Opera House, Italian (see Her Majesty's Theatre ...) The season here generally commences about the latter end of January, and terminates about the latter end of July. The boxes here are all the private property of the subscribers, or are let out for the season, many of them being again re-let to the West-end booksellers, chiefly the following: Hookham, Andrews, Mitchell, and Ebers, of Bond Street, Sams of St. James's Street, and Seguin of Regent Street, of whom tickets admitting to the pit may be obtained at 8s. 6d. each. The following are the regular prices of admission: to the pit stalls, 21s.; pit 10s. 6d; gallery stalls, 5s.; gallery 3s.
Her Majesty's Theatre, or the Opera House, in the Haymarket, was originally built by Sir John Vanbrugh; it was altogether an ill-contrived, but "vast and triumphant piece of architecture." It was subsequently improved by Signor Novosielski; but, from various circumstances, the concern became greatly embarrassed, and the whole was destroyed by fire on the night of 17th of June, 1789. It was principally rebuilt in the following year by Signor Novosielski, a first-rate artist of that day; but the exterior was, from a want of funds, long left in a rude and unfinished state; the improvements in Pall Mall, however, hastened its completion, which it finally experienced in 1819. As completed from designs by Nash (to whom, however, credit is due for the exterior only), it is a handsome edifice, cased with stucco, and adorned with an elegant colonnade, constructed of cast-iron pillars of the Doric order, that support an entablature and balustraded gallery. The front is decorated with a beautiful relievo, executed by Mr. Budd in 1821, representing the origin and progress of music. The interior (by Signor Novosielski) is extremely magnificent, and presents a coup d'oeil at once splendid, imposing, and elegant. The chandeliers, which are of the mast superb description, are lighted by gas. The admission to the pit is 10s. 6d. and to the gallery 5s. The house will contain about 2,500 persons. The performances, which chiefly consist of Italian Operas and French Ballets, are only regularly exhibited on Tuesdays and Saturdays, from about January to July or August. The performers are the most accomplished singers, and elegant dancers, of the Italian, German, and French stages. The Orchestral band is one of the finest in the world, and the scenic department is entirely conducted by the accomplished artists, the Messrs. Grieve. The concert-room, which is fitted up with extreme elegance, is ninety-five feet long, forty-six feet broad, and thirty-five feet high The whole of this immense property has been for many years and still is, involved in litigation.
Mogg's New Picture of London and Visitor's Guide to it Sights, 1844Victorian London - Publications - Social Investigation/Journalism - Sketches of London Life and Character, by Albert Smith et. al.,  - The Opera
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sont des plaisirs vifs et charmants qu'il faut goûter et non décrire. Thus,
if we remember aright, pleads the excellent Philarète Chasles, as an excuse fur
not doing with his pen what his compatriot, M. Gavarni, has so happily done with
his pencil. As, with all deference to the sensibilities of M. Chasles, one
usually finds it a far easier task to describe pleasures than to feel them, we
hesitate to offer his ingenious plea for avoiding ground which is so well known
as to be dangerous. It would perhaps be better, and certainly it would be truer,
to allege that one follows this artist with about as much chance of putting the
subject in a new light, as is left to the young gentleman "with"
Talfourd orThesiger, when either advocate has sat down after his speech.
Still, if one chose to be dreary, and were not troubled with a literary conscience, it would be easy to. divulge several very instructive things about the Italian Opera. And we know, quite well, how we should treat the subject if we were writing for the worthy millions,. and not for la créme. Do you think we should not remark upon the influence which music has exercised in all ages, and give a cursory biography of all the instrument-makers, from Tubal Cain to Erard? Should we not be classically enthusiastic concerning the choral strains of Greece, and reverentially inquisitive about [-9-] the Hebraic anthems? And if a reader escaped without an introduction to Sappho, and an allusion to. Orpheus, and a new version of the story of Arion, he would get off better than we think he ought. What is the use of all the general information which writers read up, if it is not to be reprinted upon opportunity? Dogberry was a wise man, and ought to have been made editor of a magazine in Messina for that one piece of counsel to George Seacoal, to let his reading and writing appear "when there is no occasion for such vanity." We could do so if we dared, and we know exactly where to find a chronological history of the Opera in England, with statistics of all the managements, from Sir John Gallini to Mr. Lumley; and we could tell, at second hand (for we were not at the fire), how the old house was burned in 1789; and how the Italians went to the Haymarket and then to the Pantheon; and how Novosielski designed the new building; and all about the quarrels between Goold and Taylor; and how Mr. Chambers, the banker, began to be ruined; and how worthy Mr. Ebers dashed in to the rescue of the Opera; and how the house was officially declared unsafe in 1824, and the Lord Chamberlain refused to license the performances; and how M. Laporte succeeded, and Mr. Monck Mason did not succeed. And we could recount a quantity of anecdotes - mostly very stupid, but respectable from their antiquity and the great wear and tear they have undergone - and, in fact, we could borrow a great deal; but, as aforesaid, there is such an affair as conscience.
