George P. (George Putnam) Upton.

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

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The next scene is introduced by some charming choruses
of maidens ("Taglich eilen wir im Fluge"), leading up
to Tamara's brilliant entrance aria (" Ach ! liebe Mad-
chen "), which is shortly followed by her attendant's ballad
("Ach, Tamara"). Alternate dialogues between Tamara
and her maidens and the Prince and his attendants lead
up to the surprise of the Prince's caravan by the Tartars,
who appear in a characteristic refrain ("Stille, stille !
schleichet naher!"), and the murder of the Prince.

The second act opens with a wedding feast introduced
by the lively chorus of guests ("Rufet Heil unserm
Fiirsten"). After phrases of greeting, as Tamara enters,
the guests grow hilarious and indulge in a genuine old-
fashioned Italian brindisi (" Der Wein, der Wein"). A
lively, charming ballet, full of Eastern color and abandon,
follows. Its gay sounds have hardly died away before
a short funeral march announces the approach of at-
tendants bearing the body of the Prince, who are greeted
with the mournful chorus, " Weh uns ! ein Trauerzug."
A pathetic quintet with chorus is followed by one of the
most beautiful numbers in the opera, the romanza, " Susses
Kind, Du weinst vergebens," in which the Demon con-
soles Tamara for the loss of her lover. The act closes
with a strong declamatory war chorus ("Auf zum
Kampfe ! Rache nus, beseele uns ") appended to the en-
semble, sung by Prince Gudal and repeated by a male
chorus. The last act is occupied entirely with the long
and very dramatic duet between the Demon and Tamara
and the apotheosis, with its beautiful chorus of the
invisible angels.


CAMILLE SAINT-SAENS, foremost of modern French
composers, was born at Paris, October 9, 1835.
He learned the rudiments of music from a great-aunt,
and later on studied with Stamaty and Maleden. He
entered the Conservatory in a class presided over by
Halevy and competed without success for the Prix de
Rome in 1852. His first prize was obtained in 1867,
when his cantata, " Les Noces de Promethee," was ac-
cepted for the opening of the International Exhibition.
In 1852 he was organist at the church of Saint-Mery
and in 1858 succeeded Lefebune-Wely in a similar posi-
tion at the Madeleine, but resigned the place in 1877,
as his time was much occupied with piano concert tours.
He first appeared as a pianist in London in 187 1 and
during the next twenty years made many visits there, and
in 1893 was honored with a degree by Cambridge Uni-
versity. Meanwhile his chamber music, piano concertos,
and his symphonic poems, " Le Rouet d 'Omphale,"
"Danse Macabre," "Phaeton," and "La Jeunesse d'Her-
cule" had spread his fame far and wide. His first
opera, " La Princesse Jaune," was heard in 1872, " Le
Timbre d 'Argent " was brought out in 1877, "Samson
et Delila " in the same year, " Etienne Marcel " in 1879,
" Henri VIII " in 1883, " Proserpine " in 1887, " Ascanio "
in 1890, "Phryne" in 1893, and " Fredegonde " in 1895.
The last-named opera was begun by Guiraud and finished
by Saint-Saens. Besides the works enumerated above,
Saint-Saens has written five symphonies and numerous
pieces for piano, violin, and other instruments as well as
songs and cantatas.


Samson and Delila

" Samson et Delila," opera biblique, in three acts, text
by Ferdinand Lemaire, was first produced in its entirety
at Weimar, December 2, 1877, with Ferenczy as Samson,
Mile. Von Miiller as Delila and Mitle as the High Priest.
The score of this opera was finished in 1872. Two years
later, Mme. Viardot-Garcia gave a private performance of
the second act, and the first act was given at one of the
Colonne concerts in Paris in 1875. It was not until 1877
that the whole opera was performed, under the direction of
Edouard Lassen, at Weimar. It was done at Brussels, April
6, 1878, under the direction of the composer, and in Ham-
burg in 1883 with Frau Sucher as Delila. It was not given
entire in France until 1890, when it was heard at Rouen
and again in the same year at Paris, with Mme. Bloch and
M. Talazac in the principal roles. It was next heard in
various French cities during 1892 and at last, after twenty
years, was produced upon a grand scale at the Paris Opera
House. It was first performed in this country as an ora-
torio at New York, March 25, 1892, under the direction of
Mr. Walter Damrosch.

