4 de April de 1847 Domingo de Resurrección - Misa en la catedral, Domingo de Resurrección. Una cabalgata a Gracia y Montjuic. La «Compañia Anglo-Americana» en la plaza de toros. Apertura del gran teatro del Liceo de Isabel II: el Liceo, bonito, las mujeres, feas (2606)

El incendio de 1861. Imagen: Wikimedia.

High Mass on Easter Sunday

Our first enterprise, on Easter Sunday, was to endeavor to mount one of the Cathedral towers, and to have, as it was a bright day, a bird’s-eye view of the city and its environs. In prosecution of our plan we entered the body of the church, about half an hour before high mass had ended. The aisles which we had seen all lonely the day before, were crowded with zealous worshipers—the high altar was blazing with a multitude of soft lights; the ceremonial and vestments were very rich; the choir was full, and a fine orchestra (for Barcelona is very musical) aided the sweet-toned organ. High over all, the morning sun streamed through the painted windows, and you could see the incense which was fragrant hefore the altar, curling around the capitals, and clinging to the arches. The whole was deeply impressive, and I could not but observe the contrast of the congregation, in its silent and attentive worship, with the restless, and sometimes noisy devotions of which I had seen so much in Italy. Here were no marchings to and fro; no gazing at pictures; no turning of backs upon the altar; no groups, for conversazione, round the columns; nothing to mar the solemnity of the occasion, or break the echoes of the majestic music, as they swept along the lofty roof, seeming almost to stir to motion the old pennons that hang above the altar, so high, and now so much the worse for time, that their proud quarterings are visible no more. At last, the service came to its end, and the people went their ways to—buy tickets for the theater. At all events, we met a considerable portion of the congregation, thus occupied, when we went down the street soon after. The sacristan would not allow us to ascend the tower without a permit, which it was then too late to procure, so that after straying a little while through the beautiful cloisters, where fine orange and lemon-trees and bright, fragrant flowers charmed away the sadness of the worn gray stone, we returned to our Fonda, to seek the means of visiting some of the environs.

A ride to Gracia—Montjuich

After we had waited for an hour, a fellow made his appearance in the court-yard, driving a huge lumbering vehicle, covered with green and gold, very square and peculiar in shape, but, on the whole, sufficiently coachiform, and drawn by a pair of long-tailed blacks, with collars, on which jingled many bells. We made our bargain, and were cheated, of course, as we afterward found; horse and coach-dealing being, here as elsewhere, greatly subversive of moral principle. Away we went, up the Rambla, at a great pace, to the astonishment and apparent amusement of the crowd. Once outside the walls, our coachman gave us the benefit of slow jolts over a rough road to Gracia, a little village some two miles from the city, which is surrounded, and in some degree formed, by country-houses and their appurtenances. No doubt, in the summer season, this excursion may be a pleasant one, but the cold driving wind which came down from the mountains as we took it, made it bleak enough to us. Hedges of roses, it is true, were in luxuriant bloom, and the fertile fields of the Pla (plain) were as green as spring could make them. The aloe and the prickly-pear too, did their best to look tropical, but it was a useless effort, for the wind beat and battered them rudely, and they and the painted torres (towers), or country-boxes, looked uncomfortably out of place, naked, desolate, and chilly. To turn our backs upon the breeze, we directed our driver to carry us to Montjuich, which, as I have said, is a commanding eminence to the southwest, on the left hand as you enter the harbor. Creeping slowly around the outside of the city walls, which are heavy, strong, and well guarded, we passed by the quarter where the forest of tall chimneys indicated the business hive of the manufacturers, and then, crossing a fertile plateau beautifully irrigated and in high cultivation, we were set down at the foot of Montjuich. Up the hill we toiled, faithfully and painfully, on foot. Ford calls it a «fine zig-zag road.» I will testify to the zig-zig—but as to the fineness must beg leave to distinguish. At last we reached the fortress, which sits impregnable upon the summit, and to our chagrin were quietly informed by the sentinel at the postern, that we could not enter, without a permit. This we had not provided, through ignorance of its necessity, and we accordingly put in our claim to their politeness, as strangers. The sentinel called the corporal, the corporal went to his officer, the officer hunted up the governor, and by the same gradations a polite message descended to us, to the effect, that, as we were strangers, the usual requisitions would be waived, if we knew any body in the castle by name, whom we could go through the form of asking for. We knew no one, and being reasonable people, went on our way in ill humor with no one but ourselves. Not being, any of us, military men, which in a company of three, from our land of colonels, was quite a wonder, we persuaded ourselves that we had not lost much, for from the base of the fortress we had a charming view of the white city; its fine edifices, public and private, with their flat roofs and polygonal towers; the harbor, with all its festive banners streaming; the green valley, carrying plenty up into the gorges of the hills; and the sea, rolling far as eye could reach, a few dim specks of canvas here and there whitening its bosom.

