George P. (George Putnam) Upton.

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

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Domingo ("Ah! do not send my dear young Master"),
which the composer evidently intended to be in the
Ethiopian manner ; a chanson of the genuine French style
("Ah ! hapless Black"), though sung by a negro boy; a
lovely and expressive melody sung by Virginia, as she
pleads with St. Croix (" What I would say, my Tongue
forgetteth ") ; the weird Bamboula chorus, sung by the
slaves; and a very dramatic aria for Meala ("'Neath the
Vines entwining"), in which she warns the children of
their danger. The principal numbers in the second act
are Virginia's romance (" As last Night thro' the Woods ") ;
a beautiful chanson for Domingo ("The Bird flies yon-
der") ; Paul's couplets ("Ah ! crush not my Courage ") ;
the passionate duet for Paul and Virginia (" Ah ! since
thou wilt go"), closing in unison; and Virginia's florid
aria ("Ah, what entrancing Calm "), the cadenza of which
is exceedingly brilliant. The best numbers in the short
last act are Meala's song (" In vain on this distant Shore ") ;
Paul's letter song (" Dearest Mother ") ; and the vision
and storm music at the close.

La Reine Topaze

"La Reine Topaze," opera comique, in three acts, text
by Lockroy and Battu, was first produced at the Theatre
Lyrique, Paris, December 27, 1856. The scene is laid in
France. " La Reine Topaze " is one of the few of Masse 's
earlier works which have held the boards, mainly on account
of its charming melodiousness. The role of the Queen
was a great favorite with Miolan-Carvalho and Parepa-
Rosa, as it offers opportunities for brilliant vocal execution.
Its story is of the slightest kind. In her infancy Topaze is
stolen by a band of gypsies and eventually becomes their
queen. She falls in love with Rafael, a captain whom she


wins from his affianced, a rich noblewoman. He does not
marry her, however, until she discloses to him the secret
of her birth. Some byplay among the gypsies supplies the
humor of the situations. As to the text, it is far from
dramatic in character, and the dialogue is tedious and

The music, however, is excellent, and it was to this
feature that Masse" owed his election in the year of its pro-
duction as Auber's successor in the French Academy.
The gypsy music is particularly charming. There are also
a clever sextet, " We are six Noblemen " — indeed, there
is an unusual amount of six and seven part writing in the
opera; the " Song of the Bee," a delightful melody for
Queen Topaze with a particularly characteristic accom-
paniment, likewise a brilliant bolero ; a lovely romance in
the last act for Rafael, and a somewhat dramatic narrative
song for him in the first act ; and a skilfully constructed
trio for Annibal and the two gypsies. The remaining
number of importance is " The Carnival of Venice," with
the Paganini variations, interpolated, which was first intro-
duced by Miolan-Carvalho, the creator of the title role.

The Marriage of Jeannette

"The Marriage of Jeannette " ("Les Noces de Jean-
nette "), opera comique in one act, text by Carr£ and
Barbier, was first produced at the Opera Comique, Paris,
February 4, 1853 ; and in New York, in 1861. The scene
is laid in a French village. Nothing could be simpler
than the story of this little opera, which was first given
in this country in 1861, with Clara Louise Kellogg and
M. Dubreul in the two principal parts, and twenty-five
years later was a favorite in the repertory of the American
Opera Company, under the direction of Theodore Thomas,
who produced it as an after-piece to Delibes's two-act ballet,
" Sylvia." The story concerns only two persons. Jean, a


boorish rustic, falls in love with Jeannette and proposes
marriage. On the wedding day, however, he suddenly
changes his mind, and just as the notary hands him the
pen to sign the contract, takes to his heels and runs home.
Jeannette follows him up to demand an explanation, and
pretends that she will not force him to marry her. In lieu
of that she asks him to sign another contract from which
she will withhold her name just to show that he was willing
to do so. She furthermore promises publicly to reject him.
When he has signed the new contract, she suddenly changes
her mind also, and declares they are man and wife. In his
fury Jean breaks up nearly everything in the house before
he goes to sleep. The next day in his absence Jeannette
provides new furniture from her own store, places things
to rights again, sets the dinner, and awaits Jean's return.
When he comes back again, he is in more tractable mood,
and seeing what Jeannette has done acknowledges her as
his wife.

