Page images
PDF
EPUB

The borrower at unlawful interest can have no such justification, for he knows full well that society could derive no advantage from the punishment of usury. It is the lender alone who would be affected by his treachery.

We here conclude our remarks upon this subject; as an apology for them, we have placed at the head of this paper,

the title of Mr. Bentham's treatise. We perceive that the committee of the legislature of New York, appointed to enquire into the expediency of repealing the usury laws of that state, have adopted this treatise as their report. Hence its republication. The work is pregnant with striking facts and irresistible reasoning, and we would be well pleased if the legislature of Pennsylvania would profit by the example.

Art. VIII.--La Esmeralda, opera en quatre actes, musique

de Mademoiselle Louise Bertin, paroles de M. Victor Hugo: représenté pour la première fois sur le Théatre de L'Académie Royale de Musique. Le 14 Novembre, 1836.

The grand opera of Paris, technically termed the Royal Academy of Music, is the most finished and accomplished institution, of its kind, that the world has known. A magnificent salle, stage of unusual dimensions, an orchestra composed of eighty chosen graduates of the Royal Conservatory, an array of vocal and dramatic talent of a high order, a numerous troupe of well drilled choristers, an unrivalled

corps de ballet, led by the élite of all European dancers--to which is added every possible contribution, of architecture, of scenery, of decorations, and of appropriate costume, towards enhancing the brilliancy of the spectacle--all these elements of beauty and of splendour render it a barometer of the musical taste of the Parisians. Hear the same walls, which near seventy years ago rung with enthusiastic admiration of Glück's Iphigenia, now re-echoing the thousand continued plaudits elicited by the admirable productions of Meyer Beer !

The influence of this institution seemed to have attained its maximum in 1832--a year stamped indelibly as an era in the annals of music. Rossini had retired upon his laurels—the great Italian had become indolent, satiate of fame--mayhap his resources somewhat impaired, and he himself too prudent to destroy, as many others have done, with his own hands, living fame and a bright prospect of immortality. Some years previous he had contracted to deliver a partition every two years to the Grand Opera. Moïse and the Siege of Corinth (lately

reproduced with little success) are generally known to our musical readers; not so the Comte Ory, an exquisite two act musical comedy, which succeeded them. Its hero, the count, is a French, in the same degree as il dissoluto punito of Mozart was a cosmopolite, Don Giovanni. He has not even existed long enough to know the value of a “catalogue” of his bonnes fortunes, but lives rovingly on, the creature of impulse and of caprice. In the opening act he is disguised as a hermit-his cell without the walls of a castle—the fair châtelaine of which “hath caught his eye." Nothing can be more seducing than

the lay,

“Que le destin prospère.” in which he gives his benediction to the troupe of pretty peasants who deposite, before his door, their offerings of fruits and flowers. It entices from the castle its dame and her attendants

see how confidingly they enter the net of assumed sanctity! The count is in ecstasy--she invites him to shrive her within her domicile--nay.more, she takes him by the hand--when lo ! as they approach the drawbridge, enter the count's tutor, who proclaims a name which fills with terror, yet with curiosity, every female bosom:

C'est le Comte Ory.In an instant the cowl is withdrawn, the stole cast off, and, the beard once removed, behold in lieu of anchorite a gay young knight. A moment before we were melted by the touching pathos of his benediction--now listen to his audacious defiance ! The curtain drops.

At the opening of the second act we are within the castle--a tempest peals through its battlements--in the interval between two fortissimi crescendos of thunder, we hear that unrivalled quartett of female voices supplicating refuge from the storm,

"Noble châtelaine

Voyez notre peine;" and the seneschal admits a band of pilgrim nuns, fleeing before the blasts of heaven, and the impious persecution of ce chant Comte Ory! a supper of fruits and milk is served up to these sanct maidens who, strange to say, seem not to relish such frugal fare. The Lady Isabelle retires and leaves the holy sisters to their devotions. But, oh surprise! the cloak and hood fall off—for nuns, read reckless knights—their leader the Comte Ory! One of the party enters with two jars of wine, and the walls resound with the revelry of

“ A la bonne folie
C'est charmant-c'est divin,
Le plaisir nous convie

A ce joyeux festin.”
VOL. XXI.-NO. 41.

21

At dead of night the count arises and prowls about the castle -a dangerous lion at such an hour and in such a place—but just as matters approach a dénouement, a trumpet sounds a flourish without, and the lord of the castle returns with his followers from the holy land. The lady is thus rescued from danger, and her pursuer forced with his companions to accept their liberty as a boon.

After the Comte Ory, the “Swan of Pesaro" set the seal to his immortality by the production of Guillaume Tell. Months previously to this event, all Europe awaited with breathless interest the appearance of this noble drama.

On the night of its first representation, the Grand Opera was crowded to excess, and

a seat was sold as high as one hundred and fifty francs. The performance over,-a joyous and enthusiastic multitude assembled beneath the windows of the Maestro, while the choristers of the opera sang the inimitable quartett of the Comte Ory. Such an ovation was almost worthy the hero of a revolution; and, in fact, Rossini had effected a revolution, destined, perhaps, to outlive the glorious liberties of July.

A dispute next arose as to the emoluments of the composer, and the matter is still in litigation. Meanwhile, under penalty of losing the arrears for which he contended, the Maestro has preserved a willing silence. Director of the Italian opera, his time has been employed of late in drawing forth the talents of Bellini, Donizetti, and Mercadante, in producing their operas at the Bouffes', and in developing the vocal resources of the young cantatrici entrusted to his skill. To his instructions is Giulia Grisi mainly indebted for her success. He is now seen in every public place of amusement--and Paris abounds in such

-to-day you meet him at Tortoni's, to-night at Musard's ball; yesterday morning he was strolling in the Jardin des Plantes, last evening at the Grand Opera you saw him a delighted listener to the Huguenots of Meyer-Beer.”

