FAUSTINA BORDONI TO HENRIETTA SONTAG
GEORGE T. FERRIS
Copyright, 1879, By D. APPLETON AND COMPANY.
In compiling and arranging the material which enters into the following sketches of distinguished singers, it is only honest to disclaim any originality except such as may be involved in a picturesque presentation of facts. The compiler has drawn freely from a great variety of sources, and has been simply guided by the desire to give the reading public such a digest of the more important incidents in the careers of the celebrities treated of as should be at once compact, racy, and accurate. To serve this purpose the opinions and descriptions of writers and critics contemporary with the subjects have been used at length, and no means overlooked to give the sketches that atmosphere of freshness which is the outcome of personal observation. All that a compilation of this kind can hope to effect is best gained in preserving this kind of vividness, instead of revamping impressions and opinions into second-hand forms. Pains have been taken to verify dates and facts, and it is believed they will be found trustworthy.
It will be observed that many well-known singers have been omitted, or treated only incidentally: among the earlier singers, such as Anas-tasia Robinson, Mingotti, Anna Maria Crouch, and Anna Selina Storace; among more recent ones, such as Mmes. Fodor, Cinti-Damoreau, Camperese, Pisaroni, Miss Catherine Stephens, Mrs. Paton-Wood, Mme. Dorus-Gras, and Cornelie Falcon. This omission has been indispensable in a work whose purpose has been to cover only the lives of the very great names in operatic art, as the question of limit has been inflexible. A supplementary volume will give similar sketches of later celebrities.
The works from which material has been most freely drawn are as follows: Bernard's "Retrospection of the Stage"; Dr. Burney's various histories of music; Chorley's "Thirty Years' Musical Recollections"; Dibdin's "Complete History of the English Stage"; Ebers's "Seven Years of the King's Theatre"; Fetis's "Biographie des Musiciens"; Hogarth's "Musical Drama"; Sutherland Edwards's "History of the Opera"; Arsene Houssaye's "Galerie des Portraits"; Michael Kelly's "Reminiscences"; Lord Mount Edgcumbe's "Musical Reminiscences"; Oxberry's "Dramatic Biography and Histrionic Anecdotes"; Mrs. Clayton's "Queens of Song"; Arthur Simpson's "Memoirs of Catalani"; and Grove's "Dictionary of Music and Musicians."
The Art-Battles of Handel's Time.—The Feud between Cuzzoni and Faustina.—The Character of the Two Rivals as Women and Artists.—Faustina's Career.—Her Marriage with Adolph Hasse, and something about the Composer's Music.—Their Dresden Life.—Cuzzoni's Latter Years.—Sketch of the Great Singer Farinelli.—The Old Age of Hasse and Faustina
The Cardinal and the Daughter of the Cook.—The Young Prima Donna's Debut in Lucca.—Dr. Burney's Description of Gabrielli.—Her Caprices, Extravagances, and Meeting with Metastasio.—Her Adventures in Vienna.—Bry-done on Gabrielli.—Episodes of her Career in Sicily and Parma.—She sings at the Court of Catharine of Russia.—Sketches ol Caffarelli and Pacchierotti.—Gabrielli in London, and her Final Retirement from Art
The French Stage as seen by Rousseau.—Intellectual Ferment of the Period.—Sophie Arnould, the Queen of the most Brilliant of Paris Salons.—Her Early Life and Connection with Comte de Lauraguais.—Her Reputation as the Wittiest Woman of the Age.—Art Association with the Great German Composer, Gluck.—The Rivalries and Dissensions of the Period.—Sophie's Rivals and Contemporaries, Madame St. Huberty, the Vestrises Father and Son, Madelaine Guimard.—Opera during the Revolution.—The Closing Days of Sophie Arnould's Life.—Lord Mount Edgcumbe's Opinion of her as an Artist
ELIZABETH BILLINGTON AND HER CONTEMPORARIES.
Elizabeth Weichsel's Runaway Marriage.—Debut at Covent Garden.—Lord Mount Edgcumbe's Opinion of her Singing.—Her Rivalry with Mme. Mara.—Mrs. Billington's Greatness in English Opera.—She sings in Italy in 1794-'99.—Her Great Power on the Italian Stage.—Marriage with Felican.—Reappearance in London in Italian and English Opera.—Sketch of Mme. Mara's Early Life.—Her Great Triumphs on the English Stage.—Anecdotes of her Career and her Retirement from England.—Grassini and Napoleon.—The Italian Prima Donna disputes Sovereignty with Mrs. Billington.—Her Qualities as an Artist.—Mrs. Billington's Retirement from the Stage and Declining Years
The Girlhood of Catalani.—She makes her Debut in Florence. —Description of her Marvelous Vocalism.—The Romance of Love and Marriage.—Her Preference for the Concert Stage.—She meets Napoleon in Paris.—Her Escape from France and Appearance in London.—Opinions of Lord Mount Edgcumbe and other Critics.—Anecdotes of herself and Husband.—The Great Prima Donna's Character.—Her Gradual Divergence from Good Taste in singing.—Bon Mots of the Wits of the Day.—The Opera-house Riot.—Her Husband's Avarice.—Grand Concert Tour through Europe.—She meets Goethe.—Her Return to England and Brilliant Reception.—She sings with the Tenor Braham.—John Braham's Artistic Career.—The Davides.—Catalani's Last English Appearance, and the Opinion of Critics.—Her Retirement and Death
Greatness of Genius overcoming Disqualification.—The Characteristic Lesson of Pasta's Life.—Her First Appearance and Failure.—Pasta returns to Italy and devotes herself to Study.—Her First Great Successes in 1819.—Characteristics of her Voice and Singing.—Chorley's Review of the Impressions made on him by Pasta.—She makes her Triumphal Debut in Paris.—Talma on Pasta's Acting.—Her Performances of "Giulietta" and "Tancredi."—Medea, Pasta's Grandest Impersonation, is given to the World.—Description of the Performance.—Enthusiasm of the Critics and the Public.—Introduction of Pasta to the English Public in Rossini's "Otello."—The Impression made in England.—Recognized as the Greatest Dramatic Prima Donna in the World.—Glances at the Salient Facts of her English Career.—The Performance of "Il Crociato in Egitto."—She plays the Male Role "Otello."—Rivalry with Malibran and Sontag.—The Founder of a New School of Singing.—Pasta creates the Leading Roles in Bellini's "Sonnambula" and "Norma" and Donizetti's "Anna Bolena."—Decadence and Retirement
The Greatest German Singer of the Century.—Her Characteristics as an Artist.—Her Childhood and Early Training.—Her Early Appearances in Weimar, Berlin, and Leipsic.—She becomes the Idol of the Public.—Her Charms as a Woman and Romantic Incidents of her Youth.—Becomes affianced to Count Rossi.—Prejudice against her in Paris, and her Victory over the Public Hostility.—She becomes the Pet of Aristocratic Salons.—Rivalry with Malibran.—Her Debut in London, where she is welcomed with Great Enthusiasm.—Returns to Paris.—Anecdotes of her Career in the French Capital.—She becomes reconciled with Malibran in London.—Her Secret Marriage with Count Rossi.—She retires from the Stage as the Wife of an Ambassador.—Return to her Profession after Eighteen Years of Absence.—The Wonderful Success of her Youth renewed.—Her American Tour.—Attacked with Cholera in Mexico and dies.
GREAT SINGERS, FROM FAUSTINA BORDONI TO HENRIETTA SONTAG.
The Art-Battles of Handel's Time.—The Feud between Cuzzoni and Faustina.—The Character of the Two Rivals as Women and Artists.—Faustina's Career.—Her Marriage with Adolph Hasse, and something about the Composer's Music.—Their Dresden Life.—Cuzzoni's Latter Years.—Sketch of the Great Singer Farinelli.—The Old Age of hasse and Faustina.
During the early portion of the eighteenth century the art of the stage excited the interests and passions of the English public to a degree never equaled since. Politics and religion hardly surpassed it in the power of creating cabals and sects and in stirring up animosities. This was specially marked in music. The great Handel, who had not then found his true vocation as an oratorio composer, was in the culmination of his power as manager of the opera, though he was irritated by hostile factions. The musical quarrels of the time were almost as interesting as the Gluck-Piccini war in Paris in the latter part of the same century, and the literati took part in it with a zest and wit not less piquant and noticeable. Handel, serenely grand in his musical conceptions, was personally passionate and fretful; and the contest of satire, scandal, and witticism raged without intermission between him and his rivals, supported on each hand by princes and nobles, and also by the great dignitaries of the republic of letters. In this tumult the singers (always a genus irritabile, like the race of poets) who belonged to the opera companies took an active part.
