George P. (George Putnam) Upton.

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

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King Solomon, learning of the Queen's intention to visit
him, sends his favorite courtier Assad to escort her.
While she waits outside the gates of Jerusalem, Assad an-
nounces her arrival to the King and Sulamith, the daughter
of the high priest, to whom the courtier is affianced.
Observing his disturbed looks, the King, after dismissing
his attendants, inquires the cause. Assad replies that on
their journey through the forest he had encountered a
nymph bathing whose beauty had so impressed him as to
banish even the thoughts of his affianced. The wise Solo-
mon counsels him to marry Sulamith at once. Meanwhile
the Queen comes into the King's presence, and as she lifts
her veil reveals the unknown fair one. She affects ignor-
ance of Assad's passion ; but when she learns that he is to
wed Sulamith love for him springs up in her own breast.
Upon the day of the wedding ceremony Assad, carried away
by his longing for the Queen, declares her to be his divinity,
and is condemned to death for profaning the Temple.
Both the Queen and Sulamith appeal to the King for
mercy. He consents at last to save his life, but banishes
him to the desert. The Queen seeks him there, and makes
an avowal of her love ; but Assad repulses her. As Sulamith
comes upon the scene a simoom sweeps across the desert.
They perish in each other's arms ; while in a mirage the
Queen and her attendants are seen journeying to their home.

The first act opens in the great hall of Solomon's palace
with a brilliant, joyous chorus (" Open the Halls, adorn
the Portals") in praise of the King's glory. After the
entrance of the high priest, Sulamith sings a fascinating


bridal song ("My own Assad returns"), richly Oriental
both in music and sentiment, dreamy and luxurious in its
tone, and yet full of joyous expectation, with characteristic
choral refrain and dainty accompaniment. The fourth and
fifth scenes are full of agitation and unrest, and lead up to
Assad's explanation of his perturbed condition ("At Leba-
non's Foot I met Arabia's Queen "), a monologue aria of
rich, glowing color, and reaching a fine dramatic climax as
it progresses from its sensuous opening to the passionate
intensity of its finale. It is followed by the entrance of the
Queen, accompanied by a brilliant march and a jubilant
chorus (" To the Sun of the South our Welcome we
bring") and a stirring concerted number, describing the
recognition of the Queen by Assad ; after which the chorus
resumes its jubilant strain, bringing the act to a close.

Tha second act opens in the gardens of the palace and
discloses the Queen, who gives expression to her love for
Assad and her hatred of Sulamith in an impassioned aria
("Let me from the festal Splendor"). In the second
scene Astaroth, her slave, appears and lures Assad by a
weird strain, which is one of the most effective passages in
the opera ("As the Heron calls in the Reeds "). After a
short arioso by Assad ("Magical Sounds, intoxicating
Fragrance"), a passionate duet with the Queen follows,
interrupted by the call of the Temple-guard to prayer.
The scene changes to the interior of the sanctuary with its
religious service ; and with it the music changes also to
solemn Hebrew melodies with the accompaniment of the
sacred instruments, leading up to the stirring finale in
which Assad declares his passion for the Queen, amid
choruses of execration by the people.

The third act opens in the banquet-hall upon a scene of
festivity introduced by the graceful bee dance of the Almas.
It is followed by the powerful appeal of the Queen for
Assad's life, rising to an intensely dramatic pitch as she


warns the King of the revenge of her armed hosts (" When
Sheba's iron Lances splinter and Zion's Throne in Ruins
falls "). In sad contrast comes the mournful chant which
accompanies Sulamith as she passes to the vestal's home
("The Hour that robbed me of him"), and ends in her
despairing cry rising above the chorus of attendants as
Solomon also refuses her petition.

The last act passes in the desert. Beneath a solitary
palm tree Assad laments the destiny which pursues him
(" Whither shall I wend my weary Steps? "). In the next
scene the Queen appears, and an agitated duet follows,
ending with her repulse. Assad in despair calls upon death
to relieve him. The sky darkens. Clouds of sand envelop
the fugitive. The palm bends before the blast as the
simoom sweeps by. The storm at last subsides. The sky
grows brighter ; and the Queen and her attendants, with
their elephants and camels, appear in a mirage, journeying
eastward, as Sulamith and her lover expire in each other's
arms. As their duet dies away, the chorus of maidens
brings the act to a close with a few strains from the love-
song in the first act.


The opera of " Merlin " was first performed at Vienna,
November 1 7, 1886, and was heard for the first time in this
country at New York, January 3, 1887, under the direction
of Mr. Walter Damrosch, with the following cast :

King Arthur Herr Robinson.

