George P. (George Putnam) Upton.

The standard operas: their plots, their music, and their composers online

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with his usual susceptibility, falls in love with the charming
rejuvenated Baucis, to which Philemon makes vigorous pro-
test. A quarrel, their first one, ensues between Philemon
and Baucis. The former curses Jupiter's gift and wishes
back his peaceful old age. He even goes so far as to
upset Jupiter's statue and at last leaves his wife to the
god. Baucis is overcome with grief and finally persuades



Jupiter to grant her a second wish, which he consents to
do upon condition that she will love him. She entreats
him to make her old again. Philemon overhears her and
joins in the request. Jupiter for once is honorable enough
to promise to go back to Olympus and never interfere
with their happiness again.

After an instrumental introduction in pastoral style, the
principal motive of which is given by the oboe and re-
peated by full orchestra, the curtain rises upon a duet by
Philemon and Baucis, characterized by grace and delicacy
of sentiment (" Du repos voici l'heure "), which is fol-
lowed by a bacchanalian chorus sung in the wings.

The next number is a dignified trio for Philemon and
the J:wo gods, Jupiter and Vulcan, who are incognito
(" Etrangeres sur ces bords "), which in turn is followed
by Vulcan's couplets (" Au bruit des lourds marteaux "), the
rhythm of which is abrupt and broken, significant of the
god's physical misfortune. Jupiter next has an arietta
(" Eh, quoi parceque Mercure "), which is followed by
Baucis's tender and charming song (" Ah ! si je redevenais
belle "), and this by a short quartet, after which Jupiter
closes the act with stanzas in which he bids sleep come to
his generous hosts.

The second act opens with a symphonic prelude, full of
rich color, in which the pastoral motive in the introduction
to the first act recurs. Baucis upon awaking sings a grace-
ful arietta which is followed by Jupiter's song (" Que
m'importent de vaines scrupules? "). The next number
is a brilliant aria written especially for Mme. Carvalho
("O riante nature "). A light, airy and exceeding graceful
duet follows for Jupiter and Baucis (" Ne crains pas que
j'oublie "). The motive of the first duet between the aged
couple is heard and a delightful quartet closes the opera.


HALEVY was born at Paris, May 27, 1799, of Israel-
itish parents. His real name was Levy. He entered the
Conservatory in 1809, and in 1819 obtained the Grand
Prize for his cantata of "Hermione." After his arrival in
Italy he wrote several minor pieces, but his music did not
attract public attention until his return to Paris, when his
three-act opera, "Clari," brought out December 9, 1828,
with Malibran in the principal role, made a success.
"Le Dilettante d' Avignon " (a satire on Italian librettos),
" Manon Lescaut " (a ballet in three acts), "La Langue
Musicale," "La Tentation," and " Les Souvenirs" rapidly
followed " Clari," with alternating successes and failures.
In 1835 ms g rea t work, " La Juive," appeared, and in the
same year, " L'Eclair," one of his most charming operas,
written |without chorus for two tenors and two sopranos.
It was considered at the time a marvellous feat that he
should have produced two such opposite works in the
same year, and great hopes were entertained that he would
surpass them. These hopes failed, however. He subse-
quently wrote over twenty operas, among them " Guido et
Ginevra" (1838); "Charles VI" (1842); "La Reine
de Chypre " (1842) ; "Les Mousequetaires de la Reine "
(1846); "Le Val d'Andorre" (1848); "La Tempete "
( l8 53); "Le Juif Errant" (1855), and others; but "La
Juive" and "L'Eclair" remained his masterpieces, and
procured him admission into the Institute. He was also
a professor in the Conservatory, and among his pupils


were Gounod, Mass£, Bazin, Duvernoy, Bizet, and others.
He enjoyed many honors, and died March 17, 1862. A
De Profundis was sung on the occasion of his funeral,
written by four of his pupils, MM. Gounod, Masse, Bazin,
and Cohen. As a composer he was influenced largely by
Meyerbeer, and is remarkable rather for his large dra-
matic effects than for his melody.

The Jewess

"La Juive," grand opera in five acts, words by Scribe,
the libretto originally written for Rossini and rejected in
favor of " William Tell," was produced for the first time at
the Academie, Paris, February 23, 1835, w i tn tne follow-
ing cast of the principal parts :

Rachel Mile. Cornelia Falcon.

Eudoxia Mme. Dorus-Gras.

Eleazar M. Nourrit.

Cardinal M. Levasseur.

