THE ENGLISH OPERA-HOUSE.
OUR lyric drama has made another struggle for existence ; and, for the first time, it has found a home of its own and been placed under the direction of a musician. Regarded as an unwelcome intruder by every successive manager from the days of BETTERTON to those of MAC- READY, it has always obtained reluctant entrance into the Metropolitan Theatres. The brilliant talents of an individual singer have sometimes induced the self-interest of managers to give the opera a turn ; but the liberal expenditure necessary to impart completeness and perfection to a musical drama, and the assiduous preparation such a work demands, have rarely, and only by accident or private interest, been conceded. Nor was this theatre, though named the English Opera-house, designed to nurture our national lyric drama. The medallions of MOZART and WEBER, which grace its proscenium, were typical of the designed cha- racter of the theatre and tone of its management. It was any thing but an English opera-house. The late experiment at St. James's Theatre hardly deserves notice : BARNE'TT stumbled at the first step- fell—and rose no more. BALFE'S essay, therefore, forms a new and im- portant mra in the history of our dramatic music. He enters upon his arduous and up-hill duty possessed of many qualifications necessary and calculated to insure him success. Though young and active, he has had more experience in the management of musical theatres abroad than any other of our composers. He knows how to arrange his ma- terials like a workman, and to set his wares off to the best advantage. He is fertile in resources, and not easily appalled by difficulties. His troops feel that they are under the command of a skilful tactician, who knows every nian's duty and will exact its fulfilment. "We have to beg your indulgence for many imperfections," said BALFE when an- nouncing his opera for repetition, "for we have had only three weeks to produce it." This expression, at which our theatrical managers would stare, evinced BALFE'S opinion of the preparation required for such a work. Many an opera has been produced with only a single full re- hearsal; our managers having always regarded the time and money employed in this sort of preparation as a useless waste of both. The appointments of the theatre are excellent. A large and admir- able band, under the able direction of LODER, and a chorus more nu- merous and more carefully trained than we have ever seen on an Eng- lish stage, constitute a solid and substantial basis on which to erect any superstructure. There is no screwing or pinching—every thing con- nected with these important departments is liberally supplied. The wind instruments are first-rate—G. COOKE, MixAst, Lezenus, and GODFREY, are the oboe, flauto, clarinetto e fagotto principali. The prin- cipal singers are Madame BALFE, Miss GOULD, Miss HOWARD, Messrs. WILSON, PHILLIPS, STRETTON, and BARKER; OfWhOM, regarded col- lectively, it will be sufficient to say that they constitute an effective if not a powerful vocal corps. Here, then, are means and elements to sustain the reputation of English dramatic music, if they be judiciously and worthily em- ployed: the rest remains with the public. Perhaps the manager was right, considering the usual thirst for novelty, to begin with a new opera ; and on Tuesday night his campaign opened with Keolanthe, or. the Unearthly Bride; of which the following is the plot. The opera opens with a chorus of students carousing in the apartment of Andrea, who is receiving their congratulations on his approaching marriage with Pavina. Andrea has copied from the lid of a sarcophagus the portrait of an Egyptian princess, whose beauty occupies his waking and dreaming hours ; and when be retires to his couch, Ombrastro, the Spirit of the Nile, (a mocking Send, of the Mephistopheles order,) appears, and offers to teach him a spell by which he may reanimate the Princess Keolanthe, who has been dead nearly a thousand years. Andrea signifies his readiness to undertake any thing by
*Which he may gain a sight of Keolanthe ; and on the instant they are both trans- to Egypt, and to the Great Pyramid, which contains the tomb of the
rirnleas. Here the resuscitation takes place. The Princess sees in Andrea the image of her former love ; and they are united in wedlock by the High Priest of Osiris. The first act terminates with a grand chorus of priests, re- suscitated mummies, &c. &e. The second act opens with a fete at the Sicilian palace of the Prince and Princess: during which, an announcement is made to Andrea, that a young lady has fainted at the palace-gate, and her brother en- treats shelter for her. They are both admitted ; when, behold, Andrea dis- covers in the lady his betrothed Pavina, and in the gentleman her brother Filinpo Pavina sees Andrea the husband of another, and dies : her brother challenges Andrea, and is killed by him apparently, but really by the fiend Ombrastro : the officers of the Inquisition arrive, and are about to drag the sur- viving duellist to the torture ; but he is saved from their fury by the interposition of Keolanthe. Ombrastm here informs her that Andrea is the destroyer of Pavina; whereupon she cuts him off, mid he is consigned to despair. The con- Chiding scene shows the student on his couch as in the first scene: he is roused from his slumbers by Filippo and Pavina and his friends ; he discovers that he has had a strange wild dream; and the piece ends happily, by the marriage of Pavina and Andrea.
