Copyright
George P. (George Putnam) Upton.

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

. (page 3 of 37)
Online LibraryGeorge P. (George Putnam) UptonThe standard operas: their plots, their music, and their composers → online text (page 3 of 37)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


despair, induces one of the tribe to fire at him as he is
embracing Arline ; but by a timely movement of Devils-
hoof the bullet intended for Thaddeus pierces the breast
of the Queen. As the curtain falls, the old song of the
gypsies is heard again as they disappear in the distance
with Devilshoof at their head.

Many of the operas of Balfe, like other ballad operas,
have become unfashionable ; but it is doubtful whether
" The Bohemian Girl " will ever lose its attraction for
those who delight in song- melody, charming orchestration,
and sparkling, animated choruses. It leaped into popu-
larity at a bound, and its pretty melodies are still as fresh
as when they were first sung.

The Rose of Castile

"The Rose of Castile," comic opera in three acts, the
text by Harris and Falconer, was first produced at the
Lyceum Theatre, London, October 29, 1857. The scene
is laid in Spain; time, last century. At the opening of
the opera, Elvira, Queen of Leon, has just ascended the
throne, and her hand has been demanded by the King
of Castile for his brother, Don Sebastian, the Infant.
The latter, with the design of satisfying his curiosity about
her, is on the eve of entering the city disguised as a mule-
teer. Elvira hears of this, and adopts the same expedient,
by starting with Carmen, one of her attendants, disguised
as peasants, to intercept him. In the opening of the first
act the two appear at an inn where the peasants are danc-
ing. The innkeeper is rude to them, but Don Sebastian,
disguised as Manuel, the muleteer, protects them, and
offers his services as escort, which the Queen willingly
accepts, for she has recognized him and he has fulfilled the
motive of the story by falling in love with her. At this
point Don Pedro, who has designs upon the throne, enters



BALFE : 23

with his fellow-conspirators, Don Sallust and Don Florio.
Observing Elvira's likeness to the Queen, they persuade
her to personate Her Majesty, which, after feigned reluc-
tance, she consents to do. She also accepts their services
as escorts, and all the more unhesitatingly because she
knows Manuel will follow her.

The second act opens in the throne-room of the palace.
Don Pedro enters, somewhat dejected by the uncertainty
of his schemes. The Queen, who has eluded the surveil-
lance of the conspirators, also appears and grants an
audience to Manuel, in which he informs her of the meet-
ing with the peasant girl and boy and declares his belief
that they are the Queen and Carmen. He also informs
her of the conspirators' plot to imprison her, which she
thwarts by inducing a silly old Duchess to personate the
Queen for one day and ride, closely veiled, to the palace
in the royal carriage. Her scheme succeeds admirably.
The Duchess is seized and conveyed to a convent. In
the next scene, while Don Pedro and Don Florio are
mourning over the loss of their peasant girl, she appears.
Their mourning turns to desperate perplexity when the
Queen reveals herself and announces her intention of
marrying the muleteer.

In the last act Carmen and Don Florio agree to marry.
The Queen and her ladies now enter, and a message is
delivered her from Don Sebastian announcing his mar-
riage. Enraged at the discovery that the muleteer is not
Don Sebastian, the Queen upbraids him and yet declares
she will be true to him. This pleases Don Pedro, as he
believes he can force her to abdicate if she marries a
muleteer ; but in the last scene Manuel mounts the throne,
and announces he is King of Castile. Elvira expresses
her delight, and all ends happily.