Modred Herr Kemlitz.

Lancelot Herr Bursch.

Gawein Herr Heinrich.

Gletidower Herr Von Milde.

Merlin Herr Alvary.

Viviane Frl. Lehmann.

The Fay Morgana Frl. Brandt.

Bedzvyr Herr Sieglitz.

The Demon Herr Fischer.



The libretto of the opera is by Siegfried Lipiner. The
scene is laid in Wales, and the hero, Merlin, is familiar as
the wizard. The story is as follows :

The Devil, seeking to banish all good from the world,
unites himself to a virgin that he may beget a child who
shall aid him in his fell purpose. The child is Merlin, who
partakes of the mother's goodness, and instead of aiding
his father, seeks to thwart his design. The Devil thereupon
consults the Fay Morgana, who tells him Merlin will lose
his power if he falls in love. In the opening scene King
Arthur sends Lancelot to Merlin for aid and Merlin prom-
ises him victory and achieves it by the assistance of his
familiar, a demon, who is in league with the Devil. Tired
of his service to Merlin, the demon contrives to have him
meet the beautiful Viviane, with whom he falls in love.
The second act transpires in Merlin's enchanted garden,
and reveals his growing passion, and at the same time his
waning power of magic ; for when once more Arthur sum-
mons his aid he attempts to tear himself away from her only
to realize his weakness. She seeks to detain him by throw-
ing a magic veil over him which has been given her by the
demon ; in an instant the scene changes, and Merlin ap-
pears confined to a rock by fiery chains, while the demon
mocks him from a neighboring eminence, and Viviane gives
way to anguish. In the last act Viviane is told by the Fay
Morgana that Merlin's release can only be secured by
woman's self-sacrifice. Once more an appeal for help comes
to him from Arthur, and he promises his soul to the demon
in exchange for his freedom. His chains fall off. He
rushes into the battle and secures the victory, but is fatally
wounded. The demon claims him ; but Viviane, remem-
bering the words of the Fay Morgana, stabs herself and
thus balks him of his expectant prey.

Like Wagner's operas, " Merlin " has its motives, the
principal ones being that of the demon, or the evil principle,


and two love motives. In its general treatment it is also
Wagnerian. The first scene opens with the spirited mes-
sage of Lancelot to Glendower, beseeching Merlin's aid for
the hard-pressed Arthur. It is followed by the strains of
Merlin's harp in the castle and his assurance of victory,
and these in turn by very descriptive incantation music
summoning the demon and the supernatural agencies which
shall compass the defeat of Arthur's enemies. Then comes
the interview between the demon and the Fay Morgana, in
which he learns the secret of Merlin's weakness. In the
next scene Arthur returns from his victory over the Saxons
to the tempo of a stirring march, and accompanied by the
joyous choruses of women. A vigorous episode, in which
Bedwyr, one of Arthur's knights, is charged with treachery,
is followed by Merlin's chant of victory with chorus accom-
paniment. As its strains die away a distant horn announces
Viviane, who makes her appearance singing a breezy hunt-
ing song with her maidens, leading up to a spirited septet.
Then follows the baffled attempt of Viviane to crown Mer-
lin, the scene closing with a repetition of the chant of vic-
tory and the choruses of jubilation.

The second act opens in the enchanted gardens of Mer-
lin, the first scene of which reveals a conspiracy to seize the
crown during Arthur's absence and proclaim Modred king,
and the farewell of Arthur and his suite to Merlin. The
magic-veil scene follows with its fascinating dance tempos,
and leads with its graceful measures up to the passionate
love scene between Merlin and Viviane, which is harshly
broken in upon by the clash of arms between Modred and
his perfidious companions and the- faithful friends of Ar-
thur. A dramatic scene of great energy follows, in which
Viviane at last throws the magic veil around Merlin, result-
ing in the transformation already mentioned.

The last act opens with Viviane's mournful lament for
the wretched fate which she has brought upon her lover,


and the announcement of the means by which he may be
released made to her in slumber by the Fay Morgana. Her
maidens seek to rouse her with choral appeals in which
phrases of her hunting-song are heard. Meanwhile mock-
ing spirits appear to Merlin and taunt him in characteris-
tic music. Then follows the compact with the Demon
which releases him. He rushes into the battle accom-
panied by Viviane's exultant song, but a funeral march soon
tells the story of his fate. A very dramatic ensemble con-
tains the deed of self-sacrifice by which Viviane ends her
life to redeem Merlin from the demon, and with this power-
ful effect the opera closes.


