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tions, shall be carried on with the same sincerity as any other affair of less consideration. As this is the greatest concern, men shall be from henceforth liable to the greatest reproach for misbehaviour in it. Falsehood in love shall hereafter bear a blacker aspect than infidelity in friendship, or villany in business. For this great and good end, all breaches against that noble passion, the cement of society, shall be severely examined. But this, and all other matters loosely hinted at now, and in my
papers, shall have their proper place in my following dis
The present writing is only to admonish the world, that they shall not find me an idle but a busy Spectator.
No 5. TUESDAY, MARCH 6, 1710-11.
Spectatum admissi risum teneatis ?
HOR, Ars Poet. ver. 5.
Admitted to the sight, would you not laugh?
An opera may be allowed to be extravagantly lavish in its decorations, as its only design is to gratify the senses, and keep up an indolent attention in the audience. Common sense however requires, that there should be nothing in the scenes and machines, which may appear
childish and absurd. How would the wits of King Charles's time have laughed, to have seen Nicolini exposed to a tempest in robes of ermine, and sailing in an open boat upon a sea of pasteboard? What a field of raillery would they have been led into, had they been entertained with
painted dragons spitting wildfire, enchanted chariots drawn by Fanders mares, and real cascades in artificial landscapes ? A little skill in criticism would inform us, that shadows and realities ought not to be mixed together in the same piece; and that the scenes which are designed as the representations of nature should be filled with resemblances, and not with the things theniselves. If one would represent a wide champaign country filled with herds and flocks it would be ridiculous to draw the country only upon the scenes, and to crowd several parts of the stage with sheep and oxen.
This is joining together inconsistencies, and making the decoration partly real, and partly imaginary. I would recommend what I have here said, to the directors, as well as to the admirers of our modern
opera. As I was walking in the streets about a fortnight ago, I saw an ordinary fellow carrying a cage full of little birds upon his shoulder; and, as I was wondering with myself what use he would put them to, he was met very luckily by an acquaintance, who had the same curiosity. Upon his asking what he had
upon his shoulder, he told him that he had been buying sparrows for the opera. "Sparrows for the opera,' says his friend, licking his lips, * what, are they to be roasted?'-No, no,' says the other, they are to enter towards the end of the first act, and to fly about the stage.
This strange dialogue awakened my curiosity so far, that I immediately bought the opera, by which means I perceived the sparrows were to act the part of singing birds in a delightful grove; though upon a nearer inquiry I found the sparrows put the same trick upon the audience, that Sir Martin Mar-all*
A comedy by J. Dryden, borrowed from Quinault's Amart Indiscret, and the Etourdi of Moliere.
practised upon his mistress : for though they flew in sight, the music proceeded from a concert of flagelets and bird-calls, which were planted behind the
At the same time I made this discovery, I found by the discourse of the actors, that there were great designs on foot for the improvement of the opera; that it had been proposed to break down a part of the wall, and to surprise the audience with a party of an hundred horse, and that there was actually a project of bringing the New-river into the house, to be employed in jetteaus and water-works. This project, as I have since heard, is postponed till the summer season ; when it is thought the coolness that proceeds from fountains and cascades will be more acceptable and refreshing to people of quality. In the mean time, to find out a more agreeable entertainment for the winter-season, the opera of Rinaldo is filled with thunder and lightning, illuminations and fire-works; which the audience may look upon without catching cold, and indeed without much danger of being burnt; for there are several engines filled with water, and ready to play at a minute's warning, in case any such accident should happen. However, as I have a very great friendship for the owner of this theatre, I hope that he has been wise enough to insure his house before he would let this opera be acted in it.
It is no wonder, that those scenes should be very surprising, which were contrived by two poets of different nations, and raised by two magicians of different sexes.
Armida (as we are told in the argument) was an Amazonian enchantress, and poor Signior Cassani (as we learn from the persons represented) a Christian conjuror (Mago Christiano). I must confess I am very much puzzled to find how an Amazon should be versed in the black art, or how a good Christian, for such is the part of the magician, should deal with the devil.
To consider the poet after the conjurors, I shall give you a taste of the Italian from the first lines of his preface : ' Eccoti, benigno lettore, un parto di poche sere, che se ben nato di notte, non è però aborto di tenebre, ma si farà conoscere figlio d'Apollo con qualche raggio di Parnasse.' 'Behold, gentle reader, the birth of a few evenings, which though it be the offspring of the night, is not the abortive of darkness, but will make itself known to be the son of Apollo, with a certain ray of Parnassus. He afterwards proceeds to call Mynheer Handel the Orpheus of our age, and to acquaint us, in the same sublimity of style, that he composed this opera in a fortnight. Such are the wits to whose tastes we so ambitiously conform ourselves. The truth of it is, the finest writers among the modern Italians express themselves in such a forid form of words, and such tedious circumlocutions, as are used by none but pedants in our own country; and at the same time fill their writings with such poor imaginations and conceits, as our youths are ashamed of, before they have been two years at the university. Some may be apt to think that it is the difference of genius which produces this difference in the works of the two nations; but to shew that there is nothing in, this, if we look into the writings of the old Italians, such as Cicero and Virgil, we shall find that the English writers, in their way of thinking and expressing themselves, resemble those authors much more than the modern Italians pretend to do. And as for the poet himself, from whom the dreams of this opera* are taken, I must entirely agree with
* Rinaldo, an opera, 8vo. 1711. The plan by Aaron Hills the Italian words by Sig. G. Rossi; and the music by Handel
Monsieur Boileau, that one verse in Virgil is worth all the clinquant or tinsel of Tasso.
But to return to the sparrows: there have been so many flights of them let loose in this opera, that it is feared the house will never get rid of them; and that in other plays they may make their entrance in very wrong and improper scenes, so as to be seen Aying in a lady's bed-chamber, or perching upon a king's throne ; besides the inconveniences which the heads of the audience may sometimes suffer from them. I am credibly informed, that there was once a design of casting into an opera the story of Whittington and his Cat, and that in order to it, there had been got together a great quantity of mice; but Mr. Rich, the proprietor of the playhouse, very prudently considered that it would be impossible for the cat to kill them all, and that consequently the princes of the stage might be as much infested with mice, as the prince of the island was before the cat's arrival upon it; for which reason he would not permit it to be acted in his house. And indeed I cannot blame him: for, as he said very well upon that occasion, I do not hear that any of the performers in our opera pretend to equal the famous pied piper*, who made all the mice of a great town in Germany follow his music, and by that means cleared the place of those little noxious animals.
Before I dismiss this paper, I must inform my reader, that I hear there is a treaty on foot between London and Wise † (who will be appointed gardeners of the playhouse) to furnish the opera of Rinaldo and Armida with an orange-grove; and that
* June 26, 1284, the rats and mice by which Hamelen was. infested, were allured, it is said, by a piper, to a contiguous river, in which they were all drowned.
+ Lordon and Wise were the Queen's gardeners at this time.