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Account of the introduction of the Mufical Drama into England, together with fome Strictures on Mr Addifon's cenfure on the Italian Opera.-By Dr
HE word Opera feems to have been familiar to our poets and countrymen, during the chief part of the last century. Stilo recitativo was talked of by Ben Johnfon, fo early as the year 1617, when it was a recent innovation even in Italy, After this it was used in other mafques, particularly fcenes of plays, and in cantatas, before a reguar drama, wholly fet to mufic, was attempted.
But the high favour to which operas had amounted in France by the united abilities of Quinault and Lulli, seems to have given birth to several attempts at Dramatic Music in England.
can fee and hear, than can think • and judge.'
Thus men without tafle or ears for Mufic ever comfort themfelves with imagining that their contempt for what they neither feel nor underftand is a mark of fuperior wifdom, and that every lover of Mufic is a focl. This is the language of almost all writers on the, subject. The ingenious author of the Biographia Dramatica tells us, that the pre⚫ference given to D'Avenant's theatre, on account of its fcenery and decorations, alarmed thofe belonging to the rival houfe. To ftop the progrefs of the public
talte, and divert it towards them'felves, they endeavoured to ridi
fo much followed. The perfon ' employed for this purpofe was Thos mas Duffet,' (a writer of miferable farces) who parodied the Tempest, • Macbeth, and Pfyche; these efforts
Sir William D'Avenant dying in 1663, while his new theatre in Dor-cule the performances which were fet Gardens was building, the patent, and management, devolved on his widow, Lady D'Avenant, and his fon Mr Charles, afterwards Dr D'Avenant, well known as a political writer and civilian, who purfued Sir William's plans. The new houfe was opened in 1671; but the public ftill more inclining to favour the King's company at Drury-lane than this, obliged Mr D'Avenant to have recourse to a new fpecies of entertainments, which were afterwards called Dramatic Operas, and of which kind were the Tempelt, Macbeth, Pfyche, Circe, and fome others, all fet off,' fays Cibber, with the most expenfive decorations of fcenes and habits, and with the best voices and dancers.'
were, however, ineffectual.' This is fair and historical; but after saying that the Duke's theatre continued to be frequented; when he adds, the victory of found and fhew over fenfe and reafon was as complete in the theatre at this period, as it has ' often been fince,' it feems as if fenfe and reafon had for a moment quitted this agreeable, and, in general, accurate and candid writer. Opera is an alien that is obliged filently to bear the infults of the natives, or elfe the might courteously retort, that nonfenfe without Mufic is as frequently heard on the English ftage, as with it on the Italian; indeed, when Metaflafio is the poet, who will venture to fay that either good fenfe or good poetry is banished from the ftage?
But it does not clearly appear, becaufe
early in 1673. And in February of the fame year, Pfyche. This last was a clofe imitation of a mufical drama witten in French by Moliere, and fet by Lulli in 1672, in the manner of the Italian operas which Cardinal Mizarine had had performed to Louis XIV. during his minority. The Mufic of Pfyche, as per formed in London, was not printed till 1675, when it was published with the following title: The English Opera; or the vocal Mufick in 'PSYCHE, with the inftrumental therein intermix'd. To which is adjoyned the instrumental Mufic in the TEMPEST. By Matthew Lock, compofer in ordinary to his
caufe Mufic and decorations were added to Shakefpear's Tempeft and Macbeth, that one theatre was in greater want of fenfe at this time than another. I have seen the dramas as they were altered by Shad well and Sir William D'Avenant, and in the latter find that little was curtailed from the original play, or fung, but what is ftill fung, and to the fame Mufic fet by Matthew Lock, of which the rude and wild excellence cannot be furpaffed. In the Operas, as they were called, on account of the Mufic, dancing, and fplendid fcenes with which they were decorated, none of the fine Speeches were made into fongs, nor was the dialogue carried on in reci-Majefty, and Organist to the tative, which was never attempted on our stage during the last century, throughout a whole piece. Indeed, it never fully fucceeded in this, if we except the Artaxerxes of the late Dr Arne; whole Mufic, being of a fuperior kind to what our ftage had been accustomed, and better fang, found an English audience that could even tolerate recitative. In the cenfure of thefe mufical dramas, which has been retailed from one writer to another, ever fince the middle of Charles the Second's reign to the prefent time, the fubject seems never to have been candidly and fairly examined; and, indeed, it appears as if there had been no great caufe of complaint against the public tafte for frequenting fuch reprefentations, particularly thofe written by Shake-hearted composer,' he fets about fpeare, in which the principal cha- removing the few blocks at which racters were performed by Mr and Mrs Betterton, as was the cafe in Macbeth, though Mufic, machinery, and dancing, were profufely added to the treat *.
