Performance | An Eyewitness Account | Late Baroque | Opera
Pierre-Jacques Fougeroux visited London and attended Handel’s operas Tolomeo, Siroe and Admeto during the Royal Academy of Music’s final season in 1727–28. His account of what he saw and heard is invaluable:
'The Opera, which was once negligible, has become a spectacle of some importance in the last three years. They have sent for the best voices [and] the most skilled instrumentalists from Italy … the orchestra consisted of 24 violins led by the Castrucci brothers, two harpsichords (one of which was played by the German Indel [Handel], a great player and great composer), one archlute, three cellos, two double basses, three bassoons and sometimes flutes and trumpets. This orchestra makes a very loud noise. As there is no middle part in the harmony, the 24 violins usually divide only into firsts and seconds, which sounds extremely brilliant and is beautifully played. The two harpsichords [and] the archlute fill in the middle of the harmony. They use only a cello, the two harpsichords and the archlute to accompany the recitatives. The music is good and thoroughly in the Italian style, although there are some tender pieces in the French style … The auditorium is small and in very poor taste; the stage is quite large, with poor scenery. There is no amphitheatre, only a pit, with large curved benches uncomfortably together … The sides of the stage are decorated with columns, which have mirrors fixed along them with brackets and several candles; … Instead of chandeliers there are ugly wooden candlesticks suspended by strings like those used by tightrope walkers. Nothing could look more wretched, yet there are candles everywhere.'
[English translation of Fougeroux’s letter ‘Voiage d’Angleterre’ is taken from Donald Burrows: Handel, Oxford, 1994, pp. 460–62]
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