Opera

The Diary of Philip Hone

Marie Taglioni in La Sylphide, via Wikipedia

Source: Bayard Tuckerman (ed.), The Diary of Philip Hone, 1828-1851 (New York, Dodd, Mead, 1889), vol. 1, p. 227

Production: Gioachino Rossini, Le siège de Corinthe and Filippo Taglioni, La Sylphide, Salle Le Peletier (Théâtre de l’Académie Royale de Musique), Paris, 12 September 1836

Text: Well, I have seen Taliogni. She danced this evening at the French Opera, in the ballet of the Sylphide. It was a single performance, and, fortunately, fell upon our last night in Paris. The immense theatre was crowded in every part. Bradford obtained excellent places for us in the course of the day. The opera was the “Siege of Corinth,” which, did not interest me; but the ballet was certainly the poetry of motion and the sunlight of beauty. I never saw anything of the kind before which is not routed horse and foot out of my recollection by the force of this fascinating spectacle. Not only the calypso of the night, but her attendant nymphs all danced and moved and floated like beings of another world. The piece is exactly the same as that gotten up in New York as an opera when Mrs. Austin was there, under the name of the “Mountain Sylph”; but, fortunately, there was no singing or speaking here. It would have been too much, when one of our senses was completely absorbed, to have another invaded, and in danger of being captured; it might have ended in nonsense. The whole affair was so nicely managed, the machinery worked so well, the sylphs flew in the air, as if their little delicate feet had never touched the ground, and when their lovely sister died, four of them enveloped her in a net of gold and, each taking a corner, flew up with her into the air, where, I take it for granted, the Sylphic Pere la Chaise is situated. Or, perhaps, the beauteous beings of their race, when defunct, are taken up to exhale in the regions above, and return to us in the form of dew-drops to sparkle on the leaves of the newly blown rose, or hide in the velvet recesses of the fragrant violet. Taliogni is small, delicate, and, I think, pretty, and her dancing excels that of any other woman as much as Mrs. Wood’s singing does Mrs. Sharp’s. It is not only in great agility and dexterity, but it is the perfection of grace and beauty, and addresses itself to the imagination, as it is, in fact, half the time something between earth and heaven. When this pleasant affair was ended, we went to Tortoni’s and took our ices. This is the most fashionable house in Paris.

Comments: Philip Hone (1780-1851) was an American businessman and diarist, who was Mayor of New York 1825-1826. Marie Taglioni (1804-1804) was a Italian-Swedish ballet dancer, one of the most celebrated figures of the romantic ballet of the nineteenth century, known especially for her dancing en pointe. La Sylphide was choreographed for her by her father Filippo Taglioni in 1832. She danced regularly at the Salle Le Peletier, or Théâtre de l’Académie Royale de Musique as it was known at this time. Le siège de Corinthe was an opera by Rossini.

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Two Hundred and Nine Days

Source: Thomas Jefferson Hogg, Two Hundred and Nine Days; or, The Journal of a Traveller on the Continent (London: Hunt and Clarke, 1827), pp. 246-247

Production: Gioachino Rossini, Maometto II [probably], Milan, 31 January 1826

Text: 31 January [1826]: In the evening I visited the Scala, a most spacious and magnificent theatre; well lighted and commodious; the silk curtains in front of the boxes are handsome and useful; they may be drawn close, and the tired spectator may go to sleep, as safely as if he were in bed, without shocking public decency, or impeaching his good taste; and by means of this humane and elegant contrivance, he may be supposed to be enraptured all the time by the performance, and thrown into an ecstacy [sic] by the music: an amateur may even gain credit for attending a whole season, without ever leaving his fire-side, by merely giving the box-keeper a shilling to pin the curtains together once for all. If the curtains were all of the same colour, perhaps the appearance would be better; in one tier of boxes they are yellow, in the other blue alternately. The opera was Mahomet; the ballet was splendid; afterwards was a masked ball, but I did not stay to witness it.

Comments: Thomas Jefferson Hogg (1792-1862) was an English lawyer and writer, a close friend of the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley. He went on a continental tour of Europe over 1825-26 and his published diaries record many visits to the theatre in different countries. La Scala, or Teatro alla Scala opera house, was inaugurated in 1778. The opera he saw was presumably Rossini‘s two -act work Maometto II (1820).

