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Verdi in Victorian London

Massimo Zicari

7. Rigoletto (1853)

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  • 1 The Musical World, March 26, 1853, p. 187.
  • 2 Ibid., p. 189.

1On 19 March 1853, the directors of the Royal Italian Opera at Covent Garden announced that the opera season would commence on the 29th of that month even though a prospectus had not yet been issued. On the competition’s side, in contrast, financial difficulties had imperilled the future of Her Majesty’s Theatre. Its doubtful state held the readers’ attention, for rumours circulated that Frederick Gye was considering taking over that operatic establishment too.1 Similar comments made their appearance in March in the columns of The Times and The Athenaeum, each journal calling the public’s attention to the sense of uncertainty and hesitation that the long wait for news had aroused. Eventually, The Observer announced that three people had been entrusted with the management of Her Majesty’s Theatre: “Mr Nugent, former superintendent of the theatre; Mr Robinson, the late treasurer of the establishment; and Signor Puzzi, the negotiator of engagements with foreign artistes, and the caterer of novelites for the theatre for many years.”2 Although there was every reason to believe that the theatre would open in May, this promise remained unfulfilled. Between 1853 and 1856, Her Majesty’s Theatre was closed.

2The ante-Easter season having passed in silence, on 26 March The Musical World informed its readers that the long awaited programme of the Royal Italian Opera at Covent Garden had finally been issued. Gye announced six new operas complementing the regular repertoire: Louis Spohr’s Jessonda, Verdi’s Rigoletto, Rossini’s Matilda di Shabran, Donizetti’s Dom Sébastien (as Don Sebastian), Vincenzo Bonetti’s Juana

  • 3 Ibid., p. 187.

3Shore and Hector Berlioz’s Benvenuto Cellini. A few words were spent on Berlioz’s grand opera and its past fortunes, while nothing could be said of Rigoletto, the opera being completely new to both the London public and the critic.3

  • 4 The Musical World, May 14, 1853, p. 305.

4The season opened with Daniel Auber’s Masaniello on 2 April, featuring Enrico Tamberlik, Karl Formes and Castellan; stock operas like Il barbiere di Siviglia, L’elisir d’amore, and Guillaume Tell (as Guglielmo Tell) followed soon afterwards. On 23 April, it was announced that Rigoletto was in rehearsal, and the first performance would take place on 14 May, featuring Angiolina Bosio as Gilda, Mario as Duke of Mantua, Ronconi as Rigoletto, Joseph Tagliafico as Sparafucile and Constance Nantier- Didiée as Maddalena. On the same day of the premiere, a short article was published in the columns of The Musical World, announcing Verdi’s new opera and hinting at the quality of the interpreters as an easy predictor of its imminent success: “Mario and Ronconi together would render less interesting music than that of Verdi more than tolerable.”4 However bad the music might be, with such a good cast the opera would easily fulfil the public’s (and the critic’s) highest expectations. All the more so if the cast included such valued representatives of the old guard as Mario and Ronconi. In the same issue a scornful, derisive caricature of Verdi made its appearance.

  • 5 Ibid.

How Verdi Composes. When Verdi has an opera to compose, he waits patiently until the midnight bell has tolled. He then enters his study, in which there is a piano placed between a big drum and cymbals, and seating himself at the piano, he first bangs the drum on the right hand, then crashes the cymbals on the left hand, then thumps the piano in the midst, and while the air is reverberating with the mingled sounds, he commences the first chorus. This is the way Verdi composes. Can anybody have a doubt on the subject?5

5Although the opera was pronounced a brilliant popular success, the most conservative critics raised the usual objections: it had been warmly welcomed thanks to the splendid interpreters and notwithstanding the poor quality of the music.

  • 6 See A. Basevi, Studio sulle opere di Giuseppe Verdi (Florence: Tofani, 1859), pp. 156–59.

6The critic of The Times uttered words of deep disappointment and considered Verdi’s lack of melodic invention especially evident. In referring to what commentators had been saying on the continent about Verdi entering a second stage of his compositional career and developing a more mature style, the critic held that no sign of advancement could really be found.6 The only audible difference consisted in the composer neither overloading the music with trombones and drums nor terminating each act with the usual choirs singing in unison. In a way, Rigoletto was not even equal to Verdi’s previous works, for while in Ernani and Nabucco it was easy to find stirring melodies, the same could not be said of Rigoletto. Again, if possible, the last opera was pronounced the worst.

