George P. (George Putnam) Upton.

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

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sentimental duet of Bronislava and Janitsky ("This Kiss,
sweet Love ") ; Ollendorf's grotesque songs, " One Day
I was perambulating " and " There in the Chamber
Polish," which is usually adapted as a topical song;
and the long and cleverly concerted finale of the second
act ; and Bronislava's song, " Prince a Beggar 's said to
be," and Symon's couplet, " I 'm penniless and outlawed
too," in the third act.


DEUS MOZART was born at Salzburg, January 2 7,
1756. To this wonderful child music was a divine gift,
for his first work, a minuet and trio for piano, was
written in his fifth year. He began to study with his
father when but three years of age, and at once gave
signs of extraordinary promise. His sister was also very
talented; and in 1762 the father determined to travel
with his prodigies. They were absent a year, the most
of that time being spent at Munich, Vienna, and Pres-
burg, where they created a furor by their performances.
A longer journey was then resolved upon. The principal
German cities, Brussels, Paris, London, The Hague, Ams-
terdam, and the larger towns of Switzerland were visited
in succession, and everywhere the children were greeted
with enthusiasm, particularly when they played before
the French and English courts. They returned to Salz-
burg in 1766, already famous all over Europe; and
during the next two years Mozart composed many minor
works. In 1768 he was again in Vienna, where he pro-
duced his little operetta, " Bastien und Bastienne," and
in the same year the Archbishop of Salzburg made him
his concertmeister. The next year he went to Italy,
where he both studied and composed, and was received
with extraordinary honors. In 1771 he brought out his
opera, " Mitridate, Re di Ponto," at Milan, with great
success. The next year he produced " Lucio Silla,"
also in Milan, and during the next four years composed
a great number of symphonies and other instrumental


works. The mass of music which he composed up to
his twenty-first year is simply bewildering. In 1781 he
brought out " Idomeneo " at Munich, which left no
doubt as to his position as a dramatic composer. In
1782 his " Die Entfuhrung aus dem Serail " was produced
at Vienna by the Emperor's command. His next great
opera was " Le Nozze di Figaro," which was performed
in 1786, and made all Vienna go wild. " Don Giovanni "
followed it the next year, and was received with equal
enthusiasm. In 1789 he composed the famous "Re-
quiem " ; and the same year " Die Zauberflbte," his last
great opera, appeared, and made a success even greater
than its two predecessors. Two years later, December 5,
1 79 1, Mozart died in poverty, and amid the saddest
of surroundings. One of the world's greatest geniuses
was carried to his last resting-place unaccompanied by
friends, and was buried in the pauper's grave. God
endowed him with a wonderful genius, which the world
of his time failed to recognize. It was only the great
who recognized his real greatness.

The Marriage of Figaro

" Le Nozze di Figaro," in the German version, " Die
Hochzeit des Figaro," opera buffa in four acts, the words
by Lorenzo da Ponte, after Beaumarchais's comedy, " Le
Mariage de Figaro," was first produced at the National
Theatre, Vienna, May 1, 1786, with the following cast :

Countess Almaviva Signora Storace.

Susanna Signora Laschi.

Cherubino Signora Mandini.

Marceliina Signora Bussani.

Barbarina Frau Gottlieb.

Count Almaviva Sig. Mandini.

Figaro Sig. Benucci.

Bartolo Sig. Occheley.

Basilio Sig. Bussani.


It was first brought out in Paris in 1793, with Beau-
marchais's spoken dialogue, in five acts, as " Le Mariage
de Figaro," and in 1858 at the Theatre Lyrique in the
same city, in four acts, as "Les Noces de Figaro," with
text by Barbier and Carre. The late Mme. Parepa-
Rosa introduced it in this country in its English form
with great success.

At the time the libretto was written, Beaumarchais's
satirical comedy, " Le Mariage de Figaro," had been
performed all over Europe, and had attracted great at-
tention. It had been prohibited in Paris, and had
caused great commotion in Vienna. Mozart's notice
was thus drawn to it, and he suggested it to Da Ponte
for a libretto, and the Emperor Joseph subsequently
commissioned the composer to set it to music, though
he had already composed a portion of it. The entire
opera was written during the month of April, and the
wonderful finale to the second act occupied him for
two nights and a day. When it came to a performance,
its success was remarkable. Kelly, who was present,
says, in his " Reminiscences " : " Never was there a
greater triumph than Mozart enjoyed with his ' Figaro.'
The house was crowded to overflowing, and almost every-
thing encored, so that the opera lasted nearly double
the usual time ; and yet at its close the public were un-
wearied in clapping their hands and shouting for Mozart."
Popular as it was, it was soon laid aside in Vienna through
the influence of the Italian faction headed by Salieri, one
of Mozart's rivals.

