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´╗┐Title: A Second Book of Operas
Author: Krehbiel, Henry Edward, 1854-1923
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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A SECOND BOOK OF OPERAS


by

Henry Edward Krehbiel



CONTENTS AND INDEX

CHAPTER I

BIBLICAL OPERAS

England and the Lord Chamberlain's censorship, et Gounod's "Reine de
Saba," The transmigrations of "Un Ballo in Maschera," How composers
revamp their music, et seq,--Handel and Keiser, Mozart and Bertati,
Beethoven's readaptations of his own works, Rossini and his "Barber of
Seville," Verdi's "Nebuchadnezzar," Rossini's "Moses," "Samson et
Dalila," Goldmark's "Konigin von Saba," The Biblical operas of
Rubinstein, Mehul's "Joseph," Mendelssohn's "Elijah" in dramatic form,
Oratorios and Lenten operas in Italy, Carissimi and Peri, Scarlatti's
oratorios, Scenery and costumes in oratorios, The passage of the Red
Sea and "Dal tuo stellato," Nerves wrecked by beautiful music, "Peter
the Hermit" and refractory mimic troops, "Mi manca la voce" and
operatic amenities, Operatic prayers and ballets, Goethe's criticism of
Rossini's "Mose,"


CHAPTER II

BIBLE STORIES IN OPERA AND ORATORIO

Dr. Chrysander's theory of the undramatic nature of the Hebrew, his
literature, and his life, Hebrew history and Greek mythology, Some
parallels, Old Testament subjects: Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, The
"Kain" of Bulthaupt and d'Albert, "Tote Augen," Noah and the Deluge,
Abraham, The Exodus, Mehal's "Joseph," Potiphar's wife and Richard
Strauss, Raimondi's contrapuntal trilogy, Nebuchadnezzar, Judas
Maccabaeus, Jephtha and his Daughter, Judith, Esther, Athalia,


CHAPTER III

RUBINSTEIN AND HIS "GEISTLICHE OPER"

Anton Rubinstein and his ideals, An ambition to emulate Wagner, "The
Tower of Babel," The composer's theories and strivings, et seq.--Dean
Stanley, "Die Makkabaer," "Sulamith," "Christus," "Das verlorene
Paradies," "Moses," Action and stage directions, New Testament stories
in opera, The Prodigal Son, Legendary material and the story of the
Nativity, Christ dramas, Hebbel and Wagner, "Parsifal,"


CHAPTER IV

"SAMSON ET DALILA"

The predecessors of M. Saint-Saens, Voltaire and Rameau, Duprez and
Joachim Raff, History of Saint-Saens's opera, et seq.--Henri Regnault,
First performances, As oratorio and opera in New York, An inquiry into
the story of Samson, Samson and Herakles, The Hebrew hero in legend, A
true type for tragedy, Mythological interpretations, Saint-Saens's
opera described, et seq.--A choral prologue, Local color, The character
of Dalila, et seq.--Milton on her wifehood and patriotism, "Printemps
qui commence," "Mon coeur s'ouvre a ta voix," Oriental ballet music,
The catastrophe,


CHAPTER V

"DIE KONIGIN VON SABA"

Meritoriousness of the book of Goldmark's opera, Its slight connection
with Biblical story, Contents of the drama et seq.--Parallelism with
Wagner's "Tannhauser," First performance in New York, Oriental luxury
in scenic outfit, Goldmark's music,


CHAPTER VI

"HERODIADE"

Modern opera and ancient courtesans, Transformed morals in Massenet's
opera, A sea-change in England, Who and what was Salome? Plot of the
opera, Scenic and musical adornments, Performances in New York,
(footnote).


