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the opera-houses. You pay a trifle at the door for admit. tarice; this entitles you to go into the pit, where you may look about, and determine what part of the house you will sit in. There are rows of chairs placed in the front of the pit, next the orchestra: the seats of these chairs are folded to their backs, and fastened by a lock. Those who choose to take them, pay a little more money to the door-keeper, who immediately unlocks the seat. Very decent-looking people occupy these chairs; but the back part of the pit is filled with footmen and gondoleers, in their common working clothes. The nobility, and better sort of citizens, have boxes retained for the
but there are always a sufficient number to be let to strangers; the price of those varies every night, acording to the sea, son of the year, and the piece acted,
A Venetian playhouse has a dismal appearance in the eyes of people accustomed to the brilliancy of those of London. Many of the boxes are so dark, that the faces of the company in them can hardly be distinguished at a little distance, even when they do not wear masks. The stage, however, is well illuminated, so that the people in the boxes can see, perfectly well, every thing that is transacted there; and when they choose to be seen themselves, they order lights into their boxes. Between the acts you sometimes see ladies walking about, with their cavalieri serventés, in the back part of the pit, when it is not crowded. As they are masked, they do not scruple to reconnoitre the company, with their spying-glasses, from this place : when the play begins, they return to their boxes. This continual moving about from box to box, and between the boxes and the pit, must create some confusion, and, no doubt, is disagreeable to those who attend merely on account of the piece. There must, how, ever, be found some douceur in the midst of all this ob, scurity and confusion, which, in the opinion of the majority of the audience, overbalances these obvious incon, veniences.
The music of the opera here is reckoned as fine as in
any town in Italy; and, at any rate, is far superior to the praise of so very poor a judge as I am. The drama- , tic and poetical parts of those pieces are little regarded : the poet is allowed to indulge himself in as many anachronisms, and other inconsistences, as he pleases. Provid. ed the music receives the approbation of the critic's ear, his judgment is not offended with any absurdities in the other parts of the composition. The celebrated Metas, tasio has disdained to avail himself of this indulgence in his operas, which are fine dramatic compositions. He has preserved the alliance which ought always to subsist between sense and music.
But as for the music of the serious operas, it is, in general, infinitely too fine for my ear; to my shame I must confess, that it requires a considerable effort for me to sit till the end.
It is surely happy for a man to have a real sensibility for fine music; because he has, by that means, one source of enjoyment more, than those whose auditory nerves are less delicately strung. It is, however, equally absurd and silly to affect an excessive delight in things which nature has not framed us to enjoy ; yet how many of our acquaintance, accused of this folly, have we seen doing painful penance at the Hay-market; and, in the midst of unsuppressable yawnings, calling out, Charming ! exquisite! bravissimo, &c.
It is amazing what pains some people take to render themselves ridiculous; and it is a matter of real curiosity to observe, in what various shapes the little despicable spirit of affectation shews itself among mankind.
I remember a very honest gentleman, who understood little or nothing of French ; but having picked up a few phrases, he brought them forward on every occasion, and affected, among his neighbours in the country, the most perfect knowledge, and highest admiration, of that lan, guage. When any body, in compliance with his taste, uttered a sentence in that tongue, though my good friend did not understand a syllable of it, yet he never failed to
nod and smile to the speaker with the most knowing air imaginable. The parson of the parish, at a country dinner, once addressed him in these emphatic words.- Mon, sieur, je trouve ce plum-pudding extrémement bon! which happening not to be in my friend's collection of phrases, he did not comprehend. He nodded and smiled to the clergyman, however, in his usual intelligent manner; but a person who sat near him, being struck with the sagacious and important tone in which the observation had been delivered, begged of my friend to explain it in En, glish :-on which, after some hesitation, he declared, that the turn of the expression was so genteel, and so exquisitely adapted to the French idiom, that it could not be rendered into English, without losing a great deal of the original beauty of the sentiment.
At the comic opera I have sometimes seen action alone excite the highest applause, independent of either the poetry or the music. I saw a duo performed by an old man and a young woman, supposed to be his daughter, in such an humorous manner, as drew an universal encora from the spectators. The merit of the musical part of the composition, I was told, was but very moderate, and as for the sentiment you shall judge.
The father informs his daughter, in a song, that he has found an excellent match for her ; who, besides being rich, and very prudent, and not too young, was over and above a particular friend of his own, and in person and disposition much such a man as himself; he concludes, by telling her, that the ceremony will be performed next day. She thanks him, in the gayest air possible, for his obliging intentions, adding, that she should have been glad to have shewn her implicit obedience to his commands, provided there had been any chance of the man's being to her taste; but as, from the account he had given, there could be none, she declares she will not marry him next day, and adds, with a very long quaver, that if she were to live to eternity she should continue of the same opinion. The father, in a violent rage, tells her,
that instead of to-morrow, the marriage should take place that very day; to which she replies, Non: he rejoins Si; she, Non, non; he, Si, si ; the daughter, Non, non, non; the father, Si, si, si ; and so the singing continues for five or six minutes. You perceive there is nothing marvellously witty in this; and for a daughter to be of a different opinion from her father, in the choice of a husband, is not a very new dramatic incident. Well, I told you the duo was encored—they immediately performed it a second time, and with more humour than the first: The whole house vociferated for it again ; and it was sung a third time in a manner equally pleasant, and yet perfectly different from any of the former two.
I thought the house would have been brought down about our ears, so extravagant were the testimonies of
The two actors were obliged to appear again, and sing this duo a fourth time; which they executed in a style so new, so natural, and so exquisitely droll, that the audience now thought there had been something deficient in all their former performances, and that they had hit on the true comic only this last time.
Some people began to call for it again; but the old mar, now quite exhausted, begged for mercy; on which the point was given up. I never before had any idea that such strong comic powers could have been displayed in the singing of a song.
The dancing is an essential part of the entertainment at the opera here, as well as at London. There is certainly a much greater proportion of mankind deaf to the delights of music, than blind to the beauties of fine dar. cing. During the singing and recitativo part of the performance, the singers are often allowed to warble for a considerable time, without any body's minding them; but the moment the ballet begins, private conversation, though pretty universal before, is immediately at an end, and the eyes of all the spectators are fixed on the stage. This, to be sure, has been always the case in London ; and, in spite of the pains some people take to conceal it, we all know the reason; but I own I did not expect to find the same preference of dancing to music in Italy:
After seeing the dancing at the French opera, and coming so lately from Vienna, where we had seen some of Novere's charming ballets very well executed, we could have no high admiration of those performed here, though there are at present some dancers highly esteemed, who perform every night.
The Italians, I am informed, have a greater relish for agility and high jumping in their dancers, than for graceful movements.
It is extraordinary that they do not vary the ballets oftener. They give the same every night during the run of the opera. There is a propriety in continuing the same opera
for a considerable time; because music is often better relished after it becomes a little familiar to the ear, tharf at first ; but a ballet might be changed, without much difficulty, every night.
Venice. Many people are surprised, that, in a government so very jealous of its power as that of Venice, there is no military establishment within the city to support the executive power, and repress any popular commotion. For my own part, I am strongly of opinion, that it proceeds from this very jealousy in government, that there is no military garrison here.
An arbitrary prince is fond of a standing army, and loves to be always surrounded by guards; because he, being the permanent fountain of honours and promotion, the army will naturally be much attached to him, and be come, on all occasions, the blind instruments of his pleasure: but at Venice, there is no visible permanent object, to which the army can attach itself. The doge would not be allowed the command of the garrison, if there was one.