George P. (George Putnam) Upton.

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

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strong dramatically. It contains a few numbers, however,
which are very popular ; among them one of the most ad-
mired of all English songs (" Scenes that are brightest"),
which Maritana sings in the King's apartments at the be-
ginning of the act ; the humorous duet between the King
and Don Caesar when they meet ; the love duet between
Don Caesar and Maritana (" This Heart with Bliss o'erflow-
ing ") ; and Don Caesar's song (" There is a Flower that
bloometh "), which is in the sentimental ballad style. The
freshness, brightness, and gracefulness of the music of
this little opera, combined with the unusual interest and
delicate humor of the story, have always commended it to
popular admiration.


"Lurline," romantic opera in three acts, text by Fitz-
ball, was first produced at Covent Garden Theatre, Lon-
don, February 23, i860. The story closely follows the
old legend of the " Lorelei." Count Rudolph, having
dissipated his fortune, proposes marriage with Ghiva,
daughter of a neighboring baron, to recoup himself. The
Baron, however, turns out to be as poor as the Count, and
nothing comes of the proposition. Meanwhile Lurline,
the Rhine nymph, has seen the Count sailing on the river
and fallen in love with him. At the last banquet he and
his companions give in the old castle, she appears, weaves
spells about him, places a magic ring on his finger, and
then disappears. When he comes to his reason, he finds
himself enamored of her, follows the notes of her harp
on the Rhine, and is engulfed in the whirlpool to which
Lurline lures her victims.

The second act opens in Lurline's cavern under the


Rhine, and Rudolph is there by virtue of his magic ring.
He hears his friends singing and mourning his loss as they
sail on the river, and is so touched by it that he implores
permission to return to them for a short time. Lurline
consents to his absence for three days, and agrees to wait
for him on the summit of the Lurlei-Berg at moonrise on
the third evening. She also prevails upon her father, the
Rhine King, to give him treasures, with which he embarks
in a fairy skiff, leaving Lurline dejected.

In the last act Rudolph discloses to the Baron and his
daughter, as well as to his companions, the secret of his
wealth. The Baron once more encourages his suit, and
the crafty Ghiva steals the magic ring and throws it
into the Rhine. In the meantime Lurline waits nightly
on the Lurlei-Berg for the return of her lover, and there
a gnome brings to her the ring, token of his infidelity.
Distracted between grief and anger, she determines to
reproach him with his perfidy at a banquet in the castle.
She suddenly appears there and demands her ring from
him. A scene of bitter reproaches ensues, ending with
her denunciation of his companions' treachery. Growing
envious of the Count's wealth, they had conspired to de-
stroy him and then plunder the castle. Ghiva and her
father, overhearing the plot, reveal it to the Count, and
urge him to escape by flight. Rudolph, however, preferring
death near Lurline, confronts the assassins. Love returns
to Lurline once more. She strikes her harp and invokes
the Rhine, which rises and engulfs the conspirators. When
the waves subside, the Rhine King appears and gives the
hand of his daughter to the Count.

The principal numbers of the first act are Rhine-
berg's invocation aria (" Idle Spirit, wildly dreaming ") ;
Lurline's beautiful romanzas with harp accompaniment
("Flow on, flow on, O silver Rhine,") and ("When the
Night Winds sweep the Wave ") ; the melodious chorus


(" Sail, sail, sail on the Midnight Gale ") ; the drinking-
song ('•' Drain the Cup of Pleasure ") ; the quaint tenor
song ("Our Bark in Moonlight beaming"); and the
vigorous chorus of the gnomes in the finale ("Vengeance,
Vengeance "). The second act opens with the gnomes'
song ("Behold Wedges of Gold"). The remaining con-
spicuous numbers are the Count's song (" Sweet Form
that on my dreamy Gaze ") ; Lurline's brilliant drinking-
song with chorus ("Take this Cup of sparkling Wine") ;
Ghiva's ballad for contralto ("Troubadour enchanting") ;
the breezy hunting-chorus (" Away to the Chase, come
away"); Rhineberg's sentimental song ("The Nectar
Cup may yield Delight ") ; and the ensemble in the
finale, which is in the genuine Italian style. The third
act is specially noticeable for the ballad sung by Rudolph
(" My Home, my Heart's first Home ") ; Lurline's song on
the Lurlei-Berg ("Sweet Spirit, hear my Prayer"), which
has been a great favorite on the concert stage ; the unac-
companied quartet ("Though the World with Transport
bless me ") ; the grand duet (" Lurline, my Naiad Queen "),
and the incantation music and closing chorus (" Flow on,
thou lovely Rhine ").


