Pike's Opera House
21 April 2019
“‘Ah! It’s glorious to be a man at arms,
But it’s an exacting lot.’
"I don’t know if this truth from the middle ages applies to contemporary history also, but what I do know—as the Grande Duchesse says—is that in our time there’s a fate a thousand times more troublesome and a thousand times less glorious than that of a gendarme; it’s that of a chronicler.
“For example, there is a newspaper published in New York under the title L’Eco d’Italia, which bared its fangs to the CEU today and takes sides against me personally, under the pretext that in one of my recent columns I dared to hazard a modest pleasantry about the curtain at Pike’s theater.
“This curtain, neither more handsome nore more ugly than plenty of others, is owed to the brush of M. Francesco Augero. I admit with deepest humility that I didn’t know that detail; it’s obvious that without that [knowledge] I wouldn’t have permitted myself the least humoristic reflection on that masterpiece of the illustrious Francesco Augero. What scribbler on paper—much less the writer of a column for the Courrier des Etats-Unis—would dare to criticize a work signed Francesco Augero!
“Note well, nevertheless, that I didn’t criticize; if that misfortune had happened to me, it’s obviouisly my head that L’Eco d’Italia’s columnist would have demanded (It’s true that I wouldn’t have granted it to him!) since I’ve received point-blank a half-column of invective equally deeply felt, for the sole reason that I didn’t cite the creator of the curtain and that I had the irreverence to compare it to the scene found on the back of certain bills of national banks.
“Listen to the indictment of my pitiless colleague!
‘The applause that resounds from every side after an attentive and prolonged examination of the work (always the curtain of the celebrated FRANCESCO AUGERO) is the greatest and best proof of its perfection. All the newspapers gave our artist the praise he is due; only, the new critic of the Courrier des Etats-Unis, whose program is to keep silent about everything that is Italian if he isn’t absolutely able to say anything bad about it, observes, in his number of the 16th, that Augero’s curtain is the original of the engraving that’s found on certain greenbacks . . .’
“Oh! the chauvinists, the chauvinists! Besides, following on from there—for his seat is made for that man—he adds that I’ve declared that I prefer this to that, but [that] nobody would be astonished that I prefer five-dollar bills (non-counterfeit, I suppose) to a work of art.
“Then Francesco Augero’s defender, outraged by my silence, ends his harangue honorably and wittily by saying ‘that it seems however, that either I didn’t take the trouble to examine the curtain, or that I haven’t had the opportunity to examine five-dollar bills often enough, without which I wouldn’t have noticed that there’s as much difference between the curtain at Pike’s theater and the paper money of the United States, as between an article written with good sense and impartiality and my column.’ That’s the Parthian arrow [parting shot]!
“Without a doubt it’s gratifying to write in the language of Tasso and Alfieri (as M. Gagne writes in the language of Corneille); but that doesn’t confer the privilege of misrepresenting the truth. If I wanted to be as rigid as you, I would say to you: one of two things; either you don’t understand French, or you make senseless accusations by expressing your partiality.
“But, my dear and dishonest colleague, I’m more Italian than you; I’m Italianissimo! The proof is that my two dominant passions are macaroni and Italian music. I’d exchange the crown of Spain for a plate of ravioli, like I’ve often eaten in Naples; and to save only the cavatina from the Barber or the quartet from Rigoletto, I’d throw all of Offenbach overboard, and Wagner with him!
“But, sullen accuser, if you must hear my complete confession, I’d tell you that your Garibaldi is, to my eyes, one of the most admirable figures of our epoch that is so infertile in true heroes.
“I swear to you that we haven’t got anything against Italy except the desire to see her free and prosperous. If sometimes they accuse her of lacking a bit of gratitude towards France, we tell ourselves in order to excuse her that she is doubtless of the school of Richard III, who proclaimed so candidly that ingratitude is the independence of the heart.
“I avow to you that the Courrier des Etats-Unis is not in favor of anything in the grotesque and shameful production that this week showed us, of soldiers in blue tunics and crimson pantaloons in the second act of the Barber; that none of its writers sang the roles of either Almaviva, Figaro or Basilio in disguise.
“I swear that in order to expiate my irreverent oversight, for which you mistreat me so harshly, I make a vow to go to Pike’s theater for nine consecutive days and to consecrate all the time during the intermissions to admiring the superb canvas of Francesco Augero; at most I’d permit myself to go outside while they’re performing the comedy, to smoke a cigarette; but never during the intermissions, never!
“Now, that’s enough. You and I will produce an example of good taste in not raising a political question that has nothing to do with a chronicle of music. Let’s remember, as advanced as we should be—above all if we’re advanced—that liberty so demanded shouldn’t be exclusively for our benefit, but also for that of our adversaries, and that diverse opinions aren’t to be condemned except when they have shameful motives.
“May this be said to you in passing, dear colleague!
“The wind is up for war today. They haven’t yet finished with Francesco Augero’s admirers (if, for once, he doesn’t pass on to posterity, it won’t be my fault any more!) They will not yet have finished, I say, until a parade against the detractors of Geneviève de Brabant comes about.”