George P. (George Putnam) Upton.

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

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music been more closely adapted to characters than that
which Puccini has furnished.

In the first act the four Bohemians are seen in their
garret plunged in despair over their empty pockets. Ro-
dolphe contributes his manuscripts to keep the fire alive,
and Marcel holds off the landlord until Schaunard, who
has had an unexpected streak of good fortune, arrives.
Three of them at once go off to a cafe to enjoy Christmas
Eve while Rodolphe remains behind to write. All this
is but a prelude to the entrance of Mimi, the embroiderer,
upon the pretext of getting a light. A love scene follows
between her and Rodolphe and the two go to join their
friends in the Latin Quarter, the little grisette happy as
a bird, and Rodolphe in high spirits as they stroll arm
in arm through the crowds, though Mimi is aware that
a fatal malady has already touched her. The next scene
really develops the character of Musette, and passes in the
street before the Cafe Momus where Musette appears, es-
corted by a wealthy banker. She has little difficulty in
getting rid of the banker and flying to the arms of Marcel,
her old lover. The third act is full of quarrels and re-
conciliations between the two pairs of lovers, mingled
with a vein of comedy, and the fourth act is dominated
by the pathetic death of little Mimi.

There are few set pieces in " La Boheme " to be



described. The music is adapted to the characters and
illustrates all the varying shades of gayety, tenderness,
and pathos with a rich flow of melody, unique concerted
effects, and most effective orchestration. It is Italian music
throughout, but Italian music was never more deftly em-
ployed than in this remarkable picture of human emotions.
The striking numbers in the first act are the colloquies be-
tween the four Bohemians which are preliminary to the
fascinating love duet between Mimi and Rodolfo (" Mi
chiamano Mimi"), closing with his rapturous outburst of
passion (" O soave fanciulla "). The second act is a carnival
of gayety and the street scene before the cafe furnishes op-
portunity for gay choruses of the most typical description вАФ
for soldiers, students, servants, working girls, grisettes, pedlers,
and venders of cakes, candies, fruits, and delicacies mingle
in a crowd of the motliest sort, each having characteristic
bits of chorus, and all handled with consummate skill in
concerted effect. The gem of the gay scene, however, is
Musette's lively waltz and the rhythms of music sung by
the four students. The principal numbers in the third act
are the music to the separation of Mimi and Rodolfo at
the barriers (" Addio, senza rancore "), which is set off in
strong contrast with the quarrel scene of Musette and Mar-
cel, in which they hurl epithets at each other (" Che mi
gridi? Che mi canti?"). The music of the fourth act is
tragic throughout and culminates in the pathetic duet be-
tween Mimi and Rodolfo (" Sono audati ? Fingeos di
dormire ") after she has been brought back to the students'
attic to die. Musically as well as dramatically it is a scene
of absorbing interest and comes nearer to inspiration than
most of the music of the modern Italian school. The
whole score is so melodic that it is an ungrateful task to
single out particular numbers.

Adelaide Norwood as Tosca


La Tosca

"La Tosca," opera in three acts, text by Giacosa and
Illica, after Sardou's melodrama of the same name, was
first produced at the Costanzi Theatre, Rome, in January,
1900. It was brought out in London during the same year,
with Ternina, Scotti, and De Lucia in the principal roles,
and was first heard in this country in New York, February
4, 1901, with the following cast;

Floria Tosca Mme. Milk a Ternina.

Mario Cavaradossi Sig. Cremonini.

Cesar Angelotti Sig. Dufriche.

II Sagrestano Sig. Gilibert.

Spoletta Sig. Bars.

Scianone Sig. Viviani.

Scarpia Sig. SCOTTI.

The story is repulsive but intensely dramatic. The first
act opens in the Church of Saint Andrea alia Valle. Cava-
radossi, a painter, working in the church, is visited by his
mistress, Floria Tosca. Meanwhile, Cesar Angelotti, a
political prisoner, seeks refuge in the church and conceals
himself in the chapel. A love scene follows between the
painter and Tosca. Angelotti, warned that his escape has
been discovered, hurries away with the painter's help to the
latter's villa. A crowd pours into the church to celebrate a
victoiy over Napoleon, among them Scarpia, the chief of
police, who has tracked Angelotti there and finds evidences
of the prisoner's recent presence. Angelotti's sister had
left a woman's dress as a disguise for him and in the hurry
of the escape a fan was dropped which makes Tosca sus-
pect that her lover had left with some woman as his

In the second act Cavaradossi is found at Tosca's villa
and is arrested by Scarpia's orders in the hope of finding
Angelotti's hiding place. Scarpia conspires to secure Tosca


by torturing Cavaradossi, but he reveals nothing. In des-
peration, Tosca secretly informs him of Angelotti's hiding
place, and her lover is imprisoned. Angelotti is found but
escapes by suicide. Scarpia thereupon presents the hideous
alternative to Tosca of her lover's instant death or her own
dishonor. Tosca agrees to yield if he will first sign a per-
mit for herself and Cavaradossi to leave the city the next
morning. Scarpia thereupon orders his deputy to have
a mock execution by firing blank cartridges, and while
signing the permit is stabbed by Tosca.