It was first produced in England in French, July 29,
1846, and in Italian under the title of "La Ebrea,"
July 25, 1850. In this country it is most familiar in the
German version. The scene of the opera is laid in Con-
stance ; time, 1414. Leopold, a prince of the empire,
returning from the wars, is enamoured of Rachel, a beauti-
ful Jewess, daughter of Eleazar, the goldsmith. The
better to carry out his plans, he calls himself Samuel, and
pretends to be a Jewish painter. Circumstances, however,
dispel the illusion, and Rachel learns that he is no other
than Leopold, husband of the princess Eudoxia. Over-
come with indignation at the discovery of his perfidy, she
publicly denounces his crime, and the Cardinal excom-
municates Leopold, and pronounces his malediction on
Rachel and her father. Rachel, Eleazar, and Leopold are
thrown into prison to await the execution of the sentence
of death. During their imprisonment Eudoxia intercedes


with Rachel to save Leopold's life, and at last, moved by
the grief of the rightful wife, she publicly recants her state-
ment. Leopold is banished, but Rachel and her father
are again condemned to death for conspiring against the
life of a Christian. Eleazar determines to be revenged in
the moment of death upon the Cardinal, who has sen-
tenced them, and who is at the head of a church which he
hates ; and just before they are thrown into a caldron of
boiling oil, reveals to the spectators that Rachel is not his
own, but an adopted daughter, saved from the ruins of the
Cardinal's burning palace, and that she is his child.

The opera of "The Jewess " is preeminently spectacu-
lar, and its music is dramatic and declamatory rather
than melodious. The prominent numbers of the first act
are the solemn declaration of the Cardinal (" Wenn ew'ger
Hass"), in which he replies to Eleazar's hatred of the
Christain ; the romance sung by Leopold (" Fern vom
Liebchen weilen"), which is in the nature of a serenade
to Rachel ; " Eilt herbei," the drinking-song of the people
at the fountain, which is flowing wine ; and the splendid
chorus and march (" Leht, es nahet sich der Zug "), which
preludes the imposing pageantry music of the Emperor's
arrival, closing with the triumphant Te Deum to organ ac-
companiment and the greeting to the Emperor ( " Hos-
anna, unser Kaiser hoch").

The second act opens with the celebration of the Pass-
over in Eleazar's house, and introduces a very solemn and
impressive prayer (" Allmacht'ger blicke gnadig "). In
the next scene there is a passionate ensemble and duet for
Eudoxia and Leopold (" Ich will ihn seh'n "), which is
followed by a second spirited duet between Rachel and
Leopold ("Als mein Herz ") ; an intensely dramatic aria
(" Ach ! Vater ! Halt ein ! "), in which she claims her share
of Leopold's guilt ; and the final grand trio in which
anathema is pronounced by Eleazar.

Falcon as Rachel


The third act is principally devoted to the festivities of
the royal pageants, and closes with the anathema of the
Cardinal ("Ihr, die ihr Gottes Zorn "), which is a con-
certed number of magnificent power and spirited dramatic
effect. The fourth act contains a grand duet between
Eleazar and the Cardinal (*' Hort ich recht?"), and
closes with one of the most powerful scenas ever written
for tenor (" Das Todesurtheil sprich "), in which Eleazar
welcomes death and hurls defiance at the Christians.
The last act is occupied with the tragic denouement,
which affords splendid opportunities for action, and is
accompanied by very dramatic music to the close, often
rising to real sublimity. In stage pageantry, in the ex-
pression of high and passionate sentiment, in elaborate-
ness of treatment, and in broad and powerful dramatic
effect, " The Jewess " is one of the strongest operas in the
modern repertory.


" L'Eclair," comic opera in three acts, text by Planard
and Saint George, was produced for the first time at the
Opera Comique, Paris, December 16, 1835. The action
takes place near Boston, Massachusetts, in the year 1 790.
" L'Eclair," composed for two tenors and two sopranos
and without chorus, was written in the same year as " The
Jewess," but so widely different are the two operas in style,
treatment, and music that many at the time doubted
whether they could be the work of the same composer.

