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Cockney Mozart: The Hunt circle, the King's Theatre, and Don Giovanni.


THE WEEK THAT MOZART'S DON GIOVANNI MADE ITS FAMOUS, AND FAMOUSLY belated, debut on the London stage, Leigh Hunt, editor and opera critic of the Examiner, found himself marooned in Buckinghamshire. From there he sent a letter to his friend Vincent Novello, the musician, who had tickets to the opening night. We "envy you the power of seeing Don Giovanni," he wrote wistfully. (1) Hunt was envious for good reason. The April 1817 premiere of Don Giovanni at the King's Theatre in the Haymarket marked "a red letter in the operatic annals" of England, a production that permanently changed the nature of opera and opera-going in London. (2) The triumph of the 1817 Don Giovanni, and Hunt's excitement, nevertheless prompt the question: Why was Mozart's most celebrated opera, which premiered in Vienna and Prague in 1787, not produced in London for a full thirty years? The generation delay in the debut of Don Giovanni, at the most prestigious Italian opera house in Europe after La Scala, opens up the political history of Mozart reception in England I wish to pursue here, specifically the struggle between the Mozartians of" the Hunt circle and the aristocratic, anti-Mozart "cabal" at the King's Theatre.

In a series of opera reviews he contributed to the Examiner in 1813, Thomas Barnes, Hunt's old schoolfellow and legendary editor of" the Times, made a strident case for middle-class control of opera repertory at the King's Theatre based on an argument that superiority of rank in Regency society lay in inverse relation to taste and education:</p>

<pre> The King's Theatre is almost exclusively visited by the

highest rank and fashion of the nation, and yet these superb aristocrats are delighted with a style of performance which would disgust the lower orders. What is the reason of this? It is simply, that the highest orders of society, with very few exceptions, are worse educated than the inferior ranks of the middle portion of

the community: that with respect to intellect and mental cultivation and everything but manners, they are semi-barbarians, the consequence of which is the utter absence of that best characteristic of a gentleman,

a well-instructed taste. (May 9) </pre> <p>It is a measure of the confidence of the new radical bourgeois press, and the Examiner's undaunted class rage during Hunt's imprisonment, that an aristocrat might be described in its pages as a "semi-barbarian," or worse, as failing to meet the requisites of a gentleman. To make "taste" rather than rank the standard for gentlemanliness is, of course, as potentially revolutionary a proposition as universal enfranchisement. My argument in what follows is that the Hunt circle's sense of mission as tastemakers in English music culture took shape during the Regency period with their campaign for professional production of Mozart's operas at the King's Theatre. The opera house's resistance to Mozart came to represent the stifling hegemony of aristocratic taste, inspiring a Cockney sense of injustice as keenly felt as at any lurid outrage of the Prince Regent, or Parliamentary waffling on reform.

The audience for the 1817 Don Giovanni extended far beyond the aristocratic habitues of the King's Theatre in the West End. The press recorded unprecedented crowds at the April 12 premiere:</p> <pre> Long before the commencement of the Overture the Pit was literally crammed, and hundreds who subsequently arrived were obliged to return disappointed, or ascend the gallery, which also was completely filled. Belles and beaux were seen indiscriminately huddled together at

the sides of the Pit, endeavoring to catch a glimpse of what was passing on the Stage; and it was remarked as a somewhat rare occurrence, that not a single box in the house remained unoccupied. (3) </pre> <p>The box subscribers soon chose to scorn Mozart, but for a few opera-crazed months in the spring of 1817, the King's Theatre presented a spectacle of class chaos and intermingling rarely seen anywhere in the Regency. The sheer press of audience demand for Mozart was so great that democratic reform was literally forced (however temporarily) upon the proprietors of the King's Theatre: "So great, indeed, has been the overflow from the Pit, that has been found necessary to throw open such of the Upper Boxes as remain unlet, in order to accommodate in some degree those who are unable to obtain seats below." (4) In an age when operas rarely played more than a few nights in a season, Don Giovanni ran a record twenty-three nights to "overflowing houses," and would have played more often had not the aristocratic subscribers insisted on the insertion of a conventional baroque opera seria, Paer's Agnese, to break the Mozartian monopoly. "There never was exhibited to the musical world a more consummate feast," concluded the Times, "than Don Giovanni" (12 Jan. 1818).

For two of the famous literary figures of the Hunt circle, the 1817 Don Giovanni was a conversion experience. "I am in your debt for a very delightful evening," wrote Charles Lamb to the King's Theatre manager, his close friend William Ayrton, "and I am almost inclined to allow Music to be one of the Liberal Arts: which before I doubted." (5) Lamb requested three more gallery tickets for the next week's performances. Meanwhile, Thomas Love Peacock persuaded Shelley to accompany him to see Don Giovanni that same season: "Before it commenced he asked me if the opera was comic or tragic. I said it was composite, more comedy than tragedy. After the killing of the Commendatore, he said, 'Do you call this comedy?' By degrees he became absorbed in the music and action.... From this time till he finally left England he was an assiduous frequenter of the Italian Opera. He delighted in the music of Mozart." (6)

Given that Lamb was, on his own admission, unmusical--"I have no ear" (35)--and Shelley so often an unhappy theatergoer, their absorption in Mozart's Don Giovanni speaks volumes for the broad, literary nature of the opera's appeal. For Lamb, Mozart's opera represented music's claim to belong among the liberal arts, and the long-suffering Mozartians of the press worked hard to produce a critical vocabulary commensurate with that new status. Don Giovanni "is a perfect whole," wrote the British Stage and Literan/Cabinet, "the master-piece of the master of his art, the presiding genius of harmony, the Shakespeare of composers" (May 1817). The reviewer at the Theatrical Inquisitor extended the pantheon still further: "It is one of the most stupendous works of human genius, and fitted to rank with the Iliad of Homer, the Eneid of Virgil, or the Macbeth of Shakespeare" (April 1817). "Such music," wrote Richard Mackenzie Bacon, "is surely the highest intellectual enjoyment within the reach of mortals: we bowed in silent admiration before the divine genius of the German Bard!" (7) Mozart opera did not depend on spectacle and bravura singing. It did not merely "astonish" the ears and eyes of the audience; it offered instead a deep psychological truth of character represented in musical drama that in turn required an intellectual absorption from the audience more often associated with reading the great poets. After a century of ephemeral, musically thin opera serie at the King's Theatre, Mozart's operas opened a new and permanent vista of musical possibility because its genius lay not in the operatic "event" but the "work," not in the performance but in the score, a musical text that was reproducible onstage, at the drawing-room piano, and in the imagination. (8) For the London critics, writing mostly for whig and radical publications, there was nothing to choose between Shakespeare and Mozart. Both were "intellectual" in the broadest, trans-disciplinary sense; both were "Bards."

Mozart, no less than the Elizabethan poets, served as a principal muse of the Hunt circle, and as one of its liberal causes. As Hunt wrote in his April 1817 letter to Vincent Novello, "I would have Mozart as common in good libraries as Shakespeare and Spenser, and prints from Raphael" (Clarke 196). In 1820, Hunt proposed to Novello that they collaborate on a book consisting of Mozart songs and airs, with commentary provided by Hunt. Hunt opens "Musical Evenings" by imaginatively recalling the scene of many impromptu musical affairs he and Novello enjoyed with their circle at Hampstead and Oxford Road. He sets out a sequence of songs and readings for his ideal "musical evening," with the Cockney favorite, Spenser, featuring prominently alongside Mozart excerpts from Le Nozze di Figaro, Don Giovanni, and Cosi fan tutte. (9) Music and poetry are once more placed conspicuously on the same footing:</p>

<pre> In this country of books, and piano-fortes, and poets, and

firesides, and fair faces ... how many soft or manly voices are reading a favourite poet to hushing rooms:--how many fair hands are going over keys or strings, culling sweet sounds as they would

flowers:--how many fathers, husbands, brothers, and lovers, are standing beside them, with flute or violin, falling in, as the

song requires, with their bending and smiling accompaniments. (10) </pre> <p>Poetry and music serve here as the enabling language of highly formalized erotic play, but also of an ideal, democratic social formation. The musical evening functions as a meeting ground for the sexes in which the strict regulation of gender roles produces a general harmony. Both "soft" and "manly" voices may read poetry, but "fair hands" play the piano and harp, while the men of the party perform on the melodic instruments, oddly described by Hunt as "accompaniments." But the word choice is thematically, if not musically, consistent. The musical privilege of carrying the tune is offset, in social terms, by the perfect democracy of Cockney music-making: the men mitigate their pre-eminent role with gestures of submission, "bending and smiling." (11)

As "Musical Evenings" attests, Mozart's operas had been a constitutive staple of Hunt circle life for a decade before the 1817 Don Giovanni. The letters and memoirs of the group are full of vivid reminiscences. Vincent Novello's daughter Mary, who married Keats's schoolfriend Charles Cowden Clarke, remembered entire days singing Mozart around the piano and organ at her childhood home on Oxford Street: "Mornings and afternoons witnessed numerous 'goings through' of Mozart's Cosi fan tutte, Don Giovanni, Nozze di Figaro." (12) The Cockney Mozartians gathered around the piano read like a who's who of early nineteenth-century music culture in Britain: Thomas Alsager, opera critic for the Times and founder of the Beethoven Quartet Society; Keats's Enfield classmate Edward Holmes, who was to be music critic for the Atlas, and the author of the first serious Mozart biography; Charles Cowden Clarke, future editor of Musical World; Thomas Attwood, a composer and student of Mozart himself; Henry Robertson, an "agreeable bass singer" and treasurer at the Covent Garden theater who became the Examiner's first opera critic; (13) and Vincent Novello himself, the music publisher and impresario. Lamb, Shelley, and Hazlitt numbered among the audience for these casual concerts, and Mary Cowden Clarke remembers John Keats leaning against the organ, "one foot raised on his other knee"--a semi-supine position that evokes her later, last sight of the fatally ill poet, "half-reclining on some chairs" at Hunt's house on the eve of his sailing for Italy. (14) In a letter to the Novellos, Hunt describes another tragic Italian refugee of his circle, Mary Shelley: the widow was as "quiet as a mouse," Hunt wrote of her, and an avid listener "ready to drink in as much Mozart and Paesiello as you choose to afford her" (Clarke, Life 15, 25).

