George P. (George Putnam) Upton.

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

. (page 22 of 37)
Online LibraryGeorge P. (George Putnam) UptonThe standard operas: their plots, their music, and their composers → online text (page 22 of 37)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

and polka motifs and fresh, bright melodies. The com-
poser does not linger long with the dialogue, but goes from
one waltz melody to another in a most bewildering manner,
interspersing them with romanzas, drinking-songs, czardas,
an almost endless variety of dance rhythms and choruses of
a brilliant sort. It is a charming mixture of Viennese gayety
and French drollery, and, like all his operettas, is the very
essence of the dance.

The Queen's Lace Handkerchief

" The Queen's Lace Handkerchief," opera comique, in
three acts, text by Genee and Bohrmann-Riegen, was first
produced in Vienna, October 2, 1880. The romance of its
story has helped to make this opera one of the most popular
of Strauss's works. The action begins at a time when Portu-
gal is ruled by a ministry whose premier is in league with
Philip II of Spain, and who, to keep possession of power,
has fomented trouble between the young Queen and King,
and encouraged the latter in all kinds of dissipations. At
this time Cervantes, the poet, who has been banished from
Spain, is a captain in the Royal Guards, and in love with


Irene, a lady-in-waiting. These two are good friends of
both the King and Queen, and are eager to depose the
ministry. Cervantes is reader to the Queen, and the latter,
having a sentimental attachment for him, writes upon her
handkerchief, " A queen doth love thee, yet art thou no
king," and placing it in a volume of " Don Quixote," hands
it to him. The book is seized, and as " Don Quixote " is
Minister of War and " Sancho Panza " Minister of Instruc-
tion, Cervantes is arrested for libel and treason. Irene and
the King, however, save him by proving him insane, and the
King and Queen ascend the throne. In desperation the
Premier hands the King the handkerchief with the inscrip-
tion on it, which leads to the rearrest of Cervantes and the
banishment of the Queen to a convent. Cervantes escapes,
however, and joins some brigands. They capture the Queen
on her way to the convent, and in the disguise of the host
and waiting-maid of an inn, they serve the King, who hap-
pens there on a hunting trip. Everything is satisfactorily
accounted for, and the inscription on the handkerchief is
explained as a message which the Queen sent to the King
by Cervantes.

The music is light and brilliant. Much of it is in the
waltz tempo, and the choral work is a strong feature. Its best
numbers are the Queen's humorous romanza (" It was a
wondrous fair and starry Night ") ; another humorous num-
ber, the King's truffle song (" Such Dish by Man not oft
is seen ") ; the epicurean duet for the King and Premier,
(" These Oysters ") ; Cervantes's recitative (" Once sat a
Youth"), in the finale of the first act; a dainty little
romanza for Cervantes ("Where the wild Rose sweetly
doth blow ") ; the trio and chorus (" Great Professors,
learned Doctors ") ; the fine duet for the King and Cer-
vantes (" Brighter Glance on him shall repose ") ; Sancho's
vivacious couplet ("In the Night his Zither holding") ; the
Queen's showy song (" Seventeen Years had just passed


o'er me ") ; and the two closing choruses (" Now the
King all hail ") in march time, and the bull-fight, which is
full of dash and spirit.

The Gypsy Baron

" The Gypsy Baron," opera comique in three acts, text
by Schmtzer, and based upon a romance of the same name
by M. Jokai, was first produced October 24, 1885, in
Vienna. The story is a simple one. The so-called " Gypsy
Baron," Sandov Barinkay, who left his home when a lad, re-
turns to find it desolate and in possession of gypsies. His
nearest neighbor is Zsupan, with whose daughter Arsena
he falls in love. She orders him never to call upon her
again as a suitor until he can come as a baron. Barinkay
goes off in a rage to the gypsies, who adopt him and make
him their Waywolde, or gypsy baron. Forgetful or un-
mindful of Arsena, he falls in love with Saffi, a gypsy girl,
and marries her. In the second act he finds a hidden
treasure, but is arrested for keeping it a secret. He manages
to escape by turning over his treasure to the government
and joining the Austrian army with his whole band. In
the last act he returns with the victorious troops to Vienna,
is made a real baron for his bravery, and Saffi turns out to
be the daughter of a real pasha.

