THE ITALIAN OPERA.
THE success and prosperity of the Italian Opera during the present season forms a striking feature in the London world ; whose accus- tomed variety of amusements and attractions would seem to have expe- rienced a sensible diminution as compared with bygone seasons. In the gorgeous private entertainments offered by our magnates we do not pretend to be much interested, beyond the common forms of wonder and admiration at the triumphs of sensual luxury displayed in those expensive pageants. With the fate and fortunes of public temples of art the case is different : holding it as a matter of serious interest that the highest order of talent in every thing relating to the imaginative arts should receive cultivation, encouragement, and reward, we behold with pleasure, in the Italian Opera, the last results of a system which has for its object the achievement of perfection in the two most se- ductive forms of the drama—the lyrical and pantomimic. The modes in which that eternal desire implanted in the human soul, of having the fancy and the feelings excited and affected by scenic representation, shall be gratified, might not unfitly occupy the attention of philo- sophical statesmen, if they woull avail themselves of some of the most influential of the agents by which communities are acted upon through their emotions. It has been said as well as sung, a million of times, that the sure antagonist of low and coarse propensities is the cul- ture of art in its many noble forms ; and assuredly, if we look back upon antiquity for examples, the connexion between heroic sentiment and artistic perfection is abundantly borne out. Since the English mind, it must be admitted, is sensibly bending itself to a closer appreciation of the beautiful, we feel sanguine that the time is at hand when the aptitude for enjoyment of whatever is based upon sound principles of art—whether it appeal to the eye, as in ar- chitecture, or to the soul, as through painting and sculpture, or to the feelings, as through theatrical exhibitions—will be more and more recognized in our own good public of England. Neverthe- less, it is positively absurd to expect that any modern public, however animated with this susceptibility to merit, can be competent to dis- criminate its grades, or determine questioas which agitate the very summits of Olympus. The " celestials " must have their judges as well as the " infernals ' of old ; and if we fail in obtaining an oracular ver- dict in matters so fertile of differences in opinion as the claims of ge- nius, we may nevertheless look in vain for purer criticism than that emanating from the cognoscenti of our day, when we can obtain it di- vested from the suspicion of professional clique or individual bias. This, after all, must form the standard of operatic taste, and subjugate the fa shionables to its fiat, just as the dictum of Mr. COESVELDT, Mr. ROGERS, Lord COLBORNE, and other studious devotees of painting, im- poses upon the out-of-door dilettanti in that walk of art. Than this " Faculty " (as we may term it) as the genuine tribunal before which merit has to be tried, we conceive it not easy to devise a juster ; and if our Government ever came to meddle with the management of public amusements, this would be the " board " of suitable councillors whose opinion should guide the ruler's decisions. Much as we Englishmen are disposed to view such an interference with distrust, yet there is an immense advantage in separating from the management of national theatres the calculations of temporary gain. The effects of sordid and selfish motives in vulgarizing popular taste, in discouraging high and severely-schooled artists, and fostering the favourites of noble patrons because it answers the ends of the temporary manager to play into their hands,—these and more evils might be adduced as detracting from the value of independent enterprise in reference to the great theatres of public resort. That a strong objection would be raised against the policy of taxing the general public to sustain a metropolitan theatre, cannot be doubted. But the idea of a common benefit and of general social purposes is not altogether inconceivable in 1843 ' • and if need were, we could undertake to disarm the honest Norwich or Sheffield citizen's plaint, in case the matter were mooted, even in the teeth of certain bastard Utilitarian chatter about the practical wants of society. " Society " wants to be happy. Here is the alpha and omega of all moral theories ; and a " want " for refined recreations and the myste- rious pleasures of association, to be shared with mixed and sympathizing crowds, is one of the last sources of happiness which we would consent to forego. But to return to the Opera as it is. In regard to singers, the real merit of the male artist is seldom misunderstood or underrated. Accordingly, men singers are fairly applauded, and, if of the first class, prodigiously cherished, because of their exceeding rarity. Female singers are rarely tested with equal accuracy, because our critics require the twofold qualities of artist and woman. Hence a singer is often disparaged, as such, for want of physical charms, whilst a lovely creature, of half her pretensions to vocal powers, shall eclipse the accomplished musician "with the ugly mouth. ' However, it is in England rather than on the Continent of Europe that this false balance is in use ; which arises e from the fact of our dilettanti being men of rank and wealth, and less hearty votaries of art than of gallantry ; whereas the opera-goers of Italy and Germany are musical enthusiasts, and quite capable of tole- rating a clumsy, fat prima donna, if she but sings well. The aggre- gate of awartist's reputation at the present day being composed of the applause yielded by Continental and British audiences, varying in amount with the accieental tastes of each country, it follows that a drat- class reputation must be based on the possession of gifts and attainments such as can appeal to amateurs of all countries. Thus, we have a kind of security for the maintenance of the permanent supremacy of a high standard of excellence, whilst it is very desirable that all Europe should share the enjoyment of each great artist's talents in turn, as a means of diffusing a general sentiment of admiration for true genius. After all, it is tolerably well understood, now, that we in England may calculate upon possessing the finest talent which European gifts and discipline can furnish, as well as upon a discerning tribunal before which it shall be tested. How the sanction of this tribunal is brought to bear upon the march of affairs, it were difficult to explain ; but sure we are that, openly or covertly, the exigencies of cognoscenti do force managers to purvey "the best" of every kind for the public. An undefinable " something," portentous when unfavourable, and rapid in its influences for good or evil, holds unseen yet effective sway over the destinies of the establishment, and insures us, within given limits, against all short- comings, if not against occasional blunders of detail.
What we have said of criticism and its uses applies chiefly to singers and actors. In reference to dancing, English audiences are absolutely unskilled in detecting the merits of individual artists. They either accept a Parisian reputation on trust, or they take a fancy for one of the errant children of Terpsichore, not so avouched, and exalt her to the skies without knowing why, except that she is very pleasing, arch, flies like a bird, has soft eyes, or some other equally good reason. If it be a man, the fine gentlemen disparage his feats by saying they do not like to see men dance ; whilst the fine ladies naturally parrot the pre- judice, for obvious reasons. Thus, the advantage of vigorous muscular power and masculine symmetry, so conducive to the perfect exhibition of agile grace, is set aside by the sickly and impertinent sneers of persons for whom this divine art has no charms except in reference to sensual objects. Again, the utmost finish and grandeur of style, certainty of execution, graceful combination—what you will, in short—on the part of a danseuse, shall be displayed to lifeless beholders, unless the fair one happen to enjoy the protection of the aristocratic patrons of the Opera, who choose to consider the corps de ballet as a sort of " pre- serve " for their exclusive advantage. All this, however, signifieth mighty little, since, for the reasons stated above, we are certain to have all that is celebrated in Europe on this stage, by turns, and since the danseuses, on coming hither, lay their account with the chances of dancing before the most discouraging audiences in existence, and to being paid by the treasury alone. The art of dancing, in fact, would degenerate into a mere exhibition of voluptuous, undulatory, floating movements, were it not that our neighbours cherish and care for it in its noblest and most classical impersonations. They therefore uphold what is really deserving of the name of a "school," conjunctively with the peculiar form of pantomime called a Ballet d'action ; in virtue of which we enjoy the twofold excellences of that mistress of both arts, FANNY ELMER.