The story of the opera is exceedingly involved, but the
music is well sustained and ranks with the best that Balfe



24 THE STANDARD OPERAS

has written. The principal numbers of the first act are
the lively chorus, " List to the gay Castanet " ; the vocal
scherzo by Elvira, " Yes, I '11 obey you" ; Manuel's rollick-
ing song, "I am a simple Muleteer " ; the buffo trio,
which ends in a spirited bacchanale, " Wine, Wine, the
Magician thou art " ; and Elvira's pleasing rondo, " Oh !
were I the Queen of Spain." The second act contains
the expressive conspirators' chorus, "The Queen in the
Palace " ; the beautiful ballad, ." Though Fortune darkly
o'er me frowns," sung by Don Pedro ; the ballad, " The
Convent Cell," sung by Elvira, which is one of Balfe's
happiest inspirations ; the buffo trio, " I 'm not the Queen,
ha, ha " ; and Elvira's characteristic scena, " I 'm but a
simple Peasant Maid." The leading numbers of the last
act are the bravura air, " Oh ! joyous, happy Day," which
was intended by the composer to show the vocal ability
of Eliza Pyne, who first appeared in the role of Elvira;
Manuel's fine ballad, " 'T was Rank and Fame that
tempted thee " ; Don Pedro's martial song, " Hark, hark,
methinks I hear " ; the stirring song by Manuel, when he
mounts the throne, which recalls "The fair Land of
Poland " in " The Bohemian Girl " ; and Elvira's second
bravura air, " Oh ! no, by Fortune blessed."



BEETHOVEN

IUDWIG VAN BEETHOVEN, the greatest of com-
j posers, was born December 17, 1770, at Bonn, Ger-
many, his father being a court singer in the chapel of the
Elector of Cologne. He studied in Vienna with Haydn,
with whom he did not always agree, however, and after-
wards with Albrechtsberger. His first symphony ap-
peared in 1 801, his earlier symphonies, in what is called
his first period, being written in the Mozart style. His only
opera, "Fidelio," for which he wrote four overtures, was
first brought out in Vienna in 1805 ; his oratorio, "Christ
on the Mount of Olives," in 181 2 ; and his colossal Ninth
Symphony, with its choral setting of Schiller's " Ode . to
Joy," in 1824. In addition to his symphonies, his opera,
oratorios, and masses, and the immortal group of sonatas
for the piano, which were almost revelations in music, he
developed chamber music to an extent far beyond that
reached by his predecessors, Haydn and Mozart. His
symphonies exhibit surprising power, and a marvellous
comprehension of the deeper feelings in life and the in-
fluences of nature, both human and physical. He wrote
with the deepest earnestness, alike in the passion and the
calm of his music, and he invested it also with a genial
humor as well as with the highest expression of pathos.
His works are epic in character. He was the great tone-
poet of music. His subjects were always lofty and dig-
nified, and to their treatment he brought not only a
profound knowledge of musical technicality, but intense
sympathy with the innermost feelings of human nature,
for he was a humanitarian in the broadest sense. By the



i6 THE STANDARD OPERAS

common consent of the musical world he stands at the
head of all composers, and has always been their guide
and inspiration. He died March 26, 1827, in the midst
of a raging thunder-storm, one of his latest utterances
being a recognition of the " divine spark " in Schubert's
music.

Fidelio

" Fidelio, oder die eheliche Liebe " (" Fidelio, or Con-
jugal Love " ), grand opera in two acts, words by Sonn-
leithner, translated freely from Bouilly's " Leonore, ou
PAmour Conjugal," was first produced at the Theatre An
der Wien, Vienna, November 20, 1805, the work at that
time being in three acts. A translation of the original
programme of that performance, with the exception of the
usual prices of admission, is appended :

IMPERIAL AND ROYAL THEATRE AN DER WIEN.
NEW OPERA.
To-day, Wednesday, 20 November, 1805, at the Imperial and
Royal Theatre An der Wien, will be given for the first time.

FIDELIO ;

Or, CONJUGAL LOVE.

Opera in three acts, translated freely from the French text by

Joseph Sonnleithner.

The music is by Ludwig van Beethoven.

Dramatis Personce.

Don Fernando, Minister Herr Weinkoff.

Don Pizarro, Governor of a State Prison . . Herr Meier.

Florestan, prisoner . Herr Demmer.

Leonora, his wife, under the name of Fidelio . Fraulein Milder.

