulf between the tenor and the
basso, all professional rivalry is buried.



CHAPTER IV.

Of the Prima Donna.

     "Your female singer being exceedingly capricious and wayward, and
     very liable to accident."--SKETCH BOOK.


[Illustration]

Every body knows what a prima donna is. She is the _first lady_, and
this is a fact apparently better known to the individual herself, than
to any body else--at least her actions would warrant this inference. She
deems herself more indispensable to an opera than an executioner to an
execution, or the thimbles to a thimble-rig man. She takes no pains to
conceal what a high price she sets on the value of her presence. She
sings just when she pleases, and just as she pleases. Caprice itself is
not more capricious than this fair creature. As capricious as a prima
donna has almost become a proverb, and we predict that in a few years it
will become fully established as such. She is a female tyrant.
Impresario, treasurer, chef (d'orchestre,) chorus master and chorus
tremble before her, when in one of her passions she brings down her
pretty little foot in a most commanding stamp. She gives the first
mentioned person more trouble than all the singers, orchestra and
officials together, with her coughs, colds and affected indispositions.
Next to the impresario, the chef (d'orchestre) suffers most from her
imperious spirit. He never conducts so as to accompany her properly, and
though she sings a half a note higher than she did at rehearsal, she
expects every poor musician to transpose his magic at sight, or receive
the indications of her displeasure in a way that leads the audience to
believe that the fault lies entirely with the orchestra. She worries the
basso,--poor, heavy, drowsy fellow,--because he's such a slow
coach--and such an oaf. She is disposed to be more friendly to the
tenor, who is the only person who receives any tokens of her good-will;
but in truth, she would cease to be a woman, if she were unkind to this
gentlemanly, polite little fellow. Neither does she hold the public in
the least regard, but conceives that she has a right to be seriously
indisposed as often as she thinks that people are really desirous to
hear her; and "is subject when the house is thin, to cold," as Byron
says. She keeps all the town who have determined to go and hear her, in
the most provoking suspense. Balls and evening parties are sadly
interrupted by her erratic course, for she is sure to sing on the
evenings assigned to those delightfully laborious modes of destroying
time. All the pleasure promising engagements made by the Browns and the
Smiths to form a party, and go in concert to the opera, are postponed
from time to time, to the great vexation of young Harry Brown, who
craftily set the affair on foot, in order to have an evening's "chaff"
with Miss Julia Smith.

Sometimes the prima donna's "serious indisposition" is not discovered by
the fair singer herself, until the ladies of the audience have removed
the cloaks, furs and hoods which guard their loveliness from the cold of
a winter night; until the young gentlemen have jammed their opera hats
into an inconceivably small space, and adroitly passed the hand up to
the collar and cravat to discover how things are in that quarter; and
until the old _habitués_ have settled themselves down into the softest
chair of the pit, with the full intention of being extremely displeased,
and making very unfavourable comparisons between the performance about
to take place, and one at which they were present some twenty years
before. However, she is a splendid creature--a small miracle in the way
of humanity--and can therefore be excused from pursuing that monotonous
and regular course of life which "patient merit" is obliged to take.

[Illustration]

She is either a beautiful woman in reality, or one who can get up such
an admirable imitation that it is difficult to distinguish it from the
genuine. She is well skilled in music, at least in its execution; but
she is always much more deeply versed in the virtues of cosmetics, and
in the art of making herself beautiful.

There are two varieties in the figure of the prima donna; either,
firstly, such as to qualify her for opera buffa and certain tragic
roles, in which case she is of medium stature, delicate proportions, and
possesses the most graceful and vivacious action. Prima donnas of this
stamp make the dearest, sweetest, most innocent-looking Aminas; the most
sprightly, coquettish Rosinas, and the most faithful, confiding and
sincere Lucias. Or, secondly, she is of a large mould, more masculine
dimensions, with a countenance that can gather up in a moment a show of
the requisite amount of fury to poignard the husband and strangle the
_babbies_. She plays all the high tragedy roles, doing the Semiramide,
Norma and Lucrezia, with a very sanguinary power and effect. Those of
the first kind are most admired by the gay young fellows about town who
have no taste for music, and who do not resort to the opera to hear it,
but make the parquette a lounging place where they can be in the mode,
see beautiful women, and show _themselves_.

The prima donna, in her attempts to render herself personally
attractive, has an auxiliary in her maid, who is a compound of companion
and servant, and a _coiffeuse_ gifted with the most delicate taste and
artistic execution. How often have we looked round the house and been
forced to confess that the prima donna was literally the _first lady_ in
the building, in respect to costume and _coiffure_. This maid too, is
almost as much of a curiosity among maids as her mistress among fine
ladies. She may be regarded as a prima donna without a voice, without
fine clothes, bouquets, and a tenor companion; and it is her _destiny_
to marry one of the violinists, when her mistress marries the tenor. It
is upon this official that the duty of attending to the prima donna's
lap-dogs Beatrice and Amore, particularly devolves--two animals that are
almost as dear to their possessor as her professional reputation. In
addition to these darling little quadrupeds, upon which so many caresses
are bestowed, both by the faultless hand of the mistress, and the same
well-diamonded member of the tenor, a parrot usually divides the
affections of one, who woman-like, must love something, but who has
been so far initiated into the ways of the world as to doubt the
sincerity of all mankind, except probably that of the aforesaid tenor.
We remember once being present when a well-known prima donna was about
to leave a northern city, where a rival cantatrice had lately appeared,
and was inducing comparisons unsatisfactory to the former. She had been
informed that an overland trip to New Orleans would be greatly
incumbered by the presence of her lap-dogs and parrot, and was prevailed
on to bestow them on some tender-hearted persons, whose extreme
affection for domesticated animals would be a guaranty for their gentle
treatment. A married gentleman--we are afraid without having consulted
his wife--kindly offered to relieve the lady from all trouble in finding
the suitable persons, by taking them himself. Assuming the attitude of
Norma handing over babes, she delivered up the poodles. With what
sadness were the little creatures confided to his care. What admonitions
and instructions to carefully keep them; what prayers for their faithful
protection; a womanly tear bedewed the cheek of the fascinating lady,
and a smile followed, as if to ask forgiveness for what she feared
those present might consider an unbecoming weakness. Five years
afterwards, we saw in a concert room this same sensitive creature, who
was so moved and affected at the _derniers adieux_ paid to her hateful
little poodles, scowl darkly, bite her lips, and turn her back on the
person who had engaged her, whom, by the by, we, in common with the
audience, regarded as a much aggrieved individual.

[Illustration]

Between the attention and affection bestowed on her pets, some hours
devoted to study and rehearsal, occasional rides and walks, and time
spent in the pleasing avocation of arranging her wardrobe, and in
innocently admiring her fair self in the mirror, the days of this
spoiled child of the music-loving are whiled away. She is acquainted
with some of the dandies of the place where she for the time resides,
but as such gentlemen in this country seldom have the temerity to
appear with her in public, their usefulness as escort promenaders is
greatly abridged. The fast men sometimes smuggle themselves into her
visiting circle, in order to be able to boast of their intimacy with the
prima donna; but as this class of society is seldom very _fluent_ in the
use of Italian, and as there is small affinity between the
sentimentality of the opera and "mile heats to harness," this
acquaintance is not of very long duration.

[Illustration]

The necessity of personal beauty in a prima donna is such, that she must
"assume that virtue if she have it not." Not many winters since, a
beautiful cantatrice was induced to undertake the role of Romeo in "I
Montecchi ed I Capuletti." The lady was excellently proportioned, except
that there existed a great want of symmetry in the inferior members;
and as Romeo's skirts must necessarily be short, and the lady could not
at will assume a pair of well turned knees and calves, she clothed the
offending limbs in what, at this day would be called "Bloomer
pantaloons." The attempt to ingraft turkish trowsers on the Veronese
costume, proved too absurd to warrant the continuance of such a
representation, and was abandoned after the night of its introduction.

The effect of a prima donna on society is very various. If she be of the
high tragic or strangulation school, it is to induce young ladies of
some voice, _and a good deal of person_, to clothe themselves in white
_tulle_ on the occasion of evening parties and amateur concerts--draw
their hair very smoothly over the temples--drive a white camellia into
the left side of the head, and sing long recitatives from Norma or
Lucrezia;--in the case of evening parties to the infinite chagrin of
young gentlemen possessed of great waltzing powers and passions; and in
the case of amateur concerts, to the fatigue of yawning audiences. If
the prima donna is of the coquettish school of song, every damsel of
sylph-like proportions, vivacious expression, and a turn for
man-killing, chirps and warbles away in the sprightly passages of the
_Barbiere_.