For the Hunt circle, communal worship of Mozart functioned as a form of group consolation, a binding, constitutive pleasure. They elevated listening to Mozart to a poetics, a shorthand for the Cockney sublime. In his 1815 poem "A Thought on Music," Hunt describes the act of listening to music in almost religious terms:</p> <pre> To sit with downward listening, and crossed knee, Half conscious, half unconscious, of the throng Of fellow ears, and hear the well-met skill Of fine musicians--the glib ivory Twinkling with numerous prevalence,--the snatch Of brief and birdy flute, that leaps apart-- </pre> <p>Hunt mixes impressionism and word play ("birdy flute") with philosophy. He hails the restorative power of music to make</p> <pre> ... the sickliest thought, that keeps its home In a sad heart, give gentle way for once, And quitting its pain-anchored hold, put forth

On that sweet sea of many-billowed sound. (15) </pre> <p>The lines exhibit both the strengths and failings of "cockney" verse. The simplicity of "sad heart" and "gentle way" is well balanced by the solemn and wholly poetic surprise of "pain-anchored hold," only to be undone by the cloudy metaphor of the "sweet sea" and its "many-billowed sound." Diction concerns aside, Hunt's evocation of the listening act and its powers is compelling. The "downward listening" of the opening line suggests both a concentrated, head-bent pose and the mental act of concentration itself." the "Half conscious, half unconscious" state produces for the listener in a Hampstead drawing room a pastoral vision of himself "floating and floating in a dreamy lapse, / Like a half-sleeper in a summer boat." But this is not the dreamy suburban escapism vilified by the Tory critics. Hunt's "sad heart" is consoled not by fantasy nor the merely sensuous experience of the music--by "the notes alone, or new-found air, / Or structure of elaborate harmonies"--but by its sublimity: the power of music to produce "Out of the very vagueness of the joy / A shaping and a sense of things beyond us, / Great things and voices great." The "great things and voices great" are not specified, but they are not merely musical. Music, like the poetry and drama Hunt likewise featured so prominently in his radical journal, had the power to grant the "sad heart" of the present the image of "great things" to come, "a shaping and a sense" of the future, an operatic allegory of Reform.

What most infuriated the Tory critics about the Hampstead writers was that they represented "Reform" not simply as a political goal but as a life-style. For the Cockneys, the liberal ideal might be lived before it was ever legislated. Choosing to sing Mozart all day with friends, like composing sonnets for each other, was a political form of leisure, an act of class self-identification. Mary Shelley, writing to Hunt after the major Shelleyan tragedy and minor Byronic letdowns of Italy, fantasized a kind of renovated Hampstead at Susa. She imagined the drowned Percy again with them, and Mozart as their natural accompaniment: "we will do all our work keeping time to Hunt's symphonies ... and when we are tired we will lie on our turf sofas, while all our voices shall join in chorus in Notte e giorno faticar" (Blunden 193-94). Mary Shelley's "turf sofa" is a quintessentially Cockney image of suburban lifestyle, a witty conjugation of pastoral indolence and modern luxury with erotic overtones. The image belongs both to the internal vocabulary of the Hunt circle--a shared set of memories and inside jokes--and to its public voice as well: the published verse that Z. of Blackwood's described as "easy, courtly, and Italian" at its best and, at its worst, as a lexicon of "glittering and rancid obscenities" (Oct. 1817). The vision of Hunt and his friends lying exhausted together on the grass singing Mozart is both operatic and orgiastic, the kind of joking, loosely sexualized Cockney self-image that Z. meanly interpreted as "the extreme moral depravity of the Cockney School."

The Cockneys' "depravity" was synonymous with their love for Italy, and Mozart's operas perfectly represented that love. (16) Composed in Italian by an Austrian, the operas stood not for Italy itself, but the outsider's perfected desire for Italy, his longed-for "Italianization." In Hunt's King's Theatre reviews for the Examiner (1817--21), Mozart represents the ideal modern synthesis of the Italian and German musical traditions, with the Italian nevertheless in the ascendant: he is "German by nation, and Italian by nature" (22 March 1818). Hunt's fanciful biographical explanation for this unique synthesis--"Mozart was in Italy while a boy, and at that early period perhaps caught the fine spark from the southern sunshine" (23 March 1817)--would sound like Hunt at his most glibly romantic, except that Mozart's cultural transformation is exactly the one Hunt wishes for himself, and so reaches deep into the Cockney psyche. After seeing Don Giovanni, Hunt elides the northern origins of Mozart entirely, calling him "the genial intellect of the South" (27 July 1817), as if, with that extraordinary proof of southern sensibility, Mozart's Italian metamorphosis were complete.

In 1823, while Hunt himself languished in Italy, his friends, including Mary Shelley and Jane Williams, Holmes, Clarke, and Robertson, gathered at the Novellos to celebrate his birthday in absentia. In a letter Mary Novello wrote with guests still lingering at the door, she flatters Hunt with her account of how his name "ran through the room like a charm," and the effervescent Cockney style of "badinage, raillery, and compliments ... broke loose." But "above all," she records, "music was triumphant," with Mozart motets and arias creating an "atmosphere of pleasure." From London then, in the damp of October, Mary Novello describes a self-consciously Italian scene of sentimental tribute and pleasure-driven commingling, with Mozart as presiding genius: "Your health was drunk con amore ... and particularly during the singing of Ah, Perdona, many tears were shed by friendly eyes" (Blunden 200-201). Mozart's achievement in opera for the Hunt circle was not merely to create a rich fund of domestic entertainment, but to have performed an exemplary crossover from Northern reaction to the liberal South. Frustrated by their cultural marginality in England and energized by Italian yearnings, the Hunt circle found an ideal image of themselves in Mozart, the bourgeois striver from Salzburg who transcended class and national origins to become Italian through his art.


Mozart's Italian librettist, Lorenzo Da Ponte, came to London in 1791, but soon discovered there was little appetite at the King's Theatre for Mozart. In his memoirs, Da Ponte bitterly recalled the short shrift he received: "it was more than three months before I saw Taylor [the manager] or he me. That was at the performance of Gazzaniga's Don Giovanni, an opera suggested by Federici and given to the public on his advice, in bestial preference to the Don Giovanni of Mozart, brought to London and proposed by me." (17) William Taylor, like a succession of King's Theatre managers after him, followed the baroque tastes of their imported house composers (Vincenzo Federici, in this case) and, more crucially, their Italian star singers, who rejected Mozart's music and united with their aristocratic patrons against him to form what came to be known in English operatic history as "the Italian cabal." (18)

Vincent Novello raised the subject of the Italian cabal with Mozart's widow and son on his "Mozart pilgrimage" through Europe. Vienna in 1829, he learned, was no different from London before 1817: "while the Italian singers are there, there is no chance of hearing Mozart's operas, when they leave they are performed." Costanza Mozart blamed the Italian prejudice against Mozart squarely on the singers' poor musicianship. Most Italian singers could not read music, she told the Novellos, and the intricacies of a Mozart score, with its difficult ensemble sections in particular, were beyond what "their indolence and ignorance can manage." Mozart's son singled out the incompetence of the famous soprano Angelica Catalani, expressing "contempt" for her career built on the learning of "a few songs by memory." (19) The Mozarts' mention of Catalani would have resonated strongly with the Novellos. For it was the excesses of Catalani's tenure as prima donna assoluta at the King's Theatre in London between 1807 and 1813 that provided a lightning rod for Henry Robertson's penetrating criticism of the opera house in the Examiner, and brought the simmering conflict over the control of Italian opera in London, and the frustration of the Mozartians, to a head.

"Harry, my friend, who full of tasteful glee, / Have music all about you, heart and lips." The intimate apostrophe that begins Hunt's 1818 sonnet to his trio of fellow Cockney Mozartians--Henry Robertson, John Gattie, and Vincent Novello--announces it as a Hampstead coterie poem, while "tasteful glee" and "music all about you, heart and lips" offers that mix of prosodic ill-discipline and rhetorical-erotical exuberance that is Cockney verse at its purest. Henry Robertson was an indispensable member of Hunt's circle, valued for "his tenor, his joke, and his breathing nod of acquiescence," (20) but he has slipped into obscurity. In his 1928 book on the Examiner circle, Edmund Blunden lamented that Robertson "has been much neglected by literary historians," a situation that has not been redressed in the seventy-odd years since. (21)

As first opera critic at the Examiner, Robertson took up his pen at the height of Catalani's fame, and in some forty reviews in the seasons of 1808-13 produced a damning critique of diva culture and its abuses at the King's Theatre. Robertson's opera reviews took on the character of the Examiner in general: skeptical, sarcastic, and set in opposition to an established, conservative order patronized by the social elite. Before the Examiner, opera reviewing amounted to little more than puffs and announcements in the dailies, and lists of the fashionable in attendance. None of the serious political periodicals paid any attention to opera whatever. As Hunt attested in his "Preface" to the 1808 Examiner, Robertson's King's Theatre reviews thus constituted "the first criticism of the kind worthy the attention of sound readers." Moreover, Robertson's reviews stand as the first serious criticism of Italian opera made in operatic terms, that is, a form of critique that did not seek simply to abolish opera altogether as eighteenth-century critics from Addison onward had done, but to reform its culture from within according to an alternative, Mozartian set of operatic standards.