The opera abounds in brilliant melodies, dance rhythms,
and gypsy music. The most conspicuous numbers in the
first act are the entrance couplets (" Als flotter Geist"),
closing in waltz time, the melodrama and ensemble (" So
tauschte mich die Ahnung nicht "), the ensemble (" Dem
Freier naht die Braut "), and SaffYs delightful gypsy song
(" So elend und so treu ") ; in the second act, the terzetto
for Saffi, Czipsa, and Barinkay ("Mein Aug bewacht")
and (" Ein Greis ist mir in Traum erschienen "), the duet
for Saffi and Barinkay (" Wer uns getraut "), the Werber-
lied with chorus (" Her die Hand "), and the finale


(" Nach Wien ") ; and in the third act, the chorus (" Freut
euch "), the couplets for Arsena, Mirabelia, and Carnero
(" Hat es gar nicht gut "), the march couplet and
chorus (" Von der Tajos Strand "), the brilliant military
march (" Huora der Schlacht gemacht "), and the finale
(" Heirathen Vivat "). " The Gypsy Baron " is one of
the few light operas in which the interest steadily progresses
and reaches its brilliant climax in the last act.


RICHARD STRAUSS was born at Munich, June n,
1864. He began the study of music at a very early
age, and even before his school studies commenced he
had produced compositions of a promising character. In
1875 ne began a five years' course in theory and composi-
tion and even at that time had mastered the technics of the
violin and piano. His first important composition per-
formed in public was a string quartet, his first symphony in
D minor was next given a hearing, and in 1883 his over-
ture in C minor appeared. Van Btilow shortly afterward
placed his serenade for wind instruments in the repertory
of the Meiningen orchestra. Several songs, concertos, and
sonatas, as well as a second symphony, were soon produced
and added to his reputation. He held several important
positions during the next few years, among them that of
music director at Meiningen in 1885, director of the
Munich court theatre in 1886, music director at Weimar
in 1890, and court Capellmeister at the Berlin Opera in
1900. He also has conducted at all the great European
festivals and made trips to Italy, England, and the United
States. His opera " Gun tram " was produced in 1894 ;
"Feuersnot" in 1902; and "Salome" in 1906. Of
these three, " Feuersnot " has been the most popular.
This composer, who seems to have taken Wagner's place
as the representative of " music of the future," is best
known in this country by his tone-poems, "Macbeth,"
" Tod und Verklarung," " Till Eulenspiegel," " Also sprach
Zarathustra," " Ein Heldenleben," " Don Quixote," and
" Symphonia Domestica."



"Feuersnot," song-poem in one act, text by Ernest
von Wolzogen, and dramatized from an episode in an old
Dutch saga, was first produced at Weimar, October 28,
1902. Both story and music are illustrative of German
burgher life in mediaeval times. The plot is connected with
the celebration of the " Sonnenwende " (the turning of the
sun) on the longest night of the year and the lighting of
the Johannis fire, emblematical of the glorification of the
senses. The scene is laid in Munich in the fabled "No-
time " or " Bad Time." As the curtain rises Kunrad der
Ebner is roused from his meditations by the children of
the city who are marching through the streets gathering
sticks for their fires from the people. Kunrad is occupying
a dismal house whose former occupant was driven away
for alleged witchcraft. He realizes how foolish he has
been to devote himself to books and to neglect the practical
things of life, and bids the children take his books and put
them in their fire. Meanwhile, the burgomaster's daughter
Diemut, as well as 'others, manifest more than ordinary in-
terest, which so emboldens him that he kisses her. In re-
venge she pretends to be in love with him, and plans a
meeting at midnight if he will ascend to her in a basket
which she will hang out and draw up to her room. Kun-
rad consents, and comes at night and gets into the basket.
Diemut, however, only draws him part way up and leaves him
hanging there, whereupon she summons the neighbors to jeer
at him. Kunrad now revenges himself in turn by magically
extinguishing all the fires in town and announcing that they
cannot be lit again until Diemut has consented to be his.
He then manages to climb to the balcony above him and
there awaits events. Diemut appears at her window, and,
moved by the piteous appeals of the burghers, relents and