CHAPTER VII

"LAKME"

Story of the opera, et seq.--The "Bell Song," Some unnecessary English
ladies, First performance in New York, American history of the opera,
Madame Patti, Miss Van Zandt Madame Sembrich Madame Tetrazzini,
Criticism of the drama, The music,


CHAPTER VIII

"PAGLIACCI"

The twin operas, "Cavalleria Rusticana" and "Pagliacci," Widespread
influence of Mascagni's opera, It inspires an ambition in Leoncavallo,
History of his opera, A tragic ending taken from real life, et
seq.--Controversy between Leoncavallo and Catulle Mendes, et seq.--"La
Femme de Tabarin," "Tabarin" operas, The "Drama Nuevo" of Estebanez and
Mr. Howells's "Yorick's Love," What is a Pagliaccio? First performances
of the opera in Milan and New York, The prologue, et seq.--The opera
described, et seq.--Bagpipes and vesper bells, Harlequin's serenade,
The Minuet, The Gavotte, "Plaudite, amici, la commedia finita est!"
Philip Hale on who should speak the final words,


CHAPTER IX

"CAVALLERIA RUSTICANA"

How Mascagni's opera impressed the author when it was new, Attic
tragedy and Attic decorum, The loathsome operatic brood which it
spawned, Not matched by the composer or his imitators since, Mascagni's
account of how it came to be written, et seq.--Verga's story, et
seq.--Story and libretto compared, The Siciliano, The Easter hymn,
Analysis of the opera, et seq.--The prelude, Lola's stornello, The
intermezzo, "They have killed Neighbor Turiddu!"


CHAPTER X

THE CAREER OF MASCAGNI

Influence of "Cavalleria Rusticana" on operatic composition,
"Santuzza," a German sequel, Cilea's "Tilda," Giordano's "Mala Vita,"
Tasca's "A Santa Lucia," Mascagni's history, et seq.--Composes
Schiller's "Hymn to Joy," "Il Filanda," "Ratcliff," "L'Amico Fritz," "I
Rantzau," "Silvano," "Zanetto," "Le Maschere," "Vistillia," "Arnica,"
Mascagni's American visit,


CHAPTER XI

"IRIS"

The song of the sun, Allegory and drama, Story of the opera, et
seq.--The music, et seq.--Turbid orchestration, Local color, Borrowings
from Meyerbeer,


CHAPTER XII

"MADAMA BUTTERFLY"

The opera's ancestry, Loti's "Madame Chrysantheme," John Luther Long's
story, David Belasco's play, How the failure of "Naughty Anthony"
suggested "Madame Butterfly," William Furst and his music, Success of
Mr. Belasco's play in New York, The success repeated in London, Brought
to the attention of Signor Puccini, Ricordi and Co. and their
librettists, "Madama Butterfly" fails in Milan, The first casts in
Milan, Brescia, and New York, (footnote) Incidents of the fiasco,
Rossini and Puccini, The opera revised, Interruption of the vigil,
Story of the opera, et seq.--The hiring of wives in Japan, Experiences
of Pierre Loti, Geishas and mousmes, A changed denouement, Messager's
opera, "Madame Chrysantheme," The end of Loti's romance, Japanese
melodies in the score, Puccini's method and Wagner's, "The
Star-Spangled Banner," A tune from "The Mikado," Some of the themes of
Puccini and William Furst,


CHAPTER XIII

"DER ROSENKAVALIER"

The opera's predecessors, "Guntram," "Feuersnot," "Salome," Oscar Wilde
makes a mistaken appeal to France, His necrophilism welcomed by Richard
Strauss and Berlin, Conried's efforts to produce "Salome" at the
Metropolitan Opera Blouse suppressed, Hammerstein produces the work,
"Elektra," Hugo von Hoffmannsthal and Beaumarchais, Strauss and Mozart,
Mozart's themes and Strauss's waltzes, Dancing in Vienna at the time of
Maria Theresa, First performance of the opera at New York, "Der
Rosenkavalier" and "Le Nozze di Figaro," Criticism of the play and its
music, et seq.--Use of a melodic phrase from "Die Zauberflote," The
language of the libretto, The music, Cast of the first American
performance, (footnote)


CHAPTER XIV

"KONIGSKINDER"

Story of the play, et seq.--First production of Hummerdinck's opera and
cast, Earlier performance of the work as a melodrama, Author and
composer, Opera and melodrama in Germany, Wagnerian symbolism and
music, "Die Meistersinger" recalled, Hero and Leander, Humperdinck's
music,


CHAPTER XV

"BORIS GODOUNOFF"