[Illustration]

As for the male part of the community, it is perfectly easy to divine
how they will be affected by the appearance of the different "_prime
donne_" who from year to year present themselves for musical honors.
They will always be pleased, but chiefly by those who are rather
attractive in features than in voice. The very young and inexperienced
men just entering into society, denominated "cubs" by the beaux of some
years standing, affect most the prima donna of the sanguinary school,
because she seems more in accordance with the ideas they have derived
from the study of Medea, a work to which they have not long since bid
adieu. They regard the killing of babes as the most tragic of tragedy,
and the actress who can do the thing best, as the most accomplished of
actresses. But the knowing fellows of mature years prefer the pretty
creatures who look so fond and affectionate, in their short peasant
dresses, displaying the delicate little foot and well turned ancle. How
they gather night after night into the parquette, to compare opinions on
the merits of Orsini's soft notes, and the long, beautifully-filled
stockings of the page dress. We once heard an enthusiastic Cuban remark,
when Patti was singing Orsini to Parodi's Lucrezia; "Parodi is the
finest singer I ever heard,--she is the best actress I ever saw; some
few people can appreciate her singing, many more her acting;--but
Patti's legs! Ah! Sir, that is something that everybody can understand."
How delighted the young fellows pretend to be with the wild, bacchanal
song, when in reality they only encore the songstress, in order to have
another opportunity of admiring her pretty knees. Alas, how foolish they
are to throw away admiration on one who takes no more thought of them
than if they never existed; but each one of them supposes that she must
necessarily, be slightly enamoured of himself. The consequence is, that
next morning divers bouquets, with small notes or cards containing a few
amatory words, appended to them, are handed in to the servant, who is
very much out of humour at what has become troublesome from its over
repetition.

The old _habitués_, of course, will not be affected in any way except by
peevishness and petulance, which will drive them into their usual course
of detraction. "Ah!" says old Twaddle; "Pasta--you should have seen
Pasta! No melodramatic twaddle about her! Genuine, artistic delineation
of passion and profound emotion. And then what a voice! none of your
ambiguous voices there; no difficulty in pronouncing, whether soprano or
contralto. And then her beauty--none of your namby-pamby, sickly,
insignificant prettiness." And thus Twaddle grumbles on, making shocking
comparisons between the past and present. Poor old Twaddle! he has,
according to his own showing, outlived all that is good in the province
of music.

The prima donna in this country will, generally speaking, produce on any
foreigner who happens to be among us, an effect very much akin to that
exercised upon Twaddle. She will set him sighing after the vocalization
of the other side of the Atlantic. He will seem to forget that Parodi or
"the Hays" ought to sing as well in this country as in Europe. But still
he can't be brought to that belief; and what is worse, upon your
venturing to suggest any possibility of such a state of the case, you
are made to perceive that he considers that your nationality puts you
off the bench of musical critics.

       *       *       *       *       *

Query. Why is it that _every_ Frenchman is supposed to be an infallible
judge of sweet sounds? For our own part, we no more believe that every
Gallic gentleman is fit for a critic, than that every one can raise a
handsome moustache.

       *       *       *       *       *

Another effect of a beautiful prima donna, is to make young husbands,
who have been married _just_ two years, look so steadfastly on the
stage, that their young wives sit with their eyes fastened on a cousin
George or Harry, in the parquette.

[Illustration]



CHAPTER V.

Of the Barytone.

    "Our Barytone I almost had forgot;

           *       *       *       *       *

    In lover's parts, his passion more to breathe,
    Having no heart to show, he shows his teeth."--BYRON.


The Barytone of the opera is probably the most inoffensive individual in
the world. This is his peculiarity. Even his fierceness on the stage is
done with an effort; and when in the course of a piece he is
unfortunately called on to massacre somebody, we always fancy that he
does it with the most unfeigned reluctance, and for aught we know, with
silent tears. He is generally of a bashful, retiring disposition, and
pretty nearly always awkward. This perhaps arises from the anomalous
position he occupies in operatical society. He cannot be on good terms
with the basso,--they have too much similarity in their voices for that;
he is on no more friendly relations with the tenor for the same reason.
Besides never daring to aspire to the familiarity with the prima donna
which that worthy enjoys, he suffers under the affliction of conscious
diffidence in their presence.

[Illustration]

The barytone must as surely be the king as the basso must be the tyrant;
indeed we have often thought of the startling effect which would be
produced by an opera in which this law of nature was reversed. To hear
the lover growling his tender feelings in a gutteral E flat, and moaning
his hard lot in a series of double D.'s; to listen to the remorseless
tyrant ordering his myrmidons to "away with him to the deepest dungeon
'neath the castle moat," in the most soothing and mellifluous of tenor
head notes, would produce such a revulsion in operatic taste, as surely
to create a deep sensation, if nothing more.



CHAPTER VI.

Of the Suggeritore or Prompter.

    "There never was a man so notoriously abused.

    TWELFTH NIGHT.

    "But whispering words can poison truth."

    COLERIDGE.


[Illustration]

We should be much grieved were we to let a chance of immortality at our
hands go by, for our great friend the prompter--the suggeritore of the
Italians. The prompter is to the opera, what the fifth wheel is to a
wagon; everything rubs, grates and abrades it, yet the whole concern
turns on it. He is the most abused (not hated--that is reserved for the
Impresario,) man in the company. But he does not care for it. That is
what he is hired for. He is paid to be of a good temper, and he does it.
He returns docility for dollars; and suavity for salary. He is the true
philosopher; just enough in the company to be part of it, and
sufficiently detached to avoid all the squabbles and bickerings. He,
however, is the victim of all the caprices of the company, from the
prima donna, who in a miff kicks about _his partition_ in a very piano
cavatina, to each of the bandy-legged choristers. True, he has his
little revenge. This he accomplishes by using his voice too much and too
loudly in the _sotto voce_ parts, so that all the duos become trios and
the quintettes, choruses. This is little enough to sweeten the
embitterments of a _suggeritore's_ life, but such it is, and he is
contented. The _suggeritore_ must be a thin man. It does not require a
Paxton to know that a hole in the stage two feet square, will not hold
Barnum's obesities. He must also be short and supple-necked, to allow
the green fungus which excresces from the stage to cover him; and he
must be the fortunate owner of a right arm as untiring as a locomotive
crank or the sails of a windmill. It is a prevalent but mistaken idea,
that the prompter is an impolite man; we happen to know that it is a
matter of the deepest concern with him to be obliged to sit with his
back to the audience. But he is like the angels and St. Cecilia, "_Il
n'avait pas de quoi_" to do otherwise. Operas must be, Singers must
have, a lead horse--(N. B. How can delicate females and tenors be
expected to recollect "_les paroles_;")--and there he is, with a little
hole in the back of his calash for the leader of the orchestra to stir
him up when the excitement becomes very strong, and the time is
irrecoverably lost. As to the social habits of the suggeritore, the
naturalist is at a loss, for he immediately disappears after rehearsal,
and remains in close retirement till the performance, after which he is
again lost till the next day.



CHAPTER VII.

Before the Curtain.

    "A neat, snug study on a winter's night;
      A book, friend, single lady, or a glass
    Of claret, sandwich, and an appetite,
      Are things which make an English evening pass,
    Though _certes_ by no means so grand a sight,
      As is a theatre, lit up with gas."--BYRON.


The night is a cold one; the snow is falling in large, heavy flakes, and
those who are fond of the frigid, but exhilarating amusement of
sleighing, are in hopes that by the morrow they will be able to pass
like lightning from one part of the city to the other; in a sleigh
decked with warm, gaily trimmed furs; filled with a merry company, and
drawn by two high-headed, dashing trotters. The gas lights are just
discernible from corner to corner. The number of people in the streets
is steadily decreasing, and the sound of their foot-fall is muffled in
the snow. About the theatres and the opera house, however, crowds of the
idle and curious, gaping at those who are entering these buildings, make
it necessary for the police to pace to and fro, ordering back the more
presumptuous loiterers, who press forward and obstruct the approach to
the doors.

Query? Why does the crowd always stare at those who are going into a
theatre or opera? The latter are attired somewhat strangely to be sure,
but still they don't look _exactly_ like Choctaws.

The cab and chaise-men muffled up in their cold-defying great-coats and
woolen comforters, are opening the doors of their several vehicles, out
of which ladies enveloped in cloaks and hoods are dismounting under
cover of umbrellas, held probably by the "best of brothers," but more
probably by gentlemen in no way related to them. In the opera house all
is bustle and commotion. The officials are selling tickets, receiving
tickets, and directing to their places bevies of ladies and gentlemen
bewildered in a maze of passages. The audience is impatiently preparing
itself for a delightful evening's entertainment. The dandies, who are
so unfortunate as not to have accompanied ladies have already brought
themselves up to the attack, and have levelled their opera-glasses on
all the points where they know well-established objects of admiration
are likely to be found. Now and then they bow their recognition in a
reserved inclination, or in a careless smiling way that bespeaks the
freedom of familiar intimacy.