admits him to her chamber. As she at last consents to be
his, light gradually appears in her room and suddenly they
break out all over the city and the " song poem " closes
with a grand paean of love.

The opening number is a children's chorus (" Gebts uns
a Holz zum Subendfeuer "), which is charmingly bright,
graceful, and even catchy, especially in the theme of the
accompaniment which follows the children whenever they
appear. It is the lightest theme in the score, and the
prattle of the youngsters (" Memma's verbrenna hamma
nix Maja, Maja, una mo, lober, lober luja ") is charmingly
illustrated. Diemut's opening song, as she appears among
the children (" Susse Amarellen "), is very melodious, and
is followed by another of their choruses (" Zu Minka, steht
a neu' baut's Haus "). After the choruses follow charac-
teristic bits for Iorg Poschel, Kunz Gilgenstock, and
Hamerlein full of humor and spirit, and these minor
characters are admirably pictured in the instrumentation.
Tulbeck's legend of Duke Heinrich and the Lion (" Als
Herzog Heinrich mit dem Lowen kam ") is sufficiently
described by its designation in the score, " to be delivered
with disagreeable and excessive monotony." The next
conspicuous number is Kunrad's declamation (" Sonnen-
wend ! Sonnenwend ! Klingst mir in Ohr ") which is
rather declamation, as already designated, than melody,
and set to a very complicated and descriptive accompani-
ment. The boys' and girls' choruses, " Heissa ! hellerlich-
ten," and " Maja, maja, mia, mo," which follow it, are
enormously difficult, especially as they are sung against
dramatic and descriptive accompaniments, and the har-
monies and intervals are unusual. The next long scene
for Kunrad (" Dass ich den Zauber lerne "), is a relief by
reason of its melodious and romantic character. A little
later on there is further relief as the choruses are grace-
ful and set to lively waltz tempo, though they are too



complicated and difficult to be easily caught. The burgo-
master's solo which follows (" Miau, miau ! Oh jeh ! — Was
formmts? ") is also full of humor and spirit, and would be
quite comprehensible even without words. Kunrad's next
aria (" Feuersnot ! Minnegebot ") is impressive and beauti-
ful, and is set to a very dramatic and involved accompani-
ment. The aria is Wagnerian in style throughout. It is
immediately followed by Diemut's great song, "Mitsommer-
nacht-wehvolle Wacht," which is not only romantic and
delightfully melodious but beautiful in harmonic effect.
The duet for Diemut and Kunrad which follows ("Mitsom-
mernacht ! Wonnige Wacht ") is up to the same standard,
and though full of complications and difficulties, chroma-
tics, accidentals, and unusual intervals, is tender, melodious,
and spirited by turns and fairly dazzling in its effect. Kun-
rad's magical appeal (" Hilf mir, Meister ! ") is strong and
distinctly ghostly in effect. His next number (" Im
Hause, das ich heut zerbann "), mostly in w r altz tempo, is
not only remarkable as a spirited and attractive declamation
with an accompaniment full of color, but it has an added
interest as a bit of satire upon the people of Munich. It is
Kunrad's address from the balcony to the crowd. Kun-
rad, who is typical of the new spirit, says that the house in
which he lives was once that of Master Reichardt, the ruler
of spirits (Wagner), and that although he did much for
them they cast out "the bold man " (der Wagner). But,
he adds, they could not drive out the new spirit (Strauss).
As he designates Wagner " the ruler of spirits," the Wal-
halla motif is heard and the words describing his banish-
ment are sung by Kunrad to u The Flying Dutchman's "
motif, while the allusion to " the new spirit " is accompanied
by a motif from Strauss's own opera, " Guntram." From
this point to the close of the opera the music is marked by
a great dignity and impressiveness of declamation, and
closes with a symphonic movement of remarkable beauty


and power, which has already found its way to the concert
stage, and became a favorite.