  • 7 The Times, May 16, 1853, p. 8.

In aiming at simplicity, Signor Verdi has hit frivolity. In other operas he has often, with a certain degree of success hidden poverty of idea under a pompous display of instruments; but in the present, abandoning that artifice, and relying upon the strength of his melodic invention, he has triumphantly demonstrated that he has very few ideas that can be pronounced original. In short, with one exception (Luisa Miller), Rigoletto is the most feeble opera of Signor Verdi with which we have the advantage to be acquainted, the most uninspired, the barest, and the most destitute of ingenious contrivance. To enter into an analysis would be a loss of time and space.7

  • 8 Ibid.

7While writing a more detailed analysis of the music would have been a complete waste of time and energy, words of appreciation were generously bestowed upon the interpreters. Ronconi mastered the part of Rigoletto in such a way as to make one regret “that so masterly a performance should occur in an opera which has so little chance of keeping the stage in England.”8 Similar remarks praised Mario’s performance as the Duke, whose first aria “Questa o quella” pleased the audience on account of the voice and abandon with which the singer invested it and notwithstanding its low musical merit. Despite the poor quality of the melody, both “La donna è mobile” and the quartet “Bella figlia dell’amore” were encored. Madame Bosio’s brilliant rendition of Gilda also pleased, although the music allotted to her was “more difficult than grateful.” In his conclusion the critic could not help but acknowledge the popular success of the opera; however, he insisted that although it had been warmly welcomed by the audience, Rigoletto would not last long.

  • 9 Ibid.

If encores and recalls of the principal Singers may be taken as an indication of success, Rigoletto should be pronounced successful. Unfortunately, however, such conventional compliments no longer signify anything more than good feeling on the part of the audience. We shall be agreeably disappointed, nevertheless, if Rigoletto turns out to be an attractive opera, and shall have pleasure in owning that our first impression was a mistaken one.9

  • 10 The Musical World, May 21, 1853, p. 326.

8The same prophetic remark concludes the review that appeared in The Musical World on 21 May 1853, where the critic predicted a short and ephemeral life for the opera on account of its poor music and in spite of the highly spirited skills of the interpreters, Ronconi and Mario. “It may flicker and flare for a few nights, fed from the oil of Ronconi’s genius, and blown into momentary vitality by the soft breathing of Mario’s voice; but it will go out like an ill-wicked rush light, and leave not a spark behind. Such is our prophecy of Rigoletto.”10

  • 11 Ibid.
  • 12 Ibid.
  • 13 The Musical World, May 28, 1953, p. 335.

9Interestingly, the critic failed to articulate the usual hostile attitude to Verdi. Notwithstanding the customary objections to the music, which was characterised by “poverty of ideas, and eternal effort at originality— never accomplished, strange and odd phrases, lack of colouring, and a perpetual swagger in the dramatic effects,”11 he expressed himself in quite positive, encouraging terms. Rigoletto was pronounced inferior to Ernani, I due Foscari and Nabucco, but certainly superior to I masnadieri, I Lombardi and even to Macbeth and Luisa Miller, the last two as yet unperformed in London. Rigoletto’s music was less offensive to the ear, less loud; it contained melodies capable of charming the general public and airs not entirely devoid of genuine merit. The canzone of the Duke of Mantova was pronounced “a very pleasing and catching tune, if not new, and worked out with effect.”12 The aria of Gilda and the duet were agreeable, while the quartet in the last act was said to be “skilfully managed and well voiced,” a compliment the critic had never paid to Verdi’s music before. Thanks to the wonderful cast, the magnificent scenery and the strong, dramatic plot, the opera had gained a considerable reputation not only on the continent but also in London, where the public had shown clear signs of appreciation. Yet even though Rigoletto had scored an undeniable success, the critic was still not inclined to credit the composer with its triumph; instead, he suggested that its celebrity would not be long-lasting. The immediate popularity of Rigoletto, however, was confirmed by the fact that the publishers of the score—London, Boosey & Sons—were besieged daily by customers wanting to purchase the piano version of “La donna è mobile,” forcing the critic of The Musical World to admit that the composer had at least managed one captivating aria.13

  • 14 Richard Wagner, “Eine Mittheilung an meine Freunde” (1851) in Sämtliche Schriften und Dichtungen, 4 (...)
  • 15 Henry Davison, Music During the Victorian Era. From Mendelssohn to Wagner: Being the Memoirs of J.  (...)
  • 16 Rosa Harriet Newmarch, “Henry Hugo Pierson” in Dictionary of National Biography, 1885–1900, vol. 45 (...)
  • 17 The Times, September 24, 1852, p. 8. See also Meirion Hughes, The English Musical Renaissance, pp.  (...)

