George P. (George Putnam) Upton.

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

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Papageno, a rollicking bird-catcher, who is also pre-
sented with a magical chime of bells, they set out for
Sarastro's temple. Papageno arrives there first, and in
time to rescue Pamina from the persecutions of Mono-
statos, a slave, who flies when he beholds Papageno in
his feather costume, fancying him the devil. They
seek to make their escape, but are intercepted. Tamino
also is caught, and all are brought before Sarastro. The
prince consents to become a novitiate in the sacred rites,
and to go through the various stages of probation and
purification, and Pamina again returns to her duties.
They remain faithful to their vows, and the last ordeal,
that of passing through a burning lake up to the altar
of the temple, is triumphantly accomplished. The Queen
of Night, however, does not abandon her scheme of re-
venge. She appears to Pamina in her sleep, gives her
a dagger, and swears that unless she murders Sarastro
she will cast her off forever. Pamina pays no heed to
her oath, but goes on with her sacred duties, trusting
to Sarastro's promise that if she endures all the ordeals
she will be forever happy. In the closing scene, Mono-
statos, who has been inflamed against Sarastro by the
Queen, seeks to kill him, but is vanquished by the might
of the priest's presence alone. The night of the ordeals is
over. At a sign from Sarastro, the full sunlight pours in
upon them. The evil spirits all vanish, and Tamino and
Pamina are united amid the triumphant choruses of the
priests and attendants, as the reward of their fidelity.

In the opening scene, after the encounter of Tamino
with the serpent, Papageno has a light and catching
song (" Der Vogelfanger bin ich ja "), which, like all
of Papageno's music, was specially written for Schick-
aneder, and has been classed under the head of the
"Viennese ditties." Melodious as Mozart always is,
these songs must be regarded as concessions to the



buffoon who sang them. Papageno's song is followed
by another in a serious strain (" Dies Bildniss ist bezau-
bernd schon ") sung by Tamino. In the sixth scene
occurs the first aria for the Queen of Night (" O zittre
nicht, mein lieber Sohn "), which, like its companion
to be mentioned later, is a remarkable exercise in vocal
power, range, and gymnastics, written for an excep-
tional voice. The next scene, known as the Padlock
Quintet, is very simple and flowing in style, and will
always be popular for its humorous and melodious
character. In the eleventh scene occurs the familiar
duet between Pamina and Papageno (" Bei Mannern,
welche Liebe fiihlen"), which has done good service for
the church, and will be recognized in the English hymn
version, " Serene I laid me down." It leads up to
the finale, beginning, " Zum Ziele flihrt dich diese
Bahn," and containing a graceful melody for Tamino
(" O dass ich doch im Stande ware"), and another of
the Viennese tunes (" Konnte jeder brave Mann ") — a
duet for Papageno and Pamina, with chorus.

The second act opens with a stately march and chorus
by the priests, leading up to Sarastro's first great aria
(" O Isis und Osiris"), a superb invocation in broad,
flowing harmony, and the scene closes with a strong duet
by two priests (" Bewahret euch vor Weibertiicken ").
The third scene is a quintet for Papageno, Tamino, and
the Queen's three attendants (" Wie ihr an diesem
Schreckensort?"), and is followed by a sentimental aria
by Monostatos (" Alles fiihlt der Liebe Freuden"). In
the next scene occurs the second and greatest aria of the
Queen of Night ("Der Holle Rache kocht"), which
was specially written to show off the bravura ability of
the creator of the part, and has been the despair of
nearly all sopranos since her time. In striking contrast
with it comes the majestic aria for Sarastro in the next


scene ("In diesen heil'gen Hallen"), familiarly known
on the concert stage by its English title, " In these sacred
Halls/' the successful performance of which may well
be the height of any basso's ambition. In the twelfth
scene there is a terzetto by the three boys (" Seid
uns zum zweitenmal "), and in the next scene a long
and florid aria for Pamina (" Ach ! ich fuhl's es ist ver-
schwunden"), full of plaintive chords and very sombre
in color. The sixteenth scene contains another stately
chorus of priests (" O Isis und Osiris"), based upon
a broad and massive harmony, which is followed by a
terzetto between Sarastro, Pamina, and Tamino (" Soil
ich dich, Theurer, nicht mehr sehen?"). Once more
a concession to the buffoon occurs in a melody " Ein
Madchen oder Weibchen," which would be common-
place but for Mozart's treatment of the simple air. The
finale begins with another terzetto for the three boys
(" Bald prangt, den Morgen zu verklinden"). It may
be termed a finale of surprises, as it contains two num-
bers which are as far apart in character as the poles, — the
first, an old choral melody (" Der, welcher wandelt diese
Strasse"), the original being, "Christ, our Lord, to
Jordan came," set to an accompaniment, strengthened
by the trombones and other wind instruments ; and the
second, a nonsense duet (" Pa-pa-Papageno ") for Papa-
geno and Papagena, which would close the opera in a
burst of childish hilarity but for the solemn conclud-
ing chorus of the priests ("Heil'sei euch Geweihten").
The great charm of the opera is its originality, and
the wonderful freshness and fruitfulness of the composer
in giving independent and characteristic melodies to every
character, as well as the marvellous combination of techni-
cality with absolute melody. Beethoven said of it that
this was Mozart's one German opera in right of the
style and solidity of its music. Jahn, in his criticism,


