13 MARCH 1852, Page 9

tatrt5 au1 3ituoir.

Balfe's new opera, The Sicilian Bride, produced at Drury Lane on Saturday last, was leas brilliantly successful than some of his previous works have been, though we believe that none of those pieces are of su- perior merit. He had adopted the ponderous form of French grand opera, and the audience became fatigued before his four long acts came to a close; and he had exchanged hisagreeable Italian style for the more operose and imposing but much less poftlar manner of the modern Ger- man school. His subject., though turning on a new and striking inci- dent, was overloaded with irrelevant and superfluous matter. Lastly, the piece was evidently brought out with a haste and precipitation which injured its first performance. The plot, in its essentials, is sufficiently simple. The conspiracy of the nobles of Sicily which ended in the "Sicilian Vespers" and the expulsion of the surviving French from the island, is on the eve of breaking out. A lady, the newly-married wife of one of the conspirators, is admitted to their secret conclave, and (being probably a better pen- woman than the unlettered soldiers of that day) acts as secretary to their deliberations, writing down the list of their names and their plan of action. The French Governor, who has a design upon her honour, in- vites her with her father to a fête ; a sleeping-draught is administered, and she is conveyed to a solitary apartment, whither the Governor follows her. She rises in her sleep from the couch on which she has been placed ; mutters alarming words ; and at length sits down at a table and begins to write the names and plans of the conspirators as she had done before. The Governor possesses himself of the paper, and leaves her alone and unconscious of what she has done. Thus aware of the intended rising, the Governor surrounds with his troops the place of rendezvous, overpowers the conspirators, and makes them prisoners ; taunting them with the treachery of one of their own number who has divulged their plot ; and this traitor, he asserts, is Rodolfo, the husband of Bianca. Rodolfo of course denies the impeachment; the Governor pri- vately shows him the scroll, and the unhappy husband sees the hand- writing of his wife. The prisoners are condemned to death ; but the tide of fortune suddenly turns—they are rescued by their countrymen, and the French arc destroyed or driven to their ships. The victorious Sicilians now bring Rodolfo to trial; and his condemnation has been pronounced, when the French Governor, stung with remorse, suddenly appears among them and exculpates both the husband and wife by relating the truth. The leading circumstance of this story is a happy thought, naturally giving rise to situations of great interest and strong passion. It furnishes materials sufficient for an opera of ordinary dimensions; but it is over- laid with useless incidents and characters. There is so much said about an inveterate feud between the families of the husband and the wife, that we imagined for a good while that we were to have a new edition of the Montagues and Capuleta ; but it all ended in nothing, without having the slightest bearing on the action of the piece. The quantity of extraneous matter thus introduced diluted the strength of the situations, and gave an air of heaviness to the whole, very unfavourable to the composer of the music.

Mr. Belle, as we have said, has considerably Germanized his style. The French dramatist, M. de St. Georges, (Mr. Bunn being only the translator,) has given scope for the grandiose effects of the Grand Opera stage by the introduction of great choruses and concerted scenes of large and busy groups of people. In the production of these effects and the -treatment of these scenes Balfe has emulated Meyerbeer, and often with ninth success. There are several festive choruses of country-people in which the graceful Sicilian measures are charmingly employed ; and there are others of a graver character, such as the chorus of the conspira- tors, "'Tie the voice of our country," which rise to great strength and .energy. The long and highly-wrought finale to the second act, full of rapid and animated action, is a masterpiece both in. the clearness of its construction and the spirit and beauty of its details. The concerted music of the scene in the armourer's forge, in which the conspirators are assembled to make their outbreak, is of a highly picturesque as well as dramatic character. In these passages, and in many others, Balfe has manifestly surpassed all his previous efforts, whether in construction, .combination, or the use of the orchestra ; and his music is of a kind which will be more enjoyed the oftener it is heard. The solo pieces are of a less remarkable description, though the com- poser doubtless depended on them for the popularity of his opera. Most 4:if them are in the ballad form, and in the style which Balfe has made so familiar to the public. They have a sort of trivial prettiness, and are pleasant for singing to the piano at an evening party ; but they are out of keeping with the better portion of the music, and are not only un- -dramatic but anti-dramatic ; for, being lugged in a propos de rien, they destroy the march of the action, and reduce the performers to mere con- cert-singers labouring to gain an encore.

The performance on the first night was very imperfect. In the choral and concerted music, both the voices and instruments were often in con- fusion, and endeavoured by loudness to make up for want of clearness. The haste to bring out the piece had occasioned unremitting and laborious rehearsals, which fatigued the principal singers. Reeves's voice had lost much of its brilliancy ; and the debutante prima donna, Miss Crichton, though she often sang magnificently, was evidently under the influence of over-exertion and over-excitement. At the second performance, on Tues- day, things went much better : the piece was condensed and shortened ; the performers, after an interval of repose, sang with renewed vigour ; the concerted and orchestral music was better executed ; and the whole per- formance was warmly applauded by a full house.