The Plaza de Toros, and Yankee Company

Returning to the city, we crossed to the Garden of the General, a sweet little spot, prettily laid out, and planted with box and innumerable flowering shrubs, which were in delicious fragrance and bloom. There were fountains and aviaries there; fish-ponds, duck-ponds, and even goose-ponds, and all manner of people, of all sorts and ages. This garden, with a little walk beside it, is the last of a series of beautiful promenades which lead into each other, traversing the whole city, from the groves upon its outskirts to the splendid terraces along the shore.

By this time we were well-nigh fatigued enough, but there was still an exhibition to be witnessed, which it did not become us, as good patriots, to neglect. The Plaza de Toros, or bull-amphitheater, was the gathering-place of the whole population; not, however, to behold the fierce combats peculiar to its arena, for with such things the tumultuous burghers of Barcelona were not to be trusted. A harmless substitute there was, in the shape of the «Compañia Anglo-Americana,» or Yankee company, who were delighting the sons of the troubadours with their gymnastics. Every body remembers the remoteness of the regions, into which the Haytien dignitary had the assurance to say that our estimable countrymen would follow a bag of coffee. Here was a parallel case. As we entered, Jonathan was performing a hornpipe, on stilts, much more at his ease (it being Sunday) than if he had been at home within sight of Plymouth Rock. He then gave them a wrestling match, after the manner which is popularly ascribed to «the ancients;» afterward, a few classical attitudes, with distortions of muscle, according to the Michael Angelesque models, and, finally, made his appearance as a big green frog, so perfectly natural, both in costume and deportment, that in Paris he would have run the risk, scientific and culinary, of having his nether limbs both galvanized and fried. We paid him the respect of our presence and applause for a little while, and lingered to witness the excitement of the immense assemblage, so strange and picturesque, and to hear their wild cries and saucy jests. The afternoon then being quite well advanced, we were trundled home, in due magnificence, to a worse dinner than we had earned.

Opening of the Great Opera House—Social Habits of the Barcelonese—Musical Tastes

About seven in the evening, a kind gentleman of the city called, by arrangement, to conduct me to the opening of the new Opera-house, the Liceo de Ysabel Segunda. There was a crowd around the entrances, and we found it difficult to make our way in, so that I had time enough to see that the façade, which looked paltry by day-light, was no better with the benefit of the grand illumination. The front, however, and some few of the minor arrangements of the interior, were all that could be reasonably found fault with; for the establishment is really magnificent, and full of the appliances of taste and luxury. Its cost was one hundred and fifty thousand dollars; and the stockholders had no doubt of being able to realize the interest of this large sum, and more, from the rent of the elegant shops upon the ground floor. I mention this fact, as an evidence both of enterprise and prosperity. The grand circle of the theater is larger, by measurement, than that of the San Carlo at Naples, or the Scala of Milan; and being finished, like the Italian Opera-house at Paris, with balconies, or galleries, in front of the boxes and slightly below their level, it has a far more graceful and amphitheater-like effect than the perpendicular box-fronts of the Italian houses, and especially the close, dingy walls of the Scala. The ornaments, though abundant, are neither profuse nor tawdry. The magnificent gas chandelier, aided by a thousand lesser lights, developed all the beautiful appointments of the boxes, with their drapery of gold and crimson, and the fine seen, cry, dresses, and decorations of the stage. I had seen nothing but the Italiens of Paris to rival the effect of the whole picture. The boxes of the lower tier are private property belonging to the contributors, or members of the Lyceum. My intelligent companion informed me that this is a species of property in very general request, there being scarcely a respectable family without a box, or, at all events, some special accommodations of its own, in some one of the theaters. The rights of the owners, he told me, are the subject of litigation almost as often as those relating to real property. They (the boxes and the law suits) descend from father to son.