CARL MARIA VON WEBER was born December 18,
1786, at Eutin, and may almost be said to have
been born on the stage, as his father was at the head of a
theatrical company, and the young Carl was carried in
the train of the wandering troupe all over Germany. His
first lessons were given to him by Henschkel, conductor of
the orchestra of Duke Friedrich of Meiningen. At the
age of fourteen he wrote his first opera, " Das Waldmad-
chen," which was performed several times during the
year 1800. In 1801 his two-act comic opera, "Peter
Schmoll and his Neighbors," appeared and during these
two years he also frequently played in concerts with great
success. He then studied with the Abbe Vogler, and in
his eighteenth year was engaged for the conductorship of
the Breslau opera. About this time his first important
opera, "Rubezahl" was composed. At the conclusion of
his studies with Volger he was made director of the Opera
at Prague. In 18 14 he wrote a cantata, "The Lyre and
Sword," for a festive occasion, and it was greeted with the
wildest enthusiasm. In 1816 he went to Berlin, where he
was received with the highest marks of popular esteem,
and thence to Dresden as Hofcapellmeister. This was
the most brilliant period in his career. It was during this
time that he married Caroline Brandt, the actress and
singer, who had had a marked influence upon his musical
progress, and to whom he dedicated his exquisite " Invita-
tion to the Dance." The first great work of his life, " Der
Freischutz," was written at this period. Three other
important operas followed, — " Preciosa," " Euryanthe,"



the first performance of which took place in Vienna in

1823, and " Oberon," which he finished in London and
brought out there. Weber's last days were spent in the
latter city ; and it was while making preparations to return
to Germany, which he longed to see again, that he was
stricken down with his final illness. On the 4th of June,
1826, he was visited by Sir George Smart, Moscheles, and
other musicians who were eager to show him attention.
He declined to have any one watch by his bedside,
thanked them for their kindness, bade them good-bye,
and then turned to his friend Furstenau and said, " Now
let me sleep." These were his last words. The next
morning he was found dead in his bed. He has left a
rich legacy of works besides his operas, — a large collec-
tion of songs, many cantatas (of which "The Jubilee,"
with its brilliant overture, is the finest), some masses, of
which that in E flat is the most beautiful, and several
concertos, besides many brilliant rondos, polaccas, and
marches for the piano.

Der Freischutz

" Der Freischutz," romantic opera in three acts, words
by Friedrich Kind, was first produced at Berlin, June 18,
182 1. It is one of the most popular operas in the modern
repertory. It was first performed in Paris, December 7,

1824, as "Robin des Bois," with a new libretto by Castile
Blaze and Sauvage, and many changes in the score, such
as dtvertisements made up of the dance music in "Pre-
ciosa " and " Oberon," and of " The Invitation to the
Dance," scored by Berlioz. In 1841 it was again given
in Paris, with an accurate translation of the text by Pacini,
and recitatives added by Berlioz, as " Le Franc Archer."
Its first English performance in London was given July 22,
1824, as "Der Freischutz, or, the Seventh Bullet," with
several ballads inserted ; and its first Italian at Covent


Garden, March 16, 1850, with recitatives by Costa, as " II
Franco Arciero." It was first represented in New York,
March 3, 1825. It was so popular in England in 1824
that no less than nine theatres were presenting various ver-
sions of it at the same time. The original cast was as
follows :

Agatha Frau Caroline Seidler.

Annchen Frl. Johanna Eunike.

Max Herr Carl Stumer.

Caspar Herr Heinrich Blume.

Ottakar Herr Rubinstein.

Kuno Herr Waner.

Hermit Herr Glrn.

Kilian Herr Wiedemann.

The text of the opera is taken from a story in " Popular
Tales of the Northern Nations," and is founded upon a
traditional belief that a demon of the forest furnishes a
marksman with unerring bullets cast under magical influ-
ences. Kuno, the head ranger to the Prince of Bohemia,
too old to longer continue in his position, recommends
Max, a skilful marksman, who is betrothed to his daughter
Agatha, as his successor. The Prince agrees to accept
him if he proves himself victor at the forthcoming hunting-
match. Caspar, the master-villain of the play, who has
sold himself to the demon Zamiel, and who also is in love
with Agatha, forms a plot to ruin Max and deliver him over
to Zamiel as a substitute for himself, for the limit of his
contract with the Evil One is close at hand. With Zam-
iel's aid he causes Max to miss the mark several times
during the rehearsals for the match. The lover is thrown
into deep dejection by his ill luck, and while in this melan-
choly condition is cunningly approached by Caspar, who
says to him that if he will but repeat the formula, " In the
name of Zamiel," he will be successful. He does so, and
brings down an eagle soaring high above him. Elated
with his success, Caspar easily persuades him that he can


win the match if he will meet him at midnight in the Wolfs
Glen, where with Zamiel's aid he can obtain plenty of
magic bullets.

