Page:Littell's Living Age - Volume 135.pdf/65

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.



and is a curious proof of the strength of the hatred of French rule.

"I went to see 'Figaro's Hochzeit,' not 'Le Nozze di Figaro.' If you have a mind to understand why the Italians can never be reconciled to Austrian rulers go to see 'Figaro's Hochzeit.' A Herr Dettmer, from Frankfurt, did Figaro, a good singer, I have no doubt, and not a bad, i.e., an absurd, actor. But Figaro, the incarnation of southern vivacity, espièglerie and joyous grace! Imagine a square, thick-set man, with blond hair and a broad face, and that peculiar manner of standing and walking with the knees in, the heels stuck into the earth and the toes in the air, which one sees only in Germany. I thought of Piuco, a young Maltese, never, I believe, off his tiny island — whom I last saw in that part. I saw before me his élancé and supple figure, his small head clustered round with coal-black hair, his delicately turned jetty moustache, his truly Spanish costume, the sharp knee just covered by the breeches tied with gay ribbons, and the elastic step of the springing foot and high-bounding instep. What a contrast! — and what can art do against nature in such a case? Then the women; I had seen Ronzi de Begnis in the countess. What a countess! What a type of southern voluptuous grace, of high and stately beauty and indolent charm! Imagine a long-faced, lackadaisical-looking German woman, lean and high-shouldered, and with that peculiar construction of body which German women now affect. An enormously long waist, laced in to an absurd degree, and owing its equally extravagant rotundity below to the tailor. 'Happy we,' says Countess Hahn-Hahn, 'who, with so many ells of muslin or silk, can have a beautiful figure.'

"The Susanna was a pretty waiting-maid. How far that is from a Spanish Susanna, it is beyond me to say. Cherubino was the best, but he was only an éspiègle boy playing at being in love — not the page whose head is turned at the sight of a woman. Then the language!

"After all, how immensely does this inaptitude of Germans to represent 'Figaro' raise Mozart in our estimation; for he had not only to represent, but to conceive the whole — and what a conception! The sweet breath of the south vibrating in every note. Variety, grace, lightness, passion, naïveté and, above all, a stately elegance which no one ever approached. His 'Don Giovanni' and his 'Almaviva' contain the most courtly, graceful, stately music that ever was conceived; and nothing like it was ever conceived. Only the real grandee, courtier, and fine gentleman could express himself so.

"Now, as a set-off, I must say what Germans can do, and what I am quite sure we English cannot in these days.

"I went to see Schiller's 'Braut von Messina.' I expected little. The piece is essentially lyric rather than dramatic. The long speeches, thought I, will be dull, the choruses absurd; the sentiments are pagan. What have Spanish nobles to do with a Nemesis, with oracles, with a curse, like that on the house of Athens — with sustained speeches, the whole purport of which is incusare deos?

"Well, I was wrong. In the opening scene, Mademoiselle Berg has to stand for a quarter of an hour between two straight lines of senators and to make a speech — rien que cela! Can anything be more difficult? Yet such was the beauty of her declamation of Schiller's majestic verse, such the solemnity and propriety, grace and dignity of her action, that at every moment one's interest rose. Her acting through the whole of this arduous part gave me the highest idea of her sense and culture. Tenderness and passion were nicely proportioned to the austere character and sculptural beauty of the piece. I cannot at this moment recollect ever to to have seen an actress, French or English, who could have done it as well. Mademoiselle Rachel, with all her vast talents as a declaimer, would have been too hard for the heart-stricken mother.

"Emil Devrient's 'Don Caesar' was quite as good. His acting in the last scene, where Beatrice entreats him to live, was frightfully good. The attempts at paternal tenderness, instantly relapsing into the fatal passion, ignorantly conceived, made one's heart stand still. And yet such was the extreme delicacy of his art, one felt none of the disgust which attends every allusion to such love. One saw before one only the youth vainly struggling with the hereditary curse of his house — the doomed victim and instrument of the vengeance of an implicable destiny.

"Anything more thoroughly heathenish than the play I cannot conceive, and I much question if an English audience would sit it out — on that score — not to mention others. We should find it our duty to be shocked. The audience last night was thin; those who went were probably attracted by Schiller's name, and knew that such "horrid opinions" once existed in Greece, and that a poet imitating Greek tragedy might represent