Imágenes de páginas

representatives, added a hundred fold to the difficulties of the concern; and when it is considered, that in consequence of the embarrassments with which it was attended, the proprietor was frequently unable to pay his band, and obliged to allow the scenery and the house itself to tumble almost into ruin, we need not wonder if it was finally abandoned in despair. The principal impediment to Mr. Ebers' success, appears to have been the enormous amount of the rent. The first year of his lease, it was moderate enough; but his spirit of enterprize, and the exertions which he made in order to raise the Italian stage into favour with the public generally, were so conspicuous, and so well supported, that the cupidity of the lessors was inflamed, and they raised the rent to an amount which left Mr. Ebers no hope of remuneration. They have since been convinced of their folly in this respect, and the present managers, Messrs. Laporte and Laurent, hold the theatre upon terms which, under all the circumstances, are perhaps heavy enough, though not absolutely oppressive. Their success is however as yet problematical.

Mr. Ebers commenced his unfortunate connection with the opera in 1821, under the auspices of the principal subscribers. The Duke of Argyle, the Marquis of Ailesbury, Marquis Cholmondeley, Earls Mount Edgecumbe and Fife, Count St. Antonio, and Viscounts Lowther and Hampden, went so far as to declare "their readiness to lend him their best assistance and countenance in the conduct of so arduous an undertaking, commenced under circumstances of peculiar difficulty, arising from the retarded state of the necessary preparations." The noblemen above-named signed a resolution in these words, and five of them were formed into a committee for the purpose of carrying it into effect. It has now become almost a mere truism to say, that the government of a committee, no matter how respectably composed, is the very worst to which the affairs of a theatre can be subjected. As to the individuals who constituted his committee, Mr. Ebers deemed himself the most fortunate of managers, in being honoured by their assistance; but as regards the system itself,' he very truly observes, that 'it is, perhaps, more than questionable, whether the advantages attendant on a committee, preponderate over the objections to it.' The patronage which they afford can never compensate for the want of decision and of unity of action; which necessarily arises from a dissimilarity of tastes, and sometimes perhaps from a discordance of interests.

[ocr errors]

'As it is not presumable that the opinions of all will coincide on subjects so little reducible to a fixed standard, as the merits of one singer or dancer, as contrasted with another, each member will probably desire to introduce the performer whom he prefers. The nominal manager, actually so only in his responsibility, must offend a part of his committee, by non-compliance with their wishes, or incur ruinous expense by the engagement of artists, of whose services he has no need, and whose places

are already supplied. And this will be the case, though private favour or prejudice be supposed to be out of the question.

The performers of a Theatre can never be induced to observe the necessary subordination to a manager, while an authority exists indepen dent of him, to whom an appeal may, in effect,, be carried against his regulations. It then becomes his part to pay immense sums of money, to persons over whom he can exert no efficient control, but whose deficiencies and irregularities are duly placed by the public, before the scenes, to the account of the manager only.

In a word, is it not obvious, that he whose property is alone at stake, is the person most interested, and, consequently, most likely to exert himself to gratify the public, upon whose gratification his own success depends?'-pp. 41-43.

To this question we decidedly answer in the affirmative; wè hope to hear no more of committees in the management of our theatres.

Several engagements, which had been entered into by his predecessor (Waters), Mr. Ebers was obliged to take upon himself. Those of which he could have had little, or no reason to complain, were the engagements of Camporese, at one thousand five hundred and fifty pounds; of Angrisani, at six hundred pounds; of Spagnoletti, at two hundred and fifty pounds, and Dragonetti, the famous bass-player, at one hundred and fifty pounds for the season. Of these performers it is hardly necessary for us to speak. Camporese, who continued to bear that name, although she had married a member of the family of Giustiniani, had already established her reputation in this country in 1817. She was a general favourite both here and on the continent, although she decidedly wanted genius. Talent and science she certainly possessed; she was remarkably correct in her execution, and attentive to her business; but she never seemed to be inspired by her art; hence she seldom moved others, although she induced many to admire her. The amiability and strict propriety of her private character, procured her a great abundance of friends. The following anecdote which is told of her, we can easily believe to be true.

