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George P. (George Putnam) Upton.

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

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and promises to persuade her that the letter has been
given him by a mistress of the Count, and thus break
off the connection between the two. By this means he
secures the desired interview, and an elopement and
private marriage are planned. In the midst of the ar-
rangements, however, Don Basilio puts in an appearance,
and the disconcerted lover makes good his escape. Mean-
while Bartolo, who has Rosina's letter, succeeds in arousing
the jealousy of his ward with it, who thereupon discloses
the proposed elopement and promises to marry her
guardian. At the time set for the elopement the Count
and Figaro appear. A reconciliation is easily effected,
a notary is at hand, and they are married just as Bartolo
makes his appearance with officers to arrest the Count.
Mutual explanations occur, however, and all ends happily.
The first act opens after a short chorus, with the
serenade (" Ecco ridente in cielo "), the most beautiful
song in the opera. It begins with a sweet and expressive
largo and concludes with a florid allegro, and is followed
by a chorus in which the serenaders are dismissed. In
the second scene Figaro enters, and after some brief
recitatives sings the celebrated buffo aria ( " Largo al
factotum "), in which he gives an account of his numerous
avocations. The aria is full of life and gayety, and won-
derfully adapted to the style of the mercurial Figaro.
A light and lively duet between Figaro and the Count,
closing with the sprightly melody, " Ah ! che d'amore,"
leads up to the chamber aria of Rosina, so well known
on the concert stage (" Una voce poco fa "), which is
not only very expressive and of great compass, but is
remarkably rich in ornamentation. A short dialogue in
recitative then occurs between Bartolo and Basilio, in



ROSSINI 273

which they plot to circumvent Rosina by calumny, which
gives occasion for the Calumny aria, as it is generally
known (" La Calunnia "), a very sonorous bass solo, sung
by Basilio. Another dialogue follows between Figaro
and Rosina, leading to the florid duet (" E il maestro
io faccio "). A third dialogue follows between Rosina
and Bartolo, ending in a bass aria (" Non piu tacete "),
very similar in its general style to the Calumny song, but
usually omitted in performances. In the tenth scene
the Count arrives disguised as the drunken soldier, and
the finale begins. It is composed of three scenes very
ingeniously arranged, and full of glittering dialogue and
very melodious passages.

The second act opens with a soliloquy by Bartolo (" Ma
vedi il mio destino "), in which he gives vent to his sus-
picions. It is interrupted at last by a duet with the Count,
in which the two characters are strikingly set off by the
music. The music-lesson scene follows, in which the
artist personating Rosina is given an opportunity for in-
terpolation. In the next scene occurs a dialogue quintet,
which is followed by a long aria (" Sempre gridi") by
the duenna Berta, called by the Italians the "Aria di
Sorbetto," because the people used to eat ices while it
was sung ; reminding one of the great aria from " Tan-
credi," " Di tanti palpiti," which they called the "aria
dei rizzi," because Rossini composed it while cooking
his rice. In the eighth scene, after a long recitative, an
instrumental prelude occurs, representing a stormy night,
followed by a recitative in which the Count reveals him-
self, leading up to a florid trio, and this in turn to the
elegant terzetto, "Zitti, zitti." A bravura and finale of
light and graceful melody close the opera.

S EMIR AMIDE

" Semiramide," lyric tragedy in two acts, words by Gaetano
Rossi, the subject taken from Voltaire's " Semiramis," was

18



274 THE STANDARD OPERAS

first produced at the Fenice Theatre, Venice, February 3,
1823, with the following cast:

Semiramide Mme. Rossini-Colbran

Arsaces Mme. Mariani.

Idreno Mr. Sinclair.

Assur Sig. Galli.

Oroe Sig. Mariani.

On the 9th of July it was produced in French at the
Academie, Paris, as " Semiramis," with Carlotta Mar-
chisio as Semiramide, Barbara, her sister, as Arsaces, and
M. Obin as Assur. At Rossini's request M. Carafa ar-
ranged the recitatives and wrote the ballet music. " Semi-
ramide" was the last opera Rossini wrote for Italy; and
so far did he depart from the conventional Italian style,
that he was charged with imitating the German. It was
probably for this reason that the opera when first per-
formed did not meet with a kindly reception from the
Venetians. Although he was occupied six months in
negotiating for his stipulated price (one thousand dollars),
he wrote the opera in three weeks. Of its first perform-
ance, a correspondent of the " Harmonicon," who was
present, writes: "The first act, which lasted two hours
and fifteen minutes, was received very coldly, with the
exception of one passage in the overture, which overture,
however, was unconscionably long. The second act,
which lasted two hours and a half, began to please in an
air of Mariani, but the applause was rather directed to
this favorite singer. After this a duet between her and
Colbran, together with an air of Galli, and particularly
a terzetto between him and the two ladies, were well
received. Rossini was also called for at the end of the
second act."