The fast-men are standing at the doors in knots of three and four,
talking over the last trot of Suffolk, or the probable chance of victory
in the next day's dog-fight, and making a few, no doubt _very fast_, but
not very proper allusions to the shoulders of some rather sparingly
habited _belles_. The Cubans in the parquette, who, by the by, during
their sojourn in this country will best preserve their liberty by
remaining north of Mason and Dixon's line, are clearing their voices in
very doubtful Spanish, for those animated bravos, which we must admit
they always administer in the very best taste, both as to time and
quantity. Here and there, some lone young man, desolate in a crowd, who
has seldom before been exposed to the full blaze of the all-discovering
gas light, not exactly knowing what to do with himself, is
endeavouring, with a fictitious indifference, to fill up the vacancies
of attention by smoothing down the stubborn folds of badly selected
white _kids_. Five collegians just escaped from the studious
universities for a high week in town, have established themselves all
together, and commenced a running commentary, carried on chiefly in the
Virginia dialect, on men, women, and things, much to the annoyance of a
very foreign gentleman behind them--so foreign that he is almost
black--who looks stilettos at his cheerful but over-loquacious
neighbours. One youth in an excessively white, though unpleasantly stiff
cravat, is assisting an equally stiff old chaperon into her place, at
the expense of great physical efforts, till his cheeks are thereby
suffused with a tint strongly resembling the color of a juvenile beet,
while the distended veins of his forehead would make a fine anatomical
study for the laborious medical student, if that fabulous biped were
still extant. The chaperon being disposed of, four young ladies under
her _surveillance_, two in opera cloaks and hoods, and two in
antediluvian mantles and pre-adamitic head-gear, assuring the existence
of rural cousinship, by four minor efforts of the same gentleman, are
at length safely landed in their places. But now commences a new round
of confusion. Each of the four young ladies discovers that she has
placed herself on some article of clothing belonging to her companion.
Whereupon she half rises, and having drawn forth the disturbing
habiliment, resumes her former position: and as this movement is
performed by each one of them without regard to the order in which they
have placed themselves, and is repeated half a dozen times in as many
minutes, the unconscious fair ones become the subjects of the allusions
of the fast-men, who immediately institute comparisons between them and
various animate and inanimate objects. One of these gentlemen observing
that their motions remind him of a flock of aquatic fowl, known by the
name of divers, a facetious friend replies that probably he means diving
bells; which being considered an extremely happy pun, it meets with a
hearty laugh of approbation. But an ambitious fast wit, fearing that his
reputation is likely to be lost forever, if he remain silent, says that
the whole group of uneasy females recalls the line of Coleman,

    "For what is so gay as a bag full of fleas."

This being regarded as the acme of brilliancy, there is no telling what
might be the consequences if their attention were not drawn into another
channel by the entrance of a distinguished belle, who is immediately
pronounced to be a "stunner" and the question is raised as to who the
man is who acts as "bottle holder," reference thereby being had to the
gentleman who is so polite as to hand the lady to her place, and aid her
in disposing of her divers little appliances of operatic necessity. The
_belle_ scarcely takes her seat before she commences to hum snatches of
Italian airs, in a very careless indifferent way, just to show how much
she is at home in such a place, and probably to attract a little more
attention.

Query? Why do the handsomest women at an opera _always_ talk and laugh
the loudest?

That portion of the audience comprised in the gentler sex is here in all
the attraction of natural loveliness and adventitious ornament, putting
to flight a notion once prevalent, that beauty when unadorned is then
adorned the most.

The noise of conversation which now lulls, now swells out in gentle
crescendos, is chiefly the production of this taciturn part of the
audience. All at once the gas is let on in a gush of light, the buzz of
voices, which up to this time has been carried on in a subdued tone,
bursts out into full force, with a suddenness that seems to render it
probable that the conversation has been issuing all the while from the
gas jets. The augmented light brings down another volley from the foci
of a thousand _lorgnettes_. At this moment the musicians begin to enter
the orchestra which has been void of occupants all the evening, with the
exception of one meaningless old fellow, who has been attempting to
restore order among the stands, seats, and books, but whose laudable
efforts have ended in what every single gentleman at lodgings knows all
endeavours to "set things to rights," are sure to effect--a state of
affairs in which confusion is considerably worse confounded. But after
all a music-stand must be adjusted by the performer himself; no one can
put the hat of another on the head of the latter so as to be comfortable
to him. The latter must pose it for himself. This law applies with
peculiar force to music-stands.

The violinists proceed to tighten or slacken the hair of their bows, to
throw back the coat collar, or stuff a white handkerchief under it, in
order to adjust the violin to the peculiar crook of each neck, with as
much apparent anxiety as if they had not been doing the same thing for
the last thirty years, and some of their heads had not become bald over
the sound-post. In the meantime, the other members of this well-bearded
corps are streaming in with their instruments under the arm, and are
placing their music books and lamps at the proper elevation on the
stands, all the while talking, nodding, and smiling as if rehearsing
half the day, and playing half the night, were a mighty good joke.

And then ascend to the highest parts of the house--to the regions of the
operatic "paradise," those most singular of all instrumental sounds,
those fifty or sixty antagonistic voluntaries with which all the
audience would voluntarily dispense, consisting of chromatics in twenty
different keys, violin octaves, harmonics, thirds and fifths, clarionet
shakes, flute staccatos, horn growlings, ophicleide rumblings,
triangular vibrations, and drum concussions.

    "See to their desks Apollo's sons repair--
    Swift rides the rosin o'er the horse's hair!
    In unison their various tones to tune,
    Murmurs the hautboy, growls the hoarse bassoon.
    In soft vibration sighs the whispering lute,
    Twang goes the harpsicord, too too the flute,
    Brays the loud trumpet, squeaks the fiddle sharp,
    Winds the French horn, and twangs the tingling harp."

About the time that the observer has made up in his mind an answer to
the following mental queries--how many nights the first violinist could
play without getting a crick in the neck--whether the flutist may not
sometime blow his eyes so far out of his head that he may never be able
to get them back again--how long it would take the operator on the
_cornet à piston_ to learn to play on the magnetic telegraph--why such a
small man should be suffered to perform on such a big thing as an
ophicleide, and how a person with such a huge moustache can get the
piccola up to lips defended by such a bulwark of hair, a fermentation is
observable in the midst of this musical whirlpool, which indicates the
presence of some higher power. Place is given by the humble members of
the orchestra, and the director is seen to stand forth in the attitude
of mounting the tribunal from whence he guides his submissive subjects
with despotic sway. He is a neat figured little man, with a profusion of
methodically adjusted curls, a moustache that would render his
physiognomy excessively ferocious, if an occasional smile playing over
the distinguishable parts of his face, did not modify this expression.
He is attired in the costume of the ball room, bearing in his button
hole the most delicate rosebud of the conservatory, and in his perfectly
gloved hand, an amber headed baton, the sceptre of command. At his
appearance a wave of applause floats up from the audience, and the head
and breast of the director bend down to meet it in a graceful and
reverential bow, accompanied by a smile expressing the highest possible
amount of inward gratification. This little acknowledgment of a becoming
respect for the good opinion of the house is repeated once or twice, and
then with the air of a man who has important business on hand, he mounts
his elevated seat. He gives one or two magical taps on the stand, and
the chaos of sounds is annihilated with the exception of the
lamentations of one refractory violin, over which the owner has been for
the last half hour repeatedly, first inclining his head in a horizontal
position, and then tugging away at the screws. At this the director
seems to be much annoyed, and the poor violinist, more annoyed, mutters
to a companion that he wishes himself an _unspeakably_ long way
hence--probably in Italy where he could procure some good strings.

