Page:A Dictionary of Music and Musicians vol 2.djvu/525

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almost every Scene to have been designed for an accomplished Actor, as well as a finished Singer. The opportunities thus afforded for histrionic display are unlimited; while, as far as the Music is concerned, it seems almost incredible that such a host of treasures should have been so long forgotten for the works contain, not merely a few beautiful Songs, here and there, but scores of deathless Melodies, which only need to be as well known as 'Angels ever bright and fair,' or 'Let the bright Seraphim,' in order to attain an equally lasting popularity. It is true that a large proportion of these Songs were written for artificial Voices, now, happily, no longer cultivated: but, the Contralto parts invariably lie well within the range of Female Voices; while those originally designed for such Singers as Nicolini or Valeriano, might safely be entrusted to an accomplished Tenor an exchange with which we are all familiar in the case of some of our best-known Oratorio Music.[1] That the formality of the Libretti need no longer be regarded as an insuperable bar to their reproduction was sufficiently proved, in 1842, by the successful run which followed the revival of 'Acis and Galatea,' at Drury Lane, under the management of Macready. If a work never intended to be acted could command attention under such circumstances, surely it would not be too much to hope for the same success from Operas, such as 'Rinaldo,' or 'Ariadne,' full of equally beautiful Music, and expressly designed for a splendid mise en scène. An attempt has already been made by the revival of 'Almira,' Handel's first German opera, at the commemoration festival of the Hamburg Opera-house in Jan. 1878. Let us hope that some enterprising Manager will, one day, turn his attention to the still finer Italian Operas. Meanwhile, a clever party of Dilettanti might do good service to the cause of Art by testing their powers upon many detached Scenes, or even entire Acts, which they would find quite within their compass.

Though Handel's Operas so far excelled all others produced, either during his lifetime, or for many years after his death, they seem, except in a few isolated cases, to have excited very much less attention on the Continent than in our own country. While they were steadily increasing his fame and mining his fortune in London, a Ninth Period was progressing successfully on the banks of the Elbe, under the superintendence of the greatest of his contemporaries, Johann Adolph Hasse, a native of North Germany, who, after a long course of study in Naples, adopted the Italian style, and eventually settled in Dresden, where, between the years 1731 and 1763, he brought the Italian Opera to a higher state of perfection than it enjoyed in any other continental City. He died at Venice in 1783, leaving behind him more than 100 Operas, most of which exhibit great merit though little depth of inspiration, while all, probably, owed some part at least of their popularity to the matchless singing of his wife, the celebrated Faustina. To this Period belong also the Operas produced by Graun, at Brunswick and Berlin, between the years 1726 and 1759, and those written about the same time, by Fux, at Vienna. These compositions, though they never became equally famous, were undoubtedly greater, considered as works of Art, than those of Hasse; as were also those given to the world a little later by John Christian Bach. Meanwhile, good service was done, in Italy, by Vinci—one of the greatest geniuses of the age—Domenico Scarlatti, Leonardo Leo, Francesco Feo, Nicolo Porpora, and many other talented Composers whose works we have not space to notice, including the now almost forgotten Buononcini, who was by no means a poor Composer, and, but for his unfortunate contest with Handel, would probably have attained an European reputation. [See vol. i. 649 note.]

The history of our Tenth Period transports us once more to Naples, where rapid progress was made, about the middle of the 18th century, in a new direction. We have already described, in our Article Intermezzo, the gradual development of the Opera Buffa from the Interludes which were formerly presented between the Acts of an Opera Seria, or Spoken Drama. These light works were, at first, of very simple character: but a significant change in their construction was introduced by Nicolo Logroscino, a Neapolitan Composer, who first entertained the idea of bringing his principal Characters on

  1. It is by no means certain that the part of Acis was not originally intended for a Soprano Voice. The subject is not free from perplexities, which are increased by Handel's frequent custom of writing Tenor and Alto parts in the Treble (Violin) clef, when intended for English Singers. Even with Italian Singers there are difficulties. Concerning such Voices as those of Senesino, Carestini, and Farinelli, we hare already been told as much as it is desirable that we should know: but we should be thankful for more detailed information touching the Voci di Falsetto, both Soprano and Contralto, which were in common use In Italy before the middle of the 17th century. We know that until some time after the close of the 16th century Boys' Voices were used, not only in the Papal Choir, but in many royal and princely chapels, both in and out of Italy—as, for instance, that of Bavaria, when under the command of Orlando di Lasso. It is even certain that the part of Dafne, in Peri's 'Euridice,' was originally sung by Jacopo Giusti, 'un fasciulletto Lucchese'; though, except in England, Boys' Voices were not much used on the Stage. Their place was afterwards supplied, In Italy, by Falsetti, who sang extremely high notes, and managed them with wonderful skill, by virtue of some peculiar method which seems to be entirely lost—like the art of playing upon the old-fashioned Trumpet. Della Valla mentions a certain Giovanni Luca, who sang roulades and other 'passages which ascended as high as the stars'; and speaks highly of another Singer, called Ludovico Falsetto, whose Voice was of so lovely a quality, that a single long note sung by him was more charming than all the effects produced by later Singers, though he seems to have possessed but little execution, and to have pleased rather by the excellence of his method and the delicate sweetness of his sustained notes than by any extraordinary display of musical ability. These Falsetti were mostly Spaniards; but they found no difficulty in obtaining employment in Italy, where at one time they were preferred to Boys, whose Voices so frequently change just when they are beginning to sing with true expression. The last Soprano falsetto who sang in the Papal Chapel was a Spaniard named Giovanni de' Sanctos, who died in 1625. The first artificial Soprano was the Padre Girolamo Rossini da Perugia, a Priest of the Congregation of the Oratory, who was appointed a member of the Pontifical Choir in 1601, and died in 1644. From this time forward, artificial Voices were preferred to all others in Italy: but they were never tolerated in France, and only at the Italian Opera in England; the Soprano parts being still sung, in this country, by Boys, and the Contralto by adult Falsetti, as well on the Stage as in Cathedral Choirs. Ben Jonson's Lament for the little Performer for whom 'Death himself was sorry,' is familiar to every one. In the Masques sung in his day, the principal parts were almost always sung by Boys, who were generally selected from the Children of the King's Chapel. It was by these Boys that Handel's 'Esther' was sung, with dramatic action, in 1731; and he frequently used Boys' Voices in his later works. Thus a Boy, named Goodwill, aang in 'Acts and Galatea' in 1732. and in 'Athaliah' in 1735; anuther, called Robinson's Boy, in 'Israel In Ægypt' in 1738; and a third, named Savage, in 'Sosarme' in 1749, and 'Jephtha' in 1751.