The second act opens in Kuno's house, and discloses
Agatha in melancholy mood as she forebodes coming evil.
A hermit whom she has met in the woods has warned
her of danger, and given her a wreath of magic roses to
ward it off. An ancestral portrait falling from the walls
also disturbs her ; and at last the appearance of the melan-
choly Max confirms her belief that trouble is in store for
her. Max himself is no less concerned. All sorts of
strange sounds have troubled him, and his slumbers have
been invaded with apparitions. Nevertheless, he goes to
the Wolfs Glen; and though spectres, skeletons, and
various grotesque animals terrify him, and his mother's
spirit appears and warns him away, he overcomes his fright
and appears with Caspar at the place of incantation.
Zamiel is summoned, and seven bullets are cast, six of
which are to be used by Max himself in the forthcoming
match, while the seventh will be at the disposal of the
demon. Little dreaming the fate which hangs upon the
seventh, Caspar offers no objections.

The third act opens, like the second, in Kuno's house,
and discovers Agatha preparing for her nuptials, and telling
Annchen a singular dream she has had. She had fancied
herself a dove, and that Max fired at her. As the bird fell
she came to herself and saw that the dove had changed to
a fierce bird of ill omen which lay dying at her feet. The
melancholy produced by the dream is still further height-
ened when it is found that a funeral instead of a bridal
wreath has been made for her ; but her heart lightens up
again as she remembers the magic rose-wreath which the
hermit had enjoined her to wear on her wedding day. At
last the eventful day of trial comes, and the Prince and all
his courtiers assemble to witness the match. Max makes


six shots in succession which go home to the mark. At
the Prince's command he fires the seventh, Zamiel's bullet,
at a dove flying past. As he fires, Agatha appears to him
as the dove, and he fancies he has slain her. The wreath
protects her, however, and Zamiel directs the bullet to
Caspar's heart. The demon claims his victim, and Max
his bride, amid general rejoicing.

The overture, which is one of the most favorite numbers
of its class in the concert room as well as in the opera
house, is a masterpiece of brilliant and descriptive instru-
mentation, and furnishes us with a key to the whole story
in its announcement of the leading themes. It opens with
an adagio horn passage of great beauty, giving us the
groundwork of the entire action ; and then follow motives
from Max's grand scena in the first act, the Incantation
music, Agatha's moonlight scene, and other episodes con-
nected with the action of Max and Caspar. Indeed, the
frequent and expressive use of the Leit motif all through
the work seem to entitle Weber to the credit of its

The first act opens with a spirited chorus of villagers,
followed by a lively march and a comic song by Kilian, in
which he rallies Max upon his bad luck. The next num-
ber is a trio and chorus, with solos for the principals,
Max, Kuno, and Caspar ( u O diese Sonne, furchtbar steigt
sie mirempor"). Max laments his fate, but Kuno en-
courages him, while Caspar insinuates his evil plot. The
trio is of a sombre cast at the beginning, but as it pro-
gresses, the horns and an expressive combination of the
chorus give it a cheerful character. It is once more dis-
turbed, however, by Caspar's ominous phrases, but at last
Kuno and his men cheer up the despondent lover with a
brisk hunting-chorus, and the villagers dance off to a lively
waltz tempo. Max is left alone, and the next number is
a grand tenor scene. It opens with a gloomy recitative,


which lights up as he thinks of Agatha, and then passes
into one of the most tender and delicious of melodies
(" Durch die Walder, durch die Auen "), set to a beautiful
accompaniment. Suddenly the harmony is clouded by the
apparition of Zamiel, but as he disappears, Max begins
another charming melody ("Jetzt ist wohl ihr Fenster
offen "), which is even more beautiful than the first. As
Zamiel reappears the harmony is again darkened ; but when
despairing Max utters the cry, " Lives there no God ! " the
wood-demon disappears, and the great song comes to an
end. In this mood Caspar meets him, and seeks to cheer
him with an hilarious drinking-song (" Hier im ird'schen
Jammerthal "), furious in its energy, and intended to ex-
press unhallowed mirth. The act closes with Caspar's bass
aria of infernal triumph (" Triumph ! die Rache, die Rache
gelingt"), accompanied by music which is wonderfully
weird and shadowy in its suggestions.