First performance of Moussorgsky's opera in New York, Participation of
the chorus in the tragedy, Imported French enthusiasm, Vocal melody,
textual accents and rhythms, Slavicism expressed in an Italian
translation, Moussorgsky and Debussy, Political reasons for French
enthusiasm, Rimsky-Korsakoff's revision of the score, Russian operas in
America, "Nero," "Pique Dame," "Eugene Onegin," Verstoffeky's "Askold's
Tomb," The nationalism of "Boris Godounoff," The Kolydda song "Slava"
and Beethoven, Lack of the feminine element in the drama, The opera's
lack of coherency, Cast of the first American performance,


CHAPTER XVI

"MADAME SANS-GENE" AND OTHER OPERAS BY GIORDANO

First performance of "Madame Sans-Gene," A singing Napoleon, Royalties
in opera, Henry the Fowler, King Mark, Verdi's Pharaoh, Herod, Boris
Godounoff, Macbeth, Gustavus and some mythical kings and dukes, et
seq.--Mattheson's "Boris," Peter the Great, Sardou's play and
Giordano's opera, Verdi on an operatic Bonaparte, Sardou's characters,
"Andrea Chenier," French Rhythms, "Fedora," "Siberia," The historic
Chenier, Russian local color, "Schone Minka," "Slava," "Ay ouchnem,"
French revolutionary airs, "La Marseillaise," "La Carmagnole," "Ca ira,"


CHAPTER XVII

TWO OPERAS BY WOLF-FERRARI

The composer's operas first sung in their original tongue in America,
First performances of "Le Donne Curiose," "Il Segreto di Susanna," "I
Giojelli della Madonna," "L'Amore Medico," Story and music of "Le Donne
Curiose," Methods and apparatus of Mozart's day, Wolf-Ferrari's
Teutonism, Goldoni paraphrased, Nicolai and Verdi, The German version
of "Donne Curiose," Musical motivi in the opera, Rameau's "La Poule,"
Cast of the first performance in New York, (footnote)--Naples and
opera, "I Giojelli della Madonna," et seq.--Erlanger's "Aphrodite,"
Neapolitan folksongs, Wolf-Ferrari's individuality, His "Vita Nuova,"
First performance in America of "I Giojelli,"



CHAPTER I

BIBLICAL OPERAS


Whether or not the English owe a grudge to their Lord Chamberlain for
depriving them of the pleasure of seeing operas based on Biblical
stories I do not know. If they do, the grudge cannot be a deep one, for
it is a long time since Biblical operas were in vogue, and in the case
of the very few survivals it has been easy to solve the difficulty and
salve the conscience of the public censor by the simple device of
changing the names of the characters and the scene of action if the
works are to be presented on the stage, or omitting scenery, costumes
and action and performing them as oratorios. In either case, whenever
this has been done, however, it has been the habit of critics to make
merry at the expense of my Lord Chamberlain and the puritanicalness of
the popular spirit of which he is supposed to be the official
embodiment, and to discourse lugubriously and mayhap profoundly on the
perversion of composers' purposes and the loss of things essential to
the lyric drama.

It may be heretical to say so, but is it not possible that Lord
Chamberlain and Critic have both taken too serious a view of the
matter? There is a vast amount of admirable material in the Bible
(historical, legendary or mythical, as one happens to regard it), which
would not necessarily be degraded by dramatic treatment, and which
might be made entertaining as well as edifying, as it has been made in
the past, by stage representation. Reverence for this material is
neither inculcated nor preserved by shifting the scene and throwing a
veil over names too transparent to effect a disguise. Moreover, when
this is done, there is always danger that the process may involve a
sacrifice of the respect to which a work of art is entitled on its
merits as such. Gounod, in collaboration with Barbier and Carre, wrote
an opera entitled "La Reine de Saba." The plot had nothing to do with
the Bible beyond the name of Sheba's Queen and King Solomon. Mr.
Farnie, who used to make comic operetta books in London, adapted the
French libretto for performance in English and called the opera
"Irene." What a title for a grand opera! Why not "Blanche" or
"Arabella"? No doubt such a thought flitted through many a careless
mind unconscious that an Irene was a Byzantine Empress of the eighth
century, who, by her devotion to its tenets, won beatification after
death from the Greek Church. The opera failed on the Continent as well
as in London, but if it had not been given a comic operetta flavor by
its title and association with the name of the excellent Mr. Farnie,
would the change in supposed time, place and people have harmed it?