says : " ' The Zauberflote ' has a special and most im-
portant position among Mozart's operas. The whole
musical conception is pure German, and here for the
first time German opera makes free and skilful use of
all the elements of finished art."


VICTOR E. NESSLER was born at Baldenheim,
Alsatia, January 28, 1841, and died at Strasburg,
May 28, 1890. At the outset he was a student, both
of theology and music, but eventually chose the latter
for his profession — a choice which was justified by his
production of one of the most popular of modern operas
in Germany, a description of which follows. His first
successful opera was " Fleurette," performed in 1864.
After further studies, and considerable experience as a
chorus master and conductor, he produced during the
next thirty years several operas, besides ballads, choruses,
songs, and song cycles. Nearly all his compositions out-
side of operas are for male voices. His most successful
operas are " Dornroschens Brautfahrt " (1867); " Der
Rattenfanger von Hameln " (1879) ; "Der wilde Jager "
(1881) ; and " Der Trompeter von Sakkingen " (1884),

The Trumpeter of Sakkingen

" Der Trompeter von Sakkingen " (" The Trumpeter
of Sakkingen"), opera comique in a prelude and three
acts, text by Rudolph Bunge, was first produced at the
Stadt Theatre, Leipzig, May 4, 1884. The scene is
laid in Sakkingen, on the Rhine, in 1650, near the
close of the Thirty Years' War. Few operas have had
the advantage of such an excellent book as Nessler's
"Trumpeter of Sakkingen," and few light operas
have had their stories so legitimately and skilfully illus-
trated with music. The text is based upon the metrical


romance of Victor von Scheffel's "Trompeter von Sak-
kingen," known and admired all over Germany, which
tells the story of the young Werner and the fair Mar-
garetha, their romantic wooing and final union. The
time is near the close of the Thirty Years' War, and the
hero is Werner Kirchoff, a handsome, dashing young
student, who, with others of his comrades, is expelled
from the University of Heidelberg because of their fre-
quent carousals. They join a body of troopers, Werner
in the capacity of a trumpeter, and go with them to
Sakkingen. While there he has the good fortune to
protect Margaretha, on a saint's fete day, from the rude-
ness of some Hauenstein peasants who are ready for a
revolt against the Baron von Schoenau, her father.
Margaretha, who is in company with the Countess Wilden-
stein, a cousin of the Baron, who has separated from
her husband, gratefully gives Werner a forget-me-not.
The Countess inquires his name of his trooper comrade,
Conradin, and is struck with his resemblance to her son
who had been carried off by gypsies in his childhood.
In the next scene the Baron has received a letter from
Count Wildenstein, in which he states that his second
wife has died, that he wishes to settle the misunderstand-
ing with his first wife, the Countess, and proposes
Damian, his son by the second marriage, as a husband
for Margaretha, — a proposal which the Baron promptly
accepts. When Margaretha enters and tells of her
adventures with Werner, the Baron regrets that his
old trumpeter, Rassmann, is not alive to summon
assistance from the city in case of attack by the
peasants. Margaretha tells him of Werner, and not-
withstanding the Countess' objections, he gives the
position to him.

The second act opens with a love scene between Werner
and Margaretha, which is discovered by the Countess,


who at once informs the Baron. When Werner asks
him for the hand of Margaretha, he not only refuses it,
but orders him to leave the castle. Werner takes his
farewell of Margaretha, and leaves for his old position
with the troopers in the city. Meanwhile the Count
of Wildenstein arrives with Damian, but he makes no
impression upon Margaretha notwithstanding the Baron's

In the last act the denouement comes quickly. The
peasants attack the castle, and the Baron calls upon
Damian to head his retainers and go out to meet the
mob. He proves himself, however, an arrant coward,
and in the midst of his irresolution Werner rides up at
the head of his troopers, performs prodigies of valor,
and saves the inmates of the castle. A birthmark upon
his arm reveals him as the long-lost son of the Countess,
and nothing now stands in the way of Margaretha's and
Werner's felicity.

