George P. (George Putnam) Upton.

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

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schutz." The third act contains two great arias. The
first (" Invano il fato "), sung at the opening of the act by
Isabella, and the second the world-famous aria " Roberto,
o tu che adoro," better known by the French words
(" Robert ! toi que j'aime "). The closing act is specially


remarkable for the great terzetto in its finale, which is one
of the most effective numbers Meyerbeer has written.
The judgment of Hanslick, the well-known Viennese
critic, upon this work is interesting in this connection.
He compares it with " William Tell " and " Masaniello,"
and finds that in musical richness and blended effects it is
superior to either, but that a single act of either of the
works mentioned contains more artistic truth and ideal
form than " Robert le Diable," — a judgment which is
largely based upon the libretto itself, which he condemns
without stint.


" Dinorah," opera in three acts, founded upon a
Breton idyl, words by Barbier and Carr£, was first pro-
duced at the Opera Comique, Paris, April 4, 1859, under
the title of "Le Pardon de Ploermel." It contains but
three principal characters, and these were cast as follows :
Dinorah, Mme. Cabel; Corentin, M. Sainte-Foy; and
Hoel, M. Faure. On the 26th of July, 1859, Meyerbeer
conducted the work himself at Covent Garden, London,
with Mme. Miolan-Carvalho as Dinorah, and it was also
produced the same year in English by the Pyne- Harrison
troupe. The first representative of Dinorah in this country
was Mile. Cordier.

The scene of the opera is laid in Brittany, and when
the first act opens, the following events are supposed to
have transpired : On one of the days appointed by the
villagers of Ploermel for a pilgrimage to the shrine of the
Virgin, Hoel, the goatherd, and Dinorah, his affianced,
set out to receive a nuptial benediction. The festivity is
interrupted by a thunder-storm, during which Les Her-
biers, the dwelling-place of Dinorah, is destroyed by
lightning. Dinorah is in despair. Hoel determines to
make good the loss, and upon the advice of Tonick, an
old wizard, resolves to go in quest of a treasure which is


under the care of the Korigans, a supernatural folk belong-
ing to Brittany. In order to wrest it from them, however,
it is necessary for Hoel to quit the country and spend a
year in solitude in a desolate region. He bravely starts
off, and Dinorah, thinking he has abandoned her, loses
her wits, and constantly wanders about the woods with
her goat, seeking him. Meanwhile the year expires and
Hoel returns, convinced that he has the secret for securing
the treasure.

The overture to the work is unique among operatic
overtures, as it has a chorus behind the curtain inter-
woven with it. It is a picture of the opera itself, and
contains a will-o'-the-wisp passage, a rustic song with
accompaniment of goat-bells, a storm, and in the midst of
the storm a chant to the Virgin, sung by the unseen chorus,
and then a Pilgrimage march, the whole being in the
nature of a retrospect. The curtain rises upon a rustic
chorus, after which Dinorah appears, seeking .her goat,
and sings a slumber-song (" Si, carina, caprettina") which
is very graceful, and concludes with phrases in imitation
of birds. In the next scene, Corentin, the bagpiper, who
has been away three months, and is nearly dead with ter-
ror of goblins and fairies, returns to his cottage, and to
reassure himself sings a very quaint and original song
("Sto in casa alfine"), to the accompaniment of his
pipe. Dinorah suddenly appears and enters the cottage,
and much to his alarm keeps him playing and singing,
which leads to a very animated vocal contest between
her and the bagpiper. It is abruptly terminated, how-
ever, by the arrival of Hoel. Dinorah makes her escape
by a window, and Hoel relates to Corentin the story of
the Korigans* treasure. As the first person who touches
it will die, he determines that Corentin shall be his mes-
senger, and to rouse his courage sends for wine. While
Corentin is absent, Hoel sings an aria (" Se per prender ")


which has always been a favorite with baritones. After
Corentin returns, the tinkling of the goat's bell is heard.
Dinorah appears in the distance, and a charming trio
closes the act, to the accompaniment of the whistling
wind and booming thunder on the contra basses and
drums of the orchestra.