Queen. This publication is dedicated to James duke of Monmouth. There is a preface of fome length by the Compofer, Matthew Lock, which, like his Mufic, is rough and nervous, exactly correfponding with the idea which is generated of his private character, by the perufal of his controverfy with Salmon, and the fight of his picture in the mufic-fchool, at Oxford. It is written with that natural petulance which probably gave birth to most of the quarrels in which he was involved. He begins with a complaint of the tendency of his brother musicians to peck and carp at other men's conceptions, how mean foever may be their own, And expecting to fall under the lath of fome foft-headed or hard
they may take occafion to stumble," with a degree of indignation that implies an irafcible fpirit under no great governance. The first objection which he thinks likely to be made, is to the word Opera, to which he anfwers, that it is a word borrow. 2
Of Betterton's merit as an actor every one has heard and read; but Mrs Betterton, according to Cibber, was at once tremendous and delightful,' in the part of Lady Macbeth. See his Life, chap. v.
true criterion and characteristic of Italian operas, but feldom used, unlefs merely to introduce fome particular airs and chorufes: as in the modern Comus, the air, On ev'ry
ed from the Italian, who by it diftinguished this kind of drama from their comedies, which, after a plan is laid, are fpoken extempore; whereas this is not only defigned, but written with art and industry; and after-hill, in ev'ry dale,' is preceded by wards fet to fuitable Mufic. In which the fhort recitative, How gentle idea he has produced the following was my Damon's air.' compofitions, which, for the most part, are in their nature foft, eafie, and, as far as his abilities could reach, agreeable to the defign of the poet. For in them there is ballad to fingle air, counterpoint, recitative, fugue, canon, and chro matick Mufick, which variety, without vanity be it faid, was never in court or theatre, till now presented, in this nation. He con felles, however, that fomething had been attempted before in this way of compofition, but more by himself than any other. And adds, that the author of the drama prudently confidering, that though Italy was and is the great academy of the world for Mufic and this fpecies of entertainment, yet as this piece was to be performed in England, which is entitled to no fuch praise, he mixed it with interlocutor, as more proper to our genius.'
He concludes his peevish preface by confeffing, that the inftrument al Mufick before and between the acts, and the entries in the acts of PSYCHE, were omitted by the confent of the author, Signor Gio Baptifta Draghi, and that the tunes of the entries and dances in the TEMPEST (the dances being changed) were omitted for the fame reafon.'
Here we have a fhort hiftory of thefe early attempts at Dramatic Mufic on our ftage, in which, as in the most fuccefsful reprefentations of this kind in later times, the chief part of the dialogue was fpoken; and recitative, or mufical declamation, which feems to be the
Upon examining this Mufic, it appears to have been very much compofed on Lulli's model. The melody is neither reeitative nor air, but partaking of both, with a change of measure as frequent as in any old ferious French opera I ever faw. Lock had genius and abilities in harmony fufficient to have furpaffed his model, or to have caft his movements in a mould of his own making; but fuch was the paffion of Charles II. and confequently of his court at this time, for every thing French, that in all probability Lock was inftructed to imitate Cambert and Lulli. His Mufic for the Witches in Macbeth, which when produced in 1674 was as fmooth and airy as any of the time, has now obtained, by age, that wild and favage, caft which is admirably fuitable to the diabolical characters that are fuppofed to perform it.
The first mufical drama that was wholly performed after the Italian manner, in recitative for the dia logue or narrative parts, and meafured melody for the airs, was Arfinoe Queen of Cyprus, tranflated from an Italian opera of the fame name, writ ten by Stanzani of Bologna, for that theatre, in 1677, and revived at Venice, 1678. The English verfion of this opera was set to Mufic by Thomas Clayton, one of the Royal-band in the reign of King William and Queen Mary, who having been in Italy, had not only perfuaded him. self, but had the addrefs to perfuade others, that he was equal to the talk of reforming our tafte in Mufic, and eftablishing operas in our own lan
guage, not inferior to those which were then fo much admired on the Continent.
reign compofer or captivating finger was arrived, became fo formidable to our own actors, that a fubfcription was opened the beginning of this year, for the encouragement of the comedians acting in the Hay-market, and to enable them to keep
The fingers were all English, confifting of Metrs. Hughes, Leveridge, and Cook; with Mrs Tofts, Mrs Crofs, and Mrs Lyndfey. This opera was first performed at Drury-lane, Ja-the diverfion of plays under a fenuary 16, 1705, by fubfcription; the pit and boxes were referved for fubfcribers, the rest of the theatre was open as ufual.
Clayton is fuppofed to have brought from Italy a colleion of the favourite opera airs of the time, from which he pilleged pailages, and adapted them to English words; but this is doing the Mufic of Artinoe too much honour.