In the prelude and first act the most noticeable num-
bers are the students' and troopers' choruses, written
in the best German style — the prelude indeed is almost
entirely choral; the peasants' choruses and lively dances
on St. Fridolin's Day; the characteristic growl of the
Baron over his gout and the unreasonable peasants ; and
the charming lyric sung by Margaretha, " How proud and
grand his Bearing." The most conspicuous numbers in
the second act are a lyric, sung by Werner, "On Shore
I played me a merry Tune " ; the love scene between
Margaretha and Werner, " Sun, has thy Light not grown
in Splendor?"; the dramatic quintet, "Must so soon
the Sunshine vanish?"; and Werner's sentimental
and beautiful farewell, " Oh, it is sad that in this Life
below." The principal numbers of the third act are
Margaretha's song, " My Love rode out to the wide,
wide World " ; the May song, " There comes a Youth of


sweet Renown " ; the pantomime and dance composing a
May idyl ; the duet for Margaretha and Werner, " True
Love, I give thee Greeting " ; and the ringing mass chorus,
" Faithful Love and Trumpet blowing," which closes
the opera.


OTTO NICOLAI, a favorite opera composer in Ger-
many, was born at Konigsberg, June 9, 1810, and
died at Berlin, May n, 1849. After studying with his
father for a time, he left home, owing to domestic trouble,
and was sent by a patron to Berlin, where he studied with
Zelter and Klein. Shortly after this he was appointed
organist at the embassy chapel at Rome where he made a
special study of Italian music. From 1841 to 1847 he
was Court Capellmeister at Vienna, succeeding Kreutzer.
In 1842 he founded the Philharmonic Society in that
city. In 1847 he was called to Berlin as Capellmeister
of the opera as well as of the Domchor. He died in that
city. His most important operas are " Der Templer "
(1840); "Die Heimkehr des Verbannten " (1842);
"The Merry Wives of Windsor" (1849). The la st
opera, his masterpiece, was begun in Vienna and finished
in Berlin and its first performance was given only two
months before his death. Besides his operas, Nicolai
wrote a festival overture upon the theme " Em' feste
Burg," which is a great concert favorite, a Te Deum
and Requiem, a few piano compositions, and many

The Merry Wives of Windsor

"The Merry Wives of Windsor," opera comique, in
three acts, text by Mosenthal, was first produced in Ber-
lin, March 9, 1849; i R London, May 3, 1864; in
New York, April 27, 1863. The story of the opera
follows closely that of the Shakespearean comedy,
though the action is principally concerned with Falstaffs


adventures with the merry wives, the attachment between
Fenton and Anne furnishing the romantic incident.
Though the work of a German, the music is largely in
the Italian style, and the dramatic finish is French. It
is unnecessary to indicate the plot in further detail than
to say it includes the receipt of Sir John's amatory
epistles by Mrs. Ford and Mrs. Page, his concealment
among the foul linen in the hamper and subsequent
sousing in the Thames, his sad experiences with Ford's
cudgels, and his painful encounter with the mock fairies,
elves, and other sprites in Windsor Park.

The leading numbers in the opera are a duet for the
two merry wives, opening the opera, in which they read
Falstaff's letters (" No, no, this really is too bad "), closing
with an exquisitely humorous phrase as they pronounce
the name of the writer in unison ; a beautiful little
aria ("Joking and Laughter"), in the Italian style, sung
by Mrs. Ford; and the finale to the first act, beginning
with a serio-comic aria in which Mrs. Ford bewails her
husband's jealousy, followed by a sextet and chorus,
and closing with a highly dramatic aria in which Mrs.
Ford changes from grief to rage and violently denounces

The second act opens with a drinking-song for FalstafT
(' ' Whilst yet a Child on my Mother's Breast "), which, as well
as the accessories of the song, is full of rollicking, bacchana-
lian humor. Falstaff sings one verse, and his followers
drain their huge mugs to the bottom. One of them falls
senselessly drunk, and is immediately borne out upon
the shoulders of his comrades with funereal honors, led
off by Falstaff, all chanting a sort of mock dirge. A de-
scriptive and spirited buffo duet between FalstafT and Ford
follows, in which the former relates his adventures in the
hamper. The only remaining number of consequence
in this act is the romanza, "Hark, the Lark in yonder


2 3S

Grove," sung by Fen ton. The last act is very short, and
made up of a beautiful trio for Mrs. Ford, Mrs. Page,
and Falstaff (" The Bell has pealed the Midnight Chime ") ;
the romantic ballad (" Of Heme, the Hunter, a Legend
old"), and the fairy dance and chorus ("About, about, ye
Elves, about"), which close the opera.


