George P. (George Putnam) Upton.

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

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heroine, has arranged a marriage between her and Lord
Arthur Bucklaw, in order to recover the fortune which he
has dissipated, and to save himself from political peril he
has incurred by his participation in movements against the
reigning dynasty. Sir Edgar Ravenswood, with whom he
is at enmity, is deeply attached to Lucy, who reciprocates
his love, and on the eve of his departure on an embassy
to France pledges herself to him. During his absence
Edgar's letters are intercepted by her brother, who hints
to her of his infidelity, and finally shows her a forged paper,
which she accepts as the proof that he is untrue. Over-
come with grief at her lover's supposed unfaithfulness, and
yielding to the pressure of her brother's necessities, she at
last consents to her union with Lord Arthur. The mar-
riage contract is signed with great ceremony, and just as
she has placed her name to the fatal paper, Edgar
appears. Learning from Lucy what she has done, he
tramples the contract under foot, hurls an imprecation
upon the house of Lammermoor, and bursts out of the
room in a terrible rage. Sir Henry follows him, and a.,
fierce quarrel ensues, which ends in a challenge. Mean-
while, at night, after the newly wedded couple have re-
tired, a noise is heard in their apartment. The attendants
rush in and find Lord Arthur dying from wounds inflicted
by Lucy, whose grief has made her insane. When she
returns to reason, the thought of what she has done and
the horror of her situation overcome her, and death shortly
puts an end to her wretchedness. Ignorant of her fate,
Edgar goes to the churchyard of Ravenswood, which has
been selected as the rendezvous for the duel with Sir
Henry. While impatiently waiting his appearance, the
bell of the castle tolls, and some of the attendants accost-
ing him bring the news of her death. The despairing
lover kills himself among the graves of his ancestors, and
the sombre story ends.

Saleza as Edgar do

Copyright, Aime Dicpout


The popular verdict has stamped "Lucia" as Donizetti's
masterpiece, and if the consensus of musicians could be
obtained, it would unquestionably confirm the verdict. It
contains incomparably the grandest of his arias for tenor,
the Tomb song in the last act, and one of the finest dra-
matic concerted numbers, the sextet in the second act, that
can be found in any Italian opera. Like the quartet in
" Rigoletto," it stands out in such bold relief, and is so
thoroughly original and spontaneous, that it may be classed
as an inspiration. The music throughout is of the most
sombre character. It does not contain a joyous phrase.
And yet it can never be charged with monotony. Every
aria, though its tone is serious and more often melancholy,
has its own characteristics, and the climaxes are worked up
with great power. In the first act, for instance, the con-
trasts are very marked between Henry's aria, " Cruda,
funesta smania," the chorus of hunters, " Come vinti da
stanchezza," Henry's second aria, " La pietade in suo
favore," in which he threatens vengeance upon Edgar,
the dramatic and beautifully written arias for Lucy, " Reg-
nava nel silenzio " and " Quando rapita in estasi," and the
passionate farewell duet between Lucy and Edgar, which
is the very ecstasy of commingled love and sorrow. The
second act contains a powerful duet (" Le tradirmi tu
potrai ") between Lucy and Henry; but the musical inter-
est of the act centres in the great sextet (" Chi mi frena "),
which ensues when Edgar makes his unexpected appear-
ance upon the scene of the marriage contract. For beauty,
power, richness of melody, and dramatic expression, few
concerted numbers by any composer can rival it. The
last act also contains two numbers which are always the
delight of great artists, — the mad song of Lucy (" Oh !
gioja che si senti "), and the magnificent tomb scena
("Tomba degl' avi miei"), which affords even the most
accomplished tenor ample scope for his highest powers.


