Page:Romain Rolland Handel.djvu/26

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GEORGE FREDERICK HANDEL

I have told elsewhere[1] the story of this period of theatrical history in Hamburg, of which the golden age was certainly between 1692 and 1703. Many conditions contributed to the establishment of a good Theatre and Opera at Hamburg; money and the wealthy patrons disposed to expend it, an excellent band of instruments, good but small in number, a scenic art well advanced, a luxury of decoration and machinery, renowned poets, musicians of great value, and, rarest of all, the poets and musicians who assembled from "die sich wohl verstanden," as Mattheson wrote. The poets were named Bressand of Wolfenbüttel, who was inspired by the French theatre, and Christian Postel, whom Chrysander calls very complacently a German Metastasio. The feeblest part was the singing. For a long time the Hamburg Opera had no professional singers. The rôles were taken by students and artisans, by shoemakers, tailors, fruiterers, and girls of little talent and less virtue; generally the artisans found it more convenient themselves to take the female rôles. Men and women alike had a profound ignorance of music. Towards 1693 the Opera at Hamburg was fortunately completely transformed from top to bottom by the great Kapellmeister Sigismund Cousser, who introduced reforms in the orchestra after the French model, and in the singing on Italian lines. France was represented in his eyes (as for all foreign musicians) by the personage of Lully, by whom Cousser was trained for six years in Paris. Italy

  1. Histoire de l'Opera avant Lully et Scarlatti, 1895, pp. 217-222.