But one of the great beauties of this world is that there is no such thing as absolute truth. There is nothing you can look at which does not become some-[-10-]thing else if you look at it from another point of view. Now ye have not enunciated this profound reflection without a reason. We bear in mind two visits, out of certain others which we have made in our time, to the Opera. It occurs to us that by describing these, and appending them to M. Gavarni's engraving, we shall enable anybody, with only the ordinary number of heads, to give a Cerberean look at the subject-to regard it three ways at once.
The first season we used to go to the Opera we had not a stall of our own. We think it fair to add, that neither have we one now. But we then considered our having been within those walls a circumstance of very great glory and fashion, and were accustomed to regard the mean little play-bill, which we sedulously preserved in evidence of the fact, with feelings akin to those with which Lord Tancred now peruses his certificate of having visited the shrine of the Sepulchre. Being unmarried, we decline offering any further particulars as to the date of this transition-state, except that it was during Laporte's management. On a certain non-subscription night (for we were not proud, but, on the contrary, glad to get an order) we had gone to the pit very early, and having found out a seat, were combining instruction with amusement by looking after the corresponding passages in the Italian and English librètti-a harmless recreation. The opera was the Barbiere, and we had just stuck at Figaro's celebrated
"Donne, donne! Eterni Dei!
Chi vi arriva a indovinar?"
The house had filled, and as the lights were suddenly turned on, it appeared to our inexperienced sense that [-11-] the whole of the court and the aristocracy were watching the progress of our studies. We felt like the young cornet who was naturally anxious that his helmet should be properly put on, because, having joined yesterday only, of course the eyes of Europe were upon him. While arranging one's hair, and generally endeavouring that none of the Marchionesses who were watching us should have just cause to censure our appearance or attitude, we were beckoned into a box on the pit tier. But not by a Marchioness, exactly. The invitation came from a remarkably grim and snuffy barrister - a family friend. Never mind - a box - what glory! We were soon ensconced, and if one drop of melancholy mingled in our cup of happiness, as in Psyche's in heaven, it was the thought that nobody who knew us at Islington was there to see our grandeur. Our thanks were profuse, but the grim and snuffy barrister was not a pleasant person to talk civilities to.
"I thought you looked stupid, and as I have the box to myself, you are as well here as there."
"Stupid!" Did the Marchionesses think so? We ventured to hint that it was a "brilliant night." The grim and snuffy barrister looked positively sublime (Soulié says that the manifestation of any passion, good or bad, in excess, is sublime) with contempt.
"A - a - brilliant - at least," said we, getting frightened, "there seem to be some - some good people here."
The curtain rose - if we knew the name of the man who rang it up that night, at that precise moment, we would send him a very small present. It saved us from annihilation.
[-12-] The opera proceeded until Almaviva had displayed his Order, the police had liberated him, and the stirring chorus of concerted confusion and prearranged astonishment which ends the first act, was over.
