It was Madame Nilsson's first appearance that winter, and what the daily press had already learned to describe as "an unexpectantly brilliant audience" had gathered to hear her, transported through the slippery, snowy streets in private broughams, in the spacious family laudau, or in the humbler but more convenient "Brown coupé." To come to the Opera in a Brown coupé was almost as honourable a way of arriving as in one's own carriage; and departure by the same means had the immense advantage of enabling one (with a playful allusion to demotractic principles) to scramble into the first Brown conveyance in the line, instead of waiting till the cold-and-gin congested nose of one's own coachman gleamed under the portico of the Academy. It was one of the great livery-stableman's most masterly intuitions to have discovered that Americans want to get away from amusement even more quickly than they want to get to it.
The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton
Sunday, February 04, 2007
Get Away from Amusement
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1 March 1862
Went to the opening night of Rothomago at the Cirque. A dazzling audience. It is becoming the fashion to go to premieres. The balcony was resplendent with demi-mondaines and the corridors were crowded with those handsome men wearing foreign decorations who fill the corridors of the Opera on ball nights. In the boxes there was quite a pretty array of prostitutes. It is wonderful what a centre of debauchery the theatre is. From the stage to the auditorium, from the wings to the stage, from the auditorium to the stage and from one side of the auditorium to the other, invisible threads criss-cross between dancers' legs, actresses' smiles and spectators' opera glasses, presenting an overall picture of Pleasure, Orgy, and Intrigue. It would be impossible to gather together in a smaller space a greater number of sexual stimulents, of invitations to copulation. It is like a Stock Exchange dealing in women's nights.
I went and sat in Gisette Dennery's box. In the next box were her friends, the mistresses of Champs-Elysees horse-dealers called Tony, one of whom was a famous sometimes bare-back rider at the Hippodrome, Rosalie. These women have horrifying heads, half antique cameo, half animal, sculpturally, implacably bestial in appearance--typical gladiators' women, beast-fighters' mistresses.
Into their box came a pale, brown-haired woman with velvety eyes like black diamonds, who said as she entered: "He made a magnificent speech...and so moderate!" It was Jeanne de Tourbey, Prince Napoleon's latest mistress.
During one of the intervals I went out on to the boulevard. Gautier hooked his arm through mine and we stood smoking and chatting.
"This is how I like the theatre," he said,--"outside! I've got three women in my box who will tell me what has been happening on the stage."
from Pages From The Goncourt Journal
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