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ENGLISH OPERA AND FARCE.
An Opera, in the strict and proper' sense, is a Drama written in verse, and adapted to music, as well in the general dialogue as in the more lyrical passages. It was invented in Italy towards the end of the sixteenth century; and, perhaps, was originally no more than an improvement upon the Masque, which, though with less form and splendour, was employed upon similar subjects. No attempt was made to introduce this entertainment into England until after the great civil war, when its form was resorted to by Sir William D'Avenant, to elude the fanatic rigour of that period. being forbidden him," says Dryden,“ in the rebellious times, to act tragedies and comedies, because they contained some matter of scandal to those good people, who could more easily dispossess their lawful sovereign than endure a wanton jest, he was forced to turn his thoughts another way, and to introduce the examples of moral virtue, writ in verse and performed in recitative music.” These pieces were termed by their author,“ Entertainments by declamation and music, after the manner of the ancients.”
When the Restoration had restored freedom to the Stage, these performances, which necessity had substituted in place of the old English Drama, were not long relished by a popular audience. The Siege of Rhodes, one of D'Avenant's best operas, was severely ridiculed in the Rehearsal ; and though Dryden himself attempted to revive the opera, in the reign of James Il., even his powers of poetic harmony could not give it popularity. This unpopularity was chiefly owing to the recitative, which is but ill adapted to our language and to the impatient temper of our audience. The English has neither the sweetness, majesty, nor pliability of the Italian : it is loaded with monosyllables, and encumbered with consonants, and cannot, with the utmost labour, be refined into perfect harmony. Neither have the English (generally speaking) a refined taste for music. The predominance of a tolerable, though uncultivated, ear for simple melody, usually secures the attention of an audience to a few short airs, whether lively or pathetic; but they have