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The Diary of Frances Lady Shelley

Source: Richard Edgecumbe (ed.), The Diary of Frances Lady Shelley (New York: C. Scribner’s, 1912-1913), pp. 104-105

Production: André Grétry and Michel-Jean Sedaine, Richard Coeur-de-lion, Théâtre Feydeau, Paris, July 1815

Text: The Prussians are quartered all over Paris; and wherever they suspect the loyalty of the inhabitants they keep quartering more soldiers upon them. Our men are quartered out of the town – in the Bois de Boulogne – the officers excepted. One evening we went to the Théâtre Feydeau, opera comique. The first piece was ending as we entered the house, and some couplets were sung in praise of Louis XVIII; they were received with violent applause by the whole audience. One man, however, ventured to hiss, whereupon there was a great disturbance, and the individual in question was thrown out of the pit. The couplets were then encored amid tumultuous expressions of delight. It was a moving scene. The petit-pièce was entitled “Richard Coeur de Lion.” The man who represented Blondel had been with the King to Ghent, and was consequently much applauded. He sang well, and with real feeling. When Marguerite in the play said, “Vous etiez avec le Roi,” the cheering was beyond description. I cannot describe the enthusiasm which prevailed throughout the house. The theatre is dirty, the boxes small and insufferably hot.

Comments: Frances Lady Shelley (1787-1873) was a well-connected, vivacious British society figure, whose lively diaries (edited by her grandson) include several accounts of theatregoing. At the time of this diary entry, Paris was occupied by British and Prussian troops following the defeat of Napoleon. She saw the opéra comique Richard Coeur-de-lion composed by André Grétry, with a libretto by Michel-Jean Sedaine, at the Théâtre Feydeau. It was an immensely popular work, first performed in 1784, but was not presented in France during the revolutionary period, owing to its royalist theme.

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Memoirs of Theobald Wolfe Tone

Source: William Theobald Wolfe Tone (ed.), Memoirs of Theobald Wolfe Tone, written by himself; comprising a complete journal of his negotiations to procure the aid of the French for the liberation of Ireland, with selections from his diary whilst agent to the Irish Catholics (London: H. Colburn, 1827), vol. 1, pp. 212-215

Production: François-Louis Gand Le Bland Du Roullet and Christoph Gluck, Iphigénie en Aulide and François-Joseph Gossec, L’Offrande à la Liberté, Théâtre des Arts, Paris, 13 February 1796