L'Elisir d'Amore

" L'Elisir d'Amore," opera buffa in two acts, words by
Romani, was first produced in Milan, in 1832, and in
English, at Drury Lane, in 1839, as "The Love Spell."
The heroine of this graceful little opera is Adina, a capri-
cious country girl, who is loved by Nemorino, a young
farmer, whose uncle lies at the point of death, and by
Belcore, a sergeant, whose troops are billeted upon the
neighboring village. While Adina keeps both these suitors
in suspense, Dr. Dulcamara, a travelling quack, arrives at
the village in great state to vend his nostrums. Nemorino
applies to him for a bottle of the Elixir of Love, — with
the magical properties of which he has become acquainted
in a romance Adina has been reading that very morning.
The mountebank, of course, has no such liquid, but he
passes off on the simple peasant a bottle of wine, and as-
sures him that if he drinks of it he can command the love
of any one on the morrow. To thoroughly test its efficacy,
Nemorino drinks the whole of it. When he encounters
Adina he is half tipsy, and accosts her in such disrespect-
ful style that she becomes enraged, and determines to give
her hand to the sergeant, and promises to marry him in a
week. Meanwhile an order comes for the departure of the
sergeant's detachment, and he begs her to marry him the
same day. She gives her consent, and the second act opens
with the assembling of the villagers to witness the signing
of the marriage contract. While the sergeant, Adina, and
the notary have retired to sign and witness the contract,
Nemorino enters in despair, and finding Dulcamara enjoy-
ing a repast, he implores him to give him some charm that
will make Adina love him at once. Having no money, the
quack refuses to assist him, and Nemorino is again plunged
into despair. At this juncture the sergeant enters, not in
the best of humor, for Adina has declined to sign the

Sembrich as Aditia

Copyright, Aime Dupont


contract until evening. Discovering that Nemorino wants
money, he urges him to enlist. The bonus of twenty crowns
is a temptation. Nemorino enlists, takes the money, hur-
ries to the quack, and obtains a second bottle of the elixir,
which is much more powerful than the first. In the next
scene the girls of the village have discovered that Nerao-
rino's uncle has died and left him all his property, though
Nemorino himself has not heard of it. They crowd about
him, trying to attract his attention with their charms and
blandishments. He attributes his sudden popularity to the
effects of the elixir, and even the quack is somewhat be-
wildered at the remarkable change. Nemorino now deter-
mines to pay Adina off in kind, and at last rouses her
jealousy. Meanwhile Dulcamara acquaints her with the
effects of the elixir and advises her to try some of it, and
during the interview inadvertently informs her of Nerao-
rino's attachment for her. Struck with his devotion, she
repays the sergeant herself, announces her change of mind,
and bestows her hand upon the faithful Nemorino. Like
"Don Pasquale," the opera is exceedingly graceful in its
construction, and very bright and gay in its musical effects,
particularly in the duets, of which there are two, — one
between Dulcamara and Nemorino in the first act (" Obbli-
gato, ah ! si obbligato "), and one between Dulcamara and
Adina in the second act (" Quanto amore ! ed io spietata "),
which are charming in their spirit and humor. There is
also an admirable buffo song in the first act, beginning with
the recitative, "Udite, udite, o rustici," in which the Doc-
tor describes his wares to the rustics, and a beautiful ro-
manza in the second act for tenor (" Una furtiva lagrima "),
which is of world-wide popularity, and bears the same rela-
tion to the general setting of the work that the Serenade
does to " Don Pasquale."


Lucrezia Borgia

" Lucrezia Borgia," grand opera in three acts, words by
Romani, v/as first produced at La Scala, Milan, in 1834.
The subject was taken from Victor Hugo's tragedy of the
same name, and its text was freely adapted by Romani.
When it was produced in Paris, in 1840, Victor Hugo took
steps to suppress any further representations. The libretto
was then rewritten, under the title of " La Rinegata," the
Italian characters were changed to Turks, and in this mu-
tilated form the performances were resumed. It was in
this opera that Signor Mario made his English debut, in
1839, with great success. Its first presentation in English
was at London, December 30, 1843.

The history of Lucrezia Borgia, daughter of Rodrigo
Borgia, afterwards Pope Alexander VI, and sister of Caesar
Borgia, is too well known to need recapitulation. It is
necessary to the comprehension of the story of the opera,
however, to state that she had an illegitimate son, named
Genarro, who was left when an infant with a fisherman, but
who subsequently entered the Venetian army and rose to
an eminent rank. The opera opens with a brilliant festival
in the gardens of the Barberigo Palace, which is attended
by Genarro, Orsini, and others, all of them cordial haters
of the detestable Borgias. While they are telling tales of
Lucrezia's cruel deeds, Genarro lies down and goes to sleep,
and Orsini in a spirited aria ("Nelle fatal di Rimini ") re-
lates to his companions the story of Genarro's gallantry at
the battle of Rimini. As they leave, Lucrezia approaches,
masked, in a gondola, and is received by Gubetta, with
whom she has come to Venice on some secret errand. She
discovers Genarro asleep, and expresses her delight at his
beauty, and at the same time her maternal love, in a bril-
liant aria, " Com' e bello." As she kisses his hand he
wakes, and in the duet which follows tells her the story of

Mme. de Moschi as Lticrezia Borgia

Copyright, Aime Dupoit


his early life in an exquisite romanza (" Di pescatore igno-
bile "), which is one of the most familiar numbers in Italian
opera. He begs her to reveal her name, but she refuses.
As he continues to implore her, his friends return and de-
nounce her to Genarro as the hated Borgia, in a concerted
number (" Chi siam noi sol chiarirla ") of great dramatic
power, which closes the first act.