Not the least noteworthy episode of this conflict was the feud between two foremost sirens of the lyric stage, Francesca Cuzzoni and Faustina Bordoni. When the brilliant Faustina appeared in London, as a fresh importation of Handel, who was as indefatigable in purveying novelties as any modern Mapleson or Strakosch, Cuzzoni was the idol of the public, having succeeded to that honor after Anastasia Robinson retired from the stage as Countess of Peterborough. Handel some years before had introduced Cuzzoni to the English stage, and, though kept in constant turmoil by her insolence and caprice, had taken great pains to display her fine voice by the composition of airs specially suited to her. It is recorded that one morning, after she had refused at rehearsal to sing a song written for her by the master, such rage took possession of Handel that he seized her fiercely, and threatened to hurl her from the window unless she succumbed. One of the arias composed for this singer extorted from Main-waring, a musician bitterly at odds with Handel, the remark, "The great bear was certainly inspired when he wrote that song."
Cuzzoni's popularity with the public had so augmented her native conceit and insolence as to make a rival unbearable. Though she was ugly and ill made, of a turbulent and obstinate temper, ungrateful and capricious, she deported herself as if she possessed all the graces of beauty, art, and genius, and regarded the allegiance of the public as her native right. London had indeed given her some claim to this arrogance, as from the first it had treated her with brilliant distinction, so that fashionable ladies had adopted the style of her stage dresses, and duels were fought by the young "bucks" and "swells" of the time over the right to escort her to her carriage. The bitterness with which Cuzzoni hated Faustina was aggravated by the fact that the latter, in addition to her great ability as a singer, was younger, far more beautiful, and of most fascinating and amiable manner. Handel and the directors of the King's theatre were in ecstasies that they had secured two such exquisite singers; but their joy was destined to receive a sudden check in the bitter squabbles which speedily arose. Indeed, the two singers did not meet in battle for the first time, for seven years before they had been rival candidates for favor in Italy. Faustina Bordoni possessed remarkable beauty of figure and face, an expression full of fire and intelligence, to which she united tact, amiability, and prudence. As singers the rivals were nearly equal; for Faustina, while surpassing the Cuzzoni in power of execution, had not the command of expression which made the latter's art so pathetic and touching. Dr. Barney, the musical historian, and father of Madame d'Arblay, describes Cuzzoni in these words: "A native warble enabled her to execute divisions with such facility as to conceal every appearance of difficulty; and so soft and touching was the natural tone of her voice, that she rendered pathetic whatever she sang, in which she had leisure to unfold its whole volume. The art of conducting, sustaining, increasing, and diminishing her tones by minute degrees, acquired for her among professors the title of complete mistress of her art. In a canta-bile air, though the notes she added were few, she never lost a favorable opportunity of enriching the cantilena with all the refinements and embellishments of the time. Her shake was perfect; she had a creative fancy, and the power of occasionally accelerating and retarding the measure in the most artificial manner by what the Italians call tempo rubato. Her high notes were unrivaled in clearness and sweetness, and her intonations were so just and fixed that it seemed as if it were not in her power to sing out of tune." The celebrated flute-player Quantz, instructor of Frederick II., also gave Dr. Burney the following account of Faustina's artistic qualities: "Faustina had a mezzo-soprano voice, that was less clear than penetrating. Her compass now was only from B flat to G in alt; but after this time she extended its limits downward. She possessed what the Italians call un cantar granito; her execution was articulate and brilliant. She had a fluent tongue for pronouncing words rapidly and distinctly, and a flexible throat for divisions, with so beautiful a shake that she put it in motion upon short notice, just when she would. The passages might be smooth, or by leaps, or consisting of iterations of the same note; their execution was equally easy to her as to any instrument whatever. She was, doubtless, the first who introduced with success a swift repetition of the same note. She sang adagios with great passion and expression, but was not equally successful if such deep sorrow were to be impressed on the hearer as might require dragging, sliding, or notes of syncopation and tempo rubato. She had a very happy memory in arbitrary changes and embellishments, and a clear and quick judgment in giving to words their full value and expression. In her action she was very happy; and as her performance possessed that flexibility of muscles and face-play which constitute expression, she succeeded equally well in furious, tender, and amorous parts. In short, she was born for singing and acting."
Faustina's amiability would have kept her on good terms with a rival; but Cuzzoni's malice and envy ignored the fact that their respective qualities were rather adapted to complement than to vie with each other. Handel, who had a world of trouble with his singers, strove to keep them on amicable terms, but without success. The town was divided into two parties: the Cuzzoni faction was headed by the Countess of Pembroke, and that of Faustina by the Countess of Burlington and Lady Delawar, while the men most loudly declared for the Venetian beauty.
At last the feud came to a climax. On the 20th of June, 1727, a brilliant gathering of rank and fashion filled the opera-house to hear the two prime donne, who were to sing together. On their appearance they were received with a storm of mingled hissing and clapping of hands, which soon augmented into a hurricane of catcalls, shrieking, and stamping. Even the presence of royalty could not restrain the wild uproar, and accomplished women of the world took part in these discordant sounds. Dr. Arbuthnot, in alluding to the disgraceful scene, wrote in the "London Journal" this stinging rebuke: "AEsop's story of the cat, who, at the petition of her lover, was changed into a fine woman, is pretty well known; notwithstanding which alteration, we find that upon the appearance of a mouse she could not resist the temptation of springing out of his arms, though it was on the very wedding night. Our English audience have been for some time returning to their cattish nature, of which some particular sounds from the gallery have given us sufficient warning. And since they have so openly declared themselves, I must only desire that they must not think they can put on the fine woman again just when they please, but content themselves with their skill in caterwauling." The following epigram was called out by the proceedings of the evening, which were mostly stimulated by the Pembroke party, who supported Cuzzoni:
"Old poets sing that beasts did dance Whenever Orpheus played: So to Faustina's charming voice Wise Pembroke's asses brayed."
The two fair cantatrices even forgot themselves so far as to come to blows on several occasions, and the scandalous chronicle of the times was enlivened with epigrams, lampoons, libels, and duels in rapid succession. This amusing but disgraceful feud was burlesqued in a farce called "Contretemps, or The Rival Queens," which was performed at Heidigger's theatre. Faustina as the Queen of Bologna and Cuzzoni as Princess of Modena were made to seize each other by the hair, and lacerate each other's faces. Handel looks on with cynical attention, and calmly orders that the antagonists be "left to fight it out, inasmuch as the only way to calm their fury is to let them satisfy it."
The directors of the opera finally solved the difficulty in the following manner: Cuzzoni had solemnly sworn never to accept a guinea less than her rival. As Faustina was far more attractive and manageable, she was offered just one guinea more than Cuzzoni, who learning the fact broke her contract in a fury of indignation, and accepted a Viennese engagement. The well-known Ambrose Philips addressed the following farewell lines to the wrathful singer:
"Little siren of the stage, Charmer of an idle age, Empty warbler, breathing lyre, Wanton gale of fond desire; Bane of every manly art, Sweet enfeebler of the heart; Oh! too pleasing is thy strain. Hence to southern climes again, Tuneful mischief, vocal spell; To this island bid farewell: Leave us as we ought to be— Leave the Britons rough and free."
Faustina Bordoni, who from the time of her radiant debut was known as the "New Siren," was the daughter of a noble Venetian family, formerly one of the governing families of the republic. Born in the year 1700, she began to study her art at an early age under Gasparoni, who developed a beautiful and flexible voice to the greatest advantage. She made her first appearance at the age of sixteen in Pollarolo's "Ariodante," and her beauty, which was ravishing, her exquisite voice, dramatic power, and artistic skill, gave her an immediate place as one of the greatest ornaments of the lyric stage. She came into rivalry with Cuzzoni even at this early period, but carried off the palm of victory as she did in after-years. Venice, Naples, Florence, and Vienna were successively the scenes of her triumphant reign as an artist, and she became acknowledged as the most brilliant singer in Europe. At Vienna she was appointed court singer at a salary of fifteen thousand thalers. Here she was found by Handel, who carried her to London, where she made her debut May 5,1726, in that great composer's "Alessandro," very appropriately singing Statira to the Roxana of Cuzzoni. Faustina's amiable and unobtrusive character seems to have made her an unwilling participant in the quarrels into which circumstances forced her, and to have always deserved the eulogium pronounced by Apostolo Zeno on her departure from Vienna: "But whatever good fortune she meets with, she merits it all by her courteous and polite manners, as well as talents, with which she has enchanted and gained the esteem and affection of the whole court." Throughout life a sweet temper and unspotted purity of character made her the idol of her friends as well as of the general public. Faustina seems to have left London gladly, though her short career of two years there was a brilliant artistic success. The scandalous bickerings and feuds through which she passed made her departure more of a pleasure to herself than to the lovers of music in turbulent London.