A few years ago I read (with amusement, of course) of the metamorphosis
to which Massenet's "Herodiade" was subjected so that it might
masquerade for a brief space on the London stage; but when I saw the
opera in New York "in the original package" (to speak commercially), I
could well believe that the music sounded the same in London, though
John the Baptist sang under an alias and the painted scenes were
supposed to delineate Ethiopia instead of Palestine.

There is a good deal of nonsensical affectation in the talk about the
intimate association in the minds of composers of music, text,
incident, and original purpose. "Un Ballo in Maschera," as we see it
most often nowadays, plays in Nomansland; but I fancy that its music
would sound pretty much the same if the theatre of action were
transplanted back to Sweden, whence it came originally, or left in
Naples, whither it emigrated, or in Boston, to which highly
inappropriate place it was banished to oblige the Neapolitan censor. So
long as composers have the habit of plucking feathers out of their dead
birds to make wings for their new, we are likely to remain in happy and
contented ignorance of mesalliances between music and score, until they
are pointed out by too curious critics or confessed by the author. What
is present habit was former custom to which no kind or degree of stigma
attached. Bach did it; Handel did it; nor was either of these worthies
always scrupulous in distinguishing between meum and tuum when it came
to appropriating existing thematic material. In their day the merit of
individuality and the right of property lay more in the manner in which
ideas were presented than in the ideas themselves.

In 1886 I spent a delightful day with Dr. Chrysander at his home in
Bergedorf, near Hamburg, and he told me the story of how on one
occasion, when Keiser was incapacitated by the vice to which he was
habitually prone, Handel, who sat in his orchestra, was asked by him to
write the necessary opera. Handel complied, and his success was too
great to leave Keiser's mind in peace. So he reset the book. Before
Keiser's setting was ready for production Handel had gone to Italy.
Hearing of Keiser's act, he secured a copy of the new setting from a
member of the orchestra and sent back to Hamburg a composition based on
Keiser's melodies "to show how such themes ought to be treated." Dr.
Chrysander, also, when he gave me a copy of Bertati's "Don Giovanni"
libretto, for which Gazzaniga composed the music, told me that Mozart
had been only a little less free than the poet in appropriating ideas
from the older work.

One of the best pieces in the final scene of "Fidelio" was taken from a
cantata on the death of the emperor of Austria, composed by Beethoven
before he left Bonn. The melody originally conceived for the last
movement of the Symphony in D minor was developed into the finale of
one of the last string quartets. In fact the instances in which
composers have put their pieces to widely divergent purposes are
innumerable and sometimes amusing, in view of the fantastic belief that
they are guided by plenary inspiration. The overture which Rossini
wrote for his "Barber of Seville" was lost soon after the first
production of the opera. The composer did not take the trouble to write
another, but appropriated one which had served its purpose in an
earlier work. Persons ignorant of that fact, but with lively
imaginations, as I have said in one of my books, ["A Book of Operas,"
p. 9] have rhapsodized on its appositeness, and professed to hear in it
the whispered plottings of the lovers and the merry raillery of Rosina
contrasted with the futile ragings of her grouty guardian; but when
Rossini composed this piece of music its mission was to introduce an
adventure of the Emperor Aurelianus in Palmyra in the third century of
the Christian era. Having served that purpose it became the prelude to
another opera which dealt with Queen Elizabeth of England, a monarch
who reigned some twelve hundred years after Aurelianus. Again, before
the melody now known as that of Almaviva's cavatina had burst into the
efflorescence which now distinguishes it, it came as a chorus from the
mouths of Cyrus and his Persians in ancient Babylon.

When Mr. Lumley desired to produce Verdi's "Nabucodonosor" (called
"Nabucco" for short) in London in 1846 he deferred to English tradition
and brought out the opera as "Nino, Re d'Assyria." I confess that I
cannot conceive how changing a king of Babylon to a king of Assyria
could possibly have brought about a change one way or the other in the
effectiveness of Verdi's Italian music, but Mr. Lumley professed to
have found in the transformation reason for the English failure. At any
rate, he commented, in his "Reminiscences of the Opera," "That the
opera thus lost much of its original character, especially in the scene
where the captive Israelites became very uninteresting Babylonians, and
was thereby shorn of one element of success present on the Continent,
is undeniable."