The second act opens with a duet (" Schelm ! halt
fest") in which Agatha's fear and anxiety are charmingly
contrasted with the lightsome and cheery nature of Ann-
chen, her attendant, and this in turn is followed by a
naive and coquettish arietta (" Komrat ein schlanker
Bursch gegangen ") sung by the latter. Annchen departs,
and Agatha, opening her window and letting the moonlight
flood the room, sings the famous scena and prayer, " Leise,
leise, fromme Weise," beginning, after a few bars of reci-
tative, with a melody full of prayer and hope and tender
longings, shaded with vague presentiment. It is an adagio
of exquisite beauty, closing with an ecstatic outburst of
rapture (" Alle meine Pulse schlagen ") as she beholds
her lover coming. The melody has already been heard in
the overture, but its full joy and splendid sweep are at-
tained only in this scene. In the next scene we have a trio
(" Wie ? was ? Entsetzen? ") between Max, Annchen, and
Agatha, in which the musical discrimination of character



is carried to a fine point; and the act concludes with
the incantation music in the Wolfs Glen, which has never
been surpassed in weirdness, mystery, and diablerie, and
at times in actual sublimity. Its real power lies in the
instrumentation ; not alone in its vivid and picturesque
presentation of the melodramatic scene with its hideous
surroundings, but in its expressiveness and appositeness to
the action and sentiment by the skilful use of motives.

The last act has an instrumental prelude foreshadowing
the Hunters' Chorus. It opens with a graceful but some-
what melancholy aria of a religious character (" Und ob
die Wolke sie verhulle "), sung by Agatha, in which she is
still wavering between doubt and hope, and succeeded by
another of Annchen's arias, beginning with the gloomy
romance, " Einst traumte meiner sel'gen Base," and
closing with a lively allegro ("Trube Augen, Liebchen "),
which is intended to encourage her sad mistress. Then
the bridesmaids sing their lively chorus (" Wir winden dir
den Jungfern-Kranz "), so well known by its English title,
" A rosy Crown we twine for Thee." The pretty little
number is followed by the Hunters' Chorus (" Was gleicht
wohl auf Erden dem Jagervergniigen,") which is a universal
favorite. It leads up to a strong dramatic finale, crowded
with striking musical ideas, and containing Agatha's beauti-
ful melody in the closing chorus.

Few operas have had such world-wide popularity as
" Der Freischiitz," and yet it is an essentially German
product. The composer's son has aptly characterized it,
in his biography of his father : " Weber did not compose
' Der Freischiitz ' ; he allowed it to grow out of the rich
soil of his brave German heart, and to expand leaf by leaf,
blossom by blossom, fostered by the hand of his talent ;
and thus no German looks upon the opera as a work of art
which appeals to him from without. He feels as if every
line of the work came from his own heart, as if he himself


had dreamed it so, and it could no more sound otherwise
than the rustling of an honest German beech-wood."


" Oberon, or, the Elf King's Oath," romantic and fairy
opera in three acts, words by J. R. Planch^, was first pro-
duced at Covent Garden, London, April 12, 1826, in Eng-
lish. Its first Italian performance was given in the same
city, July 3, i860, the recitatives being supplied by Bene-
dict, who also added several numbers from " Euryanthe."
It was first sung in New York, October 9, 1829. The
original cast was as follows :

Reiza Miss Paton.

Fatima Mme. Vestris.

Puck Miss Cawse.

Huon Mr. Braham.

Oberon Mr. Bland.

Sherasmin Mr. Fawcett.

Mermaid Miss Gownell.

The librettist, Planche, in a tribute to Weber, gives the
origin of the story of " Oberon." It appeared originally
in a famous collection of French romances, " La Biblio-
theque Bleue," under the title of "Huon of Bordeaux."
The German poet Wieland adopted the principal incidents
of the story as the basis of his poem, " Oberon," and
Sotheby's translation of it was used in the preparation
of the text. The original sketch of the action, as fur-
nished by Planche', is as follows :

