Music: Beggar's Opera

The swankest of the arts in 18th-Century London was Italian opera. Periwigged courtiers, who could not understand a word of it, raised their lace cuffs to applaud the ornate trilling of swivel-voiced prima donnas. Fashionable composers like Handel had to write their librettos in Italian. The Caruso of the period was the Italian eunuch-Francesco Bernardi Senesino, whose misfortunate voice earned fabulous sums at London's Royal Academy of Music. Lustier London wits like Henry Fielding began poking fun at this artificial art, inveighed against London's "wanton, affected fondness for foreign musick," with its...

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