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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 that joyous ecstatic outburst of birdlike melody,



36 THE STANDARD OPERAS

"Ah! non giunge," which closes the opera. In fact,
" Sonnambula " is so replete with melodies of the purest
and tenderest kind, that it is difficult to specify particu-
lar ones. It is exquisitely idyllic throughout, and the
music is as quiet, peaceful, simple, and tender as the
charming pastoral scenes it illustrates.

I Puritani

" I Puritani," grand opera in two acts, text by Count
Pepoli, was first produced at Paris, January 25, 1835,
with the following cast :

Elvira Mme. Grisi.

Arturo *..... Sig. Rubini.

Ricardo Sig. Tamburini.

Giorgio Sig. Lablache.

The story of the opera is laid in England during the
war between Charles II and his Parliament, and the first
scene opens in Plymouth, then held by the parliamentary
forces. The fortress is commanded by Lord Walton,
whose daughter, Elvira, is in love with Lord Arthur Tal-
bot, a young cavalier in the King's service. Her hand
had previously been promised to Sir Richard Forth of
the parliamentary army ; but to the great delight of the
maiden, Sir George Walton, brother of the commander,
brings her the news that her father has relented, and
that Arthur will be admitted into the fortress for the
celebration of the nuptials. Henrietta, widow of Charles I,
is at this time a prisoner in the fortress, under sentence
of death. Arthur discovers her situation and seeks to
effect her escape by shrouding her in Elvira's bridal veil.
On their way out he encounters his rival ; but the latter,
discovering that the veiled lady is not Elvira, allows them
to pass. The escape is soon discovered, and Elvira, think-
ing her lover has abandoned her, loses her reason. Arthur



BELLINI 37

is proscribed by the Parliament and sentenced to death,
but Sir Richard, moved by the appeals of Sir George
Walton, who hopes to restore his niece to reason, prom-
ises to use his influence with Parliament to save Arthur's
life should he be captured unarmed. Arthur meanwhile
manages to have an interview with Elvira ; and the latter,
though still suffering from her mental malady, listens joy-
fully to his explanation of his sudden flight. Their inter-
view is disturbed by a party of Puritans who enter and
arrest him. He is condemned to die on the spot; but
before the sentence can be carried out, a messenger ap-
pears with news of the King's defeat and the pardon of
Arthur. The joyful tidings restore Elvira to reason, and
the lovers are united.

The libretto of " I Puritani " is one of the poorest ever
furnished to Bellini, but the music is some of his best. It
is replete with melodies, which are not only fascinating in
their original setting, but have long been favorites on the
concert stage. The opera is usually performed in three
acts, but was written in two. The prominent numbers of
the first act are the pathetic cavatina for Ricardo, " Ah !
per sempre io ti perdei," in which he mourns the loss of
Elvira ; a lovely romanza for tenor (" A te o cara ") ; a
brilliant polacca (" Son vergin vezzosa ") for Elvira, which
is one of the delights of all artists ; and a concerted finale,
brimming over with melody and closing with the stirring
anathematic chorus, " Non casa, non spiaggia." The first
grand number in the second act is Elvira's mad song, " Qui
la voce," in which are brought out not only that rare gift
for expressing pathos in melody for which Bellini is so
famous, but the sweetest of themes and most graceful
of embellishments. The remaining numbers are Elvira's
appeal to her lover (" Vien, diletto "), the magnificent duet
for basses (" Suoni la tromba "), known as the " Liberty
Duet," which in sonorousness, majesty, and dramatic



38 THE STANDARD OPERAS

intensity hardly has an equal in the whole range of Italian
opera ; a tender and plaintive romanza for tenor ("A una
fonte aflitto e solo "); a passionate duet for Arthur and
Elvira (" Star teco ognor ") ; and an adagio, sung by
Arthur in the finale (" Ella e tremante ").



BENEDICT

JULIUS BENEDICT was born at Stuttgart, November
27, 1804, and died in London, June 5, 1885. In his
early life he studied with Abeille and Hummel, and was
fortunate in having Weber for a patron, by whose influence
he secured the position of conductor at the Karnthnerthor
Theatre in Vienna. He held this post from 1823 to 1825,
and in the latter year secured a similar appointment at the
San Carlo in Naples, where he brought out his first opera,
"Giacinta ed Ernesto," in 1829. In 1834 he went to
Paris and thence, upon the advice of Malibran, to London
in the next year. He remained in the latter city the rest
of his life and brought out there the best of his operas,
"The Brides of Venice " (1843), " The Crusaders " (1846),
and the "Lily of Killarney " (1862), besides some beauti-
ful cantatas, among them "Undine" (i860), "Richard
Cceur de Lion " (1863), and the oratorios, " St. Cecilia "
(1866), and "St. Peter" (1870). He also composed a
large number of songs, fantasies, operettas, and piano and
orchestral works. He was conductor of the Norwich Fes-
tivals from 1845 to 1878 and of many societies, and accom-
panied Jenny Lind as director during her concert tour in
this country. He was distinguished as composer, conduc-
tor, and performer, and was knighted in 1871 as a tribute
to the important service he had rendered to music.