'An intimate acquaintance waited on her one morning to make a request. In the Hospital for the Insane, a man was confined, literally fanatico per musica; he had lost his senses on the failure of an opera, in which the labour of the composer was greater than the excellence of his music. This unfortunate had by some accident heard of Camporese, whose fame filled the city, and immediately conceived an ungovernable wish to hear her. For awhile his representations passed unnoticed, he grew ungovernable, and had to be fastened to his bed. In this state, Camporese's friend had beheld him.

She was dressing for an evening party, when this representation was made to her. She paused a moment on hearing it. Then throwing a cloak over her shoulders, said, " Come then." "Whither?" "To the Ospe"But why? there is no occasion to go now-to-morrow, or the next day." "To-morrow-no, indeed, if I can do this poor man good, let me go instantly." And they went.


Being shown into a room, separated from that of the maniac only by a thin wall, Camporese began to sing one of Haydn's melodies. The attendants in the next room observed their patient suddenly become less violent, then composed, at last he burst into tears. The singer now entered, she sat down, and sang again. When she had concluded, the poor composer took from under the bed a torn sheet of paper, scored with an air of his own composition, and handed it to her. There were no words, and nothing in the music, but Camporese running it over, sang to it some words of Metastasio, with such sweetness, that the music seemed excellent. "Sing it once more," said the maniac. She did so, and departed accompanied by his prayers, and the tears of the spectators.→→→ pp. 45-47.

Nevertheless, with all her amiability, Madame Camporese seems to have had in some part of her head, a strong tendency to that organ of" acquisitiveness," by which most foreigners are more or less influenced in their transactions with Englishmen. In addition to her salary, which was quite adequate to her merits, she required a sum weekly for dresses, which was allowed her; leave to sing at all concerts, which was yielded; her salary to be paid in advance, which was also consented to. It must, however, be admitted, that there is no real inconsistency at all events in this exorbitance of demand; for gain is the great object to which singers and dancers direct their hopes; they look upon their voices and limbs only as the means of procuring them fortunes.

We confess that we were a little startled at the high notes of praise which our author, or rather as we suspect, his more practised coadjutor, sounds when he comes to mention Madame Ronzi de Begnis.

'Ronzi de Begnis-who does not know her as the model of voluptuous beauty? Perhaps no performer was ever more enthusiastically admired. Her beauty came on the spectator at once, electric and astonishing. You did not study her, nor trace out feature by feature, till you grew warmed into admiration; one look fixed. Her personal perfection took the more sure hold, because it was not of the ordinary stamp. Her features, but not her complexion, were Italian. The characteristic of the latter was a fairness so perfect as to be almost dazzling, the more so, because so palpably set off by the glossy blackness of her hair. Her face was beautiful and full of intelligence, and made almost eloquent by the incessant brilliance of eyes, large, black, and expressive, and in which the playful and the passionate by turns predominated; either expression seemed so natural to them, that it seemed for a time incapable of being displaced by another as suitable and as enchanting. Her mouth was so delightfully formed, that she took care never to disfigure it, and whatever she sang she never forgot this care. Her figure, if a thought more slender, would have been perfect; perhaps it was not less pleasing because it inclined to exceed the propor¬ tions to which a statuary would have confined its swell. The form, when at rest, did not seem a lively one, but when in action it appeared perfectly buoyant, so full of spirit, so redundant with life. The exquisite outline of her swelling throat, pencilled when she sang with the blue tinge of its full veins, admitted of no parallel-it was rich and full-ineffectual terms

to convey an idea of its beauty. But to be thought of justly she must be


The remuneration given to this attractive performer, for the part of the season in which she performed, was six hundred pounds. Her vivid delineation of comic characters made her the best artiste in the opera buffa I have known. And much as may be said of her beauty, more, much more, may be said of the talent of a performer, who was alike able effectively to sustain the characters of Fatima, in Il Turco in Italia, Agia, in the Mosè, or Pietro, and Donna Anna, in Giovanni. In the first, her beauty, gaiety, and that little touch of the devil so exquisite and essential in a comic actress, were almost too bewitching; but admiration was blended with astonishment, when the representative of the coquettish Fatima, changing her walk, exhibited, with a life and force that spoke to the soul, the wretchedness of the bereaved Donna Anna, when in thrilling accents of despair, she calls on her dead father, and invokes her lover to avenge his fate.