The second act opens with a drinking-song by wood-
cutters, and as they withdraw, Dinorah enters, seeking
Hoel. She sings a tender lament, which, as the moon-
light falls about her, develops into the famous " Shadow
Song," a polka mazurka, which she sings and dances
to her shadow. The aria, " Ombra leggiere," is fairly
lavish in its texture of vocal embroidery, and has always
been a favorite number on the concert stage. The next
scene changes to the Val Maudit (The Cursed Vale), a
rocky, cavernous spot, through which rushes a raging
torrent bridged by a fallen tree. Hoel and Corentin
appear in- quest of the treasure, and the latter gives ex-
pression to his terror in a very characteristic manner,
with the assistance of the orchestra. Dinorah is heard
singing the legend of the treasure (" Chi primo al tesor"),
from which Corentin learns that whoever touches it first
will die. He refuses to go on, and a spirited duet ensues
between them, which is interrupted by the entrance of
Dinorah and her goat. Hoel, fancying it is a spirit sent to
keep him back, sings a very beautiful aria (" Le crede il
padre"). The act closes with the fall of Dinorah, who
attempts to cross the bridge, into the torrent, and her
rescue by Hoel, to the accompaniment of a storm set to
music. The scene, though melodramatic, is very strong
in its musical effects.

The last act opens with a scene in striking contrast,
introduced with a quintet of horns, followed by a hunter's
solo, a reaper's solo, a duet for shepherds, and a quartet
in the finale. Hoel arrives, bearing the rescued Dinorah,


and sings to her an exquisite romance (" Sei vendicata
assai"). The magic of his singing and her bath in the
torrent restore her wandering senses. Hoel persuades
her that all which has transpired has been a dream.
The old song of the Pardon of Ploermel comes to her,
and as she tries to recall it the chorus takes it up (" Santa
Maria! nostra donna") as it was heard in the overture.
A procession is seen in the distance, and amid some
striking pageant music Hoel and Dinorah wend their way
to the chapel, where the nuptial rites are supposed to be


The Prophet

" Le Prophete," opera in five acts, words by Scribe,
was first produced in Paris, April 16, 1849, with Mme.
Viardot- Garcia as Fides, and M. Roger as John of Leyden.
"The Prophet " was long and carefully elaborated by its
composer. Thirteen years intervened between it and its
predecessor, " The Huguenots " ; but in spite of its elabora-
tion it can only be said to excel the latter in pageantry
and spectacular effect, while its musical text is more
declamatory than melodious, as compared with "The
Huguenots." In this sense it was disappointing when
first produced.

The period of the opera is 1534. The first act trans-
pires in Dordrecht and Leyden, in Holland, and the other
three in Munster, Germany. The text closely follows the
historical narrative of the period when Munster was oc-
cupied by John of Leyden and his fanatics, who, after he
had been crowned by them as Emperor of Germany, was
driven out by the bishop of the diocese. The first act
opens in the suburbs of Dordrecht, near the Meuse, with
the chateau of Count Oberthal, lord of the domain, in the
distance. After a very fresh and vigorous chorus of peas-
ants, Bertha, a vassal of the Count, betrothed to John of
Leyden, enters and sings a cavatina ("II cor nel sento"),


in which she gives expression to emotions of delight at
her approaching union. As she cannot go to Leyden, where
the marriage is to take place, without the Count's consent,
Fides, the mother of John, joins her to make the request.
In the meantime the three Anabaptists, Zacarie, Gione,
and Mathisen, leaders of the revolt in Westphalia, arrive
on their mission of raising an insurrection in Holland, and
in a sombre trio of a religious but stirring character
("0 libertade ") incite the peasants to rise against their
rulers. They make an assault upon the castle of Count
Oberthal, who speedily repels them, and turns the tide of
popular feeling against the Anabaptists, by recognizing
Gione as a former servant who had been discharged from
his service for dishonesty. Fides and Bertha then join in a
romanza (" Delia mora un giorno "), imploring his permis-
sion for the marriage of Bertha and John. The Count,
however, struck with her beauty, not only refuses, but
claims her for himself, and seizes both her and Fides, and
the act closes with a repetition of the warning chant of the

The second act opens in the hostelry of John of Leyden,
and is introduced with a waltz and drinking-chorus, in the
midst of which the Anabaptists arrive and are struck with
his resemblance to a portrait of David in the Munster
Cathedral. From a very descriptive and highly wrought
scena (" SottO le vasti arcati ") sung by him they also
learn that he is given to visions and religious meditations.
They assure him that he shall be a ruler ; but in a beauti-
ful romanza ("Un impero piu soave ") he replies that his
love for Bertha is his only sovereignty. Just as they de-
part, Bertha, who has escaped, rushes in and claims his
protection. He conceals her; but has hardly done so
when the Count enters with his soldiers, bringing Fides as
a prisoner, and threatens to kill her unless Bertha is given
up. He hesitates ; but at last, to save his mother's life,
























