The Lily of Killarney

"The Lily of Killarney," romantic opera in three acts,
text by Oxenford and Boucicault, is a musical setting of the
latter's "Colleen Bawn." It was first produced at Covent



4 o THE STANDARD OPERAS

Garden Theatre, London, February 8, 1862. The scene
is laid at Killarney, Ireland ; time, last century.

The first act opens with the festivities of Hardress Cre-
gan's friends at the hall at Tore Cregan. During their
temporary absence to witness a horse race, Corrigan, " the
middle-man," calls upon Mrs. Cregan and suggests the mar-
riage of her son to the heiress, Anne Chute, as the only
chance of securing the payment of a mortgage he holds
upon the place. Failing in this, he expresses his own wil-
lingness to accept Mrs. Cregan's hand, but the hint meets
with no favor. At this point Danny Mann, Hardress's boat-
man, is heard singing, and Corrigan informs Mrs. Cregan
he is about to take her son to see Eily, the Colleen Bawn,
Anne Chute's peasant rival. Danny and Hardress set off
on their errand, leaving Mrs. Cregan disconsolate and Cor-
rigan exultant. In the second scene Corrigan and Myles
na Coppaleen, the peasant lover of the Colleen Bawn, have
an interview in which Corrigan tells him she is the mistress
of Hardress. The next scene introduces us to Eily's cot-
tage, where Father Tom is seeking to induce her to per-
suade Hardress to make public announcement of his
marriage to her. When Hardress appears he asks her to
give up the marriage certificate and conceal their union ;
but Myles prevents this, and Father Tom makes Eily prom-
ise she will never surrender it.

In the second act Hardress is paying court to Anne
Chute, but is haunted by remorse over his desertion of
Eily. Danny Mann suggests putting her on board a vessel
and shipping her to America, but Hardress rejects the
scheme. Danny then agrees that Eily shall disappear if
he will send his glove, a token secretly understood between
them. This also he rejects. Meanwhile Corrigan is press-
ing his alternative upon Mrs. Cregan, but is interrupted by
Hardress, who threatens to kill him if he does not desist.
Corrigan retires, uttering threats of revenge. Danny Mann



BENEDICT 41

then intimates to Mrs. Cregan that if she will induce
Hardress to send the glove, he can bring happiness to the
family again. She secures the glove and gives it to Danny,
who promptly takes it to Eily with the message that her hus-
band has sent for her. Eily, in spite of Myles's warnings,
gets into Danny's boat and trusts herself to him. Danny
rows out to a water cave, and ordering her to step upon a
rock, demands the certificate. She refuses to give it up,
and Danny pushes her into the water. Myles, who uses the
cave for secret purposes, mistakes Danny for another and
shoots him, and then,* espying Eily, plunges in and saves
her.

The denouement of the story is quickly told in the last
act. Hardress is arrested for murder, but Danny, who was
fatally wounded, makes a dying confession of his scheme
against the life of the Colleen Bawn. Corrigan brings sol-
diers to the house of Anne Chute at the moment of Har-
dress's marriage with her, but is thwarted in his revenge
when Myles produces Eily Cregan, Hardress's lawful wife.
Mrs. Cregan also confesses her part in the plot, and ab-
solves her son from intentional guilt. Everything being
cleared up, Eily rushes into Hardress's arms, and the
chorus declares

" A cloudless day at last will dawn
Upon the hapless Colleen Bawn."

The music is very elaborate for light opera purposes,
and is written broadly and effectively, especially for the
orchestra. Many Irish melodies sprinkled through the
work relieve its heaviness. The principal numbers are
the serenade and duet, " The Moon has raised her Lamp
above " ; Myles's song, " It is a charming Girl I love " ;
Eily's song, "In my wild Mountain Valley he sought
me," and the well-known original Irish melody, "The
Cruiskeen Lawn," also sung by Eily ; the " Tally-ho " chorus,



42 THE STANDARD OPERAS

introducing the second act ; Danny Mann's recitative and
airs, " The Colleen Bawn " and " Duty ? Yes, I '11 do my
Duty," the dramatic finale to the second act; Myles's
serenade in the third act, " Your Slumbers, och ! Soft as
your Glance may be " ; Hardress's beautiful song, " Eily
Mavourneen, I see thee before me"; and the fine con-
certed trio which closes the act.