"Now," said the grim and snuffy barrister, "you obviously know nothing about this place; and so don't call nights ' brilliant,' and people 'good,' until you are safer. There's nobody here. You are looking at the royal box, and very likely you think that man s an emperor in disguise. He's the court confectioner. In the next box - give me the glass - that's an attorney and his family; and if justice is done, he'll be knocked off the rolls next Friday. You are taking the over-dressed woman, with the emeralds, for somebody. So she is - her husband's a Jew bill-discounter, and he's gone into the stalls, where he sees a young fellow who thinks to keep out of his clutches by keeping out of his sight. The fat man over there is the sub-editor of a paper in the interest of the house; and the man above him, with the hook nose, black eyes, and one great diamond, is Tango, the sheriff's officer - he's on the watch, too, for somebody, and his man's in the lobby. That pretty woman, as you call her, I should have thought you'd have known - it's Miss Footlights, of the Haymarket Theatre; and the woman she calls her mother's with her. Those people who have brought half their parish into the box, do so because they only come once in the season, and like to talk about it. Next to them is the doctor to the theatre; he invents disorders for singers who don't want to sing, and then makes out certificates that they are very bad. I don't see how you could suppose he was Lord Aberdeen, because there's not the slightest likeness. Yes, that is somebody - it's [-13-] Sir Hafiz Vastator he's come because he knows his wife can't be here to-night. I forget the name of the girl - she's in the ballet; you'll see her leave his box before the opera is over. There's old Fugue, the composer; nobody cares for him now, but Laporte gives the old creature a corner sometimes, to remind him of the days when he was the fashionable song-writer, and ruined himself by giving suppers to the Guards. If you do not know who that lady is, I shall certainly not be the first to tell you. Beyond her, nearer the stage, is the wife of a man who brews Indian ale; and beyond her again is old Mother Jonadab, who keeps the masquerade shop, and I suppose gets boxes in payment for some of the dresses she lends the house. On a line with us - the fourth from here - is Barrels, who writes the novels of which Lady Laura Spike is author. They have had a row because he wants a quarter instead of an eighth of the purchase-money - authors are never content! Opposite is Straps, the lunatic asylum keeper, with two harmless patients (they are both tied to their chairs); and the last is Barabbas Yelp, the political writer as he calls himself. He has been abusing religion lustily for a great many years, until he has saved money and bought his son a living. So much for your 'brilliant night' !"
We waited some years before we ventured upon the term again. And the next time we felt inclined to use it was last season.
We had the very great pleasure, on a Jenny Lind night (and a night when Jenny sang in a part in which those not usually her worshippers admit her perfection), of attending to the Opera-house a young lady who had never visited it before. And when the wonders of pre-[-14-]ternatural vocalists have ceased to produce an effect on the ear, and when the achievements of superhuman danseuses can scarcely extort a plaudit (not that we affect to be in any such state of used-up-ishness), there is always a fresh, and what M. Chasles calls a vif plaisir, in watching the sensation their marvels produce in another. Of course, that is to say, when that other is an interesting person; for of all bores, the greatest is a bore in a state of surprise. And we regret to add, that there is so great a quantity of surprise going about just now, fresh from Paris and elsewhere, that it makes society very disagreeable. When the evening papers come in, you see every second man with his mouth wide open - an unseemly sight.
The "Miranda" of that evening was married to her Ferdinand, but Ferdinand promised to go to sleep in the back of the box, and leave us to expound the mysteries of the enchanted region. Miranda had prepared herself for the occasion ; she knew every note of the opera, and she also knew the cast. Moreover, she had a general idea of the theatre, and did not expect (as do some) to see the Queen's box hanging from the chandelier, or (as do others) to see straw littered down in the stalls. We led her to the box with anticipations of considerable pleasure, and it may be satisfactory to state (the French novelists are always accurate on these points, so we suppose there is reason for it) that Miranda looked as a young and beautiful wife should look, that she wore amber satin with black lace thereon, and had faintly green grapes in her dark and massive hair - a costume which we prefer to that suggested for her in the "Pictorial Shakspere."
We managed that Miranda should enter her box as [-15-] the curtain rose for the opening chorus. The house was filled, for Jenny Lind has shown us that it possible - sufficient reason being given - to get the subscribers into their places at eight o'clock.
As Miranda advanced to the front, one huge volume of sound rose, like a giant wave, from the orchestra, while another, leaping from the stage, rushed to meet it, and both blending, broke in a mighty tide of melody at her feet. Such, at least, is her own tale ; for ourselves, we merely heard the first bars of the Sonnambula. Miranda stood, very quiet and very pale, for a few seconds, and then, without disturbance or appeal of any kind, as quietly subsided into her seat - and fainted.