The first act opens in the public square of the city of
Gaza, and the curtain rises upon a crowd of Hebrews,
Samson among them, who give expression to their dejection
in choruses constructed after the conventional oratorio
methods. Samson comforts them, however, assures them
of help, and urges them to pray for deliverance. In the
second scene, Abimelech, satrap of Gaza, enters, and
mocks at their prayers. Samson denounces him as a
blasphemer and calls upon his people to take up arms
and free themselves. Abimelech attacks him but Samson
wrests his sword from him and slays him as he is calling for
help. The Philistines make an attack but Samson worsts
them. The third scene is at the gates of the temple of

Tamagno as Samson

Copyright, Amte Ditpo}it


Dagon. The High Priest ascends to the temple, and, paus-
ing by Abimelech's body, urges the Philistines to avenge his
death. While they are hesitating, a messenger arrives with
the tidings that the Israelites are on the march with Samson
at their head, whereupon the High Priest curses both them
and their leader. As Abimelech's body is carried away
the old Hebrew men and women enter, followed by Sam-
son and his victorious band, singing choruses of rejoicing.
In the next scene Delila enters, followed by Philistine
women wearing garlands of flowers. At this point the
temptation begins with fascinating dances by the priestesses
of Dagon in which Delila takes part, the act closing with a
beautiful aria (" Printemps qui commence ") sung by her,
in which she seeks to cast her spells over Samson.

The second act discloses Delila richly clad, in front of
his dwelling. She sings a passionate invocation to Love
to aid her in her spells, and in the next scene occurs a vig-
orous dramatic duet in which the High Priest tells her of the
disaster to the Philistines and strengthens her in her pur-
pose. In the next scene Samson enters, disturbed and
troubled. An exceedingly passionate duet follows with a
peculiarly beautiful motive for Delila, which is several times
repeated in the progress of the work. In the midst of an
approaching storm Samson declares his love, and, as it
breaks in all its fury, he follows her into her dwelling, which,
at the same time, is stealthily approached by Philistine

The third act reveals Samson blinded, in chains, and with
shorn locks, grinding at a mill as a captive, as the Hebrews
sing their mournful plaints behind the scenes. Then fol-
lows a pathetic prayer in which Samson bewails his loss of
sight. The Philistines enter and remove Samson and the
scene changes to the interior of Dagon's temple, where the
High Priest is seen surrounded by the Philistine leaders.
Escorted by young Philistine women with wine cups in




their hands Delila enters, and a fascinating ballet, full of
rich Oriental color, occupies the stage. Samson is led in
and is taunted by the High Priest, who tells him that if Je-
hovah will restore his sight they will all adore His name.
In the finale Samson is ordered to offer oblation to Dagon.
A lad leads him to a position between two pillars. With an
invocation to the Lord he exerts all his strength and the
temple falls amid the shrieks of the Philistines.

It will be observed from this sketch that the opera story
differs from the biblical narrative and that it has more of
the love motive in it. It thus gives larger opportunity for
dramatic music and the opportunities have been enlarged
by the use of motives in the Wagner manner. This makes
it all the more difficult to select individual numbers for de-
scription. The instrumentation is highly colored and very
descriptive. Hervey, in his biographical sketch of Saint-
Saens, notes the following composition of the orchestra
for this opera : " In addition to the strings and usual wood-
winds he employs a third flute, a cor anglais, a bass clarinet,
a double bassoon, four horns, two trumpets, two cornets, three
trombones, a bass tuba, two ophicleides, two harps, three
kettledrums, a grossecaisse, cymbals, a triangle, a glocken-
spiel, crotales, castagnettes made of wood and iron, a tam-
bour de basque, and a tamtam." With such an orchestral
force in the hands of a master, all things are possible.

Henry VIII

" Henry VIII," opera in four acts, text by Detroyat and
Silvestre, was first produced in Paris, March 5, 1883, with
Lasalle as the King, Dereim as Don Gomez, Mile. Krauss
as Catherine, and Mile. Richard as Anne. The first act
opens in a hall of the palace. The Duke of Norfolk is in
conversation with Don Gomez, the Spanish ambassador,
who is explaining to the Duke that his presence there is
due to Queen Catherine, and his object is to be near to



