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George P. (George Putnam) Upton.

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

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the villagers arrayed in festival attire in honor of the ap-
proaching wedding ceremonies, singing a bright pastoral
chorus (" Oh, Holy Virgin ! bright and fair "). The finale
of the act is occupied with the development of the scheme
between Lorenzo, Beppo, and Giacomo, to ensnare Fra
Diavolo and compass his death; and with the final trag-
edy, in which Fra Diavolo meets his doom at the hands




Santley as Fra Diavolo



AUBER 9

of the carbineers, but not before he has declared Zerlina's
innocence. This finale is strong and very dramatic, and
yet at the same time simple, natural, and unstudied. The
opera itself is a universal favorite, not alone for its natural-
ness and quiet grace, but for the bright and even boister-
ous humor, which is displayed by the typical English
tourist, who was for the first time introduced in opera by
Scribe. The text is full of spirit and gayety, and these
qualities are admirably reflected in the sparkling music of
Auber. Not one of the books which the versatile Scribe
has supplied for the opera is more replete with incident or
brighter in humor. How well it was adapted for musical
treatment is shown by the fact that " Fra Diavolo " made
Auber' s reputation at the Opera Comique.

Masaniello

" Masaniello," or "La Muette de Portici," lyric opera
in five acts, words by Scribe and Delavigne, was first pro-
duced at Paris, February 29, 1828 ; in English, at London,
May 4, 1829 ; and in Italian, at London, March 15, 1849.
The original cast included Mme. Damoreau-Cinti as Elvira,
Mile. Noblet as Fenella, and M. Massol as Pietro. In
the Italian version, Sig. Mario, Mme. Dorus-Gras, and
Mile. Leroux, a famous mime and dancer, took the princi-
pal parts ; while in its English dress, Braham created one
of the greatest successes on record, and established it as
the favorite opera of Auber among Englishmen.

The scene of the opera is laid near Naples. The first
act opens upon the festivities attending the nuptials of
Alphonso, son of the Duke of Arcos, and the Princess
Elvira. After a chorus of rejoicing, the latter enters and
sings a brilliant cavatina ("O, bel Momenta ") expressive
of her happiness. In the fourth scene the festivities are
interrupted by the appearance of Fenella, the dumb girl,
who implores the princess to save her from Selva, one of



io THE STANDARD OPERAS

the Duke's officers, who is seeking to return her to prison,
from which she has escaped, and where she has been con-
fined at the orders of some unknown cavalier who has
been persecuting her. The part of Fenella is of course
expressed by pantomime throughout. The remainder of
the act is intensely dramatic. Elvira promises to protect
Fenella, and then, after some spirited choruses by the
soldiers, enters the chapel with Alphonso. During the
ceremony Fenella discovers that he is her betrayer. She
attempts to go in, but is prevented by the soldiers. On
the return of the newly wedded pair Fenella meets Elvira
and denounces her husband, and the scene ends with a
genuine Italian finale of excitement.

The second act opens on the seashore, and shows the
fishermen busy with their nets and boats. Masaniello,
brother of Fenella, enters, brooding upon the wrongs of
the people, and is implored by the fishermen to cheer
them with a song. He replies with the barcarole, " Piu
bello sorse il giorno," — a lovely melody, which has been
the delight of all tenors. His friend Pietro enters and
they join in a duet ( " Sara ii morir ") of a most vigorous
and impassioned character, expressive of Masaniello's
grief for his sister and their mutual resolution to strike a
blow for freedom. At the conclusion of the duet he
finds Fenella preparing to throw herself into the sea. He
calls to her and she rushes into his arms and describes to
him the story of her wrongs. He vows revenge, and in a
magnificent, martial finale, which must have been inspired
by the revolutionary feeling with which the whole atmos-
phere was charged at the time Auber wrote (1828),
incites the fishermen and people to rise in revolt against
their tyrannical oppressors.

In the third act, after a passionate aria (" II pianto
rasciuga ") by Elvira, we are introduced to the market-
place, crowded with market-girls and fishermen disposing



AUBER ii

of their fruits and fish. After a lively chorus, a fascinating
and genuine Neapolitan tarantella is danced. The merry
scene speedily changes to one of turmoil and distress.
Selva attempts to arrest Fenella, but the fishermen rescue
her and Masaniello gives the signal for the general upris-
ing. Before the combat begins, all kneel and sing the
celebrated prayer, " Nume del Ciel," taken from one of
Auber's early masses, and one of his most inspired efforts.