10According to Henry Davison, the son of James William Davison and the compiler of his memoirs, some of the reasons for his father’s new lenience towards Verdi lie in events preceding the London premiere of Rigoletto by three years. In 1851 Richard Wagner circulated a “communication”14 to his friends in which he traced the development of his dramatic and musical ideas and expressed his desire to sweep away “a mass of art-encumbering rubbish.”15 This communication triggered a series of strong reactions in England. While some of the most progressive composers saw in Wagner’s theories an incentive to pursue their own innovative ideas and their urge for novelty and originality, the most conservative critics considered Wagner’s attitude disrespectful and felt threatened by his aggressive claims. One year later, on 23 September 1852, the oratorio Jerusalem was performed at the Norwich Festival. Its author was Henry Pierson, a young British composer who, having studied in Germany, was condemned as a mere parasite of the Wagnerian school, even though it was not easy to trace in his music any affinity with the Bayreuth composer.16 On that occasion, Davison’s conservative inclination prompted him to pronounce Pierson as an admirer of Schumann and a young composer too dangerously influenced by Wagner’s false idol. Pierson was a member of the “word- painting” school, something much to be regretted in so talented a musician.17 Davison’s conservativism found in Wagner and Schumann a new source of concern and apprehension; this would turn out to be beneficial to the image of those composers who, like Verdi, appeared less threatening on account of a higher degree of familiarity with their compositional achievements and their complete lack of theoretical formulations.

11The critic of The Athenaeum shared his colleagues’ view with regard to Rigoletto and held that the new opera owed its success to any number of reasons apart from the quality of its music.

  • 18 “Royal Italian Opera,” The Athenaeum, May 21, 1853, p. 625.

But should Rigoletto keep our stage for a time, we think that it will be owing partly to the strength of the cast, and the scope afforded by the principal part to Signor Ronconi’s acting,—partly to the craft of Mr. Beverley, who made in it his début as scene-painter to Covent Garden, and who has produced a pair of night pictures, the first of which is effectively original, the second deliciously beautiful,—partly because the story proves delightful to English play-goers of fashion.18

  • 19 Ibid.
  • 20 Ibid.
  • 21 Ibid.

12The critic remarked that the peculiarly horrific quality of the plot, as Victor Hugo had conceived it, played an important role in attracting the English public since it appealed to the recent morbid inclination of their imagination. The critic performed the usual fault-finding with Verdi: the composer lacked genuine ideas and skills, especially when called upon to devise proper melodies and sustain them with the appropriate instrumentation. “The music of combination and dramatic action, again, is puerile and queer:—odd modulations being perpetually wrenched out with the vain hope of disguising the intrinsic meagreness of the ideas,—and flutes being used for violins, or vice versa, apparently not to charm the hearer, but to make him stare.”19 A different opinion was expressed with regard to the quartet “Bella Figlia,” which was deservedly applauded and encored. The critic described it as a gem “founded on a melodious phrase, with clever grouping and neat contrast of the voices,—in which the climax is naturally wrought up, and by which are excited those genial sensations of pleasure which admit of no doubts, and require neither proof nor apology.”20 To our surprise, Chorley was overtly appreciative of the melodious inventiveness that the composer brought to the final quartet; this great achievement should have helped Verdi understand that “thought is not antagonistic to beauty—nor dramatic effect to musical symmetry.”21

  • 22 The Illustrated London News, May 21, 1853, p. 399.
  • 23 Ibid.