Text: In the evening at the Grand Opera, Theatre des Arts; Iphigénie. The theatre magnificent, and I should judge, about one hundred performers in the orchestra. The dresses most beautiful, and a scrupulous attention to costume, in all the decorations, which I have never seen in London. The performers were completely Grecian statues animated, and I never saw so manifestly the superiority of the taste of the ancients in dress, especially as regards the women. Iphigénie (La citoyenne Cheron) was dressed entirely in white, without the least ornament, and nothing can be imagined more truly elegant and picturesque. The acting admirable, but the singing very inferior to that of the King’s Theatre in the Haymarket. The French cannot sing like the Italians. Agamemnon excellent. Clytemnestra still better. Achilles abominable, yet more applauded than either of them. Sang in the old French style, which is most detestable, shaking and warbling on every note: vile! vile! vile! The others sang in a style sufficiently correct. The ballet, L’Offrande à la Liberté most superb. In the centre of the stage was the statue of Liberty, with an altar blazing before her. She was surrounded by the characters in the opera, in their beautiful Grecian habits. The civic air “Veillons au salut de l’Empire” was sung by a powerful base, and received with transport by the audience. Whenever the word, esclavage was uttered, it operated like an electric shock. The Marseillaise hymn was next sung, and produced still greater enthusiasm. At the words, “Aux armes citoyens!” all the performers drew their swords and the females turned to them as encouraging them. Before the last verse there was a short pause; the time of the music was changed to a very slow movement, and supported only by the flutes and oboes; a beautiful procession entered; first little children like cherubs, with baskets of flowers ; these were followed by boys, a little more advanced, with white javelins (the Hasta pura of the ancients) in their hands. Then came two beautiful female figures, moving like the Graces themselves, with torches blazing; these were followed by four negroes, characteristically dressed, and carrying two tripods between them, which they placed respectfully on each side of the altar; next came as many Americans, in the picturesque dress of Mexico; and these were followed by an immense crowd of other performers, variously habited, who ranged themselves on both sides of the stage. The little children then approached the altar with their baskets of flowers, which they laid before the goddess; the rest in turn succeeded, and hung the altar and the base of the statue with garlands and wreaths of roses; the two females with the torches approached the tripods, and, just touching them with the fire, they kindled into a blaze. The whole then knelt down, and all of this was executed in cadence to the music and with grace beyond description. The
first part of the last verse, “Amour sacré de la patrie” was then sung slowly and solemnly, and the words “Liberté, Liberté cherie” with an emphasis which affected me most powerfully. All this was at once pathetic and sublime, beyond what I had ever seen or could almost imagine; but it was followed by an incident which crowned the whole, and rendered it indeed a spectacle worthy of a free republic. At the repetition of the words, Aux armes, citoyens! the music changed again to a martial style, the performers sprung on their feet, and in an instant the stage was filled with National Guards, who rushed in with bayonets fixed, sabres drawn, and the tri-colour flag flying. It would be impossible to describe the effect of this. I never knew what enthusiasm was before; and what heightened it beyond all conception was, that the men I saw before me were not hirelings acting a part; they were what they seemed, French citizens flying to arms, to rescue their country from slavery. They were the men who had precipitated Cobourg into the Sambre, and driven Clairfait over the Rhine, and were, at this very moment, on the eve of again hurrying to the frontiers, to encounter fresh dangers and gain fresh glory. This was what made the spectacle interesting beyond all description. I would willingly sail again from New York to enjoy again what I felt at that moment. Set the ballets of the Haymarket beside this! This sublime spectacle concluded the ballet: but why must I give it so poor a name? It was followed by another ballet, which one might call so, but even this was totally different from what such things used to be. The National Guards were introduced again, and, instead of dancing, at least three-fourths of the exhibition consisted of military evolutions, which, it should seem, are now more to the French taste than allemandes and minuets and pas de deux. So best! It is curious now to consider at what rate one may see all this. I paid for my seat in the boxes one hundred and fifty livres, in assignats, which, at the present rate, is very nearly sixpence sterling. The highest priced seats were but two hundred livres, which is eightpence. I mention this principally to introduce a conjecture which struck me at Havre, but which seems much more probable here, that the Government supports the theatres privately. And, in France, it is excellent policy, where the people are so much addicted to spectacles, of which there are now about twenty in Paris, and all full every night. What would my dearest love have felt at the “L’Offrande à la Liberté?

Comments: Wolfe Tone (1763-1798) was an Irish republican who led the Irish rebellion of 1798. He went to Paris in February 1796 to persuade the revolutionary government to assist in an invasion of Ireland. Chrisoph Gluck composed two operas on the classical legend of Iphigenia, Iphigénie en Tauride and Iphigénie en Aulide. The latter had a libretto by François-Louis Gand Le Bland Du Roullet and was seen by Tone at the Théâtre des Arts, later the Théâtre National de la rue de la Loi, in Paris. ‘La citoyenne Cheron’ was the actress Anne Cameroy or Anne Chéron (1767-18??). François-Joseph Gossec (1734-1829) was a French composer. His L’Offrande à la Liberté was one of several works he wrote in celebration of the French Revolution.

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The Journal of an Excursion to the United States of North America

‘Interior View of Chestnut Street (New) Theatre’ (1798?), Penn Library

Source: Henry Wansey, The Journal of an Excursion to the United States of North America in the Summer of 1794 (Salisbury/London: J. Easton/ G. and T. Wilkie, 1796), pp. 126-127

Production: Elizabeth Inchbald, Every One Has His Fault, Chestnut Street (New) Theatre, Philadelphia, 6 June 1794

Text: In the evening, I went to the new Theatre, to see Mrs. Cowley’s Play, “Every One has his Fault,” with the Farce of “No Song No Supper.” Mrs. Whitlock, sister to Mrs. Siddons, is the chief actress; and, to my surprise, I recognized Darley, one of our actors, last winter at Salisbury, in the character of Crop. It is an elegant and convenient theatre, as large as that of Covent Garden; and, to judge from the dress and appearance of the company around me, and the actors and scenery, I should have thought I had still been in England. The ladies wore the small bonnets of the same fashion as those I saw when I left England; some of chequered straw, &c. some with their hair full dressed, without caps, as with us, and very few in the French style. The younger ladies with their hair flowing in ringlets on their shoulders. The gentlemen with round hats, their coats with high collars, and cut quite in the English fashion, and many in silk striped coats. The scenery of the stage excellent, particularly a view on the Skuylkill [i.e. Schuylkill River], about two miles from the city. The greatest part of the scenes, however, belonged once to Lord Barrymore’s Theatre, at Wargrave. The motto over the stage is novel:— “The Eagle suffers little Birds to sing.” Thereby hangs a tale. When it was in contemplation to build this Theatre, it was strongly opposed by the Quakers, who used all their influence with Congress to prevent it, as tending to corrupt the manners of the people, and encrease too much the love of pleasure. It was, however, at length carried, and this motto from Shakespear was chosen. It is applicable in another sense; for the State House, where Congress sits, is directly opposite to it, both being in Chesnut-street, and both houses are often performing at the same time. Yet the Eagle (the emblem adopted by the American government) is no ways interrupted by the chattering of these mock birds with their mimic Tones.