The resisting violin having been brought to subjection, the director
casts an eye over the whole body of musicians, and having thrown back
his head and lifted up both arms, very much in the supposed attitude of
Ajax defying the thunder, he remains perfectly motionless for an
instant, and then brings forward the whole of his body from the hips
upwards, with a rapid and powerful jerk, which introduces his forehead
into close proximity with the musical score which he pretends to be
reading, the baton strikes the stand with a loud clap, and one old
drummer proceeds to touch the drum, but in so gentle a manner, that it
sounds as if, instead of using the sticks he were tossing some grains of
shot on it. You now tremble for the safety of the director, and you
enter into an arithmetical calculation with yourself, the basis of which
is, that if the director by such a dangerous inclination of the person
can only bring one poor drummer into movement, what amount of bodily
labour he will be compelled to undergo, in order to operate on all that
concourse of musicians. But your fears are dissipated in a few moments,
for you discover that great sounds and little sounds are accompanied
with about the same degree of gesticulatory emphasis. In the meantime
some horns have commenced to blow on a very small scale, not hard
enough, you would suppose, to drive the dust out of them, and if the
piston of the cornet did not rattle so, you would pronounce its playing
all a sham. The violins and flutes begin to be audible and the
violinists are suddenly struck with a simultaneous desire to pick the
strings, just as if that would make any music. All the other instruments
are now doing duty in very feeble tones, and you take a look round the
house to see who are there; and you wonder why that particular family of
Smiths, with whom you have the pleasure of an acquaintance has not yet
appeared. You think Miss Julia Brown's hair arranged with the usual want
of elegance, and then call to mind the fact that at Newport, the
previous summer, you complimented her so many times on the peculiar
taste which her coiffure always displayed. The aforesaid drummer is now
giving the drum considerable ill usage, and then for the first time, you
observe that he has two of them which he appears to beat alternately.
The director is casting his head from one side to the other, flashes of
disapprobation dart from his eyes upon the dilatory violinists, who from
time to time, stop as it were, to catch breath, and fail to "come to the
scratch" in due season. Every now and then a frown, dark as Erebus,
spreads over his brow, as some poor laggard is astray in the mazes of
sound, and can't find his place, or turns two pages instead of one, and
consequently loses the thread of his harmonious discourse. The music
grows so powerful that the conversation of the most enthusiastic and
vociferous fast man no longer meets the ear. The orchestra is going as
if they were riding an instrumental steeple chase, and the director
looks more and more involved in doubt, as to which of his followers is
to be left most in the rear.

At length when you have concluded that every musician has exhausted his
last resource in the general attempt to make a noise, you are knocked
into a start of astonishment by the introduction of a _corps de
reserve_, in the clash of cymbals, which sounds as if a careless servant
had stumbled in coming up stairs and mashed an entire set of Sevres
china. In the midst of this carnage of crotchets and quavers, the
director is obviously the controlling spirit who "rides in the whirlwind
and directs the storm." There he sits producing no one sound except an
occasional rap of his baton on the desk, and yet rousing to frenzy or
lulling into tranquillity the instruments of all this tumult, every now
and then, as Mr. Macaulay would say, "hurling foul scorn" at the heaps
of little black dots that are crowded over the leaves of his score.

When the intensity of the tones has been diminished and augmented some
half dozen times, the overture is concluded in four grand crashes, in
which the cymbals make the most conspicuous figure. During the overture,
however, there seems to be occasional seasons when there is a cessation
of hostilities, and a soft plaintive air is taken up by one clarionet,
violincello or oboe, with which air the audience must be very much
delighted, for they laugh and talk with the greatest earnestness, and
never turn their eyes towards the orchestra.

And now there is a new commotion among the musicians, while arranging
every thing for the more serious undertaking, the opera itself. The
director goes about like a general on the eve of battle, reconnoitres
his forces, and marshals them for the attack. He mounts the elevated
seat, gives another contortion to his frame, similar to that which was
necessary to put the overture in movement, and then the curtain rises.
Heads are slightly projected from the boxes at this movement, and many
an alabaster neck is curved forward till the lowered drapery reveals the
snowy bosom. The noise of conversation ceases, and the opera commences
in earnest.



CHAPTER VIII.

Of the Opera in the Concrete.

     "Lord! said my mother, what is all this story about?

     "A cock and a bull, said Yorick--and one of the best of its kind I
     ever heard."--TRISTRAM SHANDY.

     _Prince Henry._ "'Wilt thou rob this leather-jerkin,
     crystal-button, nott-pated, agate-ring, puke stocking,
     caddis-garter, smooth-tongue, Spanish-pouch,--"

     _Francis._ "O Lord, sir, who do you mean?"

     _P. Hen._ "Why then, your brown bastard is your only drink: for,
     look you, Francis, your white canvas doublet will sully; in
     Barbary, sir, it cannot come to so much." FIRST PART OF KING HENRY
     IV.

     "If this were played upon a stage, now, I would condemn it as an
     improbable fiction." TWELFTH NIGHT.


When the curtain rises the scene represents a dark forest, where some
quite well dressed, but desperate, foreign-looking gentlemen are engaged
at a game of cards, which, from the abandoned appearance of the players,
we are warranted to believe, must be some such low pastime as "all
fours," or a hand at poker. The desperate gentlemen cantatorially
inform the audience that their profession is that of outlaws, and remark
that having no particular business then to engage them, they are staking
quite extravagant sums on some cards, which the curious observer will
discover to have a very unctuous appearance. How the outlaws ever came
to be reduced to such straightened circumstances as to put up with these
"lodgings upon the cold ground," or how they ever fell into such an
improper course of life, we are not told, but we remember once hearing a
fast man suggest that they were evidently "nobs who had overdrawn the
badger by driving fast cattle, and going it high"--the exact
signification of which words we did not understand, but supposed them to
refer to scions of nobility who had squandered their patrimonies in
riotous living. That these men are lost beyond the hope of redemption,
is clear from the fact that they express their determination to employ
themselves in no more useful or moral way; and how long they would
persist in this pernicious amusement is rendered uncertain, by the
entrance of their leader or chieftain--who, it is needless to say, is
the tenor. From, the first moment that the spectator casts his eye on
this obviously unfortunate individual, he is at once interested in his
case, observing to himself, that if the fellow is somewhat addicted to
low company, still he's a very gentlemanly character, and to all
appearance

    "The mildest manner'd man
    That ever sculled ship or cut a throat."

His looks are sad and melancholy, and would indicate that he is either
suffering from a cold in the head, or that his outlaws had been a little
more successful at "all fours" than himself. The "dejected haviour of
his visage" seems to touch the audience, for they immediately give him
several rounds of applause, no doubt with the intention of raising his
spirits. This kind manifestation of their feelings is responded to by
one or two low bows, and then he turns towards his outlaws to obtain a
becoming reception from them.

He is greeted by his followers with the greatest enthusiasm; though, to
their inquiries after his health, he makes no reply, but walks languidly
down to the foot-lights, and relates to both audience and outlaws, how
deplorable will be his condition unless he receive the assistance of
the latter in carrying out his designs. He goes on to state that the
"voice of a certain damsel of Arragon has slid into his heart like dew
upon a parched flower"--a simile which the reader will observe to be
equally felicitous as novel. He adds, however, that a great old villain
and tyrant (who of course must be the basso,) has carried off the
Spanish maiden, and is about to compel her to marry him. The bandits
become at once highly indignant, and with one accord seize their arms
and declare that they will follow their chief to the castle of the old
phylogynist, and _boulversé_ all his designs by some insinuating digs of
the poignard. The despondent chief seems comforted by this assurance of
their "most distinguished consideration," and remarks that the young
lady will no doubt be a consoling angel amidst the griefs of exile.

[Illustration]

While he has been informing the audience and his friends of the state of
his feelings, he has from time to time indulged in gestures about as
strong as we can well conceive of, but now and then when an
extraordinarily deep sentiment, and a very high note, choose the same
moment for their expression, he is obliged to poise himself on one
foot, extend the other behind him, elevating the heel and depressing the
toe, fold his hands over his breast, throw back the head and shake his
body like a newfoundland dog just issuing from the water--the refractory
note and the hidden emotion are always brought to light by these
gesticulatory expedients.

Immediately after this, the scene having changed to the castle of the
tyrant, the "Aragonese vergine" (the prima donna), is discovered
reclining on an old box covered with green baize, which long-continued
acquaintance with theatrical properties, enables the audience to
recognize as a velvet _lounge_. This lady seems to be in great
affliction, for which, however, we can discover no adequate cause,
except that she is in such an unbecoming place for an unprotected
female. The applause of the audience is overwhelming, and three very
low, but extremely graceful and lady-like curtsies which she rises "to
do," are the consequence.

The beaux are now in all the excitement that dandies dare permit
themselves to yield to, alternately exclaiming, "how grand she is! how
beautiful! heavens, but isn't she beautiful!" and then bringing down the
focus of the opera-glass on the peerless woman.

The distressed female now launches off into a recitative, in which she
expresses, in no measured terms, her utter aversion to the hateful old
tyrant, and then, falling on one knee, strikes into a cavatina, in which
she says she hopes her lover, who necessarily must be the outlaw chief,
(who again must necessarily be the tenor), will come immediately and run
off with her--a wish that is probably often entertained by young ladies
in reference to their particular lovers, but which is seldom avowed in
this public way.