There needed not any printed announcement of the fact that this
drama came from the Sadler's Wells or Pavilion mint, or that the same hand which is accustomed to provide horrors and fun for Islington and Wbiteeltipel was now engaged west of Temple Bar. The wretched slang of the dialogue is only rivalled by the nauseous twaddle of the rhymes. Let the latter speak for themselves : these are the words of the heroine's principal song- " Let me hear Thy voice, dear,
Soft as music sounding, Through yon grove, Where with love Gentle hearts are bounding.
'Mid life's storm Wrap my form : All I'll brave for thee, love; While I bear
Thy voice near,
Grief is joy to me, love.
As the time
Welcome chime To the lost benightzd, So this heart, Where thou art,
Springs up, heaven- delighted."
If Mr. BALFE'S intention is to justify ADDISON'S accusation, that "composers think any nonsense is good enough to be set to music," and to adopt this jeer as his rule of action, he is wrong. Such slang as this—and of such the opera is made up—is an insult to his audience and to his art. Does he remember that the English opera boasts an alliance with SHAKSPERE, MILTON JONSON, PLETCHER, DRYDEN, N THOMSON, and SHERIDA ? and can he imagine, with such a fact before our eyes, and all the welcome reminiscences it brings, that we can condescend, after having tasted the purest waters of poetry, to drink of this Whitechapel puddle?
The music of Keolanthe may be regarded as a favourable specimen of its author's talents. There are some very pleasing melodies, and the concerted pieces are effectively arranged for dramatic effect. Few of either will bear transplanting into the concert-room. The trio, "Sweetly sleep," is one of the few ; although much of its success re- sulted from the agreeable contrast it afforded to the constant roar of the orchestra. It is scarcely necessary for us to state, that in the phrase- ology of his melodies, in the construction of his songs and concerted pieces, as in his instrumentation, 13ALFE has followed the model of the modern Italian opera. That is his school ; he can write in no other ; and in saying that on this ground he is at least the equal of his contemporaries, we pay him no great compliment. He may, not im- probably, fall into the error of supposing that in presenting to his hearers the reminiscences of La Scala set to English words, he is producing an English opera. We would warn him against so fatal a mistake. Those who seek recreation in the music of this school -will resort to the Italian opera ; all foreign versions of which, be they English, French, or German, are but feeble copies or caricatures of the original,'which can be displayed by Italian singers alone. PHILLIPS'S part, for example, was a complete failure. The rapid articulation of syllables, easy to the Italian, is a toil if not an impossibility to the English one ; and instead of hearing PHILLIPS sing, we had to listen to his vain attempt to chatter. It is the more necessary to recall to the manager's attention that the English opera is not Italian music set to English words, since on the very first night he made the ominous conjunction of BALFE and DONI- zErri—Neolanthe being followed by an English version of Betty, a tasteless bash of commonplace passages, strung together by the Italian Orpheus of the present day, and called an opera. So like was the style of the two pieces, that the latter seemed to our ears like the feeble echo of the former. To an opera like Keolanthe, Italian in every thing save the words—which are not English—should have succeeded some piece of the English school ; such as No Song no Supper (full of charming rausic)—The Padlock, The Quaker, The Waterman. We should then have beard English singers in that style in which alone they can excel. With the Italian opera on one side and the German on the other, the manager of an English opera-house can only hope to find or secure a standing by attaching himself to the national lyric drama. We are not now discussing the relative merits of the three schools : we only mean to say, that those of Germany or Italy are not now available to the manager of an English opera-house. The ground is occupied— against him the door is shut. The class of hearers to whom he must address himself are those who prefer, or desire in its turn to hear, the music of the English school. The exclusive devotees of either the German or Italian be will vainly endeavour to attract, simply because their tastes can be elsewhere better gratified. His appeal must be made to another and a larger class. It remains that we speak of the performance of Keolanthe. The effect of Mr. BALFE'S "only three weeks' preparation" was agreeably apparent. We have never witnessed so finished a first performance of an opera in any English theatre. Madame BALFE, of whom we have before had occasion to speak as a concert-singer, is a valuable acquisi- tion to the stage ; which is obviously her proper field. To a graceful figure and animated countenance she adds the demeanour and enthu- siasm of an Italian lady. She sang, generally, with great sweetness and truth; bat was sometimes a victim to the noise with which songs are now-a-days smothered, and the habit thence engendered of scream- ing in place of singing. Miss Gonus and Miss Flowenn each made a successful debat ; although the music they had to Bing was little calcu- lated to call forth any other gift in a singer than a display of voice. In this, the first essential, we can report favourably of both : of the other requisites we must speak when we have heard them employed on a better order of music. WH.sene was received on his return from Ame- rica with cordial applause ; and his song, "While thus I gaze on those dear eyes," was the only genuine encore. Of PHILLIPS'S part we have already spoketa. All the scenic appendages and other addenda were well contrived, and contributed to the success of the piece. The house was crowded in every part ; and although the indiscreet zeal of friends was sometimes conspicuous, the real sympathies of the audience were evidently with BALFE; who announced the repetition of his opera with general and hearty applause.