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abilities are supposed to be of a high cast ? -“ Artaxerxes” is revived for her; and upon her performance of this, the only classical dramatic music we have, her fame is to be founded. Is a pre-eminent foreign artiste prevailed upon to accept an engagement at an English theatre ?-her début must be in “ Mandane." Does an Englishwoman return with the polish of foreign study ?--Arne’s standard opera is sure to be reverted to.* This, we say, affords practical demonstration ; for if the supremacy of Arne above Shield, Storace, Braham, Bishop, and a hundred others, be admitted, still the self-same piece could never have maintained its ground for so long a period, but for the intrinsic excellence and recommendation that it is a legitimate opera, and our only. legitimate opera.
It forms, however, a striking contrast to this tacit acknowledgment, that the writers of English dramas for music, with the one exception already taken, have been insensible to the charms of the only language properly adapted to music—to that concentrated expression which is the characteristic of the lyric-dramatic poetry. If we are to credit the best critics, the solid establishment and permanent success of Italy are attributable almost solely to one man—to Metastasio; and who can read his dramas , without yielding an implicit belief ? All previous writers of operas, from Carlo Maggi to Apostolo Zeno, were comparatively rude and unformed; their writings were without taste, abounding in the old extravagancies, and almost totally without method or regularity. Amongst these, Silvio Stampiglia is said to be the first to have given a happy catastrophe to the musical drama, but this expedient is as old as the Italian drama itself. He did indeed purge the melodrama of its grossness, and its anomalous and coarse admixture of buffoonery with its more serious interest; but his style is dry and inanimate.
Martelli of Bologna introduced a more beautiful, polished, and florid manner of writing, and some poetry into his airs, in good taste. Apostolo Zeno, endowed with finer talents, learning without pedantry, and with incomparable diligence, has been esteemed to be the Corneille of Italy. He set himself to restrain the licenses and irregularities by which the theatre was deformed, and he sought his subjects from the noblest incidents and characters of history, sacred as well as sécular, in which he was thoroughly studied. His style is correct and sustainedhis invention fruitful-his incidents better arranged than those of his predecessors--and his dramas (the sacred especially) were the best known till Metastasio appeared, in whose writings is to be found a perfect model of lyric-dramatic composition. Our object being to guide our countrymen to the means of elevating this elegant, refined, and noble combination of all the fine arts, to its highest pitch of grandeur, we may be pardoned if we endeavour to convey to the English reader in what the perfections of this natural, easy, yet richly eloquent poet consist. His merits are by far too little known to the English, for it may fairly be said, that the works of no other poet will be found to afford such exquisite gratification, better models for the formation of a refined and delicate taste, noble sentiments, or more pathetic and beautiful scenes and situations. Italian is not cultivated with sufficient interest by our countrymen. It is regarded as little more than the vehicle for music, and its trashy songs are the means of bringing dishonour upon its general literature, and of deadening all curiosity as to its range. Fenelon is said to have learned Spanish at eighty, for the pleasure of reading “Don Quixote.” It is worth learning Italian at any age for the satisfaction of reading Metastasio. But to our main object. The prime consideration is, that Metastasio wrote entirely for music: of this single principle he never lost sight, nor must they who would understand his excellences. His style, above that of any other poet, is at once terse and luminous ; he unites rapidity with smoothness, variety with uniformity, and his choice of language is as musical as picturesque and descriptive. Everything is easy-everything is free; the words seem rather to be made for their position than selected and created, as it were, to be placed where he pleases and as he pleases. No one so thoroughly adapted the Italian language to the genius of music. It is thus that one of the most philosophical of critics has described his improvements :
*6 Artaxerxes " was revived for Mara in 1797 ; for Billington, at both houses, a few years afterwards; Miss Stephens came out, we think, in Mandane ; and certainly, at a later period, Miss Wilson (now Mrs. Welch), who was to have surpassed all her predecessors. But the instances are countless. It is, however, curious that Storace's compositions should be so entirely laid aside. • Love in a Village" and the “ Duenna” have been sometimes given, and most frequently the Beg. gar's Opera,” as if to place our love of national airs in the broadest light, since it 'extenuates and supports even the gross vulgarities and grosser obscenities of that picture of crime and infamy. Now it is nothing else, for the point of the political satire is lost.