Certainly, when one thinks of it, the eye and the ear are strangely assailed in those monster buildings. It seldom strikes the habitué, because he is always thinking of some specific object-looking for some acquaintance - listening to some favourite singer - watching some especial pet of the ballet - considering where he will go next-or uttering imprecations on the button of his glove for flying away. But to anybody who goes for the sake of the opera; who is not weighing the probable merits of the parties at which he has to show himself afterwards; who, not being a member of parliament, has not to calculate how he can manage to see Carlotta Gnisi's great pas and yet get back to the House in time to speak on the Church Extension question; who, not being a critic, has not to rush from the red opera to the green one, or from the green to the red one (as, from the colour of the affiches, the rival houses are now known), to compare the finale; who, not being in love, has not to stand behind his idol's chair, talk [-16-] as brilliantly as he can, and strive to spoil the talk of I his enemies - to anybody not so disqualified, the effect of either of our Opera-houses must be overwhelming.
Beautifully constructed, the magic circle floats the lightest whisper to you, and the ear is instantly at ease, finding that no effort is required to catch the flying tones of the music. Nor is the eye worse treated; let it fall where it will it is charmed, rather than dazzled, by the artistic adornments lavishly, but not carelessly, strewn around. And when those vast areas, glittering and perfumed, are enriched by the noteabilities of the age, and jewelled by that unrivalled beauty, which, be it a gift of fate, or an accident of race, is indisputably the characteristic of English aristocracy; when the stage, unveiling, presents one of those gorgeous scenic displays of Grieve or Marshall, in which true art, struggling with meretricious splendour for the mastery, not seldom triumphs; when the full glory of music, radiating from a perfect chorus and orchestra, floods, in one delicious tide, every channel and avenue of sound, the sense and the mind maybe pardoned if alike they yield to the mighty enchantment, and cling with the earnestness of a first love to the localities which our artist has partially, but faithfully, depicted.
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OPERA HOUSE, HAYMARKET, the largest theatre in Europe, except that of La Scala at Milan, and the second theatre on the same site, was built from the designs of Michael Novosielski, and altered and enlarged by Nash and Repton in 1816-18. The first theatre on this site (built and established by Sir John Vanbrugh) was opened April 9th 1705, and burned down June 27th 1789. The first stone of the present house was laid April 3rd, 1790.
Peter Cunningham, Hand-Book of London, 1850The regular Opera house of London is "Her Majesty's Theatre." This is a large stone building, surrounded entirely with an immense stone portico, and is decidedly the most imposing place of amusement in London. The interior is also richly decorated. It has five tiers of boxes, all private property, or let for the season. Thus it is often very difficult for a casual visitor to secure a seat. In this particular, having purchased tickets at the door, and placing oneself confidingly in the hands of a "guide," acquaintanceship or friendship is found to be very useful, for without this convenience, nine times in ten a seat cannot · be procured. Dress is extremely favorable to good seats. A man that is dressed most, whether best or not, is sure to get the best seat. Admission is totally impossible without dress coat, black pants, and fancy waistcoat; and the nearer ladies come to carrying a fancy silk store, the better, infinitely so, it is for them.
W. O'Daniel, Ins and Outs of London, 1859
see also George Sala in Twice Round the Clock - click here
see also David Bartlett in London by Day and Night - click here
MAJESTY'S THEATRE, or the OPERA HOUSE, Haymarket. The first theatre on this site
was erected by the architect and dramatist, Sir John Vanbrugh, in 1704, and
opened in 1705, under the appellation of the "Queen's Theatre," for
the performance of Italian operas. It was burned down on the 17th of June 1789.
The new building was designed by Mr. Novosielski, and the first stone laid by
the Earl of Burlington on the 3d of April 1790. In 1828 Messrs. Nash and Repton
were employed to remedy its defects and increase its restoration. The colonnade,
which encloses three sides of the building, was then erected.
Of the Italian opera the two most eminent impresarios were M. Laporte and Mr. Lumley. The latter directed the affairs of the theatre with great energy, until the secession, in 1847, of Grisi, Mario, Costa, and the chief members of the company, to Covent Garden. The immense popularity of Jenny Lind retarded his fall for a season or two; but he has since been obliged to succumb to the superior forces of the rival theatre.