"Guntram," the first of Strauss's operas, is so difficult
that its performance is practically impossible so far as effect
is concerned. " Salome," his last opera, is even more
difficult, and requires such a colossal orchestra that it prob-
ably will not be given many times, but there is no reason
why " Feuersnot," after a few hearings, should not make
a favorable impression. Its subject is partly humorous.
The treatment is masterful and dignified, and feeling is also
developed. The accompaniments are complicated, but
very dramatic and descriptive, and the songs take their
own way without any apparent relation to the accompani-
ment. But the combination of humor, sentiment, and feel-
ing in the work is remarkable. The accompaniment is
Strauss's masterwork. It is so complete that the work
might be given with spoken dialogue and text throughout
and lose but little in effect, as the song parts with but few
exceptions are but declamations, the dramatic expression
being in the orchestra.


l written in collaboration with W. S. Gilbert, have
made him world-famous, was born in London, May 14,
1842, and died in that city in 1900. He began his musi-
cal career as a choir boy in the Chapel Royal, and pub-
lished his first song in 1855. He entered the Royal
Musical Academy in 1857, and from 1858 to 1861 studied
at Leipzig. He conducted numerous concerts and festivals
in England, and from 1876 to 1881 was at the head of the
National Training School for Music. He received many
honors at home and abroad during his career, and was
knighted in 1883. He wrote, among other works, inci-
dental music to many of Shakespeare's plays, the well-known
oratorios, "Prodigal Son" (1869), "The Light of the
World" (1873), " The Martyr of Antioch " (1880), a fes-
tival Te Deum (1872), a symphony in E (1866), and the
beautiful overtures, "In Memoriam," "Marmion," " De
Ballo," and " Sapphire Necklace." Had he continued
composing the higher music, undoubtedly he would have
achieved still greater works, but the temptations of the im-
mense popularity which attended the performances of his
operettas evidently were too much for him. As works of
their class, however, they have never been excelled for
melodiousness, humor, and delicacy. The list of these is as
follows: "Cox and Box" (1867) ; "The Contrabandista "
(1867); "Thespis" (1871); "Trial by Jury" (1875);
"The Zoo" (1875) '> " The Sorcerer" (1877) ; " H. M. S.
Pinafore" (1878); "The Pirates of Penzance" (1880);
" Patience " (1881) ; " Iolanthe " (1882) ; " Princess


Ida" (1884); "The Mikado" (1885); " Ruddygore "
(1877)-; "The Yeomen of the Guard" (1888) ; and "The
Gondoliers" (1889). Besides these, he wrote the grand
opera " Ivanhoe " (1891), and " Haddan Hall" (1892),
but the fame of the operettas overshadowed his last works
and they were neglected.

The Sorcerer

"The Sorcerer/' comic opera in two acts, text by
Gilbert, was first produced at the Opera Comique, London,
November 18, 1877, and in New York, February 21,
1879. The success of the two earlier operettas, "Cox
and Box" and "Trial by Jury," led to the organization
of a company under the management of Mr. D'Oyly
Carte for the production of the Sullivan-Gilbert collabora-
tions, and the first of its performances was "The Sorcerer."
Incidentally it may be stated that this opera introduced
Mr. George Grossmith to the stage, and its success led
to a proposition from "Lewis Carroll" to Sullivan to
set his "Alice in Wonderland" as an opera, though the
scheme was never realized. The libretto of "The Sor-
cerer" is replete with humor, the music is original and
characteristic, and particularly noticeable for its admirable
parodies of the Italian operas, and yet it is always
scholarly. The original cast was as follows :

Sorcerer George Grossmith.