She returned to Venice in 1728, where she met Adolph Hasse, who was leader of the orchestra at the theatre in which she was engaged. Faustina, in the full bloom of her loveliness, was more than ever the object of popular adulation; and many of the wealthy young nobles of Venice laid their names and fortunes at her feet. But the charming singer had found her fate. She and Hasse had fallen in love with each other at first sight, and Faustina was proof against the blandishments of the gilded youth of Italy. Hasse was the most popular dramatic composer of the age, and had so endeared himself to the Italian public that he was known as "il caro Sassone," a title which had also been previously given to Handel. Hasse had commenced life as a tenor singer, but his talent for composition soon lifted him into a higher field of effort. His first opera was produced at Brunswick, but its reception showed that he must yet master more of the heights and depths of musical science before attaining any deserved success. So he proceeded to Italy, and studied under Porpora and Alessandro Scarlatti. In a few years he became a celebrity, and the opera-houses of Italy eagerly vied with each other in procuring new works from his fecund talent. Faustina, then at the zenith of her powers and charms, and Hasse, the most admired composer of the day, were congenial mates, and their marriage was not long delayed.
Of this composer a few passing words of summary may be interesting. His career was one long success, and he wrote more than a hundred operas, besides a host of other compositions. Few composers have had during their lifetime such world-wide celebrity, and of these few none are so completely forgotten now. The facile powers of Hasse seem to have reflected the most genial though not the deepest influences of his time. He had nothing in common with the grand German school then rising into notice, or with the simple majesty of the early Italian writers. Himself originally a singer, and living in an age of brilliant singers, he was one of the first representatives of that school of Italian opera which was called into being by the worship of vocal art for its own sake. He had an inexhaustible flow of tunefulness, and the few charming songs of his now extant show great elegance of melodic structure, and such sympathy with the needs of the voice as make them the most perfect vehicle for expression and display on the part of the singer. For ten years, that most wonderful of male singers, as musical historians unite in calling Farinelli, charmed away the melancholy of Philip V. of Spain by singing to him every evening the same two melodies of Hasse, taken from the opera of "Artaserse."
In 1731 the celebrated couple accepted an offer from the brilliant Court of Dresden, presided over by Augustus II., as great a lover of art and literature as Goethe's Duke of Saxe-Weimar, or as the present Louis of Bavaria. This aesthetic monarch squandered great sums on pictures and music, and gave Hasse unlimited power and resources to place the Dresden opera on such a footing as to make it foremost in Europe. His first opera produced in Dresden was the masterpiece of his life, "Alessandro dell' Indie," and its great success was perhaps owing in part to the splendid singing and acting of Faustina, for whom indeed the music had been carefully designed. As the husband of the most fascinating prima donna of her age, Hasse had no easy time. His life was still further embittered by the presence and intrigues of Porpora, his old master and now rival, and jealousy of Porpora's pupil, Mingotti, who threatened to dispute the sway of his wife. Hasse's musical spite was amusingly shown in writing an air for Mingotti in his "Demofoonte." He composed the music for what he thought was the defective part of her voice, while the accompaniment was contrived to destroy all effect. Mingotti was nothing daunted, but by hard study and ingenious adaptation so conquered the difficulties of the air, that it became one of her greatest show-pieces. A combination of various causes so dissatisfied the composer with Dresden, that he divided his time between that city, Venice, Milan, Naples, and London, though the Saxon capital remained his professed home. One of his diversions was the establishment of opera in London in opposition to Handel; but he became so ardent an admirer of that great man's genius, that he refused to be a tool in the hands of the latter's enemies, though several of his operas met with brilliant success in the English capital.
Dresden life at last flowed more easily with Hasse and Faustina on the advent of Augustus III., who possessed his father's connoisseurship without his crotchets and favoritism. Here he remained, with the exception of a short Venetian sojourn, till late in life. On the evening of Frederick the Great's entrance into Dresden in 1745, after the battle of Kesselsdorf, Hasse's opera of "Arminio" was performed by command of the conqueror, who was so charmed with the work and Faustina's singing that he invited the composer and wife to Berlin. During the Prussian King's occupation he made Faustina many magnificent gifts, an exceptional generosity in one who was one of the most penurious of monarchs as well as one of the greatest of soldiers. Faustina continued to sing for eight years longer, when, at the age of fifty-two, she retired from the long art reign which she had enjoyed, having held her position with unchanged success against all comers for nearly forty years.
In notable contrast to the career of Faustina was that of her old-time rival, Cuzzoni. After the Venetian singer retired from London, Cuzzoni again returned to fill an engagement with the opposition company formed by Handel's opponents. With her sang Farinelli and Senesino, the former of whom was the great tenor singer of the age—perhaps the greatest who ever lived, if we take the judgment of the majority of the musical historians. Cuzzoni was again overshadowed by the splendid singing of Farinelli, who produced an enthusiasm in London almost without parallel. Her haughty and arrogant temper could not brook such inferiority, and she took the first opportunity to desert what she considered to be an ungrateful public. We hear of her again as singing in different parts of Europe, but always with declining prestige. In the London "Daily Post" of September 7, 1741, appeared a paragraph which startled her old admirers: "We hear from Italy that the famous singer, Mrs. C-z-ni, is under sentence of death, to be beheaded for poisoning her husband." If this was so, the sentence was never carried into execution, for she sang seven years afterward in London at a benefit concert. She issued a preliminary advertisement, avouching her "pressing debts" and her "desire to pay them" as the reason for her asking the benefit, which, she declared, should be the last she would ever trouble the public with. Old, poor, and almost deprived of her voice by her infirmities, her attempt to revive the interest of the public in her favor was a miserable failure; her star was set for ever, and she was obliged to return to Holland more wretched than she came. She had scarcely reappeared there when she was again thrown into prison for debt; but, by entering into an agreement to sing at the theatre every night, under surveillance, she was enabled to obtain her release. Her recklessness and improvidence had brought her to a pitiable condition; and in her latter days, after a career of splendor, caprice, and extravagance, she was obliged to subsist, it is said, by button-making. She died in frightful indigence, the recipient of charity, at a hospital in Bologna, in 1770.
Associated with the life and times of Faustina Bordoni, and the most brilliant exponent of the music of her husband, Hasse, Carlo Broschi, better known as Farinelli, stands out as one of the most remarkable musical figures of his age. This great artist, born in Naples in 1705, was the nephew of the composer Farinelli, whose name he adopted. He was instructed by the celebrated singing-master Porpora, who trained nearly all the great voices of Europe for over half a century; and at his first appearance in Rome, in 1722, common report had already made him famous. So wonderful was his execution, even at this early age, that he was able to vie with a trumpet-player, then the admiration of Rome for his remarkable powers. Porpora had written an obligato part to a song, in which his pupil rivaled the instrument in holding and swelling a note of extraordinary purity and volume. The virtuoso's execution was masterly, but the young singer so surpassed him as to carry the enthusiasm of the audience to the wildest pitch by the brilliance of his singing and the difficult variations which he introduced. Farinelli left the guidance of Porpora in 1724, and appeared in different European cities with a success which made him in three years a European celebrity. In 1727, while singing in Bologna, he met Bernacchi, at that time known as the "king of singers." The rivals were matched against each other one night in a grand duo, and Farinelli, freely admitting that the veteran artist had vanquished him, begged some lessons from him. Bernacchi generously accorded these, and took great pains with his young rival. Thus was perfected the talent of Farinelli, who, to use the words of a modern critic, was as "superior to the great singers of his own period as they were to those of more recent times."
After brilliant triumphs at Vienna, Rome, Naples, and Parma, where he surpassed the most formidable rivals and was heaped with riches and honors, he appeared before the Emperor Charles VI. of Germany, a momentous occasion in his art-career. "You have hitherto excited only astonishment and admiration," said the imperial connoisseur, "but you have never touched the heart. It would be easy for you to create emotion, if you would but be more simple and natural." The singer adopted this counsel, and became the most pathetic as he continued to be the most brilliant of singers.