In the last act Tosca visits her lover in the prison and
tells him of the feigned execution and a long love scene
follows. Then comes the execution, but it is a real one,
for the soldiers have unwittingly killed him. At the same
time, Scarpia's guards appear upon the scene in quest of
Tosca, for they have heard of their master's death and
know that she killed him. As Tosca sees them and be-
comes aware of their purpose she leaps to death from the
prison ramparts.

There is no overture to "La Tosca." Three gloomy
chords, the motive of Scarpia, are sounded and the curtain
rises upon the church interior. Nearly all the first act is
occupied by the dialogue music between Cavaradossi, An-
gelotti, the Sacristan and Tosca, which is smoothly and
melodiously written, followed by Cavaradossi's charming
aria (" Recondita Armonia") leading up to his duet with
Tosca, in which occurs a very beautiful passage for the lat-
ter (" Non la sospire "). The interruption of the number
by the entrance of choristers, seminarians, and the people
to celebrate the victory prepares the way for a finale of much
power and brilliancy of effect in which Scarpia's furious
soliloquy ("Va, Tosca, nel tuo cuor s'annida Scarpia")
is sung against the ringing of bells, booming of cannon,
pealing of the organ and the Te Deum of the choristers.

The second act is not rich in set numbers. Its music

Scotti as Scarpia

Copyright, Burr Mcintosh


mainly accompanies and sets forth the spirit of the action
in quick but graphic musical dialogue. The most striking
effect is the gavotte music at the Queen's entertainment in
honor of the victory and the singing of the cantata by
Tosca and chorus behind the scenes, while Cavaradossi
is undergoing examination and horrible torture at Scarpia's
hands, and the tragedy music in the finale, with Tosca's
imploring appeal to Scarpia ("Vissi d'arte e d'amour,
no feci ").

The third act opens more quietly and upon a gentler
scene, made attractive by the shepherds' snatches of song,
blending with delightful bits of orchestral music and the
distant sound of bells. The rural quiet, however, is soon
disturbed by the approaching tragedy. Cavaradossi bids
his farewell to Tosca, to the accompaniment of a delight-
ful 'cello obbligato, followed by his mournful soliloquy
(" E lucevan le stelle "), and the duet with Tosca, ending
" O dolci mani." As the duet closes, action and music
rush swiftly to the tragic denouement and the ghastly story
ends in melodramatic music of the most intense kind.


LOUIS ETIENNE ERNEST REY, usually known as
j Ernest Reyer, was born at Marseilles, December i,
1823. He first studied in the free municipal school of music
in that city, and then took a position in the office of his
uncle, who was a paymaster in Algiers. Even , there he
continued the study of music, and when in 1848 he went
to Paris he entered actively upon the pursuit of the art.
He wrote many transcriptions and melodies, and at last
produced his first public work, " Le Selam," a symphonic
ode with chorus, in which he recorded his impressions of
Oriental life. His first stage work was " Maitre Wolfram "
(1854), a one-act comedy opera, and this was followed by
"Sakonntala" (1858), "La Statue" (1861), " Erostrate"
(1862), "Sigurd" (1884), and "Salammbo" (1890).
Reyer has also written many cantatas, songs, and dramatic
scenas. He succeeded Berlioz as librarian at the Opera,
was elected to the Academy in 1876, and was an officer of
the Legion of Honor in 1886.


"Sigurd," opera in four acts, text by Du Locle and Blau,
was first produced at the Theatre Monnaie, Brussels,
January 7, 1884, with Mme. Rose Caron, Mme. Bosnian,
Mme. Deschamps, and Mm. Jourdain, Devries, Gresse,
Renaud, Boussa, Goeffoel, Mansuede and Stalport in the
principal parts. The subject of the opera is taken from
the Eddas, and closely resembles in certain scenes Wag-
ner's " Gotterdammerung " and " Siegfried," though it was
written a long time before either of these music-dramas


were performed. In fact " Sigurd " was not brought out
in Paris until eighteen years after it was written. There is
no ground for the accusation sometimes made that Reyer
is an imitator. He has simply used some of the same
materials employed by Wagner, but musically has treated
them in an entirely different manner.

