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George P. (George Putnam) Upton.

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

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was first produced at Venice, March ii, 1851, with the
following cast of the leading parts :

Rigoletto Sig. Coletti.

Duke Sig. Beaucarde.

Gilda Signora Evers.

The part of Gilda has always been a favorite one with
great artists, among whom Nantier-Didiee, Bosio, and
Miolan-Carvalho played the role with extraordinary success.
In the London season of i860 Mario and Ronconi in the
respective parts of the Duke and Rigoletto, it is said, gave
dramatic portraitures which were among the most consum-
mate achievements of the lyric stage. The records of its
first production, like those of " Ernani," are of unusual
interest. Verdi himself suggested Victor Hugo's tragedy
to Piave for a libretto, and he soon prepared one, chang-
ing the original title, however, to " La Maledizione."
Warned by the political events of 1848, the police flatly
refused to allow the representation of a king on the stage
in such situations as those given to Francis I. in the original





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VERDI 3SS

tragedy. The composer and the manager of the theatre
begged in vain that the libretto should be accepted, but
the authorities were obstinate. At last a way was found
out of the difficulty by the chief of police himself, who was
a great lover of art. He suggested to the librettist that the
King should be changed to a duke of Mantua, and the title
of the work to " Rigoletto," the name of the buffoon who
figures in the place of the original Triboulet. Verdi ac-
cepted the alterations, and had an opera ready in forty days
which by nearly all critics is considered his musical master-
piece, notwithstanding the revolting character of the story.

The scene of the opera is laid in Mantua. Rigoletto,
the privileged buffoon of the Duke, who also plays the part
of pander in all his licentious schemes, among numerous
other misdeeds has assisted his master in the seduction of
the wife of Count Ceprano and the daughter of Count
Monterone. The latter appears before the Duke and
Rigoletto, and demands reparation for the dishonor put
upon his house, only to find himself arrested by order
of the Duke, and taunted in the most insolent manner by
the buffoon, upon whom he invokes the vengeance of
Heaven. Even the courtiers themselves are enraged at
Rigoletto's taunts, and determine to assist in Monterone's
revenge by stealing Gilda, the jester's daughter, whom they
suppose to be his mistress. Closely as she had been con-
cealed, she had not escaped the observation of the Duke,
who in the guise of a poor student wins her affections and
discovers her dwelling-place. Pretending that it is Count
Ceprano's wife whom they are about to abduct, they even
make Rigoletto assist in the plot and help convey his own
daughter to the Duke's apartments. In his blind fury when
he discovers the trick that has been played upon him, he
hires Sparafucile, a professional assassin, to kill the Duke.
The bravo allures the Duke to his house, intending to
carry out his agreement ; but his sister, Magdalena, is so



3 $6 THE STANDARD OPERAS

fascinated with the handsome stranger, that she determines
to save him. Sparafucile at first will not listen to her, but
finally promises if any one else comes to the house before
the time agreed upon for the murder he shall be the victim.
Rigoletto meanwhile disguises his daughter in male attire
in order that she may escape to Verona ; but before she
sets out he takes her to the vicinity of Sparafucile's house,
that she may witness the perfidy of the Duke. While out-
side, she overhears the quarrel between Sparafucile and
Magdalena, and learns his intention to murder the Duke,
who is even then sleeping in the house. With a woman's
devotion she springs forward to save the Duke's life,
knocks at the door, and demands admittance. Sparafucile
opens it, and as she enters stabs her. He then thrusts her
body into a sack, and delivers it to her father as the body
of the man whom he had agreed to slay. Rigoletto, gloating
over his revenge, is about to throw the sack into the river
near by, when he suddenly hears the voice of the Duke.
He tears open the sack to see whose body it contains, and
by the glare of the lightning is horrified to find that it is his
own daughter, and realizes that the malediction of Mon-
terone has been accomplished. She expires in his arms,
blessing her lover and father, while he sinks to the ground
overwhelmed with the fulfilment of the terrible curse.