13The Illustrated London News introduced Verdi’s new opera and elaborated on the manner in which his music had been reviewed by most of the London press in quite sardonic terms. While the composer received continuous reprimands from the critics and his name was pronounced as doomed to disappear from the repertoire, his works continued to be successful among the English audience. The reviewer could “recognize in Rigoletto a higher order of beauty than struck us even in Ernani and the Due Foscari, and an abandonment, at the same time, of his most palpable defects. Rigoletto cannot be ranked, however, as a masterpiece; it is full of plagiarism and faults, and yet abounds with the most captivating music.”22 The question concerning a second, more mature style was not raised by the critic who rather claimed that although Verdi had not improved in terms of musical construction, he had “skilfully blended with the Italian school the loftiness of declamation and the piquancy of orchestration of the French masters.”23 In the end, the choice of horrific subject matter was not that objectionable, since the general public loved to be ravished by the dramatic power of a plot. It was not so different to the way in which they enjoyed Shakespeare’s Othello on the dramatic stage. Not a single word was uttered to express regret or complaint for the manner in which the singers’ voices were misused or abused. The declamatory style preferred by Verdi when called upon to illustrate the dramatic situations of the libretto was particularly congenial to an actor-singer as good as Ronconi, who was particularly esteemed by both the public and the critic. Everything in the performance was a success, notwithstanding the castigating criticisms of the pedants.

14The critic of The Spectator, having noticed a certain degree of novelty in the music of Rigoletto, made no attempt to draw broader generalisations regarding Verdi’s alleged new style.

  • 24 The Spectator, May 21, 1853, p. 8.

In the composition of the music, Verdi, like Donizetti in his latest works, has adopted a more solid and operose style than was usual to him; but he has gained in art and elaboration at the expense of freshness. His concerted pieces are more ingeniously wrought, and in his instrumentation he depends less on mere physical strength of sound, than formerly; but in this opera we do not find those simple and natural airs which, in spite of their triteness, give a charm to the Lombardi and to Ernani.24

15In London, the opera was received quite warmly thanks to the singers and despite the music but, the critic predicted, its greater success would remain confined to Italy.

16In June Ernani was revived, followed by Berlioz’s Benvenuto Cellini and a good number of stock operas: Les Huguenots, Guillaume Tell (Guglielmo Tell), Don Giovanni, Robert le diable (Roberto il diavolo), Maria di Rohan, I puritani, Le prophète, La favorite (La favorita), Jessonda. In August The Musical World published a long review of the entire opera season in which its judgment on Rigoletto was reiterated. Despite the absurdity of the libretto and notwithstanding the poor quality of the music, the opera had recorded a genuine success thanks to the powerful cast and the manner in which it was staged.

  • 25 The Musical World, August 27, 1853, p. 544.

In short, the true verdict is no more nor less than that Mario, Ronconi, Bosio, Nantier Didée, Tagliafico, Polonini (the old nobleman who curses Rigoletto), Beverley, Costa, orchestra, and chorus, by a very perfect and effective combination of talents succeeded in gaining several favourable hearings for an opera of no great merit, with a drama which, though not devoid of interest, is absurd, and music which, beyond a few pretty tunes, a certain degree of fluency, and one very good quartet, contains really nothing to be praised.25

  • 26 Basevi, Giuseppe Verdi, p. 157.

17It is quite remarkable that, with the one exception noted before, none of the critics taken into consideration seem to have been concerned about the way in which their continental colleagues had recently conceptualised Verdi’s second style. A couple of circumstances regarding the chronology of Verdi’s operas in England clarifies how such a meaningful transformation passed unnoticed among the English critics. As Abramo Basevi pointed out in 1859, it was with Luisa Miller that Verdi began to show unequivocal signs of change. In his analysis, the Italian critic pointed out that Verdi’s first manner—prima maniera—was characterised by a certain feeling for the grandiose and the passionate, this last component having led to a general exaggeration of the dramatic sentiment both in the voice and in the orchestra. The voice was used with slancio (élan), a particularly energetic impulse to which the traditional notion of melodiousness was sacrificed, while the orchestra was enriched and made particularly loud by an extensive use of the recently developed brass instruments. In Verdi’s second manner— seconda maniera—the passionate and the grandiose made room for a more moderate, intimate form of expression, with nicer tunes, more gentle sonorities, less passionate singing. Basevi acknowledged that Luisa Miller was not only the least noisy of Verdi’s operas so far, but also the most skilfully orchestrated.26

18Similar remarks can be found in the French press, where the issue of Verdi’s second phase was raised as soon as Luisa Miller was performed. Verdi’s melodrama tragico, based on Schiller’s Kabale und Liebe, was premiered in Paris, at the Salle Ventadour du Théâtre-Italien, on 7 December 1852, featuring Sophie Cruvelli in the main role, Constance Nantier-Didiée as Federica Ostheim and Laura, Jémérie Bettini as Rodolfo, and then Ignazio Valli, Fortini and De Susini. The composer himself conducted and the opera was pronounced a success, at least in popular terms; on 19 December the critic of Le Menestrel argued that, despite all that had been said about Verdi’s new style, it was clear that the composer had simply learned to conform to the dramatic subject.

