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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 magnanimously gives his secretary a commission
appointing him to a high position in England.

After a brief prelude, the first act opens with a double
chorus, in which the attitude of the friends of the Governor
and the conspirators against him is strongly contrasted.
In the next scene Richard and his page, Oscar, enter ; and




Emma Eames as Amelia

Copyright, Aime Dupcmt



VERDI 367

after a short dialogue Richard sings a very graceful romanza
(" La rivedra nell' estasi "), which in the next scene is fol-
lowed by a spirited aria for Reinhart (" Di speranze e
gloriepiena"). In the fourth scene Oscar has a very pretty
song (" Volta la terrea "), in which he defends Ulrico
against the accusations of the judge, leading up to a very
effective quintet and chorus which has a flavor of the opera
boufTe style. In grim contrast with it comes the witch music
in the next scene (" Re del abisso "), set to a weird ac-
companiment. As the various parties arrive, a somewhat
talky trio ensues between Amelie, Ulrico, and Richard,
followed in the next scene by a lovely barcarole (" Di' tu
se fedele "), sung by Richard, leading to a concerted finale
full of sharp dramatic contrasts.

The second act opens upon a moonlight scene on the
spot where murderers are punished ; and Amelie, searching
for the magic herb, sings a long dramatic aria (" Ma dall
arido ") consisting of abrupt and broken measures, the
orchestra filling the gaps with characteristic accompani-
ment. Richard appears upon the scene, and the passion-
ate love-duet follows (" M' ami, m' ami "). The interview
is ended by the sudden appearance of Reinhart, who warns
the Governor of his danger, the scene taking the form of
a spirited trio ('• Odi tu come "). A buffo trio closes the
act, Sam and Tom supplying the humorous element with
their laughing refrain.

The last act opens in Reinhart's house with a passionate
scene between the Secretary and his wife, containing two
strong numbers, a minor andante (" Morro, ma prima in
grazia ") for Amelie, and an aria for Reinhart (" O dol-
cezzo perdute "), which for originality and true artistic
power is worthy of being classed as an inspiration. The
conspiracy music then begins, and leads to the ball scene,
which is most brilliantly worked up with orchestra, military
band, and stringed quartet behind the scenes supplying the



368 THE STANDARD OPERAS

dance music, and the accompaniment to the tragical con-
spiracy, in the midst of which, like a bright sunbeam, comes
the page's bewitching song, " Saper vorreste." The opera
closes with the death of Richard, set to a very dramatic
accompaniment. " The Masked Ball " was the last work
Verdi wrote for the Italian stage, and though uneven in its
general effect, it contains some of his most original and
striking numbers, — particularly those allotted to the page
and Reinhart. In the intensity of the music and the
strength of the situations it is superior even to "Trovatore,"
as the composer makes his effects more legitimately.

Aida

" Aida," opera in four acts, was first produced for the
inauguration of the new opera house at Cairo, Egypt,
December 24, 187 1, and was written upon a commission
from the Khedive of that country, with the following
cast :

Aida Signora Pozzoni.

Amneris Signora Grossl

Rhadames Signor Mongini.

Amonasro Signor Costa.

Ravifis Signor Medini.

King Signor Steller.

The subject of the opera was taken from a sketch, origi-
nally written in prose, by the director of the Museum at
Boulak, which was afterwards rendered into French verse by
M. Camille de Locle, and translated thence into Italian
for Verdi by Sig. A. Ghizlandoni. It is notable for Verdi's
departure from the conventional Italian forms and the
partial surrender he made to the constantly increasing
influence of the so-called " music of the future." The sub-
ject is entirely Egyptian, and the music is full of Oriental
color.