The second act opens in the public square of Ferrara,
with the palace of the Borgias on the right. The Duke
Alphonso, Lucrezia's husband, who has been observant of
Lucrezia's attachment to Genarro, vows vengeance in a
passionate aria ("Vieni la mia vendetta"). In the next
scene Genarro, who has been taunted by his friends with
being a victim of Lucrezia's fascinations, recklessly rushes
up to the palace door and strikes off the first letter of her
name with his dagger. When Lucrezia discovers the insult,
she demands of the Duke that the guilty person shall be
arrested and condemned to death. The Duke has already
seized Genarro, and agrees to carry out his wife's demands^
When the prisoner is brought before them for judgment,
she is horror-stricken to find he is her son. She implores
his life, but the infuriated Duke retaliates upon her with
the declaration that she is his paramour. The duet between
them (" O ! a te bada "), in which Lucrezia passes from
humble entreaties to rage and menace, is a fine instance
of Donizetti's dramatic power. The Duke, however, is reso-
lute in his determination, and will only allow her to choose
the mode of Genarro's death. She selects the Borgia
wine, which is poisoned. Genarro is called in, and after
a trio (" Le ti tradisce "), which is one of the strongest
numbers in the opera, he is given the fatal draught under
the pretence of a farewell greeting from the Duke, who
then leaves mother and son together. She gives him an
antidote, and he is thus saved from the fate which the
Duke had intended for him.


The last act opens at a banquet in the palace of the
Princess Negroni, which is attended by Genarro and his
friends, Lucrezia, meanwhile, supposing that he has gone
to Venice. During the repast she has managed to poison
their wine. In the midst of the gay revel Orsini sings the
popular drinking-song, " II segreto per esser felici," which
is now familiar the world over. The festivities are inter-
rupted, however, by the appearance of Lucrezia, who re-
veals herself with the taunting declaration : " Yes, I am
Borgia. A mournful dance ye gave me in Venice, and I
return ye a supper in Ferrara." She then announces that
they are poisoned. The music is changed with great skill
from the wild revelry of drinking-songs to the sombre
strains of approaching death. Five coffins are shown
them, when Genarro suddenly reveals himself to Lucrezia
and asks for the sixth. The horror-stricken woman again
perceives that her son has been poisoned by her own hand.
As his companions leave the apartment she implores Gen-
arro to take the antidote once more, and at last reveals
herself as his mother. He steadily refuses to save himself,
however, since his companions have to die, and expires in
her arms just as the Duke and his followers enter. She dis-
closes Genarro's relationship, and then dies with the de-
spairing cry on her lips that Heaven has pronounced its
final judgment upon her. Among all of Donizetti's operas,
not one, unless it be " Lucia," is more popular than
" Lucrezia Borgia," which may be attributed to the fact
that while the story itself is one of fascinating dramatic
interest, the musical numbers are simple, beautiful, and

Linda de Chamouni

" Linda de Chamouni," grand opera in three acts, text
by Rossi, was first produced at the Karnthnerthor Theatre,
Vienna, May 19, 1842. The first act opens in the valley of
Chamouni and discloses the home of Antonio Lonstolat,


a farmer, and his old wife, Madalina, whose only daughter,
Linda, is in love with Carlo, a young painter who has re-
cently come into the valley. Misfortunes have overtaken
the old couple, and they are in danger of losing their farm,
which is owned by the Marchioness de Sirval. Their
anxiety is temporarily relieved when the Marquis of Bois-
fleury visits them and assures them he will save the farm,
his real purpose being to effect the ruin of Linda by ingra-
tiating himself with her parents. The Prefect of the vil-
lage, however, is aware of his designs, and induces them
to allow Linda to accompany a party of villagers to Paris,
promising at the same time to place her with his brother,
who is supposed to be living in that city. She soon leaves
under the protection of Pierotto, the Savoyard.