The fourth act opens in Masaniello's cottage. He
deplores the coming horrors of the day in a grand aria
("Dio ! di me disponesti ") which is very dramatic in its
quality. Fenella enters, and after describing the tumult in
the city sinks exhausted with fatigue. As she falls asleep
he sings a slumber song ("Scendi, o sonno dal ciel"), a
most exquisite melody, universally known as " L'Air du
Sommeil." It is sung by the best artists mezza voce
throughout, and when treated in this manner never fails
to impress the hearer with its tenderness and beauty. At
its close Pietro enters and once more rouses Masaniello to
revenge by informing him that Alphonso has escaped.
After they leave the cottage, the latter and Elvira enter
and implore protection. Fenella is moved to mercy, and
a concerted number follows in which Masaniello promises
safety and is denounced by Pietro for his weakness. In
the finale, the magistrates and citizens enter, bearing the
keys of the town and the royal insignia, and declare
Masaniello king in a chorus of a very inspiriting and bril-
liant character.

The last act is very powerful, both dramatically and
musically. It opens in the grounds of the Viceroy's
palace, and Vesuvius is seen in the distance, its smoke
portending an eruption. Pietro and companions enter
with wine-cups in their hands, as from a banquet, and the
former sings a barcarole (" Ve' come il vento irato").
At its close other fishermen enter and excitedly announce



12 THE STANDARD OPERAS

that troops are moving against the people, that Vesuvius is
about to burst into flame, and that Masaniello, their
leader, has lost his reason. This is confirmed by the
appearance of the hero in disordered attire, singing music
through which fragments of the fishermen's songs as they
rise in his disturbed brain are filtered. This scene, the
third in the act, is one not only of great power but of
exquisite grace and tenderness, and requires an artist of
the highest rank for its proper presentation. Fenella
rouses him from his dejection, and he once more turns and
plunges into the fight, only to be killed by his own com-
rades. On learning of her brother's death she unites the
hands of Alphonso and Elvira, and then in despair throws
herself into the burning lava of Vesuvius.

" Masaniello " made Auber's fame at the Grand Opera,
as " Fra Diavolo " made it at the Opera Comique, but it
has no points in common with that or any other of his
works. It is serious throughout, and full of power, impet-
uosity, and broad dramatic treatment. Even Richard
Wagner conceded its vigor, bold effects, and original
harmonies. Its melodies are spontaneous, its instrumen-
tation full of color, and its stirring incidents are always
vigorously handled. In comparison with his other works
it seems like an inspiration. It is full of the revolutionary
spirit, and its performance in Brussels in 1830 was the
cause of the riots that drove the Dutch out of Belgium.

The Crown Diamonds

" The Crown Diamonds " (" Les Diamants de la Cou-
ronne"), opera comique, in three acts, words by Scribe
and St. George, one of the most charming of Auber's light
operas, was first produced in Paris in 1841, but its repu-
tation has been made on the English stage. It w r as first
performed in London, at the Princess Theatre, May 2,
1844, with Mme. Anna Thillon, a charming singer and



AUBER 13

most fascinating woman, as Catarina ; but its real success
was made at Drury Lane in 1854 by Louisa Pyne and
Harrison, who took the parts of Catarina and Don Hen-
rique. The other roles, Count de Campo Mayor, Don
Sebastian, Rebolledo, and Diana, were filled by Mr. Horn-
castle, Mr. Reeves, Mr. Borrani, and Miss Pyne, sister of
the preceding, and with this cast the opera ran a hundred
nights.

The story of the opera is laid in Portugal, time, 1777.
The opening scene discloses the ruins of a castle in the
mountains, near the monastery of St. Huberto, where Don
Henrique, nephew of the Count de Campo Mayor, Minis-
ter of Police at Coimbra, overtaken by a storm, seeks
shelter. At the time of his misfortune he is on his way to
take part in the approaching coronation, and also to sign
a marriage contract with his cousin Diana, daughter of the
Minister of Police. He solaces himself with a song
("Roll on, roll on"), during which he hears the blows
of hammers in a distant cavern. Looking about he dis-
covers Rebolledo, the chief of the coiners, and two of his
comrades examining the contents of his trunk which is
in their possession. Don Henrique conceals himself
while Rebolledo is singing a rollicking muleteer's song
("O'er Mountain steep, through Valley roaming"). At
its conclusion Rebolledo, about to summon the other
coiners to their secret work, discovers Don Henrique, and
thinking him a spy rushes upon him. He is saved by the
sudden entrance of Catarina, the leader of the gang, who
tells the story of her life in a concerted number that re-
minds one very strikingly of the bandit song in " Fra
Diavolo." After examining Don Henrique, and, to his
surprise, showing an intimate acquaintance with his pro-
jects, she returns him his property, and allows him to de-
part on condition that he shall not speak for a year of
what he has seen. He consents ; and then follows another