The story of the opera is laid in Spain. Count Al-
maviva, who had won his beautiful Countess with the
aid of Figaro, the barber of Seville, becomes enamored
of her maid Susanna, and at the same time, by the collu-
sion of the two, in order to punish him, is made jealous
by the attentions paid to the Countess by Cherubino, the

Sigrid Arnoldson as Cherubino


page. Meanwhile Figaro, to whom Susanna is betrothed,
becomes jealous of the Count for his gallantry to her.
Out of these cross-relations arise several humorous sur-
prises. Besides these characters there are two others
who have been disappointed in love, — Bartolo, who
has been rejected by Susanna, and Marcellina, whose
affection for Figaro has not been requited. The Count
seeks to get rid of Cherubino by ordering him off to
the wars, but he is saved by Susanna, who disguises him
in female attire. The Countess, Susanna, Figaro, and
Cherubino, then conspire to punish the Count for his
infidelity. The latter suddenly appears at his wife's
door, and finding it locked demands an entrance. Cher-
ubino, alarmed, hides himself in a closet and bars the
door. The Count is admitted, and finding the Countess
in confusion insists upon searching the closet. He goes
out to find some means of breaking in the door, and
Cherubino improves the opportunity to jump out of the
window, while Susanna takes his place and confronts
the puzzled Count. Antonio, the gardener, comes in
and complains that some one has jumped from the win-
dow and broken his flower-pots. Figaro at once asserts
that he did it.

A ludicrous side plot unfolds at this point. Marcellina
appears with a contract of marriage signed by Figaro,
bringing Bartolo as a witness. The Count decides that
Figaro must fulfil his contract, but the latter escapes
by showing that he is the son of Marcellina, and that
Bartolo is his father. Meanwhile the main plot is de-
veloped in another conspiracy to punish the Count.
Susanna contrives a rendezvous with the Count at night
in the garden, having previously arranged with the
Countess that she shall disguise herself as the maid, the
latter also assuming the part of the Countess, and arrive
in time to surprise the two. The page also puts in an


appearance, and gets his ears boxed for his attentions
to the disguised Countess. Figaro, who has been in-
formed that Susanna and the Count are to meet in the
garden, comes on the scene, and in revenge makes a
passionate declaration of love to the supposed Countess,
upon which the Count, who is growing more and more
bewildered, orders lights and makes his supposed wife
unveil. The real wife does the same. Covered with
confusion, he implores pardon of the Countess, which
is readily given. The two are reconciled, and Figaro
and Susanna are united.

The whole opera is such a combination of playfulness
and grace that it is a somewhat ungracious task to refer
to particular numbers. In these regards it is the most
Mozartean of all the composer's operas. The first act
opens with a sparkling duet between Figaro and Susanna,
in which she informs him- of the Count's gallantries. As
she leaves, Figaro, to the accompaniment of his guitar,
sings a rollicking song (" Se vuol ballare, Signor Con-
tino "), in which he intimates that if the Count wishes
to dance he will play for him in a style he little expects.
In the second scene Bartolo enters, full of his plans for
vengeance, which he narrates in a grim and grotesque
song ("La Vendetta"). The fourth scene closes with
an exquisite aria by Cherubino (" Non so piu cosa
son"). After an exceedingly humorous trio ("Cosa
sento? tosto andate ") for the Count, Basilio, and Susanna,
and a bright, gleeful chorus ("Giovanni liete "), Figaro
closes the act with the celebrated aria, " Non piu andrai."
Of the singing of this great song at the first rehearsal of
the opera Kelly says in his "Reminiscences": "I re-
member Mozart well at the first general rehearsal, in a
red furred coat and a gallooned hat, standing on the
stage and giving the tempi. Benucci sang Figaro's aria,
' Non piu andrai,' with the utmost vivacity and the full


strength of his voice. I stood close beside Mozart,
who exclaimed, sotto voce, ( Brava ! brava ! Benucci ! ' and
when that fine passage came, ' Cherubino, alia vittoria,
alia gloria militar,' which Benucci gave in a stentorian
voice, the effect was quite electrical, both upon the
singers on the stage and the musicians in the orchestra.
Quite transported with delight, they all called out, ' Brava !
brava, Maestro ! viva ! viva ! viva il grande Mozart ! '. In
the orchestra the applause seemed to have no end, while
the violin players rapped their bows on their desks. The
little Maestro expressed his gratitude for the enthusiasm,
testified in so unusual a manner, by repeatedly bowing."

