Page:A Dictionary of Music and Musicians vol 1.djvu/225

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BELLINI.
213
 

ravviso), the tenor's air 'All is lost now' (Tutto e sciolto), the soprano's air 'Ah do not mingle' (Ah non giunge), are as familiar as any of our national melodies. It may be noted, once for all, that the genius of Bellini was exclusively lyrical and tuneful. He was no harmonist, he had no power of contrivance; and in his most dramatic scenes he produces his effect simply by the presentation of appropriate and expressive melodies. The beauties of 'La Sonnambula,' says an English critic, 'so full of pure melody and of emotional music of the most simple and touching kind, can be appreciated by every one; by the most learned musician and the most untutored amateur—or rather, let us say, by any play-goer who not having been born deaf to the voice of music hears an opera for the first time in his life.' The part of Amina, the heroine of La Sonnambula, is still a favourite one with débutantes; and it was in this character that both Madame Adelina Patti and Mlle. Emma Albani made their first appearance before an English public. About a year after the production of La Sonnambula Bellini delighted the world of music with 'Norma,' [App. p.542 "Dec. 26, 1831"] which, very different in character from its immediate predecessor, is equally in its way a work of genius. Bellini has written no melody more beautiful than that of Norma's prayer, 'Casta Diva,' in which however it is impossible to deny that the second movement is unworthy of the first. In the duet of the final scene the reproaches addressed by Norma to the faithless Pollio have, apart from their abstract musical beauty, the true accent of pathos; and the trio in which the perjured priestess and betrayed woman upbraids her deceiver with his newly discovered treachery proves, when the devoted heroine is adequately impersonated, at least as successful as the two other pieces cited. The first and most celebrated representative of the Druid priestess was Madame Pasta. It afterwards became one of Giulia Grisi's greatest parts, and in our own day we have found an admirable Norma in Mlle. Titiens. Bellini's most important serious opera, like almost all operas of real dramatic merit, is founded on a French play. Romani's libretto of 'Norma' was based on Soumet's tragedy of the same name, produced at the Théâtre Français about a year before the opera of 'Norma' was brought out at the Scala Theatre of Milan. The successful opera has killed the drama from which its subject was derived—a result which under similar circumstances has happened more than once in the history of the modern stage. 'Don Giovanni,' 'Le Nozze di Figaro,' 'Fidelio,' 'Il Barbiere di Siviglia,' 'Lucrezia Borgia,' 'Norma,' are only a few of many examples which might be cited of highly successful operas indebted for their dramatic framework to plays already nearly obsolete. To return to Bellini: his 'Norma' was succeeded by 'Beatrice di Tenda,' which did but little to keep up the composer's reputation. Represented for the first time at Venice in 1833, it was performed three years afterwards, without much success, in London. In 1834 Bellini went to Paris, where, by the advice of Rossini, he was engaged to write an opera for the Théâtre Italien. Rossini is said to have recommended his young friend (Bellini was then twenty-seven years of age) to devote special attention to his orchestration, and generally to cultivate dramatic effect. In 'I Puritani' [App. p.542 "1835"]—which, according to the almost invariable rule, owed its dramatic materials and its stage form to a Frenchman—Bellini was not well served by his librettist. Its special and absorbing interest is attached either to the tenor part, as in 'Il Pirata,' or to the prima donna part, as in 'La Sonnambula' and 'Norma'; while besides being dull, even to those who understand it, the plot of 'I Puritani' has the additional disadvantage of being obscure. On the other hand, the score is full of the most engaging melodies of the true Bellinian type. The part of Elvira, dramatically considered, may be uninteresting; but no prima donna who is mistress of the Italian style will willingly miss an opportunity of making herself heard in the beautiful 'Qui la voce,' and in the joyful sparkling polacca. The chief part however in the opera, in a musical if not in a dramatic sense, belongs to the tenor. Few tenors since the time of Rubini, for whom it was written, have had voices sufficiently high to be able to sing it from beginning to end in the original keys. Otherwise the charming romance in the first act, 'A te o cara,' and the melody of the final concerted piece—so refined and so elevated in character—could not but tempt our Marios and Giuglinis. Both these artists were, in fact, frequently heard in the character of Arturo. The company for which 'I Puritani' was written comprised as leading vocalists, Grisi, Rubini, Tamburini, and Lablache; and the distribution of characters when this work was first performed was the same, for a few years at least, in London as in Paris. 'I Puritani' was produced in London for the benefit of Madame Grisi in 1835; and the 'Puritani season' was remembered for years afterwards, and is still cited by experienced habitués, as one of the most brilliant ever known. We have spoken of the prima donna's Cavatina and of her polonaise 'Son Vergin vezzosa,' of the tenor's romance, and of his leading motive in the concerted piece of the last act; nor must we forget the duet in three movements for the baritone and bass—as fully developed and destined to be quite as popular as the duet for the two soprani in 'Norma.' As regards the spirited concluding movement in the military style, with its vigorous accompaniment of brass instruments, Rossini, writing of the opera from Paris to a friend at Milan, observed: 'It is unnecessary for me to describe the duet for the two basses; you must have heard it where you are.' 'I Puritani' was Bellini's last opera. Soon after its production he went on a visit to an English friend, Mr. Lewis, at Puteaux, at whose house he was attacked with an illness from which he never recovered. 'From his youth upwards,' says Mr. J. W. Mould in his 'Memoir of Bellini,' 'Vincenzo's eagerness in his art was such as to keep him at the piano day