i 4 THE STANDARD OPERAS

of the concerted numbers in which this opera abounds,
and in which occurs a charming rondo (" The young Pe-
drillo"), accompanied by a weird, clanging chorus. Be-
fore he can effect his departure the gang find that they are
surrounded by troops led by Don Sebastian, a friend of
Don Henrique. The coiners, in company with the latter,
however, make their escape in the disguise of monks on
their way to the neighboring monastery, singing a lugubri-
ous chorus ("Unto the Hermit of the Chapel"), while
Catarina and Rebolledo elude the soldiers by taking a sub-
terranean passage, carrying with them a casket containing
some mysterious jewels.

The second act opens in the Chateau de Coimbra, and
discovers the Count, Don Henrique, Don Sebastian, and
Diana. The first scene discloses that Don Henrique is in
love with the mysterious Catarina, and that Diana is in
love with Don Sebastian. In a sportive mood Diana re-
quests Don Henrique to sing with her, and chooses a noc-
turne called " The Brigand," which closes in gay bolero
time ("In the deep Ravine of the Forest"). As they
are singing it, Don Sebastian announces that a carriage
has been overturned and its occupants desire shelter. As
the duet proceeds, Catarina and Rebolledo enter, and a
very flurried quintet ("Oh, Surprise unexpected!") oc-
curs, leading up to an ensemble full of humor, with a
repetition of the brigand song, this time by Catarina and
Diana, and closing with a bravura aria sung by Catarina
("Love! at once I break thy Fetters"). Catarina and
Rebolledo accept the proffered hospitality, but the latter
quietly makes his exit when Diana begins to read an ac-
count of a robbery which contains a description of himself
and his companion. Catarina remains, however, in spite
of Don Henrique's warning that she is in the house of the
Minister of Police. In a moment of passion he declares
his love for her and begs her to fly with him. She



AUBER 15

declines his proffer, but gives him a ring as a souvenir. A
pretty little duet (" If I could but Courage feel ") ensues
between Diana and Don Henrique, in which she gently
taunts him with his inattention to her and his sudden in-
terest in the handsome stranger. At this juncture the
Count enters in wild excitement over the announcement
that the crown jewels have been stolen. Don Henrique's
ring is recognized as one of them, and in the excitement
which ensues, Catarina finds herself in danger of discov-
ery, from which she is rescued by Diana, who promises
Don Henrique she will send her away in the Count's car-
riage if he will agree to refuse to sign the marriage con-
tract. He consents, and she departs upon her errand.
At this point in the scene Don Henrique sings the beau-
tiful ballad, " Oh, whisper what thou feelest ! " originally
written for Mr. Harrison. This song leads up to a stirring
finale, in which Don Henrique refuses to sign the contract
and Catarina makes her escape.

The last act opens in the anteroom of the royal palace
at Lisbon, where Diana is waiting for an audience with the
Queen. She sings another interpolated air, originally
written for Louisa Pyne (" When Doubt the tortured Frame
is rending " ), and at its close the Count, Don Henrique,
and Don Sebastian enter. While they are conversing,
Rebolledo appears, announced as the Count Fuentes, and
a quintet occurs, very slightly constructed, but full of
humor. An usher interrupts it by announcing that the
Queen will have a private audience with the Count. While
awaiting her, the latter, in a monologue, lets us into the
secret that the real crown jewels have been pledged for
the national debt, and that he has been employed to make
duplicates of them to be worn on state occasions until the
real ones can be redeemed. The Queen enters, and ex-
presses her satisfaction with the work, and promotes him
to the position of Minister of Secret Police. On his



16 THE STANDARD OPERAS

departure she sings a charming cavatina (" Love, dwell with
me "), and at its close Count de Campo Mayor enters with
the decision of the Council that she shall wed the Prince
of Spain. She protests that she will make her own choice.
The Count seeks to argue with her, when she threatens to
confiscate his estate for allowing the crown jewels to be
stolen, and commands him to arrest his daughter and
nephew for harboring the thieves. Diana suddenly enters,
and an amusing trio ensues, the Queen standing with her
back to Diana lest -she may be discovered. The latter
fails to recognize her as Catarina, and implores pardon for
assisting in her escape. The situation is still further com-
plicated by the appearance of Don Henrique, who has no
difficulty in recognizing Catarina. Bewildered at her pres-
ence in the Queen's apartments, he declares to Diana that
he will seize her and fly to some distant land. His rash
resolution, however, is thwarted by his arrest, on the au-
thority of the Queen, for treason. A martial finale intro-
duces us to the Queen in state. Don Henrique rushes
forward to implore mercy for Catarina. The Queen re-
veals herself at last, and announces to her people that she
has chosen Don Henrique, who has loved her for herself,
for her husband and their king. And thus closes one of
the most sparkling, melodious, and humorous of Auber's
works. What the concerted numbers lack in solidity
of construction is compensated for by their grace and
sweetness.



