Page:A Dictionary of Music and Musicians vol 2.djvu/521

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OPERA.

cantate* serve to show that the puerilities which had amused the Venetians in the time of Freschi and Ziani, had not yet passed entirely out of fashion, and that the Lyric Drama was till disfigured by anomalies which needed careful excision. When Italian Operas were first intro- duced into this country, in place of the miserable productions which succeeded the really great works of Purcell, they were performed by a mixed company of Italians and Englishmen, each of whom sang in his own language. A similar absurdity had long prevailed in Hamburg, where the Airs of certain popular Operas were sung in Italian, and the Recitatives in German ; and even in Italy the conventionalities of fashion, and the jealousies of favourite Singers, exercised a far more potent influence upon the progress of Dramatic Art than was consistent with true aesthetic principles. During the greater part of the 1 8th century, the laws which regulated the construction of an Opera were so severely formal, that the Composer was not permitted to use his own discretion, even withregard to the distribution of the Voices he employed. The orthodox num- ber of Personaggi was six three Women and three Men ; or, at most, three Women assisted by four Men. The First Woman (Prima donna) was always a high Soprano, and the Second or Third a Contralto. Sometimes a Woman was permitted to sing a Man's part, especially if her voice, like those of Mrs. Barbier and Mrs. Anastasia Robinson, happened to be a low one : but, in any case, it was de rigueur that the First Man (Primo uomo) should be an artificial So- prano, even though the role assigned to him might be that of Theseus or Hercules. The Second Man was either a Soprano, like the first, or an artificial Contralto ; and the Third, a Tenor. When a Fourth male Character (Ul- tima parte) was introduced, the part was most frequently allotted to a Bass : but Operas were by no means uncommon in which, as in Handel's ' Teseo,' the entire staff" of male Singers consisted of artificial Sopranos and Contraltos, who mono- polised all the principal Songs, and upon whose popularity for the time being the success of the work in no small degree depended.

The Airs entrusted to these several performers were arranged in five unvarying Classes, each distinguished by some well-defined peculiarity of style, though not of general design ; the same mechanical form, consisting of a First and Second Part, followed by the indispensable Da Capo, being common to all alike.

I. The Aria eantabile was a quiet Slow Move- ment, characterised, in the works of the best Masters, by a certain tender pathos which seldom tailed to please, and so contrived as to afford frequent opportunities for the introduction of extempore ornamentation at the discretion of the Singer. Its accompaniment, always very simple, was limited in most cases to a plain Thorough- Bass, the chords of which were filled in upon the Harpsichord. The following beautiful melody, from Handel's ' Tolomeo,' was sung with great effect by Signora Faustina, in the year 1 728.

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2. The .4n<* di portamento was also a Slow Movement, and generally a very telling one. Its Rhythm was more strongly marked than that of the Aria eantabile, its style more measured, and its Melody of a more decidedly symmetrical character, freely interspersed with sustained and swelling notes, but affording few opportunities for the introduction of extempore embellishments. Flowing and graceful in design, its expression was rather sedate and dignified than passionate ; and its Accompaniment rarely extended beyond a well-phrased Thorough-Bass, with one or two Violins, used chiefly in the Symphonies. The following example is from Handel's ' Riccardo Primo,' in which Opera it was first sung, by Signora Cuzzoni, in the year 1727.

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���3. The Aria di mezzo carattere was open to

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