There is another case even more to the purpose of this present
discussion. In 1818 Rossini produced his opera "Mose in Egitto" in
Naples. The strength of the work lay in its choruses; yet two of them
were borrowed from the composer's "Armida." In 1822 Bochsa performed it
as an oratorio at Covent Garden, but, says John Ebers in his "Seven
Years of the King's Theatre," published in 1828, "the audience
accustomed to the weighty metal and pearls of price of Handel's
compositions found the 'Moses' as dust in the balance in comparison."
"The oratorio having failed as completely as erst did Pharaoh's host,"
Ebers continues, "the ashes of 'Mose in Egitto' revived in the form of
an opera entitled 'Pietro l'Eremita.' Moses was transformed into Peter.
In this form the opera was as successful as it had been unfortunate as
an oratorio.... 'Mose in Egitto' was condemned as cold, dull, and
heavy. 'Pietro l'Eremita,' Lord Sefton, one of the most competent
judges of the day, pronounced to be the most effective opera produced
within his recollection; and the public confirmed the justice of the
remark, for no opera during my management had such unequivocal
success." [Footnote: "Seven Years of the King's Theatre," by John
Ebers, pp. 157, 158.] This was not the end of the opera's vicissitudes,
to some of which I shall recur presently; let this suffice now:

Rossini rewrote it in 1827, adding some new music for the Academie
Royal in Paris, and called it "Moise"; when it was revived for the
Covent Garden oratorios, London, in 1833, it was not only performed
with scenery and dresses, but recruited with music from Handel's
oratorio and renamed "The Israelites in Egypt; or the Passage of the
Red Sea"; when the French "Moise" reached the Royal Italian Opera,
Covent Garden, in April, 1850, it had still another name, "Zora,"
though Chorley does not mention the fact in his "Thirty Years' Musical
Recollections," probably because the failure of the opera which he
loved grieved him too deeply. For a long time "Moses" occupied a
prominent place among oratorios. The Handel and Haydn Society of Boston
adopted it in 1845, and between then and 1878 performed it forty-five
times.

In all the years of my intimate association with the lyric drama
(considerably more than the number of which Mr. Chorley has left us a
record) I have seen but one opera in which the plot adheres to the
Biblical story indicated by its title. That opera is Saint-Saens's
"Samson et Dalila." I have seen others whose titles and dramatis
personae suggested narratives found in Holy Writ, but in nearly all
these cases it would be a profanation of the Book to call them Biblical
operas. Those which come to mind are Goldmark's "Konigin von Saba,"
Massenet's "Herodiade" and Richard Strauss's "Salome." I have heard, in
whole or part, but not seen, three of the works which Rubinstein would
fain have us believe are operas, but which are not--"Das verlorene
Paradies," "Der Thurmbau zu Babel" and "Moses"; and I have a study
acquaintance with the books and scores of his "Maccabaer," which is an
opera; his "Sulamith," which tries to be one, and his "Christus," which
marks the culmination of the vainest effort that a contemporary
composer made to parallel Wagner's achievement on a different line.
There are other works which are sufficiently known to me through
library communion or concert-room contact to enable me to claim enough
acquaintanceship to justify converse about them and which must perforce
occupy attention in this study. Chiefest and noblest of these are
Rossini's "Moses" and Mehul's "Joseph." Finally, there are a few with
which I have only a passing or speaking acquaintance; whose faces I can
recognize, fragments of whose speech I know, and whose repute is such
that I can contrive to guess at their hearts--such as Verdi's
"Nabucodonosor" and Gounod's "Reine de Saba."