The interest of Farinelli's London career will be augmented for the lovers of music by its connection with the contests carried on between Handel and his rivals, with which we have seen Faustina and Cuzzoni also to have been intimately associated. When Handel went on the Continent to secure artists for the year 1734, some prejudice operated against his negotiation with Farinelli, and the latter took service with Porpora, who had been secured by the Pembroke faction to lead the rival opera. Farinelli's singing turned the scale in favor of Handel's enemies, who had previously hardly been able to keep the enterprise on its feet, and had run in debt nineteen thousand pounds. He made his first appearance at the Lincoln's Inn Opera in "Artaserse," one of Hasse's operas. Several of the songs, however, were composed by Riccardo Broschi, the singer's brother, especially for him, and these interpolations illustrated the powers of Farinelli in the most effective manner. In one of these the first note was taken with such delicacy, swelled by minute degrees to such an amazing volume, and afterward diminished in the same manner to a mere point, that it was applauded for full five minutes. Afterward he set off with such brilliance and rapidity of execution that the violins could not keep pace with him. An incident commemorated in Hogarth's "Rake's Progress" occurred at this time, A lady of rank, carried beyond herself by admiration of the great singer, leaned out of her box and exclaimed, "One God and one Farinelli!" The great power of this singer's art is also happily set forth in the following anecdote: He was to appear for the first time with Senesino, another great singer, who of course was jealous of Farinelli's unequaled renown. The former had the part of a fierce tyrant, and Farinelli that of a hero in chains. But in the course of the first song by his rival, Senesino forgot his assumed part altogether. He was so moved and delighted that, in front of an immense audience, he rushed forward, clasped Farinelli in his arms, and burst into tears. Never had there been such a ferment among English patrons of opera as was made by Farinelli's singing. The Prince of Wales gave him a gold snuff-box set with diamonds and rubies, in which were inclosed diamond knee-buckles, and a purse of one hundred guineas. The courtiers and nobles followed in the wake of the Prince, and the costliest offerings were lavished on this spoiled favorite of art. His income during three years in London was five thousand pounds a year, to which must be added quite as much more in gratuities and presents of different kinds. On his return to Italy he built a splendid mansion, which he christened the "English Folly."
Farinelli's Spanish life was the most important episode in his career, if twenty-five years of experience may be called an episode. His purpose in visiting Madrid in 1736 was to spend but a few months; but he arrived in the Spanish capital at a critical moment, and Fate decreed that he should take up a long residence here—a residence marked by circumstances and honors without parallel in the life of any other singer. Philip V. at this time was such a prey to depression that he neglected all the affairs of his kingdom. "When Farinelli arrived, the Queen arranged a concert at which the monarch could hear the great singer without being seen. The effect was remarkable, and Farinelli gained the respect, admiration, and favor of the whole court. When he was asked by the grateful monarch to name his own reward, he answered that his best recompense would be to know that the King was again reconciled to performing the active duties of his state. Philip considered that he owed his cure to the powers of Farinelli. The final result was that the singer separated himself from the world of art for ever, and accepted a salary of fifty thousand francs to sing for the King, as David harped for the mad King Saul. Farinelli told Dr. Burney that during ten years he sang four songs to the King every night without any change." When Ferdinand VI., who was also a victim to his father's malady, succeeded to the throne, the singer continued to perform his minstrel cure, and acquired such enormous power and influence that all court favor and office depended on his breath. Though never prime minister, Farinelli's political advice had such weight with Ferdinand, that generals, secretaries, ambassadors, and other high officials consulted with him, and attended his levee, as being the power behind the throne. Farinelli acquired great wealth, but no malicious pen has ever ascribed to him any of the corrupt arts by which royal favorites are wont to accumulate the spoils of office. In his prosperity he never forgot prudence, modesty, and moderation. Hearing one day an old veteran officer complain that the King ignored his thirty years of service while he enriched "a miserable actor," Farinelli secured promotion for the grumbler, and, giving the commission to the abashed soldier, mildly taxed him for calling the King ungrateful. According to another anecdote, he requested an embassy for one of the courtiers. "Do you not know," said the King, "that this grandee is your deadly enemy?" "True," replied Farinelli; "and this is the way I propose to get revenge." Dr. Burney also relates the following anecdote: A tailor, who brought him a splendid court costume, refused any pay but a single song. After long refusal Farinelli's good nature yielded, and he sang to the enraptured man of the needle and shears, not one, but several songs. After concluding he said: "I, too, am proud, and that is the reason perhaps of my advantage over other singers. I have yielded to you; it is but just that you should yield to me." Thereupon he forced on the tailor more than double the price of the clothes.
Farinelli's influence as a politician was always cast on the side of national honor and territorial integrity. When the new King, Charles III., ascended the throne, being even then committed to the Franco-Neapolitan imbroglio, which was such a dark spot in the Spanish history of that time, Farinelli left Spain at the royal suggestion, which amounted to a command. The remaining twenty years of his life he resided in a splendid palace near Bologna, where he devoted his time and attention to patronage of learning and the arts. He collected a noble gallery of paintings from the hands of the principal Italian and Spanish masters. Among them was one representing himself in a group with Metastasio and Faustina Bordoni, for whose greatness as an artist and beauty of character he always expressed the warmest admiration. Though Farinelli was all his life an idol with the women, his appearance was not prepossessing. Dibdin, speaking of him at the age of thirty, says he "was tall as a giant and as thin as a shadow; therefore, if he had grace, it could only be of a sort to be envied by a penguin or a spider."
To his supreme merit as an artist we have, however, overwhelming testimony. Out of the many enthusiastic descriptions of his singing, that of Mancini, after Porpora the greatest singing-master of the age, and the fellow pupil with Farinelli under Bernacchi, will serve: "His voice was thought a marvel because it was so perfect, so powerful, so sonorous, and so rich in its extent, both in the high and low parts of the register, that its equal has never been heard. He was, moreover, endowed with a creative genius which inspired him with embellishments so new and so astonishing that no one was able to imitate them. The art of taking and keeping the breath so softly and easily that no one could perceive it, began and died with him. The qualities in which he excelled were the evenness of his voice, the art of swelling its sound, the portamento, the union of the registers, a surprising agility, a graceful and pathetic style, and a shake as admirable as it was rare. There was no branch of the art which he did not carry to the highest pitch of perfection.... The successes of his youth did not prevent him from continuing to study, and this great artist applied himself with so much perseverance that he contrived to change in some measure his style, and to acquire another and superior method, when his name was already famous and his fortune brilliant."
Let us return from the consideration of Faustina's most brilliant contemporary to Hasse and his wife. We have already seen that this great prima donna retired from the stage in 1753, at the age of fifty-two. The life of the distinguished couple during this period is described with much pictorial vividness in a musical novel, published several years since, under the name of "Alcestis," which also gives an excellent idea of German art and music generally. In 1760 Hasse suffered greatly from the bombardment of Dresden by the Prussians, losing among other property all his manuscripts in the destruction of the opera-house—a fact which may partly account for the oblivion into which this once admired composer has passed. The loss was peculiarly unfortunate, for the publication of Hasse's works was then about to commence at the expense of the King. He and his wife removed to Vienna, where they remained till 1775, when they retired to Venice, Faustina's birthplace. Two years before this Dr. Burney visited them at their handsome house in the Landstrasse in Berlin, and found them a humdrum couple—Hasse groaning with the gout, and the once lovely Faustina transformed into a jolly old woman of seventy-two, with two charming daughters. As he approached the house with the Abate Taruffi, Faustina, seeing them, came down to meet them. Says the Doctor: "I was presented to her by my conductor, and found her a short, brown, sensible, lively old lady, who expressed herself much pleased to meet a cavaliere Inglesi, as she had been honored with great marks of favor in England. Signor Hasse soon entered the room. He is tall and rather large in size, but it is easy to imagine that in his younger days he must have been a robust and fine figure; great gentleness and goodness appear in his countenance and manners."
Going to see them a second time, the Doctor was received by the whole family with much cordiality. He says Faustina was very intelligent, animated, and curious concerning what was going on in the world. She had a wonderful store of musical reminiscences, and showed remains of the splendid beauty for which her youth was celebrated. But her voice was all gone. Dr. Burney asked her to sing. "Ah! Non posso; ho perduto tutte le mie facolta." ("Alas! I am no longer able; I have lost all my faculty.") "I was extremely fascinated," said the Doctor, "with the conversation of Signor Hasse. He was easy, communicative, and rational, equally free from pedantry, pride, and prejudice. He spoke ill of no one, but on the contrary did justice to the talents of several composers, among them Porpora, who, though he was his first master, was afterward his greatest rival." Though his fingers were gouty, he played on the piano for his visitor, and his beautiful daughters sang. One was a "sweet soprano," the other a "rich and powerful contralto, fit for any church or theatre in Europe "; both girls "having good shakes," and "such an expression, taste, and steadiness as it is natural to expect in the daughters and scholars of Signor Hasse and Signora Faustina."
There are two pictures of Faustina Bordoni in existence. One is in Hawkins's "History," showing her in youth. Brilliant large black eyes, splendid hair, regular features, and a fascinating sweetness of expression, attest how lovely she must have been in the heyday of her charms. The other represents her as an elderly person, handsomely dressed, with an animated, intelligent countenance. Faustina died in 1793, at the age of ninety-two, and Hasse not long after, at the age of ninety-four.
