Imatges de pàgina
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sustained unbroken through a variety of scenes or for any length of time. Then again it is fair to calculate how far the genius of such an actress as Pasta might overcome even greater disadvantages than those which I have attributed to the Opera. Her own abundance of nature might supply the want of it in the Opera, and cover, like Charity, a multitude of sins. Such a Napoleon-like spirit might pass over Alpine obstructions in the realms of art as if they were level ground. She is a mighty conqueror—a glorious magician | Her sceptre is a wand that calls up nature and awakens the noblest associations, even amidst the scenes and influences of frivolity and fashion. It is more reasonable, to attribute the movements of passion in the audience to the genius of Pasta, and the beauty of the music, than to the dramatic action or poetry of the Opera. The music alone so elevates the fancy and so prepares the heart for tender or sublime impressions, that an actor who has any touch of nature in his own soul may blind the audience to the greatest incongruities, and with the irresistible aid of true music may defy the disadvantages of the most unnatural accompaniments. When the soul is raised and the heart moved by exquisite sounds and the magical effect of pageantry and splendour, combined with that mysterious feeling which the association of thousands of human beings in the same enjoyment invariably excites, it is wonderful how electrical is the slightest stroke of nature, and how even the faintest resemblance of truth may be mistaken for the reality.

Thus, therefore, the success of the Opera, assisted as it has been by such unrivalled harmony—by dramatic action so natural and

true as to hoodwink a large portion of an audience to the absur

dity of its connection with the music—by the lascivious ballet— by many other sensual excitements and associations—and lastly,

by the sovereign sway of fashion which has enlisted the vanity of the multitude in its favor, affords no proof whatever of the justice

of its pretensions to the favorable judgment of the critic when the

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propriety of its heterogeneous combinations becomes the subject of dispute. Thousands attend the Opera who take no real interest either in the music or the acting, but who would dread the charge of vulgarity or a want of taste should they acknowledge their secret sentiments. It is the most aristocratic of all public amusements. It has always been conspicuously supported by our own nobility, and in other countries it has been rendered of the first importance to courtiers and men of rank and fashion by the direct patronage of government and the superintendence of kings and princes. In England the high price of tickets excludes the vulgar, so that the possession of a box at the Opera is regarded as an evidence both of wealth and of refinement. Thus it is very easy to account for the popularity of the Opera without any admission of its truth and nature. Ninety in every hundred of those who attend the Italian Opera neither understand the language of the dialogue nor the beauty of the music. Even those who can read and speak Italian cannot follow it on the stage when conjoined with music, and the music itself is often so elaborate, that none but tutored ears can fully appreciate its merits. Still, however, as there is always a kind of enchantment in music, even when it is but vaguely understood, and as it produces that state or mood of mind which is most susceptible of emotion, these influences, combined with the adventitious aids already adverted to, have sometimes produced those effects upon an audience which have been mistaken for a proof of the truth and nature of the Opera and its equality with the legitimate Drama. Voltaire and others have attempted to trace a resemblance

between the Italian Opera and the lyric drama of the Greeks, but even if this resemblance were more obvious than it really is, the opposers of the Opera could still maintain their ground, for the ancients might err in a point of taste as well as the moderns. Their introduction of gods on the stage was puerile and absurd, and nothing but the intense religious sentiment which was connected with their mythological drama, preserved many of its incongruities from ridicule and contempt. Dramas formed on the Greek model have never succeeded in our own country. Augustus Schlegel has maintained that it betrays the most complete ignorance of the spirit of classical antiquity to compare the opera with the ancient drama. It is conjectured that the opera had its rise among the Provencals in those times of ignorance and barbarism, on which we look back with no other view than to estimate the progress of improvement. The Quarterly Review, under the reign of Gifford, in an able article on dramatic Literature, observes— “Though the Italians may be said to have completely failed in dramatic composition, they may claim the honor of having invented that incongruous compound of music, decoration and dance, the Modern Opera—a species of entertainment truly characteristic of the frivolity of the age which is capable of preferring a spectacle, where sense and pro

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priety are sacrificed to sound, to such productions as Macbeth and Othello, when elucidated by the genius of a Kemble or a Siddons.”