The action of the opera passes in Memphis and Thebes,




Gadski as Aida



VERDI 369

and the period is in the time of the Pharaohs. Aida, the
heroine, is a slave, daughter of Amonasro, the King of
Ethiopia, and at the opening of the opera is in captivity
among the Egyptians. A secret attachment exists between
herself and Rhadames, a young Egyptian warrior, who is
also loved by Amneris, daughter of the sovereign of Egypt.
The latter suspects that she has a rival, but does not dis-
cover her until Rhadames returns victorious from an expe-
dition against the rebellious Amonasro, who is brought back
a prisoner. The second act opens with a scene between
Amneris and Aida, in which the Princess wrests the secret
from the slave by pretending that Rhadames has been
killed ; and the truth is still further revealed when Rha-
dames pleads with the King to spare the lives of the
captives. The latter agrees to release all but Aida and
Amonasro, bestows the hand of Amneris upon the unwill-
ing conqueror, and the act closes amid general jubilation.
Acting upon Amonasro's admonitions, Aida influences
Rhadames to fly from Egypt and espouse the cause of her
father. The lovers are overheard by Amneris and Ramfis,
the high priest. The Princess, with all the fury of a woman
scorned, denounces Rhadames as a traitor. He is tried
for treason and condemned to be buried alive in the vaults
under the temple of the god Phtah. Pardon is offered
him if he will accept the hand of Amneris, but he refuses
and descends to the tomb, where he finds Aida awaiting
him. The stones are sealed above them and the lovers
are united in death, while Amneris, heart-broken over the
tragedy her jealousy has caused, kneels in prayer before
their sepulchre.

After a short prelude, consisting of a beautiful pianissimo
movement, mainly for the violins, and very Wagnerian in its
general style, the first act opens in the hall of the King's
palace at Memphis. A short dialogue between Rhadames
and the priest Ramfis leads to a delicious romanza (" Celeste

24



370 THE STANDARD OPERAS

Aida") which is entirely fresh and original, recalling noth-
ing that appears in any of Verdi's previous works. It is
followed by a strong declamatory duet between Rhadames
and Amneris, which upon the appearance of Aida develops
into a trio ("Vieni, o diletta"). In the next scene the
King and his retinue of ministers, priests, and warriors
enter, and a majestic ensemble occurs, beginning with a
martial chorus (" Su ! del Nilo ") in response to the appeal
of the priests. As the war chorus dies away and the retinue
disappears, A'ida has ■ a scena of great power. It begins
with a lament for her country ("Ritorna vincitor"), in
passionate declamatory phrases, clearly showing the influ-
ence of Wagner ; but in its smooth, flowing cantabile in
the finale (" Numi, pieta "), Verdi returns to the Italian
style again. The final scene is full of Oriental color and
barbaric richness of display. The consecrated arms are
delivered to Rhadames. The priestesses behind the scene
to the accompaniment of harps, and the priests in front
with sonorous chant, invoke the aid of the god Phtah,
while other priestesses execute the sacred dance. An
impressive duet between Ramfis and Rhadames closes
the act. In this finale, Verdi has utilized two native
Egyptian themes, — the melody sung by the priestesses
with the harps, and the dance-melody given out by the
flutes.

The second act opens with a female chorus by the slave
girls, the rhythm of which is in keeping with the Oriental
scene, followed by an impassioned duet between Amneris
and Aida (" Alia pompa che si appresta"), through which
are heard the martial strains of the returning conqueror.
The second scene opens the way for another ensemble,
which with its massive choruses, and its stirring march and
ballet, heralding the victory of Rhadames, is one of the most
picturesque stage scenes the opera has ever furnished. A
solemn, plaintive strain runs through the general jubilation




Marie Brema as Amneris



VERDI 371

in the appeal of Amonasro (" Questa assisa ch' io vesto ")
to the King for mercy to the captives. The finale begins
with the remonstrances of the priests and people against
the appeals of Amonasro and Rhadames, and closes with
an intensely dramatic concerted number, — a quintet set
off against the successive choruses of the priests, prisoners,
and people ("Gloria all' Egitto").