Her Majesty's Theatre is nearly of the same dimensions as La Scala at Milan (the largest in Europe). There are five tiers of boxes, and the theatre will accommodate an audience of upwards of 2500 persons.
Admission: Boxes, 11. is. to 61. 6s. ; slip stalls, 5s.; amphitheatre stalls, 5s.; pit, 10s. 6d.; amphitheatre, 3s. Doors open at seven ; curtain rises at half-past seven p.m.
Cruchley's London in 1865 : A Handbook for Strangers, 1865
The BIJOU THEATRE, or Concert Room of Her Majesty's Theatre, is handsomely fitted up, and is used for various entertainments.
Cruchley's London in 1865 : A Handbook for Strangers, 1865
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Her Majesty’s Opera House, Haymarket.—An exceedingly handsome house, the salle built on the lines of the old theatre destroyed by fire in 1867 but not occupying quite the same site. The former stage was one of the shallowest in London, extending almost as much in front of the curtain as behind it. By sacrificing the “crush-room,” or foyer which occupied the end of the building farthest from the stage the salle has now been removed a considerable distance to the north of its former position, and the space thus gained has been thrown into the stage, which now occupies its normal relation to the rest of the house. From the point of view of stage effect a great gain has thus been achieved, the actors no longer stepping out of the picture and walking down almost to the middle of the house to sing their solos. Whether the acoustic qualities of the theatre have gained by this improvement is perhaps a question, but they are still very good. The best place for hearing, both here and at the other opera-house, is the amphitheatre stalls; the best for seeing the middle or back row of the orchestra stalls, or the central portion of the grand tier. Visitors will find a very convenient short exit into the arcade from the lobby on the right-hand side, looking towards the stage. The theatre is at present leased by Mr. Mapleson, who gives performances of Italian opera during the season and, at lower prices, in the autumn. Recently the house has been occupied by Mr. Carl Rosa for performances of opera in English, the success of which has been sufficient to justify the expectation that English opera may be destined, after all its vicissitudes, to find at last a permanent home in the metropolis. Evening dress, during the Italian opera season, de rigeur in every detail, as at Covent Garden. NEAREST Railway Stations, Charing-cross (Dist. and S.E.); Omnibus Routes Pall Mall or Haymarket; Cab Rank, Opposite
Charles Dickens (Jr.), Dickens's Dictionary of London, 1879Victorian London - Publications - Social Investigation/Journalism - London Up to Date, by George Augustus Sala, 1895 - Carthage in the Haymarket
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CARTHAGE IN THE HAYMARKET
IT is a fact worthy of remark, that London is a metropolis
which, while it cheerfully acquiesces from century to century in the survival of
slums, will very rarely be persuaded to tolerate the long-continued existence of
ruins, or even of vacant spaces, within its confines. Ever since the days of
James I., who vainly endeavoured by Royal proclamation to arrest the further
growth of the capital, we have been possessed by a building mania, and one of
the most difficult enterprises which modern philanthropists have entered upon
has been to preserve a sufficient number of open areas in this overgrown
Babylon, where the speculative builder is perpetually on the watch to swallow up
every disposable spare yard of ground for brick-and-mortar purposes. Within my
time Cremorne, Vauxhall, and the Surrey Zoological Gardens have all been built
over, and a large portion of Hampstead Heath has been with difficulty rescued
from the devouring maw of the building fiend.
A towering Memorial Hall covers the site of the old Fleet Prison, and were I to go over the water I should be puzzled to find out where the Queen's Bench, the Marshalsea, and Horsemonger Lane Gaol once stood.
[-369-] The same uncertainty will, ere long, reign touching the precise locality of Coldbath Fields and Tothill Fields prisons. Picturesque, although dingy, old Oxford Market has given place to a pile of residential mansions; and as for the Smithfield which Charles Dickens described with such terrible force in Oliver Twist, what with dead-meat markets, poultry, fruit, and vegetable markets, it has been transformed utterly beyond the recognition of Cockney Rip Van Winkles.