The second act discloses them on the way to Paris,
but Linda unfortunately loses her companion. Upon
reaching Paris she finds that the Prefect's brother is
dead. Meanwhile Carlo, who has followed her, arrives,
and reveals to her that he is the Viscount Sirval, son of
the Marchioness, and nephew of the Marquis. He renews
his offer of marriage, and places her in a handsome
apartment. In these questionable surroundings Pierotto
discovers her. Her father, who^ has had to give up the
farm, also finds her, and, distrusting her innocence amid
such luxury, curses her. The Marchioness meanwhile, who
has learned of her son's attachment, threatens to imprison
Linda if he does not marry the lady she has selected for
him. He gives his feigned consent, and Linda, thinking
he has deserted her, goes insane.

In the last act Pierotto takes her back to her native
village. Carlo arrives there in search of her, and finding
her with Pierotto sings to her, hoping she will recognize
his voice and that her reason may return. The song has
the desired effect. Subsequently the Marchioness relents,
gives her consent to their union, and all ends happily.


The music of " Linda " is of that serious and dignified
kind which justifies its inclusion in the list of grand operas.
In the first act the opening aria of Antonio (" We were
both in this Valley nurtured") is a touching expression
of the sorrow of the aged couple. Linda's farewell, " Oh,
Stars that guide my fervent Love," familiar on the concert
stage by its Italian title, " O, luce di quest' anima," is an
aria of strong dramatic power, and has always been a
popular favorite. In this act also are Pierotto's pathetic
ballad, " Once a better Fortune seeking," and the pas-
sionate duet for Linda and Carlo, " Oh, that the blessed
Day were come ! " The principal numbers in the second
act are the brilliant duet for Linda and Pierotto (" Oh,
Linda, at thy happy Fate "), which is highly embellished,
and the aria for Linda ("Ah ! go, my Love"). The last
act contains a mournful aria by Carlo (" If from Heaven
the Bolts should reach me ") ; his charming song in which
he appeals to Linda ("Hear the Voice that, softly singing ") ;
and the rapturous duet for Linda and Carlo (" Ah ! the
Vision of thy Sorrow fades "), which closes the opera.


FRIEDRICH VON FLOTOW was born April 27,
181 2, in the duchy of Mechlenberg-Schwerin, and in
1827 went to Paris, where he studied music under Reicha.
His first work was " Stradella," a mere sketch in its origi-
nal form, which was brought out at the Palais Royal in
1837 ; but his first public success was made in 1839, with
his opera, " Le Naufrage de la Meduse," which had a run,
and was afterwards produced in Germany under the title
of " Die Matrosen." " L' Esclave de Camoens " appeared
in Paris in 1843; " Stradella," rewritten as an opera, in
Hamburg (1844); " L' Ame en peine," in Paris (1846);
"Martha," in Vienna (1847). The works of his later
period, which never equalled his earlier ones in popularity,
were "Die Grossfiirstin " (1850); "Indra" (1853);
"Rubezahl" (1854); "Hilda" (1855); " Der Miiller
von Meran" (1856); "La Veuve Grapin" (1859);
"L'Ombre" (1869); "Naida" (1873); "H Flor d'
Harlem" (1876); and " Enchanteresse " (1878). Of
these later works, " L'Ombre " was the most successful,
and was received with favor in France, Italy, Spain, and
England, in which latter country it was performed under
the title of "The Phantom." In 1856 he received the
appointment of Intendant of the theatre of the Grand
Duke of Mecklenberg, and entered upon his duties with
high hopes of making the theatre exercise the same in-
fluence upon music in Germany as the Weimar stage ;
but court intrigues and rivalries of artists so disgusted him
that he resigned in 1863 and went to Paris, and a few
years later to Vienna, where he took up his abode.


Outside of a few of his operas his works are little known,
though he composed a " Fackeltanz," some incidental
music to the " Winter's Tale " of Shakespeare, and sev-
eral overtures, songs, and chamber-pieces. An interesting
episode in his career occurred in 1838, when he brought
out an opera in three acts, the " Due de Guise," at the
Theatre de la Renaissance, the libretto based upon Dumas's
" Henri III." The performance was organized by the
Princess Czartoryska, for the benefit of the Poles. Mme.
de Lagrange made her debut in a leading part, and the
parts of the choristers were filled by duchesses and
princesses of the Faubourg St. Germain, upon whose per-
sons two million dollars worth of diamonds were blazing,
— sufficient evidence that the performance was brilliant in
at least one sense. He died at Wiesbaden, January 24,