The third act, like the first, after a brief dialogue, opens
with a lovely romanza (" O cieli azzurri "), sung by Aida,
and the remainder of the act is devoted to two duets, — the
first between Amonasro and Aida, and the second between
Rhadames and Aida. Each is very dramatic in style and
passionate declamation, while they are revelations in the
direction of combining the poetic and musical elements,
when compared with any of the duets in Verdi's previous
operas. In the last act the first scene contains another
impressive duet between Rhadames and Amneris (" Chi ti
salva, o sciagurato "), ending with the despairing song of
Amneris (" Ohime ! morir mi sento "). In the last scene
the stage is divided into two parts. The upper represents
the temple of Vulcan, or Phtah, crowded with priests and
priestesses, chanting as the stone is closed over the sub-
terranean entrance, while below, in the tomb, Aida and
Rhadames sing their dying duet (" O terra, addio "), its
strains blending with the jubilation of the priests and the
measures of the priestesses' sacred dance. " Aida " is
unquestionably the greatest, if not the most popular, of
Verdi's works. It marks a long step from the style of
his other operas towards the production of dramatic effect
by legitimate musical means, and shows the strong influ-
ence Wagner had upon him.



372 THE STANDARD OPERAS



Othello

" Othello/' opera in four acts, text by Boito, after the
Shakesperean tragedy, first produced at La Scala Theatre,
Milan, February 5, 1887, with the following cast :

Othello Sig. Tamagno.

Iago Sig. Maurel.

Cassio Sig. Paroli.

Roderigo Sig. Fornari.

Litdovico Sig. Navarrini.

Desdemona Signora Pantaleoni.

The curtain rises upon a scene in Cyprus. A storm is
raging, and a crowd, among them Iago, Cassio, and
Roderigo, watch the angry sea, speculating upon the fate
of Othello's vessel, which finally arrives safely in port amid
much rejoicing. After returning the welcomes of his
friends he enters the castle with Cassio and Montano. The
conspiracy at once begins by the disclosure by Iago to
Roderigo of the means by which Cassio's ruin may be
compassed. Then follows the quarrel, which is inter-
rupted by the appearance of Othello, who deprives Cassio
of his office. A love scene ensues between Desdemona
and the Moor ; but in the next act the malignity of Iago
has already begun to take effect, and the seeds of jealousy
are sown in Othello's breast. His suspicions are freshly
aroused when Desdemona intercedes in Cassio's behalf,
and are changed to conviction by the handkerchief episode
and Iago's artful insinuation that Cassio mutters the name
of Desdemona in his sleep ; at which the enraged Moor
clutches him by the throat and hurls him to the ground.
In the third act Iago continues his diabolical purpose, at
last so inflaming Othello's mind that he denounces Des-
demona for her perfidy. The act concludes with the
audience to the Venetian embassy, during which he



VERDI 373

becomes enraged, strikes Desdemona, and falls in convul-
sions. The last act transpires in her chamber, and follows
Shakespeare in all the details of the smothering of Desde-
mona and the death of Othello.

There is no overture proper to the opera. After a few
vigorous bars of prelude, the scene opens with a tempestu-
ous and very striking description of a sea-storm by the
orchestra, with the choruses of sailors and Cypriots rising
above it and expressing alternate hope and terror. After
a short recitative the storm dies away, and the choral
phrases of rejoicing end in a pianissimo effect. A hurried
recitative passage between Iago and Roderigo introduces
a drinking scene in which Iago sings a very original and
expressive brindisi with rollicking responses by the chorus
(" Inaffia l'ugola-trinca tra canna ") . The quarrel follows,
with a vigorous and agitated accompaniment, and the act
comes to a close with a beautiful love-duet between Othello
and Desdemona (" Gia nella notte deusa").