  • 27 “It has been said again and again, on the subject of this score, that it signalled a complete trans (...)

On a dit et répété, à propos de cette partition, qu’elle signalait une transformation complète dans le faire du maître, qu’elle était le point de départ d’une voie nouvelle où il fallait s’engager; il y a, ce me semble, erreur ou du moins confusion dans ce jugement. Verdi n’a pas fait chanter, il est vrai, la petite Luisa comme la superbe Abigaïl; il n’a pu prêter au bonhomme Miller les accents qu’il a mis dans la bouche du doge Foscari; non, sans doute; mais, en cela, il s’est tout simplement conformé à la nature de son sujet; après avoir traité presque exclusivement des drames pompeux et héroïques, il aborde une action bourgeoise; nécessairement et naturellement son pinceau doit recourir plus souvent aux tons simples, naïfs ou gracieux; mais, encore une fois, ce n’est pas là un changement de manière; dans Luisa, comme dans les précédents ouvrages, nous retrouvons Verdi tout entier, avec ses qualités, avec ses défauts; avec une propension trop marquée au bruit, aux effets violents; avec des ravissantes et originales mélodies; avec le don précieux de faire vibrer la fibre, et de porter la pathétique au plus haut degré.27

19Occasional remarks concerning the same issue made their appearance in the following months, the French press being divided in two groups: those who supported Verdi’s work and valued the dramatic expression typical of the composer on the one hand, and those who proclaimed him devoid of any true musical talent on the other.

20It can be argued that the discussion concerning the composer’s second manner, which the performance of Luisa Miller had occasioned in Italy and in Paris, did not affect the English press because it was not until 1858 that Luisa was produced in London. As previously mentioned, in 1853 only very feeble echo can be found in the London press of the debate concerning the extent to which Verdi was either progressing towards a new style or simply conforming to the quality of the librettos he was now setting to music.

21On 22 October 1853, a few months after Rigoletto had premiered at Covent Garden, The Athenaeum published a letter from a correspondent who had attended the performance of Il trovatore in Florence. The correspondent apologised for his “crudities” with regard to a performance that would have demanded “more critical experience, musical knowledge and presence of mind” than he possessed in order to form anything like a final judgment. Nevertheless, the writer addressed some relevant issues concerning the overall value of the new work.

  • 28 “Verdi’s Il Trovatore,” The Athenaeum, October 22, 1853, p. 1263.

I suppose it is unnecessary to state that the opera is by Verdi and equally unnecessary to add that everything that mechanical musical skill can effect has been pressed into his service to supply the place of spontaneous melody and originality. Various tricks of odd keys, and out-of-the-way rhythms are made use of with some success to judge from the applause with which they are received.28

  • 29 Ibid.

22The correspondent pronounced Il trovatore a great popular success, if the yelling and howling that accompanied the performance were to be understood signs of pleasure and appreciation on the part of the natives, even though, in his eyes, they were more reminiscent of a riot over a contested election. The value of both the libretto and the music was arguable but, the correspondent held, the opera deserved some attention. “You will gather from any description that the whole thing, book and music, is too fragmentary to be an artistic work:—but there is a good deal of interest and more charm in the music, to my thinking, than is usual with Verdi.”29 Again, no mention was made of the recent development in Verdi’s compositional work, only an increase in charm and the usual faults.

  • 30 The Times, May 22, 1854, p. 11.