The first act opens with a tuneful duet (" De la cam-
pagne et de la solitude ") for Madame Darbel, a young
widow living in Boston, and her sister Henriette, who is
staying in the country, some miles away from the city,
in which the respective charms of country and city are
mutually and melodiously discussed. They are awaiting
the appearance of George, a young English cousin, who
has been sent for by their uncle with instructions to choose



one of the sisters and marry her, whereupon he will
arrange for a division of his property among them.
George makes his appearance with a very amusing aria
(" Je vous que dans trois semaine"), in which he shows
himself an unusually conceited coxcomb. This is followed
by a lively trio ("Eh, bien ! decidez-vous "), in which the
cousins entertain themselves at his expense. George
finally is left alone to comfort himself at a repast, during
which Lionel, a young American naval office, who has
rowed ashore from his vessel in the harbor to hunt, enters
and makes his acquaintance. Lionel joins him in a social
glass and sings a stirring barcarole (" Parlons, la mer est
belle "), in which he pictures the happiness of sea life and
describes a sea fight, after which he takes his leave and
returns to his boat. A sudden storm has come up, how-
ever, his boat is shattered by a thunderbolt, and he is hurled
upon the beach blinded by the lightning. Henriette finds
him and conducts him back to the house, and a trio in
which Lionel mourns his fate and the others sympathize with
him closes the act.

The second acts opens with a gay rondo for Mme.
Darbel (" Ah ! ma sceur jolie"). George in the mean-
time has decided he will marry Henriette, and assumes
that it is already an accomplished fact without giving him-
self the trouble to consult her. Henriette, however, who
has been tenderly caring for Lionel, has fallen in love with
him, and he also tells her his love in the Provencal song of
" Gentille Helene." The duet is exquisitely melodious
and very expressive, and is shortly followed by an amusing
aria for George (" Apres ce trait de perfidie ") which is
made all the more amusing by Mme. Darbel singing in the
garden (" Pres d'une belle etre fidele"), setting off much
coquetry against George's philosophy and vanity. In the
meantime, the uncle, who is a doctor, has Lionel for a
patient, and he has progressed so well under his treatment


that at last his bandages are removed. Lionel, who has
never seen Henriette, mistakes her sister for her, falls upon
his knees and protests undying love for Mme. Darbel,
who had been vainly besieged by George when he learned
that Henriette loved Lionel. As Henriette sees her lover
protesting his undying affection to her sister, she believes
him perfidious and faints. When she recovers she disap-
pears. Days afterwards she writes to Lionel consenting to his
marriage with Mme. Darbel and also to George, promising
to be his wife. As a ruse to draw her back, word is sent
out of the marriage of Lionel to her sister. She returns
prepared to keep the promise made to George, when ex-
planations, are in order. She is undeceived and is united
to Lionel while the coquettish widow takes up with her
very conceited but amusing cousin who protests he has
always loved her. The most effective number in the last
act is Lionel's romance, which is familiar by its English
title of " Call me thine own." The work is very melo-
dious and sprightly throughout, and is in striking contrast
with its tragic companion, " The Jewess."


j in Paris, January 28, 1791, and died in the same city,
January 19, 1833. He secured the Grand Prix de Rome
at the Conservatory in 181 2, and during the next two years
in Italy wrote several minor pieces. Upon his return he
began the composition of dramatic music in earnest. In
1816 he collaborated with Boieldieu in the opera " Charles
de France," and in 18 17 made a complete success with
" Les Rosieres." During the next ten years he wrote a
large number of operas, many graceful ballets, variations
for the piano, and several other instrumental pieces, besides
doing regular work in assisting operatic artists and direct-
ing choruses. The great successes of his career were made,
however, in 1831, when his "Zampa" appeared followed
by " Le Pre" aux Clercs " in 1832. Both operas created
great sensations in Europe, and showed masterly musical
ability as well as dramatic power. He died the next year
at the very beginning of a great career, for he had now
displayed evidences of musical and dramatic skill which
promised to place him in the front rank if not at the head
of all his contemporaries. He himself said to a friend, a
few days before his death : "I am going too soon ; I was
just beginning to understand the stage."


" Zampa," opera comique in three acts, text by M£les-
ville, was first performed in Paris, May 3, 1831. The li-
bretto is based upon the old story of " The Statue Bride."