The scene of the opera is laid in Babylon, and the story
briefly told is as follows : Ninus, the King of Babylon,
has been murdered by his Queen, Semiramis, aided by



ROSSINI 275

Assur, a prince enamored of her and aspiring to the
throne. One of the Queen's warriors, Arsaces, supposed
to be of Scythian origin, but in reality her own son, re-
turns from a foreign expedition and is loaded with honors
for the victory he has won. Semiramis, ignorant of his
parentage, has a secret passion for him, he in the mean-
time being devoted to Azema, one of the princesses
royal. As all gather together in the temple to swear
allegiance to the Queen, the gates of Ninus's tomb sud-
denly open, and his ghost appears and announces that
Arsaces will be the successor to the Crown. At midnight
Semiramis, Assur, and Arsaces meet at the tomb, and by
mistake Assur stabs her instead of Arsaces, who in turn kills
Assur, and, all obstacles being removed, is united to Azema
and ascends the throne.

An introductory chorus of Babylonians and a terzetto by
Idreno, Assur, and Oroe open the opera and lead up to
the first appearance of Semiramis, which is followed by a
very dramatic quartet (" Di tanti Regi"). In the fourth
scene Arsaces has a brilliant aria (" O ! come da quel di "),
which also did service in one or two of Rossini's other
operas, and is followed by an animated duet (" Bella imago
degli dei") between himself and Assur. The eighth scene
is introduced by a graceful female chorus which leads to
Semiramis's brilliant and well-known aria, "Bel raggio."
In the tenth scene occurs an elegant duet (" Serbami ognor
si fido"), followed in the next scene by a stately priests'
march and chorus (" Ergi omai la fronte altera ! "), set to
ecclesiastical harmony and accompanied by full military
band as well as orchestra, this being the first instance
where a military band was used in Italian opera. It leads
to the finale, where Semiramis on her throne announces to
her people her choice for their future king. The oath of
allegiance follows in an impressive quartet with chorus
(" Giuro al numi "), and a defiant aria by the Queen leads



276 THE STANDARD OPERAS

to the sudden appearance of the ghost of Ninus, accom-
panied by characteristic music repeated in quintet with
chorus. As the ghost speaks, the statue scene in " Don
Giovanni" is inevitably recalled, especially in some phrases
which are literally copied.

The second act opens with a vindictively passionate duet
(" Assur, i cenni miei ") between Assur and Semiramis,
closing with a fierce outburst of hatred (" La forza pri-
miera "). The scene is a very long and spirited one, and
is followed by a second chorus of priests, leading to a great
aria with chorus (" Ah ! tu gelar mi fai ") for Arsaces. In
the fifth scene occurs a long duet between Arsaces and
Semiramis, the second part of which (" Giorno d' orrore ")
is the strongest number in the opera. Though intensely
passionate in its tone, the music is smooth and flowing and
very florid for both voices. The seventh scene is com-
posed of a scena, aria, and chorus, followed by still another
chorus in the mausoleum, Semiramis sings a prayer of
great pathos and beauty (" Al mio pregar"). A terzetto
(" L ' usato ardir "), which like the mausoleum chorus is
based upon an aria from Mozart's " Cosi fan tutti," closes
the opera. "The Harmonicon," to which reference has
already been made, in an analysis of the work, has the fol-
lowing apt criticism : " It has been said, and truly, that
' Semiramide ' is composed in the German style, but it is
the German style exaggerated. Rossini is become a con-
vert to this school, and his conversion does his judgment
credit, though like all proselytes he passes into extremes.
Not satisfied with discarding the meagre accompaniments
of the Italian composers, he even goes far beyond the tra-
montane masters in the multitude and use of instruments,
and frequently smothers his concerted pieces and choruses
by the overwhelming weight of his orchestra." But what
would the " Harmonicon " have said, could it have had
Wagner's or Richard Strauss's instrumentation before it?



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ROSSINI 277



William Tell

"William Tell," opera in three acts, words by Etienne
Jouy and Hippolyte Bis, the subject taken from Schiller's
drama of the same name, was first produced at the
Academie, Paris, August 3, 1829, with the following
cast :

Mathilde Mme. Damoreau-Cinti.

Jemmy Mme. Dabodie.

Hedwig Mile. Mori.

Arnold M. NOURRIT.

Walter M. Levasseur.

Tell M. Dabodie.

Ruodi % M. Dupont.

Rodolphe M. Massol.