A long overture gives out several of the leading melodies
of the opera. The first act opens in Gunther's palace, and
discloses women embroidering battle standards and singing
the martial chorus ("Brodons des etendards et preparons
des armes "). Hilda, Gunther's sister, and her nurse,
Uta, are in the group, and Hilda relates a dream which
troubles her, and which is interpreted by Uta in a long and
very dramatic aria ("Je sais des secrets merveilleux ") to
mean that her coming husband will be killed by a jealous
rival. Hilda, whose hand is sought by Attila, king of
the Huns, reveals the secret of her love for Sigurd (Sieg-
fried). Uta assures her that she will bring Sigurd to her
and give him a love potion. Attila's messengers arrive
and are welcomed by Gunther, and the story is told of
Brunehild sleeping amid the fire-guarded rocks in a scena
of great power, accompanied by festive music ("C'etait
Brunehild, la plus belle"). Gunther resolves to win her.
Then follows an interview between Hilda and Gunther, in
which the latter presses Attila's suit, but before she can
make reply a trumpet peal is heard, announcing Sigurd,
whose entrance aria is one of great vigor (" Prince de
Rhin, au pays de mon pere "). Gunther and Sigurd de-
clare their friendship for each other in the duet, " Nous
nous promettons devant vous." Hilda advances with
Uta's magic draught, which Sigurd drinks. He at once
falls in love with her, and her hand is promised to him in
consideration of his helping Gunther to win Brunehild.

The second act opens in Brunehild's land with a chorus
of priests (" Dieux terribles qui vous plaisez ") engaged in


the worship of Odin and Freja. The rites are interrupted
by the appearance of Sigurd, Gunther, and Hagen, who,
in a strong scena (" O Brunehild, O vierge annee "), an-
nounce their errand. The priests and worshippers warn
them that no one can succeed except one who has never
known love. As Sigurd alone is fitted for the task, in the
next scene we find him in the forest, where he sings an
aria of great power and melodic beauty ("Le bruit des
chants s'eteint dans la foret immense "). He has been in-
structed to sound the horn given him by the priests three
times. After an invocation to Hilda he blows a blast and
is shown three Norns washing a shroud at a spring, which
they intimate is for him. Sigurd prepares to sound an-
other blast and is assailed by supernatural beings, but he
overcomes them, and then they tempt him in a voluptuous
scene, but in vain. At last the lake near by turns to a
lake of fire, with a palace of fire rising from it. Nothing
daunted he plunges in. The scene changes. Led by the
Norns, he calls to Brunehild. She awakes, and at once
offers her love to Sigurd in the brilliant aria, " Salut, splen-
deur du jour." Sigurd, faithful to Gunther, however,
bids her follow him, and he leads her away with a drawn
sword between them.

The third act opens in Gunther' s gardens. Spirit voices
are heard invoking the king's presence ("A la voix des
esprits de 1'air"), and a dramatic scene ensues in which
Hilda and Uta overhear Sigurd's announcement of his
success. Brunehild, who has been taken to the garden
while sleeping by the spirits, wakes to find Gunther pro-
testing his love for her, which she accepts, thinking him
Sigurd, in a brilliant aria (" Vetu de fer, la visiere bais-
see"), followed by a powerful duet. The scene changes,
and Hagen announces to the people the forthcoming nup-
tials of Gunther and Brunehild, accompanied by pageantry
music and triumphal march (" Semons ces bords de joncs


et de rameaux fleuris "), and followed by a brilliant ballet,
after which the king prepares to go to the sacred grove.
At this instant Sigurd appears and claims Hilda ("Roi
Gunther, digne fils des heros"). Gunther consents and
bids Brunehild join their hands. As she does so, both
Brunehild and Sigurd exclaim that their hands burn. The
act closes with the brilliant wedding march to the grove
(" Frappons les airs joyeux ").

In the last act the people are told that Brunehild is suffer-
ing from a mysterious malady, and they shrink away from
her whenever she appears. In a long and powerful scena
(" O palais radieux de la voute etoilee ") she confesses her
love for Sigurd and implores Odin to destroy her. Hilda
seeks to comfort her but Brunehild observes she is wearing a
girdle which Sigurd took from her on the night of her de-
liverance. She realizes the trick played upon her and an
excited scena of jealousy follows (" Sigurd m'aime ! Si,
brisant ma chaine"). Brunehild dispels the influence of
Uta's potion with a charm, and Sigurd's love changes.
After a powerful and most passionate duet with Brunehild
(" Avec ces fleurs que l'eau traine en courant "), Sigurd goes
hunting with Gunther. Hilda offers to save Sigurd from
death at the hands of his rival if Brunehild will reject his love,
but while she hesitates, Gunther slays him, and his body is
brought in. Brunehild mounts the funeral pyre and a pow-
erful apotheosis closes the opera (" Oublions les maux
soufferts "), as their spirits are borne upward to paradise
to the accompaniment of the celestial choir (" Pour vous les
cieux ouvert ").