“No one better than he ever understood how to adapt the Italian language to the purposes of music, by rejecting such words as were too long and elaborate to be melodious - by the frequent use of the syncope, and of words ending with accented vowels, as ardi, piegò, sarà, and which add so materially to the polish of the language-by the skilful alternation of short and long syllables, in order to give to a period that variety which is so necessary to the intervals of harmony as well as to the convenience of the singer—by dividing the verses in the middle, and thus to shorten the phrases, and soften their close—by the judicious use of rhyme, according to no fixed rules, but rendering it subservient to the pleasure of the ear, and avoiding monotony—and, lastly, by adapting, with singular dexterity, different metres to different passions; making use of short lines in painting emotions expressive of languor, when the exhausted mind, so to speak, has not power to give full utterance to the sentiment-of rich, rapid, and voluble lines, when courage is to be expressed, &c. &c. No one could better than he fit the harmony Greece to the lyre of Italy,-investing it with all the soul of Grecian poetry, much more happily than any who had preceded him, not excepting Chiabrera, who was certainly a great man, but who failed in the imitation of the truly classical spirit. These former poets thought themselves new Pindars when they had composed a regular canzone in the proper divisions of strophe, antistrophe, and epodon, resounding with auro-crinito, chiom-acquose, ombri-lucente, and such sesquipedaltic words, which are, however, void of the real Pindaric spirit, without any Grecian character; and, above all, unfit for singing, when we consider that the Grecians were never accompavied either by voice or instrument. The same may be said of the greater part of their intended Anacreontics, .which are as much formed in the style of that author as the laughable systems of the philosophers are conformable to nature. trary, no one who possesses a spark of feeling, no one that is free from pedantry, will fail to recognize the true Grecian character in much of
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Metastasio's poetry; with no less felicity has he transfused into his own language the sublime beauties of the Hebrew poetry, which is apparent in the song of Giudita, in his Betulia Liberata ;' few poets have succeeded in painting the God of Armies in more majestic colours. The skill of the poet is here, indeed, most remarkable in drawing from the eastern poetry all that it contains of magnificence, and rejecting all such phrases and expressions as are beautiful in the original only as idioms proper to the Hebrew tongue, but which would become inflated and bombastic when transferred to the Italian.
“No one understood better the character of the opera and the means of adapting the lyrical to the dramatic style, so that neither did the ornaments of the one interfere with the illusion of the other, nor the nature of the latter place itself in opposition to the picturesque of the former. We may observe how regularly he assumes a figurative style in narration and description, and divests himself of it whenever the passions are called into action, or where advice and decision are required-seldom or never introducing similes into recitative, but leaving them for the airs which demand warmth and imagery; how completely his images are connected with the circumstances of the scene, so that before they are heard, the auditor has already anticipated the poet, foreseeing what comparison ought to be introduced—which could not happen unless it had relation to the actual situation of the character or characters before him; and how, in fact, everything results from a surprising justness, variety, and beauty of combination.
“From particular examples, no less than from the general poetry of Metastasio, is apparent the dexterity with which he has imparted to his verses the precise degree of harmony that is necessary to make them blend properly with the melody, without rendering them too sustained and sonorous, as is commonly the case with verses not intended for music. Smoothness of style, à certain softness in expression as well as in imagery, an easy rhythm, without its being too constant--all these things, united to a happy mixture of sounds in the order and combination of syllables, are the qualities required in poetry for music, and are those which peculiarly characterize the style of Metastasio. Passing on to the construction and choice of his plots, the change introduced by him into the musical drama is astonishing. Formerly it appears to have been considered that the argument was a poem consecrated to fable, and from which good sense was banished by law. Stampiglia, Zeno, and, above all, Metastasio, have belied this common opinion, by showing that the opera is capable of perfect regularity, and that historical subjects, without diminishing its grace, give it a perpetuity that it has never attained by other means. Accordingly, it is no longer the exaggeration of the ancient mythology, but truth and discernment, that constitute the nature of the drama. Metastasio has indeed conducted it to the very threshold of tragedy, nor is this a slight triumph gained by philosophy over imagination and prejudice. Observe the case with which he develops his events; a single line, a single word, is frequently enough to explain everything. Observe the skill with which he informs the spectators, at the beginning, what it is necessary for them to know, exposing past and present circumstances, and preparing for future occurrences, without difficulty or confusion, but with a facility that makes one inclined to rest upon them. The first scene of ‘Themis-, tocles,' and of Artaxerxes,' are two masterpieces of theatrical sagacity. Observe how he always hastens the catastrophe, dwelling on the various incidents only long enough to develop that catastrophe, and no longer ; his admirable brevity and precision in dialogue, when requisite--a power which contributes essentially to the beauty of many scenes, not only by avoiding the prolixity of the tragedians of the fifteenth century, and the ambitious ornaments of the modern French school, but by powerfully awakening the attention of the audience, reviving their interest, by the greater rapidity of events, the greater unity and energy of the music, and by increasing the vigour of the scene by the bustle of action—that action, the soul of the theatre, and which has alone rendered many pieces endurable that were absurd in every other respect.
