Supplementary Appendix 3.1

Georg Christoph Lichtenberg, “Briefe aus England,” Vermischte Schriften. Neue vermehrte von dessen Söhnen veranstaltete Original-Ausgabe (Göttingen 1844), 3:260–64, in a letter to Heinrich Christian Boie; from London on 30 November 1775: [*]

Well, my good friend, as a change of pace allow to me leave behind for a few moments the world in a nutshell, namely, Drury Land and Covent Garden, and descend (for such is the correct expression, is it not?) to the tinsel nutshell of a world, namely, the Italian opera in the Haymarket. For I have both seen and heard the idolized Gabrielli, and could have spoken with her had I but so desired; indeed, I have already been addressed on that account several times and even reproached for not having done so. You are no doubt familiar with her from Brydone’s Tour, whence I myself had already gotten to know her in Göttingen. [1] After his description, I was almost keener on hearing her than Garrick. What made matters worse, as you know, was that she had already long been in London the same time I was. And then suddenly the announcement came:

Opera Dido
Dido, Signora Gabrielli

An hour before curtain time I went to the opera and was turned away: Signora was allegedly ill. A few days later, the same announcement:

Dido, Signora Gabrielli

I took a chaise over and was turned away yet again: Signora allegedly had a case of influenza, which is what the common cold was called during those Italian days in London. Then I went a third time. I had been dining at the home of Dr. Forster and, because of Gabrielli, had left an extremely pleasant company of scholars who genuinely were talking about things such as Tahiti and New Zealand the way I would talk about Eimbeck [between Göttingen and Hildesheim].

But again I had to withdraw: Dido was allegedly not well. Finally, a week later, on 11 November of this year [1775], things got serious. Signora herself had gotten over the influenza and London had come down with an influenza of feverish proportions to see Signora. This time I again went on foot, but two full hours early. They took my money, and I hurried upstairs quite content knowing that I would soon have the pleasure of writing to you about Gabrielli, whom I myself had not yet seen. . . .

The curtain rose amid the thunder of twenty drums and trumpets, quite taking away my breath, and then Dido Gabrielli, in gold and white silk, made a grandiose appearance before a silver Carthaginian guard amid the applause of all London. Seeing something of this sort is no small thing. . . .


But this scene was essentially the best thing offered to me that evening. Picture for yourself Gabrielli as a woman with a roundish face, much sooner petite than large, and in whose eyes one can already discern the equinox of life, a woman standing perfectly still and, trusting solely in her voice, gurgles forth her arias with 3/4 of her face turned toward the audience, her neck often tortuously twisted, and her eyes focused on an individual loge — picture her thus, and you have her in her entirety.

Although she sang some of her arias quite excellently, including, among others, in the first act: “Son Regina; e Sono amante / E l’imperio io sola voglio . . . ,” it nonetheless seems to me that I heard them done better in my dreams. In a word, I would as little trade a quarter hour in Drury Lane on a pleasant evening for this Dido as a comfortable, warm country house in Buckinghamshire or Bergstrasse [region in Hesse] for her cardboard Carthage.


[1] Patrick Brydone (1741–1819), A Tour Through Sicily and Malta: In a Series of Letters to William Beckford, Esq. of Somerly in Suffolk (1st ed. 1773), here 2 vols. (Glasgow 1817), 2:260–62, with several piquant remarks about Gabrielli’s volatile, capricious character:

Her caprice is so fixed and so stubborn, that neither interest, nor flattery, nor threats, nor punishments, have the least power over it; and it appears, that treating her with respect or contempt have an equal tendency to increase it. . . . The most successful expedient has ever been found, to prevail on her favourite lover, for she always has one, to place himself in the centre of the pit, or the front box; and if they are in good terms, which is seldom the case, she will address her tenders airs to him, and exert herself to the utmost . . . [alas] the viceroy then sent her to prison, where she remained twelve days . . . The viceroy was obliged to give up struggling with her. Back.


[*] Illustration: Caterina Gabrielli in the opera The Beautiful Slave Girl; anonymous copper engraving. Back.

Translation © 2014 Doug Stott