1UIGI RICCI was born at Naples, July 8, 1805, and
j died at Prague, December 31, 1859. His first work
was an opera buffa, " L'Impresario in angustie " (1823).
In 1836 he was appointed capellmeister of the Trieste cath-
edral, and was also choral director in the theatre at the
same city. He wrote in all thirty operas, besides several
masses, requiems, choruses, and songs. The best known
of his operas is " Crispino e la Comare," which was written
in collaboration with his brother Federico, and was brought
out at Venice in 1850. The two brothers wrote four operas
together. Luigi Ricci died in an asylum at Prague shortly
after producing his opera, " II diavolo a quattro." Fede-
rico, who was four years younger than Luigi, died at
Conegliano in 1877.


" Crispino," opera buffa, in three acts, text by Piave,
was first produced in Venice in 1850. The first act of this
charming little fairy opera opens with a unison chorus of
apothecary's apprentices (" Batti, batti "). Crispino, a poor
cobbler, over head and ears in debt, whose wife Annetta tries
to help him out by ballad singing, is seated at his bench at
work in front of his house. In the intervals of the chorus the
Count, who figures in a side plot, sings a beautiful romanza
(" Bella siccome un angelo "). Then Crispino bewails his
hard fortune in a quaint melody (" Una volta un ciabat-
tino "), after which Annetta introduces herself with a canzo-
netta (" Istorie belle a leggere "), leading up to a minor duet
between them. In the sixth scene a buffo aria (" lo sono un


po' filosofo ") is sung by Dr. Fabrizio. At last Crispino
gets into such desperate straits that he resolves to make
away with himself. He is about to jump into a well when a
fairy appears and dissuades him, at the same time giving
him a purse of gold and offering to set him up in business
as a doctor, telling him he must look about him whenever
he has a patient, and if she is not present he will be suc-
cessful. The act closes with a duet for Crispino and
Annetta ("Troppo so, basta per ora ").

The second act discloses Crispino in the midst of a flour-
ishing business, and the delighted Annetta sings a joyous
little melody (" Io non sono piu l'Annetta "). A workman
who has met with an accident is brought to Crispino for
treatment, and as the fairy is not present he is successful.
The musical handling of the healing scene is worked up
with great skill. It begins with a baritone solo, leading up
to a duet with soprano and chorus accompaniment. A sex-
tet then takes up the theme, and in the close all on the
stage give it with impressive effect. A broadly humorous
but very melodious trio of the doctors follows (" Ma, signori,
perche tantes questione?"). In the next scene Annetta
sings the pretty Fritola song (" Piero mio, go qua una
fritola ") in which she boasts the merits of a cake she
has made for the Carnival. Meanwhile Crispino grows so
puffed up with his wealth that when Annetta invites some
old friends to the house he drives them out, and is about
to strike Annetta when the fairy suddenly appears.

In the last act the fairy has taken Crispino to a cavern,
where she shows him crystal vases in which more or less
brilliant lights are burning. She tells him that each repre-
sents a human life. The one burning brightly is Annetta's,
the one dimly is his own. When he asks her to take some oil
out of Annetta's lamp and put it into his, she upbraids him,
reveals herself as Death, and tells him to make his last
request, for he is about to die. In a doleful ballad (" Poco


cerco, mia Comare "), he asks for only a half hour more,
so that he may see Armetta and the children. A sudden
change of scene shows him in his own house, awaking from
sleep in his chair. As he realizes that it has been only a
nightmare, occasioned by a sudden fit of illness, he mani-
fests his delight and Annetta expresses her joy in a brilliant
waltz movement (" Non ha gioia in tal momento "), which
closes the opera.