This simple story the composer has framed in a dainty
musical setting, the principal numbers being the song,
"Others may hastily marry," sung by Jean after his escapade ;
Jeannette's pretty, simple melody, " From out a Throng
of Lovers"; Jean's vigorous and defiant "Ah! little do
you fancy " ; the graceful song by Jeannette, " Fly now,
my Needle, glancing brightly " ; her brilliant and exultant
song, "Voice that's sweetest"; and the spirited unison
male chorus, "Ring out, Village Bells," that closes this
refined and beautiful little work.


most distinguished of modern French composers was
born at Monteaux near Saint Etienne, France, May 1 2, 1 842.
He began his musical studies at an early age and at the
age of twenty-one secured the Grand Prix de Rome through
a cantata, "Rizzio," in 1863. He remained in Rome two
years and in accordance with the conditions of the prize
he produced a one-act comic opera, " La Grande Tante," in
1867 at the Opera Comique. His next opera, " La Coupe
du Roi de Thule," was written for a competition in 1869,
but he was unsuccessful. One of his most important works
about this period was the incidental music to De Lisle's
drama, " Les Erinnyes," which is still a great favorite as a
concert number. The oratorio of " Marie Magdaleine "
followed and produced a great musical sensation in 1873
when it was given at the Odeon. About this time he also
composed a series of suites, " Scenes Dramatiques," after
Shakespeare ; the " Scenes Hongroises " and " Scenes Alsa-
ciennes," as well as the overture to Racine's " Phedre." His
opera, " Le Roi de Lahore," produced in 1877, obtained a
great success and this was followed by " La Vierge," a
religious cantata, and the opera " Herodiade." The opera
best known, " Manon," founded upon the famous novel of
the Abb6 Prevost, was produced in 1884, and in rapid
succession " Le Cid " (1885) ; " Esclarmonde " (1889) ;
"Thais" (1894), and "Werther" (1894). Massenet has
also written a large number of minor instrumental pieces
and songs.


Le Roi de Lahore

" Le Roi de Lahore " (" The King of Lahore "), opera in
five acts, text by Luigi Gallet, was first produced in Paris,
April 27, 1877. The scene is laid at Lahore and in the
Gardens of the Blessed in the Paradise of Indra. Nair, a
priestess of Indra, is sworn to celibacy but is in love with
King Alim and is also loved by his minister, Scindia. The
latter declares his passion but is repulsed. Thereupon he
informs Timour, the High Priest, that Nair entertains a
lover in the Temple. A watch is kept and the King is dis-
covered entering by a secret door. The High Priest
demands that he shall atone for this profanation by going
to the war against the Mussulmans, and he consents.
Eventually he is betrayed by Scindia, deserted by his army
and killed. He is then transported to the gardens of
Indra and there begs the divinities to permit him to return
to earth that he may find Nair. His prayer is granted but
upon condition that he shall go back as an ordinary per-
son, never resume his former position, and give up his life
when Nair dies. When he reaches earth he finds that
Scindia has usurped the throne and forced Nair to be his
wife. Alim proclaims him a traitor and Scindia in turn de-
nounces Alim as an impostor. Nair, however, recognizes
her lover and improves the first opportunity to join him.
They are pursued by Scindia, whereupon Nair, rather than
submit to him, stabs herself, whereupon Alim also dies and
the lovers are welcomed by Indra.

The first act opens with an impressive temple prayer to
Indra, mostly in unison. A duet between Nair and Scindia
follows with beautiful violin obbligato accompaninent to
Nair's recitative. The finale is very dignified and the en-
semble massive, especially as the King enters the temple
and agrees to go to the wars, and the act closes with a
spirited war chorus behind the scenes.


The striking numbers of the second act are the opening
song for mezzo soprano, which is followed by a spectacular
scene in the camp of Alim enlivened by the sports and
dances of the slaves, and a most brilliant ballet, though the
scene lies in the desert. No place is too remote, no time
too incongruous, for a French composer's ballet. A duet
for Nair and Kaled leads to a vigorous and most spirited
chorus, dealing with the rebellion against Alim and this is
followed by the delightful love-music of Nair and Alim,
with a tenderly melodious 'cello accompaniment, leading
up to a strong finale.

The third act might well be called the Apotheosis of
the Dance. The act opens in the Gardens of the Blessed
in the Paradise of Indra with a celestial march and chorus
of happy spirits, followed by a ballet, the music based
upon Hindu melodies and charming waltz movements.
As a spectacle and as an example of refined, graceful,
fascinating music, this ballet is hardly excelled in modern
operas. Another effective number in this act is Alim's
song of joy which is heard in the celestial chorus as con-
sent is given to his return.