Anne Boleyn, with whom he is in love. It develops also
that Catherine is aware of this attachment and holds a let-
ter from Anne Boleyn to him containing assurances of
love. The Duke, however, warns him to be on his guard
against the King, who is suspected of desiring Anne Boleyn
for himself. At the close of the somewhat long dialogue-
duet, which is very skilfully constructed, several persons
enter bringing the news that Buckingham has been con-
demned to death, which leads to an effective quartet and
ensemble. As the King enters all withdraw except Surrey,
Norfolk, and Don Gomez. The King greets the latter and
engages to advance his suit, informing him at the same
time that he is about to give Catherine a new maid of
honor. The announcement disturbs Don Gomez, as he
surmises Anne Boleyn may be the maid. In the next
scene the King discusses with Surrey the hostility of the
Pope to his divorce from Catherine and sings a most grace-
ful romanza (" Qui done commande"), in which he boasts
his slavery to love. The Queen enters and in a light, sim-
ple melody asks the King why she is summoned. He
replies that he is about to present her with a new maid of
honor. She accepts the gift and then pleads for the life of
Buckingham, which the King refuses. A very dramatic
duet follows, the Queen charging him with the loss of
his love for her, the King replying that their marriage is
in violation of the divine law. At the close of the duet
they watch the entrance of the courtiers, among them
Anne Boleyn, accompanied by graceful procession music.
With an expression of surprise that she and Don Gomez
are acquainted, the King presents her to the Queen, at the
same time creating her Marchioness of Pembroke. The
funeral march of Buckingham is heard outside, during
which the King presses his suit upon Anne Boleyn and the
Queen mourns the tragedy. As the former hears the
march she is greatly alarmed, and in the final ensemble


— a seven-part chorus with quintet — the themes of the
march are repeated with a gloomy motif, significant of
the approaching fate of the new favorite.

The second act opens in Richmond Park, with a grace-
ful chorus of pages disporting themselves. Don Gomez
enters and sings a very dramatic aria, ending in a great
climax of power. Anne appears with court ladies to the
accompaniment of a graceful chorus. A duet between
Don Gomez and Anne follows, in which she answers his
reproaches with assertions of love. The King enters and
Don Gomez retires and another duet follows, at the close
of which Anne consents to become his wife upon condition
of being made Queen. A joyous duet ensues, but before it
closes the sombre motif of her tragic fate is heard again.
A dramatic trio follows as the Queen enters and reproaches
Anne, who appeals to the King. In the midst of the
scene, the papal legate enters with unfavorable news from
Rome, but the King will not hear it until the morrow. A
fete begins, accompanied by most elaborate and graceful
Scotch and English dance music, thus designated : i. In-
troduction et Entree des Clans ; 2. Idylle Ecossaise ; 3. La
Fete des Houblon ; 4-Danse de la Gipsy ; 5. Pas des High-
lander ; 6. Scherzetto ; 7. Sarabande, Gigue and finale.

The third act opens with the interview between the
legate and the King, during which the latter defies the
wrath of Rome in a long and passionate scene. Then fol-
lows an interview between the King and Anne Boleyn, in
which his jealousy is revealed. After another interview
with the legate, which closes with the King's announce-
ment that he will appeal from Rome to his people, the
scene changes to the Hall of Judgment, the musical setting
of which is very stately. The act closes with an imposing
ensemble, in which the people support the King, and the
King proclaims himself head of the English Church, and
Anne Boleyn, Queen.


The fourth act discloses Queen Anne in her apartments
watching a charming minuet dance in the gardens. Sur-
rey and Norfolk are conversing aside about the King and
his doubts of the Queen. Don Gomez enters upon a
special errand from Catherine to the King, and asks to be
left alone with the Queen. In the dialogue which follows,
he informs her that Catherine still has that compromising
letter in her possession. The King enters in a furious
mood, dismisses Anne and orders Don Gcmez to leave the
country. The latter gives the King Catherine's dying
words of affection, and they go to the castle where she lies.
In a long soliloquy Catherine reveals her longing for Spain,
then distributes keepsakes, among them her Book of
Hours, in which she places Anne's fatal letter from Don
Gomez. At this point Anne enters with the intention
of securing the letter. She begs for it, but Catherine re-
fuses. An intensely dramatic scene follows. The King
enters and makes every effort to incite Catherine's anger
against Anne but fails. With a last supreme effort she
throws the letter into the fire and dies, as the measures of
the Death March are heard, and among them the decapi-
tation motif, significant of Anne Boleyn's fate.

In " Henry VIII," even more frequently than in " Sam-
son and Delila," Saint-Saens has used the Wagner de-
vice of the leit-motif, and built up his work upon the
basis of continuous melody, as best adapted for dramatic
effect. This effect is particularly apparent in the many
duets as well as in the ensembles of the work. It is in-
tensely dramatic throughout, and is in nearly every respect
the composer's operatic masterpiece.