The Cardinal and the Daughter of the Cook.—The Young Prima Donna's Debut in Lucca.—Dr. Barney's Description of Gabrielli.—Her Caprices, Extravagances, and Meeting with Metastasio.—Her Adventures in Vienna.— Brydone on Gabrielli.—Episodes of her Career in Sicily and Parma.—She sings at the Court of Catharine of Russia.—Sketches of Caffarelli and Paochicrotti.—Gabrielli in London, and her Final Retirement from Art.
One of the great dignitaries of the Papal Court during the middle of the eighteenth century was the celebrated Cardinal Gabrielli. He was one day walking in his garden, when a flood of delicious, untutored notes burst on his ear, resolving itself finally into a brilliant arietta by Ga-luppi. The pretty little nymph who had poured out these wild-wood notes proved to be the daughter of his favorite cook. Catarina's beauty of person and voice had already excited the hopes of her father, and he frequently took her to the Argentina Theatre, where her quick ear caught all the tunes she heard; but the humble cook could not put the child in the way of further instruction and training. When Cardinal Gabrielli heard that enchanting but uncultivated voice, he called the little Catarina and made her sing her whole stock of arias, a mandate she willingly obeyed. He was delighted with her talent, and took on himself the care of her musical education. She was first placed under the charge of Garcia (Lo Spagnoletto), and afterward of Porpora. The Cardinal kept a keen oversight of her instruction, and frequently organized concerts, where her growing talents were shown, to the great delight of the brilliant Roman society. Catarina's training was completed in the conservatory of L'Ospidaletto at Venice, while it was under the direction of Sacchini, who succeeded Galuppi.
"La Cuochettina," as she was called from her father's profession, made her first appearance in Galuppi's "Sofonisba" in Lucca, after five years of severe training. She was beautiful, intelligent, witty, full of liveliness and grace, with an expression full of coquettish charm and espieglerie. Her acting was excellent, and her singing already that of a brilliant and finished vocalist. It is not a marvel that the excitable Italian audience received her with the most passionate plaudits of admiration. Her stature was low, but Dr. Burney describes her in the following terms: "There was such grace and dignity in her gestures and deportment as caught every unprejudiced eye; indeed, she filled the stage, and occupied the attention of the spectators so much, that they could look at nothing else while she was in view." No indication of her mean origin betrayed itself in her face or figure, for she carried herself with all the haughty grandeur of a Roman matron. Her voice, though not powerful, was of exquisite quality and wonderful extent, its compass being nearly two octaves and a half, and perfectly equable throughout. Her facility in vocalization was extraordinary, and her execution is described by Dr. Burney as rapid, but never so excessive as to cease to be agreeable; but in slow movements her pathetic tones, as is often the case with performers renowned for "dexterity," were not sufficiently touching.
The young chevaliers of Lucca were wild over the new operatic star; for her talent, beauty, and fascination made her a paragon of attraction, and her capricious whims and coquetries riveted the chains in which she held her admirers. Catarina, however she may have felt pleased at lordly tributes of devotion, and willing to accept substantial proofs of their sincerity, lavished her friendship for the most part on her own comrades, and became specially devoted to the singer Guardagni, whose rare artistic excellence made him a valuable mentor to the young prima donna. Three years after her debut her reputation had become national, and we find her singing at Naples in the San Carlo. The aged poet Metastasio, a name so imperishably connected with the development of the Italian opera, became one of her bond slaves. Gabrielli was wont to use her admirers for artistic advantage, and she learned certain invaluable lessons in the delivery of recitative and the higher graces of her art from one whose experience and knowledge were infinitely higher and more suggestive than those of a mere singing-master. The courtly poet, the pet of rank and beauty for nearly fifty years, sighed in vain at the feet of this inexorable coquette, and shared his disappointment with a host of other distinguished suitors, who showered costly gifts at the shrine of beauty, and were compelled to content themselves with kissing her hand as a reward.
Metastasio's interest, unchecked by the disdain of the capricious beauty, succeeded in obtaining for her the position of court singer at Vienna, where the Emperor, Francis I., was one of her admirers. She soon created as great a furor among the gallants of the Austrian capital as she had in Italy. Swords were drawn freely in the quarrels which she delighted to foster, and dueling became a mania with those who aspired to her favor. The passions she instigated sometimes took eccentric courses. The French Ambassador, who loved her madly, suspected the Portuguese Minister of being more successful than himself with the lovely Gabrielli. His suspicions being confirmed at one of his visits, he drew his sword in a transport of rage, and all that saved the operatic stage one of its most brilliant lights was the whalebone bodice, which broke the point of the furious Frenchman's rapier. The sight of the bleeding beauty—for she received a slight scratch—brought the diplomat to his senses. Falling on his knees, he poured forth his remorse in passionate self-reproaches, but only received his pardon on the most humiliating terms, namely, that he should present her with the weapon which had so nearly pierced her heart, on which was to be inscribed this memento of the jealous madness of its owner: "Epee de M———, qui osa frapper La Gabrielli." Only Metastasio's persuasions (for Gabrielli prized his friendship and advice as much as she trifled with him in a different role) persuaded her to spare the Frenchman the insufferable ridicule which her retention of the telltale sword would have imposed on one whose rank and station could ill afford to be made the laughing-stock of his times.
The siren's infinite caprices furnished the most interesting chronique scandaleuse of Vienna. Brydone in his "Tour" tells us that it was fortunate for humanity that the fair cantatrice had so many faults; for, had she been more perfect, "she must have made dreadful havoc in the world; though, with all her deficiencies," he says, "she was supposed to have achieved more conquests than any one woman breathing." Her caprice was so stubborn, that neither interest, nor threats, nor punishment had the least power over it; she herself declared that she could not command it, but that it for the most part commanded her. The best expedient to induce her to sing when she was in a bad humor was to prevail upon her favorite lover to place himself in the principal seat of the pit, or the front of a box, and, if they were on good terms—which was seldom the case, however—she should address her tender airs to him, and exert herself to the utmost. When Brydone was in Sicily, her lover promised to give him an example of his power over her. "He took his seat accordingly; but Gabrielli, probably suspecting the connivance, would take no notice of him; so even this expedient does not always succeed."
When Gabrielli left Vienna for Sicily in 1765, she was laden with riches, for her manifold extravagances were generally incurred at the expense of somebody else; and she continued at Palermo the same eccentric, capricious, and flighty conduct which had made her name synonymous with everything reckless and daring in contravening propriety. She treated the highest dignitaries with the same insolence which she displayed toward operatic managers. Even the Viceroy of Sicily, standing in the very place of royalty, was made the victim of wanton impertinence. The Viceroy gave a dinner in honor of La Gabrielli, to which were invited the proudest nobles of the court; and, as she did not appear at the appointed hour, a servant was sent to her apartments. She was found en deshabille dawdling over a book, and affected to have forgotten the viceregal invitation—a studied insult, hardly to be endured. This insolence, however, was overlooked by the representative of royal authority, and it was not till the proud beauty's caprices caused her to seriously neglect her artistic duties that she felt the weight of his displeasure. When he sent a remonstrance against her singing sotto voce on the stage, she said she might be forced to cry, but not to sing. The exasperated ruler ordered her to prison for twelve days. Her caprice was here shown by giving the costliest entertainments to her fellow prisoners, who were of all classes from debtors to bandits, paying their debts, distributing great sums among the indigent, and singing her most beautiful songs in an enchanting manner. When she was released she was followed by the grateful tears and blessings of those she had so lavishly benefited in jail. This fascinating creature seems all through life to have been good on impulse and bad on principle. Three years after this Gabrielli was singing in Parma, where she made a speedy conquest of the Infante, Don Ferdinand. His boundless wealth condoned the ugliness of his person in the eyes of the singer, and the lavish income he placed at her disposal gratified her boundless extravagances, while it did not prevent her from being gracious to the Infante's many rivals and would-be successors. Bitter quarrels and recriminations ensued, and the jealous ravings of Catarina's princely admirer were more than matched by the fierce sarcasms and shrill clamor of the beautiful virago. One day Don Ferdinand, justly suspecting her of gross unfaithfulness, assailed her with unusual fury, to which she replied by terming him a gobbo maladetto (accursed hunchback). On this the Prince, carried beyond all control, had her imprisoned on some legal pretext, though Gabrielli found proofs of love struggling with his anger in the magnificence of the apartment and luxuriance of the service bestowed on her. But he strove in vain to make his peace. The offended coquette was implacable, and disdained alike his excuses and protestations of devotion. One night she escaped from her prison, scaled the garden-wall, and fled, leaving her weak and disconsolate lover to cool his sighs in tears of unavailing regret.