The second act opens with recitative which reveals all
of Iago's malignity, and is followed by his monologue, in
which he sings a mock Credo (" Credo in un Dio crudel ")
which is Satanic in utterance. It is accompanied with
tremendous outbursts of trumpets, and leads up to a furious
declamatory duet with Othello .(" Miseria mia"). The
next number brings a grateful change. It is a graceful
mandolinata ("Dove guardi splendono") sung by chil-
dren's voices and accompanied by mandolins and guitars,
followed by a charming chorus of mariners, who bring
shells and corals to Desdemona. The intercession episode
ensues, leading to a grand dramatic quartet for Desde-
mona, Emilia, Iago, and Othello. The latter then sings
a pathetic but stirring melody with trumpet accompani-
ment, the farewell to war ("Addio sublimi incanti"),
and the act closes with a tumultuous duet between himself
and Iago.



374 THE STANDARD OPERAS

The third act opens with a very expressive d-uet for
Othello and Desdemona ( " Dio ti giocondi"), in which
the growing wrath of the former and the sweet and touch-
ing unconsciousness of the other are happily contrasted.
A sad monologue by Othello (" Dio ! mi potevi scagliar ")
prepares the way for the coming outbreak. The hand-
kerchief trio follows, in which the malignity of Iago, the
indignation of Othello, and the inability of Cassio to under-
stand the fell purpose of Iago are brought out with great
force. At its close a fanfare of trumpets announces the
Venetian embassy, and the finale begins with much bril-
liancy. Then follows the scene in which Othello smites
down Desdemona. She supplicates for mercy in an aria
of tender beauty ("A terra ! si, nel livido "), which leads
up to a strong sextet. All the guests depart but Iago ;
and as Othello, overcome with his emotions, swoons away,
the curtain falls upon Iago's contemptuous utterance,
" There lies the lion of Venice.'"

The fourth act is full of musical beauty. After an or-
chestral introduction in which the horn has a very effec-
tive solo, the curtain rises and the action transpires in
Desdemona's chamber. The scene opens with a touching
recitative between Desdemona and Emilia. While the
former prepares herself for slumber she sings the '- Willow
Song" ("Piangea cantando"), an unaffected melody as
simple and characteristic as a folk-song. Emilia retires,
and by a natural transition Desdemona sings an "Ave
Maria" ("Ave Maria plena de' grazia "), which is as
simple and beautiful in its way as the "Willow Song."
She retires to her couch, and in the silence Othello steals
in, dagger in hand, the contra-basses giving out a sombre
and deep-toned accompaniment which is startling in its
effect. He kisses her, the motive from the love-duet
appearing in the orchestra ; then, after a hurried dialogue,
stifles her. He then kills himself, his last words being a




Tamaomo as Othello



Copyright, Falk



VERDI 375

repetition of those in the duet, while the strings tenderly
give out the melody again.

Falstaff

" Falstaff," opera in three acts, text by Arrigo Boito,
was first performed March 12, 1893, at the Teatro alia
Scala, Milan, with the following cast of characters :

Mistress Ford Signora Zilli.

Nannetta Madame Stehle.

Fenton M. Garbin.

Dr. Caius Sig. Paroli.

Pistola Sig. Arimondi.

Mistress Page Signora Guerrini.

Mistress Quickly Signora Pasqua.

Ford Sig. Pini-Corsi.

Bardolfo Sig. Pelagalli-Rossetti.

Falstaff M. Maurel.

The libretto, though mainly based upon "The Merry
Wives of Windsor," also levies some contributions upon
" Henry IV," particularly in the introduction of the
monologue upon honor, and illustrates Boito's skill in
adaptation as well as his remarkable powers in condensa-
tion. In the arrangement of the comedy the five acts are
reduced to three. The characters Shallow, Slender,
William, Page, Sir Hugh Evans, Simple, and Rugby are
eliminated, leaving Falstaff, Fenton, Ford, Dr. Caius,
Bardolph, Pistol, Mistress Ford, Mistress Page, Anne,
Dame Quickly, and three minor characters as the dramatis
personce, though Anne appears as Nannetta and is the
daughter of Ford instead of Page.