Rossini's "Moses" was the last of the Italian operas (the last by a
significant composer, at least) which used to be composed to ease the
Lenten conscience in pleasure-loving Italy. Though written to be played
with the adjuncts of scenery and costumes, it has less of action than
might easily be infused into a performance of Mendelssohn's "Elijah,"
and the epical element which finds its exposition in the choruses is
far greater than that in any opera of its time with which I am
acquainted. In both its aspects, as oratorio and as opera, it harks
back to a time when the two forms were essentially the same save in
respect of subject matter. It is a convenient working hypothesis to
take the classic tragedy of Hellas as the progenitor of the opera. It
can also be taken as the prototype of the Festival of the Ass, which
was celebrated as long ago as the twelfth century in France; of the
miracle plays which were performed in England at the same time; the
Commedia spiritiuale of thirteenth-century Italy and the Geistliche
Schauspiele of fourteenth-century Germany. These mummeries with their
admixture of church song, pointed the way as media of edification to
the dramatic representations of Biblical scenes which Saint Philip Neri
used to attract audiences to hear his sermons in the Church of St. Mary
in Vallicella, in Rome, and the sacred musical dramas came to be called
oratorios. While the camerata were seeking to revive the classic drama
in Florence, Carissimi was experimenting with sacred material in Rome,
and his epoch-making allegory, "La Rappresentazione dell' Anima e del
Corpo," was brought out, almost simultaneously with Peri's "Euridice,"
in 1600. Putting off the fetters of plainsong, music became beautiful
for its own sake, and as an agent of dramatic expression. His
excursions into Biblical story were followed for a century or more by
the authors of sacra azione, written to take the place of secular
operas in Lent. The stories of Jephtha and his daughter, Hezekiah,
Belshazzar, Abraham and Isaac, Jonah, Job, the Judgment of Solomon, and
the Last Judgment became the staple of opera composers in Italy and
Germany for more than a century. Alessandro Scarlatti, whose name looms
large in the history of opera, also composed oratorios; and Mr. E. J.
Dent, his biographer, has pointed out that "except that the operas are
in three acts and the oratorios in two, the only difference is in the
absence of professedly comic characters and of the formal statement in
which the author protests that the words fata, dio, dieta, etc., are
only scherzi poetici and imply nothing contrary to the Catholic faith."
Zeno and Metastasio wrote texts for sacred operas as well as profane,
with Tobias, Absalom, Joseph, David, Daniel, and Sisera as subjects.

Presently I shall attempt a discussion of the gigantic attempt made by
Rubinstein to enrich the stage with an art-form to which he gave a
distinctive name, but which was little else than, an inflated type of
the old sacra azione, employing the larger apparatus which modern
invention and enterprise have placed at the command of the playwright,
stage manager, and composer. I am compelled to see in his project
chiefly a jealous ambition to rival the great and triumphant
accomplishment of Richard Wagner, but it is possible that he had a
prescient eye on a coming time. The desire to combine pictures with
oratorio has survived the practice which prevailed down to the
beginning of the nineteenth century. Handel used scenes and costumes
when he produced his "Esther," as well as his "Acis and Galatea," in
London. Dittersdorf has left for us a description of the stage
decorations prepared for his oratorios when they were performed in the
palace of the Bishop of Groswardein. Of late years there have been a
number of theatrical representations of Mendelssohn's "Elijah." I have
witnessed as well as heard a performance of "Acis and Galatea" and been
entertained with the spectacle of Polyphemus crushing the head of
presumptuous Acis with a stave like another Fafner while singing "Fly,
thou massy ruin, fly" to the bludgeon which was playing understudy for
the fatal rock.

This diverting incident brings me to a consideration of one of the
difficulties which stand in the way of effective stage pictures
combined with action in the case of some of the most admired of the
subjects for oratorios or sacred opera. It was not the Lord Chamberlain
who stood in the way of Saint-Saens's "Samson et Dalila" in the United
States for many years, but the worldly wisdom of opera managers who
shrank from attempting to stage the spectacle of the falling Temple of
Dagon, and found in the work itself a plentiful lack of that dramatic
movement which is to-day considered more essential to success than
beautiful and inspiriting music. "Samson et Dalila" was well known in
its concert form when the management of the Metropolitan Opera House
first attempted to introduce it as an opera. It had a single
performance in the season of 1894-1895 and then sought seclusion from
the stage lamps for twenty years. It was, perhaps, fortunate for the
work that no attempt was made to repeat it, for, though well sung and
satisfactorily acted, the toppling of the pillars of the temple,
discreetly supported by too visible wires, at the conclusion made a
stronger appeal to the popular sense of the ridiculous than even
Saint-Saens's music could withstand. It is easy to inveigh against the
notion frivolous fribbles and trumpery trappings receive more attention
than the fine music which ought to be recognized as the soul of the
work, the vital spark which irradiates an inconsequential material
body; but human nature has not yet freed itself sufficiently from gross
clogs to attain so ideal an attitude.