June 17, 1 81 8. He studied music in the Conserva-
tory, under the direction of Halevy, Lesueur, and Paer,
in 1839 obtained the first prize, and, under the usual regu-
lations, went to Italy. While at Rome he devoted him-
self largely to religious music. On his return to Paris he
became organist of the Missions Etrangeres, and for a time
seriously thought of taking orders, but in 185 1 he brought
out his first opera, "Sappho," which met with success,
and at this point his active musical career began. In
1852 he became conductor of the Orpheon, and wrote the
choruses for Ponsard's tragedy of " Ulysse." The year
1854 brought a five-act opera, " La Nonne Sanglante,"
founded on a legend in Lewis's "Monk." In 1858 he
made his first essay in opera comique, and produced " Le
Medecin malgre lui," which met with remarkable success.
The next year " Faust " was performed, and placed him
in the front rank of living composers. " Philemon et
Baucis" appeared in i860, and " La Reine de Saba,"
which was afterwards performed in English as " Irene," in
1862. In 1863 he brought out the pretty pastoral opera,
" Mireille." This was succeeded in 1866 by "La Co-
lombe," known in English as "The Pet Dove," and in
1867 by "Romeo et Juliette." In 1877 he produced
"Cinq-Mars," and in 1878 his last opera, "Polyeucte."
He has also written much church music, the more impor-
tant works being the " Messe Solennelle," a " Stabat
Mater," the oratorios "Tobie " and "The Redemption," a


" De Profundis," an " Ave Verum," and many single hymns
and songs, among which " Nazareth " is universally popu-
lar. His list of compositions for orchestra is also very
large, and includes such popular pieces as the " Saltarello,"
" Funeral March of a Marionette," and the " Meditation,"
based on Bach's First Prelude, which is accompanied by a
soprano solo. He was elected a member of the Institut
de France in 1866.


" Faust," grand opera in five acts, words by Barbier
and Carre, founded upon Goethe's tragedy, was first pro-
duced at the Theatre Lyrique, Paris, March 19, 1859, with
the following cast of the principal parts :

Marguerite Mme. Miolan-Carvalho.

Siebel Mile. Faivre.

Faust : M. Barbot.

Valentin M. Regnal.

Mephistopheles M. Balanqu£.

Martha Mme. Duclos.

The opera was first produced in London as " Faust,"
June n, 1863; in English, January 23, 1864; and in
Germany as " Margarethe."

The story of the opera follows Goethe's tragedy very
closely, and is confined to the first part. It may be briefly
told : Faust, an aged German student, satiated with
human knowledge and despairing of his ability to unravel
the secrets of nature, summons the evil spirit Mephis-
topheles to his assistance, and contracts to give him his soul
in exchange for a restoration to youth. Mephistopheles
effects the transformation, and reveals to him the vision of
Marguerite, a beautiful village maiden, with whom Faust
at once falls in love. They set out upon their travels and
encounter her at the Kermesse. She has been left by her
brother Valentin, a soldier, in care of Dame Martha, who

Melba as Marguerite

Copyright, Aime Dupont


proves herself a careless guardian. Their first meeting is
a casual one ; but subsequently he finds her in her garden,
and with the help of the subtle Mephistopheles succeeds
in engaging the young girl's affection. Her simple lover,
Siebel, is discarded, and his nosegay is thrown away at sight
of the jewels with which Faust tempts her. When Valentin
returns from the wars he learns of her temptation and subse-
quent ruin. He challenges the seducer, and in the encounter
is slain by the intervention of Mephistopheles. Overcome
by the horror of her situation, Marguerite becomes insane,
and in her frenzy kills her child. She is thrown into
prison, where Faust and Mephistopheles find her. Faust
urges her to fly with them, but she refuses, and places her ]
reliance for salvation upon earnest prayer, and sorrow for
the wrong she has done. Pleading for forgiveness, she ex-
pires ; and as Mephistopheles exults at the catastrophe he
has wrought, angels appear amid the music of the celestial
choirs and bear the sufferer to heaven.

The first act is in the nature of a prelude, and opens
with a long soliloquy (" Interrogo invano ") by Faust, in
which he laments the unsatisfactoriness of life. It is inter-
woven with delightful snatches of chorus heard behind the
scenes, a duet with Mephistopheles -(" Ma il ciel "), and the
delicate music accompanying the vision of Marguerite.