We have said that the year 1832 was an epoch in the annals of the gai science-it gave birth to Robert le Diablea musical melo-drama--Germanic in its conception, and in its compo

| The Italian Opera.

2 Rossini made a tour through Germany and Belgium, last autumn, in company with Rothschild of Francfort.

The accounts he gave, on his return, of the distresses which inconvenience great men en route was ludicrous enough. At night, for instance, hardly had he ensconced himself comfortably in his auberge-his eyes half-closed

with sleep-before low sirains of music broke in upon his slumber. The sounds swell! the musicians draw nigh! and the maestro finds himself serenaded with an air from Semiramide or Armida! He was thus obliged every night to make a speech at the expense of sleep; besides being bored to death with his own music.

sition displaying each new and fertile resource of the school of Rossini.

But Robert le Diable was long preceded by the masterpiece of Von Weber. True,--but Der Freyschütz was executed at the Opera Comique, the productions of which theatre may be said to form a transition between the vaudeville, or lighter comedy, and the grand opera, in which, as in all the pieces exhibited on the stage of the Rue le Pelletier, the dialogue is recitative. It is written over the door of the Théatre du Daudeville—“Le Français né malin, inventa le Vaudeville.” This, mutatis mutandis, would also be an appropriate inscription for the portico of the Opera Comique.

Robert le Diable is then the first five-act opera in which, on the French stage, the elaboration of a thought was carried out with the most exquisite finish of execution and unity of design. It exhibits the conflicts of a good with an evil principle, and the partition shadows forth each phase of emotion. The perpetual warfare between monos and daimonos—between things heavenly and things infernal-on the one side, early education, maternal love, and the noble materials of virtue--opposed to them, the subtle voice of the serpent, the fiend who avows himself a father, the father who would win his son to perdition; all these colourings of passion, thrown into the most vivid contrast, are wrought into a succession of powerfully dramatic scenes--each new one augmenting the interest felt in its predecessor, The legend is, as the minstrel hath it,

Ce mauvais garnement
“L'histoire epouvantable A Lucifer promis,
De notre jeune duc

Et qui pour ses méfaits
De ce Robert le Diable

S'exila du pays." De Normandie" would not have impaired the beauty of M. Scribe's last couplet, inasmuch as our hero's was a Norman dukedom. Robert is an amateur of wine, of dice, and of beauty, who maintains his reputation with the pit by his display of reckless daring and generosity, and who deserves no mention by the side of our old and philosophical friend, Faust. The true hero of the drama is (as is usual in such matters since Milton) the Devil--his friend and unknown sire.

Sweet woman most appropriately administers the chalice of holy hope to this all but lost sinner--we mean Robert, not his sire—and in the hour of trial, when he consents to sign the black and bloody bond, an organ, pealing to her assistance, recalls to his mind the chants of his infancy. At the same moment, Alice unfolds the dying letter of his mother.

“O mon fils ma tendresse assidue

Veille sur toi du haut des cieux

*

*

Fuis les conseils audacieux

Du séducteur qui m'a perdu.” C'en est faitthe hour has come; and Bertram, in despair, strives to drag Robert with hin through the flames amid which he disappears. The scene is strikingly dramatic, and the horror displayed in Nourrit's convulsed features, as he starts back from the spot at which his sire vanished, is a magnificent piece of acting. All this occurs in the antechamber of a chapel—a curtain rises, and a splendid assemblage of priests, of enfans de chour with censers, of lords and ladies in wedding bravery, at the head of whom the princess Isabel kneels before the altar-await to celebrate the nuptials of the repentant duke with his ladye-love.

The opera Robert was followed by Gustave ou le bal Masqué, a production of Auber's, far inferior to the Muette, and founded upon the assassination of Gustavus of Sweden, by Ankastrom. History is of course altered to suit the genius of the piece. In truth, Clio, in dramatic mythology, too often becomes the goddess of fiction. The main success of Gustave is to be attributed to the brilliant masquerade in the fifth act. We remember having been present at its first representation, and the bravos which welcomed this gay scene were in due accordance with the Gaul's love of splendour, and admiration of tinsel. Besides the usual gas lights of the stage, eighteen hundred bougies in rich candelabras illumined the ball room “as the sun at noon." This scene is now often played without the preceding four acts—the opera is therefore, comparatively, a failure.

Cherubini—the Beethoven of the present day-next produced an opera. The forte of this grand composer lies less in musicodramatic, than in profound harmonic conceptions. Alibabaso his last work is entitled—is founded upon the well known Arabian tale, and was first exhibited in 1834. Although its early representations were crowded to excess, it was little appreciated by the parterre, for which dignified areopagus its splendid harmonies and masterly cadences were too scientific. Yet it seems to us that even Milton's Comus would weary an English pit, and the undying parterre of the French theatres holds, in its palms, the destinies of every dramatic production it is called upon to praise or to condemn. In vain are bands of claqueurs, hired to applaud, even as professional mourners are retained at a funeral. Enthusiasm paid at the rate of thirty sous a night is not easily communicated. We were enchanted with Alibaba, the dilettanti pronounced it a chef d'auvre, but its majesty, the pit of the grand opera, thought otherwise. It accordingly fell through.

Previous to the appearance of Alibaba, the Don Juan of Mozart had been brought out at great expense, and the rich

[ocr errors]
« PreviousContinue »