Still, we are too active, too pushing to march in a hurry, and perhaps too greedy of gain to bear with ruins, or, for any lengthened period, with unoccupied spaces "eligible" for building purposes. It is true that we have no "classical ruins," so to speak, in our midst. If we dismiss as apocryphal the legend that the White Tower in the Tower of London was built by Julius Caesar, the oldest public edifice in London is obviously Westminster Abbey, and of Roman remains one of the very few that are extant within the Metropolitan area is the Roman bath in Strand Lane. Paris has two famous ruins, but with a great bridge of Time between them. One is the Thermes on the Boulevard St. Michel, the remains of the immense baths appertaining to an Imperial Roman palace, long inhabited, if not actually erected, by the Emperor Julian, the Apostate. Another most conspicuous ruin in the French capital is the charred and blackened shell of the Cour des Comptes, on the Quai d'Orsay. This most woeful of modern ruins was burned by the Communards in 1871.
And this brings me at once to the subject of this [-370-] chapter. For some months past there has been a ruin at the corner of the Haymarket, eastward of Waterloo Place. The dilapidated edifice occupied a vast space of ground, at the eastern side in the Haymarket, and extending north and south from Charles Street to Pall Mall. It used to be known as Her Majesty's Theatre, but I prefer to call it Carthage, for the reasons of the infinite wretchedness of its plight and of the famous memories which it recalls. With our usual impatience of ruins, however, on its being generally confessed that there was no chance of prosperity for Her Majesty's Theatre as a home of Italian Opera, or, indeed, as a place devoted to any other kind of entertainment, and the Crown lease having fallen in, the theatre was not allowed slowly to subside into ruins, but was deliberately and ferociously torn down, with the view of straightway erecting a structure of quite another character in its place.
It does not in the least matter to me whether the new edifice which is to arise on the area of the Haymarket Carthage is to be a Co-operative Store, or a branch of the General Post-Office, or a Brobdingnagian bucket shop, or another West-End branch of the Sempiternal Wild Cat Bank, Unlimited, or a gigantic hotel. I have heard that the last named is to be its destiny; but I prefer to regard it only as a congener of the antique African city which was set on fire by the Romans, and burned incessantly during seventeen days; which was partially rebuilt by Augustus, wrested from the Romans by Genseric and his Vandals, and at last [-371-] fell into the hands of the Saracens. Do you know Tasso's lines on the delended city? I will give them to you as beautifully rendered by Fairfax:
Carthage low in ashes cold doth lie,
Her ruins poor, the herbs in height can pass
So cities fall, so perish kingdoms high,
Their pride and pomp lie hid in sand and grass.
I repeated these lines to myself the last
time when, coming from Pall Mall, I turned to behold the Opera Colonnade, the
pillar smeared over with colours once garish, now dirty, and branded with the
inscriptions of "Lot 54," "Lot 107," and so forth, and saw
that the façade of the once splendid theatre had been wholly demolished, the
auditorium entirely dismantled, the stage ripped up, and only something like the
phantoms of the frame of the proscenium, and of the different tiers of boxes
remaining in unsightly brickwork. Where were the yellow satin curtains; where
the huge central chandelier; and where, oh! where, the scenery and the costumes,
the decorations, and, more than all, the wondrous harmonies, vocal and
instrumental, that once made the Italian Opera House one of the chief glories of
London? All gone as thoroughly and as hopelessly as Dido's city, the building of
which was painted with such wondrous exuberance of imagination by our Turner.
Would that he were alive to paint Carthage in the Haymarket by moonlight, and
Colonel Mapleson musing like Marius of old among its ruins!
