« EelmineJätka »
N° 5. Tuesday, March 6, 1710-11.
Spectatum admisi risum teneatis?
Hor. Ars Poet. ver. 5.
Admitted to the fight, would you not laugh ?
N Opera may be allowed to be extra
vagantly lavish in its decorations, as its only design is to gratify the senses, and keep up an indolent attention in the audience. Common sense however requires, that there should be nothing in the scenes and machines, which may appear childish and absurd. How would the wits of king Charles's time have laughed, to have seen Nicolini exposed to a tempest in robes of ermine, and failing in an open boat upon a sea of paste-board ? What a field of raillery would they have been led into, had they been entertained with painted dragons fpitting wild-fire, enchanted chariots drawn by Flanders mares, and real cascades in artificial landscapes ? A little skill in criticism would inform us, that shadows and realities ought not to be mixed together in the same piece ; and that the scenes which are designed as the representations of nature should be filled with resemblances, and not with the things themselves. If one would represent a wide champaign country filled with herds and flocks, it would be ridiculous to draw the country only upon the scenes, and
to crowd several parts of the stage with sheep and oxen.
This is joining together inconfiftencies, and making the decoration partly real, and partly imaginary. I would recommend what I have here faid, to the directors, as well as to the admirers of our modern Opera.
As I was walking in the streets about a fortnight ago, I saw an ordinary fellow carrying a cage full of little birds upon his shoulder; and, as I was wondering with myself what use he would put them to, he was met very luckily by an acquaintance, who had the same curiosity. Upon his asking what he had
his shoulder, he told him that he had been buying sparrows for the Opera. Sparrows for the Opera, says his friend, licking his lips, what are they to be roasted? No, no, says the other, they are to enter towards the end of the first act, and to fly about
This strange dialogue awakened my curiosity so far, that I immediately bought the Opera, by which means I perceived the sparrows were to act the part of singing-birds in a delightful grove; though upon a nearer inquiry I found the sparrows put the fame trick upon the audience, that" Sir Martin Mar-all * practised upon his mistress: for though they flew in fight, the music proceeded from a concert
* A Comedy by J. DRYDEN,' borrowed from QUINAULT's Amant Indiscret, and the Etourdi of MOLIERE: The D. of Newcastle gave it to Dryden, who adapted it to the stage; and it is entered on the books of the Stationer's Company, as the production of that nobleman,
of flagelets and bird-calls which were planted behind the scenes. At the same time I made this discovery, I found by the discourse of the actors, that there were great designs on foot for the improvement of the Opera; that it had been proposed to break down a part of the wall, and to surprise the audience with a party of an hundred horse, and that there was actually a project of bringing the New-river into the house, to be employed in jetteaus and water-works. This project, as I have since heard, is postponed till the summer season; when it is thought the coolness that proceeds from fountains and cascades, will be more acceptable and refreshing to people of quality. In the mean time, to find out a more agreeable entertainment for the winter-season, the Opera of Rinaldo is filled with thunder and lightning, illuminations and fire-works; which the audience may look upon without catching cold, and indeed without much danger of being burnt; for there are several engines filled with water, and ready to play at a minute's warning, in case any such accident should happen *. However, as I have a very great friendship for the owner of this theatre, I hope that he has been wise enough to insure his house before he would let this Opera be acted in it.
It is no wonder, that those scenes should
• An alarm of fire having occafioned great confusion in the playhouse, a manager came forward, and begged the audience to be composed, for he had the pleasure to assure them that there was water enough a-top to drown them all.
be very surprising, which were contrived by two poets of different nations, and raised by two magicians of different sexes. Armida (as we are told in the argument) was an Amazonian enchantress, and poor Signior Casani (as we learn from the persons represented) a Chriftian conjurer ( Mago Christiano). I must confess I am very much puzzled to find how an Amazon should be versed in the black art, or how a good Christian, for such is the part of the magician, should deal with the devil.
To consider the poet after the conjurers, I shall give you a taste of the Italian from the first lines of his preface. Eccoti, benigno lettor, un parto di poche fero, che se ben eato di notte, non è però aborto di tenebre, mà si farà conoscere figlio d' Apollo con qualche raggio di Parnase. hold, gentle reader, the birth of a few evenings, which, though it be the offsprings of the night, is not the abortive of darkness, but will make itself known to be the son of Apollo, with a certain ray of Parnassus.” He afterwards proceeds to call Mynheer Handel the Orpheus of our age, and to acquaint us, in the same sublimity of stile, that he composed this Opera in a fortnight. Such are the wits to whose tastes we so ambitiously conform ourselves. The truth of it is, the finest writers among the modern Italians express themselves in such a florid form of words, and such tedious circumlocutions, as are used by none but pedants in our own country; and at the same time fill their writings with such poor imagi
nations and conceits, as our youths are ashamed of, before they have been two years at the university.
be apt to think that it is the difference of genius which produces this difference in the works of the two nations; but to Thew there is nothing in this, if we look into the writings of the old Italians, such as Cicero and Virgil, we shall find that the English writers, in their way of thinking and expressing themselves, resemble those authors much more than the modern Italians pretend to do. And as for the poet himself, from who
himself, from whom the dreams of this opera* are taken, I must entirely agree with Monsieur Boileaut, that one verse in Virgil is worth all the clinquant or tinsel of Tafso.
But to return to the sparrows; there have been so many flights of them let loose in this opera, that it is feared the house will never get rid of them; and that in other plays they may make their entrance in very wrong and improper scenes, so as to be seen flying in a lady's bed-chamber; or perching upon a king's throne; besides the inconveniencies which the heads of the audience may sometiines suffer from them. I am credibly informed, that there was once a design of casting into an opera the story of Whittington and his Cat I, and that
* RINALDO, an opera, 8vo. 1711. The plan by Aaron Hill; the Italian words by Sign. G. Rossi; and the mufio by Handel. It is neither better nor worse than most other operas, but was uncommonly successful ; Walsh, it is said, ġot 1500l. by printing it.
Oeuvres de Boileaua" Sat. ix. See more of the puppet-shew of Whittington and his Cat, N° 14; and Tat. in 6 vols. vol. v. p. 412. VOL. I.