Gessler M. Prevost.

Leutold M. Prevot.

Rossini wrote for Paris only two operas, " Le Comte
Ory" and "William Tell," — the latter his masterpiece
in the serious style. The libretto was first prepared by
M. Jouy, but it was so bad that M. Bis was called in,
and to him is due the whole of the second act. Even
after the two authors had changed and revised it, Rossini
had to alter it in many places. When it was first per-
formed the weakness of the drama was at once recognized,
though its music was warmly welcomed, especially by
the critical. It was presented fifty-six times in its
original form, and was then cut down to three acts, the
original third act being omitted and the fourth and fifth
condensed into one. For three years after this time the
second act was alone performed in Paris ; but when M.
Duprez made his debut in the part of Arnold, a fresh
enthusiasm was aroused, and there was a genuine Tell
revival.

The scene of the opera is laid in Switzerland, period,
the thirteenth century, and the action closely follows the



278 THE STANDARD OPERAS

historical narrative. The disaffection which has arisen among
the Swiss, owing to the tyranny of Gessler, suddenly comes
to a climax when one of Gessler's followers attempts an
outrage upon the only daughter of the herdsman Leutold,
and meets his death at the hands of the indignant father.
Leutold seeks protection at the hands of Tell, who, in the
face of the herdsman's pursuers, succeeds in placing him
beyond the reach of danger, and this circumstance arouses
the wrath of Gessler. Melchtal, the village patriarch, is
accused by him of inciting the people to insubordination,
and is put to death. Meanwhile Arnold, his son, is enam-
ored of Mathilde, Gessler's daughter, and hesitates be-
tween love and duty when he is called upon to avenge his
father's death. At last duty prevails, and he joins his
comrades when the men of the three cantons, who are
loyal to Tell, meet and swear death 'to the tyrant. In the
last act occurs the famous archery scene. To discover the
leading offenders Gessler erects a pole in the square of
Altorf, upon which he places his hat and commands the
people to do homage to it. Tell refuses, and as a punish-
ment is ordered to shoot an apple from his son's head.
He successfully accomplishes the feat, but as he is about
to retire Gessler observes a second arrow concealed in his
garments, and inquires the reason for it, when Tell boldly
replies it was intended for him in case the first had killed
his son. Gessler throws him into prison, whereupon Ma-
thilde abandons her father and determines to help in the
rescue of Tell and his son. Her lover, Arnold, meanwhile,
raises a band of brave followers and accomplishes the res-
cue himself. After slaying the tyrant and freeing his coun-
try Tell returns to his family, and Arnold and Mathilde are
united.

The overture to "William Tell," with its Alpine repose,
its great storm-picture, the stirring " Ranz des Vaches,"
and the trumpet-call to freedom, is one of the most



ROSSINI 279

perfect and beautiful ever written, and is so familiar that it
does not need analysis. The first act opens with a delight-
fully fresh Alpine chorus (" E il ciel sereno "), which is fol-
lowed by a pastoral quartet between a fisherman, Tell,
Hedwig, and Jemmy. Arnold enters, and a long duet,
one of Rossini's finest inspirations, follows between Arnold
and Tell. The duet is interrupted by the entrance of sev-
eral of the peasants escorting two brides and bridegrooms,
which is the signal for a most graceful chorus and dance
("Cintoil crine "). Leutold then appears, seeking Tell's
protection, and a very dramatic finale begins, closing with
the arrest of Melchtal, which leads to an ensemble of great
power.

The second act opens with a double chorus of huntsmen
and shepherds (" Qual silvestre metro intorne "), which is
followed by a scena preluding a charming romanza (" Selva
opaco ") sung by Mathilde. Its mild, quiet beauty is in
strange contrast with the remainder of this great act. It is
followed by a passionate duet with Arnold, a second and
still more passionate duet between Tell and Walter, which
leads to the magnificent trio of the oath (" La gloria in-
flammi"), and this in turn is followed by the splendid scene
of the gathering of the cantons. For melodic and harmonic
beauty combined, the spirited treatment of masses, and
charm and variety of color, this great scene stands almost
alone.

The last act opens with a duet between Mathilde and
Arnold, which is followed in the next scene by a march and
chorus as the multitude gathers in the square of Altorf, clos-
ing with a lovely Tyrolean chorus sung by the sopranos and
accompanied with the dance. The dramatic scene of the
archery follows, and then Arnold has a very passionate aria
("O muto asil"). Some vivid storm-music, preluding the
last scene, and the final hymn of freedom (" I boschi, i
monti ") close an opera which is unquestionably Rossini's



280 THE STANDARD OPERAS

masterpiece, and in which his musical ability reached its
highest expression. « Manly, earnest, and mighty," Hans-
lick calls it; and the same authority claims that the first
and second acts belong to the most beautiful achievements
of the modern opera.