The second act is the masterpiece of the opera, and
contains in itself music enough to have made any com-
poser immortal. It opens with a serious aria by the
Countess (" Porgi amor "), followed by Cherubino's
well-known romanza ("Voi, che sapete"), one of the
sweetest and most effective songs ever written for con-
tralto, and this in turn by Susanna's coquettish song,
u Venite, inginocchiatevi," as she disguises Cherubino.
A spirited trio and duet lead up to the great finale, be-
gun by the Count (" Esci omai, garzon malnato").
Upon this finale Mozart seems to have lavished the
riches of his musical genius with the most elaborate
detail and in bewildering profusion. It begins with a
duet between the Count and Countess, then with the
entrance of Susanna changes to a trio, and as Figaro
and Antonio enter, develops into a quintet. In the
close, an independent figure is added by the entrance
of Marcellina, Barbarina, and Basilio, and as Antonio
exits, this trio is set against the quartet with independ-
ent themes and tempi.

The third act opens with a duet (" Crudel ! perche
finora ") for the Count and Countess, followed by a
very dramatic scena for the Count, beginning with the


recitative, " Hai gia vinto la causa ! " which in turn leads
up to a lively and spirited sextet (" Riconosci in questo
amplesso "). The two numbers which follow the sextet
are recognized universally as two of the sweetest and
most melodious ever written, — the exquisite aria, " Dove
sono," for the Countess, and the "Zephyr Duet," as it is
popularly known (" Canzonetta sull' aria. Che soave
zefiretto "), which stands unsurpassed for elegance,
grace, and melodious beauty. The remaining numbers
of prominent interest are a long and very versatile buffo
aria for tenor ("In quegl' anni"), sung by Basilio,
Figaro's stirring march number (" Ecco la marcia "),
and a lovely song for Susanna (" Deh, vieni, non tar-
dar "). The opera is full of life and human interest.
Its wonderful cheerfulness and vital sympathy appeal to
every listener, and its bright, free, joyous tone from be-
ginning to end is no less fascinating than the exquisite
melodies with which Mozart has so richly adorned it.
Like " Don Giovanni " and the " Magic Flute," the
best test of the work is, that in its second century it is
as fresh and bright and popular as ever.

Don Giovanni

" Don Giovanni," opera buffa in two acts, words by Da
Ponte, was first produced at Prague, October 29, 1787.
The full title of the work is " II dissoluto punito, ossia il
Don Giovanni," and the subject was taken from a Spanish
tale by Tirso de Molina, called " El combidado de
piedra." The original cast of the opera was as follows :

Donna Anna Signora Teresa Saporitti.

Donna Elvira Signora Micelli.

Zerlina Signora Bondini.

Don Ottavio Sig. Baglioni.

Don Giovanni Sig. LuiGl Bassi.

Leporello Sig. Felice Ponziani.

Masetto and Don Pedro Sig. LOLLI.

Sontag as Donna Anna


The success of " The Marriage of Figaro " prepared
the way for " Don Giovanni." Mozart wrote the opera
in Prague, and completed it, except the overture, Oc-
tober 28, 1787, about six weeks after he arrived in the
city. The first performance took place the next even-
ing. The overture was written during the night, the
copyist received the score at seven o'clock in the morn-
ing, and it was played at eight in the evening. He
had only a week for stage rehearsals, and yet the opera
created a furor. As an instance of his extraordinary
memory, it is said that the drum and trumpet parts to
the finale of the second act were written without the
score, from memory. When he brought the parts into
the orchestra, he remarked, " Pray, gentlemen, be par-
ticularly attentive at this place," pointing to one, "as
I believe that there are four bars either too few or
too many." His remark was found to be true. It is
also said that in the original score the brass instru-
ments frequently have no place, as he wrote the parts
continually on separate bits of paper, trusting to his
memory for the score. The next year (1788) the opera
was brought out in Vienna, and for this production he
wrote four new numbers, — a recitative and aria for
Donna Elvira (" In quali eccessi, O Numi ") ; an aria
for Masetto (" Ho capito, Signor, si ") ; a short aria
for Don Ottavio (" Dalla sua pace ") ; and a duet for
Zerlina and Leporello ("Per queste tue manine").