The core of diva culture at the King's Theatre lay in the traditions of eighteenth-century operatic form. The baroque pasticcio was essentially a patched-up star vehicle for virtuoso singing in which the drama, and even the orchestra, played a distinctly subordinate role. As George Hogarth remembered, Catalani "appeared chiefly in operas composed expressly for her, in which the part for the prima donna was carefully adapted to the display of her various powers ... [that] enabled her to exhibit all the wonders of her voice and execution." (22) Very few of the operas performed at the King's Theatre before 1817 exist in score form. The concept of an operatic "repertoire" itself had not yet been established, nor had the romantic notion of an integrated and inviolable artistic "work." (23) As the Italian bel canto style stipulated, melodies and their orchestral accompaniments were spare and simple, affording maximum room for the singer's improvised embellishments and bravura variations. (24) A new production was most often stitched together by the house composer from various, often dramatically incongruous sources, then discarded, or altered beyond recognition for its next performance. Favorite arias from the prima donna's repertoire (called arie di baule, or "suitcase" arias) were interwoven with hastily sketched recitative and the occasional aria for subordinate singers. Two acts of an opera might be switched at the diva's whim, or the action halted for the inclusion of the latest popular air.

For an Italian prima donna such as Catalani, Mozart's music threatened to subordinate the freedom of the singer guaranteed by the bel canto pastiche tradition to a Germanic orchestral regime, and the strict prescription of the musical text: "Mozart, in his scores, frequently treats his singers as instruments, as if they formed part of the orchestra; hence they have often to contend either against passages and intervals of great difficulty, or against the overpowering effect of the wind instruments." (25) The vocal line was primo inter pares, but the singer could not simply overwhelm the orchestra, especially when singing in ensemble, nor alter the tempo to allow for improvised cadenzas. Catalani accordingly "detested Mozart's music ... which keeps the singer too much under the control of the orchestra, and too strictly confined to time, which she is apt to violate." (26)

Robertson's criticism of Catalani was founded on a critique of her virtuosity: "Madame Catalani becomes more and more a singer of mere trick," he wrote in the Examiner in 1808, in what was probably the first published criticism of the untouchable diva (1 May), "There is nothing pleasing in the retention of a note till she is as breathless as the exhausted receiver of an air pump, nor in the chromatic runs which are introduced on every occasion of joy or sorrow." Robertson acknowledged Catalani's "fascinating talents," but insisted on a distinction between opera as an exhibition of vocal ability and its larger dramatic and musical possibilities as an art form. The "Bravura-style of singing" is of an "inferior class," he argued, because it depends on relentless self-display. Virtuosity, unlike character, cannot exist in the form of credit or reserve, but must be lavishly spent. The diva is obliged to produce all her "tricks" at every opportunity, regardless of the dictates of character or dramatic mood. A breathtaking chromatic run by Catalani does not "mean" joy or sorrow; it means only Catalani: "The Mischief of exuberant ornament is, that it levels all music to one character, and produces a fatiguing monotony ... it is to exhibit the whole extent of their talent on every occasion, without accommodating their style to the nature of the composition" (5 June 1814). Catalani's sacrifice of dramatic truth to technical display meant that Robertson routinely complained of her indifferent acting, in particular her tendency "even in the most critical situations, to preserve a countenance of philosophical serenity or grinning mirth" (13 May 1810).

Ornament was more than mischievous in the singing of Mozart: it amounted to artistic sacrilege. When Catalani chose to insert an aria from Die Zauberflaute into a production of Fioravanti's Giocondina in the 1808 season, Robertson put aside his usual contempt for the dramatic absurdities of the pastiche form to praise the diva for her "taste," but criticized her for indulging in her usual bravura improvisations on the theme: "the variations were in themselves unpleasing and injudiciously introduced. The air is beautiful for its simplicity, and as indifferently adapted to flourishes as the hundredth Psalm" (June 12). The canonization of Mozart is here indistinguishable from his textualization. Robertson grants Mozart's score the authority of holy writ.

By her relentless indulgence in "mischievous" ornament, Catalani was, according to Robertson, guilty not merely of lapses of taste in her own solos, and of failing to properly represent her character, but of structurally undermining the entire production through the relentless demands of vocal pre-eminence. In one of his first reviews, he complained that Catalani "was resolved to prevent the other performers from being heard, and exerted her Stentorian voice with all the force of which it is capable. This is unmerciful: it is like a strong man shewing his power by knocking his friends down. The principal art in singing in parts is the accommodation of the strong voices to the weak that the whole may be heard distinctly" (6 March 1808). Robertson here casts his musical criticism in political terms: as an abuse of power. The spectacular presence of the diva was maintained only through a kind of theatrical "tyranny," by the suppression and belittlement of other performers. When the King's Theatre manager objected that her salary demands would leave no funds for him to pay the rest of the company, Catalani's husband, M. Valabreque, reportedly replied, "You want an opera? My wife and four or five puppets--that will do" (Sterland 73). Within a few years, Catalani's salary had leaped to 17,000 pounds, which did not include the money she earned from giving private concerts for her aristocratic patrons. (27)

In Regency diva culture, the language of profit-taking and music-making overlap. Robertson deplored the various conspiracies worked up by Catalani and the manager to designate frequent "benefit nights" for the diva, for no purpose but to fill the house and coffers: "No one appears to understand the art of money getting better than Madame Catalani, whose invention is continually on the rack for some expedient to increase her already exorbitant profits" (3 July 1808). Catalani's avarice is as "exorbitant" as her singing, and as dependent upon "invention." Robertson makes the metaphorical connection himself when he describes the virtuosic style introduced by Catalani as requiring "many notes but very little specie" (18 Feb. 1810). Virtuosity is capital; it sounds like money. Catalani's style takes on the character of her salary: an endless, extravagant production of notes. She transcends the musical score according to the same principle she transcends all rational monetary value, that is, as a "star" who paradoxically never turned a profit for her employers. The profusion of ornament and virtuosic embellishment in a Catalani performance, her "fantastical excess" (Edgcumbe 98), is a kind of runaway expense account of art: "Her powers are nearly confined to a wonderful voice and rapid execution which, unrestrained by musical knowledge, have run wild and indulged in every extravagance that false taste could adapt" (19 May 1811).

Three years into Robertson's tenure at the Examiner, the first cracks in the diva-driven operatic establishment began to appear. Both Cosi fan Tutte and Die Zauberflaute (produced in Italian, under the title Il Flauto Magico) premiered on the King's Theatre stage in 1811. Robertson gloated over the apparent defeat of the "Italian cabal" at the hands of the Mozartians: "The lovers of good music have at last been relieved from the dull repetition of the productions of Pucitta, Trento, Guglielmi, and others, who have so long strove, with too much success, to suppress those operas of sterling merit, which would have exposed the poverty of their invention, and consigned them to merited oblivion" (19 May). It is tantalizing to imagine Robertson and his fellow Cockney Mozartians at a full-fledged production of an opera they had so often rehearsed together at the piano in their homes. Robertson's euphoria at Cosi fan Tutte is obvious, and he seizes on this rare opportunity to expand on the sublimities of Mozart:</p> <pre> To convey by words an idea of the electrical effect this music produces is impracticable, and to recommend any particular compositions to those unacquainted with the opera would be useless, where the whole is one collected mass of excellence. It is only by hearing such music that an adequate

conception can be formed of the exquisite beauty and variety of the airs, the uncommon richness of the harmony, or the genius displayed in the accompaniments, which sport through all the mazes

of science; at one time flowing with a calm solemnity, and at another bursting forth in modulation as unexpected as inspiring. (19 May) </pre> <p>Robertson lists the Mozartian virtues: melodic originality, richness of orchestral accompaniment, consistency of musical standard, and emotional depth and variety. Mozart, like a great poet, commands a broad vocabulary of feeling through music, from "calm solemnity," to the "bursting forth" of inspiration. Thomas Alsager later wrote in reference to Don Giovanni that Mozart's genius was to have created through opera a new dramatic language of feeling, "a more perfect eloquence, a medium for sentiment, and passion of the most exalted kind: he seems always to take the tone suited to the occasion, and to transfer the emotion to the mind of the hearer." (28) It is this romantic aspect of Mozart's music that Mary Shelley later evoked in The Last Man for a scene of erotic tension between Perdita and Raymond: "Among the other transcendant attributes of Mozart's music, it possesses more than any other that of appearing to come from the heart; you enter into the passions expressed by him, and are transported with grief, joy, anger, or confusion, as he, our soul's master, chooses to inspire." (29) Mozart inhabits that exclusive realm where aesthetic language dissolves into contradiction: he is both "transcendant" and master of the "passions," an artist of the intellect and heart, sublime and sensual. That said, the 1811 season proved to be a false dawn for the Cockney Mozartians. Cosi fan Tutte was repeated only twice that season, and did not reappear at the King's Theatre for a full five years. The resistance of the Italian singers and their aristocratic patrons to the production of Mozart was not yet broken.