"Oberon, the Elfin king, having quarrelled with his
fairy partner, vows never to be reconciled to her till he
shall find two lovers constant through peril and temptation.
To seek such a pair his ' tricksy spirit,' Puck, has ranged
in vain through the world. Puck, however, hears the sen-
tence passed on Sir Huon of Bordeaux, a young knight,
who having been insulted by the son of Charlemagne, kills


him in single combat, and is for this condemned by the
monarch to travel to Bagdad to slay him who sits on the
Caliph's left hand, and to claim his daughter as his bride.
Oberon instantly resolves to make this pair the instruments
of his reunion with his queen, and for this purpose he
brings up Huon and Sherasmin asleep before him, enam-
ors the knight by showing him Reiza, daughter of the
Caliph, in a vision, transports him at his waking to Bagdad,
and having given him a magic horn, by the blasts of which
he is always to summon the assistance of Oberon, and a
cup that fills at pleasure, disappears. Here Sir Huon
rescues a man from a lion, who proves afterwards to be
Prince Babekan, who is betrothed to Reiza. One of the
properties of the cup is to detect misconduct. He offers
it to Babekan. On raising it to his lips the wine turns to
flame, and thus proves him a villain. He attempts to
assassinate Huon, but is put to flight. The knight then
learns from an old woman that the princess is to be mar-
ried next day, but that Reiza has been influenced, like her
lover, by a vision, and is resolved to be his alone. She
believes that fate will protect her from her nuptials with
Babekan, which are to be solemnized on the next day.
Huon enters, fights with and vanquishes Babekan, and
having spellbound the rest by a blast of the magic horn,
he and Sherasmin carry off Reiza and Fatima. They are
soon shipwrecked. Reiza is captured by pirates on a
desert island and brought to Tunis, where she is sold to
the Emir and exposed to every temptation, but she re-
mains constant. Sir Huon, by the order of Oberon, is also
conveyed thither. He undergoes similar trials from Ros-
hana, the jealous wife of the Emir, but proving invulner-
able she accuses him to her husband, and he is condemned
to be burned on the same pile with Reiza. They are res-
cued by Sherasmin, who has the magic horn. Oberon
appears with his queen, whom he has regained by their


constancy, and the opera concludes with Charlemagne's
pardon of Huon."

The overture, like that of " Der Freischiitz," reflects the
story, and is universally popular. Its leading themes are
the horn solo, which forms the symphony of Sir Huon's
vision, a short movement from the fairies' chorus, a martial
strain from the last scene in the court of Charlemagne, a
passage from Reiza's scene in the second act, and Puck's
invocation of the spirits.

The first act opens in Oberon's bower with a melodious
chorus of fairies and genii (" Light as fairy Feet can
fall") followed by a solo for Oberon ("Fatal Oath"),
portraying his melancholy mood, and "The Vision," a
quaint, simple melody by Reiza (" Oh ! why art thou
sleeping?"), which leads up to a splendid ensemble
(" Honor and Joy to the True and the Brave "), containing a
solo for Oberon, during which the scene suddenly changes
from the fairy bower to the city of Bagdad. Huon has a
grand scena (" Oh ! 't is a glorious Sight "), a composition
in several movements beginning with a dramatic bravura
illustrative of the scenes of the battlefield, and closing
with a joyous, brisk allegretto (" Joy to the high-born
Dames of France"). The finale begins with an aria by
Reiza ("Yes, my Lord"), in the Italian style, passing
into a duet for Reiza and Fatima, and closing with the
chorus, " Now the Evening Watch is set."

The second act opens with a characteristic chorus
("Glory to the Caliph"), the music of which has been
claimed by some critics as genuinely Moorish, though it
is probable that Weber only imitated that style in conform-
ity to the demands of the situation. A little march and
three melodramatic passages lead up to an arietta for
Fatima ("A lovely Arab Maid") beginning with a very
pleasing minor and closing in a lively major. This leads
directly to the lovely quartet, " Over the dark blue


Waters/' — one of the most attractive numbers in the
opera. It is a concerted piece for two sopranos, tenor,
and bass, opening with two responsive solos in duet, first
for the bass and tenor, and then for the two sopranos, the
voices finally uniting in a joyous and animated movement
of great power. The music now passes to the superna-
tural, and we have Puck's invocation to the spirits, whom
he summons to raise a storm and sink the vessel in which
the lovers have embarked. Puck's recitative is very
powerful, and the chorus of the spirits in response, a very
rapid presto movement, is in its way as effective as the
incantation music in " Der Freischutz." The storm rises,
the orchestra being the medium of the description, which
is very graphic and effective. Huon has a short prayer
("Ruler of this awful Hour"), which is impressively
solemn, and then follows Reiza's magnificent apostrophe
to the sea (" Ocean, thou mighty Monster that liest
curled like a green Serpent round about the World").
The scene is heroic in its construction, and its effective
performance calls for the highest artistic power. It repre-
sents the gradual calm of the angry waters, the breaking
of the sun through the gloom, and the arrival of a boat to

Online LibraryGeorge P. (George Putnam) UptonThe standard operas: their plots, their music, and their composers → online text (page 33 of 37)