With the operatic Punic ruin I was in my youth very much, although indirectly, concerned. So far as I [-372-] could gather from maternal information, my paternal grandfather, Claudius Sebastian Sala, a Roman citizen of ancient descent, came to this country in the year 1766 with a letter of recommendation to one Signor Gallini, a refugee domiciled in England - whose son became a celebrated dancing-master and giver of concerts and masquerades - who was at one time lessee of the King's Theatre, or Italian Opera- House, in the Haymarket, who afterwards married a daughter of Lord Abingdon, became Sir John Gallini, and gathered wealth enough to build the Hanover Square Rooms, now reconstructed as a club. I think that my grandfather had something to do with the direction of the ballet at the King's Theatre; and, indeed, the Terpsichorean art seems in the last century to have been extensively cultivated in one branch of our family, since, some years ago, on my friend, the late James Hannay - who was very much "gone" on genealogy - telling me he had discovered an ancestor of mine who was a Grand Inquisitor in Spain, I was compelled to inform him in reply that, whatever my presumed ancestor had had to do with the Holy Inquisition, I had had an ancestress whose vocation had been of a far cheerfuller, albeit humbler, nature, and that I possessed a letter, of which the ink had grown sadly faded, in her handwriting, and in which she had entreated her brother, my grandsire, not to let it be known that she had danced on the tightrope at the Carnival of Venice, in 1780, seeing that the publication of that certainly not incriminating, but scarcely dignified, fact might militate against her con-[-373-]tracting a matrimonial alliance with a wealthy banker at Trieste. It chanced, likewise, that I once became aware of a Signora Catarina Sala who lived at Como, and kept a tripe-dresser's shop; but I consoled myself by remembering that she belonged to the Lombard, and not the Roman, branch of our house.
You may be sure that the apparitions of the old ballets at the King's Theatre rose up before me as I gazed on the skeleton proscenium, the dreary yawning gap which should have been the pit, and the naked arches which once supported the vanished tiers of boxes. I seemed to be listening to a phantom opera, say Vanneschi's Fetonte. Horace Walpole criticised that same opera in no amiable mood. Phaeton, he remarked, was run away with by horses that went at a foot pace like an Electress's coach, with such long traces that the postilion was in one street and the coachman in another. "Then came Jupiter with a farthing candle to light a squib and a half, and that was what they called fireworks." The old King's Theatre, where my grandfather possibly assisted Sir John Gallini in arranging the jigs and minuets in operas, subsequent to Vanneschi's Fetonte, was burned down in the year 1789.
An engraving is extant of the combusted opera-house. It shows the front of the edifice much as when it was built by Sir John Vanbrugh, in the reign of George I. The façade was only thirty-four feet wide, and the whole building, which was of red brick, somewhat resembles a Quakers' meeting-house. Over the entrance hall there is a large placard, announcing that "Ridant's Fencing [-374-] Academy" was held in an upper storey of the edifice; and on the piers below are large posters, announcing the appearance of Signor Rauzzina and of Signora Carnevale. It is to be hoped that these posters did not provoke the wrath of the more sentimental among Royal Academicians at the time as "a hideous disfigurement" of the beauty of the public buildings of London!
A very different opera-house was that erected in 1790 from the design of an architect of Polish extraction, named Novosielski; but the new theatre began its career over-weighted with those debts and liabilities which had been its bane ever since Congreve and Vanbrugh started an Italian Opera-House in 1704 with a capital of three thousand pounds, in shares of a hundred pounds from each held by thirty persons, who, in addition to their interest in the theatre, were to have an admission ticket for life to all public performances given in the house. As the King's Theatre began, so did Her Majesty's Theatre end. Under Mr. Mapleson's management the magnificent structure was gutted by a great conflagration in December 1867. The assignee of the property, the Earl of Dudley, decided upon rebuilding the theatre without loss of time; and in March 1869 the new house, which had cost some fifty thousand pounds, was ready for the public.
Everybody was anticipating the probable date of the opening of the new theatre, when there was fulminated in the Times a proclamation, from the directors of Her Majesty's Theatre, to the effect that no performances [-375-] would be given there during that season; the solution of this enigmatical notice being that the construction of the interior had cost so large a sum that, the greater part of the boxes and stalls being held on lease, the expenses would necessarily be in excess of the receipts, even in the highly improbable case of a full attendance every night. Poor old theatre! From first to last its progress financially was all downhill. The lessee to whom the ingenious device had occurred of selling the leases of boxes and stalls was a Mr. Benjamin Lumley, a highly respectable and accomplished gentleman, who had been the solicitor of M. Laporte, a French actor of some repute, and who succeeded at his (Laporte's) death to the managerial throne of Carthage in the Haymarket.