23One year later Rigoletto was produced again at Covent Garden, where it scored a second popular success. On 20 May a crowded audience attended its performance, featuring the same cast as the previous year (Ronconi, Mario, Bosio, Nantier-Didiée and Tagliafico). The critic of The Times pronounced the opera a popular success but, not surprisingly, ascribed its triumph solely to the merits of the interpreters and the spectacular scenery. This time the critic agreed with his French colleague from Le Menestrel about the supposed second style and argued that Verdi had changed his manner only “inasmuch as he has declined every opportunity offered by the situations of Victor Hugo’s monstrous but by no means uninteresting drama for constructing elaborate concerted pieces and grand finales, and in a great measure eschewed the perpetual noise of brass instruments and obstreperous unisons which characterise the majority of his operas.”30 The critic was also bound to admit that Rigoletto would probably remain “a fixture in the repertoire” for some time, for the appreciation shown by the general public was unequivocal, and the approving fiat of the subscribers overruled the judgment of the critics.

  • 31 The Musical World, May 27, 1854, p. 357.
  • 32 The Musical World, May 13, 1854, pp. 316–17.
  • 33 The Musical World, May 20, 1854, pp. 337–38.

24While little or no attention was paid to Rigoletto in the columns of The Athenaeum, the critic of The Musical World contented himself with a brief description of the way in which the opera was perfectly cast and powerfully performed, such pieces as “La donna è mobile” or the quartet “Bella figlia dell’amore” being welcomed with a hurricane of applause and then encored.31 Instead of focusing on Verdi, Davison indulged in a number of lengthy articles detailing the sad state of English music; he advocated the cause of native composers and revived the idea that they should club together, rent the Drury Theatre and organise a true, genuine English opera season.32 The object in founding an English National Opera was, he argued, to have the works of native composers brought before the English public in the proper style. The scheme did not exclude the possibility of foreign singers participating, but it should not rely on the star-system, for this had already proved fragile and ephemeral. On 20 May, a reader replied to the editor with a long letter sent under the pseudonym of Fiddlestick. He protested quite strongly against the complaints the editor had been uttering on behalf of English musicians, and argued against the idea that foreign music exerted a detrimental influence on the English public. On the contrary, Italian music had played a special role in pushing local musical drama towards a salutary change and in raising the English public’s taste.33 The picture was not as gloomy and desperate as the editor of The Musical World was trying to suggest. Thus a few voices arose that, in expressing their dissent, reveal the extent to which the urge for a national opera was less a shared concern than an individual obsession.

  • 34 The Times, August 15, 1854, p. 9.

25During the 1854 opera season at Covent Garden, alongside the usual stock operas, six works were promised which had never been performed there before: Oberon, La vestale, Le domino noir (as Il Domino Nero), Dom Sébastien (as Don Sebastian), Matilda di Shabran and Don Pasquale. However, only three were finally brought before the public. The season opened on 1 April with Rossini’s Guillaume Tell, while on 18 April Rossini’s comic opera Matilda di Shabran was revived, having been shelved for more than 20 years. The critic of The Times pronounced the opera the “only one among many instances in which the composer was compelled to derive his inspirations from a jumble of incongruous absurdities,”34 and took the opportunity to grumble about the way in which the real Italian school of florid singing style had been sadly abandoned by the new generation of composers.

  • 35 The Times, April 19, 1854, p. 7.

The music of Matilda di Shabran belongs to a school of which there are not many accomplished followers extant. The real Italian bravura and the real Italian florid style ceased to exist when Rossini ceased to write for the Italian theatres. The French school of declamation and the ranting system of Verdi and his disciples have usurped its place—whether for the real benefit of the vocal art is a matter for consideration. In the old Italian opera, serious as well as comic, the drama was of no consequence; the music was the chief thing; and until Rossini came the singers were even of more importance than the music. Rossini brought the school to perfection, since he made the singer’s display quite as effective as his predecessors, without sacrificing the highest aims of art. Even in Matilda di Shabran, one of his highest and most ad captandum operas, this is apparent. Without going into detail, the various concerted pieces, so well planned, and in some cases so elaborate and amply developed, are a proof of this. The introduction, the quintet, and the finale to the first act (which, by the way, is quite long enough to be divided into two) have more in them alone of musical idea and musical contrivance than is to be found in half the operas that have recently obtained a standing.35

26Donizetti’s L’elisir d’amore was produced on 25 April, followed by Rossini’s Otello and Il barbiere di Siviglia, Beethoven’s Fidelio, Mozart’s Don Giovanni, Bellini’s I puritani, and Verdi’s Rigoletto, Norma, Lucrezia Borgia, Les Huguenots, Don Pasquale and La favorite (as La favorita). In his final account of the entire opera season, the critic of The Times insisted that Rigoletto had been particularly cherished by the public, especially on account of the famous quartet.

