Viewing Donisetti's opera, I Afartiri, produced this week at Covent
Garden, as a theatrical spectacle, it is one of the most gorgeous that we have ever seen ; and in this respect it fulfilled its original destination for the Parisian stage, as a " tragedie lyrique," or grand serious opera, in which the gratification of the eye has always been a primary requisite. But viewing it either as a dramatic or a musical work, it cannot be held in high estimation, nor placed among the classics of the musical stage. The libretto is closely copied from Corneille's Iblyeuete, a grand but heavy tragedy on the subject of the persecution and martyrdom of the
early Christians under the Roman empire ; a subject, we think, which must be generally regarded, everywhere but in France, as too sacred and solemn to be associated with the amusements of the stage. The piece,
moreover, is too monstrously dark and gloomy to give pleasure as an en- tertainment, 'while the truly French device of relieving it by a little pro- fane love,—making the Christian heroine indulge in the feeling, at least, of this passion for another man besides her husband,—only makes it more objectionable in England. The opera, besides, is dramatically weak. Corneille's incidents are preserved, but the strength and grandeur of his lofty though rugged poetry are completely lost in the Italian libretto. Indeed, in turning a tragedy into an opera this must always be tho case. The form and outline may be retained, but the original colouring of the poet must be exchanged for the new colouring of the musician. In the Martini, consequently, we have the design of Corneille with the colouring of Donizetti. Had Meyerbeer been Scribe's collabo- rateur on this as on other occasions, we might perhaps have obtained a picture like the Huguenots or the .Prophae, notwithstanding the inferior aptitude of the subject for great musical effects ; but Donizetti has shown himself lamentably incompetent to the task. He has evinced greater technical skill in harmony and instrumentation than in his earlier works ; but we find (speaking of the music generally, for he has had two or three happy but transient inspirations) the same poverty of invention, the same trite and hacknied phrases, the same lack of true dramatic expression, and the same endeavour to make noise serve as a substitute for strength, which have characterized this composer during his whole career. The success of the piece at Covent Garden (for it is successful for the time) must be ascribed to the great merit of the performers. Mademoi- selle Jullienne, from the Grand French Opera, who sustains the part of the heroine, is a great acquisition to eur stage. Her voice, naturally a strong soprano, has evidently gone through the severe discipline necessary for the exigencies of the modern French opera. Her flights into the most extreme regions of the scale cost her no perceptible effort ; though there is an unnatural eluilneas in these excessively high notes, sing them as you may, and it is certain that their practice has -been in Paris the rule of many a beautiful organ. The part of Pollute, written for Dupree, 1$ full of similar passages, and severely tries Tamberlik'p powers ; but he triumphantly overcomes every difficulty. Both of these performers glee charms to the music which intrinsically it does not possess; and their acting, throughout, is full of energy and passion. Ronconi's part, Severest gives small scope to his talents ; musically speaking, indeed, it is a nullity. In the orchestral and choral department, it is hardly necessary to add, the best qualities of the music are displayed to the greatest advantage. The spectacle is not only gorgeous, as we have said, but remarkable for taste and classical propriety. The triumphal entry of the Proconsul has lover been equalled, as far ae we rememher, except by the pageant of a simiLer kind, and on the same stage, when Coriolasum was produced by Mr. Mac, ready. But this scene is spoiled by the long, silly, ill-executed ballet, which should be out out altogether. The applause on the first night was immense ; but, though often justly due to the excellence of the performance, it was very far from discrinn- natmg, passages of mere noise and clamour producing more excitemeel than the finest traits of art. In pile scene where Jullienne and Tamber.hk screamed out in liaison (or rather octaves) a most vulgar and unnleallinA duet, at the lititiest stretch of their voices, accompanied by 11 very hurri- cane of noise from the orchestra, the pit were so transported that the' shouted till the singers returned and made their bows and curtsies three or four times. It is too much to expect goad taste behind the curtain when there is so much bad taste before it.
After the ponderous dulness of Donizetti, we found Rossini's airy gayety and grace even more refreshing than usual, when we heard the music of the Barbiere, at the elder house, on Duraday. It was indeed an exhila- rating entertainment. There was at piquancy and spirit in Cravelles Realm, with some extravagance of action; we agree with those morning critics who object that she earned the licence of embellishment far beyond its legitimate bounds—so far, indeed, as often to render it im- possible to recognize Rossini's music. Lablache appears to have laid in a new stock of health and. vigour ; and we have never seen his Bartolo more replete with rich-and genuine humour. Belletti played Figaro with great spirit, and sang the brilliant music of the part with admirable clear- ness and finish. Calzolari is a very good Count Almavira ; but we do not see why the part should have been taken from Gardoni, who certainly has the advantage both in voice and appearance. The new baritone, Feriotti, gave a very ingenious and artistic reading of Basilic', a part which seldom finds an actor who understands it.