“ Another important endowment of the illustrious author is his philosophy,—not that dusty philosophy which endeavours to atone for the absence of common sense by the acquirement of a learned and pompous ignorance, -not that inconclusive jargon still in use among the schools, and which, instead of clearing the intellect, only lulls it into a dream of the most sophistical stupidity, but that golden and divine philosophy, which, penetrating, like the universal soul of the Pythagoreans, into every division and branch of human knowledge, does not scorn to avail itself of the fascinations of eloquence, or the allurements of harmony, for the purpose of instilling truth more agreeably into the mind. What dramatic poet has accomplished this end more completely than Metastasio ? If we regard his moral—that portion of philosophy which examines and strengthens the duties of man--the science among all others the most worthy of consideration, the only one really beneficial to wretched humanity-the only one which is fitted to engross the reflection of a thinking being-who has rendered himself so deserving of praise? Who has painted virtue in more beautiful colours, or placed more splendid examples before us than he proposes for our imitation, or expressed more important maxims than are scattered here and there throughout his works, or disposed the heart by more irresistible persuasion to receive and retain them? Is there, on the ancient or the modern stage, an equally interesting character with Titus? Is he not the delight of the human species in the writings of Metastasio, as he was upon his throne ? Does he not appear as the true father of his subjects—the model of a sovereign of the people--the man, in short, who, as others have said of Trajan, was born to honour the human, and to personify the divine nature ? Do not the votaries of liberty (that sublime phantom of elevated minds !) feel themselves excited to heroism by contemplating his ‘Cato ?' and do not his ‘Siroe,' "Timante,' 'Svenvango,' 'Egio, Arbace,' and ‘Megacle,' exalt our ideas of our species ? Do we not rejoice in being able to feel we have Themistocles as a companion, and does not every one feel impressed with astonishment at 'the elevation of the sentiments which the poet puts into his mouth in one of the most delicate situations in which a hero can be placed? In his compositions is verified the remark of Plato, that if Virtue could be displayed in her naked purity before the eyes of men, the whole world would quickly become enamoured of her. Yes: although Metastasio were deprived of a thousand other beauties, this alone would be sufficient to render him the delight of honest and feeling hearts. The imagination of the virtuous man, fatigued with the spectacle of triumphant vice, wearied with roaming through a world in which nothing is offered to his view but oppressors and oppressed-deafened by the cries of calumny, which smother at every turn the timid accents of innocence-worn out, in short, by the intercourse with man as he is generally found, weak, malicious, mean, and brutalized, --flies for consolation to the writings of this beautiful poet, as to an imaginary world which shall recover him from the tortures suffered in the actual one. There he enjoys less clouded and less stormy skies, breathes an atmosphere more worthy of himself, and converses with men who do honour to the Divinity; and there his eyes are dazzled by flashes of the primitive light of the great and the beautiful, which attest its celestial origin.
“Nor is the art of scenic decoration less his debtor. This quality, hitherto unobserved by all who have read Metastasio, would deserve a separate dissertation, to show with what dexterity he has treated so interesting a branch of the melodrama. The man of taste will observe with surprise his fertility of imagination in selecting situations fitted the scene; the masterly manner in which he distinguishes local beauty; his nice discernment in selecting those which are calculated to charm the fancy of the spectator, in preference to those which may be irksome to him ; the delicate, gradual, and never repugnant contrast which he preserves in the scenes which speak to the eye; the various and multiplied learning in the geography, the religious rites, the productions, the dress of each country, -in all those things, in fact, which render a theatrical spectacle at once magnificent and brilliant. The decorator knows with certainty the limits through which his fancy may range without overstraining the bounds of good sense. He finds in the plan of each of his compositions the concealed, but unbroken connexion, which art ought to preserve between music and perspective, or, what is the same thing, between the eye and the ear; he finds that the poet has spared him infinite trouble in an infinity of means pointed out for preparing, maintaining, and increasing the illusion, with germs of invention, and flashes of picturesque genius, assisting him both in the change of scenes, and in the exquisite painting of landscape. But that which forms his chief characteristic--that which makes him the delight of sensitive hearts—that which principally exacts the universal gratitude of his readers, proved by the tears which he has drawn from their eyes—is his art of moving the emotions. His eloquence is the lene tormentum of Horace applied to the heart.
“No one was ever imbued like Metastasio with the philosophy of love, -a philosophy which, however easy of comprehension it may appear, because common to the greater part of mankind and founded upon sentiment, has, nevertheless, been seldom completely understood, even by the greatest dramatic poets. No one has painted it in such genuine colours; now bringing to light the most hidden feelings,—now simplifying the most complicated,—now drawing the veil from the most illusive appearances. It is sufficient merely to read 'L' Asilo d'Amore,' to recognize a complete philosophical treatise, in which the symptomatic code of this passion is laid before us in the most beautiful hues of poetry, and with a delicacy and truth far superior to the pompous and unintelligible jargon with which the same subject is discussed by Plato in his.
“No one has equally purified it, divesting it of every baser interest,