" Proserpine," drama lyrique in four acts, text by Louis
Gallet, based upon a dramatic poem entitled " Proser-
pine," by M. Auguste Vacquerie, was first produced at


the Opera Comique, Paris, March 14, 1887. "Proser-
pine " is not a classical or mythological opera, as its
name would seem to indicate, but a lyric drama of a
clearly melodramatic type. The scene passes in Italy in
the sixteenth century. Proserpine is a courtesan, in love
with one Sabatino, but the latter is in love with Angiola,
sister of his friend, Renzo, who advises him to pay court
to Proserpine, so that having been exposed to tempta-
tion he may be faithful to Angiola. When Sabatino dis-
covers that Proserpine really loves him, he treats her in
such a manner that she becomes furious with him and
her fury increases when she learns that Sabatino loves
another. In order to avenge herself she seeks the aid
of a ruffian, named Squarocca, who is bound to her by
a debt of gratitude, for she has released him when he
was caught stealing in her palace. Squarocca contrives
to seize Angiola as ,she is coming from a convent to be
married and to arrange so that Proserpine shall meet her.
At this interview, the latter tries to persuade her not to
marry Sabatino. Angiola resists all persuasion and as
Proserpine is about to stab her she is rescued by her
brother, Renzo. Proserpine subsequently gains admission
to Sabatino's house and declares her passion for him,
but he spurns her. She waits for her revenge until Sa-
batino and Angiola are married, when she turns upon
the bride and stabs her. Seizing her dagger, Sabatino
thereupon kills Proserpine. In the original poem Angiola
dies but in the operatic version she recovers.

The first act is introduced with a few bars of prelude.
Proserpine's opening measures ("En verite, messieurs"),
taken up by her lovers, in chorus, introduce the pavane,
heard behind the scenes, just previous to which Sabatino
sings a fascinating aria (" Ne crains plus que mon ame
change"). The pavane is followed by a pensive soliloquy
for Proserpine (" Amour vrai "), and this in turn by long


declamatory duets between Proserpine and Sabatino and
Proserpine and Squarocca,, the act closing with a powerful
finale (" Allons, a nous la grande orgie ! ").

The second act opens in a convent with a simple but
beautifully harmonized Ave Maria, followed by a chorus
of the nuns and novices ("Un cavalier a la moustache
noire ") in which they chatter with Angiola about her
coming marriage. The next number of importance is
Sabatino's impassioned love song to Angiola (" Comment
dire bien ce que je veux dire?' 5 ), which is followed by
a brief unison trio. The finale is extremely effective,
being composed of choruses by beggars, nuns, pilgrims,
and others, interwoven with trios, and dominated by the
strong, high soprano phrases by Angiola.

The second act is the most beautiful and effective of
the work. The third and fourth are melodramatic and
the music loses something of its grace and delicate finish.
The principal numbers of the third act are Proserpine's
invocation ("Ah ! je n'avais que de l'amour") ; Squarocca's
characteristic drinking-song (" Vin qui rougis ma trogne"),
and the melodramatic finale ; and of the fourth act, the
tenor solo for Sabatino (" Puis-je croire que c'est bien
vrai"), and the long duet between Sabatino and Proser-
pine, leading up to the tragic denouement. There are
delightful passages all through the work, but much of the
musical effect of the last two acts is sacrificed to the
demands of the absurd and sensational melodrama.


J OH ANN STRAUSS, familiarly known as "The Waltz
King," was a member of a waltz family. His father,
Johann, was known all over Europe as "The Father of
the Waltz/' and his brothers, Joseph and Edouard, were
also waltz writers. Johann, junior, was born at Vienna,
October 25, 1825, and died in that city, June 3, 1899.
He made his debut in public life as a conductor in 1844,
and in 1849, a ft er ms father's death, united his orchestra
with the latter's and made many tours on the Continent,
meeting with enthusiastic success everywhere. In 1855
he was engaged for a season of ten years to conduct
summer concerts in St. Petersburg. From 1863 to 1870
he was court ball conductor, — a position which he re-
signed in favor of his brother Edouard, in order that he
might have more time for composition. His list of waltzes
includes over four hundred, all of which have become
favorites the world over — among them such well known
ones as the "Wine, Woman, and Song," "Geschichten
aus dem Wiener Wald," " Blue Danube," " Thousand and
One Nights," " Kiinstler Leben," and " Vienna Temper."
In 1870 he gave up dance music, in which he was without
a rival, for operettas. The most famous of these are
"Indigo" (1871); "Die Fledermaus " (1874); "Prinz
Methusalem " (1877); "Das Spitzentuch der Konigin "
(1880); "Der Lustige Krieg " (1881) ; " Eine Nacht in
Venedig " (1883) ; " Der Zigeunerbaron " (1885) ; " Sim-
plicius" (1887); "Furstin Ninetta" (1893); "Jabuka"
(1894); " Waldmeister " (1895)3 and "Die Gottin der
Vernunft" (1896).