The first act opens in the ballroom of the ducal palace.
After a brief dialogue between the Duke and one of his
courtiers, the former vaunts his own fickleness in one of
the most graceful and charming arias in the whole opera
(" Questa o quella"). Some spirited dramatic scenes fol-
low, which introduce the malediction of Monterone and
the compact between Rigoletto and Sparafucile, and lead
up to a scena of great power (" Io la lingua, egli ha il pug-
nali "), in which the buffoon vents his furious rage against
the courtiers. A tender duet between Rigoletto and Gilda
follows, and a second duet in the next scene between



VERDI



357



Gilda and the Duke (" Addio, speranza ed anima "), which
for natural grace, passionate intensity, and fervid expres-
sion is one of Verdi's finest numbers. As the Duke leaves,
Gilda, following him with her eyes, breaks out in the pas-
sionate love-song, " Caro norae," which is not alone re-
markable for its delicacy and richness of melody, but also
for the brilliancy of its bravura, calling for rare range and
flexibility of voice. The act closes with the abduction, and
gives an opportunity for a delightful male chorus (" Zitti,
zitti ") sung pianissimo.

The second act also opens in the palace, with an aria by
the Duke (" Parmi veder le lagrime "), in which he laments
the loss of Gilda. Another fine chorus (" Scorrendo uniti
remota via ") follows, from which he learns that Gilda is
already in the palace. In the fourth scene Rigoletto has
another grand scena (" Cortigiani vil razza dannata "),
which is intensely dramatic, expressing in its musical alter-
nations the whole gamut of emotions, from the fury of
despair to the most exquisite tenderness of appeal as he
pleads with the courtiers to tell him where his daughter is.
In the next scene he discovers her, and the act closes with
a duet between them (" Tutte le feste al tempio "), which,
after a strain of most impassioned tenderness, is inter-
rupted by the passage of the guards conveying Monterone
to prison, and then closes with a furious outburst of pas-
sion from Rigoletto. With the exception of two numbers,
the last act depends for its effect upon the dramatic situa-
tions and the great power of the terrible denouement ; but
these two numbers are among the finest Verdi has ever
given to the world. The first is the tenor solo sung in
Sparafucile's house in the second scene by the Duke
(" La donna e mobile "), an aria of extreme elegance and
graceful abandon, which is heard again in the last scene,
its lightly tripping measures contrasting strangely with the
savage glee of Rigoletto, so soon to change to wails of



358 THE STANDARD OPERAS

despair as he realizes the full force of the malediction.
The second is the great quartet in the third scene between
the Duke, Gilda, Magdalena. and Rigoletto (" Bella figlia
dell' amore ") which stands out as an inspiration in com-
parison with the rest of the opera, fine as its music is. The
story itself is almost too repulsive for stage representation ;
but in beauty, freshness, originality, and dramatic expres-
sion the music of "Rigoletto " is Verdi's best; and in all
this music the quartet is the masterpiece.

La Traviata

"La Traviata," opera in three acts, text by Piave, is
founded upon Dumas's " Dame aux Camelias," familiar to
the English stage as " Camille," and was first produced at
Venice, March 6, 1853, with the following cast of the prin-
cipal parts :

Violeita Mme. Donatelli.

Alfredo M. Graziani.

Germont . . M. Varesi.

The original play is supposed to represent phases of mod-
ern French life ; but the Italian libretto changes the period
to the year 1700, in the days of Louis XIV. ; and there are
also some material changes of characters, — Marguerite
Gauthier of the original appearing as Violetta Valery, and
Olympia as Flora Belvoix, at whose house the ball scene
takes place.

The opera at its first production was a complete failure,
though this was due more to the singers than to the music.
It is said that when the doctor announced in the third act
that Mme. Donatelli, who impersonated the consumptive
heroine, and who was one of the stoutest ladies ever seen
on the stage, had but a few days to live, the whole audi-
ence broke out into roars of laughter. Time has brought
its consolations to the composer, however, for " Traviata "




Geraldine Farrar as Violetta



VERDI 359

is now one of the most popular operas in the Italian reper-
tory. When it was first produced in Paris, October 27, 1864,
Christine Nilsson made her debut in it. In London, the
charming little singer Mme. Piccolomini made her debut
in the same opera, May 24, 1856. Adelina Patti, subse-
quently, not only made Violetta the strongest character in
her repertory, but has been without question the most
finished representative of the fragile heroine the stage has
seen.