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delivers Bertha to her pursuers. Mother and son are left
alone, and she seeks to console him. In this scene occurs
one of the most dramatic and intense of Meyerbeer's arias
(" O figlio mio, che diro "), known more popularly by its
French words, beginning, " Ah! mon fils." It has en-
joyed a world-wide popularity, and still holds its place in
all its original freshness and vigor. Fides hardly disap-
pears before the ominous chant of the Anabaptists is heard
again. He does not need much persuasion now. They
make their compact in a quartet of great power, which closes
the act ; and some of John's garments are left behind
stained with blood, that his mother may believe he has
been killed.

The third act opens in the Anabaptists' camp in a West-
phalian forest, a frozen lake near them, and Munster, which
they are besieging, in the distance. In the second scene
Zacarie sings a stirring paean of victory (" In coppia son "),
followed by the beautiful ballet music of the skaters as they
come bringing provisions to the troops. Count Oberthal
meanwhile has been taken prisoner and brought into camp.
A buffo trio between himself and his captors follows, in
which Gione penetrates his disguise and recognizes him.
They are about to fall upon him ; but John, learning from
him that Bertha is still alive and in Munster, saves his life.
He immediately resolves to take the place by assault,
rouses his followers with religious chants of a martial
character, and the act concludes with the march on the

The fourth act opens in the city itself after its capture.
A mendicant appears in the public square begging for
bread. It is Fides ; and in a plaintively declamatory aria
of striking power ("Pieta! pieta!") she implores alms.
She meets with Bertha disguised as a pilgrim, and bent upon
the destruction of the Prophet, who, she believes, has been
the cause of John's death. The next scene opens in the



cathedral, where the coronation of the Prophet is to take
place ; and among all Meyerbeer's pageants none are more
imposing than this, with its accompaniment of pealing
bells, religious chants, the strains of the organ, and the
stately rhythms of the great Coronation March. It is a
splendid prelude to the dramatic scene which follows. In
the midst of the gorgeous spectacle, the voice of Fides is
heard claiming the Prophet as her son. John boldly dis-
avows her, and tells his followers to kill him if she does not
confirm the disavowal. The feelings of the mother pre-
dominate, and she declares that she is mistaken. The
multitude proclaim it a miracle, and Fides is removed as a
prisoner. The dramatic situation in this finale is one
of great strength, and its musical treatment has hardly
been excelled.

The last act opens with a trio by the Anabaptist leaders,
who, learning that the enemy is approaching in force, de-
termine to save themselves by betraying John. In the
third scene Fides in prison, learning that John is coming
to see her, invokes the punishment of Heaven upon him
in the passionate aria, "Spirto superno." A duet ("Tu
che del cielo ") of great power follows, in which Fides
convinces him of the errors of his course. As they are
about to leave, Bertha enters, bent upon the destruction
of the palace, and in the trio which ensues learns that John
and the Prophet are one. She stabs herself, and dying in
the arms of Fides curses him. The last scene opens in a
banqueting hall of the palace, where John is revelling, with
the Anabaptists around him. He sings a bacchanalian
song of a wild description (" Bevian e intorno"), and, as
it closes, the Bishop of Munster, the Elector, Count Ober-
thal, and the three Anabaptists who have betrayed him,
enter the apartment. The revenge which John has planned
is now consummated. An explosion is heard. Flames
break out on all sides. Fides rushes in and forgives her


son, and the Prophet, his mother, and his enemies perish

Although "The Prophet " did not meet with the popu-
larity of some of his other operas, it contains some of the
most vigorous and dramatic music Meyerbeer has written,
— notably the arias of Zacarie and Fides, the skating-
ballet, the Coronation March, and the drinking-song. As
a pageant, "The Prophet" has never been surpassed.

The African

" L'Africaine," grand opera in five acts, words by
Scribe, was first produced at the Academie, Paris, April 28,
1865, with the following cast :

Selika i . . . . Mme. Marie Saxe.

Inez Mile. Marie Batteo.

Vasco di Gama M. Naudin.

Nelusko M. Faure.

Von Pedro M. Belval.

High Priest M. Obin.