[Illustration]

During the cavatina, she has been doing some very high singing, and
making a great many of the newfoundland dog shakes, the lady part of the
audience sitting wrapt in admiration, with the eyes fastened on the
stage as intently as if they were witnessing a marriage ceremony, gently
murmuring their approbation in detached sentences, such as "sweet,
lovely, charming, exquisite;" while the fast men by the door, utter the
words "knocker, fast nag," and declare that her time is "two thirty."

One of these very sporting young gentlemen asserts his readiness to
"back her against the field." Just as the prima donna makes a very
steep raise in the scale with a dreadful velocity of utterance, the same
individual expresses his desire to withdraw the offer, observing that
she is making her "brushes" too soon, and that he fears "she'll be too
distressed to come home handsome."

A troupe of maidens with very plethoric ancles, now make their
appearance, encumbered by large gilt paste-board caskets, containing
some exceedingly brilliant paste-jewelry, intended as bridal presents
for the unprotected female. They have, however, the strangest mode of
offering these tokens of friendship that we have ever seen.

[Illustration]

They arrange themselves in a line on one side of the stage, apparently
measuring their proximity to or distance from the foot-lights, with
reference to the relative thickness of their ankles, until the lady
nearest the audience seems to be the subject of a violent attack of
elephantiasis. This done, they repeatedly sing five bars, and stretch
out the right hand containing the present, in a line, forming, with the
body, an angle of about ninety degrees.

A certain king of Castile in disguise, who is another of the many
admirers of the heroine, breaks in on this little ceremony, expresses a
strong wish to see her, and is told by one of the maidens, that the
subject of his admirations is very much depressed in spirits, being
considerably smitten with the afore-mentioned outlaw chieftain. The king
is shocked at his adored one's want of taste in making a preference so
little flattering to himself, and endeavours to force her to escape with
him; but the young lady being highly indignant, draws a dagger, and
threatens "to go into him," if he don't cease taking such
liberties--thereby attracting considerable applause from some gentlemen
in a back box, who have a strong penchant for dog-fighting. The outlaw
happens to come in at the very nick of time, and after some quite
serious altercation between him and the disguised king, at the moment
when the "fancy" part of the audience are expecting a "set to," and
admiring the courage of the little tenor (the outlaw), which they
technically denominate the "game" of the "light weight," the heroine
rushes between them with a drawn sword, threatening to destroy herself
if they do not desist, and calling upon them to remember the honour of
her mansion--thereby, no doubt, alluding to the possibility of an
indictment for keeping a disorderly house.

The old tyrant, of whom we have heard a great deal, but have not as yet
seen, returns home late at night to his castle, and finding two unknown
gentlemen in his house without an invitation, conversing with his
shut-up lady, he charges them with the impropriety of their behaviour.
The strange gentlemen (the outlaw chief and the king in disguise), not
particularly relishing these observations, beg him not to be so violent
in his language. This seems only to incense the old fellow the more, who
has just suggested "coffee and pistols," when the aforesaid king's
followers entering, make the tyrant acquainted with the fact that he's
been blowing up a king. The parasitical old tyrant immediately
endeavours to excuse himself for the mistake he has made; says he hopes
his royal highness will not be offended, that he had not the pleasure of
his acquaintance, and all that sort of thing. The king rejoins that he
is perfectly excuseable; that no offence has been done--that the cause
of his own unlooked-for presence arises from the fact that he is out for
the emperorship--that he is about doing a little electioneering, and
that he just stopped in to learn the state of public feeling in his
district, and solicit his (the tyrant's) vote. The tyrant being a good
deal flattered by this appeal to his chief weak point--namely, his own
fancied knowledge of party politics--says that the king does him great
honour--"supreme honour"--and invites him to spend the night in the
castle; which kind invitation his majesty graciously accepts.

In the meantime, the outlaw, having observed how much more cordially the
tyrant is received than himself, has made his exit. The king's followers
all draw up in line and conclude the act by a song, the burden of which
is that their master's nomination is the only one "fit to be made."

The next act discovers the tyrant awaiting the arrival of the
unfortunate heroine, to whom he is going to be married in a few minutes.
All is jollity in the castle, till a gentleman clothed as a pilgrim,
interrupts the general hilarity; for when the bride enters, he throws
off the dreadful black cloak and reveals the outlaw chieftain. He
pitches himself into a variety of passionate attitudes, to the great
terror of a whole boarding school of young ladies, whom their teacher
has permitted to visit the opera to improve their style of singing. The
bride elect rushes up to him, and so they both step down to the
foot-lights. The outlaw gentleman passes his right hand round the waist
of the lady, and clasps in his left both of her's, elevating them to a
line with the breast. They remain stationary for a moment, whilst the
orchestra is playing the symphony, looking as fondly into each other's
eyes as a pair of dear little turtle doves, and smiling as sweetly as
every gentleman and lady have a right to smile under such pleasant
circumstances. There they begin to assure each other simultaneously of
the pleasure they would find in immediately dying, placed in the
attitude which they are at present enjoying so highly; by a rare and
curious accident, both repeating the same words, with the exception of
the respective substitution of the pronouns "I, you, my, your, he, she,"
as often as such substitutions become necessary--as if one should say,
for example,

    I'll  } bet { my } money on the bob-tail mare.
    You'll}     {your}

    He'll } bet {his} money on the bob-tail mare.
    She'll}     {her}

The outlaw is, however, obliged to run and hide himself, because he
hears the king knocking to come in, and he fears that he'll be killed if
he is discovered. The king enters, and with a very "fee, fi, fo, fum"
air, asks for the body of the outlaw. The tyrant tells a most bare-faced
falsehood, swears the outlaw is not in his house, and so, the king,
after considerable use of the word wretch, traitor, menditore, &c.,
carries off the bride as a hostage, to the great chagrin of the tyrant.
As soon as the king has departed with his fair companion, the tyrant
runs to the outlaw's hiding place, and dragging him forth by the
collar, declares that he'll kill him himself. The outlaw, under great
excitement, seizes his head in both hands in a manner so terrible, that
self-decapitation would seem to be inevitable, which so alarms the
aforesaid boarding school misses, that two of them go off into
hysterics, and they are carried into the lobby, where the cutting of
their laces is attended with an explosion similar to that of "popping" a
champagne cork. The outlaw prays the tyrant not to kill him just now,
and says he will give him permission to do so at any future period.
"Here, sir," adds he, still addressing himself to the tyrant, "is a very
fine _cornet à piston_, allow me to present it to you with the
assurance, that whenever you wish to obtain my presence for the purpose
of exterminating me, you will merely be obliged to sound the note of B
flat, and I will unhesitatingly comply with your wishes." In the words
of the poet Tennyson,

    "Leave me here, and when you want me,
     Sound upon the bugle horn."

The tyrant accepts the present upon the accompanying condition, but
having no great confidence in the word of a man who has been associating
so long a time with bad company, he requires him to make oath to that
effect; which being done, both gentlemen call upon the chorus to follow
them immediately in pursuit of the king and his captive lady. These
cowardly rascals stand some five minutes and sing about their readiness
to depart, instead of marching off instantly, as they are requested to
do.

In the third act, the king hides himself in a grave-yard during the
election for emperor, probably out of fear that he may be defeated.
While wandering among the grave-stones he overhears some of his
political enemies, (among whom is the outlaw chieftain,) plotting his
assassination. The conspirators cast lots for the office of assassin,
and the lot _very naturally_ falls on the outlaw. The next moment the
report of cannon is heard, and the king's retinue come in, bringing with
them the heroine--who, we must confess, seems to have no real business
there,--and state that the polls have closed, and that the king has been
elected emperor. Thereupon the new emperor calls the conspirators up and
is about to have them killed, just as it might be expected an emperor
would do.