You may read in magazine articles and volumes of reminiscences that from the time of the Regency to that of the accession of Her Majesty, the history of the Opera- House in the Haymarket is that of a series of triumphs. Yes; we all know that early in the century the incomparable prima donna Catalani sent London stark staring mad with her wonderful achievements as a vocalist, and that for the operatic season of 1809 she received the almost Patti-like remuneration of fifteen thousand pounds. Then came the triumphs of Pasta, and of Velluti, the wonderful male soprano of whom something was said in one of my papers on Regent Street. Then there was delightful Henrietta Sontag, and then succeeded the operatic stars of my own boyhood, Giulia Grisi, Rubini, Tamburini, Lablache, and later on, Mario. The magazine articles and the reminiscences do not tell [-376-] you, however, that the financial history of the theatre was one mainly of debt, difficulty, and ultimate ruin.
In 1837 the "King's Theatre" became "Her Majesty's Theatre" in honour of the accession to the throne of Queen Victoria, whom, in those days, we used to talk and sing about as "The Bonny English Rose." That M. Laporte, whom I mentioned just now, was "Doldrum, the Manager," immortalised in Tom Ingoldsby's ballad of "A Row in an Omnibus (Box)." A very silly intrigue among the operatic stars brought about a disturbance at the beginning of the season of 1841, almost equalling in turmoil the noisiest of the "O.P." riots. "Doldrum, the Manager," otherwise Laporte, had declined the further services of the great baritone, Tamburini, and had replaced him by a singer named Coletti; but Madame Giulia Grisi, whose beauty as well as whose talents had made her par excellence the artistic lioness of the day, was on the side of Tamburini, and at her bidding, or at least instigation, a tremendous demonstration against Coletti was organised among her aristocratic admirers. On the night of the first appearance of Coletti, the omnibus box on the pit tier - where is it now? - was crowded by the bucks and dandies of the day, yelling, shrieking, hooting, and calling for Tamburini and Laporte. The manager, foreseeing uproar, had discreetly caused the door of communication between the omnibus box and the stage to be locked. The patrician tenants of the box were additionally exasperated when they found that they were debarred from their usual privilege of lounging behind the scene and chatting [-377-] with the pets of the ballet between the acts; and the honour of having kicked through and eventually demolished the panels of the locked door was ascribed to a Prince of the Blood, now universally popular as an illustrious and gallant Duke. The stage at last was stormed by the patricians, and the performance came to an untimely close; but good- natured Count D'Orsay soon afterwards contrived to patch up a reconciliation between the dandies and "Doldrum, the Manager." Negotiations were entered into with Tamburini, and the ostracised baritone returned in triumph to Carthage in the Haymarket. Laporte resigned his sceptre in 1842, and when he died soon afterwards, Mr. Benjamin Lumley reigned in his place.
Of that able, but in the end not successful, impresario, whose name must always be associated with that of Jenny Lind, whom he first introduced to a London audience, I preserve a very pleasant memory. In the autumn of 1850 I was engaged, at the instance of my friend, Alexis Soyer, sometime chef at the Reform Club, to paint on the staircase walls of Gore House, Kensington - which he was fitting up as a great cosmopolitan restaurant, to be known as "Soyer's Symposium," in view of the forthcoming Exhibition of 1851 - a comic panoramic procession of the leading celebrities of the day. The work was executed in oil and in monochrome, and I passed about eight hours a day for about three months, perched sometimes on a ladder, and sometimes on a plank suspended by cords from the ceiling, sketching in a mob of the then famous men and women of the [-378-] epoch, all with very large heads, and generally on the broad grin. That was thought to be humorous art in the year 1850. One day, coming down to lunch, with my brown holland overalls all grimed and spattered with oil and turpentine, Chinese white and Brunswick black, I found myself in presence of Soyer and a tall, dark gentleman of slightly Hebrew mien. This was Mr. Benjamin Lumley, lessee and manager of Her Majesty's Theatre. He had been watching me at work, and after a few pleasant words he left me. But the next day I received a note from Mr. Lumley's secretary, saying that he had placed my name on the free list for the pit of Her Majesty's Theatre for the entire season; so you see that, although my career as an artist was not a very protracted one, it was not wholly without distinguished patronage. Perhaps it was for that reason that when I looked the other day on poor old Carthage in the Haymarket there trembled in my eye a "drop of unfamiliar brine."
Printed by R.& R. Clark, Edinburgh