NO name is more familiar in the records of musical
pleasantry and burlesque than that of Jacques
Offenbach, who may be designated the founder of mod-
ern opera bouffe. And no composer in this school has
had such a vogue. He was born in Cologne, June 21,
1 8 19, and died in Paris, October 5, 1880. Though of
German birth, he was a Parisian of the Parisians. He
went to Paris when very young, studied in the Conser-
vatory and was soon playing the 'cello in the Opera Comique
orchestra. In 1849 ^ e became conductor at the Theatre
Francais and in 1855 opened a theatre of his own, the
BoufTes-Parisiens, where many of his works were produced.
From 1872 to 1876 he was manager of the Theatre de
la Gaite and in 1877 ma -de a most successful tour of this
country. The few remaining years of his life were devoted
to composition. He produced one hundred and two works
for the stage, nearly all of which met with tremendous suc-
cess on the French boards and many of them were great
favorites in Germany, England, and the United States. The
furor which they created can only be compared with
that aroused by the Sullivan operettas. From the long
catalogue, the following may be selected as the most im-
portant : "Le Mariage aux Lanternes " (1857); " Orph6e
aux Enfers " (1858); "Genevieve de Brabant" (1859);
" Les Bavards " (1863); " Lischen et Fritzchen" and
"La Belle Helene " (1864); " Barbe Bleue" and " La
Vie Parisienne " (1866) ; " La Grande Duchesse de Gerol-
stein" (1867); "La Perichole " (1868); "La Princesse
de Trebizonde " and " Les Brigands " (1869) ; " La
Jolie Parfumeuse " (1873) ; u ^a Marocaine " and "Mme.


Favart " (1879) ; and " Les Contes d' Hoffmann " (1881).
In making a selection from these for description, three
have been chosen which combine the most characteristic
music with the least objectionable text.

The Grand Duchess of Gerolstein

"The Grand Duchess of Gerolstein," opera bouffe in
three acts, text by Meilhac and Halevy, was first pro-
duced at the Varietes, Paris, April 12, 1867. The scene
is laid in the imaginary duchy of Gerolstein, in the year
1720. "The Grand Duchess of Gerolstein," though in
some respects inferior musically to "Orpheus," by the
same composer, is altogether the most perfect type of
the opera bouffe. For the drollness of its story, the
originality of its characters as well as of its music, its
obstreperous gayety, dash, and geniality mixed with oc-
casional seriousness and grace, this work when it first
appeared was unique, though Offenbach rose to his highest
achievement when dealing with the gods and goddesses
of Olympus in his iC Orpheus," which revealed his powers
of musical burlesque at their best.

The first act opens with a grand review of the army
of the duchy, commanded by the pompous General Bourn,
at which the Duchess is present. In its ranks there is a
recruit, known by the name of Fritz, who has already
aroused the General's jealousy by his attentions to Wanda,
a peasant girl. He continues still further to add to this
jealousy when the Duchess, attracted by his good looks,
singles him out for her regard and promotes him to the
post of corporal. When she learns of his relations to
Wanda, she raises him to the rank of lieutenant, evidently
to separate him from Wanda by the new elevation. The
review over, the Duchess studies the plan of a pending
campaign against a neighboring enemy. She summons
General Bourn in the presence of Baron Puck, her court


chamberlain, Prince Paul, a feeble and neglected suitor
of the Duchess, and Lieutenant Fritz, who is now her
special bodyguard, and asks him for his plan of campaign,
which he states, much to the disgust of Fritz, who de-
clares it to be sheer nonsense. The Duchess then asks the
latter for his plan, and is so much pleased with it that she
appoints him general and raises him to the rank of baron,
much to the discomfort and indignation of the others.

The second act opens with the return of Fritz. He
has been victorious, and at the public reception given him
he tells the story of his adventures. Subsequently, at a
tete-a-tete with the Duchess, she makes open love to
him; but he is so occupied with thoughts of Wanda that
he is insensible to all her advances, which puts her in a
rage. Overhearing a conspiracy between Puck, Paul,
and the deposed General Bourn against his life, she joins
with them, and the act closes with a wild, hilarious dance.