The first act opens with a scene at the Garter Inn, dis-
closing an interview between Falstaff and Dr. Caius, who
is complaining of the ill treatment he has received from
the fat Knight and his followers, but without obtaining
any satisfaction. After his departure, Falstaff seeks to
induce Bardolph and Pistol to carry his love letters to



376 THE STANDARD OPERAS

Mistresses Ford and Page ; but they refuse, upon the ground
that their honor would be assailed, which gives occasion
for the introduction of the monologue from " Henry IV."
The letters are finally intrusted to a page, and the remain-
der of the act is devoted to the plots of the women to
circumvent him, with an incidental revelation of the loves
of Fenton and Nannetta, or Anne Page. In the second
act, we have Falstaff s visit to Mistress Ford, as planned
by the merry wives, the comical episode of his conceal-
ment in the buck-basket, and his dumping into the
Thames. In the last act, undaunted by his watery ex-
periences, Falstaff accepts a fresh invitation to meet Mis-
tress Ford in Windsor Park. In this episode occurs the
fairy masquerade at Heme's Oak, in the midst of which
he is set upon and beaten, ending in his complete dis-
comfiture. Then all is explained to him; Nannetta is
betrothed to Fenton ; and all ends, merry as a marriage
bell.

There is no overture. After four bars of prelude the
curtain rises, and the composer introduces Dr. Caius with
the single exclamation, " Falstaff," and the latter' s reply,
" Ho ! there," which are emblematic of the declamatory
character of the whole opera ; for although many delight-
ful bits of melody are scattered through it, the instrumen-
tation really tells the story, as in the Wagner music- drama,
though in this latest work of the veteran composer there
is less of the Wagnerian idea than in his "Aida." The
first scene is mainly humorous dialogue, but there are two
notable exceptions, — the genuine lyrical music of Fal-
staff s song ("'Tis she with Eyes like Stars"), and the
Honor monologue, a superb piece of recitative with a
characteristic accompaniment in which the clarinets and
bassoons fairly talk, as they give the negative to the
Knight's sarcastic questions. The most attractive num-
bers of the second scene are Mistress Ford's reading of



VERDI 377

Falstaffs letter, which is exquisitely lyrical, a quartet, a
capella, for the four women (" He '11 surely come court-
ing"), followed by a contrasting male quartet ("He's a
foul, a ribald Thief"), the act closing with the two quartets
offsetting each other, and enclosing an admirable solo for
Fenton.

The second act opens with the interview between Dame
Quickly and Falstaff, in which the instrumentation runs
the whole gamut of ironical humor. Then follows the
scene between Ford and Falstaff, in which the very clink
of the money, and Falstaffs huge chuckles, are deliber-
ately set forth in the orchestra with a realism which is the
very height of the ridiculous, the scene closing with an
expressive declamation by Ford ("Do I dream? Or, is it
reality?"). The second scene of the act is mainly de-
voted to the ludicrous incident of the buck-basket, which
is accompanied by most remarkable instrumentation ; but
there are one or more captivating episodes ; such as Dame
Quickly's description of her visit (" 'T was at the Garter
Inn") and Falstaffs charming song ("Once I was Page
to the Duke of Norfolk ") .

The third act opens in the Inn of the Garter, and dis-
closes Falstaff soliloquizing upon his late disagreeable
experiences :

" Ho ! landlord !
Ungrateful world, wicked world,
Guilty world J

Landlord ! a glass of hot sherry.
Go, go thy way, John Falstaff,
With thee will cease the type
Of honesty, virtue, and might."