Objective judgment of the "Catalani seasons" at the King's Theatre is difficult because her supporters, by virtue of their class, were little inclined to the writing of memoirs, let alone periodical criticism. It is important not to overstate the influence of the Examiner's criticism of the King's Theatre, at least in the immediate term. Catalani's extraordinary success is the best evidence we have that Robertson's views were not mainstream in these years, but, like the Examiner in general, oppositional. A letter published in the Examiner, most probably written by a member of the "Italian cabal," mocks Robertson for the "refined taste" that moves him to "vent his spleen" and "censure indiscriminately" everything he sees at the King's Theatre. The writer assures the editor Hunt "that the whole town is not of his opinion ... for the Opera still continues to be frequented--the King's Theatre still boasts a fashionable and crowded audience ... and the Catalani, who gives voice to the music your writer is pleased to reprobate, still receives the applauses of the cognoscenti of the day." He suggests class resentment as the reason for Robertson's attacks: they "must either be the effect of ignorance, of envy, or of prejudice" (1 July 1810).

The opera subscriber Allatson Burgh went beyond the mere suggestion of class conflict at the opera. He called "barbarous and unfashionable" those amateurs who dared to criticize Catalani for her alterations to Mozart's music. (30) Such strong language suggests that Robertson did represent an irritating constituency of reformist opinion among opera-goers, and that the ongoing controversy in which he and the Examiner played a leading role was divided along class lines: on one side the traditional "fashionable" audience, made up principally of seasonal residents from the West End for whom the opera had been a premier forum for social display and interaction for a century past, and on the other a growing audience of "barbarous and unfashionable" city professionals with a more or less serious interest in the musical and dramatic content of opera. These two groups even divided the opera schedule between them: Saturday night was dominated by the bon ton in their boxes, and on Tuesday the amateurs appeared in force in the pit and gallery. Robertson's reviews represent a first public bid for power by these musical arrivistes, the rising educated middle-class of London whose tastes were as neglected at the King's Theatre as their political aspirations were in Parliament and at Court.

In fact, opera performances at the King's Theatre before the advent of Mozart should properly be considered an extension of Georgian court culture. The theatre itself was by far the largest in London, with a capacity of over 3,000. The auditorium, lavishly rebuilt after a fire in 1792, was dominated on its second and third tiers by a catacomb of luxury boxes, divided into three sections--the Prince's Side, the King's Side, and the Crown Gallery--that mirrored the triangulated political divisions of Regency Eng land with its divided court and unstable ministry. The theatre likewise maintained the visible character of St. James Palace or Carlton House. Patrons were required to wear court dress: knee breeches and chapeaux bras for the men, full evening dress for the ladies. In the pit sat a mix of "amateurs" and "professors," but its most important constituency remained standing in the aisles--so-called Fop's Alley--from where, like courtiers, young men of fashion could pay due homage to the female quality in the boxes above them.

In the years 1807--13, Anjelica Catalani served as a kind of vice-regent to this ersatz court, and the impression of her vocal power and authority were accordingly articulated in monarchical terms. She was an "arbitrary empress," an "image of resistless power" (Burgh 361), who "reigned triumphant" from her King's Theatre "throne." (31) When Hogarth described Catalani "in the meridian of her course, and the full effulgence of her splendor," he employed a cosmic hyperbole historically reserved for feudal kings (2: 368). At a time of great liberal agitation, Regency aristocrats patronized the Italian opera to participate in a group reaffirmation of the rituals of servile wonder on which their own power rested, with themselves in the role of subject courtiers paying homage to their "empress."

But like British royalty in the Napoleonic era, Catalani had her liberal detractors. "Like the Athenian demagogue," proclaimed the Whiggish Theatrical Inquisitor, Catalani "must corrupt wherever she is caressed" (August 1817). Robertson and other critics of the opera house saw its diva, and the aristocratic management that "caressed" her, as part of the greater social and political corruption affecting the country. "The English ... pay singers like princes," later wrote William Ayrton, "while they are content to let their labouring classes subsist upon charity." (32) Catalani's "royal" status at the King's Theatre was thus more than simply metaphoric. There was a direct, visible link between her and the larger social injustices produced by the aristocratic order which sustained her. The first English critic of Italian opera had made the same liberal judgment a century earlier. "Wherever operas have been a constant Entertainment," wrote John Dennis in 1706, "they have been attended with Slavery." (33)

In other words, Catalani's status as prima donna assoluta functioned quite literally. Her "absolute" power expressed itself in her dominance over the management of the theatre, while her rights to those powers were ritualized on the stage itself, where her bravura performance symbolized a kind of Napoleonic self-crowning John Sterland remembered Catalani's reliance on the "spell" of virtuoso performance itself by which she "enchained" her audience: "Hours after hearing her--in the calmness of the closet--you might tremblingly question the purity of her taste, or even the correctness of her intonation; but while present to your eye and ear, she carried you by storm, even against your better judgment" (72). The psychological effect of Catalani's vocal exhibition is violent, almost a rape of reason. The listener is "enchained" by sound, "carried ... by storm." Later, "in the calmness of the closet," the diva's merits and faults assume proportional shape, but in the moment of performance itself, Catalani's "energy" disables the workings of critique. It is the operatic enactment of feudal majesty, whose legitimacy resides not in reason and principle but in the awe-inspiring exhibition of power itself.

No accident then that in her debut performance, as the heroine of Portogallo's Semiramide, Catalani chose the moment when Semiramis declares "I am a queen," to first reveal the full extent of her vocal prowess, and thus establish, both symbolically and substantially, her dominion over the London opera-going public: "She dropped at once the double octave ... and finally astonished all ears, by running, for the first time within the memory of opera-going man, the chromatic scale up and down" (72). Catalani's operatic announcement, "I am a queen," was no ordinary speech act: its truth was not conferred by some pre-existing claim or endowment, but by the brilliancy of the utterance itself. The words themselves carried no weight except by virtue of the fantastic ornament surrounding them. In diva culture, superfluity is substance, a paradox through which we observe the afterlife of feudal sensibility in the modern culture of spectacle and its cult of "talent." The diva's power does not reside in a birthright but in the intangible form of talent, a commodity whose value can only be recognized in moments of "fantastical excess."

Tyrannical arrogance of power; resistance to reform; dizzying spectacle; nepotism and greed; excess, waste, bad taste, and luxuriance. Such is the language of the Examiner's campaign against Anjelica Catalani and the Italian opera house. But it might just as easily describe the Examiner's contemporaneous attack on the Prince Regent for his betrayal of the Whigs and the cause of liberal reform. Hunt's bitter satire on the Prince Regent on 15 May 1812, "The Regent's First Levee," describes the court rituals of the Regency as a kind of bad Italian opera. We see the Prince emerge from his boudoir like a diva onto a stage, a dazzling "Brother of the Sun." But, just as Robertson's critical faculties at the King's Theatre resisted being overwhelmed by the charismatic power of Catalani and thus enabled him to expose her "tyranny" of bad taste, so Hunt is impervious to the image of feudal majesty at the Levee and turns the spectacle of the Regent's face into a sarcastic advertisement for the necessity of Reform:</p> <pre> it is easy to conceive the delicious sensations with which he advanced into the levee-room, and how delightful he must have appeared in all

other eyes as well as his own. What promise of brilliant days and sunshine must have been in that look! What amends for all our past darkness and deprivations! ... The clouds of war and of sorrow roll away from before him; peace and prosperity look forth from his happy face; a prospect, all radiance and renovation, bursts open upon the eyes of the people and turns their despondency into rapture! </pre> <p>Hunt ironically adopts the style of courtly flattery, but it might also be read as the tired hyperbole of a theatrical puff, a form of promotional doublespeak in which a disastrous performance is represented to the public afterwards as a triumph, simply because the interests of management are served in saying so. Robertson had criticized the King's Theatre for just this "impertinent mode of opposing the public opinion" (21 May 1809).

In "The Regent's First Levee," Hunt figures "Reform" as one of the Prince's "early friends" who now stands unacknowledged in the corner, "in a desperate condition for want of assistance." According to the liberal logic of the Examiner, the embattled cause of Reform was analogous to that of Mozart, whose music had likewise suffered from the criminal neglect of an all-powerful Regent and the sycophantic nobles surrounding her. Like the forgotten figure of "Reform" at the Levee, the shadow of Mozart's unheard music at the King's Theatre represents a denial of progressive bourgeois rights and a rallying point for class identification. The Examiner's campaign for reform of the Italian Opera house thus harmonized closely with its larger reformist goals. Diva culture at the King's Theatre, and its anti-Mozartian "cabal," echoed the corruption and retrogressions of Regency culture itself.