The fourth act opens with a repetition of the spirits'
incantation music in the finale of the third act. The
other important numbers are the pompous march attend-
ing the coronation of Scindia ; Alim's aria, " Anima
doler," followed by the baritone aria, " O casta fior " ;
the priestesses' chorus in the second act, repeated by the
orchestra, followed by the animated chorus, " Re dei

The fifth act from a musical point of view may be sum-
med up in the passionate love-music for Nair and Alim,
and the dramatic music illustrating Scindia's rage and
Indra's welcome to the lovers. The opera is a spectacular
one in every sense of the word and yet of much musical
importance. Hervey, one of Massenet's biographers,


says : " In the third act, Massenet has given full rein to his
fancy, and has composed dance-music of a really superior
kind, which he has enriched with a piquant and effective

Le Cid

" Le Cid," opera in four acts and ten tableaux, text by
Dennery, Gallet, and Blau, was first produced at L'Acad£-
mie-Nationale de Musique, Paris, November 30, 1885,
Jean de Reszke creating the part of Rodrigue, Edouard de
Reszke that of Don Diegue, Pol Plancon that of Comte de
Gormas and Madame Fides-Devries that of Chimene.
The first performance in the United States was in New
Orleans. The first act opens in Burgos at the house of
Count Gormas, Chimene's father, upon the occasion of
the knighting of Rodrigue by Ferdinand IV. It appears
also that Count Gormas is to have a share of the honors
by appointment as governor to the King's son. It is
further developed, by the announcement of Chimene, that
she is in love with Rodrigue. The daughter of the King
is also in love with him but as her high position forbids
personal attachments she relinquishes her claim in favor of
Chimene. In the next scene, Rodrigue receives his new
sword in the cathedral and becomes a Knight of Saint
Jacques. The unsuspecting King meanwhile makes Don
Diegue, Rodrigue's father, the governor instead of Gormas.
The Count thereupon in a fury insults and assaults Don
Diegue and he is left disarmed and humiliated. He calls
upon his son to revenge him, which the latter is ready to
do until he learns that his opponent is Chimene's father,
but in the end filial duty prevails.

The second act opens with a duel between Gormas and
Rodrigue in which the former is killed. Chimene coming
upon the scene recognizes his murderer and falls fainting
into the arms of her attendants, monks chanting a dirge
behind the scenes. The next tableau represents a Spanish



fete. In the midst of the revelry Chimene appears and
implores the King to punish Rodrigue. Her pleadings
are interrupted by the sudden appearance of a Moorish
cavalier, sent by Boabdil, King of Grenada, to declare war.
Thereupon Ferdinand decides to offer the leadership of
his forces to Rodrigue and bids Chimene cherish and
delay her revenge until the end of the campaign.

The third act reveals Chimene weeping in her chamber
and Rodrigue in her presence; notwithstanding recent
events they declare their love for each other and Rod-
rigue, the Cid, goes away happy. In the next scene, the
Spanish soldiers in the Cid's camp are seen revelling while
the enemy is near. Rodrigue expostulates with them and
finally retires, despairing of his fate, but the vision of Saint
Jacques appears and proclaims him victor in the coming
battle. The announcement is confirmed. In the last act
a rumor of the Cid's death reaches court and Chimene is
prostrated with grief and makes a passionate avowal of her
love for him, but when the report is contradicted and
Rodrigue is announced as approaching, the changeable
Chimene demands his head. The sensible King appar-
ently gives way and orders that she shall pronounce sen-
tence. At this unexpected decision she once more changes
and orders Rodrigue to live and love her. She is specially
moved to this reconciliation when the Cid draws his
dagger to kill himself because she refuses to accept the
hand of the man who slew her father. Chimene was a
changeable person.

The important numbers of the first act are the brief but
graceful duet for Chimene and her father (" Que c'est
beau "), and the duet for Chimene and the Infanta
(" Ah ! la chere promesse "), which intermingles with the
chimes of bells, sonorous organ peals, and fanfares of the
knightly ceremonial, followed up by Rodrigue's bold and
soldierly sword song (" O, noble lame etincelant "), in

Breval as Chimene

Copyright, Aime Dicpont


which he sings his allegiance to Spain and dedicates his
sword to Saint Jacques. The remaining numbers of strik-
ing importance in this act are the music to the quarrel
scene and the soliloquy of the insulted Don Diegue (" O
rage, O desespoir ").