The Wagner affair is assuming a really absurd aspect. The morning papers of last Monday had a paragraph, evidently demi-official, stating, that Mademoiselle Johanna Wagner, accompanied by her father, her friend Dr. Becher, of Vienna, Mr. Lumley, of Her Majesty's Theatre, Mr. Mitchell, and the Count and Countess Rossi, (Madame Sontag,) left Hamburg by spe- cial train on Saturday morning en route for London!'
On reading this, we thought the question settled ; but in the course of the same day we were positively informed that Mademoiselle Wagner had been to Covent Garden Theatre ; and on Tuesday night we saw her there, seated in the front of a box, along with Mr. Gye. Her appearance at the Royal Italian Opera this evening, in the character of _Fides, has been announced since Wednesday morning : and yet Mr. Lumley has not only continued all the week to repeat his advertisement that " the talent of Mademoiselle Wagner is secured exclusively for Her Majesty's Theatre, by an engagement dated" so and so, but to announce that "due notice will be given of her first appearance." In this manner Mr. Lumley absolutely ignored the existence of any other en- gagement till yesterday morning, when he was brought forward by a letter which appeared in some of the newspapers the day before, from Mademoiselle Wagner's father. He, admitting that there had been an engagement with Mr. Lumley, detailed the circumstances attending an alleged breach of it on his part by failing to pay a sum of money at the stipulated time. On this, Mr. Lumley published a letter in yesterday morning's papers, denying the truth of Mr. Wagner's statement, and promising to lay the real circumstances of the case before the public ; on whose impartial judgment, he said, he should place himself without fear. But, while he does this, he still continues to announce that " due notice will be given of the first appearance of Mademoiselle Johanna Wagner" ! This is both trifling with the public and stultifying himself; on the very eve of Mademoiselle Wagner's first appearance at the rival theatre.* Of the legal merits of the question we know nothing; but, even assuming Mr. Albert Wagner's statement to be correct, there seems to have been "sharp practice" on the part of the Covent Garden management. Mr. Gye, before the season began, interfered with Mr. Lumley's engagement, and tried to induce Mademoiselle Wagner to break it off. " Early in March last," says Mr. Wagner, " Mademoiselle Wagner received a letter from Mr. Gye, saying he had heard that her contract with Mr. Lumley was not likely to be carried out, and that there was still an opening for her at his (Mr. Gye's) theatre." Having received no answer, Mr. Gye wrote again, and afterwards repaired to Hamburg ; where he learned that, Mr. Lumley being behindhand with the stipulated 3001., Made- moiselle Wagner was free to make another engagement " We were even then," says Mr. Wagner, "desirous that Mr. Gye should wait a day or two in Hamburg, upon the chance of Mr. Lumley or his agent bringing the sum in question ; but the reply of Mr. Gye was, that his avocations at that time rendered it impossible for him to remain longer absent from London, and that my daughter must at once accept or refuse his offer." And so Mademoiselle Wagner engaged with Mr. Gye. Now we say, assuming these to be the facts, Mr. Gye may legally justify the transaction by appealing, like Shylock, to "the bond" ; but there seems to have been at the bottom of it a feeling akin to that which first prompted the establishment of the Royal Italian Opera. To deprive Mr. Lumley of Wagner may be a heavy blow to hint, without corresponding advan- tage to the other house, where there are already abundance of first women. The affair shows the folly of the now prevailing practice of periling the fortunes of a theatre on the possession of one of those " wandering stars" whose movements are more erratic than the most eccentric comet, instead of resting on the solid basis of a complete and well-organized company.
• The above was in type before we were cognizant of yesterday's proceed- ings in the Court of the Vice-Chancellor, reported at great length in the morning papers, and briefly noticed in our Postscript. They do not affect our remarks ; for, whatever the success or failure of Mr. Gye, at must have been certain for some time that Mademoiselle Wagner was not to perform at Mr. Lumley's theatre. On the other hand, the ingenuous 'cuteness which makes Mr. Wagner hold, that "England is only to be valued for the sake of her money,' and suggested that he should play off Gye against Lumley to ex- tract the largest amount of " rem, quocunque modo," seems likely to defeat itself. Two strings to your bow, used both at once' may only become en- tangled in each other. To jilt one house with the hope of getting into a better, may end by getting into Chancery.