The story as told by the librettist simply resolves itself
into three principal scenes, — the supper at Violetta's
house, where she makes the acquaintance of Alfred, and
the rupture between them occasioned by the arrival of
Alfred's father; the ball at the house of Flora; and the
death scene and reconciliation, linked together by recita-
tive, so that the dramatic unity of the original is lost to a
certain extent. The first act opens with a gay party in
Violetta's house. Among the crowd about her is Alfred
Germont, a young man from Provence, who is passionately
in love with her. The sincerity of his passion finally in-
fluences her to turn aside from her life of voluptuous pleas-
ure and to cherish a similar sentiment for him. In the
next act we find her living in seclusion with her lover in a
country-house in the environs of Paris, to support which
she has sold her property in the city. When Alfred dis-
covers this he refuses to be the recipient of her bounty,
and sets out for Paris to recover the property. During his
absence his father, who has discovered his retreat, visits
Violetta, and pleads with her to forsake Alfred, not only on
his own account, but to save his family from disgrace.
Touched by the father's grief, she consents, and secretly
returns to Paris, where she once more resumes her old life.
At a ball given by Flora Belvoix, one of Violetta's asso-
ciates, Alfred meets her again, overwhelms her with re-
proaches, and insults her by flinging her miniature at her



3 6o THE STANDARD OPERAS

feet in presence of the whole company. Stung by her
degradation, Violetta goes home to die, and too late Alfred
learns the real sacrifice she has made. He hastens to
comfort her, but she dies forgiving and blessing him.

After a short prelude the first act opens with a vivacious
chorus of the guests at Violetta's supper, leading to a drink-
ing song (" Libiamo, libiamo ") in waltz time, sung first by
Alfred and then by Violetta, the chorus echoing each
couplet with very pretty effect. After a long dialogue be-
tween the two, closing with chorus, Violetta has a grand
scena which is always a favorite show-piece with concert
artists. It begins with an andante movement (" Ah ! fors e
lui "), expressive of the suddenly awakened love which
she feels for Alfred, with a refrain of half a dozen measures
in the finale which might be called the Violetta motive, and
then suddenly develops into a brisk and sparkling allegro
(" Sempre libera ") full of the most florid and brilliant orna-
mentation, in which she again resolves to shut out every
feeling of love and. plunge into the whirl of dissipation.
This number, unlike most of Verdi's finales which are
concerted, closes the act.

The second act opens in the country-house with an
effective tenor aria (" De' miei bollenti ") sung by Alfred.
In the next scene Germont enters, and after a brief dia-
logue with Violetta sings a short cantabile (" Pura siccome
un angelo "), leading to a duet (" Dite alia giovine ") with
Violetta which is full of tenderness. In the interview
which immediately follows between Germont and Alfred,
the father appeals to his son with memories of home in an
andante (" Di Provenza il mar ") which in form and simplic-
ity and simple pathos of expression might almost be called
a ballad. It is always a favorite, and is usually considered
the best number in the opera, notwithstanding its simple
melody. The next scene changes to the ballroom of
Flora, and is introduced with a peculiar chorus effect. A



VERDI 361

masked chorus of gypsies, accompanying their measures
with tambourines, is followed by a second chorus of mata-
dors, also in mask, who accent the time with the pikes they
carry, the double number ending with a gay bolero. The
act closes with a long duet between Violetta and Alfred,
developing in the finale, by the entrance of Germont, into
a very strong and dramatic trio.

The third act opens in Violetta's chamber with a rem-
iniscence of the introduction. As she contemplates her
changed appearance in the mirror, she bids a sad farewell
to her dreams of happiness in the aria (" Addio ! del pas-
sato ") in harsh contrast with which is heard a bacchanalian
chorus behind the scenes (" Largo al quadrupede "). In
the next scene occurs the passionate duet with Alfred
(" Parigi, o cara "), which is a close copy of the final duet in
" Trovatore," between Manrico and Azucena. It is fol-
lowed by the aria (" Ah ! gran Dio ") for Violetta, which
leads to the concluding quintet and death scene.

Il Trovatore

"II Trovatore," opera in four acts, words by Camma-
rano, was first produced in Rome, January 19, 1853, with
Mme. Penco, Mme. Goggi, MM. Baucard£, Guicciardi, and
Balderi in the cast. In 1857 it was brought out in Paris as
" Le Trouvere," with Mario as the Count, Mme. Frezzolini
as Leonora, and Mme. Borghi-Mamo as Azucena, and in
London, 1856, in English, as "The Gypsy's Vengeance."
It was first produced in New York with Signora SterTer-
none, Signorina Vestvali, Signori Brignoli, and Amodio in
the cast May 2, 1855. It was produced in Rome in the
same year with " La Traviata," but unlike the latter, it was
greeted at once with an enthusiastic welcome. It has held
the stage ever since and shares with " Martha " and " Faust n
a high place in popular admiration.