Rocco, chief jailer Herr Rothe.

Marcellina, his daughter Fraulein Muller.

Jacquino, turnkey Herr Cache.

Captain of the Guard Herr Meister.

Prisoners, Guards, People.

The action passes in a State prison in Spain, a few leagues from Seville.

The piece can be procured at the box-office for fifteen kreutzers.

During its first season the opera was performed three
times and then withdrawn. Breuning reduced it to two



BEETHOVEN 27

acts, and two or three of the musical numbers were sacrificed,
and in this form it was played twice at the Imperial
Private Theatre and again withdrawn. On these occasions
it had been given under Beethoven's favorite title, " Leo-
nore." In 18 14 Treitschke revised it, and it was produced
at the Karnthnerthor Theatre, Vienna, May 23, of that
year, as " Fidelio," which title it has ever since retained.
Its first performance in Paris was at the Theatre Lyrique,
May 5, i860; in London, at the King's Theatre, May 18,
1832; and in English at Covent Garden, June 12, 1835,
with Malibran in the title role. Beethoven wrote four
overtures for this great work. The first was composed
in 1805, the second in 1806, the third in 1807, and the
fourth in 1 8 14. It is curious that there has always been a
confusion in their numbering, and the error remains to
this day. What is called No. 1 is in reality No. 3, and
was composed for a performance of the opera at Prague,
the previous overture having been too difficult for the
string section of the orchestra. The splendid " Leonora,"
No. 3, is in reality No. 2, and the No. 2 is No. 1. The
fourth, or the " Fidelio " overture, contains a new set
of themes, but the " Leonora " is the grandest of them
all.

The entire action of the opera transpires in a Spanish
prison, of which Don Pizarro is governor and Rocco the
jailer. The porter of the prison is Jacquino, who is in
love with Marcellina, daughter of Rocco, and she in turn
is in love with Fidelio, Rocco's assistant, who has assumed
male disguise the better to assist her in her plans for the
rescue of her husband, Florestan, a Spanish nobleman.
The latter, who is the victim of Don Pizarro's hatred
because he had thwarted some of his evil designs, has
been imprisoned by him unknown to the world, and is
slowly starving to death. Leonora, his wife, who in some
way has discovered that her husband is in the prison, has



28 THE STANDARD OPERAS

obtained employment from Rocco, disguised as the young
man Fidelio.

The opera opens with a charming, playful love scene
between Jacquino and Marcellina, whom the former is
teasing to marry him. She puts him off, and as he sor-
rowfully departs, sings the Hope aria, " Die Hoffnung,"
a fresh, smoothly flowing melody, in which she pictures
the delight of a life with Fidelio. At its close Rocco
enters with the despondent Jacquino, shortly followed by
Fidelio, who is very much fatigued. The love episode is
brought out in the famous canon quartet, " Mir ist so wun-
derbar," one of the most beautiful and restful numbers in
the opera. Rocco promises Marcellina's hand to Fidelio
as the reward of her fidelity, but in the characteristic and
sonorous Gold song, " Hat mannicht auch Geld daneben,"
reminds them that money as well as love is necessary to
housekeeping. In the next scene, while Don Pizarro is
giving instructions to Rocco, a packet of letters is deliv-
ered to him, one of which informs him that Don Fernando
is coming the next day to inspect the prison, as he has
been informed it contains several victims of arbitrary
power. He at once determines that Florestan shall die,
and gives vent to his wrath in a furious dramatic aria
(" Ha ! welch ein Augenblick ! "). He attempts to bribe
Rocco to aid him. The jailer at first refuses, but subse-
quently, after a stormy duet, consents to dig the grave.
Fidelio has overheard the scheme, and, as they disappear,
rushes forward and sings the great aria, " Abscheulicher ! "
one of the grandest and most impassioned illustrations of
dramatic intensity in the whole realm of music. The
recitative expresses intense horror at the intended murder,
then subsides into piteous sorrow, and at last breaks out
into the glorious adagio, " Korara Hoffnung," in which
she sings of the immortal power of love. The last scene
of the act introduces the strong chorus of the prisoners as



BEETHOVEN 29

they come out in the yard for air and sunlight, after which
Rocco relates to Fidelio his interview with Don Pizarro.
The latter orders the jailer to return the prisoners to their
dungeons and go on with the digging of the grave, and
the act closes.