The curtain rises upon a group of Sicilian girls who are se-
lecting gifts at the bidding of Alfonso, Camilla's lover, who
assures them that Signor Lugano, Camilla's father, has au-
thorized him to take this method of disposing of some of
his wealth. Rita, Camilla's maid, makes the announcement
that Lugano left that morning to meet one of his vessels
coming from Smyrna. Camilla is alarmed for his safety,
but Alfonso allays her anxiety by telling her that Zampa,
the corsair, has been captured and condemned to death.
Rita bitterly inveighs against Zampa as the cause of her
early widowhood. Saying that she must forget her troubles
and look after the wedding breakfast, she leaves Camilla
and Alfonso alone together, bidding the latter offer prayers
to their patron saint, and pointing to a statue upon which
is inscribed "Albina de Manfredi, 18 14." Struck by the
name, Alfonso begs Camilla to tell its story, which deeply
impresses Alfonso as it recalls his own brother, who aban-
doned a maid named Albina. Camilla is shortly startled
by the arrival of Dandolo, the messenger who had been
commissioned to bring the priest for the wedding. He
announces that they had been stopped by ruffians who
declared his errand useless, as Camilla's wedding would
never take place. During the narration Zampa himself
appears and tells her that her father is in his power, and
that his safety depends upon her submission to his purpose,
which is to marry her and secure the father's wealth. At
a subsequent carousal, Zampa approaches the statue of
Albina, and recognizing the features as those of the maid
he betrayed, he places a ring upon its finger, whereupon
the arm of the statue is raised menacingly.

The second act opens at Signor Lugano's chateau.
Zampa is warned that he is tracked, but he declares the
wedding shall be solemnized before he leaves. His iden-
tity with the corsair, however, is announced, but he escapes
by producing a letter offering pardon to himself and his


crew if he will accept service against the Turks, to which
he has assented. To save her father's life Camilla prom-
ises to wed him in spite of the warning gesture of the

The third act discloses Camilla lamenting over her
promise to Zampa, but rejoicing because he has signed the
release of her father. Alfonso enters and she gives him
the document. Zampa declares she is not to be the bride
of a common corsair, but of the Count de Monza, Alfonso's
brother. Camilla implores him to leave her, as she has
decided to seek refuge in a convent. Her prayer is rejected,
and Camilla is only saved by her father and Alfonso, who,
with drawn swords, force Zampa to the oratory. Dis-
armed and about to be struck down, the statue seizes him
and carries him to his destruction.

The overture, one of the most attractive of concert num-
bers, even at this day, is very effective with its bacchanalian
opening, the sweet and sacred character of the middle por-
tion, and its lively finish. The most striking numbers of
the first act are the attractive opening chorus of the
girls ("Dans ces presents") ; the charming aria ("A ce
bonheur ") sung by Camilla ; the dignified and beautifully
harmonized quartet (" Le voila ") ; and the finale with its
strongly contrasted couplets and choral effects. The prin-
cipal numbers of the second act are the canticle with harp
accompaniment ("Auxpieds de la Madone ") ; the dra-
matic duet, "Juste Ciel," and the finale with its brilliant
choruses and melodious rondo, " Douci jouvencelli."
The third act is even more important from the musical
point of view, its great numbers being the lovely gondola
nocturne (*' Ou vas-tu, pauvre Gondolier?"); the sere-
nade (" La nuit profonde ") ; and the cavatina (" Pourquoi
trembler? "), which is one of the inspirations of the opera.


Le Pre aux Clercs

"Le Pr£ aux Clercs," opera comique in three acts,
text by de Planard, was first produced in Paris, December
15, 1832. The story is founded upon one of Merimee's
novels, called " Une chronique du temps de Charles IX."
The plot is concerned with the love adventures of Mergy,
an ambassador sent to the French court by the King of
Navarre to request the return of his v/ife, who is detained
in Paris by the Queen Mother. Mergy is enamored of
Isabella, a young countess, who returns his passion. The
course of true love does not run smooth in this case, for
Mergy has a rival, one Comminge, a noted duellist and a
protege of the French king. The outcome of the situation
is a duel between the two suitors at the Pre" aux Clercs, a
famous rendezvous for duellists at that period, in which
Comminge is killed. Mergy and Isabella, secretly married,
are aided in their flight from Paris by the Queen of Na-
varre. The plot is quite simple, and there is an under-plot
concerning the love affairs of Girot, an innkeeper at the
Pre aux Clercs, and Nicette, which adds to the interest of
the story. -

The principal numbers in the first act are the duet for
Girot and Nicette (" Les Rendezvous le noble Compag-
nie "), which has a charming refrain, the tenor aria ("O
ma tendre Bien-aime"), and the romanza for soprano
(" Souvenirs de jeune Age ") ; in the second act, the well-
known soprano aria, "Jours de mon Enfance," the melodi-
ous Masquerade Chorus (" Chansons, chansons, dansons,
toujours "), and the very dramatic finale ; and in the third
act, Nicette's rondo (" Le Fleur du bel Age "), the trio for
Mergy, Isabella, and Marguerite (" C'est en fait le Ciel
meme "), and the chorus of archers (" Nargue de la


Folie "). It is somewhat singular that while " Zampa " has
always been considered Herold's masterpiece by the rest
of the world, the French have most esteemed " Le Pre* aux
Clercs," probably because of its peculiar French qualities
of grace, elegance, and animation.