The court of the Semiramis of the North, Catharine II. of Russia, who strove to expunge the contempt felt for her as a woman by Europe through the imperial munificence with which she played at patronizing art and literature, was the next scene of the fair Italian's triumph. Gabrielli was received with lavish favor, but the Empress frowned when she heard the pecuniary demands of the singer. "Five thousand ducats!" she said, in amazement. "Why, I don't give more than that to one of my field-marshals." "Very well," replied the audacious Gabrielli; "your Majesty may get your field-marshals to sing for you, then." Catharine, who, however cruel and unscrupulous when need be, was in the main good-natured, laughed at the impertinence, and instead of sending Gabrielli to Siberia consented to her demands, adding special gratuities to the nominal salary. Two countrymen of the beautiful cantatrice, Pai-siello and Cimarosa, were afterward treated with equal honor and consideration by the imperial dilettante. Catharine's favor lasted unimpaired for several years, and it only abated when Gabrielli's lust for conquest and the honor of rivalry with a sovereign tempted her to coquet with Prince Po-temkin. An intimation from the court chamberlain that St. Petersburg was too hot for one of her warm southern blood, and that Siberia or some other place at her will would better suit her temperament, sufficed when backed by an imperial endorsement. La Gabrielli returned from Russia, loaded with, diamonds and wealth, for Catharine did not dismiss her without substantial proofs of her magnificence and generosity.
At this period Gabrielli was invited to England; and after considerable haggling with the London manager, and compelling him to employ her favorite of the hour, Signor Manzoletto, as principal tenor, the negotiation was consummated. Gabrielli still preserved all her excellence of voice and charm of execution; but her rare beauty, which had been as great a factor in her success as artistic skill, was on the wane. The English engagement had been made with some reluctance; for the stern and uncompromising temper of the island nation had been widely recognized with exaggerations in Continental Europe. "I should not be mistress of my own will," she said, "and whenever I might have a fancy not to sing, the people would insult, perhaps misuse me. It is better to remain unmolested, were it even in prison." She, however, changed her mind, and her experiences in London were such as to make her regret that she had not stood firm to her first resolution.
Among the remarkable male singers of Gabrielli's time was Caffarelli, whom his friends indeed declared to be no less great than Farinelli. Though never closely associated with La Cuochet-tina in her stage triumphs (a fact perhaps fortunate for the cantatrice), he must be regarded as one of the representative artists of the period when she was in the full-blown and insolent prime of her beauty and reputation. Born in 1703, of humble Neapolitan parentage, he became a pupil of Porpora at an early age. The great singing-master is said to have taught him in a peculiar fashion. For five years he permitted him to sing nothing but scales and exercises. In the sixth year Porpora instructed him in declamation, pronunciation, and articulation. Caffarelli, at the end of the sixth year, supposing he had just mastered the rudiments, began to murmur, when he was amazed by Porpora's answer: "Young man, you may now leave me; you are the greatest singer in the world, and you have nothing more to learn from me." Hogarth discredits this story, on the ground that "none but a plodding drudge without a spark of genius could have submitted to a process which would have been too much for the patient endurance even of a Russian serf; or if a single spark had existed at first, it must have been extinguished by so barbarous a treatment." Caffarelli did not rise to the height of his fame rapidly, and, when he went to London to supply the place of Farinelli in 1738, he entirely failed to please the English public, who had gone wild with enthusiasm over his predecessor. Farinelli's retirement from the artistic world about this period removed from Caffarelli's way the only rival who could have snatched from him the laurels he soon acquired as the leading male singer of the age. After Caffarelli's return from England, his engagements in Turin, Genoa, Milan, and Florence were a triumphal progress. At Turin he sang before the Prince and Princess of Sardinia, the latter of whom had been a pupil of Farinelli, as she was a Spanish princess. Caffarelli, on being told that the royal lady had a prejudice in favor of her old master, said haughtily, "To-night she shall hear two Farinellis in one," and exerted his faculties so successfully as to produce acclamations of delight and astonishment. He always seems to have had great jealousy of the fame of Farinelli, and the latter entertained much curiosity about his successor in public esteem. Metas-tasio, the friend of the retired artist, wrote to him in 1749 from Vienna about Caffarelli's reception: "You will be curious to know how Caffarelli has been received. The wonders related of him by his adherents had excited expectations of something above humanity." After summing up the judgments of the critics who were severe on Caffarelli's faults, that his voice was "false, screaming, and disobedient," that his singing was full of "antique and stale flourishes," that "in his recitative he was an old nun," and that in all that he sang there was "a whimsical tone of lamentation sufficient to sour the gayest allegro," Metastasio says that in his happy moments he could please excessively, but the caprices of his voice and temper made these happy moments very uncertain.
Caffarelli's arrogant, vain, and turbulent nature seems to have been the principal cause of his troubles. The numerous anecdotes current of him turned mainly on this characteristic, so different from the modesty and reticence of Fari-nelli. Metastasio, in a lively letter to the Princess di Belmonte, describes an amusing fracas at the Viennese Opera-House. The poet of the house, Migliavacca, who was also director of rehearsals, became engaged in altercation with the singer, because the latter neglected attendance. He rehearsed to Caffarelli in bitter language the various terms of reproach and contempt which his enemies throughout Europe had lavished on him. "But the hero of the panegyric, cutting the thread of his own praise, called out to his eulogist, 'Follow me if thou hast courage to a place where there is none to assist thee,' and, moving toward the door, beckoned him to come out. The poet hesitated a moment, then said with a smile: 'Truly, such an antagonist makes me blush; but come along, since it is a Christian act to chastise a madman or a fool,' and advanced to take the field." Suddenly the belligerents drew blades on the very stage itself, and, while the bystanders were expecting to see poetical or vocal blood besprinkle the harpsichords and double basses, the Signora Tesi advanced toward the duelists. "Oh, sovereign power of beauty!" writes Metastasio with sly sarcasm; "the frantic Caffarelli, even in the fiercest paroxysms of his wrath, captivated and appeased by this unexpected tenderness, runs with rapture to meet her, lays his sword at her feet, begs pardon for his errors, and, generously sacrificing to her his vengeance, seals, with a thousand kisses on her hand, his protestations of obedience, respect, and humility. The nymph signifies her forgiveness with a nod, the poet sheathes his sword, the spectators begin to breathe again, and the tumultuous assembly breaks up amid sounds of laughter. In collecting the numbers of the wounded and slain, none was found but the poor copyist, who, in trying to part the combatants, had received a small contusion in the clavicula of the foot from an involuntary kick of the poet's Pegasus."
Once, while Caffarelli was singing at Naples, he was told of the arrival of Gizzielo, a possible rival, at Rome. Unable to check his anxiety, he threw himself into a post-chaise and hastened to Rome, arriving in time to hear his young rival sing the aria d'entrata. Delighted with Gizzielo's singing, and giving vent to his emotion, he cried in a loud voice: "Bravo, bravissimo, Gizzielo! E Caffarelli che te lo dice." So saying, he rushed out and posted back to Naples, arriving barely in time to dress for the opera. By invitation of the Dauphin, he went to Paris in 1750, and sang at several concerts, where he pleased and astonished the court by his splendid vocalism. Louis XV. sent him a snuff-box; but Caffarelli, observing its plainness, said disdainfully, showing a drawerful of splendid boxes, that the worst was finer than the French King's present. "If he had only sent me his portrait in it," said the vain' artist. "That is only given to ambassadors and princes," was the reply of the King's gentleman. "Well," was the reply, "all the ambassadors and princes in the world would not make one Caffarelli." The King laughed heartily at this, but the Dauphin sent for the singer and presented him with a passport, saying, "It is signed by the King himself—for you a great honor; but lose no time in using it, for it is only good for ten days." Caffarelli left in high dudgeon, saying he had not made his expenses in France.
Mr. Garrick, the great actor, heard Caffarelli in Naples in 1764, when he was turned of sixty, and thus writes to Dr. Burney: "Yesterday we attended the ceremony of making a nun; she was the daughter of a duke, and everything was conducted with great splendor and magnificence. The consecration was performed with great solemnity, and I was very much affected; and, to crown the whole, the principal part was sung by the famous Caffarelli, who, though old, has pleased me more than all the singers I ever heard. He touched me, and it is the first time I have been touched since I came to Italy." At this time Caffarelli had accumulated a great fortune, purchased a dukedom, and built a splendid palace at San Dorato, from which he derived his ducal title.
Over the gate he inscribed, with characteristic modesty, this inscription: "Amphion Thebas, ego domum." * A wit of the period added, "Ille cum, sine tu." ** Caffarelli died in 1783, leaving his title and wealth to his nephew, some of whose descendants are still living in enjoyment of the rank earned by the genius of the singer. By some of the critics of his time Caffarelli was judged to be the superior of Farinelli, though the suffrages were generally on the other side. He excelled in slow and pathetic airs as well as in the bravura style; and was unrivaled in the beauty of his voice, and in the perfection of his shake and his chromatic scales, which latter embellishment in quick movements he was the first to introduce.