It is to a danger similar to that which threatened the original New
York "Samson" that the world owes the most popular melody in Rossini's
"Mose." The story is old and familiar to the students of operatic
history, but will bear retelling. The plague of darkness opens the
opera, the passage of the Red Sea concludes it. Rossini's stage manager
had no difficulty with the former, which demanded nothing more than the
lowering of the stage lights. But he could evolve no device which could
save the final miracle from laughter. A hilarious ending to so solemn a
work disturbed the management and the librettist, Totola, who, just
before a projected revival in Naples, a year or two after the first
production, came to the composer with a project for saving the third
act. Rossini was in bed, as usual, and the poet showed him the text of
the prayer, "Dal tuo stellato," which he said he had written in an
hour. "I will get up and write the music," said Rossini; "you shall
have it in a quarter of an hour." And he kept his word, whether
literally or not in respect of time does not matter. When the opera was
again performed it contained the chorus with its melody which provided
Paganini with material for one of his sensational performances on the
G-string.

[figure: a musical score excerpt]

Carpani tells the story and describes the effect upon the audience
which heard it for the first time. Laughter was just beginning in the
pit when the public was surprised to note that Moses was about to sing.
The people stopped laughing and prepared to listen. They were awed by
the beauty of the minor strain which was echoed by Aaron and then by
the chorus of Israelites. The host marched across the mimic sea and
fell on its knees, and the music burst forth again, but now in the
major mode. And now the audience joined in the jubilation. The people
in the boxes, says Carpani, stood up; they leaned over the railings;
applauded; they shouted: "Bello! bello! O che bello!" Carpani adds: "I
am almost in tears when I think of this prayer." An impressionable
folk, those Italians of less than a century ago. "Among other things
that can be said in praise of our hero," remarked a physician to
Carpani, amidst the enthusiasm caused by the revamped opera, "do not
forget that he is an assassin. I can cite to you more than forty
attacks of nervous fever or violent convulsions on the part of young
women, fond to excess of music, which have no other origin than the
prayer of the Hebrews in the third act with its superb change of key!"

Thus music saved the scene in Naples. When the opera was rewritten for
London and made to tell a story about Peter the Hermit, the
corresponding scene had to be elided after the first performance. Ebers
tells the story: "A body of troops was supposed to pass over a bridge
which, breaking, was to precipitate them into the water. The troops
being made of basketwork and pulled over the bridge by ropes,
unfortunately became refractory on their passage, and very sensibly
refused, when the bridge was about to give way, to proceed any further;
consequently when the downfall of the arches took place the basket men
remained very quietly on that part of the bridge which was left
standing, and instead of being consigned to the waves had nearly been
set on fire. The audience, not giving the troops due credit for their
prudence, found no little fault with their compliance with the law of
self-preservation. In the following representations of the opera the
bridge and basket men which, en passant (or en restant rather), had
cost fifty pounds, were omitted." [Footnote: Op. cit., p. 160] When
"Moise" was prepared in Paris 45,000 francs were sunk in the Red Sea.

I shall recur in a moment to the famous preghiera but, having Ebers'
book before me, I see an anecdote so delightfully illustrative of the
proverbial spirit of the lyric theatre that I cannot resist the
temptation to repeat it. In the revised "Moses" made for Paris there
occurs a quartet beginning "Mi manca la voce" ("I lack voice") which
Chorley describes as "a delicious round." Camporese had to utter the
words first and no sooner had she done so than Ronzi di Begnis, in a
whisper, loud enough to be heard by her companion, made the comment "E
vero!" ("True!")--"a remark," says Mr. Ebers, "which produced a retort
courteous somewhat more than verging on the limit of decorum, though
not proceeding to the extremity asserted by rumor, which would have
been as inconsistent with propriety as with the habitual dignity and
self-possession of Camporese's demeanor."