RUBINSTEIN

ANTON GREGOR RUBINSTEIN was born Novem-
ber 30, 1829, at Weghwotynez in Russia. His
mother gave him lessons at the age of four, with the
result that by the time he was six she was unable to
teach him anything more. He then studied the piano
with Alexander Villoing, a pupil of John Field. In 1840
he entered the Paris Conservatory, where he attracted the
attention of Liszt, Chopin, and Thalberg. He remained
in that city eighteen months, and then made some profes-
sional tours, in which he met with extraordinary success.
In 1844 his parents removed to Berlin, and he was placed
under Dehn, the famous contrapuntist, to study composi-
tion. From 1846 to 1848 he taught music in Pressburg
and Vienna, and then went back to Russia. For eight
years he studied and wrote in St. Petersburg, and at the
end of that time had accumulated a mass of manuscripts
destined to make his name famous all over Europe, while
his reputation as a skilful pianist was already world-wide.
He visited Englanc 1 again in 1857, and the next year
returned home and settled in St. Petersburg, about which
time he was made Imperial Concert Director, with a life
pension. At this period in his career he devoted himself to
the cause of music in Russia. His first great work was the
foundation of the Conservatory in that city in 1862, of
which he remained principal until 1867. He also founded
the Russian Musical Society in 1861, and in 1869 was decor-
ated by the Czar. In 1870 he directed the Philharmonic
and Choral Societies of Vienna, and shortly afterwards
made another tour, during which, in 1872, he came to



282 THE STANDARD OPERAS

this country with the eminent violinist, Wieniawski, as will
be well remembered. His greatest works are the " Ocean
Symphony," " Dramatic Symphony," and a character sketch
for grand orchestra called "Ivan the Terrible" ; his operas,
"Children of the Heath," " Feramors," "Nero," "The
Maccabees," " Dimitri Donskoi," and "The Demon" ; the
oratorios " Paradise Lost," and "Tower of Babel," and a
long and splendid catalogue of chamber, salon, and con-
cert music, besides some beautiful songs, which are great
favorites in the concert room.

Nero
" Nero," opera in four acts, text by Jules Barbier, was
first produced in Hamburg in 1879 — though it was origi-
nally intended for the French stage — and in this country,
in New York, March 14, 1887, by the American Opera Com-
pany, under the direction of Theodore Thomas, with the
following cast :

Nero Mr. Candidus.

Julius Vindex Mr. LUDWIG.

Tigellinus Mr. Stoddard.

Balbillus Mr. WHITNEY.

Saccus Mr. Fessenden.

Sevirus Mr. Hamilton.

Terpander Mr. Lee.

Poppcea Sabhia Miss Bertha Pierson.

Epicharis Miss Cornelia Van Zanten.

Chrysa Miss Emma Juch.

Agrippina Miss Agnes Sterling.

Lupus . Miss Pauline L'Allemand.

The first act opens in the house of Epicharis, a courtesan,
a rendezvous for the dissolute Roman nobles. The guests
assembled sing a chorus in praise of the establishment, fol-
lowed by a scene in which Vindex, the prince of Aquitania,
Saccus the poet, Terpander the citharist, and others con-
spire against Nero. Suddenly Chrysa, daughter of Epicharis,
who is ignorant of her mother's real character and dwells



RUBINSTEIN 283

apart from her, rushes in and implores the protection of
Vindex from a crowd of revellers who have pursued her.
A very spirited duet follows in which the prince promises
her his assistance. Upon hearing the shouts of her pur-
suers he conceals her just in time to escape the masked
band, headed by Nero himself, which bursts into the apart-
ment. The tyrant demands the girl ; and as he throws off
his mask the guests stand amazed. Saccus at last breaks
the spell by the suggestion that Nero shall marry the girl.
When she is led out, and Vindex discovers that Epicharis is
her mother, he no longer espouses her cause. Then fol-
lows the music of the mock marriage, interspersed with
dance strains and sardonic choruses by the courtesans and
their associates, at last rising to a wild bacchanalian frenzy,
in the midst of which Vindex breaks out in a spirited song,
with harp accompaniment, and finally hurls invectives at
Nero, as Chrysa, who has drunk a narcotic at her mother's
order, falls senseless. The latter declares she has been
poisoned, and the act closes with a scene of great power in
which Vindex is hurried away as Nero's prisoner.