BIZET

GEORGES BIZET was born at Paris, October 25,
1838, and in an artistic atmosphere, as his father,
an excellent teacher, was married to a sister of Mme. Del-
sarte, a talented pianist, and his uncle, a musician, was
the founder of the famous Delsarte system. He studied
successively with Marmontel and Benoist, and subse-
quently took lessons in composition from Halevy, whose
daughter he afterwards married. His first work was an
operetta of not much consequence, " Docteur Miracle,"
written in 1857, and in the same year he took the Grand
Prix de Rome. On his return from Italy he composed
" Vasco de Gama" and "Les Pecheurs de Perles," neither
of which met with much success. In 1867 "La Jolie
Fille de Perth" appeared, and in 1872, "Djamileh."
During the intervals of these larger works he wrote the
Patrie overture and the interludes to " L'Arlesienne," a
very poetical score which Theodore Thomas introduced to
this country, and both works were received with enthusi-
asm. At last he was to appreciate and enjoy a real dra-
matic success, though it was his last work. " Carmen "
appeared in 1875, and achieved a magnificent triumph at
the Opera Comique. It was brought out in March, and
in the following June he died of acute heart disease. He
was a very promising composer, and specially excelled in
orchestration. During his last few years he was a close
student of Wagner, whose influence is apparent in portions
of this last work of his life.



44 THE. STANDARD OPERAS



Carmen

" Carmen," opera in four acts, words by Meilhac and
Halevy, adapted from Prosper Merimee's romance of
"Carmen," was first produced at the Opera Comique,
Paris, March 3, 1875, with Mme. Galli-Marie in the title
role and Mile. Chapuy as Michaela. The scene is laid in
Seville; time, 1S20. The first act opens in the public
square, filled with a troop of soldiers under command of
Don Jos£, and loungers who are waiting the approach of
the pretty girls who work in the cigar-factory near by, and
prettiest and most heartless of them all, Carmen. Before
they appear, Michaela, a village girl, enters the square,
bearing a message to Don Jose from his mother, but not
finding him departs. The cigar-girls at last pass by on
their way to work, and with them Carmen, who observes
Don Jose" sitting in an indifferent manner and throws hira
the rose she wears in her bosom. As they disappear,
Michaela returns and delivers her message. The sight of
the gentle girl and the thoughts of home dispel Don Jose's
growing passion for Carmen. He is about to throw away
her rose, when a sudden disturbance is heard in the fac-
tory. It is found that Carmen has quarrelled with one of
the girls and wounded her. She is arrested, and to pre-
vent further mischief her arms are pinioned. She so be-
witches the lieutenant, however, that he connives at her
escape and succeeds in effecting it, while she is being led
away to prison by the soldiers. In the second act Carmen
has returned to her wandering gypsy life, and we find her
with her companions in the cabaret of Lillas-Pastia, sing-
ing and dancing. Among the new arrivals is Escamillo,
the victorious bull-fighter of Grenada, with whom Carmen
is at once fascinated. When the inn is closed, Escamillo
and the soldiers depart, but Carmen waits with two of the




Calve as Carmen

Copyright, Falk



BIZET 45

gypsies, who are smugglers, for the arrival of Don Jose\
They persuade her to induce him to join their band, and
when the lieutenant, wild with passion for her, enters the
apartment, she prevails upon him to remain in spite of the
trumpet-call which summons him to duty. An officer ap-
pears and orders him out. He refuses to go, and when
the officer attempts to use force Carmen summons the
gypsies. He is soon overpowered, and Don Jose escapes
to the mountains. The third act opens in the haunt of
the smugglers, a wild, rocky, cavernous place. Don Jose
and Carmen, who is growing very indifferent to him, are
there. As the contrabandists finish their work and gradu-
ally leave the scene, Escamillo, who has been following
Carmen, appears. His presence and his declarations as
well arouse the jealousy of Don Jose. They rush at each
other for mortal combat, but the smugglers separate them.
Escamillo bides his time, invites them to the approaching
bull-fight at Seville, and departs. While Don Jose* is up-
braiding Carmen, the faithful Michaela, who has been
guided to the spot, begs him to accompany her, as his
mother is dying. Duty prevails, and he follows her as
Escamillo's taunting song is heard dying away in the dis-
tance. In the last act the drama hurries on to the tragic
denouement. It is a gala-day in Seville, for Escamillo is
to fight. Carmen is there in his company, though her
gypsy friends have warned her Don Jose is searching for
her. Amid great pomp Escamillo enters the arena, and
Carmen is about to follow, when Don Jose appears and
stops her. He appeals to her and tries to awaken the old
love. She will not listen, and at last in a fit of wild rage
hurls the ring he had given her at his feet. The shouts of
the people in the arena announce another victory for Es-
camillo. She cries out with joy. Don Jose springs at her
like a tiger, and stabs her just as Escamillo emerges from
the contest.



