<< -- 2 -- Robert Hugill VENUS AND ADONIS
Charles did not provide the company with a subsidy, but he did give them his extensive support by actually going to the theatre regularly (something his father would have never dreamed of doing). In this way he was able to inculcate a lively theatrical life in London without draining the rather stretched Royal purse. He also provided support in other ways, allowing Royal Musicians, members of the Twenty-four Violins, to play at the theatres and singers from the Chapel Royal to perform. These musicians were now accommodated in a pit in front of the stage, being too numerous for the traditional balcony.
Davenant worked in a converted tennis court in Lincoln's Inn Fields and he opened with a revised version of The Siege of Rhodes. And it is here that things get a little complicated, because now the piece was presented without music at all. So was it an opera or wasn't it?
In the early seventeenth century, the few all sung works belonged to the traditions of the Masque. The strong traditions of spoken theatre meant that before the civil war, nothing like an opera was seen in public theatre. Court Masque, which mixed dancing with speech, was heavily larded with flattery of the Royal patrons and was notable for spectacular scenic effects but with little in the way of characterisation. But smaller, private masques developed the form, dispensing with the flattery and allowing writers to experiment. Ben Jonson's Lovers Made Men, which was produced at Essex House in 1617, was apparently sung throughout to music, in the Italian style, by Nicholas Lanier. Unfortunately the music does not survive.
Without the Civil War, it is interesting to speculate how the Court Masques might have developed into a musico-dramatic tradition analogous to that in France, where the seventeenth century works for the operatic stage have a direct link to the courtly entertainment. But, the closure of the theatres meant that it is the private style of Masque which survived. This is the tradition to which The Siege of Rhodes belonged. Similarly for a 1659 production of Cupid and Death, Locke considerably expanded the role of music, probably just to circumvent regulations. But after the war, such scams were no longer necessary and Davenant resorted to presenting basically spoken drama.
Copyright © 2 May 2004
Robert Hugill, London UK