Opera

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.

Links: Copy at Hathi Trust

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.

Links: Copy at Hathi Trust

The Journal and Letters of Samuel Curwen

Margaret Farrell, who became Margaret Kennedy on her second marriage, as Macheath in 1777, University of Illinois Theatrical Print Collection

Source: George Atkinson Ward, The Journal and Letters of Samuel Curwen, an American in England, from 1775 to 1783 (Boston, Little, Brown and company, 1864 [4th ed.]), p. 305

Production: John Gay, The Beggar’s Opera, Covent Garden Theatre, London, 25 September 1780

Text: Sept. 25. At Covent Garden Theatre; performance, “Beggar’s Opera;” parts well played, but great impropriety, not to say indecency, in Mrs. Kennedy’s personating McHeath. Bravery, gallantry, and a fearless disregard of death, the characteristics of that notorious highwayman, which female softness awkwardly imitates. Following entertainment, falsely so called; execrably foolish and childish. I am sorry to arraign even the shilling gallery for want of judgment, in suffering such unmeaning stuff to pass for a farce.

Comments: Samuel Curwen (1715-1802) was an American merchant and justice. As a British loyalist fled America in 1775, having been attacked for not opposing the British military action at Lexington and Concord, and spent ten years in Britain, during which time he became a supporter of the American cause. John Gay‘s ballad opera The Beggar’s Opera was performed at Covent Garden on 25 September 1780 with the contralto Margaret Kennedy, well-known for her performances in male roles, playing Macheath.

Links: Copy at Hathi Trust

William Allingham: A Diary

Source: H. Allingham and D. Radford (eds.), William Allingham: A Diary (London: Macmillan, 1908), pp. 42-43

Production: Vincenzo Bellini and Felice Romani, La Sonnambula, Theatre Royal, Dublin, 10 October 1848

Text: Tuesday, October 10. — Dublin; to Hawkins St. Theatre to see Jenny Lind in Sonnambula, her opening night here. An hour at door, crowd thickening, rush and crush upstairs to lower gallery. Curtain rises, the charming Jenny has to wait till the reiterated greetings subside. ‘Three cheers for Jenny Lind!’ (from the gallery). ‘Wan cheer more!’ ‘A cheer for her Mother!’ at which Amina smiled. Then we had Come per me sereno etc., all to perfection, but sung as I fancied more floridly than when I heard her in London. She looks thinner. Flower-scene most exquisite and touching! O fiore — Ah non credea, the flowers falling through her hands as she sings. Ah! non giunge not very good, I thought; encored, on account of its difficulty. Half a dozen to a dozen bouquets were thrown, no extraordinary excitement.

When curtain fell I rushed down and made my way into the pit in the hope of getting one of Amina’s flowers which had fallen near the footlights, but it was gone. Cold air outside, crowd, Jenny’s carriage, police.

The Theatre at best a hollow, unwholesome, unsatisfying excitement.

Comments: William Allingham (1824-1889) was an Irish poet. Jenny Lind born Johanna Maria Lind (1820-1887) was a Swedish opera singer. Revered as the ‘Swedish Nightingale’, she was highly popular across Europe and America. The Theatre Royal in Dublin’s Hawkins Street opened in 1820 and burned down in 1880. La Sonnambula is a two-act opera with music by Vincenzo Bellini and libretto by Felice Romani. The lead character is the sleepwalker Amina.

Links: Copy at Internet Archive

Queen Victoria’s Journals

Playbill for Covent Garden Theatre, 30 December 1833, from The Theatrical Observer

Playbill for Covent Garden Theatre, 30 December 1833, from The Theatrical Observer

Source: Alexandrina Victoria, journal entry for 30 December 1833

Productions: Daniel Auber, Gustave III, ou Le bal masqué and Charles Farley, Old Mother Hubbard and her Dog; or Harlequin and Tales of the Nursery, Covent Garden Theatre, London, 30 December 1833

