Henri Murger

A Diary in the East During the Tour of the Prince and Princess of Wales

The Khedivial Opera House, Cairo, in 1869, via Wikipedia

Source: William Howard Russell, A Diary in the East During the Tour of the Prince and Princess of Wales (London: George Routledge and Sons, 1869), pp. 114-116

Text: After dinner there was a performance at the theatre, to which the Prince and Princess and suite went. The Viceroy received them at the opera-house, and sat with them during the performance. It was not a theatre paré, but all the officers of state were present, and the house was tolerably well filled. In the pit there was an audience, most of them wearing the fez, a few the Coptic turban, others dressed in European fashion; no ladies. The boxes presented little to distinguish them, but for the intrusion of the inevitable tarboosh, and the quaint head-dress and faces of the negro servitors. Four boxes were set apart for the suite. Directly opposite the Prince and Princess were two large boxes, next the stage, in front of which was a lattice-work, from top to bottom, close and fine — so close, indeed, as to render it impossible for a searching opera-glass to pierce its mysteries. These boxes were not empty, for a certain variation of colour in the background, and a play of bright hues inside, showed that the ladies of the harem, nearly invisible to the outer world, were inside seeing everything. Was it because a gap at the lattice-work allowed a curious stranger to get a glimpse of a face within, that an envious mat was suddenly thrust into it by a black-faced, beardless gentleman in attendance? It is said that the Viceroy is meditating a great coup. That lattice-work is some day to disappear, and the ladies of the court are to sit unveiled in the presence of the people. But that day, from all I can hear, must be long distant. The pieces — “Le Serment d’Horace” and “Contributions Indirectes” — imported from the Palais Royal, seemed not unsuited to the Cairo audience. They took the points, laughed at the jokes, applauded the morceaux when the Viceroy deigned to nod; and if there was a little broadness of tone in dialogue and acting, there was certainly nothing of the wantonness of undress which we see at home in Christmas pantomimes. The theatre is about the size of the Haymarket. There is a café attached to it, a restaurant, a bouquetière, bills of the play, and a saloon where smokers congregate between the acts. And when you go out into the street, there is the fellah lying on the bare earth, wrapped in his cloak, and the wild dogs baying the moon, and the police calling out the Arab watchwords of the night.

Comments: William Howard Russell (1820-1907) was an Irish war reporter, famed for his dispatches from the Crimean War. In 1869 he accompanied the Prince and Princess of Wales (the future King Edward II and Queen Alexandra) on a visit to Egypt, which he covered in The Times and his subsequent book A Diary in the East. The plays they saw at the Khedivial Opera House were Henri Murger‘s Le Serment d’Horace and Les contributions indirectes by Henri Thiéry and Hippolyte Cogniard. The opera house had opened only recently (November 1869), having been built to mark the opening of the Suez Canal.

Links: Copy at Hathi Trust