The second act opens with a fine declamatory scene for
Rodrigue ("Perce jusques au fond du cceur "), followed
by the duel music ("A moi, Comte, deux mots! "), and
the dramatic music to Chimene's demand that the slayer
of her father shall reveal himself, closing with the thrilling
cry "Ah, lui! Ciel ! Rodrigue ! c'est lui ! " which is heard
through the solemn strains of the De Profundis. In the
next scene occurs the fete music which is of the most at-
tractive Spanish character, including the Castillane, Anda-
louse, Aragonaise, Catalane, Madrilene, and Navarraise.
A distinctive feature in this scene is the Infanta's "Alle-
luia." The great ensemble (" Ah ! je doute et je tremble ")
which follows Chimene's demand for justice closes the act.

The third act opens with Chimene's touching soliloquy
("De cet affreux combat "), followed by one of the most
powerful numbers in the whole work, the duet between
Chimene and Rodrigue (" Oh, jours de premiere ten-
dresse "). Then follow the camp scene with its dance
music of a Moorish rhapsody and the effective apparition
of Saint Jacques, accompanied by harps and celestial voices
promising victory. The sword song of the first act, trans-
formed into a battle song, closes the act. The principal
numbers of the last act are the duet of Diegue and Chi-
mene mourning the supposed death • of Rodrigue, the
pageantry music (" Gloire a celui que les Rois maures "),
in which Massenet always excels, and the climax at the
close, in which Chimene accepts the hand of Rodrigue,
closing with the spirited outburst, "Gloire au Cid, au



"Manon," opera in four acts, text by Meilhac and
Gille, founded upon Abbe" Prevost's famous novel, which
was also the inspiration for Halevy's ballet and Balfe's
and Auber's operas based on the same subject, was first
produced in Paris, January 19, 1884, Mme. Heilbronn
creating the part of Manon in London, May 7, 1885 ; and
in the United States, at the New York Academy of Music,
December 23, 1885. The first act opens in the courtyard
of an inn where several travellers are arriving, among them
Manon, who has been consigned to a convent against her
will. There she meets the Chevalier des Grieux and they
fall in love with each other, notwithstanding the remon-
strances of her cousin Lescaut, who is travelling with her,
and incontinently elope. Guillot Monfontaine, an old roue
and gambler who has been captivated by her beauty, is
much chagrined when he learns of the elopement.
~ In the second act the lovers are in Paris, where they have
been followed by Lescaut and Bretigny, another of Manon's
lovers. Lescaut's anger is appeased Dy Des Grieux's prom-
ise to marry her, but when she finds out that the latter has
not wealth enough to suit her, and besides is informed by
Bretigny that Des Grieux will be abducted that night, she
consoles herself by becoming Bretigny's mistress.

The third act opens in the gardens of the Cours de la
Reine during an open air fete. Manon is among the
pleasure-lovers with Bretigny, but hearing that Des Grieux
is about to take holy orders, she follows him to Saint Sul-
pice and prevails upon him to abandon his purpose and
come back to her.

In the last act Des Grieux is found in a gambling room,
where he has been winning large sums from Guillot, encour-
aged by Manon, who grows more and more affectionate
as he increases his winnings. The playing is at last


interrupted by the police, who have been privately called
by Guillot in revenge against Manon, who had rejected his
advances. She and Des Grieux are placed under arrest,
but Des Grieux is saved by his father, who pays his debts.
Manon is sentenced to transportation, but on the road to
Havre she is overcome by exhaustion and sorrow and dies
in Des Grieux's arms.

In an opera as musically compact as this, and in which
the instrumentation plays so important a part, even to the
accompaniment of spoken dialogue as well as in the char-
acterization of the dramatis personce. by motifs, and in
which the development of the story is perhaps given greater
dramatic intensity by the orchestra than by the voice, it is
difficult to follow the work by individual numbers. Manon,
Des Grieux, and Lescaut are much more easily recognized
by the melodies which introduce and accompany them than
in any other manner. One critic has excellently said of
the work in general : * " The subject is essentially French,
or rather Parisian, and the music of Massenet fits it like a
glove. The composer's mannerisms seem less out of place
in the mouth of Manon than they do in that of Mary Mag-
dalen. Massenet is essentially a colorist, and even as he
had succeeded in imparting an Eastern cachet to his ' Roi
de Lahore,' and giving a tinge of the antique to his music
for ' Les Erinnyes,' so in ' Manon ' he has felicitously
caught the spirit of the last century. This delicately per-
fumed score is in many places suggestive of the boudoir of
a petite maitresse." While it is difficult to dissect " Manon,"
yet it may be said that some of the " suggestive places "
are Manon's opening song ; the charming romanza, just
before the seizure of Des Grieux (" Piccolo casetta bianca ") ;
the delightfully flowing dream song of Des Grieux with the
muted violin accompaniment ; the great impassioned duet

1 See article " Jules Massenet " in Arthur Hervey's " Masters of
French Music."


of Manon and Des Grieux in the Seminary with its even
greater orchestral accompaniment, set off against the music
of the church; the minuet in the fete which afterwards
accompanies Manon so frequently, and which in this scene
is heard through Manon's passionate pleading with Des
Grieux ; and the four effective finales which are all power-
fully musical and dramatic in effect.