BALFE

MICHAEL WILLIAM BALFE was born at Dublin,
Ireland, May 15, 1808. Of all the English opera
composers, his career was the most versatile, as his success,
for a time at least, was the most remarkable. At seven
years of age he scored a polacca of his own for a band.
In his eighth year he appeared as a violinist, and in his
tenth was composing ballads. At sixteen he was playing
in the Drury Lane orchestra, and about this time began
taking lessons in composition. In 1825, aided by the
generosity of a patron, he went to Italy, where for three
years he studied singing and counterpoint. In his, twen-
tieth year he met Rossini, who offered him an engagement
as first baritone at the Italian Opera in Paris. He made
his debut with success in 1828, and at the close of his
engagement returned to Italy, where he appeared again on
the stage. About this time (182 9- 1830) he began writ-
ing Italian operas, and before he left Italy had produced
three which met with considerable success. In 1835 ne
returned to England ; and it was in this year that his first
English opera, the " Siege of Rochelle," was produced. It
was played continuously at Drury Lane for over three
months. In 1836 the « Maid of Artois" ; in 1837, "Cath-
arine Grey " and "Joan of Arc " ; and in 1838, " Falstaff"
were produced. During these years he was still singing in
concerts and opera, and in 1840 appeared as manager of
the Lyceum. His finest works were produced after this
date, — " The Bohemian Girl " in 1843 ; " The Enchant-
ress " in 1844 ; " The Rose of Castile," " La Zingara," and
" Satanella " in 1858, and "The Puritan's Daughter" in



1 8 THE STANDARD OPERAS

1 86 1. His last opera was " The Knight of the Leopard,"
known in Italian as " II Talismano," which has also been
produced in English as " The Talisman." He married
Mile. Rosen, a German singer, whom he met in Italy in
1835; and his daughter Victoire, who subsequently mar-
ried Sir John Crampton, and afterwards the Due de Frias,
also appeared as a singer in 1856. Balfe died October
20, 1870, upon his own estate in Hertfordshire. The
analyses of his two operas which are best known in this
country — " The Bohemian Girl " and " The Rose of
Castile " — will contain sufficient reference to his ability
as a composer.

The Bohemian Girl

"The Bohemian Girl," grand opera in three acts, words
by Bunn, adapted from St. George's ballet of " The Gypsy,"
which appeared at the Paris Grand Opera in 1839, — itself
taken from a romance by Cervantes, — was first produced
in London, November 27, 1843, at Drury Lane, with the
following cast :

Arline . Miss Romer.

Thaddeus Mr. Harrison.

Gypsy Queen Miss Betts.

Devilshoof Mr. Stretton.

Count Amheim Mr. Borrani.

Florestein Mr. Durnset.

The fame of " The Bohemian Girl " was not confined to
England. It was translated into various European lan-
guages, and was one of the few English operas which
secured a favorable hearing even in critical Germany.
In its Italian form it was produced at Drury Lane as " La
Zingara," February 6, 1858, with Mile. Piccolomini as
Arline ; and also had the honor of being selected for the state
performance connected with the marriage of the Princess
Royal. The French version, under the name of " La



BALFE 19

Boh£mienne," for which Balfe added several numbers,
besides enlarging it to five acts, was produced at the
Theatre Lyrique, Paris, in December, 1869, and gained
for him the Cross of the Legion of Honor.