" Martha," opera in three acts, libretto by St. Georges,
translated into German by Friedrich, was first produced
at Vienna, November 25, 1847, with Mile. Anna Zerr
in the title role, Herr Ander as Lionel, and Carl Formes as
Plunkett. It was first produced in English and Italian at
London in 1858, and in French at Paris in 1865. The
history of its origin is interesting. M. de St. Georges, at
the request of the manager of the Paris Grand Opera,
wrote, in 1842, the libretto to a ballet entitled " Lady Hen-
rietta, or the Servant of Greenwich," the subject being
suggested to him by the adventures of two ladies of his
acquaintance who had mingled with servants at a fair.
The music was confided to three composers. The first act
was given to Herr von Flotow, the second to Herr Burgmul-
ler, and the third to M. Deldeves. The ballet had such a
remarkable success, and Flotow was so delighted with the
plot, that he entreated St. Georges to rewrite it for an
opera. The latter consented, and the result of their


collaboration was the appearance of one of the most pop-
ular operas which has ever been placed upon the stage.

The scene of the opera is laid at Richmond, England,
and the time is during the reign of Queen Anne, though
the Italian version places it in the fifteenth century, and
the French in the nineteenth. Lady Henrietta, an at-
tendant upon the Queen, tired of the amusements of
court life, contrives a plan to visit the servants' fair at
Richmond disguised as a servant-girl, and accompanied by
Nancy, her maid, and Sir Tristan, her somewhat aged
cousin, who is also her devoted admirer. In the first three
scenes their plans are laid much to the disgust of Sir
Tristan, who is to pass as John, while his fair cousin mas-
querades as Martha. The duet between the ladies (" Of
the Knights so brave and charming ") and the trio with
Tristan, are in dance time, and full of animation. The
fourth scene opens in the market-place at Richmond,
where the people are gathering to the fair. Thither also
resort Plunkett, a farmer, and Lionel, his brother by
adoption, whose parentage is unknown, and who has no
souvenir of his father except a ring which has been left for
him, with instructions to present it to the Queen if he ever
finds himself in trouble. Lionel tells his story in an aria
(" Lost, proscribed, an humble Stranger ") which is uni-
versally popular, and the melody of which has been set to
various words. They have come to the fair to procure
help for their farm. While the sheriff, according to law, is
binding the girls for a year's service, Plunkett and Lionel
meet Martha and Nancy, and are so delighted with their
appearance that they tender them the customary bonus, or
" earnest- money," which secures them. Too late for
escape, they find that they are actually engaged, and they
are obliged to drive away with the young farmers, leaving
Sir Tristan in despair.

The second act opens in the farmhouse, where the four


have arrived. The farmers inquire their names, and seek
to find out what they can do, testing them first at the
spinning-wheel. The spinning quartet (" When the Foot
the Wheel turns lightly") is very gay and full of humor,
and is one of the most delightful concerted numbers in
the opera. The brothers soon find that their new servants
are useless, but they are so pleased with them that they
decide to keep them. At last Nancy, in a pet, kicks her
wheel over and runs off, followed by Plunkett. Lionel,
left alone with Martha, grows very tender to the new ser-
vant, and at last finds himself violently in love. He
snatches a rose from her bosom, and refuses to return it
unless she will consent to sing. She replies with the
familiar ballad, " 'T is the last Rose of Summer," which
Flotow has interpolated in this scene, and in the perform-
ance of which he makes a charming effect by introducing
the tenor in the close. Her singing only makes him the
more desperately enamoured, and he asks her to be his
wife on the spot, only to find himself the victim of
Martha's sport, although his devotion and sincerity have
made a deep impression upon her. Plunkett and Nancy
at last return, and another charming quartet follows,
"Midnight sounds," better known as the "Good Night
Quartet." The two brothers retire, but Martha and
Nancy, aided by Tristan, who has followed them and dis-
covered their whereabouts, make good their escape. The
next scene opens in the woods, where several farmers are
drinking and carousing, among them Plunkett, who sings
a rollicking drinking-song (" I want to ask you "). Their
sport is interrupted by a hunting-party, composed of the
Queen and her court ladies. Plunkett and Lionel recog-
nize their fugitive servants among them, though the
ladies disclaim all knowledge of the farmers. Plunkett
attempts to seize Nancy, but the huntresses attack him
and chase him away, leaving Lionel and Lady Henrietta

Sembrich as Martha

Copyright, Aime Dupoiit


together again. The scene contains two of the most
beautiful numbers in the opera, — the tenor solo, " Like
a Dream bright and fair " (" M' appari " in the Italian
version), and a romance for soprano (" Here in deepest

Online LibraryGeorge P. (George Putnam) UptonThe standard operas: their plots, their music, and their composers → online text (page 7 of 37)