ENGELBERT HUMPERDINCK, the latest star in the
German musical firmament, was born September i,
1854, at Siegburg on the Rhine, and received his earliest
musical training at the Cologne Conservatory. He made
such rapid progress in his studies, showing special profi-
ciency in composition, that he carried off in succession the
three prizes of the Mozart, Mendelssohn, and Meyerbeer
stipends. These enabled him to continue his lessons at
Munich, and afterwards in Italy. While in Naples, in 1880,
he attracted the attention of Richard Wagner as a rising
genius, and two years later had the honor of an invitation
to go to Venice as his guest, upon the occasion of the per-
formance of Wagner's only symphony. In 1885 he went
to Barcelona, Spain, where he taught composition, and was
the director of a quartet at the Royal Conservatory for
two years. In 1887 he returned to Cologne, and since 1890
has been identified with a Conservatory at Frankfort-on-
the-Main. In addition to the opera " Hansel and Gretel,"
which has given him a world-wide fame, he produced, a few
years ago, a chorus ballad, " Das Gliick von Edenhall," and
a cantata, "Die Wallfahrt nach Kevelaar," based upon
Heine's poem, and scored for soloists, chorus, and orches-
tra. He has also written several songs and piano pieces,
and a dramatic composition called " The Royal Children."
He is regarded in Germany as the one composer who gives
promise of continuing and developing the scheme of the
music-drama as it was propounded by Wagner.


Hansel and Gretel

" Hansel and Gretel," fairy opera in three acts, words
by Adelheid Wette, was first produced in Germany in 1894.
In January, 1895, ^ was performed in London by the Royal
Carl Rosa Opera Company, rendered into English by Con-
stance Bache ; and in the fall of the same year it had its
first representation in New York, at Daly's Theatre, with
the following cast :

Peter, a broom-maker Mr. Jacques Bars.

Gertrude, his wife Miss Alice Gordon.

The Witch Miss Louise Meisslinger.

Hansel Miss Marie Elba.

Gretel Miss Jeanne Douste.

Sandman, the Sleep Fairy .... Miss Cecile Brani.

Dew/nan, the Dawn Fairy .... Miss Edith Johnston.

The story is taken from one of Grimm's well-known fairy
tales, and the text was written by the composer's sister,
Adelheid Wette. It was Frau Wette's intention to arrange
the story in dramatic form for the amusement of her chil-
dren, her brother lending his co-operation by writing a few
little melodies, of a simple nature, to accompany the per-
formance. When he had read it, however, the story took
his fancy, and its dramatic possibilities so appealed to him
that he determined to give it an operatic setting with full
orchestral score. He thus placed it in the higher sphere
of world performance by an art which not alone reveals the
highest type of genial German sentimentality, but, curiously
enough, he applied to this simple little story of angels,
witches, and the two babes in the wood the same musical
methods which Wagner has employed in telling the stories
of gods and demigods. Perhaps its highest praise was
sounded by Siegfried Wagner, son of Richard Wagner,
who declared that " Hansel and Gretel " was the most


l 39

important German opera since " Parsifal," notwithstanding
its childishness and simplicity.

After a beautifully instrumented prelude, which has al-
ready become a favorite concert piece, the curtain rises
upon the home of Peter, the broom- maker. The parents
are away seeking for food, and Hansel and Gretel have been
left in the cottage with instructions to knit and make
brooms. There is a charming dialogue between the two
children, beginning with a doleful lament over their poverty,
and ending with an outburst of childish hilarity in song and
dancing, — a veritable romp in music, — which is suddenly
interrupted by the return of Gertrude, the mother, empty-
handed, who chides them for their behavior, and in her
anger upsets a jug of milk which was the only hope of sup-
per in the house. With an energetic outburst of recitative
she sends them into the forest, telling them not to return
until they have filled their basket with strawberries. After
lamenting her loss, and mourning over her many troubles,
she falls asleep, but is awakened by the return of Peter, who
has been more fortunate, and has brought home some pro-
visions. A rollicking scene ensues, but suddenly he misses
the children, and breaks out in a fit of rage when he is
informed that they have gone into the forest. To the
accompaniment of most gruesome and characteristic music
he tells his wife of the witch who haunts the wood, and
who, living in a honey-cake house, entices little children to

Online LibraryGeorge P. (George Putnam) UptonThe standard operas: their plots, their music, and their composers → online text (page 10 of 37)