excerpt from 'Reminiscences of Michael Kelly' pp. 63-67 (991 words)

excerpt from 'Reminiscences of Michael Kelly' pp. 63-67 (991 words)

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Reminiscences of Michael Kelly

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The day after our arrival, we went to the Corso, where the sports of the carnival were going on. There was to be seen the whole population of Rome, high and low, rich and poor, en masque ; the nobility and ladies in their most slendid equipages, all masqued, throwing sugar-plums to the motley groupe below, which was composed of mountebanks, pulcinellas, cardinals, harlequins, &c. with music, dancing, singing. In short, I was in a delirium of pleasure ! Every evening, we visited the theatres : - there are two for serious operas, the Aliberti and the Argentina, where the best performers are always found; indeed, should the manager attempt to introduce any thing inferior, woe be to him ! and, as these theatres are only allowed to be open during the carnival, he is obliged to pay enormous salaries to procure the first singers ; for the Romans will have the best or none. There are also two theatres for comic operas, La Capranica and La Valle. The Romans assume that they are the most sapient critics in the world ; they are, certainly, the most severe ones : they have no medium, all is delight or disgust. If asked whether a performance or a piece has been successful, the answer, if favourable, is, " è andato al settimo cielo," - " it has ascended to the seventh heaven."" If it has failed, they say, " è andato al' abbisso del inferno," - " it has sunk to the abyss of hell." The severest critics are the Abbes, who sit in the first row of the pit, each armed with a lighted wax taper in one hand, and a book of the opera in the other ; and should any poor devil of a singer miss a word, they call out " bravo, bestia," " bravo, you beast !" It is customary for the composer of an opera, to preside at the piano-forte the first three nights of its performance, and a precious time he has of it in Rome. Should any passage in the music strike the audience as similar to one of another composer, they cry, " Bravo, il ladro," " bravo, you thief; or, " bravo, Paesiello ! bravo, Sacchini !" if they suppose the passage stolen from them, " the curse of God light on him who first put a pen into your hand to write music !" This I heard said, in the Teatro Aliberti, to the celebrated com-poser Gazzaniga, who was obliged to sit patiently at the piano-forte to hear the flattering commenda-tion. Cimarosa, who was their idol as a composer, was once so unfortunate as to make use of a movement in a comic opera, at the Teatro della Valle, which reminded them of one of his own, in an opera composed by him for the preceding carnival. An Abbe started up, and said, " Bravo, Cimarosa ! you are welcome from Naples ; by your music of to-night, it is clear you have neither left your trunk behind you, nor your old music ; you are an excellent cook in hashing up old dishes !" Poggi, the most celebrated buffo singer of his day, always dreaded appearing before those stony-hearted critics ; however, tempted by a large sum, he accepted an engagement at the Teatro della Valle. He arrived in Rome some weeks previous to his engagement, hoping to make friends, and form a party in his favour ; he procured introductions to the most severe and scurrilous, and thinking to find the way to their hearts through their mouths, gave them splendid dinners daily. One of them, an Abbe, he selected from the rest, as his bosom friend and confidante ; he fed, clothed, and supplied him with money ; he confided to him his terrors at appearing before an audience so fastidious as the Romans. The Abbe assured him, that he had nothing to fear, as his opinion was looked up to by the whole bench of critics ; and when he approved, none dare dissent. The awful night for poor Poggi at length arrived ; his ficlus Achates took his usual seat, in his little locked-up chair in the pit. It was agreed between them, that he was to convey to Poggi, by signs, the feeling of the audience towards him; if they approved, the Abbe was to nod his head; if the contrary, to shake it. When Poggi had sung his first song, the Abbe nodded, and cried, " Bravo ! bravissimo" but in the second act, Poggi became hoarse, and imperfect ; the audience gave a gentle hiss, which disconcerted the affrighted singer, and made him worse : on this, his friend became outrageous, and standing up on his chair, after putting out his wax-light, and closing his book, he looked Poggi in the face, and exclaimed, " Signer Poggi, I am the mouth of truth, and thus declare, that you are decidedly the worst singer that ever appeared in Rome ! I also declare, that you ought to be hooted off the stage for your impudence, in imposing on my simple and credulous good nature, as you have done." This produced roars of laughter, and poor Poggi retired, never to appear again, without even exclaiming, " Et tu, Brute," which he might most appropriately have applied to his guardian crony. A circumstance something like this took place at the Teatro Argentina. A tenor singer of the name of Gabrielli, brother of the great female singer of that name, was engaged there. Before he had got through five bars of his first song, the critics began to hiss and hoot, (and very deservedly so, for he was execrable), saying, " Get away, you cursed raven " Get off, you Goat !" On which he came forward and addressed the audience very mildly, " You fancy you are mortifying me, by hooting me ; you are grossly deceived ; on the contrary, I applaud your judgment, for I solemnly declare to you, that I never appeared on any stage without receiving the same treatment, and sometimes much worse !" This appeal, though it produced a momentary laugh, could not procure a second appearance for the poor fellow.

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excerpt from 'Reminiscences of Michael Kelly' pp. 63-67 (991 words)


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