'It has so happened, that the very walks in which Ronzi was most singularly adapted to charm have, by coincidences as peculiar as unfor+ tunate, never been fully open to her. Camporese, qualified by nature to sustain comic as well as serious parts, was too jealous of her station as prima donna absoluta to suffer a rival nearer her throne than was unavoidable. Camporese disappeared, but causes, similar in nature and operation, have too often debarred Ronzi from opportunities of displaying her talents to the utmost advantage.

Madame de Begnis came to this country along with her husband, leaving behind her a brilliant reputation at the Italian Theatre of Paris, where she held the rank of first woman.'--pp. 50-54.

If we were maliciously inclined, we should say that this was the language of an admirer, not of a critic. But how are we to reconcile so much ardour of homage with the concluding sentence? 'Madame de Begnis came to this country along with her husband, leaving behind her a brilliant reputation at the Italian Theatre, at Paris, &c.' It were much to be desired that she had not only brought so precious a treasure with her to England, but that she had also deserved and retained it. To us, she always appeared much more attentive to her personal appearance than to her vocal fame. She always kept her mouth so closely shut, that it was impossible for her voice, which as far as it went was a very sweet one, to be done justice to. She latterly made it, by her affectation, so mincing and reedy, that it was sometimes even painful to hear her. Her husband was an admirable comic performer, though it must be confessed that his manner occasionally bordered on buffoonery.

With the assistance of these singers, of Torri, Begrez, and Ambrogetti, the latter particularly an established favourite, and of some others, Mr. Ebers commenced his first season auspiciously. He had besides, in the opera department, the invaluable aid of Mr. Ayrton, as stage-manager: a gentleman of the purest taste, and peculiarly adapted, from his experience and activity, for the situation which he filled.

[ocr errors]

Those of our readers who have seen Ambrogetti at the King's Theatre, and remember the astonishing vivacity which he displayed in every character which required it, will, perhaps, be surprised to hear, that off the stage he was the most wretched of men, a prey to the horrors of hypochondria.' He left the profession while his reputation was still in bloom, though it must be admitted that his voice appeared to have suffered considerable deterioration, probably from the effect of our humid climate. It was reported, but incorrectly, that he had retired to a monastery. Our Liston is another strange example of a melancholy temperament, forming, as it were, the substratum of comic powers, quite unrivalled for their effect, and unique in their drollery.

The Ballet department was filled up with more difficulty than the vocal. This was an affair of as much intricacy and manœuvre, as the negociation of a commercial treaty. It assumed all the air of a diplomatic arrangement. France has long had a monopoly in this class of theatrical entertainments. The French have certainly a natural genius for dancing, which no other people can pretend 'to claim. During the war, we had no chance of seducing their artistes to our stage; and during the interval that elapsed between the peace and Mr. Ebers' accession to the King's Theatre, no efforts, worth notice, were made to improve the Ballet by importations from our lively neighbours. To this point our new manager directed his earliest attention. selected, as his ambassador, M. Boisgerard, his 'second balletmaster,' who was directed to proceed to Paris, armed with various letters of introduction, and with full powers! The history of his embassy would, if fully detailed, be extremely amusing. We regret that it has not been disclosed at greater length, as it would be an admirable satire on European diplomacy.


'The French Theatres, it is well known, are under the immediate control of the Government. The performers for the Italian Opera and Ballet, educated at the schools of the Royal Academy of Music, and thence selected to fill the parts for which their talents may adapt them, are so far the property of Government, as to be unable to form engagements elsewhere, without leave of the ministers who preside over the theatrical department. Mr. Waters had made repeated efforts to prevail on artistes to come over, either with the required congé, if attainable, or by such clandestine means as could be carried into effect. His measures, however, failed, and his want of success appears to have been one cause of the disagreement between his committee and himself.

'It was, indeed, a task of no small difficulty to procure the sanction of the French authorities to an engagement. The ballet is an object of so much consideration, with a people with whom dancing is one of the essential supports of the graces of life, that any attempt to withdraw an artist of note is watched with extreme jealousy, and many engagements concluded between the parties were abandoned, in consequence of the refusal of the requisite license.

To facilitate to the utmost the acquisition of French dancers of greater celebrity than had hitherto appeared at the King's Theatre, it was pro

« AnteriorContinuar »