In the third act Baron Grog, emissary of Prince Paul's
father, appears upon the scene to expedite the marriage
of the Prince to the Duchess. He joins the conspiracy
against Fritz, and so ingratiates himself with the Duchess
that she finally consents to marry the Prince. In the
meantime she countermands the order for Fritz's assassi-
nation, and gives him permission to marry Wanda. The
conspirators, however, play a practical joke upon Fritz
by a false message summoning him to the battlefield.
He leaves at once on the wedding-night, but through
the connivance of General Boum is waylaid and badly
beaten. While the betrothal of the Duchess is being
celebrated, Fritz returns in sad plight, with the sabre
which the Duchess had given him in a battered condition.
She adds to his misfortunes by depriving him of his
command and bestowing it upon Baron Grog, but learn-
ing that he has a family, she reinstates General Boum.
In the denouement Fritz is restored to his Wanda
and the Duchess marries Prince Paul.

Mme. Schneider as La Grande Duchesse


The music is in keeping with the drollery of the situa-
tions, and abounds in vivacity and odd descriptiveness,
defying all accepted laws and adapting itself to the gro-
tesquerie and extravagance of the action. The principal
numbers in the first act are the pompous " Pif, paf, pouf "
song of General Boum ; the Grand Duchess's air (" Ah !
que j'aime les militaires ") ; the regiment song for her and
Fritz (" Ah ! c'est un fameux regiment ") ; the couplets of
Prince Paul (" Pour epouser une Princesse ") ; and the
famous sabre song (" Void, le sabre de mon pere "). The
best numbers of the second act are Fritz's spirited rondo
(" En tres bon ordre nous partimes"), in which he tells the
story of his victory ; the romanza (" Dites lui "), a delight-
ful little song, and so refined that it hardly seems to belong
to the opera ; and the conspirators' trio (" Max etait soldat
de fortune "), which is irresistible in its broad humor and
queer rhythms. The musical interest really reaches its
climax in the second act. Outside of the chorus Work in
the third act there is little of interest except the Duchess's
ballad (" II etait un de mes ai'eux "), and Fritz's song to the
Duchess (" Eh bien, Altesse, me voila ! ").

La Belle Helene

"La Belle Helene," opera bouffe in three acts, text by
De Meilhac and Halevy, was first produced at the Theatre
des Varietes, December 17, 1864. In "La Belle Helene"
Offenbach goes back to the mythical period, and presents
the heroes of the time of Helen and Paris in modern bur-
lesque. The first act opens at the temple of Jupiter in
Sparta, where, among others who have placed their offerings
at his shrine, is Helen. When alone with Calchas, the
augur, they discuss some means of avoiding the decree of
the oracle which has declared she is to leave Menelaus, her
husband, and flee with Paris, son of Priam, to Troy. Before
a decision is reached, Paris, disguised as a shepherd, arrives,


and soon he and Helen are lovers. They meet again in
a grand tournament in which the two Ajaxes, Achilles,
Agamemnon, and others announce themselves in the most
comic fashion and guess at conundrums for a prize. Paris
wins, and proclaims his name and lineage, to the joy
of Helen, whose delight is still further enhanced when the
oracle orders Menelaus to set off at once for Crete. ■*

In the second act Helen struggles against the decrees of
Venus. Paris has an interview with her, but she will not
yield, and he retires. By the aid of Calchas he secures ad-
mission to the chamber of the slumbering Queen, when
Menelaus suddenly returns and an altercation ensues, dur-
ing which Paris defies all the Grecian heroes, and Helen
philosophically informs Menelaus he should have announced
his coming beforehand. Paris again retreats, and Helen is
now in despair.

In the third act Helen and Menelaus have a family
quarrel, and he charges her with being false. She denies
it, and declares he has been dreaming. Calchas now ap-
pears, and announces that a new augur has been appointed
and is on his way there. A golden galley is seen approach-
ing, and the augur is found to be Paris himself. He brings
word that Venus is angry at what has been going on,
but will relent if Helen will return with him to her shrine
and sacrifice white heifers. She is reluctant to go, but
finally decides to obey the voice of destiny, and sails away
with him, leaving all behind in grief and Menelaus in rage.

The dialogue of " La Belle Helene " is very witty, though
coarse at times, and many of the situations are full of a
humorous incongruity and drollness growing out of the at-
tempt to modernize these mythological heroes. The music
admirably fits the text, and though not so gay as that of
"The Grand Duchess," yet is fresh, original, and interest-
ing throughout. The chief numbers of the work are Helen's

Online LibraryGeorge P. (George Putnam) UptonThe standard operas: their plots, their music, and their composers → online text (page 17 of 37)