But Mozart's operas did not merely symbolize change for Hunt and the Examiner. Their aesthetic content suggested the longed-for democratic order itself. On the most basic level of plot, both Don Giovanni and Le Nozze di Figaro delivered a decisive come-uppance to licentious noblemen. At a more profound, musical level, however, to listen to these operas was to experience transformative human possibility itself, "A shaping and a sense of things beyond us, / Great things and voices great" ("A Thought on Music"). First, Mozart's scores carried the textual authority of a constitution or bill of rights, never to be altered or amended according to the whim of a single individual. Second, Mozart's emphasis on "concerted music" shifted the focus from the vocal powers of a tyrannical diva to the broader ensemble, where the "strong" voices accommodate the "weak." Mozart's operas proved to Thomas Alsager that "the distinctions of prima donna and primo uomo should absolutely merge in the general excellence of the whole corps. With the sublime composer of Don Giovanni ... whether we choose to bestow on the orchestra, or the singers, our exclusive attention, we may imbibe a distinct perception of beauty." (34) This is the Cockney democratic ideal itself, where "distinctions" of rank merge into a "general excellence" and no class of society has a privileged claim on "beauty."

This deep metaphorical connection between Mozart and political reform is not a product of hindsight cleverness, but was explicitly articulated at the time. The aristocratic patrons of the King's Theatre did not welcome the reformation of their opera house, and in 1824 Lord Mount Edgcumbe lamented the new fashion for Mozart and Rossini--what he called "modern opera"--where "each individual singer has little room for displaying either a fine voice or good singing." From the viewpoint of a newly-disenfranchised elite, the new repertoire carried with it a familiar political threat: "In these levelling days, equalization has extended itself to the stage and musical profession; and a kind of mediocrity of talent prevails" (125). Mount Edgcumbe's opera memoirs went through multiple editions, but the opinions of the old order at the King's Theatre were drowned out by the chores of liberal music criticism, modeled on the Examiner's progressive agenda, that flourished in the 1820s and saw in Mount Edgcumbe only "one of that class of dilettanti who took near twenty years to consider whether Mozart was worthy of a hearing" (Sterland 10). In the eyes of the emerging liberal commentariat of Regency London, of which the Hunt circle is a prime exemplar, delays in the production of Mozart came to resemble delays in Reform itself. Their ultimate triumph, in the long-awaited debut of Don Giovanni in 1817, produced all the exhilaration and eclat of a dynastic overthrow.


If Henry Robertson has been "neglected" by literary historians, two other members of the Hunt circle, Thomas Alsager and William Ayrton, both key figures in the 1817 Don Giovanni production at the King's Theatre, have been entirely forgotten. (35) Alsager was an intimate member of the Cockney circle, remembered in Hunt's Autobiography as "the kindest of neighbors, a man of business, who contrived to be a scholar and a musician." (36) Ayrton, meanwhile, stands in a more tangential relation to the Hampstead circle, as a member of Hunt's broad, liberal London acquaintance. In an Examiner piece written from Italy, Hunt remembered him as an intimate of Charles Lamb at his whist-evenings on Russell Street: "the most well-bred of musicians, who hates a paradox like an unresolved discord" (4 April 1824). (37)

Ayrton's operatic credentials lay with his King's Theatre reviews for the liberal Morning Chronicle, in which he struck a common chord with Robertson at the Examiner in both his championing of Mozart and his sarcastic treatment of the diva Catalani. In his review of the 1813 premiere of Le Nozze di Figaro, Ayrton wrote that Catalani "so amply supplied with embellishments Mozart's music, that it had, at least, the merit of being quite novel to those who are intimately acquainted with his works ... let the public be the judge between her skill as a composer, and that of Mozart" (11 March). Also in keeping with the reformist rhetoric of the Examiner, Ayrton viewed the management of the opera house as an anti-Mozart conspiracy, a tyranny of taste: "Managers and performers now govern the public; they are suffered to control the taste and judgment of every audience, and they will finally destroy both if some powerful hand is not raised to protect them. This protection may be afforded by the press, and we call on our brother journalists to aid in our efforts for this purpose. Our desire is not to injure individuals, but to support the Arts" (26 March). Simply to describe the Italian opera as an "Art" belonging to "the public" amounted to a declaration of war against the "Italian cabal," and we can only speculate on Ayrton's surprise that history would so soon choose him as the "powerful hand" to be raised against it.

By the end of the 1816 season, the financial demands of Catalani and the other prima donne and uomi had virtually bankrupted the King's Theatre. Despite the fact that the price of a box rose by two-thirds during the Catalani seasons, from 180 to 300 guineas, no manager had been able to turn a profit. In 1817, the management committee of aristocratic patrons turned in desperation to Ayrton, a man with an impressive record as first manager of the Philharmonic Society concert season, begun in 1813. Ayrton was a sensible choice in terms of management experience but risky as regards operatic taste, and the none committee members soon came to repent it. On the news of Ayrton's taking up the management of the King's Theatre in 1817, Hunt, who had now assumed the responsibility for opera reviews at the Examiner himself, welcomed the prospect of "better things from the known taste and talents of the gentleman who is understood to have undertaken the management of the principal departments" (19 Jan.).

Ayrton clearly had his heart set on bringing out Don Giovanni. He traveled immediately to Paris in order to recruit Guiseppe Ambrogetti, the most famous "Don Giovanni" in Europe, and a corps of singers of sufficient depth and quality to properly surround him. As the Sheriff's Court later heard, after Ayrton had sued the opera house owner for his expenses, "Every pains were taken by Mr. Ayrton to form a complete corps dramatique, in which one particular person should not stand before the rest, but where every part should be equally eminent." (38) In doing so, Ayrton struck his first blow against the diva culture of the King's Theatre. "The sovereignty of the prima donna," wrote John Sterland, "was threatened with annihilation" (Harmonicon 8: 246). Predictably enough, murmurings from the "cabal" arose almost immediately. Ayrton insisted on the right to cast the singers himself, so that "many of them were not satisfied." There were also an unprecedented number of "very long" rehearsals, more than two dozen. These did not include the many private rehearsals for which Ayrton took it upon himself to visit the houses of the principal female singers, to accompany them through their parts on the pianoforte. Such detailed attention to the preparation of a score and the command of individual parts was unknown and decidedly unwelcome. "Intrigues of every kind were resorted to," Sterland records, "nay, if all that was whispered at the time be true, even representatives of royalty 'mingled in the dance,' and denounced the theatrical damnation of Don Juan to be as certain as the shower of fire which closes his mimic existence" (246). The royalty in question could not have been the Whig sympathizer Princess Charlotte, who attended the May 27 performance. (39) Perhaps the Prince Regent himself, that "libertine ... and despiser of domestic ties," (40) found the prospect of a revenge opera representing the destruction of a high-born philanderer before an audience of enraptured city radicals too much to bear.

Ayrton was close friends with Thomas Alsager, whose literary posterity rests on his being the owner of the Chapman's Homer that found its way into the eager hands of Keats, and as one of the principal organizers of Hazlitt's lectures at the Surrey Institution in 1818. He was a friend of Wordsworth as well as Hunt, and stayed at Rydal Mount only months after the Don Giovanni debut. A factory owner and trader, Alsager's offices stood in Southwark, next door to Horsemonger Lane prison, where Hunt enjoyed the hospitality of the Crown from 1813 to 1815. He was a regular visitor to Hunt's "cell," and on his release, the nervous and sickly prisoner first stopped at Alsager's to accustom himself to the shock of his freedom. To show his gratitude, Hunt sent Alsager a miniature portrait accompanied by a sonnet, expressing his appreciation for "the fine pleasure / Of lettered friend, or music's mingling art, / That fetches out in smiles the mutual soul" (Poetical Works 238). As in his sonnet to Henry Robertson, Hunt equates literature with music, and defines music in social terms: as a "mingling art," a cornerstone of Cockney friendship, pleasure, and sociability.

Hunt's description of Alsager as a "man of business" as well as a "scholar and musician"--from 1817 he was employed at the Times as a reporter on both finance and opera--marks him as a quintessential new man of the city: his participation in the world of business and trade went hand in hand with radical bourgeois cultural aspirations, among them the promotion of Mozart. (41) In fact, recent research into the early history of Mozart reception in England has shown that Thomas Alsager was a key figure in what was technically the first production of Don Giovanni in London, an amateur concert performance in a floor-cloth factory in Whitechapel Road that took place more than ten years before the opera's professional debut at the King's Theatre. (42) Alsager helped copy out the score, and almost certainly arranged the performance space. He was a freeman of the Clothworkers' Company of London, and would have known personally the owner of the historically notable factory, an otherwise obscure "amateur" named Thomas Hayward.

An anonymous member of this first Don Giovanni cast published his reminiscences of the event in Ayrton's journal, the Harmonicon, in 1831. The "Amateur Singer" describes himself as "an ardent, almost idolatrous admirer of Mozart's operas" and recalls the deep "regret" among the amateurs of the city in the first years of the nineteenth century "that Portogallo and Catalani should unite to prevent our enjoying his masterpieces then where they ought to have been heard--in the King's Theatre" (9: 136). His account of the unofficial production of Don Giovanni in Whitechapel Road in 1805 (or 1806) reads like a triumphant episode in the history of a underground resistance movement: "with the exception of the Clemenza di Tito ... the first opera of Mozart's ever heard in this country was got up by a party of amateurs, and performed, oratorio fashion, without action, amidst the mingled effluvia of canvas, oil, and turpentine" (9: 135). A more symbolically resonant debut for Mozart's opera can scarcely be imagined. The rich odor of the City--the "effluvia" of manufacture and trade--hangs over Don Giovanni from the beginning. Mozart's music, like radical politics, Italianate poetry, and the Examiner, first takes hold not in the professional theatres, terraced houses, and pleasure parks of the West End, but in the City, among the "canvas, oil and turpentine" of a Southwark factory.