The Merry War

" The Merry War," opera comique, in three acts, text by
Zell and Genee, was first produced in Vienna, November
25, 1 88 1. The scene is laid in Genoa in the eighteenth
century. In analyzing this, as well as the other Strauss
operettas contained in this volume, it is hardly needful to
go into very close detail. They may be termed merry
stories set to merry and fascinating dance rhythms. ""The
Merry War " is not a very serious one, as may be inferred
from its title. It is a quarrel between two petty states,
Genoa and Massa Carrara, growing out of the fact that a
popular dancer has made simultaneous engagements at the
theatres of each. Both claim her, and the question at issue
is at which theatre the dancer shall appear. One harmless
hand grenade is thrown from either side with monotonous
regularity each day, and the " Merry War" is without inter-
esting incident until the pretty Countess Violetta appears in
one of the camps. She is seeking to make her way in
disguise into the city of the other camp, to take command
of the citadel. Umberto, the colonel commanding, is
deceived by her, and allows her to pass through the
lines. When informed of the deception he determines
to take his revenge by marrying her. Understanding that
she is to marry the Duke de Limburg by proxy, he imper-
sonates the Duke and is married to Violetta without arous-
ing her suspicions. He is assisted in his scheme by Balthasar
Groats, a Dutch speculator in tulip bulbs, whom the soldiers
have arrested, thinking him a spy, and who is naturally will-
ing to do anything for the Colonel to get him out of his
predicament. Complications arise, however, when Groats's
wife appears and becomes jealous, also because of Violetta's
antipathy towards her supposed husband and her affection
for Umberto. All these matters are arranged satisfactorily,
however, when there is an opportunity for explanation, and


a treaty of peace is signed between the two states, when it
is found that the cause of the " Merry War " will not keep
her engagement with either theatre.

The music of " The Merry War " is light and gay through-
out. Like all the rest of the Strauss operas, it might be said
that it is a collection of marches and waltzes, and a repeti-
tion of dance music which has done good service in ball-
rooms, strung upon the slight thread of a story. Its most
taking numbers are Umberto's couplets (" Till now no Drop
of Blood ") ; Balthasar's comical song (" General, ho ! ") and
his tulip song (" From Holland to Florence in Peace we were
going") ; Violetta's arietta (" In vain, I cannot fly") ; the
dainty duet for Violetta and Umberto (" Please do ") ; Else's
romantic song (" I wandered on ") ; the ensemble and Dutch
song by Artemisia (" The much admired One ") ; Um-
berto's love song (''The Night begins to Creep") ; Violetta's
song (" I am yet Commander for To-day "), leading to a ter-
zetto and spirited final chorus (" Of their warlike Renown ").

The Bat (Die Fledermaus)

" The Bat," opera comique in three acts, text by Haffner
and Genee, was first produced in Vienna in July, 1874. It
is founded upon Meilhac and Halevy's " Le Revillon."
The scene opens with Adele, maid of the Baroness Rosa-
lind, seeking permission to visit her sister Ida, a ballet-
dancer, who is to be at a masked ball given by Prince
Orlofsky, a Russian millionaire. She receives permission,
and after she is gone, Dr. Falke, a notary, who has arranged
the ball, calls at the house of the Baron Eisenstein, and
induces him to go to it before going to jail, to which he has
been sentenced for contempt of court. The purpose of the
doctor is to seek revenge for his shabby treatment by the
Baron sometime before at a masquerade which they had
attended, — Eisenstein dressed as a butterfly, and Falke
as a bat. The doctor then notifies the Baroness that her

Sembrich as Rosalind

Copyright, Aime Dupoiit


husband will be at the ball. She thereupon decides that
she will also be present. An amusing scene occurs when the
Baron seeks to pass himself off as a French marquis, and
pays his devotions to the ladies, but is quite astonished to
find his wife there, flirting with an old lover. There are
further complications caused by Falke, who manages to
have Alfred, the singing-master, in the Baroness' apartments
when the sheriff comes to arrest the Baron, and arrests
Alfred, supposing him to be Eisenstein. In the last act,
however, all the complications are disentangled, and every-
thing ends happily.

It would be impossible to name the conspicuous numbers
in this animated and sprightly work without making a cata-
logue of them all. The opera is a grand potpourri of waltz

Online LibraryGeorge P. (George Putnam) UptonThe standard operas: their plots, their music, and their composers → online text (page 21 of 37)