The libretto of the opera was first given to Meyerbeer
by Scribe in 1838; but such were the alterations
demanded by the composer, that at last Scribe withdrew
it altogether, although the music was already set. In
1852 he furnished a revised libretto, and the music was
revised to suit it. The work was not finished until i860,
and owing to the difficulty of filling the cast satisfactorily,
was not brought to rehearsal until the Fall of 1863. While
still correcting and improving it, Meyerbeer died, and it
was not produced until two years later. Shortly after the
Paris performance it was brought out in London, with
Mile. Lucca in the part of Selika. Mme. Zucchi was one
of the earliest representatives of the slave in this country.

The scene of the opera is laid in Portugal and Africa,
and the first act opens in the council chamber of the king
of the former country. Inez, his daughter, is mourning


the long absence of her betrothed, Vasco di Gama, the
explorer. Her father, wishing to marry her to Don Pedro,
the President of the Council, tries to persuade her that
Vasco has perished by shipwreck; but the refutation of
the story comes in the sudden appearance of Vasco him-
self, who is summoned before the Council and narrates to
them his discovery of a strange land, producing two of the
natives, Selika and Nelusko, as confirmations of his an-
nouncement. Don Pedro incites the inquisitors to deny
the truth of the story, at which Vasco breaks out in such a
furious rage against them that he is arrested and thrown
into a dungeon. The second act opens in the prison,
where Selika is watching the slumbering Vasco. As he
wakens she declares her love for him, and at the same
time saves him from the dagger of the jealous Nelusko.
She also indicates to him the course he should have taken
to discover the island of which he is in quest. To save
her lover, Inez consents to wed Don Pedro ; and the
latter, to cheat Vasco of his fame, takes command of the
expedition under the pilotage of Nelusko, and sets sail for
the new land. The Indian, thirsting for vengeance,
directs the vessel out of her course towards a reef; but
Vasco, who has followed in another vessel, arrives in time
to warn Don Pedro of his danger. He disregards the
warning, distrusts his motives, and orders him to be shot ;
but before the sentence can be carried out, the vessel
strikes and is boarded by the savages, who slaughter the
commander and most of his men. The fourth act opens
on the island which Selika pointed out on the map, and of
which she is queen. To save him from her subjects, she
declares herself his spouse ; but as the marriage rite is
about to be celebrated, Vasco hears the voice of Inez
in the distance, deserts Selika, and flies to her. In the
last act, as the vessel sails away bearing Vasco and Inez
back to Portugal, Selika throws herself down under the

Dippel as Vasco di Gama

Copyright, Aime Dupout


poisonous manchineel tree and kills herself with -its fatal
flowers ; expiring in the arms of Nelusko, who shares the
same fate.

The first act opens with a very sweet but sombre ballad
sung by Inez (" Del Tago sponde addio "), which recalls
the English song, " Isle of Beauty, fare thee well," and
is followed by a bold and flowing terzetto. The third
scene opens with a noble and stately chorus (" Tu che la
terra adora ") sung by the basses in unison, opening the
Council before which Vasco appears ; and the act closes
with an anathema hurled at him (" Ribelle, insolente"), —
a splended ensemble, pronounced in its rhythm and
majestic in the sweep of its passionate music.

The second act opens with the quaint slumber-song
(" In grembo a me ") which Selika sings to Vasco in
prison. It is Oriental in color, and is broken here and
there by a barcarole which Vasco murmurs in his sleep.
In striking contrast with its dreamy, quiet flow, it leads
up to a passionate aria (" Tranquillo e gia ") based upon
a strong and fiery motive. In the next scene follows an
aria of equal vigor sung by Nelusko (" Figlia dei Re "),
in which his devotion to Selika changing to his hatred of
Vasco is characterized by a grand crescendo. The act
closes with a vigorous sextet, the motive of which is
strangely similar to the old song, " The Minstrel Boy."

The third act contains a very impressive number,
Nelusko's invocation of Adamastor ("Adamastor, re dell'
onde profondo "), but is mainly devoted to the ship scene,
which, though grotesque from the dramatic point of view,
is accompanied by music of a powerful and realistic
description, written with all the vividness and force Meyer-
beer always displays in his melodramatic ensembles. The
fourth act contains the most beautiful music of the opera,
— Vasco's opening aria, a O Paradiso," an exquisite
melody set to an equally exquisite accompaniment ; the


ensemble in the fourth scene, in which Selika protects
Vasco and Nelusko swears vengeance (" Al mio penar de
fine ") ; the grand duet between Vasco and Selika ("Dove
son "), which has often been compared to the duet in the
fourth act of " The Huguenots," though it has not the
passionate intensity of the scene between Raoul and
Valentin ; and the graceful choruses of the Indian maidens
and Inez's attendants which close the act.