Each box in the Liceo has two apartments, as usual in Europe. In the outer one, which you enter from the lobby, and which is a sort of retiring room, you leave your cloak and hat, and perhaps meet those members of the family you visit, who are not interested in the performance and prefer a quiet chat. The inner boxes, of course, open on the body of the theater, and every one was in them on the evening of my visit. The assemblage was immense, and it would not be easy to find, any where, one indicating good taste and refinement more decidedly. The gentle sex must pardon me, however, for admitting that, to my eye, beauty was the exception that night, rather than the rule. I had expected more, for M. de Balzac had said somewhere of the Catalonian women, that their eyes were composed of «velvet and fire;» but I soon discovered that the remark had less foundation in fact, than in that peculiarity of the French imagination, which is so fond, in the descriptive, of mingling fancy with fancy-goods. I may be wrong, it is true, for the Imperial Frederick, seven centuries ago, in his best Limousin, declared—

«I love the noble Frenchman,
And the Catalonian maid.»

And yet, I should not wonder if both the Gaul and the fair Catalan have undergone a change since those days.

I learned, in the course of conversation in the evening, that the theater has much to do with the social enjoyments of Barcelona. Morning visits form the principal intercourse of ladies in their own houses. Evening parties are very rare, and it is only at the theaters that the higher classes meet, with freedom and frequency. The usages of etiquette are very easy and pleasant. If you are a friend, you drop in sans façon, and drop out when you like. If you are a stranger, you are presented to the lady of the box, and that formality gives you the freedom of the circle, and of all the conversation that goes round it—imposing the payment of no tribute but that of your best bow to each and all, when it pleases you to retire. There is no knowing what a quantity of pleasant business you can attend to during the progress of a long opera—making your pilgrimage to many shrines. Neither is it easy to calculate how much aid and comfort you may find from a solo or an orchestral movement, in those pauses of conversation, which, under ordinary circumstances, are so often uncomfortable, if not melancholy. It is difficult to discover whether fondness for music produced this custom in Barcelona, or whether the custom produced the fondness. One thing, however, is very certain: the Barcelonese are good musicians, and generally keep an excellent company. My friend the marquis, who was himself a director of an opera at home, informed me, that they pay so liberally for good artists, as to take a great many of the best second-rate performers from Italy. Their musical predilections are of long standing. A gentleman who knew, told me, in proof of it, that some of the earliest republications of Metastasio’s works were made at Barcelona. The prices of admission to the theaters are very low—so much so, that there is scarce a laborer too poor to find his way to the opera, on Sundays or feast days. By the returns of the ticket-offices, as published in the journals, the day after Easter, there were four thousand six hundred spectators at the opening of the Lyceum; over one thousand attended the Teatro nuevo; and between nine hundred and one thousand were at the Teatro principal. As music is what they generally hear, it will not seem strange that the humblest of them should be fond of it, and generally fair judges of its quality. This last, however, is more than I can honestly profess to be; and, therefore, I was rather pleased than otherwise that they had selected a historical play, for the opening of the Lyceum. It was by Ventura de la Vega, a living poet of considerable reputation and merit, and was founded on the popular and noble story of Ferdinand the First of Aragon, called «He of Antequera.» The piece of itself is full of fine passages, with excellent dramatic situations and effect, and was gotten up with great brilliancy. The part of Ferdinand was by the famous La Torre, considered the first master, and one of the best performers in Spain. He is a quiet actor, of fine personal appearance; something like Charles Kemble in his style, and, unhappily, a good deal like him in his voice, for he is growing old. His reading and articulation were admirable, but a great deal was lost, the house being too large for any thing but opera, ballet, or spectacle.

, Glimpses of Spain; or, Notes of an unfinished tour in 1847 (1849). Read on

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