Lady Sangazure Mrs. Howard Paul.

Aline Miss Alice May.

Alexis Mr. Bentham.

Baronet Mr. Temple.

Constance Mrs. G. Warwick.

The first act opens upon the grounds of Sir Marma-
duke Pointdextre's estate, where the villagers are gathered
to celebrate the betrothal of his son Alexis, and Aline,
daughter of Lady Sangazure, with whom, fifty years before,


Sir Marmaduke had been in love. Mrs. Partlet, the
pew-opener, enters with her daughter Constance, who
is hopelessly in love with Dr. Daly, the vicar, — for he
cannot be made to understand, either by her demon-
strations or by the mother's hints, that he is the object
of her devotion. Alexis and Aline are congratulated by
all and sign the marriage contract. When alone together
Alexis discourses upon his favorite theory that all artificial
barriers should be broken down and that marriage should
be contracted without regard to rank. To put this theory
into practice he procures from the firm of J. W. Wells
& Co., the old established family sorcerers of the place,
a large quantity of their love potion, which has no ef-
fect upon married persons but will cause unmarried ones
to couple without regard to rank or condition, mixes
it with the tea and serves it to all who are in attendance
at the betrothal banquet. Gradually all fall insensible,'
and the act closes.

The second act opens upon Sir Marmaduke's grounds
at midnight. The guests, one after the other, are waking.
Alexis tells Aline she must take some of the potion so
that he may be sure of her love, which she does after
much protesting. As they regain their senses, each guest
makes offer of marriage to the first one seen. Con-
stance declares her love for the old notary. Sir Mar-
maduke enters with Mrs. Partlet, the venerable pew-opener,
on his arm and announces his intention of marrying her.
Wells appears on the grounds in a remorseful condition
as he beholds the mischief he has caused, and Lady
Sangazure proposes to him, and leaves in great anguish
when he declares he is already engaged to "a maiden
fair on a South Pacific Isle." Aline beholds Dr. Daly
and begins to fall violently in love with him and he
with her. Alexis, in alarm at the trouble he is making,
seeks out Wells and demands that he shall remove the


spell. Wells explains that in order to do this, one or
the other of them must offer his life to Ahrimanes. Alexis
is not willing to give up Aline, and Wells is averse to
losing his profitable business. They agree to leave the
decision to the guests, and the latter agree that Wells
shall make the sacrifice. He consents, and all go back
to their old lovers as he sinks through a trap amid red fire.
The most conspicuous numbers in the first act are
Dr. Daly's ballad ("Time was when Love and I were
well acquainted ") ; the duet between Sir Marmaduke and
Lady Sangazure (" Welcome Joy, adieu to Sadness ") ;
Alexis's ballad (" Love feeds on many Kinds of Food
I know ") ; Wells's long and rollicking song (" Oh ! my
Name is John Wellington Wells"); and the incantation
music (" Sprites of Earth and Air ") . The second act opens
with a charming little country dance. The principal
numbers which follow it are Constance's aria ("Dear
Friends, take Pity on my Lot") ; the ensemble for Aline,
Alexis, Constance, and the Notary (" O, Joy ! O, Joy ! ") ;
Alexis's ballad (" Thou hast the Power thy vaunted Love ") ;
the quintet (" I rejoice that it 's decided ") ; Dr. Daly's
humorous song (" Oh ! my Voice is sad and low ") ; and
the finale ensemble ("Now to the Banquet we press").