The heroine begs for the life of the miserable offenders, telling the
emperor that if he wishes to be considered a sovereign of
respectability, and not conduct himself like one who had "stolen a
precious diadem and put it in his pocket," he must pardon the
delinquents. The emperor relents, and pronounces a pardon for the
conspirators. He calls up the robber chieftain and the heroine, and
uniting their hands, expresses an ardent wish that they may, as the
libretto says, "love forever." The pleasure of the two lovers is
indescribable, and the whole company begin to sing the praises of such a
trump of an emperor. The air, which is chosen as the vehicle to carry
all this adulation to royal ears, is apparently one of those crashing,
clashing passages in the overture; and if the emperor does not hear the
voice of flattery, it is because the gentlemen who preside over the
kettle-drum and cymbals, seem to have entered into a conspiracy to
prevent it. The more zealous the chorus is in its efforts to make an
agreeable impression on their sovereign, and the louder the voice is
raised for this object, the more that irritable old drummer seems
anxious to defeat their sycophantic purposes. If you are one of those
excitable persons who are prone to take a side in every contest that
comes under their observation, whether it be two gentlemen ranging for
the presidency, or two bull-terriers "punishing" each other for the
possession of a bone, you immediately determine who you hope may carry
their point. In your admiration of the dogged perseverance of the old
drummer, you take part in favour of the instruments, and when you hear
that sudden and awful clash of the cymbals, which causes you to start
till you dig your elbow into an elderly gentleman on one side, and tread
on some corny toes on the other, you felicitate yourself upon the
victory of parchment and brass over throats; but the next moment your
pleasure is extinguished, for the tenor and soprano give their voices an
extra lift, and away they go up like rockets, far aloft above the din of
horns, cymbals and kettle drums.

The fourth and last act represents the terrace of a highly illuminated
palace, which may be seen in the back ground. Some masked gentlemen,
very bandy-legged and knock-kneed, dressed in tight hose, well
calculated to exhibit these deformities, are observed flirting with some
of the before mentioned thick-ankled ladies, who likewise rejoice in
dominos. Every thing indicates that this is a place, where people are in
the habit of being extremely jolly, and from which such stupid things as
parties to which a few friends are invited "very sociably", or family
re-unions, are entirely abolished. Presently all the company break out
with the expression of one general wish for the unbounded prosperity of
the outlaw chief and the heroine whom we saw betrothed in the last act,
and who have just been married. They make their exit shortly afterward
in great precipitation, having been frightened from the stage by the
appearance of a great, horrible-looking figure, clothed in black, which
seems to be a species of bug-bear, sent to scare such naughty people who
do nothing but dance, sing and make merry. The bug-bear exits shortly
after.

Again the highly profligate chorus enter, in no wise corrected by the
visitation of the gloomy looking gentleman, and assure the audience what
a pleasant thing it is for one man to flirt with another's wife from
behind a mask, or for an innocent young lady "going her first winter" to
whisper in a corner with a man about town; but getting weary of this
occupation, they at last retire, and the newly married couple--the
outlaw and his bride--again show themselves.

The outlaw seems to be struck with a highly poetic vein, for he tells
the lady that the noise of the polka in the palace has ceased, that the
gas has been stopped off, and that the stars are amusing themselves by
smiling on their happy union, "because they've nothing else to do."
Thereupon they indulge in a gentle embrace, and start off simultaneously
in a duo, declaratory of the union of their two hearts in such an
anti-anatomical manner, that henceforth until their latest breath, one
cardiacal organ will suffice to perform the functions of two separate
bodies. Scarcely have they made this declaration of their abnormal
heart-union, before the sound of a horn falls on the ears of the o'er
happy couple. At this moment the outlaw forgets all good breeding, and
still influenced by his former brigand habits, swears a most horrible
oath in the presence of his young bride, and seems to be overcome by
great depression of spirits. The poor woman, observing nothing singular
about the blast of the horn--in all probability fancying that it is only
the tooting of a lazy post boy somewhat behind time, prays him to cheer
up, and let her see him smile. Before the outlaw can comply with this
small request the horn sounds again. "Behold," shrieks the young
husband, "the tiger seeks his prey." The bride surveys the apartment,
but observing no tiger or other ferocious animal, takes it for granted
that he has the mania à potu, induced by imbibing too much champagne at
the wedding feast. She immediately runs out into the bridal chamber,
with the intention of putting on those indefinite garments denominated
"things," and going to call up the court physician. The outlaw chieftain
stands a moment listening with breathless attention, and hearing no more
of the horn, comes to the conclusion that he has no just ground for
fear, and that it was only a dreadful ringing in the ears with which he
is sometimes afflicted. He thereupon rushes in pursuit of his bride, but
just as he arrives at the door of the bridal chamber, his progress is
arrested by the same black hob-goblin gentlemen who frighted the
dissipated chorus, as before related. This gentleman is recognized by
the outlaw in spite of his black clothes and mask, as the hateful old
tyrant who persecuted him to such an extent some time previously. The
outlaw groans a few times, and then the tyrant asks his victim if he
calls to mind his promise, and the words of the poet Tennyson,

    "Leave me here, and when you want me
     Sound upon the bugle horn."

The poor outlaw begs for his life; but the old tyrant remains
inexorable, and tells him that he must die.

The unhappy bride returns, and hearing her husband entreating the old
tyrant so fervently for a respite, unites her supplications with those
of her husband. To this the tyrant makes no direct answer, but merely
presents a poignard to the trembling outlaw, with a repetition of the
words of the poet Tennyson.

    "Leave me here, and when you want me
     Sound upon the bugle horn."

The outlaw perceiving no mode of escaping from this _horn_ of the
dilemma, seizes the poignard, drives it in his breast, and sinks
mortally wounded. The poor bride shrieks, and falls upon his body. Now
succeeds a scene of pulling and dragging on the floor. The wounded
tenor is called upon to struggle and writhe in all the agonies of death,
and the prima donna to follow him up in order to raise his head on her
knee, and thus give him an opportunity of singing his dying solo. To do
this in such a manner as not to render the whole thing ridiculous and
farcical, instead of tragic and touching, requires all the grace and
ease imaginable. When well done it is impressive; when badly it is
laughable; but whether touching or laughable, it is sure to be relished
by a large part of the audience, for it always discloses who has done
most for the prima donna's bust, dame nature or the mantua maker.

The tenor's head being elevated to the proper height, he expresses it as
his dying wish that the prima donna will continue to live and cherish
his memory. They then lament their unhappy fate in a short duo. The
tenor dies; the prima donna appears to do the same, but the libretto
consoles you by declaring that she only swoons. The old tyrant--the
basso--chuckles like a wretch over the success of his successful plot,
declares it a revenge worthy of a demon; you concur in his sentiments,
and the curtain falls.

Gentle reader, are you wearied out with this insufferable nonsense? Do
not say that you are, or you will have established a reputation for want
of taste, beyond all controversy. Not to admire what we have written in
this chapter, is to condemn what we know you have often declared was a
"love of an opera." We have merely explained the plot of a well known
operatic _chef d'oeuvre_, which, goodness knows, required an
explanation.

Now do not be petulant, and _very satirically_ exclaim,--"I wish he
would explain his explanation," thereby showing, both that you can be
excessively severe, and that you have read Byron. We do not intend to
endeavour to render luminous that which is so very clear and evident in
its meaning; it would be to "gild refined gold," and all that sort of
thing, and therefore we spare you the infliction.



CHAPTER IX.

Après.

    I'm fond of fire and crickets, and all that,
    A lobster salad, and champagne, and chat.

    BYRON.

    From this genteel place the reader must not be surprised, if I should
    convey him to a cellar, or a common porter-house.

    CONNOISSEUR. No. 1.

    Sweet is old wine in bottles, ale in barrels.

    BYRON.


The curtain falls, much to the delight of those gentlemen whose sole
motive for frequenting the opera, is to have an opportunity of what they
term "chaffing" with some fair lady friend, whilst repairing thither,
and returning from thence, as well as during the enchanting moments
when the "drop" displays one of those accommodating landscapes, which
the audience, at their option, may convert either into the lake of Como,
or the ruins of Palmyra. If we may trust the assertion of many fair
mouths, we must infer that the curtain has fallen, much to the regret of
certain young ladies who declare that they could sit and hear Bosio
forever--a period of time which we have always been taught to regard as
very long indeed.