Comments: Henry Wansey (1752?-1827) was an English antiquarian and traveller. In 1794 he visited the United States of America and two years later published an account of his travels, including meeting President George Washington. The play he saw at the Chestnut Street Theatre (aka The New Theatre), Every One Has His Fault, was written by Elizabeth Inchbald, not Hannah Cowley, while the operatic afterpiece No Song No Supper had music by Stephen Storace and a libretto by Prince Hoare. The lead actress was Elizabeth Whitlock, sister to Sarah Siddons. Philadelphia acted as the temporary capital of the United States, 1790–1800, while Washington D.C. was under construction. “The Eagle suffers little Birds to sing” comes from Titus Andronicus.

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The Diary of John Evelyn

Source: William Bray (ed.), Memoirs of John Evelyn … comprising his diary, from 1641-1705-6, and a selection of his familiar letters, to which is subjoined, the private correspondence between King Charles I. and Sir Edward Nicholas; also between Sir Edward Hyde, afterwards Earl of Clarendon, and Sir Richard Browne, ambassador to the Court of France, in the time of King Charles I. and the usurpation, Vol. 2 (London : H. Coburn, 1827), p. 185

Production: William Davenant, The Siege of Rhodes, Lincoln’s Inn Fields, London, 9 January 1662

Text: I saw acted “The Third Part of the Siege of Rhodes.” In this acted yº faire and famous comedian call’d Roxalana from ye part she perform’d; and I think it was the last, she being taken to be the Earle of Oxford’s Misse (as at this time they began to call lewd women). It was in recitativa musiq.

Comments: John Evelyn (1620-1706) was an English writer and horticulturalist, who kept a diary from 1640 to 1706, though for its first twenty years or so the entries were composed from notes some time after the relevant dates. Roxalana was the actress Hester Davenport, mistress of the Earl of Oxford, and nicknamed after the part she played in William Davenant‘s The Siege of Rhodes, generally held to be the first British opera. ‘Recitativa musiq’ indicates that it was sung rather than spoken. The work was in two parts, of which this was the second, not a third.

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The Diary of an Invalid

Source: Henry Matthews, Diary of an Invalid, being the Journal of a Tour in pursuit of health; in Portugal, Italy, Switzerland, and France, in the years 1817, 1818, and 1819 vol. 1 (London: J. Murray, 1824, 4th edition), p. 141

Production: unidentified opera, Rome, 8 January 1818

Text: In the evening we went to the Italian comedy, which was so tiresome that we could not endure more than one scene. We drove afterwards to the opera. The theatre large and handsome;— six tiers of boxes. The seats in the pit are numbered, and divided off separately with elbows:— so that you may take any one of them in the morning, and secure it for the whole evening. Some plan of this kind would surely be a great improvement in our own theatres. The dancing was bad, and the singing worse. A set of burlesque dancers amused us afterwards, by aping the pirouettes of the others. The dancing of the stage gives but too much foundation for such caricatures. It is daily becoming less elegant, as the difficult is substituted for the graceful. What can be more disgusting than to see the human figure twirling round with the legs at right angles? In such an attitude, “Man delights not me nor woman neither.” All postures to be graceful should be easy and natural, and what can be more unnatural than this?

Comments: Henry Matthews (1789-1828) was a British judge. On account of ill health, he went on a recuperative tour of Europe over 1817-1819. The published diary of his travels, The Diary of an Invalid (1820), was very popular and went through a number of editions. The two-volume diary has several entries on theatregoing. The theatre he visited in Rome may have been the Teatro Argentina.