" Esclarmonde," designated by its composer "opera
romanesque," in four acts and eight tableaux, besides pro-
logue and epilogue, text by Blau and de Gramont, was
produced for the first time at the Theatre National de
l'Opera Comique, Paris, May 15, 1889, with the following
cast of principal parts :

Esclarmonde Miss Sybil Sanderson.

Parseis Mile. NARDI.

Roland M. Gibert.

Phorcas M. Taskin.

Bishop of Blois M. Bouvet.

Phorcas, Emperor of Byzantium, tired of rule, resolves to
delegate it to his daughter Esclarmonde, whom he has
instructed in magic, but upon condition that she conceal
her beauty from men until her twentieth year, when her
hand shall be the prize at a tournament, the penalty for
non-fulfilment, however, being the loss both of legal and
magical powers. She falls in love with Roland, a French
cavalier, who, of course, has never seen her face, and by her
magic she discovers that he is affianced to a daughter of the
King of France. She also sees him hunting in the forest
of Ardennes. By her orders he is transported to an en-
chanted island where she joins him and enters into a mys-
tical sort of alliance with him, still concealing her name and
face. Meanwhile France is invaded by Saracens, so Esclar-
monde gives him a magic sword with a blade that shines


by night like the sun, is invincible in the hand of a true
knight, but useless to a perjurer. Roland, with this weapon,
delivers the city of Blois, and in reward the King of France
offers him his daughter's hand, which Roland declines, sub-
sequently telling the Bishop the secret cause of his action
in his confession. The Bishop surprises the lovers, tears
off Esclarmonde's veil, and drives her away by exorcism.
She loses her power, but her father agrees to restore it to
her if she will abandon Roland, otherwise he must die.
Esclarmonde resigns herself to this sacrifice and Roland
seeks for death in the tournament, but instead he is crowned
with laurels and wins Esclarmonde.

The prologue contains a solo for Phorcas ( " Digni-
taires ! Guerriers ! ") in which he announces his inten-
tion to abdicate, and the appearance of Esclarmonde,
enveloped in her veil, who enters to the choral accompani-
ment ( " O divine Esclarmonde " ). The first acts opens
with Esclarmonde's song ( " Comme il tient ma pens£e " ),
followed by a duet for her and Parseis ( " O ma soeur " ),
this in turn followed by a trio for Esclarmonde, Parseis, and
Eneas, the fiance of Parseis ( " Salut, Imp£ratrice " ). A
very characteristic chorus of spirits ( " O Lune ! triple
Hecate ! O Tanit ! Astarte ! " ) leads up to a duet for
Parseis and Esclarmonde ("Dans la foret des Ardennes " ).

The second act opens with another of Massenet's always
interesting ballets, after- which comes a strong duet for
Esclarmonde and Roland ( " Sois b£nie, O magie " ), fol-
lowed by another effective spirit chorus, reaching a fine
climax on the words, " C 'est l'heure de l'hym^nee ! "

The third act opens with a chorus of the people (" O
Blois ! miserable cite ! ), followed by the Bishop's prayer
("Dieu de mis6ricorde " ), in which all join. The next
number of striking merit is Roland's air ( " La nuit sera
bientot venue " ), followed by an expressive duet for Roland
and the Bishop ( " Mon fils, je te benis " ). At the close


of this number, Esclarmonde's voice is heard calling Ro-
land, followed by the bratura aria ( " Roland ! tu m'as
trahie"), which is extremely brilliant and difficult, as it
makes exacting demands upon the voice.

In the last act the principal numbers are a cantabile
("Regarde les yeux") ; a melodious song for Esclarmonde
("Plus en profond sommeil " ) ; and the duet with Ro-
land ( " Viens, viens " ). The epilogue merely repeats the
material of the prologue. The opera as a whole is quite
spectacular but effective music also forms an important
part of it. As in "Manon" the instrumental part is
the strongest. It is built somewhat on the lines of the
" music of the future " in its use of motifs. Indeed one
of the French critics after the opening performance called
Massenet " Mile. Wagner."


Online LibraryGeorge P. (George Putnam) UptonThe standard operas: their plots, their music, and their composers → online text (page 13 of 37)