* "Amphion built Thebes, I a palace."
** "He with good reason, you without."
When Gabrielli was on her way to England in 1765, she sang for a few nights in Venice with the celebrated Pacchierotti, a male soprano singer who took the place of Caffarelli, even as the latter filled that vacated by Farinelli. Gabrielli was inspired by the association to do her utmost, and when she sang her first aria di bravura, Pacchierotti gave himself up for lost. The astonishing swiftness, grace, and flexibility of her execution seemed to him beyond comparison; and, tearing his hair in his impetuous Italian way, he cried in despair, "Povero me, povero me! Vuesto e un portento!" ("Unfortunate man that I am, here indeed is a prodigy!") It was some time before he could be persuaded to sing; but, when he did, he excited as much admiration in Gabrielli's breast as that fair cantatrice had done in his own. Pac-chierotti is the third in the great triad of the male soprano singers of the eighteenth century, and the luster of his reputation does not shine dimly as compared with the other two. He commenced his musical career at Palermo in 1770, at the age of twenty, and when he went to England in 1778 expectations were raised to the highest pitch by the accounts given of him by Brydone in his "Tour through Sicily and Malta." His first English season was very successful, and he returned again in 1780, to remain for four years and become one of the greatest favorites the London public had ever known, his last appearance being at the great Handel commemoration. The details of Pacchierotti's life are rather scanty, for he was singularly modest and retiring, and shrank from rather than courted public notice. We know more of him from his various critics as an artist than as a man.
"Pacchierotti's voice," says Lord Mount Edgcumbe, who contributed so richly to the literature of music, "was an extensive soprano, full and sweet in the highest degree; his powers of execution were great, but he had far too good taste and good sense to make a display of them where it would have been misapplied, confining it to one bravura song in each opera, conscious that the chief delight of singing and his own supreme excellence lay in touching expression and exquisite pathos. Yet he was so thorough a musician that nothing came amiss to him; every style was to him equally easy, and he could sing at first sight all songs of the most opposite characters, not merely with the facility and correctness which a complete knowledge of music must give, but entering at once into the views of the composer and giving them all the spirit and expression he had designed. Such was his genius in his embellishments and cadences that their variety was inexhaustible.... As an actor, with many disadvantages of person—for he was tall and awkward in his figure, and his features were plain—he was nevertheless forcible and impressive; for he felt warmly, had excellent judgment, and was an enthusiast in his profession. His recitative was inimitably fine, so that even those who did not understand the language could not fail to comprehend from his countenance, voice, and action every sentiment he expressed."
An anecdote illustrating Pacchierotti's pathos is given by the best-informed musical authorities. When Metastasio's "Artaserse" was given at Rome with the music of Bertoni, Pacchierotti performed the part of Arbaces. In one place a touching song is followed by a short instrumental symphony. When Pacchierotti had finished the air, he turned to the orchestra, which remained silent, saying, "What are you about?" The leader, awakened from a trance, answered with much simplicity in a sobbing voice, "We are all crying." Not one of the band had thought of the symphony, but sat with eyes full of tears, gazing at the great singer.
Gabrielli's career, which will now be resumed, had been full of romantic adventures, affaires d'amour, and curious episodes, and her vanity looked forward to the continuance in England of similar social excitements. She had accepted the London engagement with some scruple and hesitation, but her anticipation of brilliant conquests among the jeunesse doree of Britain overcame her fear that she would find audiences less tolerant than those to which she had been accustomed in her imperious course through Europe. But the beautiful Gabrielli was then a little on the wane both in personal loveliness and charm of voice; and, though her fame as a coquette and an artist had preceded her, she met with an indifference that was almost languor. The young Englishmen of the period, though quick to draw blade as any gallants in Europe, did not feel inspired to fight for her smiles, as had been the case with their compeers in the Continental cities, which rang with the scandals, controversies, and duels engendered by her numerous conquests. This sort of social stimulus had become necessary from long use as an ally of professional effort; and, lacking it, Gabrielli became insufferably indolent and careless. She would not take the least trouble to please fastidious London audiences, then as now the most exacting in Europe. She chose to remain sick on occasions which should have drawn forth her finest efforts, and frequently sent her sister Francesca to fill her great parts. One night her manager, mistrusting her excuses of illness, proceeded to her apartments, and found them ablaze with light and filled with a large company of gay and riotous revelers. Of course this condition of affairs could not long be endured. Stung by the slight appreciation of her talents in England, and not choosing to endure the want of patience which made the public grumble when she chose to sing badly or not at all, she quitted England after a very brief stay. Lord Mount Edgcumbe saw her in the opera of "Didone," and avows bluntly that he could see nothing more of her acting than that she took the greatest possible care of her enormous hoop when she sidled out of the flames of Carthage. Dr. Burney, on the other hand, is a more chivalrous critic, or else he was unduly impressed with the lady's charms; for she appeared to him "the most intelligent and best-bred virtuoso with whom he had ever conversed, not only on the subject of music, but on every subject concerning which a well-educated female, who had seen the world, might be expected to have information." Furthermore, he extols the precision and accuracy of her execution and intonation, and the thrilling quality of her voice.
Brydone, who appears to have been fascinated with this siren, has an amusing apology for her carelessness of her duties in England, which he insists was not caprice, but inability to sing. He says: "And this I can readily believe, for that wonderful flexibility of voice, that runs with such rapidity and neatness through the most minute divisions, and produces almost instantaneously so great a variety of modulation, must surely depend on the very nicest tones of the fibers; and if these are in the smallest degree relaxed, or their elasticity diminished, how is it possible that their contractions and expansions can so readily obey the will as to produce these effects? The opening of the glottis which forms the voice is so extremely small, and in every variety of tone its diameter must suffer a sensible change; for the same diameter must ever produce the same tone. So wonderfully minute are its contractions and dilatations, that Dr. Kiel, I think, computed that in some voices its opening, not more than the tenth of an inch, is divided into upward of twelve hundred parts, the different sound of every one of which is perceptible to the exact ear. Now, what a nice tension of fibers must this require! I should imagine even the most minute change in the air causes a sensible difference, and that in our foggy climate fibers would be in danger of losing this wonderful sensibility, or, at least, that they would very often be put out of tune. It is not the same case with an ordinary voice, where the variety of divisions run through and the volubility with which they are executed bear no proportion to that of a Gabrielli."
Gabrielli sang in various cities of Italy for several years more, still retaining her hold on the hearts of her countrymen. In 1780 she finally retired from the stage and began to live a regular and orderly life, though still extravagant and lavish in her indulgence both of freaks of luxury and generosity. During her residence at Rome the noblesse of that city held her in high esteem, and her concerts gathered the most distinguished and wealthy people. Her prodigality had considerably reduced her income, and when she retired from her profession it amounted to little more than twenty thousand francs. The state in which Gabrielli had lived suited a princess of the blood rather than an operatic singer. Her traveling retinue included a little army of servants and couriers, and, both at home and at the theatre, she exacted the respect which was rather the due of some royal personage. A Florentine nobleman paid her a visit one day, and tore one of his ruffles by catching in some part of her dress. Gabrielli the next day, to make amends, sent him six bottles of Spanish wine, with the costliest rolls of Flanders lace stuffed into the mouths of the bottles instead of corks. But, if she was extravagant and luxurious, she was also generous; and, in spite of the cruel caprices which had marked her life, she always gave tokens of a naturally kind heart. She gave largely to charity, and provided liberally for her parents, as also for her brother's education. Of this brother, who appeared at the Teatro Argentina in Rome as a tenor, but who sang as wretchedly as his sister did exquisitely, an amusing anecdote is narrated. The audience began to hoot and hiss, and yells of "Get out, you raven!" sounded through the house. With great sang-froid the unlucky singer said: "You fancy you are mortifying me by hooting me; you are grossly deceived; on the contrary, I applaud your judgment, for I solemnly declare that I never appear on any stage without receiving the same treatment, and sometimes worse."
Gabrielli's closing years were spent at Bologna, where she won the esteem and admiration of all by her charities and steadiness of life, a notable contrast to the license and extravagance of her earlier career. She died in 1796, at the age of sixty-six.
The French Stage as seen by Rousseau.—Intellectual Ferment of the Period.—Sophie Arnould, the Queen of the most Brilliant of Paris Salons.—Her Early Life and Connection with Comte de Lauraguais.—Her Reputation as the Wittiest Woman of the Age.—Art Association with the Great German Composer, Gluck.—The Rivalries and Dissensions of the Period.—Sophie's Rivals and Contemporaries, Madame St. Huberty, the Vestrises Father and Son, Madelaine Guimard.—Opera during the Revolution.—The Closing Days of Sophie Arnould's Life.—Lord Mount Edgcumbe's Opinion of her as an Artist.