The last act contains two scenes, — the first in Selika's
gardens, where there is a long and spirited duet between
Inez and Selika. The second, known as " La Scene du
Mancenillier," has a symphonic prelude in the form of a
funeral march, based upon a fascinating melody, which is
beyond question the finest of Meyerbeer's instrumental
numbers in any of his works. From this point the story
hastens to its tragic denouement ; and nearly the entire
scene is occupied with Selika's dying song, which opens
with a majestic apostrophe to the sea (" Da qui io vedo il
mar "), then turns to sadness as she sings to the fatal tree
(" O tempio sontuoso " ), and at the close develops into a
passionate outcry of joy ("O douce extase "). Though
the plot of " L'Africaine " is often absurd, many of its
incidents preposterous, and some of its characters unattrac-
tive, the opera is full of effective situations, and repeatedly
illustrates Meyerbeer's powers of realization and his knowl-
edge of musical and dramatic effects.


CARL MILLOCKER, a composer of operettas, was
born in Vienna, May 29, 1842. He obtained his
musical education at the conservatory in that city, and has
been connected with several theatres, for which he has
written operettas. He has also composed a large number
of musical farces and a long list of light and sprightly
piano pieces. His best known works are " Die Frauen-
insel" (1867); " Der Regimentstambour" (1869); "Drei
PaarSchuhe" (1870) ; " Ein Abenteuer in Wien" (1873) ;
"The Beggar Student" (1881).

The Beggar Student

"The Beggar Student," opera comique in three acts,
text by Zell and Genee, was first produced at Vienna in
1882. The scene is laid in Krakow, in* the year 1704.
General Ollendorf, the military governor of that city, is
in a rage because he has been repulsed by Laura,
daughter of the Countess Palmatica, to whom he has
shown some unwelcome attentions. To punish what he
considers an insult, he conceives the idea of dressing
some poor and low-born young fellow in the finery of a
prince, and passing him off as such upon the Countess
and her daughter, trusting that their poverty will induce
them to accept the impostor. After such a marriage
his revenge would be complete. He finds his accom-
plice in the military prison. Symon Symonovicz, a vaga-
bond Polish student, is ready to play the gentleman, and
only insists on taking along with him Janitsky, a fellow-
prisoner, to act as his secretary. The plot is successful.



The Countess and her daughter, who have been living
for a long time in genteel poverty, are dazzled by the
finery and prospects of the suitor, and the act closes
with the betrothal of Symon and Laura.

In the second act the two find that they are really
in love with each other. As the money furnished by the
General is all spent, Symon decides to tell Laura of the
deception practised upon her, though it may cost him
the marriage, which was to have taken place that day.
Afraid to tell her in person, he writes the disclosure,
and intrusts the letter to the Countess with the request
to have it given to Laura before the ceremony. The
General, however, thwarts this scheme, and the pair are
married, whereupon he exposes Symon to the assembled
guests as an impostor and has him driven from the

At the opening of the third act Symon appears in
melancholy plight and contemplating suicide. His friend
Janitsky, who is in love with Laura's sister, Bronislava,
comes to his rescue. He comes forward as a Polish
officer engaged in a plot for the capture of the citadel
and the reinstatement of King Stanislaus upon the throne
of Poland. The plot with Symon's help succeeds, and
in return Symon is not only ennobled, but the Countess
and his wife forgive him, and the governor-general is
foiled at every point.

The principal numbers are Ollendorf s entrance song
in waltz time (" And they say that towards Ladies ! ') ; the
characteristic duet by Symon and Janitsky on leaving
jail (" Confounded Cell, at last I leave thee ") ; the charm-
ing entrance trio for Laura, Bronislava, and the Countess
("Some little Shopping really we ought to do"); and
Laura's brilliant song, " But when the Song is sweetly
sounding," in the finale of the first act ; Laura's humor-
ous song, " If Joy in married Life you 'd find " ; the

Online LibraryGeorge P. (George Putnam) UptonThe standard operas: their plots, their music, and their composers → online text (page 15 of 37)