The opera opens with a midnight scene at the palace of



362 THE STANDARD OPERAS

Aliaferia, where the old servitor, Ferrando, relates to his
associates the story of the fate of Garzia, brother of the
Count di Luna, in whose service they are employed.
While in their cradles, Garzia was bewitched by an old
gypsy, and day by day pined away. The gypsy was burned
at the stake for sorcery; and in revenge Azucena, her
daughter, stole the sickly child. At the opening of the
opera his fate has not been discovered. As the servitor
closes his narrative and he and his companions depart, the
Count di Luna enters and lingers by the apartment of the
Duchess Leonora, with whom he is in love. Hearing his
voice, Leonora comes into the garden, supposing it is Man-
rico, the troubadour, whom she had crowned victor at a
recent tournament, and of whom she had become violently
enamored. As she greets the Count, Manrico appears
upon the scene and charges her with infidelity. Recogniz-
ing her error, she flies to Manrico for protection. The
Count challenges him to combat, and as they prepare to
fight she falls to the ground insensible.

In the second act we are introduced to a gypsy camp,
where Azucena relates to Manrico, who has been wounded
in the duel with the Count, the same story which Ferrando
had told his friends, with the addition that when she saw her
mother burning she caught up the Count's child, intending
to throw it into the flames, but by a mistake sacrificed her
own infant. As the story concludes, a messenger arrives,
summoning Manrico to the defence of the castle of Cas-
tellar, and at the same time informing him that Leonora,
supposing him dead, has gone to a convent. He arrives
at the convent in time to rescue her before she takes her
vows, and bears her to Castellar, which is at once besieged
by the Count's forces.

The third act opens in the camp of the Count, where
Azucena, arrested as a spy, is dragged in. She calls upon
Manrico for help. The mention of his rival's name only




Campanini as Manrico



VERDI 363

adds fuel to the Count's wrath, and he orders the gypsy to
be burned in sight of the castle. Ferrando has already
recognized her as the supposed murderer of the Count's
brother, and her filial call to Manrico also reveals to him
that she is his mother. He makes a desperate effort to
rescue her, but is defeated, taken prisoner, and thrown into
a dungeon with Azucena. Leonora vainly appeals to the
Count to spare Manrico, and at last offers him her hand if
he will save his life. He consents, and Leonora hastens to
the prison to convey the tidings, having previously taken
poison, preferring to die rather than fulfil her hateful com-
pact. Manrico refuses his liberty, and as Leonora falls in
a dying condition the Count enters and orders Manrico to
be put to death at once. He is dragged away to execution,
but as the Count triumphantly forces Azucena to a window
and shows her the tragic scene, she reveals her secret, and
informing the horror-stricken Count that he has murdered
his own brother, falls lifeless to the ground.

The first act opens with a ballad in mazurka time (" Ab-
bietta Zingara "), in which Ferrando relates the story of the
gypsy, leading up to a scena for Leonora, which is treated in
Verdi 's favorite style. It begins with an andante (" Tacea
la notte placida "), a brief dialogue with her attendant Inez
intervening, and then develops into an allegro (" Di tale
amor ") which is a brilliant bit of bravura. A brief snatch
of fascinating melody behind the scenes (" Deserto sulla
terra ") introduces Manrico, and the act closes with a trio
(" Di geloso amor sprezzato "), which as an expression of
combined grief, fear, and hate, is one of the most dramatic
and intense of all Verdi's finales.

The second act opens with the Anvil Chorus in the camp
of the gypsies (" La Zingarella "), the measures accented
with hammers upon the anvils. This number is so familiar
that it does not need further reference. As its strains die
away in the distance, Azucena breaks out into an aria of



364 THE STANDARD OPERAS

intense energy, with very expressive accompaniment (" Stride
la vampa "), in which she tells the fearful story of the burn-
ing of her mother. A very dramatic dialogue with Manrico
ensues, closing with a spirited aria for tenor (" Mai reg-
gendo ") and duet (" Sino all' elsa "). The scene is inter-
rupted by the notes of a horn announcing the arrival of a
messenger. The second scene is introduced by a flowing,
broad, and beautifully sustained aria for the Count (" II
balen del suo "), and, like Leonora's numbers in the garden
scene, again develops from a slow movement to a rapid and
spirited march tempo (" Per me ora fatale "), the act closing
with a powerful concerted effect of quartet and chorus.

