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  • Writer's pictureTim Braithwaite

Henry Chorley on French Singing and ‘Portly, Middle-Aged Gentlemen’ Singing in Falsetto (1844)

‘A gallery of French tenor singers would not be the least edifying chamber in the Pantheon of Art. Few traces would be there found, it is true, of the well-toned and well-cultivated voices, which distinguished the great men of the Italian opera. That they sung through their noses, is as certain as that the Parisian opera songstresses terrified Dr. Burney and Horace Walpole, by their energetic screaming. Many of them, too, were afflicted with that diseased tendency towards a falsetto, which, in our own country, has run the inordinate length of pushing innocent, portly, middle-aged gentlemen into warbling (more oddly to the eye than agreeably to the ear) the sublimest songs of Handel’s “Messiah.”'



Henry Chorley, Music and Manners in France and Germany: A Series of Travelling Sketches of Art and Society., vol. 1 (London: Longman, Brown, Green, and Longmans, 1844).

The painting below is ‘Les Choristes’ painted by Edgar Degas in 1877, depicting a group of singers performing a scene from Don Giovanni. In 2009 the painting was stolen from the Musée Cantini in Marseille where it was on loan. The work remained missing until 2018, when it was miraculously discovered during a random search of an intercity bus.

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