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The Diary of Philipp von Neumann

Source: E. Beresford Chancellor (ed.), The Diary of Philipp von Neumann, vol. 1 (London: Philip Allan, 1928), pp. 11-12

Production: William Shakespeare, The Comedy of Errors, Covent Garden, London, 11 December 1819

Text: Dec. 11th. Went with Pahlen to Covent Garden to see Shakespeare’s Comedy of Errors, of which the plot hinges on two brothers and two men servants who resemble one another so closely as to produce all sorts of embarassing situations. Regnard might have supposed he was witnessing his comedy of Ménœchmes. The fact is these plays read better than they act, because the illusion is destroyed by the want of resemblance, which is always lacking among actors. Terence gave the first idea of such pieces, but then the actors played in masks and the illusion was complete. The airs introduced and sung by Miss Tree and Miss Stephens did not add to the effectiveness of the play.

Comments: Baron Philipp von Neumann (1781-1851) was an Austrian diplomat, posted at the Austrian embassy in London during the 1810s and 1820s. His diaries provide a detailed account of the political and high society life of the time, and document his many visits to the theatre and opera. Shakespeare’s play and that of Jean-François Regnard were each indebted to Plautus‘s Roman play Menaechmi. The production of The Comedy of Errors seen by Neumann was an operatic staging by Frederic Reynolds, featuring songs by Henry Bishop. Reynolds specialised in musical adaptations of Shakespeare’s plays. The singers were Anna Maria Tree and Catherine Stephens.

Journal of a Residence at Vienna and Berlin

Source: Henry Reeve, Journal of a Residence at Vienna and Berlin, in the eventful winter 1805-6 (London: Longmans, Green, 1877), pp. 64-65

Production: Ludwig van Beethoven and Joseph Sonnleithner, Fidelio, Theater an der Wien, Vienna, 21 November 1805

Text: Thursday, November 21. – Went to the Wieden Theatre to the new opera ‘Fidelio,’ the music composed by Beethoven. The story and plan of the piece are a miserable mixture of low manners and romantic situations; the airs, duets, and choruses equal to any praise. The several overtures, for there is an overture to each act, appeared to be too artificially composed to be generally pleasing, especially on being first heard. Intricacy is the character of Beethoven’s music, and it requires a well-practised ear, or a frequent repetition of the same piece, to understand and distinguish its beauties. This is the first opera he ever composed, and it was much applauded; a copy of complimentary verses was showered down from the upper gallery at the end of the piece. Beethoven presided at the pianoforte and directed the performance himself. He is a small dark young-looking man, wears spectacles, and is like Mr. Koenig. Few people present, though the house would have been crowded in every part but for the present state of public affairs.

Comments: Henry Reeve (1780–1814) was an English physician who undertook a tour through Europe over 1805-06, visiting the theatre on many occasions. Beethoven‘s opera Fidelio, with libretto by Joseph Sonnleithner, premiered at Vienna’s Theater an der Wien on 20 November 1805; Reeve saw it the following day. There was one further performance, after which Beethoven reduced the opera from three acts to two, with a new overture. It was further revised in 1814. The ‘present state of public affairs’ to which Reeve refers was the French military occupation of Vienna during the Napoleonic wars.

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Riot at Covent Garden Theatre

‘Riot at Covent Garden Theatre, 1763 print, Theatre and Performance Collection, Victoria & Albert Museum

Source: The Gentleman’s Magazine, February 1763, vol. XXXII, p. 97

Production: Thomas Arne, Artaxerxes, Covent Garden Theatre, London, 24 February 1763

Text: A riot happened at Covent-Garden theatre occasioned by a demand being made for full prices at the opera of Artaxerxes. The mischief done was the greatest ever, known on any occasion of the like kind; all the benches of the boxes and pit being entirely tore up, the glasses and chandeliers broken, and the linings of the boxes cut to pieces. The rashness of the rioters was so great, that they cut away the wooden pillars between the boxes, so that if the inside of them had not been iron, they would have brought down the galleries upon their heads. The damages done amount to at least 2000l. Four persons concern’d in the riot have been committed to the Gatehouse.

Comments: The opera Artaxerxes by Thomas Arne premiered successfully at Covent Garden on 2 February 1762. When it was revived at the same theatre on 24 February 1763 a riot occurred in protest at the abolition of half-price admissions. It has been the custom to sell half-price tickets for latecomers who would see only the short afterpiece rather than the main attraction of the evening. This change in policy was fiercely opposed by some and led to several such riots, at Drury Lane and Covent-Garden. The protests caused the half-price concession to be re-introduced when the theatre re-opened on March 2nd. 2000l is £2,000.

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