The scene of the opera is laid in Spain. Don Gio-
vanni, a licentious nobleman, becomes enamored of
Donna Anna, the daughter of the Commandant of Se-
ville, who is betrothed to Don Ottavio. He gains
admission to her apartments at night, and attempts to
carry her away; but her cries bring her father to her
rescue. He attacks Don Giovanni, and in the encounter
is slain. The libertine, however, in company with his


rascally servant, Leporello, makes good his escape.
While the precious pair are consulting about some new
amour, Donna Elvira, one of his victims, appears and
taxes him with his cruelty ; but he flies from her, leav-
ing her with Leporello, who horrifies her with an appalling
list of his master's conquests in various countries. Don
Giovanni next attempts the ruin of Zerlina, a peasant
girl, upon the very eve of her marriage with her lover,
Masetto. Donna Elvira, however, appears and thwarts
his purposes, and also exposes him to Donna Anna
as the murderer of her father, whereupon she binds
her lover, Don Ottavio,. to avenge his death. Don
Giovanni does not abandon his purpose, however. He
gives a fete, and once more seeks to accomplish Zer-
lina's ruin, but is again thwarted by her three friends.

The second act opens in a public square of Seville
at night. Don Giovanni and Leporello appear before
the house of Donna Elvira, where Zerlina is concealed.
Leporello, disguised in his master's cloak, and assuming
his voice, lures Donna Elvira out, and feigning repentance
for his conduct induces her to leave with him. Don
Giovanni then proceeds to enter the house and seize
Zerlina ; but before he can accomplish his purpose,
Masetto and his friends appear, and supposing it is Le-
porello before them, demand to know where his master
is, as they are bent upon killing him. Don Giovanni easily
disposes of Masetto, and then rejoins his servant near the
equestrian statue, which has been erected to the mem-
ory of the murdered Don Pedro. To their astonish-
ment the statue speaks, and warns the libertine he will
die before the morrow. Don Giovanni laughs at the
prophecy, and invites the statue to a banquet to be given
the next day at his house. While the guests are assem-
bled at the feast, an ominous knock is heard at the
door and the statue unceremoniously enters. All except







































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Leporello and Don Giovanni fly from the room in terror.
The doomed man orders an extra plate, but the statue
extends its hand and invites him to sup with it. He
takes the marble hand, and its cold fingers clutch him
in a firm grasp. Thrice the statue urges him to repent,
and as many times he refuses ; whereupon, as it disap-
pears, demons rise, seize Don Giovanni, and carry him
to the infernal regions.

Musicially considered, " Don Giovanni " is regarded
as Mozart's greatest opera, though it lacks the bright
joyousness of "The Marriage of Figaro," and its human
interest. Its melodies are more pronounced, and have
entered more freely into general use, however, than those
of the former. Repulsive as the story is, some of the
melodies which illustrate it have been impressed into
the service of the church. The first act is introduced
with a humorous aria by Leporello (" Notte e giorno
faticar"), in which he complains of his treatment by
his master. After the murder of Don Pedro, in the
second scene, occurs a trio between Donna Elvira, Don
Giovanni, and Leporello, the leading motive of which
is a beautiful aria sung by Donna Elvira (" Ah ! chi mi
dice mai"). The scene closes with the great buffo aria
of Leporello (" Madamina ! il catalogo ") popularly known
as the " Catalogue Song," which is full of broad humor,
though its subject is far from possessing that quality.
In the third scene occur the lovely duet for Don Giovanni
and Zerlina (" La, ci darem la mano "), two arias of great
dramatic intensity for Donna Elvira (" Mi tradi ") and
Donna Anna (" Or sai, chi f onore "), and Don Gio-
vanni's dashing song (" Fin ch'han dal vino "), the music
of which is in admirable keeping with the reckless nature
of the libertine himself. The last scene is a treasure-
house of music, containing the exquisitely coquettish
aria, " Batti, batti," which Zerlina sings to the jealous


Masetto, and the beautiful trio of Donna Anna, Donna
Elvira, and Don Ottavio, known as the Masked Trio,
set off against the quaint minuet music of the fete and
the hurly-burly wrjich accompanies the discovery of Don
Giovanni's black designs.