The second act is contained in a single setting; the
Kermesse, in which the chorus plays an important part.
In the first scene the choruses of students, soldiers, old
men, girls, and matrons are quaintly contrasted, and full of
animation and characteristic color. In the second, Valen-
tin sings a tender song (" O santa medaglia ") to a me-
dallion of his sister which he wears as a charm. It is
followed by a grim and weird drinking-song (" Dio dell'
or"), sung by Mephistopheles. The latter then strikes
fire from the fountain into his cup, and proposes the
health of Marguerite. Valentin springs forward to resent


the insult, only to find his sword broken in his hands.
The students and soldiers recognize the spirit of evil, and
overcome him by presenting the hilts of their swords in
the form of a cross, the scene being accompanied by one
of the most effective choruses in the work ("Tu puvi la
spada "). The tempter gone, the scene resumes its gayety,
and the act closes with one of the most animated and
delightful of waltz tempos ("Come la brezza").

The third act is the garden scene, full of fascinating
detail, and breathes the very spy : t of poetry and music
combined in a picture of love which has never been ex-
celled in tenderness and beauty on the operatic stage.
Its principal numbers are a short and simple but very
beautiful ballad for Siebel ("La parlate d' amor"); a
passionate aria for tenor ("Salve dimora casta e pura"),
in which Faust greets Marguerite's dwelling; a double
number, which is superb in its contrasts, — the folk-song
(" Cera un re di Thule "), a plaintive little ballad sung at
the spinning-wheel by Marguerite, and the bravura jewel-
song (" Ah ! e' strano poter "), which is the very essence of
delicacy and almost childish glee ; the quartet commenc-
ing, "Vappogiato al bracchio mio," which is of striking
interest by the independent manner in which the two
pairs of voices are treated and combined in the close ;
and the closing duet (" Sempre amar ") between Faust
and Marguerite, which is replete with tenderness and pas-
sion, and closes in strains of almost ecstatic rapture, the
fatal end of which is foreshadowed by the mocking laugh
of Mephistopheles breaking in upon its lingering cadences.

The fourth act is known as the Cathedral act, and es-
tablished Gounod's reputation as a writer of serious music.
It opens with a scena for Marguerite, who has been taunted
by the girls at the fountain (" Nascose eran la le crudeli "),
in which she laments her sad fate. The scene abruptly
changes to the square in front of the cathedral, where the















s> J





soldiers, Valentin among them, are returning, to the jubi-
lant though somewhat commonplace strains of the march,
"Deponiam il branda." As the soldiers retire and Valen-
tin goes in quest of Marguerite, Faust and Mephistopheles
appear before the house, and the latter sings a grotesque
and literally infernal serenade (" Tu, che fai 1' addormen-
tata"). Valentin appears and a quarrel ensues, leading
up to a spirited trio. Valentin is slain, and with his
dying breath pronounces a malediction (" Margherita !
maledetta") upon his sister. The scene changes to the
church, and in wonderful combination we hear the appeals
of Marguerite for mercy, the taunting voice of the tempter,
and the monkish chanting of the " Dies Irae," mingled with
the solemn strains of the organ.

The last act is usually presented in a single scene, the
prison, but it contains five changes. After a weird pre-
lude, the Walpurgis revel begins, in which short, strange
phrases are heard from unseen singers. The night scene
changes to a hall of pagan enchantment, and again to the
Brocken, where the apparition of Marguerite is seen. The
orgy is resumed, when suddenly by another transformation
we are taken to the prison where Marguerite is awaiting
death. It is unnecessary to give its details. The scene
takes the form of a terzetto, which is worked up with
constantly increasing power to a climax of passionate
energy, and at last dies away as Marguerite expires. It
stands almost alone among effects of this kind in opera.
The curtain falls upon a celestial chorus of apotheosis,
the vision of the angels, and Mephistopheles cowering
in terror before the heavenly messengers.

Romeo et Juliette

"Rom£o et Juliette," grand opera in five acts, words
by Barbier and Carr6, the subject taken from Shakespeare's
tragedy of the same name, was first produced at the