The second act opens in Florestan's dungeon. The
prisoner sings an intensely mournful aria (" In des Lebens
Fruhlingstagen "), which has a rapturous finale (" Und
spur' Ich nicht linde"), as he sees his wife in a vision.
Rocco and Fidelio enter and begin digging the grave,
to the accompaniment of sepulchral music. She discovers
that Florestan has sunk back exhausted, and as she
restores him recognizes her husband. Don Pizarro enters,
and after ordering Fidelio away, who meanwhile conceals
herself, attempts to stab Florestan. Fidelio, who has
been closely watching him, springs forward with a shriek,
and interposes herself between him and her husband.
He once more advances to carry out his purpose, when
Fidelio draws a pistol and defies him. As she does so the
sound of a trumpet is heard outside announcing the arri-
val of Don Fernando. Don Pizarro rushes out in despair,
and Florestan and Leonora, no longer Fidelio, join in a
duet ("O namenlose Freude ") which is the very ecstasy
of happiness. In the last scene Don Fernando sets
Florestan and the other prisoners free in the name of the
king. Pizarro is revealed in his true character, and is led
away to punishment. The happy pair are reunited, and
Marcellina, to Jacquino's delight, consents to marry him.
The act closes with a general song of jubilee. As a
drama and as an opera, " Fidelio " stands almost alone
in its perfect purity, in the moral grandeur of its subject,
and in the resplendent ideality of its music.



BELLINI

VINCENZO BELLINI was born November 3, 1802,
at Catania, Sicily, coming of musical parentage. He
was sent to Naples by a generous patron and studied at
the Conservatory under Zingarelli. His first opera was
"Adelson e Salvino," and its remarkable merit secured
him a commission from the manager, Barbaja, for an opera
for San Carlo. The result was his first important work,
"Bianca e Fernando," written in 1826. Its success was
moderate ; but he was so encouraged that he at once went
to Milan and wrote "II Pirata," the tenor part for Rubini,
which met with such favor that the managers of La Scala
commissioned him for another work. In 1828 "La
Straniera" appeared, quickly followed by"Zaira," in 1829
(which failed at Parma), and " I Capuletti ed i Montec-
chi," a version of " Romeo and Juliet," which made a
great success at Venice in 1830. A year later he com-
posed " La Sonnambula," unquestionably his best work,
for La Scala, and it speedily made the tour of Europe, and
gained for him an extended reputation. A year after its
appearance he astonished the musical world with " Norma,"
written, like " Sonnambula," for Mme. Pasta. These are
his greatest works. " Norma " was followed by " Beatrice
di Tenda," and this by " I Puritani," his last opera, written
in Paris for the four great artists, Grisi, Rubini, Tamburini,
and Lablache. Bellini died September 24, 1835, in the
thirty- fourth year of his age, preserving his musical en-
thusiasm to the very last. He was a close follower of
Rossini, and studied his music diligently, and though
without a very profound knowledge of harmony or



BELLINI



3i



orchestration, succeeded in producing at least three works,
" Norma," " Sonnambula," and " I Puritani," which were
the delight of the opera-goers of his day, and still hold
the stage.

Norma

" Norma," serious opera in two acts, words by Romani,
was first produced during the season of Lent, 1832, at
Milan, with the principal parts cast as follows :

Norma Mme. Pasta.

Adalgisa Mme. Grisi.

Pollione Sig. Donzelli.