There is evidence too of Alsager's close collaboration with Ayrton in the 1817 Don Giovanni in his role as opera critic for the Times. He attended at least one of the many rehearsals, in response to which he sent a letter to Ayrton full of notes and suggestions. However compromising it might appear to journalistic scruples today, the director and the critic apparently felt no qualms in meeting for dinner less than a month before the premiere and then rehearsing the opera together at the piano. (43) Alsager also promoted the performance in the Times for weeks leading up to the April 12 opening and concluded their collaboration by declaring "the success of Don Giovanni eminent and complete" in his April 14 review.

The Hunt-Alsager-Ayrton connection does not occupy a central place in literary-based histories of the Hunt circle, just as the 1817 Examiner is far better remembered for its role in the promotion and defense of Keats and Shelley than for its Italian Opera column. But the triumph of the Don Giovanni premiere in April of that year, and the Examiner circle's role in bringing that remarkable event about, demonstrates no less powerfully the collaborative networking of a broad "Cockney" intelligentsia in the advancement of progressive, middle-class urban taste in Regency culture. This network stretched from suburban Hampstead to the factories of Southwark, to the newspapers of Fleet Street, where the Times and Morning Chronicle joined their radical brother, the Examiner, in a city-based, pro-Mozart campaign against the cultural hegemony of the West End nobles.


The one unfortunate aspect of the 1817 premiere of Don Giovanni was Hunt's decision to grant the privilege of reviewing the production to William Hazlitt, a critic with a questionable ear for music and little appetite for the baroque spectacle of the King's Theatre. Hazlitt described his principled antipathy to the Italian opera most fully in a polemical piece for the Yellow Dwarf the following year. His argument is not made on musical grounds, but against the spectacular form of the opera in toto:</p> <pre> Every object is there collected, and displayed in ostentatious profusion, that can strike the sense

or dazzle the imagination; music, dancing, painting, poetry, architecture, the blaze of beauty, "the glass of fashion, the mould

of form"; and yet we are not satisfied--because the multitude and variety of objects distracts the attention, and by flattering us with a vain shew of the highest gratification of every faculty and wish, leaves us at last in a state of listlessness, disappointment,

and ennui.... It is an illusion and a mockery, where the mind is made "the fool of the senses," and cheated of itself. (23 May 1818) </pre> <p>Hazlitt's critique of the "vain shew" of visual art is as old as Plato. If Italian opera requires an indulgence in purely sensual pleasures or, as Hazlitt memorably puts it, "a species of intellectual prostitution," then the implied contrast is with the intellectual virtues of poetry, the textual art that does not rely on "distraction" and "illusion." More pertinently, Hazlitt's language is very close to that of Joseph Addison, whose dismissal of Italian opera in the Spectator--"its only design is to gratify the sense, and keep up an indolent attention in the audience" (44)--established the template for a century's worth of middle-class periodical suspicion directed toward Italian opera. Another early opera-phobe, John Dennis, perceived in the new "entertainment" a threat to poetry itself, and to the human "spirit" (what Hazlitt called "mind" or "intellect") enlarged by poetry:</p> <pre> Now if we can shew that Poetry augments this Spirit wherever it finds it, and sometimes begets it where it was not before, and that mere Musick, such as is that of our Operas, is so far from begetting this Spirit, where it was not before, or from augmenting it where it meets with it, that it has a natural Tendency to the diminishing it, and destroying it; then I hope it will be readily granted, that since publick Entertainments of mere Musick and Poetry are incompatible, and that we must banish

one and retain the other, it will be reasonable to banish the Opera, and not Poetry. (2: 388) </pre> <p>The scene-painters and musicians of the opera must be "banished" from the British realm, as from Plato's Republic, if its proper neo-Augustan spirit is to be preserved.

Hazlitt's indebtedness to the rhetoric of Addison and Dennis makes him something of a relic in the new field of Regency opera criticism. When Leigh Hunt nevertheless deferred to him for the task of reviewing Don Giovanni in 1817, Hazlitt echoed Dennis in his distrust for the then fashionable equation of Mozart with the great poets, Shakespeare in particular: "we hear of nothing but the sublimity and Shakespearian character of Don Juan [sic]. Now, we confess that, with the single exception of the Ghost scene, we not only do not feel any such general character of grand or strongly-contrasted expression pervading the composition, but we do not see an opportunity for it.... the Opera is scarcely anything but gaiety, tenderness, and sweetness, from the first line to the last" (20 April 1817). One wonders what Hazlitt made of Donna Anna's heartbreaking lament at the sight of her dead father (Quel sangue.... Quella piaga), or Donna Elvira's serial humiliations. He seems to have experienced the opera exclusively through the Don's bravado and the charms of Zerlina, the ingenue.

Hazlitt, it appears, could not appreciate the Mozartian revolution at the King's Theatre even as it unfolded before his eyes. He blamed the "ostentatious profusion" of operatic spectacle for his disgust, but perhaps class rage was the greater "distraction." For a revival of Don Giovanni in 1828, Hazlitt returned once more to the King's Theatre as opera critic for the Examiner. Instead of the performance, he reviewed the audience. We can only speculate as to what specific indignity Hazlitt might have suffered during the course of the evening, but it translated the next day into a two-thousand-word diatribe against "the figurantes at the Opera" in which Hazlitt's class sensitivities exhibit themselves red raw: "We import Opera-singers, dancers, kings! Liberal land! That knows its own deficiencies in what is refined and elevated! Happy, that it finds others so ready to oblige it! All they get from us, is hard blows or hard cash: all that we get from them, is politeness and luxury!" (4 May). Hazlitt jostles with the dandies in Fop's Alley, squints upward at the dazzle of the beau monde in the boxes, and is enraged by the exercise. His contempt for the "affectation" of the "fashionable," who "are solely occupied in thinking how they themselves look, whether their coat is of the right cut, their cravat properly tied," is in part undoubtedly correct observation, but is also in part a projection of his own intensely self-conscious class anxiety. When he blames the audience for being distracted from the opera itself by the question of "whether their next neighbour is good enough for them to speak to," Hazlitt reveals himself as that neighbor, the visitor to the opera house who just might not belong there.

Hazlitt played curmudgeon to the cult of Mozart surrounding Hunt, and was never more than a grudging correspondent of the King's Theatre, but his bad-tempered writing on the subject graphically demonstrates the potency of class feeling aroused at the King's Theatre. Instead of Mozart's music, Hazlitt hears only sneers and put-downs. Everywhere you turn, he writes, "you hear an elegant discourse on 'the higher and lower orders.'" For Hazlitt, the spectacle of class pretension and hostility in the audience out-dazzles the production onstage, and corrupts its pleasures through the all-consuming vanity of "refinement." The consequence is the operatic manifestation of a deep cultural malaise: "In England our object is not the pursuit of pleasure, but to run away from the pleasures of others; and when a taste for the drama or anything else becomes a little common, we grow sulky and insensible by way of being spiritual and refined. We see no other refinement in the case, unless the getting rid of thought and feeling is a proof of refinement; and the figurantes at the Opera are an intermediate link, a soft imperceptible gradation, between the grossness of human passion and the absence of all human sympathy." Hazlitt's King's Theatre becomes a hellish vision of class-ridden England at large, reminiscent of the circle of Dante's Inferno where the misers and the profligates torment each other with no other weapon but their differences. Hazlitt's 1828 review is also a devastating critique of "fashion" itself, which the King's Theatre historically embodied. Fashion is England's new slavery, a cultural economy powered by the machinery of class distinction and hostility, immured to "human sympathy," in which all commodities begin to empty of value the very instant they are coveted.

Hazlitt's experience of class warfare at the opera house is highly personalized, but there can be no question that the Mozart revolution in operatic taste demanded reforms in audience behavior, specifically the nobility's. For instance, Alsager at the Times suggested that the practice of applauding during the singing be discontinued because of its distracting effect on the necessary Mozartian absorption: "There is one custom ... we should be very glad to see reformed; we mean that of yielding (in a way very honourable, no doubt, to taste and feeling) to the impulse of admiration excited by a fine passage, and interrupting it by an applause which, however judicious in itself, is perfectly ruinous to the effect" (16 April 1817). There is evidence also that the new Mozartian constituency of the King's Theatre began attempting to police the time-honored liberty to engage in loud conversation during performances, with a pause only to listen to the diva. The Norwich manufacturer and avid musical amateur William Gardiner recalled how on his visit to the King's Theatre to see Don Giovanni, he had found it necessary to tell two members of His Majesty's cabinet to please shut up: "Lord Castlereagh and Lord Warwick were on the bench just before me, conversing so loudly upon the income-tax, that I said, 'Gentlemen, your talking prevents my hearing the music;' which remark seemed to give pleasure to a party on the seat behind me, for I silenced the senators." (45) In such anecdotes we discover traces in the growth of a distinctly bourgeois public music culture in Britain, which, through the course of the nineteenth century, increasingly demanded an atmosphere of almost religious devotion at the public performance of "classical" music, what Hunt called "downward listening ... Half conscious, half unconscious" ("A Thought on Music"). (46) The role of the King's Theatre as an extension of the drawing room and court culture of the nobility--more a place of "upward talking" as it were--came increasingly under threat from the Mozartian amateurs, and indeed, by mid century, the nobility had largely deserted the opera house as part of their general retreat from social power and from those public venues--the King's Theatre, St. James Park, the Vauxhall Gardens, etc.--that were its display spaces.