But the curtain _has_ fallen, and the gentlemen who have been foolish
enough to send _bouquets_ to the prima donna in the morning, all seem
suddenly to be struck with the bright idea, that by giving a few knocks
of a cane, or a few taps of a gloved hand, they can "call out" that
divine woman, and by some adroit manoeuvre render themselves
distinguishable, and obvious to her from out that mass of heads and
black coats. The persons who occupy the elevated portions of the house,
who have paid a small price for their admittance, like all other persons
who pay small prices, make large demands for their money, and
consequently unite with the prima donna's admirers in an attempt to get
a last, long, lingering look at the lady. They really "do" all the
applause, thundering with their heavy canes and beating their hands
together until they resemble small lumps of crude beef steaks. After the
requisite amount of delay which is imposed upon the audience to give
them an adequate idea of the obligation the prima donna will confer,
should she see fit to exhibit herself, a human head is seen to project
from behind the curtain, but is drawn back with that kind of jerk which
is said to be peculiar to a turtle establishing his right to the
homestead exemption. This little _aiguillon_ of the prompter has the
desired effect, for the gentlemen in the parquette, who expect the prima
donna to observe _them_ to the entire exclusion of the other five
hundred men in white cravats and black coats, become perfectly frantic,
and the sojourners in "paradise" threaten to take advantage of their
position and empty themselves on the heads of the higher orders of
society, who happen for the present to be below them. The excitement now
begins to infuse itself into all present; the most apathetic old
_habitués_ commence to stretch forth their necks, to wriggle on their
seats, and manifest other signs of sympathy, with the more inflammable
portion of the audience. At length the tenor comes forward from the
side of the curtain, with a sickly smile of inexpressible pleasure on
his countenance. He leads by the hand the prima donna, whose downcast
eyes, and modest demeanor, entirely mislead the audience, giving them
the fullest assurance of her "beautiful disposition," and wholly
contradicting the assertion that she ever stamps her foot at the leader,
or tears the hair of her maid. The brace of singers make one
acknowledgment of gratitude immediately after issuing from behind the
ruins of Palmyra, thence proceeding in front of said ruins, make
another, and the moment before their disappearance perpetrate a third.
This is not sufficient for those enamoured ones who think that by some
evident mistake the prima donna has not recognised _them_, so the
patting of gloves and the tapping of canes is again resorted to, which,
together with the efforts of the "upper circles," again extracts the
tenor and his "inamorata" together, with the drowsy basso. The
last-named person wears an air of great reluctance at thus being
detained on the stage, instead of being permitted to go home to his
_patés_ and _fricasées_. The three go through the reverential with due
regard to time and position, and then withdraw, leaving the house to
contemplate the gas light, and reflect upon the briefness of all human
pleasures.

During all this time the ladies have been standing in an apparently half
decided state, as to what was ultimately to become of them, alternately
looking on the stage and picking up hoods and shawls which they
immediately let fall again. Now that their suspense is ended, they
commence to hood and shawl; and many is the gentleman who announces in
whispers that he is unspeakably happy in being permitted to place a
cloak upon shoulders that rival alabaster.

Harry Brown is unfortunate, for Miss Smith's cousin George has
anticipated him, having already astutely seized upon a shawl, during the
"calling out" which he carefully keeps until the blissful moment arrives
for enveloping that lady. Miss Smith thanks cousin George, as she always
calls him, with such a sweet smile that Harry Brown immediately becomes
occupied in a protracted search after his hat, muttering to himself
"hang these cousins."

The audience go out of the boxes together with the going out of the
gas, and masses of people stand crowded together in the lobbies, while
the house is slowly emptying itself.

The fast-men have collected about in front of the different box doors
from which the ladies are issuing, and are examining the relative claims
to beauty, which the fair observed ones merit, or as they term it, "are
getting their points." They are heard to make their comparisons upon the
singers too, with all the assurance of the old _habitués_, telling about
Salvi's falsetto, and Bettini's chest-voice, with a wondrous deal of
volubility. Where the crowds from the upper tiers unite with those of
the lower, one loud-voiced critic, who has just made his descent, is
heard to observe to a friend that "though Salvi is an old cock, he is
nevertheless a remarkably sound egg;" but why such a peculiarly
gallinaceous reference is made to that distinguished tenor, we must
unhesitatingly confess ignorance.

After the confusion attendant on the coming and going of carriages, cabs
and divers other vehicles, the fatigued audience are at length set in
motion towards their respective dwellings.

Again poor Harry Brown is a fit subject for our commiseration. The
ill-fated young man is placed by the side of Miss Smith's mother, a
rather antique lady; Cousin George somehow or other, has managed to
place himself beside Miss Smith. The carriage passes a lamp-post, and
though Harry Brown does observe Cousin George's left hand, the
disappearance of the right is something for which he cannot at all
account, except upon the laws of proximity which pertain to cousinship.
While the carriage proceeds homewards the party does not converse as
freely as they did a short time before, under the exhilaration arising
from gas-light and gossip. Harry Brown finds the ride a bore, Mrs. Smith
is so deaf, and still has her ideas of public amusement, confined to the
times when Mr. Kemble, Mr. Cooper and Mr. Cooke, performed in the
_legitimate_ drama to crowded houses. Cousin George's position is such a
happy one, that conversation is to him a thing superfluous.

Those whose means authorise them, and very often those whose means do
not authorise them, go home to a nice supper, some delicate partridges,
cold capon, or deviled turkey, and a bottle or two of champagne. Under
the influences of the warm room and the viands, not to mention that
"warm champagny, old particular brandy-punchy feeling" induced by the
popping cork, the events of the whole evening are reviewed in a quite
thorough manner, though without much attention to a "_lucidus ordo_."

Let us follow the Smiths home, and see what is their mode of terminating
the evening. Scarcely have they settled themselves at table before a
glass of champagne is administered all round, and a very severe
criticism of Bosio is commenced by Cousin George, who says in a very
opinionated way, that he likes her pretty well, but prefers either
Truffi or Stefanoni. Miss Smith immediately espouses the cause of the
injured Bosio, whom she has often declared she could listen to
"forever," and calls on Harry Brown to come to the rescue of the
cantatrice's reputation. Harry, who has been sadly silent ever since the
miraculous disappearance of Cousin George's right hand in the carriage,
at once becomes a violent Bosioite, and maintains the vocal abilities of
that prima donna against the whole world; whereupon Miss Smith with one
of the most approving of smiles, exclaims, "Thank you, Mr. Brown; I
always knew you were a gentleman of taste. There, there, let me shake
hands with you." And as Miss Smith utters the last words, she extends
such a ridiculously little hand across the table, that it seems almost a
misnomer to apply that appellation to it. Mr. Brown seizes the proffered
member, and gives it as hearty a pressure as the publicity of the
occasion will permit. From the moment that he touches the magical little
hand, cousin George is eclipsed. Harry's knowledge of operas, music and
singers, becomes at once astonishingly enlarged, and he speaks on
operatic subjects like one having authority to do so. Fortunately for
cousin George, Miss Smith's brother Charles enters, his clothes strongly
redolent of Havannahs, he having just returned from his club. His sister
forbids him to come so near her, alleging as a ground for such a
prohibition, that those "horrid" cigars are _so_ offensive to her. Her
brother moves good naturedly to the other side of the table, having
first applied his finger to his sister's cheek in a playful way, which
has a powerful effect upon poor Harry, causing him to feel exceedingly
as if he should like to do the same thing himself. The sister begins to
assure her brother of the inestimable amount of pleasure he has lost by
loitering at the "horrid" club, instead of accompanying her to the
_delicious_ opera. The reply is that "the club" has voted Bosio a bore,
and that consequently he cannot think of wasting his valuable time by
going to hear her. The sister then makes some very severe remarks upon
clubs in the abstract, but is interrupted by her brother's inquiring if
she does not want to take a share in the great stakes which the club is
endeavouring to raise, in order to _pit_ Tom Hyer against Harry Broome
the English champion. The sister pretends to be so provoked at the
_raillerie_ of her brother, that she smiles in a way that makes her look
doubly pretty, calls him a "horrid creature," then turns to Harry Brown
and indulges in some rather pointed observations, relative to divers of
the good people who were among the audience at the opera.

