Great Singers, First Series eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 150 pages of information about Great Singers, First Series.

     “Old poets sing that beasts did dance
     Whenever Orpheus played: 
     So to Faustina’s charming voice
     Wise Pembroke’s asses brayed.”

The two fair cantatrices even forgot themselves so far as to come to blows on several occasions, and the scandalous chronicle of the times was enlivened with epigrams, lampoons, libels, and duels in rapid succession.  This amusing but disgraceful feud was burlesqued in a farce called “Contretemps, or The Rival Queens,” which was performed at Heidigger’s theatre.  Faustina as the Queen of Bologna and Cuzzoni as Princess of Modena were made to seize each other by the hair, and lacerate each other’s faces.  Handel looks on with cynical attention, and calmly orders that the antagonists be “left to fight it out, inasmuch as the only way to calm their fury is to let them satisfy it.”

The directors of the opera finally solved the difficulty in the following manner:  Cuzzoni had solemnly sworn never to accept a guinea less than her rival.  As Faustina was far more attractive and manageable, she was offered just one guinea more than Cuzzoni, who learning the fact broke her contract in a fury of indignation, and accepted a Viennese engagement.  The well-known Ambrose Philips addressed the following farewell lines to the wrathful singer: 

     “Little siren of the stage,
     Charmer of an idle age,
     Empty warbler, breathing lyre,
     Wanton gale of fond desire;
     Bane of every manly art,
     Sweet enfeebler of the heart;
     Oh! too pleasing is thy strain. 
     Hence to southern climes again,
     Tuneful mischief, vocal spell;
     To this island bid farewell: 
     Leave us as we ought to be—­
     Leave the Britons rough and free.”

II.

Faustina Bordoni, who from the time of her radiant debut was known as the “New Siren,” was the daughter of a noble Venetian family, formerly one of the governing families of the republic.  Born in the year 1700, she began to study her art at an early age under Gasparoni, who developed a beautiful and flexible voice to the greatest advantage.  She made her first appearance at the age of sixteen in Pollarolo’s “Ariodante,” and her beauty, which was ravishing, her exquisite voice, dramatic power, and artistic skill, gave her an immediate place as one of the greatest ornaments of the lyric stage.  She came into rivalry with Cuzzoni even at this early period, but carried off the palm of victory as she did in after-years.  Venice, Naples, Florence, and Vienna were successively the scenes of her triumphant reign as an artist, and she became acknowledged as the most brilliant singer in Europe.  At Vienna she was appointed court singer at a salary of fifteen thousand thalers.  Here she was found by Handel, who carried her to London, where she made her debut May 5,1726, in that great composer’s “Alessandro,”

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Great Singers, First Series from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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