The second act opens in the dwelling of Poppoea, Nero's
mistress, whose attendants are trying to console her. She
has heard of Nero's new infatuation ; but her apprehensions
are relieved when Balbillus, the astrologer, enters and not
only announces that Chrysa is dead, but the equally grateful
news that Octavia, Nero's wife, has been condemned to die.
Nero himself now appears upon the scene, and a duet fol-
lows in which Poppoea reproaches him for his fickleness and
he seeks to console her with flattery. At its close the death
of Octavia is announced, and Poppoea is appeased by the
prospect of sharing the throne. Meanwhile Chrysa has
fallen into the custody of Agrippina, Nero's mother, who
keeps close charge of her to further her own ambitions.
During the interview between the tyrant and his mistress,
Epicharis rushes in and implores Nero to give up Chrysa,



284 THE STANDARD OPERAS

which leads to a powerful ensemble. Learning that Chrysa
is still alive he leaves the apartment to find her. The sec-
ond scene is brilliantly spectacular. Nero and his mother
appear in front of the temple, followed by a long procession
to the music of a brilliant march. They enter the temple.
After a short episode, in which Poppcea informs Epicharis
of the refuge Chrysa has found, the ballet is given in the
open square, with its fascinating dances of warriors, bac-
chantes, jugglers, and buffoons, and their mimic combats,
the music of which is very familiar from its frequent per-
formance in the concert room. Nero then appears and
announces his divinity in a finale, which is rich with scenic,
spectacular, and choral effects, accompanied by full military
band and orchestra.

The third act opens in Chrysa's new asylum of refuge.
The persecuted girl sings a beautiful prayer, at the close
of which Vindex joins her in a love-duet, which will al-
ways remain as one of the most refined and noble pro-
ducts of Rubinstein's skill in harmony. The next number
is one of almost equal beauty, — a duet for Chrysa and
Epicharis, the motive of which is a cradle song. Its
soothing tones are interrupted by the appearance of Nero,
followed by Poppcea and Saccus, the last-named announc-
ing to the tyrant that Rome is in flames, which leads
up to a vigorous trio. The concluding scene is full of
characteristic music. It shows us Nero watching the
fire from his tower, while he sings a hymn (" O Ilion ")
to the accompaniment of his lyre ; the death of Chrysa,
who proclaims herself a Christian and is killed by the
infuriated populace ; and the fate of Epicharis, who is
crushed beneath a falling house as she mourns for her
daughter.

The fourth act furnishes a dramatic denouement to the
mournful story. The tyrant, wild with rage and frenzy,
appears in the tomb of Augustus, where the shades of



RUBINSTEIN 285

his murdered victims terrify him. Saccus enters and
tells him of the revolt of his army and the danger which
threatens him. He rushes out again and kills himself
on the highway of the Campagna, just as Vindex at the
head of his legions comes up with him. As he expires
a cross appears in the sky and a chant is heard, herald
of the coming Christianity.

The Demon

"The Demon," fantastic opera in three acts, text by
Wiskowatoff, the libretto based upon Lermontoff's poetic
tale with the same name, was first produced at St. Peters-
burg, January 25, 1875 ; in German, at Hamburg, in
1880 ; and in Italian, at London, as " II Demonio," in 1881.
In the prologue the Demon is seen in the midst of the
evil spirits defying the Creator and the Angel of Light and
bent upon destroying all existing things. When, how-
ever, he beholds Tamara, daughter of Prince Gudal, en-
joying herself with her maidens by the brookside, and
awaiting the arrival of her lover, the Prince of Sinodu, he
is enamored of her and his fury disappears. He decides
upon the death of the latter and accomplishes it by a
horde of marauding Tartars who murder him as he lies
in magic slumber. The Demon next is seen comforting
Tamara as she weeps over the body of her lover. He
visits her in the convent whither she has retired, reveals
his real self to her, and invites her to share earthly
dominion with him. She agrees to do this if he will for-
sake his evil ways and renew his allegiance to the offended
deity. He takes the vow, apparently in good faith, but
while in the act of doing so the Angel of Light appears, ac-
companied by the ghost of the Prince, and the Demon
is forced to abandon Tamara, who is carried to heaven
by angels after the manner of Marguerite in the " Faust"
apotheosis.

The first act is introduced with fantastic choruses of



286 THE STANDARD OPERAS

evil spirits, winds, waters, rocks, and flames, mingled
with those of the good spirits and spirits of nature. The
Demon appears at the call of the evil spirits ("He,
Damon ! wir warten "), and hurls his curses against the
world in a powerful aria (" Verhasste, verfluchte Welt ! ").



Online LibraryGeorge P. (George Putnam) UptonThe standard operas: their plots, their music, and their composers → online text (page 20 of 37)