Theatre Lyrique, Paris, April 27, 1867, with Mme. Miolan-
Carvalho in the role of Juliet. The story as told by the
French dramatists in the main follows Shakespeare's tragedy
very closely in its construction as well as in its dialogue.
It is only necessary, therefore, to sketch its outlines. The
first act opens with the festival at the house of Capulet.
Juliet and Romeo meet there and fall in love, notwith-
standing her betrothal to Paris. The hot-blooded Tybalt
seeks to provoke a quarrel with Romeo, but is restrained
by Capulet himself, and the act comes to a close with a
resumption of the merry festivities. In the second act
we have the balcony scene, quite literally taken from
Shakespeare, with an episode, however, in the form of a
temporary interruption by Gregory and retainers, whose
appearance is rather absurd than otherwise. The third
act is constructed in two scenes. The first is in the
Friar's cell, where the secret marriage of the lovers takes
place. In the second, we are introduced to a new char-
acter, invented by the librettist, — Stephano, Romeo's
page, whose pranks while in search of his master provoke
a general quarrel, in which Mercutio is slain by Tybalt,
who in turn is killed by Romeo. When Capulet arrives
upon the scene he condemns Romeo to banishment, who
vows, however, that he will see Juliet again at all hazards.
The fourth act is also made up of two scenes. The first
is in Juliet's chamber, and is devoted to a duet between
the two lovers. Romeo departs at dawn, and Capulet
appears with Friar Laurence and announces his deter-
mination that the marriage with Paris shall be celebrated
at once. Juliet implores the Friar's help, and he gives
her the potion. The next scene is devoted to the wed-
ding festivity, in the midst of which Juliet falls insensible
from the effects of the sleeping-draught. The last act
transpires in the tomb of the Capulets, where Romeo
arrives, and believing his mistress dead takes poison.

Geraldine Farrar as Juliet


Juliet, reviving from the effects of the potion, and find-
ing him dying, stabs herself with a dagger, and expires
in his arms.

While many numbers are greatly admired, the opera as a
whole has not been very successful. Had not " Faust," which
it often recalls, preceded it, its fate might have been differ-
ent. Still, it contains many strong passages and much
beautiful writing. The favorite numbers are the waltz
arietta, very much in the manner of the well-known " II
Bacio," at the Capulet festival, the Queen Mab song, by
Mercutio ("Mab, regina di menzogne "), and the duet
between Romeo and Juliet (" Di grazia, t' arrestaanc or ! "),
in the first act; the love music in the balcony scene of
the second act, which inevitably recalls the garden music
in "Faust"; an impressive solo for Friar Laurence ("Al
vostro amor cocente "), followed by a vigorous trio and
quartet, the music of which is massive and ecclesiasti-
cal in character, and the page's song ("Ah! col nibbio
micidale "), in the third act; the duet of parting between
Romeo and Juliet ("Tu dei partir ohime ! "), the quartet
(" Non temero mio ben") between Juliet, the nurse, Friar
Laurence, and Capulet, and the dramatic solo for the Friar
(" Bevi allor questo filtro "), as he gives the potion to Juliet,
in the fourth act ; and the elaborate orchestral prelude to
the tomb scene in the last act.

Philemon and Baucis

"Philemon et Baucis," mythological idyl, in two acts,
text by Barbier and Carre, was first produced at the
Theatre Lyrique, Paris, February 18, i860.

This musical piece was originally composed for the
Casino at Baden-Baden and in one act. Before it was
produced there, Mme. Carvalho was so impressed with the
score that she induced Gounod to make a three-act opera
of it for her, and in that form she brought it out at the


Theatre Lyrique, Paris, as stated above, the manager of
the Casino in the meantime agreeing to exchange it for
Gounod's " Colombe." It was not greatly appreciated at
the Theatre Lyrique, however, and it was next reset in two
acts and transferred to the Opera Comique where it has
ever since remained in the repertory. It was first pro-
duced in England at Covent Garden in 1891.

The libretto of " Philemon et Baucis " is founded upon
the well-known classical legend. Jupiter and Vulcan
come down to earth to punish the Phrygians for their
impiety, as reported by Mercury, and arriving in a storm
which is one of the god's own creating they seek shelter
in the cottage of the aged Philemon and Baucis. Find-
ing that the old couple have lived happily together for
many years and greatly pleased with his hospitable wel-
come, Jupiter transforms the milk at the simple supper
into wine. Baucis recognizes Jupiter by this act and is
greatly awed, but he calms her fears and promises to grant
whatever she may wish. Her only wish is that she and
Philemon may be young again. Jupiter thereupon puts
them to sleep. An intermezzo follows in which the
Phrygians are seen engaged in wild orgies. Vulcan remon-
strates with them but they only mock at him. Jupiter
then appears upon the scene and punishes them by pre-
cipitating an awful storm.

When the old couple awake they are in a palace instead
of their cottage and their lost youth has been restored ;
but this brings on a sad condition of affairs, for Jupiter,

Online LibraryGeorge P. (George Putnam) UptonThe standard operas: their plots, their music, and their composers → online text (page 9 of 37)