Text: At a ¼ past 8 we went with Lehzen, Lady Conroy, and Sir John to the play to Convent Garden. We came in for the last scene of Gustavus, the Masqued Ball, and stayed the whole of the pantomine, which is called “Old Mother Hubbard and her Dog; or Harlequin and Tales of the Nursery”. The scenery was very pretty and the principal characters were; Venus, Miss Lee; Cupid, Miss Poole, who appeared in three other dresses: as a peasant boy, as a drummer, and as Mother Hubbard, and she looked very pretty and acted very well indeed. Old Mother Hubbard, Mr. Wieland; Schock (her dog), Master W. Mitchinson. The Duchess Griffinwinkle Blowsabella (afterwards Pantaloon), Mr. Barnes. King Rundytundy O, (afterwards Dandy Lover), Mr. W.H. Payne. The Princes Graciosa (afterwards Columbine), a very pretty person, Miss Foster. Prince Percineth (afterwards Harlequin), Mr. Ellar. Head Cook (afterwards Clown), Mr. T. Matthews. The panorama at the end was also pretty. We came home at a ¼ past 12. I was very much amused.

Comments: Alexandrina Victoria (1819-1901), later just Victoria, was Queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland from 1837 to her death, and additionally titled Empress of India from 1876. She kept up a journal from 1832 until almost the end of her life. The journal records many visits to the theatre, particularly in her younger days. On this visit to Covent Garden she saw the last scene of Daniel Auber‘s recently written grand opera Gustave III, ou Le bal masqué and Old Mother Hubbard and her Dog, a pantomime composed and engineered by Charles Farley.

Links: Queen Victoria’s Journals

Diary, sketches and reviews, during an European tour, in the year 1847

Source: Robert Dodge, Diary, sketches and reviews, during an European tour, in the year 1847. Printed for his friends (New York, 1850), p. 104

Production: Her Majesty’s Theatre, London, 3 July 1847

Text: 3rd. — Morning called on Mrs. R. Afternoon at home writing. Evening at Her Majesty’s Theatre to hear Jenny Lind. Of course, the house was crowded in every part. The Queen, Prince Waldemar, and great numbers of the nobility were there. Jenny performed Amina in Somnambula. She is handsomer than the pictures. Her tones are inexpressibly sweet; her action the finest I ever saw; so apparently natural, and con amore, and yet so lady like. “Ah non ginnge,” was encored 5 times, and in it she displayed wondrous power. Grisi and her power fade away in comparison; but the Company and the Orchestra are very ordinary. Gardoni, the tenor is all that is worthy of praise. Her whispered singing of “Oh! come lieto e il popolo,” and “al tempio ne fa scortea,” and of “Ardon le sacre tede,” and “0! Madre Mia m’aita,” and “non mi sostiene il pie,” and “al mio,” &c., was overpoweringly fine. In fact, none can resist being swept off into raptures, with her matchless performance. Carlotta Grisi danced La Esmeralda superbly.

Comments: Robert Dodge was an American whose diary of his European tour of 1847 was printed privately. This diary entry is from 3 July 1847, during his time in London. Jenny Lind, born Johanna Maria Lind (1820-1887) was a Swedish opera singer. Revered as the ‘Swedish Nightingale’, she was highly popular across Europe and America. She visited London for the first time in 1847. Carlotta Grisi (1819-1899) was an Italian ballet dancer.

Links: Copy at Hathi Trust

The Diary of Sylas Neville

Source: Basil Cozens-Hardy (ed.), The Diary of Sylas Neville 1767-1788 (London: Oxford University Press, 1950), pp. 254-255

Production: John Gay, The Beggar’s Opera, Covent Garden, London, 4 October 1776

Text: In the evening went to the Pit at Covent Garden to see the celebrated Miss Catley perform Lucy in the Beggars Opera. She sings well & gives many of the songs uncommon expression, but she is vulgar to a degree even what might be expected from the character & has all the appearance of an impudent battered woman of the Town. Polly by Miss Brown, lately come upon the stage, a sweet pretty girl & I think a good singer. It seems her father is much against her appearing upon the Stage & had her seized this evening just before the play began. This had such an effect upon her that soon after she came on first, before she had spoken three words, she fainted & was obliged to be carried out, but she recovered & did very well.

Comments: Sylas Neville (1741-1840) was an English gentleman of unclear origins, who had studied medicine but spent much of his adult life travelling while being continually short of money. His surviving diary frequently mentions visits to the theatre in London. Miss Catley is Ann Catley (1745-1789). Polly Peachum was played by Ann Brown, later Ann Cargill (1760-1784), whose romantic, short life ended with a shipwreck of the Isles of Scilly.