If, Madam, one were all ear, and lost to every sense but that of harmony, surely the Italian opera would be a transporting thing!—But when one finds good sense, and instruction, and propriety, sacrificed to the charms of sound, what an unedifying, what a mere temporary delight does it afford! For what does one carry home, but the remembrance of having been pleased so many hours by the mere vibration of air, which, being but sound, you cannot bring away with you; and must therefore enter the time passed in such a diversion, into the account of those blank hours, from which one has not reaped so much as one improving lesson?
Mr. B. observes, that when once sound is preferred to sense, we shall depart from all our own worthiness, and, at best, be but the apes, yea, the dupes, of those whom we may strive to imitate, but never can reach, much less excel.
Mr. B. says, sometimes, that this taste is almost the only good fruit our young nobility gather, and bring home from their foreign tours; and that he found the English nation much ridiculed on this score, by those very people who are benefited by their depravity. And if this be the best, what must the other qualifications be, which they bring home?—Yet every one does not return with so little improvement, it is to be hoped.
But what can I say of an Italian opera?—For who can describe sound! Or what words shall be found to embody air? And when we return, and are asked our opinion of what we have seen or heard, we are only able to answer, as I hinted above the scenery is fine, the company splendid and genteel, the music charming for the time, the action not extraordinary, the language unintelligible, and, for all these reasons—the instruction none at all.
This is all the thing itself gives me room to say of the Italian opera; very probably, for want of a polite taste, and a knowledge of the language.
In my next, I believe, I shall give you, Madam, my opinion of a diversion, which, I doubt, I shall like still less, and that is a masquerade; for I fear I shall not be excused going to one, although I have no manner of liking to it, especially in my present way. I am. Madam, your ladyship’s most obliged and faithful P.B.
I must add another half sheet to this letter on the subject matter of it, the opera; and am sure you will not be displeased with the addition.
Mr. B. coming up just as I had concluded my letter, asked me what was my subject? I told him I was giving your ladyship my notions of the Italian opera. “Let me see what they are, my dear; for this is a subject that very few of those who admire these performances, and fewer still of those who decry them, know any thing of.”
He read the above, and was pleased to commend it. “Operas,” said he, “are very sad things in England, to what they are in Italy; and the translations given of them abominable: and indeed, our language will not do them justice.