Mrs. Smith, who has up to this moment been very laudably occupied in
seeing that the young people get a due proportion of the well selected
viands, now comes in for a part of the conversation. She, good lady,
knows the fathers and grandfathers, mothers and grandmothers, of the
present generation, and can tell just what amount of homage each of the
dashing families of the city have a right to lay claim to. She declares
that Mrs. Simms has no right to assume the importance that she
does--that though her father was a very respectable man, still, when she
was a girl, the family lived in a very obscure part of the town, and
were wholly unknown among our first people. Miss Smith, however, who is
very much afraid that her mother is going to indulge in too minute and
wearisome an investigation of genealogies, conducts the conversation to
subjects which she supposes to be more interesting to the rest of the
party. She objects to the want of taste displayed by those awful looking
Misses Rogers, who deck themselves out like young girls, when every body
knows they have been in society for the last fifteen years--that their
mother has made herself notorious, as well as ridiculous, by angling for
every young man of desirable means in the city. Miss Smith likewise
expresses her wonder when that stupid Lieutenant Jones _will_ marry Miss
Simms. She declares that "she is tired of seeing the two together; that
one cannot go to any public place, but the first persons who meet the
eye are Jones and Miss Simms; that if the weather is fair, and you walk
out, there are the loving couple in the street. Go to Newport, there
they are--go to the opera, there they are. If they can find means to run
incessantly to parties and balls, watering places and operas, why cannot
they get married?" Miss Smith concludes her observations on the
over-fond lovers, by emphasising the words "so stupid, is it not?" at
the same time giving them both an affirmative and interrogative
character. Harry Brown responds that it might be excessively
uninteresting to be always thus placed in proximity to Miss Simms, but
that there are other young ladies of his acquaintance, with whom such
extreme intimacy would be any thing but stupid. To this ambiguous use of
the word "stupid," Miss Smith makes no reply, but merely looks at Mr.
Brown as if she had not the slightest idea whatever that a very personal
allusion to herself had been made by that gentleman. Miss Smith again
indulges in reflections on society with a great deal of freedom and
pointedness of expression, which much amuses cousin George, who laughs
approvingly at what he terms the "sharpness" of his relative. Brother
Charles remains wholly unattentive to a kind of conversation which his
fair sister so often takes part in, and is absorbed in estimating, on
the back of a visiting card, the probability of his winning his bet on
the late election. Harry Brown, after his complimentary effort, sinks
into a state of silence, induced by the loquacity of Miss Smith, the
hilarity of cousin George, and the negligence of brother Charles. Alas
for Harry! he is considering the likelihood that such a censorious young
lady can have a kind heart--or would make a good wife. At this moment,
Mr. Smith, Senior, walks into the dining-room. A worthy, respectable,
and well-to-do man is Mr. Smith, the elder; he pays his taxes and he
loves his children, and who can do more? Miss Smith immediately rises
from the table, puts up her dear little mouth to her papa to be kissed.
The tender parent goes through the osculatory process in such an
affectionate manner, that Harry Brown is strongly impressed with the
idea that the old gentleman would make a trump of a father-in-law, and
he begins to suspect that Miss Smith's heart is not so bad after all.
The elderly Smith takes his seat, having first shaken Harry by the hand
in a friendly, familiar way, that indicates a very good opinion of that
worthy young person. The conversation again reverts to operatics, but
Harry seems to have forgotten all his late familiarity with such
subjects, and becomes suddenly very conversant with rail-roads, canals
and stocks, and launches out into an earnest conversation with Mr. Smith
on those interesting topics.

But everything must have an end, and so about midnight Mr. Brown _walks_
home through a foot of snow, because his mind is too much occupied with
thoughts of Miss Smith and her cousin George, to allow him to think of
calling a cab.

Let us now see what becomes of those gentlemen who have been sitting in
the parquette, giving the opera their most anxious attention at all such
times as either the prima donna is on the stage, or any aria is sung,
but who have been giving quite unmistakeable signs of ennui and
weariness during the recitatives and choruses. If we have narrowly
observed the movements of this portion of the audience, we will have
remarked, that during the performance of the last act they have, from
time to time, cast hurried glances towards the avenues of egress, and
contorted their countenances in a way which would indicate that their
olfactories were greeted by certain savory odours, imperceptible to
every body but the possessors of the said olfactories. These gentlemen,
immediately after leaving the opera, may be seen to walk along the
street in companies of three or four, with a hurried step, until their
progress is arrested by the view of divers green, blue, pink, or crimson
coloured lamps, holding a very conspicuous position over the doors of
some houses of very suggestive exterior, or before some suspicious
hiatuses in the pavement, where those horrid monsters, who figure in
Christmas pantomimes, might easily be imagined to dwell. These lamps
seem to be possessed of a most incredible power of human attraction, for
no sooner does their light fall upon the vision of the nocturnal
wayfarer, than he is drawn within the portals over which they are
established. Upon mounting the steps into these houses, or descending
into these subterranean regions, the inquirer will discover a long,
brilliantly illuminated, gaudily papered chamber, whose walls are
ornamented with numerous over-grown mirrors, and French coloured
prints, representing young ladies in short dresses, standing in every
possible posture except that usually assumed by ladies of our
acquaintance. Along one side of this apartment, at the distance of about
three and a half feet from the wall, extends a marble slab, placed in a
horizontal position, and elevated three feet from the floor, forming a
species of enclosure. Within this enclosure, a number of men, habited to
the waist in white garments,--apparently a nameless order of
priesthood--are going through some inexplicable mystic rites, repeatedly
seizing up various large glass bottles containing transparent or opaque
liquids, and carrying them to different parts of this marble slab at the
request of various persons, who seem to be the worshippers in this
temple. At one end of the enclosure, a solitary man of a dark and sombre
hue, evidently a person held more sacred than the other priests, is seen
alternately to hammer portions of some hard matter, resembling stone in
appearance, and then split them by the magical application of a small
piece of blunt iron. He conducts this ceremony with the greatest
solemnity, occasionally pronouncing these incantatory words, "Plate or
shell, sah?" in a seemingly interrogative manner. The worshippers at
these shrines are some of the same young gentlemen whom we have seen
standing back in the opera boxes by the doors, making fast remarks on
all that was passing around them, or sitting in the parquette
endeavouring to annihilate the prima donna by the attractiveness of
their appearance. Others, of this same class of persons, merely pass
through this chamber, having first said in a low tone to the most
potential of the priests, "Four dozen broiled; ale for one, and brandy
and water for three." The priest immediately repeats these words so
fraught with significance, in a loud voice, which resounds through the
whole chamber. An invisible priest, at some distance from the first,
again repeats them, and thus the mysterious sound is passed from one
unseen priest to another, until it ceases to be heard in the distance.

Nothing more is seen of the last described devotees, for some time after
their leaving the mysterious apartment; but about midnight a confused
sound of human voices is heard to issue from another mysterious chamber.
Some of those voices express a dogged determination on the part of
their proprietors, to remain shut up within the present confines until
the matutinal hours; other voices assure a universal confidence in the
powers of a certain bob-tail mare, while one teaches in the Italian
language the secret of ever living happily.[b] At between two and three
o'clock in the morning, several of our _operators_ are seen to emerge
from the aforesaid houses and subterranean abodes, in a very musical, as
well as affectionate frame of mind. One gentleman, totally regardless of
the lateness of the hour, after manifesting a strong desire to embrace a
large party of his friends, kindly invites them home to take tea with
him. Another walks homeward, expressing his notions on the secret of
living happily in a cantatory way. A third is assisted into a cab by his
associates, with directions to the driver to set him down at his
lodgings. Arrived there, he is put to bed, when he dreams that he is
falling down five hundred precipices; that afterwards a huge man is on
the point of cutting off his head, but a very prima donna like looking
lady comes in and intercedes for him, and she thus saves his life; that
he is just going to be married to the prima donna like looking lady,
when his pleasure is interrupted by the sound of ten thousand horns,
each one four times as large as that he saw the tyrant have in the
opera; whereupon he awakes, and discovers that there is a cry of fire,
and the firemen are making almost as much noise as the orchestra did,
when it was doing the crashing passages.

[b] Il segreto per esser felici.

       *       *       *       *       *

In the morning, the chambermaid wonders why Mr. Higgins rings for water,
when she recollects filling the ewer full the night previous. Next day
Mr. Higgins examines his operatic accounts, and finds them to stand
thus:

    To one pair kid gloves,              $1.00
     " opera ticket, (secured seat,)      1.50
     " supper,                            3.00
     " cab-hire,                          1.00
                                         -----
                                   Total, 6.50

At that moment his land-lady sends in the bill for lodging, which,
by-the-by, she always seems to do when he is in one of his repentant
moods, and Mr. Higgins expresses a kind wish that all Italians were in a
climate somewhat warmer than that of the south of Europe.

The Smiths do not feel any inconvenience, physical or pecuniary, from
their visit to the opera, and _petit souper_ afterwards. "When one has
money," says Mrs. Smith, in a very oracular tone, "what is the use of
it, except to let people know that one has got it!" Immediately after
this expression of her sentiments in regard to filthy lucre, Mrs. Smith
tells the servant not to give a shilling to the whimpering little boy
who has been sweeping the snow off the pavement; that a sixpence is
enough, and more than enough, for him, and that it is wrong to encourage
such exorbitance.

       *       *       *       *       *

Now, that Mr. Higgins should feel thirsty in the morning, or that Mrs.
Smith should regret to part with a sixpence, concerns not us; we have
not been writing to correct public morals, but only to amuse the
readers of THE PHYSIOLOGY OF THE OPERA.


ERRATA. [corrected in etext]


    Page.  Line.
     16      6    after a, insert _fast man or a_.
     34     10      "   chef (d' orchestre), read _chef d'orchestre_.
     34     17      "   chef (d' orchestre),   "  _chef d'orchestre_.
     55     10      "   guoi, read _quoi_.
     55     10      "   singers, read _Singers_.
     55     11      "   led horse, read _lead horse_.
     70     24      "   was, read _is_.
     76     12      "   bulversé, read _boulversé_.
     92     22      "   gentlemen, read _gentleman_.





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