46 THE STANDARD OPERAS

"Carmen" is the largest and best-considered of all
Bizet's works, and one of the best in the modern French
repertoire. The overture is short but very brilliant. After
some characteristic choruses by the street lads, soldiers,
and cigar-girls, Carmen sings the Habanera (" Amor, mis-
terioso angelo"), a quaint melody in which the air is
taken from an old Spanish song by Iradier, called " El
Aveglito." A serious duet between Michaela and Don
Jose (" Mia madre io la rivedo ") follows, which is very
tender in its character. The next striking number is the
dance tempo, " Presso il bastion de Seviglia," a seguidilla,
sung by Carmen while bewitching Don Jose\ In the
finale, as she escapes, the Habanera is heard again.

The second-act music is peculiarly Spanish in color,
particularly that for the ballet. The opening song of the
gypsies in the cabaret, to the accompaniment of the casta-
nets ("Vezzi e anella scintillar "), is bewitching in its
rhythm, and is followed in the next scene by a stirring
and very picturesque aria ("Toreador, attento "), in which
Escamillo describes the bull-fight. A beautifully written
quintet (" Abbiamo in vista"), and a strongly dramatic
duet, beginning with another fascinating dance tempo
("Voglio danzar pel tuo piacer"), and including a
beautiful pathetic melody for Don Jose - (" II fior che
avevi"), close the music of the act.

The third act contains two very striking numbers, the
terzetto of the card-players in the smugglers' haunt
("Mischiam! alziam ! "), and Michaela's aria ("Iodico
no, non son paurosa"), the most effective and beautiful
number in the whole work, and the one which shows most
clearly the effect of Wagner's influence upon the composer.
In the finale of the act the Toreador's song is again heard
as he disappears in the distance after the quarrel with
Don Jose.

The last act is a hurly-burly of the bull-fight, the



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Toreador's taking march, the stormy duet between Don
Jose and Carmen, and the tragic denouement in which the
"Carmen" motive is repeated. The color of the whole
work is Spanish, and the dance tempo is freely used and
beautifully worked up with Bizet's ingenious and scholarly
instrumentation. Except in the third act, however, the
vocal parts are inferior to the orchestral treatment.



BOIELDIEU

FRANCOIS ADRIEN BOIELDIEU was born Decem-
ber 1 6, 1775, at Rouen, France. Little is known of
his earlier life, except that he studied for a time with
Broche, the cathedral organist. His first opera, " La Fille
Coupable," appeared in 1793, and was performed at Rouen
with some success. In 1795 a second opera, "Rosalie et
Myrza," was produced in the same city; after which he
went to Paris, where he became acquainted with many
prominent musicians, among them Cherubini. His first
Paris opera was the " Famille Suisse" (1797), which had
a successful run. Several other operas followed, besides
some excellent pieces of chamber music which secured him
the professorship of the piano in the Conservatory. He
also took lessons at this time of Cherubini in counterpoint,
and in 1803 brought out a very successful work, "Ma
Tante Aurore." We next hear of him in St. Petersburg,
as conductor of the Imperial Opera, where he composed
many operas and vaudevilles. He spent eight years in
Russia, returning to Paris in 181 1. The next year one
of his best operas, " Jean de Paris," was produced with
extraordinary success. Though he subsequently wrote
many operas, fourteen years elapsed before his next great
work, " La Dame Blanche," appeared. Its success was
unprecedented. All Europe was delighted with it, and it
is as fresh to-day as when it was first produced. The
remainder of Boieldieu's life was sad, owing to operatic
failures, pecuniary troubles, and declining health. He
died at Jarcy, near Paris, October 8, 1834.