Rousseau, a man of decidedly musical organization, and who wrote so brilliantly on the subject of the art he loved (but who cared more for music than he did for truth and honor, as he showed by stealing the music of two operas, "Pygmalion" and "Le Devin du Village," and passing it off for his own), has given us some very racy descriptions of French opera in the latter part of the eighteenth century in his "Dictionnaire Musicale," in his "Lettre sur la Musique Francaise," and, above all, in the "Nouvelle Heloise." In the mouth of Saint Preux, the hero of the latter novel, he puts some very animated sketches:
"The opera at Paris passes for the most pompous, the most voluptuous, the most admirable spectacle that human art has ever invented. It is, say its admirers, the most superb monument of the magnificence of Louis XIV. Here you may dispute about anything except music and the opera; on these topics alone it is dangerous not to dissemble. French music, too, is defended by a very vigorous inquisition, and the first thing indicated is a warning to strangers who visit this country that all foreigners admit there is nothing so fine as the grand opera at Paris. The fact is, discreet people hold their tongues and laugh in their sleeves. It must, however, be conceded that not only all the marvels of nature, but many other marvels much greater, which no one has ever seen, are represented at great cost at this theatre; and certainly Pope must have alluded to it when he describes a stage on which were seen gods, hobgoblins, monsters, kings, shepherds, fairies, fury, joy, fire, a jig, a battle, and a ball.*...
* Addison gives some such description of the French opera in No. 29 of the "Spectator."
Having told you what others say of this brilliant spectacle, I will now tell you what I have seen myself. Imagine an inclosure fifteen feet broad and long in proportion; this inclosure is the theatre. On its two sides are placed at intervals screens, on which are grossly painted the objects which the scene is about to represent. At the back of the inclosure hangs a great curtain painted in like manner, and nearly always pierced and torn, that it may represent at a little distance gulfs on the earth or holes in the sky. Every one who passes behind this stage or touches the curtain produces a sort of earthquake, which has a double effect. The sky is made from certain bluish rags suspended from poles or from cords, as linen may be seen hung out to dry in any washerwoman's yard. The sun (for it is seen here sometimes) is a lighted torch in a lantern. The cars of the gods and goddesses are composed of four rafters, squared and hung on a thick rope in the form of a swing or seesaw; between the rafters is a cross-plank on which the god sits down, and in front hangs a piece of coarse cloth well dirtied, which acts the part of clouds for the magnificent car. One may see toward the bottom of the machine two or three stinking candles, badly snuffed, which, while the great personage dementedly presents himself, swinging in his seesaw, fumigate him with an incense worthy of his dignity. The agitated sea is composed of long lanterns of cloth and blue pasteboard, strung on parallel spits which are turned by little blackguard boys. The thunder is a heavy cart, rolled over an arch, and is not the least agreeable instrument one hears. The flashes of lightning are made of pinches of rosin thrown on a flame, and the thunder is a cracker at the end of a fusee. The theatre is furnished, moreover, with little square trap-doors, through which the demons issue from their cave. When they have to rise into the air, little devils of stuffed brown cloth are substituted, or perhaps live chimney-sweeps, who swing suspended and smothered in rags. The accidents which happen are sometimes tragical, sometimes farcical. When the ropes break, then infernal spirits and immortal deities fall together, laming and sometimes killing each other. Add to all this the monsters which render some scenes very pathetic, such as dragons, lizards, tortoises, and large toads, which promenade the theatre with a menacing air, and display at the opera all the temptations of St. Anthony. Each of these figures is animated by a lout of a Savoyard, who has not even intelligence enough to play the beast." Saint Preux is also made to say of the singers: "One sees actresses nearly in convulsions, tearing yelps and howls violently out of their lungs, closed hands pressed on their breasts, heads thrown back, faces inflamed, veins swollen, and stomach panting. I know not which of the two, eye or ear, is more agreeably affected by this display.... For my part, I am certain that people applaud the outcries of an actress at the opera as they would the feats of a tumbler or rope-dancer at a fair.... Imagine this style of singing employed to express the delicate gallantry and tenderness of Quinault. Imagine the Muses, the Graces, the Loves, Venus herself, expressing themselves this way, and judge the effect. As for devils, it might pass, for this music has something infernal in it, and is not ill adapted to such beings."
From this and similar accounts it will be seen that opera in France during the latter part of the eighteenth century had, notwithstanding Jean Jacques's garrulous sarcasms, advanced a considerable way toward that artificial perfection which characterizes it now. Music was a topic of discussion, which absorbed the interest of the polite world far more than the mutterings in the politi-cal horizon, which portended so fierce a convulsion of the social regime. Wits, philosophers, courtiers, and fine ladies joined in the acrimonious controversy, first between the adherents of Lulli and Rameau, then between those of Gluck and Piccini. The young gallants of the day were wont to occupy part of the stage itself and criticise the performance of the opera; and often they adjourned from the theatre to the dueling-ground to settle a difficulty too hard for their wits to unravel. The intense interest appertaining to all things connected with music and the theatre noticeable in the French of to-day, was tenfold as eager a century ago. Passionate curiosity, even extending to enthusiasm, with which that worn-out and utterly corrupt society, by some subtile contradiction, threw itself into all questions concerning philosophy, science, literature, and art, found its most characteristic expression in its relation to the music of the stage.
It was at this strange and picturesque period, when everything in politics, society, literature, and art was fermenting for the terrible Hecate's brew which the French world was soon to drink to the dregs, that there appeared on the stage one of the most remarkable figures in its history, a woman of great beauty and brilliancy, as well as an artist of unique genius—Sophie Arnould. Her name is lustrous in French memoirs for the splendor of her wit and conversational talent; and Arsene Houssaye has thought it worthy to preserve her bon-mots in a volume of table-talk, called "Arnouldiana," which will compare with anything of its kind in the French language. For a dozen years prior to the Revolution Sophie Arnould was a queen of society as well as of art; and in her elegant salon, which was a museum of art curios and bric-a-brac, she held a brilliant court, where men of the highest distinction, both native and foreign, were proud to pay their homage at the shrine of beauty and genius. There might be seen D'Alembert, the learned and scholarly, rough and independent in manner, who deserted the drawing-rooms of the great for saloons where he could move at his ease. There, also, Diderot would often delight his circle of admirers by the fluency and richness of his conversation, his friends extolling his disinterestedness and honesty, his enemies whispering about his cunning and selfishness. The novelist Duclos, with his keen power of penetrating human character, would move leisurely through the throng, picking up material for his romances; and Mably would talk politics and drop ill-natured remarks. The learned metaphysician Helvetius, too, was often there, seeking for compliments, his appetite for applause being voracious; so insatiable, indeed, that he even danced one night at the opera. It was said that he was led to study mathematics by seeing a circle of beautiful ladies surrounding the ugly geometrician Maupertuis in the gardens of the Tuileries. Dorat, who wasted his time in writing bad tragedies, and his property in publishing them; the gay, good-hearted Marmontel; Bernard—called by Voltaire le gentil—who wrote the libretto of "Castor et Pollux," esteemed for years a masterpiece of lyric poetry; Rameau, the popular composer, in whose pieces Sophie always appeared; and Francoeur, the leader of the orchestra, were also among her guests. J. J. Rousseau was the great lion, courted and petted by all. When Benjamin Franklin arrived in Paris, where he was received with unbounded hospitality by the most distinguished of French society, he confessed that nowhere did he find such pleasure, such wit, such brilliancy, as in the salon of Mile. Arnould. M. Andre de Murville was one of the more noteworthy men of wit who attended her soirees, and he became so madly in love with her that he offered her his hand; but she cared very little about him. One day he told her that if he were not in the Academie within thirty years, he would blow out his brains. She looked steadily at him, and then, smiling sarcastically, said, "I thought you had done that long ago." Poets sang her praises; painters eagerly desired to transfer her exquisite lineaments to canvas. All this flattery intoxicated her. She wished to be classed with Ninon, Lais, and Aspasia, and was proud to be the subject of the verses of Dorat, Bernard, Rulhiere, Marmontel, and Favart. Sophie's wit never hesitated to break a lance even on those she liked. "What are you thinking of?" she said to Bernard, in one of his abstracted moods. "I was talking to myself," he replied. "Be careful," she said archly; "you gossip with a flatterer." To a physician, whom she met with a gun under his arm, she laughed aloud, "Ah, doctor, you are afraid of your professional resources failing." Her racy repartees were in every mouth from Paris to Versailles, and she was in all respects a brilliant personage among the intellectual lights of the age.