Perhaps thinking that the Examiner, in employing Hazlitt, was in danger of failing the historical moment, Hunt himself wrote two follow-up reviews of the 1817 Don Giovanni. Where Hazlitt seemed to damn the pleasures of the opera--its "gaity, tenderness, and sweetness"--by disadvantageous comparison with the "grand expression" it mostly lacked, Hunt promotes Mozartian pleasure itself as a form of sublime "transport": "the notes are struck up to love, and gaiety, and coquetry, and all the intensities of pleasure.... When he gets into this vein, he turns criticism into mere admiration and transport. One has nothing to do but to reckon the songs in succession, and panegyrize them as they go by, like a dance of beauties" (3 Aug.). Hunt then opens a debate over the dramatic propriety of the final scene, where Mozart, ill-advisedly according to Hunt, "got his statue off the horse" and in doing so "spoiled him." Whereas the scene in the cemetery, when the Commendatore first speaks to Don Giovanni, "present[ed] a combination than which nothing can be more grand or fearful," the finale divested the ghost of his solemn majesty through an overabundance of "motion" and "noise." Hunt's grammatical gyration--"than which nothing can be more grand"--is surely a conscious echo of Kant and the rhetorical protocols of the sublime. Though Hunt proceeds to show how the opera's finale fails the Kantian standard, his argument is based on the very presumption disallowed by Hazlitt and Dennis: namely that opera should be capable of sustained "grand expression" and of providing intellectual satisfaction equivalent to those poets Hunt calls "Mozart's brethren."

By contrast with Hazlitt, Hunt's opera criticism in general shows a man bent on enjoying himself. (47) While Hazlitt is not sure what a good radical like himself is doing at the opera, Hunt casts himself as a reformer from within. At a production of Paesiello's La Molinara, three weeks before the premiere of Don Giovanni, Hunt declares himself "heartily glad to see this Theatre fill so well, for we like Italian, and music, and dancing, and beautiful mythologies, and the sight of spectators from various countries amicably mingling together, and are even extrinsic enough to admire the flounces and flowers in the boxes--not to mention a small predilection in favour of the fair wearers" (23 March 1817). Hunt allows himself to enjoy the ostentatious self-display of the upper classes that Hazlitt deplored, and embraces "fashion" as a natural object of middle-class desire.

Hunt's positive pre-disposition at the opera house--his "hearty gladness"--forms the basis for his appreciation of Mozart's operas, which constitute the spectacular manifestation, the objective correlative of his own enjoyment: "Mozart's tendency was to feel all that he said, to be conscious of every idea in the shape and touch of a positive pleasure. He is therefore always at his best in direct enjoyment--in love, in pastoral pleasure, in joyous anticipation, in deep and actual delight. This was his faculty, his peculiar self" (27 July 1817). Here again, Mozart functions as a form of ideal self-image for the Cockney sensibility, a music that aspires to the Keatsian standard of "philosophy ... proved upon our pulses" (Gittings 93).

While Hazlitt reads the pleasures of Mozart's operas as necessarily trivial, for Hunt, gaiety and moral seriousness no more contradict in Mozart than in radical journalism. In his "Preface" to the 1808 Examiner, Hunt had promised stylistic reform as the natural accompaniment to political opposition: "as Theatrical Criticism is the liveliest part of a newspaper, I have endeavoured to correct its usual levity, by treating it philosophically; and as Political Writing is the gravest subject, I have attempted to give it a more general interest by handling it good-humouredly." Hunt employs the same oxymoronic language in his description of the opera house as "a palace of pleasure, even in its tragedy. Bitterness there cannot but speak sweetly" (Autobiography 128). For Hunt there was no choice between seriousness and pleasure, between "frivolity" and "the grave realities of life," between, by extension, the operatic and the political. In a review of Il Flauto Magico in 1819, Hunt disavows Hazlitt's "preconceived" equation of pleasure and triviality, arguing that "enjoyment" and "gladness" are the properties of art and genius as much as moral depth: "We are not sure, for our own parts, that we do not admire it more than any of his operas, if we could candidly rid ourselves of a preconceived notion that Mozart's powers were chiefly confined to the gayer part of enjoyment--a misconception to which all men of various genius seem to have been liable, in return for their bestowing gladness." Hunt here makes his own modest claim to be numbered among the "men of various genius" who have had their style "misconceived" (Examiner 30 May 1819).

Hunt's reputation has never fully recovered from the charges of dilettantism and frivolousness first leveled at him by Blackwood's and its Tory cronies. But, as Jeffrey Cox has rightly argued, it will not do simply to reiterate these politically motivated prejudices in our own judgment of Hunt. (48) Reading Hunt's opera criticism, we recognize that dilettantism and frivolousness are integral to Hunt's "Mozartian" style of opposition. Mozart's Don Giovanni and Le Nozze di Figaro both offer critiques of aristocratic power and license, but they are also vehicles of pure aesthetic pleasure and brilliancy. In the same way, Hunt's attack on the Prince Regent in the Examiner takes the form of a sequence of elaborate farces. Consider, for example, the dream sequence in his March 8 article, "Princely Qualities":</p> <pre> I ran over the history of the last fifty years; and so complete was my abstraction, that I was in a hundred points of time and parts of the kingdom at once; I was at motions in Parliament about money; I was at Brighton, I was at Blackheath, I was at Newmarket, I was at Mrs. R.'s, Mrs. C.'s, and Mrs. F.'s--at my Lady J.s and my Lady H.'s; I was two hours in company with a hatter and three with a tailor; I was surrounded

with duns and blue devils; I was at the payment of sundry pensions to noisy, ill-looking fellows, who the moment they got the money clapped their hands upon their mouths; I was keeping it up till four-o'clock in the morning; I sunk under the table and fell asleep, and then I began dreaming ... things as incongruous, for instance, as supposing one's self to be a beast and a man at one and the same time, or a jackass and Alfred the Great, or a Prince and a box of peppermint. </pre> <p>"Princely Qualities" transcends the formal definition of satire where the frivolous corresponds to and inverts the "grave reality" in a one-to-one system of relation. Hunt's zany narrative instead marks a deconstruction of seriousness itself, a truly radical irreverence. Z. and the other Tory critics sought to deny Hunt and his circle the right to idle poeticizing, unsystematic self-education, and "round table" style opinions--in short to non-material labor, to frivolousness. If the government was offended by the insolent freedom of Hunt's portrayal of the Regent, it was truly scandalized by his so obviously enjoying it. It was Hunt taking his pleasure where he wished--be it in his journal, or at the opera house--that constituted his true threat to the social order, the reason why he, not Hazlitt, ended up in jail.

To pursue this point: the eagerness of Hunt's Tory critics to brand him a cultural outsider took the shape it did precisely because Hunt laid claim to aristocratic privilege not in the tangible assets of land, wealth, and position, but the new cultural consumables of modernity, namely leisure, entertainment, and taste. Hunt's surprising embrace of Italian opera in the pages of the Examiner accordingly stands for a strategic politicizing of pleasure. Hazlitt was also attacked by the Tories, but because he took on the more familiar shape of the radical as the angry, disenfranchised outsider, he represented a non-complex, perfectly symmetrical figure of opposition. Hunt's breathless delight in the opera signals him as a more dangerous agent of middle-class aspiration: a bourgeois bon vivant who not only expresses a desire to enjoy elements of aristocratic lifestyle, but pretends to be enjoying them already. Hence the pleasure Hunt takes in Mozart at the King's Theatre is a form of class defiance at least as powerful as Hazlitt's denunciation of opera culture in the Examiner in 1828. By enjoying himself at the King's Theatre, Hunt is fighting for the right to redefine operatic art and for his constituency's access to its pleasures. His Italian Opera reviews are thus not extrinsic to the program of the Examiner but perfectly congruous, indeed exemplary. The role of reformer and tastemaker at the King's Theatre was one Hunt sought rather than scorned not because Italian opera was ever a serious matter, but precisely because it was frivolous.

Twenty years after the controversial and long-anticipated debut of Don Giovanni at the King's Theatre, the class battlelines at the opera house were still apparent, but newly redrawn. Reviewing an 1837 revival of the opera, the Novellos' journal, Musical World, remarked on Don Giovanni's enduring power to draw "that large and increasing body of classical amateurs (and which is composed almost exclusively of the middle class in life) to hear such music as they prefer. The majority of that immense audience the other evening, to all appearance, came from the East of Pall Mall" (May 5). In 1813, Hunt's Examiner had described the Italian opera house as a public venue "almost exclusively visited by the highest rank and fashion of the nation" (May 9). The succeeding quarter century marked enormous changes in the English social landscape, transformations nowhere more visible than in the entertainment venues of London's West End. By 1837, the King's Theatre was in the business of addressing the preferences of its middle-class patrons, a "large and increasing body." In the year of Victoria's ascent to the throne, what remained of Hunt's music-loving circle could look with satisfaction upon the "immense" city audience for Mozart at the King's Theatre, and see there the operatic shape of Regency reform.

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

(1.) Charles and Mary Cowden Clarke, Recollections of Writers (London: Sampson and Low, 1878) 196.

(2.) H. Barton Baker, The London Stage: Its History and Traditions, 1576-1888 (London: W. H. Allen, 1889) 255.