Indeed, the English must have hungered and thirfted extremely after dramatic Mufic at this time, to be attracted and amufed by fuch trafh. It is fcarce credible, that in the course of the first year this miferable performance, which neither deferved the name of a drama by its poetry, nor an opera by its Mufic, hould fuftain twenty-four reprefen tations, and the fecond year eleven! The opera of Camilla, written, or rather tranflated from the Italian of Silvio Stampiglio, by Owen Mac Swiney, and performed by the fame English fingers as Arfinoe, appeared at Drury-lane by fubfcription, April 30th, 1706, with a prologue written by Mr Mainwaring. It was repre fented nine times before the 9th of July, when the Drury-lane company removed to her Majefty's theatre in Dorfet-gardens, where Camilla and Arfinoe were again performed.
1707. Camilla, which had been performed in English and by Englith fingers at Drury-lane fixteen times in the course of the preceding year, continued to be acted in the fame manner this year.
Indeed, operas, notwithstanding their deficiencies in poetry, Mufic, and performance, for as yet no fo
parate intereft from operas.? Daily Courant, January 14th, Cibber gives a circumitantial account of this humiliating tranfaction, and fpeaks of its fuccefs with confiderable triumph.
But fuch was now the paffion for this exotic fpecies of amusement, even in its lifping infant state, that the perfpicacious critic and zealous patriot, Mr Addifon, condefcended to write an opera for the fame Englith fingers as were now employed in the performance of Camilla and Arfinoe at Drury-lane. And after ten reprefentations of the former, and three of the latter, this long expect ed drama, .for the performance of which a fubfcription was opened, appeared March 4th, 1707. Mr Addifon, tho' he had visited Italy, and was always ambitious of being thought a judge of Mufic, difeovers, whenever he mentions the subject, a totaļ want of fenfibility as well as knowledge in the art. But this admirable writer and respectable critic in topics within his competence, never manifefted a greater want of tafte and intelligence in Mufic than when he employed Clayton to fet his opera of Rofamond. Indeed, it seems as if nothing but the groffest ignorance, or defect of ear, could be impofed upon by the pretenfions of fo fhallow and contemptible a compofer. But, to judges of Mufic, nothing more need be faid of Mr Additon's abili ties to decide concerning the comparative degrees of national excellence in the art, and the merit of particular mafters, than his predifection for the productions of Clayton, and infenfibility to the force and originality of Handel's compofitions
in Rinaldo, with which every real judge and lover of Mufic feems to have been captivated.
This opera, in spite of all its poetical merit, and the partiality of a confiderable part of the nation for English Mufic and English finging, as well as fervent wish to establish this elegant fpecies of Music in our country without the affiftance of foreigners, after fupporting with great difficulty only three reprefentations, was laid afide and never again performed to the fame Mufic *.
The verfes of Rosamond are high ly polished, and more lyrical perhaps than in any poem of the fame kind in our language. And yet this drama is not wholly free from opera abfurdities, on which Addison was afterwards fo feverely pleasant. For instance, the King's approach to the fecret bower of blifs, where his fair Rofamond was treasured up from the refentment of his jealous Queen, is always announced and published by a loud concert of military inftruments: A& I. Sc. 1.
Hark, hark! what found invades my ear?
It was the fashion in almost all the ferious operas that were written in Italy before the time of Apoftolo Zeno and Metaftafio, to mix comic and buffoon characters with the tragic, even in dramme facri, notwithftanding the feverity of fome Italan critics upon our Shakspeare for the fame practice.
And Mr Addifon has fully com.
plied with this cuftom, in the cha racters of Sir Trusty and Grideline, which are of the loweft fpecies of comic.
If it cannot be proved that gunpowder was invented and in military ufe in the time of Henry II. Mr Addifon was guilty of an anachronifm in making him afk
Why did I not in battle fall
The lofs of Rofamond in the fecond act of this drama is not com- . penfated by a fingle interesting event in the third, which drags and languishes for want of her fo much, that neither the flat and forced humour of Sir Trufty and Grideline, nor the elegant compliments made to the
Duke of Marlborough and Blenheim, ever kept the audience awake in the performance.
1710. The Italian Opera had now obtained a fettlement, and established a colony on our island, which having from time to ti.ne been renovated and fupplied from the mother country,
In the year 1733 this English drama was fet, as a coup d'effai. by Mr Thomas Aug. Arne, afterwards Dr Arne, and performed at the little theatre in the Haymarket; in which his fifter Mifs Arne, afterwards Mrs Cibber, performed the part of Rofamond, that admirable actress appearing firft on the flage in this character as a finger. The three following airs were admirably fet, and remained long in favour; No, no, 'tis decreed-Was ever nymph like Rosamond—and, Rife glory,