The play The Duenna was first performed at Covent Garden on November 21st 1775. The words were by Richard Brinsley Sheridan and the music by the Linleys, father and son, and perhaps also daughter. It was billed as a 'Comic Opera', using the term in the English sense to describe a play with music rather than a through-composed opera in the continental sense - though even here, in the German Singspiel and the Spanish zarzuela, the mixed form was often used for comedy.
The scene depicted comes from near the end of the piece, and shows Donna Louisa and Donna Clara revealing their true identities to Don Ferdinand (Louisa's brother and Clara's lover), while fat Friar Paul looks on in amazement. The story is full of elopements and disguises which successfully confuse unsatisfactory lovers, unsuitable suitors, and unfeeling fathers alike.
There have been two reworkings of the piece, though none have used the original music. Roberto Gerhard composed new music for it in the 1940's and so did Prokofiev, who renamed it 'Betrothal in a Monastery'. Of the two, the latter has been by far the more successful and was performed this year at Glyndebourne.
Don Jerome tenor
Sheridan eloped with Elizabeth Linley in 1772 and married her. He began work on The Duenna in 1775 soon after the Rivals premiere. He persuaded Thomas Linley the elder to provide music for the play. His son Thomas Linley the younger also composed parts of it, and some songs are set to traditional tunes in the style of the ever popular Beggars Opera.
I have already set some airs which he has given me, and he intends writing new ones to some other tunes of mine. My son has likewise written some tunes for him, and I understand he is to have others from Mr Jackson of Exeter. This is a mode of proceeding in regard to his composition I do not by any means approve of. I think he ought first to have got it entirely new set. NO musician can set a sing properly unless he understands the character and knows the performer who is to exhibit it…
Sources in the British Library:
|Mrs Billington, born Elisabeth Weichsel in London in 1770, died in Venice 1818.
Her voice, in its very high tones, was something of the quality of a flute or flageolet, or resembled a commixture of the finest sounds of the flute and violin, if such could be imagined. It was then “wild and wandering,” but of singular sweetness. “Its agility,” says Mount Edgcumbe, “was very great, and everything she sang was executed in the neatest manner and with the utmost precision. Her knowledge of music enabled her to give great variety to her embellishments, which, as her taste was always good, were always judicious.” In her cadenzas, however, she was obliged to trust to her memory, for she never could improvise an ornament. Her ear was so delicate that she could instantly detect any instrument out of tune in a large orchestra; and her intonation was perfect. In manner she was “peculiarly bewitching,” and her attitudes generally were good, with the exception of an ugly habit of pressing her hands against her bosom when executing difficult passages. Her face and figure were beautiful, and her countenance was full of good humor, though not susceptible of varied expression; indeed, as an actress, she had comparatively little talent, depending chiefly on her voice for producing effect on the stage.