(3.) British Stage and Literary Gazette (Sept. 1817).

(4.) British Stage and Literary Gazette (June 1817).

(5.) Complete Works and Letters (New York: Modern Library, 1935) 205.

(6.) Memoirs of Shelley, and Other Essays and Reviews, ed. Howard Mills (New York: New York UP, 1970) 45.

(7.) Literary Gazette 19 April 1827.

(8.) The distinction between "event" and "work" was first elucidated by Carl Dahlhaus in Nineteenth-Century Music, trans. J. Bradford Robinson (Berkeley: U of California P, 1989) 11-15. For a detailed and illuminating discussion of "event" and "work" in the English reception of Mozart see Rachel Cowgill, "Mozart's Music in London, 1764-1829: Aspects of Reception and Canonicity" (diss., University of London, 200) 229-41.

(9.) Selections from Mozart's operas circulated in England in printed anthologies through the 1790s, though usually with varying English texts. Full vocal scores began to appear the following decade. In the years 1809-17, Robert Birchall, Monzani and Hill, and Falkner all published scores of Don Giovanni. Alec Hyatt King, "Vignettes in Early Nineteenth-Century London Editions of Mozart's Operas," British Library Journal 6 (1980): 25.

(10.) Leigh Hunt, Musical Evenings, or Selections, Vocal and Instrumental, ed. David R. Cheney (Columbia: U of Missouri P, 1964) 17.

(11.) Hunt had written the first chapter of "Musical Evenings" before deciding that the project was "much too far in advance of the then existing public taste for music" (Clarke, Recollections 202). Hunt's misreading of his public in this venture is revealing in itself: it shows that the Hunt circle's musical tastes stood in a parallel course with its politics, "in advance" of the putative mainstream.

(12.) Mary Cowden Clarke, My Long Life (New York: Dodd, Mead & Co., 1896) 26.

(13.) Thornton Hunt, "Proserpine," in Edmund Blunden, Leigh Hunt and his Circle (London: Harper & Bros., 1930) 361.

(14.) The Cockney cult of Mozart finally proved too much for Keats. His falling out with Hunt in 1818 was synonymous, in Keats's mind, with alienation from Mozart: "The night we went to Novello's there was a complete set to of Mozart and punning--I was so completely tired of it that if I were to follow my own inclination I should never meet any one of that set again, not even Hunt.... Through him I am indifferent to Mozart." Letters of John Keats, ed. Robert Gittings (Oxford: Oxford UP, 1970) 180-81.

(15.) Leigh Hunt, Poetical Works, ed. H. S. Milford (Oxford: Oxford UP, 1923) 254.

(16.) For the English Mozartians, Mozart's operas represented an historic solution to the deep German-Italian divide in European music, where the Italian school was identified with melodic bel canto and the German baroque with a taste for intricate counterpoint and dense orchestration. The Italians themselves, of course, saw no such thing in Mozart, whom they considered "German," while in Germany itself, Mozart was performed in vernacular translation. It is in England therefore, as Emanuele Senici states, that "Mozart's Italian operas entered the repertory as 'Italian operas.'" "'Adapted to the modern stage': La Clemenza di Tito in London," Cambridge Opera Journal 7.1 (1995): 2.

(17.) Lorenzo Da Ponte, Memoirs, trans. Elisabeth Abbot (New York: Dover, 1929) 251.

(18.) See, for example, John Sterland [S.D.] "Chronicles of the Italian Opera in England," Harmonicon 8 (1830): 246, and Baker 255. I follow Alec Hyatt King in his convincing suggestion that John Sterland, a city amateur and member of the Philharmonic Society, authored those articles for the Harmonicon between 1831-33 signed "S.D." Musical Pursuits: Selected Essays (London: British Library, 1987) 126-35.

(19.) Vincent and Mary Novello, A Mozart Pilgrimage: Being the Travel Diaries of Vincent and Mary Novello in 1829, ed. Rosemary Hughes (London: Novello & Co., 1955) 256-57.

(20.) Examiner 18 April 1824.

(21.) Edmund Blunden, Leigh Hunt's 'Examiner' Examined (London: Cobden-Sanderson, 1928) 3.

(22.) George Hogarth, Memoirs of the Musical Drama (London, 1838) 2: 373.

(23.) When Queen Charlotte attended a production of Don Giovanni at the King's Theatre in 1821, she found "a splendidly bound copy of the opera" on her cushion (Times May 25). For an opera score to be bound, let alone thought worthy as a royal gift, was unthinkable before Mozart.

(24.) An excellent introduction to bel canto is provided by Rodolfo Celleti, A History of Bel Canto, trans. Frederick Fuller (Oxford: Clarendon, 1991). Dr. Burney stands as the key primary source, but the most thorough recent history of Baroque opera in London is Ian Woodfield, Opera and Drama in Eighteenth-Century London (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2001).

(25.) Literary Gazette 19 April 1817.

(26.) Lord Mount Edgcumbe, Musical Reminiscences, Containing an Account of the Italian Opera in England from 1773 (London, 1834) 100.

(27.) Catalani was once paid 1700 pounds for 17 songs by the Marquis of Buckingham (more than $100,000) for a weekend parlor-room concert. Rees Gronow, The Reminiscences and Recollections of Captain Gronow, 1810-60 (New York: Scribner & Welford, 1889) 1: 35. The fashion for such exclusive concerts as an alternative to the increasingly deregulated social order of the King's Theatre enraged middle-class critics. Richard Mackenzie Bacon, who founded England's first musical journal and was the most significant music critic outside the Hunt circle, deplored these private concerts for Catalani as "a means of excluding all but those whom these titled managers may choose should breathe the same air with themselves--a mode of keeping out improper people, as they would phrase it." Bacon's tone rises to an almost jacobinical pitch: "If the Aristocracy entertain a serious intention of bringing themselves (the few) into a dangerous degree of contempt with the nation (the many), they cannot adopt a reader mode; and such a division, they need scarcely be told, will go dreadfully against the powers that be" (London Magazine June 824). The politicization of opera-singing in the Regency period is here graphically demonstrated.

(28.) Times 16 April 1817.

(29.) The Last Man, ed. Hugh J. Lake (Lincoln: U of Nebraska P, 1965) 99.

(30.) Anecdotes of Music (London, 1814) 361.

(31.) Harmonicon 10 (1832): 400.

(32.) Harmonicon 6 (1828): 172.

(33.) "Essay on the Opera," Critical Works, ed. Edward Niles Hooker (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 1939) 2: 389-90.

(34.) Times 1 June 1818.

(35.) Alsager's relationship to the Hunt-Lamb circle is detailed in D. E. Wickham, "Thomas Massa Alsager: An Elian Shade Illuminated," Charles Lamb Bulletin (July 1981): 45-62. Leanne Langley provides the most thorough description of both Alsager's and Ayrton's contribution to English music journalism in "The English Musical Journal in the Early Nineteenth Century" (diss., University of North Carolina, 1983).

(36.) Leigh Hunt, Autobiography, ed. J. E. Morpurgo (London: Cresset P, 1849) 236.

(37.) Ayrton's dogmatic personality would seem to be borne out by his role as the doltish foil to Lamb's wit in Hazlitt's essay, "Of Persons One Would Wish to Have Seen," Complete Works, ed. P. P. Howe (London: J. M. Dent and Sons, 1932) 17: 122-34.

(38.) Times 12 Jan. 1818.

(39.) Times 28 May 1817.

(40.) Examiner 22 March 1812.

(41.) Precisely the same language was employed to describe Ayrton to the Sheriff's Court: "He was a gentleman--a scholar--acquainted with foreign languages; understood not only what belonged to the science of music, but to the business of the world" (Times 12 Jan. 1818). These epithets define the new bourgeois man as an educated, cultured, worldly professional, in implicit contrast to the "semi-barbarous" narrowness, in both education and experience, of the aristocratic class.

(42.) I am indebted, both for her original research and her analysis of the class politics of Mozart, to Rachel Cowgill, "'Wise Men from the East': Mozart's Operas and Their Advocates in Early Nineteenth-Century London," in Music and British Culture, 1785-1914, ed. Christina Bashford and Leanne Langley (Oxford: Oxford UP, 2000) 39-64.

(43.) Pamela Willetts, "The Ayrton Papers: Music in London, 1786-1858," British Library Journal 6 (1980): 12.

(44.) 6 March 1711.

(45.) William Gardiner, Music and Friends, or Pleasant Recollections of a Dilettante (London, 1838) 1: 154-55.

(46.) Historical interest in audience behavior and the changing "art of listening" has blossomed recently. See William Weber, "Did People Listen in the 18th century?" Early Music 25.4 (1997): 678--91; Peter Gay, The Naked Heart (New York: Norton, 1995) 11-36; and James H. Johnson, Listening in Paris: A Cultural History (Berkeley: U of California P, 1995).

(47.) For other comparative analyses of Hunt and Hazlitt's opera criticism, see Christopher Hatch, "The 'Cockney' Writers and Mozart's Operas," Opera Quarterly 3.2 (Summer 1985): 45-58, and David L. Jones, "Hazlitt and Hunt at the Opera House," Symposium 16 (1962): 5-16.

(48.) Jeffrey Cox, Poetry and Politics in the Cockney School: Keats, Shelley, Hunt and their Circle (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1998) 35-37
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Date:Sep 22, 2005
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