BOIELDIEU 49



La Dame Blanche

" La Dame Blanche," opera comique in three acts,
words by Scribe, adapted from Walter Scott's novels,
" The Monastery " and " Guy Mannering," was first pro-
duced at the Opera Comique, December 10, 1825, and
was first performed in English under the title of " The
White Maid," at Covent Garden, London, January 2,
1827. The scene of the opera is laid in Scotland. The
Laird of Avenel, a zealous partisan of the Stuarts, was
proscribed after the battle of Culloden, and upon the eve
of going into exile intrusts Gaveston, his steward, with the
care of the castle, and of a considerable treasure which is
concealed in a statue called the White Lady. The tradi-
tions affirmed that this lady was the protectress of the
Avenels. All the clan were believers in the story, and
the villagers declared they had often seen her in the
neighborhood. Gaveston, however, does not share their
superstition nor believe in the legend, and some time after
the departure of the Laird he announces the sale of the
castle, hoping to obtain it at a low rate because the villagers
will not dare to bid for it through fear of the White Lady.
The steward is led to do this because he has heard the
Laird is dead, and knows there is no heir to the property.
Anna, an orphan girl, who had been befriended by the
Laird, determines to frustrate Gaveston's designs, and ap-
pears in the village disguised as the White Lady. She also
writes to Dickson, a farmer, who is indebted to her, to
meet her at midnight in the castle of Avenel. He is too
superstitious to go, and George Brown, a young lieutenant
who is sharing his hospitality, volunteers in his stead. He
encounters the White Lady, and learns from her he will
shortly meet a young lady who has saved his life by her
careful nursing after a battle, — Anna meanwhile recogniz-
ing George as the person she had saved. When the day

4



5 o THE STANDARD OPERAS

of sale comes, Dickson is empowered by the farmers to
purchase the castle, so that it may not fall into Gaveston's
hands. George and Anna are there ; and the former,
though he has not a shilling, buys it under instructions
from Anna. When the time comes for payment, Anna
produces the treasure which had been concealed in the
statue, and, still in the disguise of the White Lady, re-
veals to him the secret of his birth during the exile of his
parents. Gaveston approaches the spectre and tears off
her veil, revealing Anna, his ward. Moved by the zeal and
fidelity of his father's prot'eg'ee, George offers her his hand,
which, after some maidenly scruples, she accepts.

The opera is full of beautiful songs, many of them
Scotch in character. In the first act the opening song
of George ("Ah, what Pleasure a Soldier to be!") is
very poetical in its sentiment. It also contains the char-
acteristic ballad of the White Lady, with choral responses
(" Where yon Trees your Eye discovers"), and an ex-
quisitely graceful trio in the finale (" Heavens ! what do
I hear?"). The second act opens with a very plaintive
romanza ("Poor Margaret, spin away!"), sung by Mar-
garet, Anna's old nurse, at her spinning-wheel, as she
thinks of the absent Laird, followed in the fifth scene by
a beautiful cavatina for tenor (" Come, O gentle Lady").
In the seventh scene is a charming duet ("From these
Halls"), and the act closes with an ensemble for seven
voices and chorus, which has hardly been excelled in inge-
nuity of treatment. The third act opens with a charm-
ingly sentimental aria for Anna ("With what Delight I
behold"), followed in the third scene by a stirring chorus
of mountaineers, leading up to " the lay ever sung by the
Clan of Avenel," — the familiar old ballad, "Robin Adair,"
which loses a little of its local color under French treat-
ment, but gains an added grace. It is stated on good
authority that two of Boieldieu's pupils, Adolph Adam and



BOIELDIEU 51

Labarre, assisted him in the work, and that the lovely
overture was written in one evening, — Boieldieu furnish-
ing the andante and the two others the remaining move-
ments. Though a little old-fashioned in some of its
phrasing, the opera still retains its freshness and beautiful
sentiment. Its popularity is best evinced by the fact that
up to June, 1875, ^ na( ^ been given 1340 times at the
theatre where it was first produced.



BOITO

ARRIGO BOITO was born in 1840, and received his
musical education in the Conservatory at Milan,
where he studied for nine years. In 1866 he became
musical critic for several Italian papers, and about the
same time wrote several poems of more than ordinary
merit. Both in literature and music his taste was diver-
sified ; and he combined the two talents in a remarkable
degree in his opera of " Mephistopheles," the only work
by which he is known to the musical world at large. He
studied Goethe profoundly; and the notes which he has
appended to the score show a most intimate knowledge
of the Faust legend. His text is in one sense polyglot,
as he has made use of portions of Marlowe's " Doctor
Faustus," as well as excerpts from Blaze de Bury, Lenau,
Widmann, and others who have treated the legend. He
studied Wagner's music also very closely, and to such
purpose that after the first performance of this opera at
La Scala, in 1868, the critics called him the Italian
Wagner, and, in common with the public, condemned
both him and his work. After Wagner's "Lohengrin"
had been produced in Italy and met with success, Boito
saw his opportunity once more to bring out his work.



Online LibraryGeorge P. (George Putnam) UptonThe standard operas: their plots, their music, and their composers → online text (page 4 of 37)