  • 36 The Times, August 15, 1854, p. 9.

We have nothing new to say about this opera, which seems to grow upon the public, except that it contains some of Verdi’s most animated music, and has supplied the orgue de Barbarie with a tune, in “La donna è mobile,” which is retained as soon as it is heard, and, whatever its merit as an original melody, has, somehow or other, acquired universal popularity among the ladies.36

27In general, the critic did not declare himself entirely dissatisfied, and he pronounced the season not at all unsatisfactory, for even though not all the novelties promised at its commencement had arrived, a strong cast and the appearance of Sophie Cruvelli had secured a large and undeniable success.


1 The Musical World, March 26, 1853, p. 187.

2 Ibid., p. 189.

3 Ibid., p. 187.

4 The Musical World, May 14, 1853, p. 305.

5 Ibid.

6 See A. Basevi, Studio sulle opere di Giuseppe Verdi (Florence: Tofani, 1859), pp. 156–59.

7 The Times, May 16, 1853, p. 8.

8 Ibid.

9 Ibid.

10 The Musical World, May 21, 1853, p. 326.

11 Ibid.

12 Ibid.

13 The Musical World, May 28, 1953, p. 335.

14 Richard Wagner, “Eine Mittheilung an meine Freunde” (1851) in Sämtliche Schriften und Dichtungen, 4: 230–344; English trans. William Ashton Ellis, “A Communication to My Friends,” in Richard Wagner’s Prose Works (London: Kegan Paul, Trench & Trübner, 1895), 1: 267.

15 Henry Davison, Music During the Victorian Era. From Mendelssohn to Wagner: Being the Memoirs of J. W. Davison, Forty Years Music Critic of “The Times” (London: Reeves, 1912), p. 139.

16 Rosa Harriet Newmarch, “Henry Hugo Pierson” in Dictionary of National Biography, 1885–1900, vol. 45, available at Wikisource at,_Henry_Hugo_(DNB00)

17 The Times, September 24, 1852, p. 8. See also Meirion Hughes, The English Musical Renaissance, pp. 14–20.

18 “Royal Italian Opera,” The Athenaeum, May 21, 1853, p. 625.

19 Ibid.

20 Ibid.

21 Ibid.

22 The Illustrated London News, May 21, 1853, p. 399.

23 Ibid.

24 The Spectator, May 21, 1853, p. 8.

25 The Musical World, August 27, 1853, p. 544.

26 Basevi, Giuseppe Verdi, p. 157.

27 “It has been said again and again, on the subject of this score, that it signalled a complete transformation in the master’s work, that it was the point of departure for a new way on which it was necessary to embark; there is, it seems to me, error or at least confusion in this judgment. Verdi did not make the little Luisa sing like the superb Abigaïl, it is true; he was unable to lend to the regular guy Miller the accents he put in the mouth of the doge Foscari; no, without doubt; but in that, he merely conformed to the nature of his subject; after having dealt almost exclusively with bombastic and heroic dramas, he is taking on a bourgeois topic; necessarily and naturally, his brush must have more frequent recourse to simple, naïve, or graceful tones; but, again, this is not a change of style; in Luisa, as in his previous works, we find again the complete Verdi, with his qualities, with his defects; with a too-marked propensity for noise, for violent effects; with ravishing and original melodies; with the precious gift to make the fibres vibrate, and to raise the pathetic to the highest register.” Le Menestrel, December 19, 1852, in Hervé Gartioux, La reception de Verdi en France, Anthologie de la presse 1845–1894 (Weinsberg: Galland, 2001), p. 146.

28 “Verdi’s Il Trovatore,” The Athenaeum, October 22, 1853, p. 1263.

29 Ibid.

30 The Times, May 22, 1854, p. 11.

31 The Musical World, May 27, 1854, p. 357.

32 The Musical World, May 13, 1854, pp. 316–17.

33 The Musical World, May 20, 1854, pp. 337–38.

34 The Times, August 15, 1854, p. 9.

35 The Times, April 19, 1854, p. 7.

36 The Times, August 15, 1854, p. 9.