[Item recovered from Mariposa Free Press, June 17, 1865, p. 1]
MARK TWAIN ON OPERATIC MUSIC
I have always heard that Italian opera was the most charming music in the world
after your taste is cultivated up to it, and you have got thoroughly used to
it. Very well; after I had got myself cultivated up to so fine a point that
I could close one eye in an opera and tell 'Norma' from the 'Bohemian Girl,'
and 'Traviata' from 'Trovatore,' I began to acknowledge to myself that this
was tolerably true -- and finally I deliberated decided that it was entirely
and unquestionably true. All San Francisco has laboriously schooled itself up
to the same conviction in the same way. But to-night myself and a gorgeous concourse
of other musical thoroughbreds were taken unawares and startled from our proprieties
in this respect. The opera was 'Martha, and we sat and listed to the greasy,
mushy Italian accents in a trance of ineffable delight, understanding little
or none of it, of course, but applauding every two minutes and a quarter, as
is customary and proper, and making a little more boisterous demonstration occasionally,
when the risk was warranted by a more than usually obscurity in the sentiment.
But finally Signorina Sconcia suddenly stepped forward to the footlights and
launched out into that enchanting old song, 'The Last Rose of Summer,"
in Italian. I tell you, the contrast between those sweet, home-like strains,
and that infernal foreign caterwauling, was too much for the proprieties of
our fine-spun cultivation -- the house was suddenly caught off its guard, and
came down with a perfect crash of applause! Then everybody looked ashamed, and
one cultivated party would look savagely at another cultivated party, as much
as to say, 'D-n it, you did it,' and the other cultivated party would reply
with a fierce glance, 'No, d-n it, you began it.'; but somebody ventured to
start an encore, and it faltered a moment -- then swept the house like
a tornado! Then the lady came forward again and sang the same song in Moore's
own pure, flowing English, unmarred by an accent of infamous Italian, and then
-- why then there was an earthquake! I have modified my musical creed a little
since that incident. I now hold that when one sings of dukes and duchesses,
and imperial asses and brigands, it sounds all the bettor to do it in Italian
words and Italian music, because these latter are well suited to the subject;
but when you want genuine music -- music that will come right home to you and
suffuse your system, and go through you and inflame your whole constitution,
and break out on your hide like the pin-feather pimples on a picked goose, call
for a melody of our own, and have it sung in good, strong, stirring old Saxon!
Confound it, now I have got to go back to the foot of the class and start in
fresh and get all cultivated over again.
[Reprinted in American Literary Realism, Vol. 47, No. 1, Fall 2014, p. 90-91.]
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