The third act is introduced with a very free and animated
soldiers' chorus. Azucena is dragged in and sings a plain-
tive lament for Manrico (" Giorni poveri "). Two duets
follow, between Azucena and the Count, and Manrico and
Leonora, — the second worked up with beautiful effect by
the blending of the organ in the convent chapel. The act
closes with the spirited aria, " Di quella pirra," for Manrico,
— a number which has always been the delight of great
dramatic tenors, not alone for its fine melody, but for its
opportunity of showing the voice and using the exceptional
high C in the finale of the aria.

The last act is replete with beautiful melodies following
each other in quick succession. It opens with a very florid
aria for Leonora (" D ? amor sulP ali rose "), leading to the
exquisite scene of the Miserere (" Ah, che la morte ") — a
number which has never yet failed to charm and arouse
audiences with the beauty and richness of its musical
effect. As the Count enters, Leonora has another power-
ful aria (" Mira, di acerbe "), which in the next scene is fol-
lowed by the familiar duet between Azucena and Manrico
("Si la stanchezza"), upon which Verdi lavished his musi-
cal skill with charming effect. The last scene closes with
the tragedy. The whole opera is liberally enriched with



VERDI 3 6$

melodies, and is dramatic throughout ; but the last act is the
crown of the work, and may successfully challenge com-
parison, for beauty, variety, and dramatic effect, with any
other opera in the purely Italian school.

The Masked Ball

"II Ballo in Maschera," opera in three acts, text by
M. Somma, was first produced in Rome, February 17,
1859, with Fraschini as Ricardo and Mile. Lagrua as
Amelie. In preparing his work for the stage, Verdi en-
countered numerous obstacles. The librettist used the same
subject which M. Scribe had adapted for Auber's opera
(" Gustavus III."), and the opera was at first called by the
same name, — " Gustavo III." It was intended for produc-
tion at the San Carlo, Naples, during the Carnival of 1858 ;
but while the rehearsals were proceeding, Orsini made his
memorable attempt to kill Napoleon III., and the authorities
at once forbade a performance of the work, as it contained a
conspiracy scene. The composer was ordered to set differ-
ent words to his music, but he peremptorily refused ; where-
upon the manager brought suit against him, claiming forty
thousand dollars' damages. The disappointment nearly
incited a revolution in Naples. Crowds gathered in the
streets shouting, " Viva Verdi," implying at the same time,
by the use of the letters in Verdi's name, the sentiment,
" Viva Vittorio Emmanuele Re Di Italia." A way out of
his difficulties, however, was finally suggested by the im-
presario at Rome, who arranged with the censorship to
have the work brought out at the Teatro Apollo as " Un
Ballo in Maschera." The scene was changed to Boston,
Massachusetts, and the time laid in the colonial period,
notwithstanding the anachronism that masked balls were
unknown at that time in New England history. The
Swedish king appeared as Ricardo, Count of Warwick
and Governor of Boston, and his attendants as Royalists



3 66 THE STANDARD OPERAS

and Puritans, among them two negroes, Sam and Tom,
who are very prominent among the conspirators. In this
form, the Romans having no objection to the assassination
of an English governor, the opera was produced with great
success.

The first act opens in the house of the Governor, where
a large party, among them a group of conspirators, is as-
sembled. During the meeting a petition is presented for
the banishment of Ulrico, a negro sorcerer. Urged by
curiosity, the Governor, disguised as a sailor and accom-
panied by some of his friends, pays the old witch a visit.
Meanwhile another visit has been planned. Amelie, the
wife of the Governor's secretary, meets the witch at night
in quest of a remedy for her passion for Richard, who of
course has also been fascinated by her. They arrive about
the same time, and he overhears the witch telling her to go
to a lonely spot, where she will find an herb potent enough
to cure her of her evil desires. The Governor follows her,
and during their interview the Secretary hurriedly rushes
upon the scene to notify him that conspirators are on his
track. He throws a veil over Amelie's face and orders
Reinhart, the Secretary, to conduct her to a place of safety
without seeking to know who she is. He consents, and
the Governor conceals himself in the forest. The conspira-
tors meanwhile meet the pair, and in the confusion Amelie
drops her veil, thus revealing herself to Reinhart. Furious
at the Governor's perfidy, he joins the conspirators. In
the denouement the Secretary stabs his master at a masquer-
ade, and the latter while dying attests the purity of Amelie,



Online LibraryGeorge P. (George Putnam) UptonThe standard operas: their plots, their music, and their composers → online text (page 26 of 37)