H. M. S. Pinafore

" H. M. S. Pinafore ; or, The Lass that Loved a Sailor,"
comic opera in two acts, text by Gilbert, was first pro-
duced at the Opera Comique, London, May 28, 1878, and
in New York, January 15, 1879, w ^ tn tne following cast:

Captain Corcoran Rutland Barrington.

Josephine Miss E. Howson.

Ralph Rackstraw Mr. Power.

Rt. Hon. Sir Joseph Porter Geo. Grossmith, Jr.

Little Buttercup Miss Everard.

Dick Deadeye Mr. R. Temple.

Hebe Miss J. Bond.

Bitt Bobstay Mr. Clifford.


Although " Pinafore," when it was first produced in
London, was received so coolly that it was decided to
take it off the boards, yet eventually, with the exception
of "The Beggar's Opera," it proved to be the most
popular opera ever produced in England; while in the
United States it was for years the rage, and is still a
great favorite. The first scene introduces the leading
characters on the deck of " H. M. S. Pinafore" in the
harbor of Portsmouth. Little Buttercup, a bumboat
woman, " the rosiest, the roundest, and the reddest beauty
in all Spithead," comes on board and has an interview
with Dick Deadeye, the villain of the story, and Ralph
Rackstraw, "the smartest lad in all the fleet," who is
in love with Josephine, Captain Corcoran's daughter. The
Captain appears on deck in a melancholy mood because
Josephine has shown herself indifferent to Sir Joseph
Porter, K.C.B., who is to ask for her hand that after-
noon. She confesses to her father that she loves a com-
mon sailor, but will carry her love to the grave without
letting him know of it. Sir Joseph comes on board
with a long retinue of sisters, cousins, and aunts, who
chant his praises. After attending to some minor de-
tails, he has a fruitless interview with the Captain and
Josephine. She protests she cannot love him. Shortly
afterwards she meets Ralph, who declares his love for
her, but she haughtily rejects him. When he draws his
pistol and declares he will shoot himself, she acknowl-
edges her love, and they plan to steal ashore at night
and be married. Dick Deadeye overhears the plot and
threatens to thwart it.

The second act opens at night. Captain Corcoran is
discovered sadly complaining to the moon, and wonder-
ing why everything is at "sixes and sevens." Little
Buttercup sympathizes with him, and is about to become
affectionate, when he informs her he can only be her


friend. She grows enraged, and warns him there is a
change in store for him. Sir Joseph enters, and informs
the Captain he is much disappointed at the way Josephine
has acted. The Captain replies that she is probably
dazzled by his rank, and that if he will reason with her
and convince her that "love levels all ranks," everything
will be right. Sir Joseph does so, but only pleads his
rival's cause. She tells him she has hesitated, but now
she hesitates no longer. Sir Joseph and the Captain are
rejoicing over her apparent change of heart, when Dick
Deadeye reveals the plot to elope that night. The Cap-
tain confronts them as they are stealthily leaving the
vessel, and insists upon knowing what Josephine is about
to do. Ralph steps forward and declares his love, where-
upon the Captain grows furious and lets slip an oath.
He is overheard by Sir Joseph, who orders him to his
cabin "with celerity." He then inquires of Ralph what
he has done to make the Captain profane. He replies
it was his acknowledgment of love for Josephine, where-
upon, in a towering rage, Sir Joseph orders his imprison-
ment in the ship's dungeon. He then remonstrates with
Josephine, whereupon Little Buttercup reveals her secret.
Years before, when she was practising baby-farming, she
nursed two babies, one of "low condition," the other "a
regular patrician," and she "mixed those children up
and not a creature knew it." " The well-born babe was
Ralph, your Captain was the other." Sir Joseph orders
the two before him, gives Ralph the command of " H.
M. S. Pinafore," and Corcoran Ralph's place. As his
marriage with Josephine is now impossible, he gives her
to Ralph, and Captain Corcoran, now a common seaman,

Online LibraryGeorge P. (George Putnam) UptonThe standard operas: their plots, their music, and their composers → online text (page 22 of 37)