It was first heard in London in 1833, and in Paris in
1855, and Planche's English version of it was produced at
Drury Lane in 1837. The scene of the opera is laid among
the Druids, in Gaul, after its occupation by the Roman
legions. In the first scene the Druids enter with Oroveso,
their priest, to the impressive strains of a religious march
which is almost as familiar as a household word. The
priest announces that Norma, the high priestess, will come
and cut the sacred branch and give the signal for the
expulsion of the Romans. The next scene introduces
Pollione, the Roman proconsul, to whom Norma, in de-
fiance of her faith and traditions, has bound herself in
secret marriage, and by whom she has had two children.
In a charmingly melodious scena (" Meco all' altar di
Venere ") he reveals his faithlessness and guilty love for
Adalgisa, a young virgin of the temple, who has consented
to abandon her religion and fly with him to Rome. In
the fourth scene Norma enters attended by her priestesses,
and denounces the Druids for their warlike disposition,
declaring that the time has not yet come for shaking off
the yoke of Rome, and that when it does she will give the
signal from their altar. After cutting the sacred mistletoe,
she comes forward and invokes peace from the moon in



32 THE STANDARD OPERAS

that exquisite prayer, " Casta diva," which electrified the
world with its beauty and tenderness, and still holds its
place in popular favor, not alone by the grace of its embel-
lishments, but by the pathos of its melody. It is followed
by another cavatina of almost equal beauty and tenderness
(" Ah ! bello a me ritorno "). In the next scene Adalgisa,
retiring from the sacred rites, sings of her love for Pol-
lione, and as she closes is met by the proconsul, who once
more urges her to fly to Rome with him. The duet
between them is one of great power and beauty, and
contains a strikingly passionate number for the tenor
("Va, crudele"). Oppressed by her conscience, she
reveals her fatal promise to Norma, and implores absolu-
tion from her vows. Norma yields to her entreaties, but
when she inquires the name and country of her lover, and
Adalgisa points to Pollione as he enters Norma's sanctuary,
all the priestess's love turns to wrath. In this scene the
duet, " Perdoni e ti compiango," is one of exceeding love-
liness and peculiarly melodious tenderness. The act closes
with a terzetto of great power (" O ! di qual sei tu "), in
which both the priestess and Adalgisa furiously denounce
the faithless Pollione. In the midst of their imprecations
the sound of the sacred shield is heard calling Norma to the
rites.

The second act opens in Norma's dwelling, and dis-
covers her children asleep on a couch. Norma enters
with the purpose of killing them, but the maternal in-
stinct overcomes her vengeful thought that they are
Pollione's children. Adalgisa appears, and Norma an-
nounces her intention to place her children in the virgin's
hands, and send her and them to Pollione while she shall
expiate her offence on the funeral pyre. Adalgisa pleads
with her not to abandon Pollione, who will return to her
repentant; and the most effective number in the opera
ensues, вАФ the grand duet containing two of Bellini's most




Grisi as Norma



BELLINI 33

beautiful inspirations, the " Deh ! con te li prendi " and
the familiar " Mira, O Norma," whose strains have gone
round the world and awakened universal delight. Pollione,
maddened by his passion for Adalgisa, impiously attempts
to tear her from the altar in the temple of Irminsul,
whereupon Norma enters the temple and strikes the sacred
shield summoning the Druids. They meet and she de-
clares the meaning of the signal is war, slaughter, and
destruction. She chants a magnificent hymn ("Guerra,
guerra "), which is full of the very fury of battle. Pollione,
who has been intercepted in the temple, is brought before
her. Love is still stronger than resentment with her. In
a very dramatic scena (" In mia mano alfintu sei ") she
informs him he is in her power, but she will let him escape
if he will renounce Adalgisa and leave the country. He de-
clares death would be preferable ; whereupon she threatens
to denounce Adalgisa. Pity overcomes anger, however.
She snatches the sacred wreath from her brow and de-
clares herself the guilty one. Too late Pollione discovers
the worth of the woman he has abandoned, and a beautiful
duet (" Qual cor tradisti ") forms the closing number.
She ascends the funeral pyre with Pollione, and in its flames
they are purged of earthly crime. It is a memorable fact
in the history of this opera, that on its first performance it
was coldly received, and the Italian critics declared it
had no vitality; though there are few operas in which
such intense dramatic effect has been- produced with
simple melodic force, and no Italian opera score to-day
is more alive or more worthy of living than that of
" Norma."