The second act opens with a humorous duet between
master and servant (" Eh, via, buffone "), followed by
the trio, " Ah ! taci, ingiusto core ! " as Elvira appears at
her window. After she leaves with Leporello, Don
Giovanni sings a serenade (" Deh vieni alia finestra?")
to Zerlina, which is interrupted by the appearance of
Masetto and his friends. Zerlina is summoned to the
scene by the cries of Masetto after Don Giovanni has
beaten him, and sings to him for his consolation the
beautiful aria, " Vedrai, carino," which has more than
once been set to sacred words, and has become familiar
as a church tune, notwithstanding the unsanctity of its
original setting. The second scene opens with a strong
sextet- (" Sola, sola, in bujo loco "), followed by the
ludicrously solemn appeal of Leporello, " Ah ! pieta,
Signori miei," and that aria, beloved of all tenors, " II
mio tesoro." The finale is occupied with the scenes
at the statue and at the banquet, a short scene between
Donna Anna and Don Ottavio intervening, in which
she sings the aria, " Non mi dir." The statue music
throughout is of a sepulchral character, gradually de-
veloping into strains almost as cold and ominous as the
marble of the Commandant himself, and yet not with-
out an element of the grotesque as it portrays the terror
of Leporello.

It is said that in revenge at his Italian rivals, Mozart
introduced an aria from Martin's " La Cosa Rara," ar-
ranged for wind instruments, and also a favorite aria of
Sarti's, to be played at the banquet when the hungry
Leporello beholds his master at the table and watches for


some of the choice morsels, and parodied them in an
amusing manner. He never could retain an enmity very
long, however, and so at the end of the banquet he
parodied one of his own arias, the famous " Non piu
andrai," by giving it a comical turn to suit Leporello's
situation. The criticism of one of the best biographers
of Mozart upon this opera is worth repeating in this
connection : " Whether we regard the mixture of pas-
sions in its concerted music, the profound expression
of melancholy, the variety of its situations, the beauty
of its accompaniment, or the grandeur of its height-
ening and protracted scene of terror, — the finale of the
second act, — ' Don Giovanni ' stands alone in dramatic

The Magic Flute

" Die Zauberflote," opera in two acts, words by Emanuel
Schickaneder, was first produced at Vienna, September 30,
1 79 1, with the following cast:

Queen of Night Frau Hofer.

Pamina Frl. Gotlteb.

Papagena Frau Gorl.

Tamino Herr SCHACK.

Monostatos . Herr Gorl.

Sarastro Herr Schickaneder, Sr.

Papageno Herr Schickaneder, Jr.


The Magic Flute " was the last great work of the
composer, and followed the " Cosi fan tutte," which
was given in January, 1791. In 1780 Mozart had made
the acquaintance of Schickaneder at Salzburg. He was a
reckless, dissipated theatre manager, and at the time of
the composition of " The Magic Flute " was running a
small theatre in Vienna. The competition of the larger
theatres had nearly beggared him, and in the midst
of his perplexities he applied to Mozart to write him
an opera, and intimated that he had discovered an


admirable subject for a fairy composition. Mozart at
first objected, but Schickaneder, like himself, was a
Freemason, had been his companion in dissipation, and
exercised a great influence over him. Mozart at last
consented. A compact was made, and Schickaneder
set to work on the libretto. As he was a popular buffoon,
he invented the part of Papageno, the bird-catcher, for
himself, and arranged that it should be dressed in a
costume of feathers. It is a trivial part, but Schickaneder
intended to tickle the fancy of the public, and succeeded.
The first act was finished, when it was found that the
same subject had been chosen by a rival theatre, the
Leopoldstadt, which speedily announced the opera of
" Kaspar der Fagottist, oder die Zauber-Zither," by
a popular composer, Wenzel Miiller. The piece had
a successful run, and in order to prevent a duplication,
Schickaneder reversed the point of his story, and changed
the evil magician, who stole the daughter of the Queen of
Night, into a great philosopher and friend of man. It is
owing to this change that we have the magnificent char-
acter of Sarastro, with its impressive music.

The scene of the opera is laid in Egypt. Sarastro, the
high priest of Isis, has induced Pamina to leave her
mother, Astrifiamenti, the Queen of Night, who repre-
sents the spirit of evil, and come to his temple, where
she may be trained in the ways of virtue and wisdom.
At the opening of the opera the dark Queen is trying
to discover some plan of recovering her daughter and
punishing Sarastro. In the first act appears Tamino,
an Egyptian prince, who has lost his way, and is attacked
by a huge serpent, from which he is rescued by the three
attendants of the Queen. The latter accosts him, tells
him her daughter's story, and demands that, as the cost
of his deliverance, he shall rescue her. He consents.
She gives him a magic flute, and with his companion






















Online LibraryGeorge P. (George Putnam) UptonThe standard operas: their plots, their music, and their composers → online text (page 16 of 37)