Pesaro, Italy, February 29, 1792. He first studied
with Tesei, and as a lad also appeared upon the stage as a
singer. In 1807 he was admitted to the class of Padre
Mattei at the Bologna Conservatory, where he took a prize
for a cantata at the end of his first year. At the beginning
of his career in Italy he was commissioned to write an opera
for Venice. It was " La Cambiale di Matrimonio," an
opera buffa in one act, and was produced in 1810. During
the next three years he wrote several works for Venice and
Milan, which were successful, but none of them created
such a furor as " Tancredi." This was followed by " U
Italiana in Algeri," " Aureliano in Palmira," and " II Turco
in Italia." In 1815 "The Barber of Seville" appeared.
Strange as it may seem, it was at first condemned, not on
its merits, but because the composer had trenched, as it was
supposed, upon the ground already occupied by the favorite
Paisiello, though he applied to the latter before writing it,
and received his assurances that he had no objection to his
use of the same subject. " Otello " followed the " Barber "
at Naples in 1816, and " Cenerentola " in 1817, and both
were extraordinarily successful. "Gazza Ladra" was pro-
duced at Milan in 181 7, and was followed by " Armida "
at Naples in the same year. His next great work was the
oratorio, "Moses in Egypt," which is also given as opera.
" Donna del Lago," based upon Sir Walter Scott's " Lady
of the Lake," was produced at Naples in 1819. The same
year he opened the Carnival in Milan with " Bianca e


Faliero," and before its close he produced "Maometto
Secondo " at Naples. During the next two or three years
his muse was very prolific, and in 1823 " Semiramide," an-
other of his great works, appeared and made an enthusiastic
success at Venice. That year he went to London and gave
concerts, in which he sang, and thence to Paris, which was
ever afterwards his home. His greatest work for Paris was
" William Tell," which was produced in 1829, and it was also
his last, though by an arrangement with the Government of
Charles X it was to be the first of a series of five. The
revolution of 1830 destroyed his plans. In 1836 he heard
Meyerbeer's " Les Huguenots," and resolved to write no
more. Four years before this he had written the " Stabat
Mater," but it was not produced complete until 1842. From
this time on he lived at his villa at Passy the life of a volup-
tuary, and died there November 13, 1868. The catalogue
of his works is immense, including fifty operas alone.

The Barber of Seville

" II Barbiere di Siviglia," opera buffa in two acts,
words by Sterbini, founded on Beaumarchais's comedy,
was first produced at the Argentina Theatre, Rome,
February 5, 1816, with the following cast:

Rosina Mme. Giorgi Righettl

Berta Mile. Rossi.

Figaro Sig. Luigi Zamboni.

Count Almaviva Sig. Garcia.

Bartolo . Sig. Botticelli.

Basilio Sig. Vittarelli.

The story of the writing of " The Barber of Seville "
is of more than ordinary interest. Rossini had engaged
to write two operas for the Roman Carnival of 18 16.
The first was brought out December 26, 18 15, and the
same day he bound himself to furnish the second by
January 20, 18 16, with no knowledge of what the libretto


would be. Sterbini furnished him with the story of the
" Barber " by piecemeal, and as fast as the verses were
given him he wrote the music. The whole work was
finished in less than three weeks. Its original title was
" Almaviva, ossia F inutile precauzione," to distinguish it
from Paisiello's " Barber of Seville." The original over-
ture was lost in some manner, and that of " Aureliano "
substituted. In the scene beneath Rosina's balcony,
Garcia introduced a Spanish air of his own which failed,
and before the second performance Rossini wrote the
beautiful cavatina, " Ecco ridente il cielo " in its place,
the melody borrowed from the opening chorus of his
"Aureliano," and that in turn from his "Giro in Babi-
lonia." The subject of the effective trio (" Zitti, zitti ")
was taken from Haydn's " Seasons," and the aria sung
by the duenna Berta (" II vecchietto cerca moglie "), from
a Russian melody he had heard a lady sing in Rome
and introduced for her sake. For the music-lesson scene
Rossini wrote a trio which has been lost ; and thus an
opportunity has been given Rosinas to interpolate what
they please.

The scene of the opera is laid at Seville, Spain. Count
Almaviva has fallen in love with Rosina, the ward of Dr.
Bartolo, with whom she resides, and who wishes to marry
her himself. After serenading his mistress, who knows
him only by the name of Count Lindoro, he prevails
upon Figaro, the factotum of the place, to bring about
an interview with her. In spite of her guardian's watch-
fulness, as well as that of Don Basilio, her music teacher,
who is helping Bartolo in his schemes, she informs the
Count by letter that she returns his passion. With
Figaro's help he succeeds in gaining admission to the
house disguised as a drunken dragoon, but this stratagem
is foiled by the entrance of the guard, who arrest him.
A second time he secures admission, disguised as a music


teacher, and pretending that he has been sent by Don
Basilio, who is ill, to take his place. To get into Bar-
tolo's confidence he produces Rosina's letter to himself,

Online LibraryGeorge P. (George Putnam) UptonThe standard operas: their plots, their music, and their composers → online text (page 19 of 37)