34 THE STANDARD OPERAS



La Sonnambula

" La Sonnambula," opera in two acts, words by Romani,
was first produced in Milan, March 6, 1831, with the
following cast :

Amino. Mme. Pasta.

Elvino Sig. Rubini.

Rodolfo Sig. Mariano.

Lisa Mme. Toccani.

It was brought out in the same year in Paris and London,
and two years after in English, with Malibran as Amina.
The subject of the story was taken from a vaudeville and
ballet by Scribe. The scene is laid in Switzerland. Amina,
an orphan, the ward of Teresa, the miller's wife, is about
to marry Elvino, a well-to-do landholder of the village.
Lisa, mistress of the inn, is also in love with Elvino, and
jealous of her rival. Alessio, a peasant lad, is also in
love with the landlady. Such is the state of affairs on
the day before the wedding. Rodolfo, the young lord
of the village, next appears upon the scene. He has ar-
rived incognito for the purpose of looking up his estates,
and stops at Lisa's inn, where he meets Amina. He
gives her many pretty compliments, much to the dissat-
isfaction of the half-jealous Elvino, who is inclined to
quarrel with the disturber of his peace of mind. Amina,
who is subject to fits of somnambulism, has been mistaken
for a ghost by the peasants, and they warn Rodolfo that
the village is haunted. The information, however, does
not disturb him, and he quietly retires to his chamber.
The officious Lisa also enters, and a playful scene of
flirtation ensues, during which Amina enters the room,
walking in her sleep. Lisa seeks shelter in a closet.
Rodolfo, to escape from the embarrassment of the situa-
tion, leaves the apartment, and Amina reclines upon the



BELLINI 35

bed as if it were her own. The malicious Lisa hurries
from the room to inform Elvino of what she has seen,
and thoughtlessly leaves her handkerchief. Elvino rushes to
the spot with other villagers, and finding Amina, as Lisa
had described, declares that she is guilty, and leaves her.
Awakened by the noise, the unfortunate girl, realizing the
situation, sorrowfully throws herself into Teresa's arms.
The villagers implore Rodolfo to acquit Amina of any
blame, and he stoutly protests her innocence ; but it
is of no avail in satisfying Elvino, who straightway offers
his hand to Lisa. In the last act Amina is seen stepping
from the window of the mill in her sleep. She crosses a
frail bridge which yields beneath her weight and threatens
to precipitate her upon the wheel below ; but she passes
it in safety, descends to the ground, and walks into her
lover's arms amid the jubilant songs of the villagers. El-
vino is convinced of her innocence, and they are wedded
at once, while the discovery of Lisa's handkerchief in
Rodolfo's room pronounces her the faithless one.

Such is the simple little pastoral story to which Bellini
has set some of his most beautiful melodies, the most
striking of which are the aria, "Sovra il sen," in the
third scene of the first act, where Amina declares her
happiness to Teresa; the beautiful aria for baritone in
the sixth scene, " Vi ravviso," descriptive of Rodolfo's de-
light in revisiting the scenes of his youth; the playful
duet between Amina and Elvino, "Mai piu dubbi ! " in
which she rebukes him for his jealousy ; the humorous
and very characteristic chorus of the villagers in the tenth
scene, "Osservate, F uscio e aperto," as they tiptoe into
Rodolfo's apartment; the duet, "O mio dolor," in the
next scene, in which Amina asserts her innocence ; the
aria for tenor in the third scene of the second act,
" Tutto e sciolto," in which Elvino bemoans his sad lot ;



Online LibraryGeorge P. (George Putnam) UptonThe standard operas: their plots, their music, and their composers → online text (page 3 of 37)