As the fat Knight soliloquizes and drinks his sack the
orchestra joins in a trill given out by piccolo, and
gradually taken by one instrument after the other, until
the whole orchestra is in a hearty laugh and shaking with



378 THE STANDARD OPERAS

string, brass, and wood-wind glee. Then enters Dame
Quickly, mischief-maker, and sets the trap at Heme's
Oak in Windsor Forest, into which Falstaff readily falls.
The closing scene is rich with humor. It opens with a
delightful love song by Fen ton (" From those sweet Lips a
Song of Love arises "). The conspirators enter one after
the other, and at last Falstaff, disguised as the sable hunter.
The elves are summoned, and glide about to the deli-
cious fairy music accompanying Nannetta's beautiful song
("While we dance in the Moonlight"). From this point
the action hastens to the happy denouement, and the work
concludes with a fugue which is imbued with the very spirit
of humor and yet is strictly constructed. While the vocal
parts are extraordinary in their declamatory significance, the
strength of the opera lies in the instrumentation, and its
charm in the delicious fun and merriment which pervade
it all and are aptly expressed in the closing lines :

"All in this world is jesting.
Man is born to be jolly,
E'en from grief some happiness wresting
Sure proof against melancholy."



WAGNER

RICHARD WAGNER, who has been somewhat ironi-
cally called "the musician of the future," and whose
music has been relegated to posterity by a considerable
number of his contemporaries, was born at Leipsic, May
22, 1813. After his preliminary studies in Dresden and
Leipsic, he took his first lessons in music from Cantor
Weinlig. In 1836 he was appointed musical director in
the theatre at Magdeburg, and later occupied the same
position at Konigsberg. Thence he went to Riga, where
he began his opera " Rienzi." He then went to Paris by
sea, was nearly shipwrecked on his way thither, and landed
without money or friends. After two years of hard strug-
gles he returned to Germany. His shipwreck and forlorn
condition inspired the theme of " The Flying Dutchman,"^
and while on his way to Dresden he passed near the castle
of Wartburg, in the valley of Thuringia, whose legends
inspired his well-known opera of "Tannhauser." He
next removed to Zurich, and about this time appeared
"Lohengrin," one of his most popular operas. "Tristan
and Isolde" was produced in 1856, and his comic opera,
"Die Meistersinger von Nurnberg," three years later. In
1864 he received the patronage of King Louis of Ba-
varia, which enabled him to complete and perform his
great work, " Der Ring der Nibelungen." He laid the
foundation of the new theatre at Baireuth in 1872, and in
1875 the Ring was produced, and created a profound sen-
sation all over the musical world. "Parsifal," his last
opera, was first performed in 1882. His works have
aroused great opposition, especially among conservative



380 THE STANDARD OPERAS

musicians, for the reason that he has set at defiance the
conventional operatic forms, and in carrying out his theory
of making the musical and dramatic elements of equal
importance, and employing the former as the language of
the latter in natural ways, has made musical declamation
take the place of set melody, and swept away the customary
arias, duets, quartets, and concerted numbers of the Italian
school, to suit the dramatic exigencies of the situations.
Besides his musical compositions, he enjoys almost equal
fame as a litterateur, having written not only his own
librettos, but four important works, — " Art and the Revo-
lution," " The Art Work of the Future," " Opera and
Drama," and "Judaism in Music." His music has
made steady progress to success through the efforts of
such advocates as Liszt, Von Biilow, and Richter in
Germany, PasdeLoup in France, Hueffer in England, with
Theodore Thomas and Anton Seidl in the United States.
In 1870 he married Frau Cosima von Biilow, the daughter
of Liszt, — an event which provoked almost as much com-
ment in social circles as his operas have in musical. He
died during a visit to Venice, February 13, 1883.

Rienzi

" Rienzi, der letzte der Tribunen," tragic opera in five
acts, text by the composer, the subject taken from Bul-
wer's novel, "The Last of the Tribunes," was first pro-



Online LibraryGeorge P. (George Putnam) UptonThe standard operas: their plots, their music, and their composers → online text (page 27 of 37)