The scene of the opera is laid in Austria, and the first
act introduces us to the chateau and grounds of Count
Arnheim, Governor of Presburg, whose retainers are pre-
paring for the chase. After a short chorus the Count
enters with his little daughter Arline and his nephew
Florestein. The Count sings a short solo (" A Soldier's
Life"), and as the choral response by his retainers and
hunters dies away and they leave the scene, Thaddeus, a
Polish exile and fugitive, rushes in excitedly, seeking to
escape the Austrian soldiers. His opening number (" 'Tis
sad to leave your Fatherland ") is a very pathetic song.
At its end a troop of gypsies enter, headed by Devils-
hoof, singing a blithe chorus (" In the Gypsy's Life you
may read "). He hears Thaddeus's story and induces
him to join them. Before the animated strains fairly
cease, Florestein and some of the hunters dash across the
grounds in quest of Arline, who has been attacked by a
stag. Thaddeus, seizing a rifle, joins them, and rescues
the child by killing the animal. The Count overwhelms
him with gratitude, and urges him to join in the coming
festivities. He consents, and at the banquet produces a
commotion by refusing to drink the health of the Emperor.
The soldiers are about to rush upon him, when Devilshoof
interferes. The gypsy is arrested for his temerity, and
taken into the castle. Thaddeus departs and the festivities
are resumed, but are speedily interrupted again by the
escape of Devilshoof, who takes Arline with him. The
finale of the act is very stirring, and contains one number,
a prayer ("Thou who in Might supreme"), which is
extremely effective.
' Twelve years elapse between the first and second acts,



20 THE STANDARD OPERAS

and during this time Count Arnheim has received no
tidings of Arline, and has given her up as lost forever.
The act opens in the gypsy camp in the suburbs of Presburg.
Arline is seen asleep in the tent of the Queen, with Thad-
deus watching her. After a quaint little chorus ("Silence,
Silence, the Lady Moon ") sung by the gypsies, they de-
part in quest of plunder, headed by Devilshoof, and soon
find their victim in the person of the foppish and half-
drunken Florestein, who is returning from a revel. He is
speedily relieved of his jewelry, among which is a medallion,
which is carried off by Devilshoof. As the gypsies disap-
pear, Arline wakes and relates her dream to Thaddeus in
a joyous song (" I dreamed I dwelt in Marble Halls "),
which is a favorite with every one. At the close of the
ballad Thaddeus tells her the meaning of the scar upon
her arm, and reveals himself as her rescuer, but does not
disclose to her the mystery of her birth. The musical
dialogue, with its ensemble, " The Secret of her Birth,"
will never lose its charm. Thaddeus declares his love for
her just as the Queen, who is also in love with Thaddeus,
enters. Arline also confesses her love for Thaddeus, and,
according to the custom of the tribe, the Queen unites
them, at the same time vowing vengeance against the
pair.

The scene now changes to a street in the city. A great
fair is in progress, and the gypsies, as usual, resort to it.
Arline enters at their head, joyously singing, to the accom-
paniment of the rattling castanets, " Come with the Gypsy
Bride " ; her companions, blithely tripping along, respond-
ing with the chorus, " In the Gypsy's Life you may read."
They disappear down the street and reappear in the public
plaza. Arline, the Queen, Devilshoof, and Thaddeus sing an
unaccompanied quartet ("From the Valleys and Hills"),
a number which for grace and flowing harmony deserves a
place in any opera. As they mingle among the people an



BALFE 21

altercation occurs between Arline and Florestein, who has
attempted to insult her. The Queen recognizes Florestein
as the owner of the medallion, and for her courage in
resenting the insult maliciously presents Arline with it.
Shortly afterwards he observes the medallion on Arline's
neck, and has her arrested for theft. The next scene
opens in the hall of justice. Count Arnheim enters with
a sad countenance, and as he observes Arline's portrait,
gives vent to his sorrow in that well-known melancholy
reverie, "The Heart bowed down," which has become
famous the world over. Arline is brought before him for
trial. As it progresses he observes the scar upon her arm
and asks its cause. She tells the story which Thaddeus had
told her, and this solves the mystery. The Count recog-
nizes his daughter, and the act closes with a beautiful
ensemble ("Praised be the Will of Heaven").

The last act opens in the salon of Count Arnheim.
Arline is restored to her old position, but her love for
Thaddeus remains. He finds an opportunity to have a
meeting with her, through the cunning of Devilshoof, who
accompanies him. He once more tells his love in that
tender and impassioned song, " When other Lips and
other Hearts," and she promises to be faithful to him. As
the sound of approaching steps is heard, Thaddeus and
his companion conceal themselves. A large company
enter, and Arline is presented to them. During the
ceremony a closely veiled woman appears, and when
questioned acknowledges she is the Gypsy Queen. She
reveals the hiding-place of her companions, and Thaddeus
is dragged forth and ordered to leave the house. Arline
declares her love for him, and her intention to go with
him. She implores her father to relent. Thaddeus avows
his noble descent, and boasts his ancestry and deeds in
battle in that stirring martial song, "When the fair Land
of Poland." The Count finally yields and gives his



22 THE STANDARD OPERAS

daughter to Thaddeus. The Queen, filled with rage and



Online LibraryGeorge P. (George Putnam) UptonThe standard operas: their plots, their music, and their composers → online text (page 2 of 37)