Schlegel describes the Opera as an instance of “the anarchy of the arts.” Its “fairy world,” he says, “is not peopled by real men, but by a singular kind of singing creatures " He seems to be of Addison's opinion, that the sense of the Opera, when there is any, is of no importance, as it must be lost in the music. The language being foreign is no disadvantage, and the words “which contain the greatest number of open vowels, and distinct accents for recitative, are the best.”

Hazlitt is equally caustic in his remarks upon this species of

entertainment :—

“The Opera, from its constant and powerful appeals to the senses, by imagery, by sound, and motion, is well calculated to amuse or stimulate the intellectual languor of those classes of society, on whose support it immediately depends. This is its highest aim, and its appropriate use. But, without the aid of luxurious pomp, what can there be to interest in this merely artificial vehicle of show, and dance, and song, which is purposely constructed so as to lull every effort of the understanding and feeling of the heart in the soft, soothing effeminacy of sensual enjoyment P The Opera Muse is not a beautiful virgin who can hope to charm by simplicity and sensibility; but a tawdry courtesan, who, when her paint and patches, her rings and jewels are stripped off, can excite only disgust and ridicule.”

Leigh Hunt has justly ridiculed in his “Companion” the introduction on the stage of a singing Earl of Derby, singing footguards and a warbling sheriff. To go back again a little with my authorities, which I shall not pretend to quote in their regular order, Lord Kames, in his Elements of Criticism, in his chapter on

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“congruity and propriety,” observes, that “the most gorgeous apparel, however improper in tragedy, is not unsuitable to Opera actors; the truth is, an Opera is a mighty fine thing, but as it deviates from nature in its capital circumstances, we look not for nature and propriety in those which are accessory.” Lord Lyttleton, in his Persian letters, has a pleasant fling at the Opera, where in the character of a Persian he inquires, who is singing on the stage 2 The reply is, Julius Caesar. What, says he in return, was Caesar famous for singing Pope personified and

attacked the Opera in verse.

“When, lo l a harlot form soft sliding by
With mincing step, small voice, and languid eye;
Foreign her air, her robe's discordant pride
In patchwork fluttering, and her head aside;
By singing peers upheld on either hand,
She tripped and laughed, too pretty much to stand;
Cast on the prostrate Nine a scornful look
And thus in quaint recitativo spoke :
“O Cara / Cara !” silence all that train
Joy to great Chaos' let division reign;
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But soon, ah! soon, rebellion will commence,
If music meanly borrows aid from sense.”

I should be ashamed to depreciate the real power and delightfulness of music; but when its votaries attempt, as they have done, WOL. II. P

to make “ odious comparisons,” I feel disposed to exercise an honest discrimination, and to confess that as an imitative art, it cannot possibly compete with poetry or painting. Sound can only imitate sound, but words can represent the most subtle and complicated thoughts, and colours can preserve with perfect fidelity and clearness all the peculiarities of a landscape, or the features, the expression, the air and the attitude of a face and form. These magical and mighty triumphs are achieved by intrinsic power, unassisted and alone. But without the aid of poetry how small is the power of music as an imitative art? Unaccompanied by this interpreter, it is almost unintelligible. It is true that like one who speaks to us in an unknown tongue, it may contrive to make us sensible as to whether it is sad or merry, tranquil or excited, and awaken a sympathetic feeling or sensation; but it can convey no determinate ideas to the mind like those presented to us by the painter or the poet. Music is, upon the whole, far less intellectual than the other arts. It is indeed exquisitely delightful; but so also is “a steam of rich distilled perfumes.” The chief intellectual charm or power of music is the effect of association, and this, by no means an intrinsic or peculiar merit, it possesses in common with all natural objects and with every thing that addresses itself to the senses. A particular tree or flower, or a familiar flavor, or scent, may call up as many and as sweet associations. The music that draws tears from the sternest eye when linked with some tender circumstance or emotion peculiar to the hearer, may be listened to by another individual of even greater sensibility with either the most perfect indifference or only a vague sensual pleasure. The airs that stir a whole nation with patriotic emotions, may be meaningless and ineffective in a different land. This is not the case with painting ; it speaks a universal language : and it is almost the same with poetry. The check upon the universality of the latter from the necessity of translation is a mere accidental

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