Somebody, I cannot recall who, has said that the success of "Dal tuo
stellato" set the fashion of introducing prayers into operas. Whether
this be true or not, it is a fact that a prayer occurs in four of the
operas which Rossini composed for the Paris Grand Opera and that the
formula is become so common that it may be set down as an operatic
convention, a convention, moreover, which even the iconoclast Wagner
left undisturbed. One might think that the propriety of prayer in a
religious drama would have been enforced upon the mind of a classicist
like Goethe by his admiration for the antique, but it was the fact that
Rossini's opera showed the Israelites upon their knees in supplication
to God that set the great German poet against "Mose." In a conversation
recorded by Eckermann as taking place in 1828, we hear him uttering his
objection to the work: "I do not understand how you can separate and
enjoy separately the subject and the music. You pretend here that the
subject is worthless, but you are consoled for it by a feast of
excellent music. I wonder that your nature is thus organized that your
ear can listen to charming sounds while your sight, the most perfect of
your senses, is tormented by absurd objects. You will not deny that
your 'Moses' is in effect very absurd. The curtain is raised and people
are praying. This is all wrong. The Bible says that when you pray you
should go into your chamber and close the door. Therefore, there should
be no praying in the theatre. As for me, I should have arranged a
wholly different 'Moses.' At first I should have shown the children of
Israel bowed down by countless odious burdens and suffering from the
tyranny of the Egyptian rulers. Then you would have appreciated more
easily what Moses deserved from his race, which he had delivered from a
shameful oppression." "Then," says Mr. Philip Hale, who directed my
attention to this interesting passage, "Goethe went on to reconstruct
the whole opera. He introduced, for instance, a dance of the Egyptians
after the plague of darkness was dispelled."

May not one criticise Goethe? If he so greatly reverenced prayer,
according to its institution under the New Dispensation, why did he not
show regard also for the Old and respect the verities of history
sufficiently to reserve his ballet till after the passage of the Red
Sea, when Moses celebrated the miracle with a song and "Miriam, the
prophetess, the sister of Aaron, took a timbrel in her hand; and all
the women went out after her with timbrels and with dances"?



CHAPTER II

BIBLE STORIES IN OPERA AND ORATORIO


It was the fond belief of Dr. Chrysander, born of his deep devotion to
Handel, in whose works he lived and moved and had his being, that the
heroic histories of the Jews offered no fit material for dramatic
representation. In his view the Jews never created dramatic poetry,
partly because of the Mosaic prohibition against plastic delineation of
their Deity, partly because the tragic element, which was so potent an
influence in the development of the Greek drama, was wanting in their
heroes. The theory that the Song of Songs, that canticle of canticles
of love, was a pastoral play had no lodgment in his mind; the poem
seemed less dramatic to him than the Book of Job. The former sprang
from the idyllic life of the northern tribes and reflected that life;
the latter, much more profound in conception, proved by its form that
the road to a real stage-play was insurmountably barred to the Hebrew
poet. What poetic field was open to him then? Only the hymning of a
Deity, invisible, omnipresent and omnipotent, the swelling call to
combat for the glory of God against an inimical world, and the
celebration of an ideal consisting in a peaceful, happy existence in
the Land of Promise under God's protecting care. This God presented
Himself occasionally as a militant, all-powerful warrior, but only in
moments when the fortunes of His people were critically at issue. These
moments, however, were exceptional and few; as a rule, God manifested
Himself in prophecy, through words and music. The laws were promulgated
in song; so were the prophetic promises, denunciations, and calls to
repentance; and there grew up a magnificent liturgical service in the
temple.

Hebrew poetry, epic and lyrical, was thus antagonistic to the drama.
So, also, Dr. Chrysander contends, was the Hebrew himself. Not only had
he no predilection for plastic creation, his life was not dramatic in
the sense illustrated in Greek tragedy. He lived a care-free, sensuous
existence, and either fell under righteous condemnation for his
transgressions or walked in the way prescribed of the Lord and found
rest at last in Abraham's bosom. His life was simple; so were his
strivings, his longings, his hopes. Yet when it came to the defence or
celebration of his spiritual possessions his soul was filled with such
a spirit of heroic daring, such a glow of enthusiasm, as are not to be
paralleled among another of the peoples of antiquity. He thus became a
fit subject for only one of the arts--music; in this art for only one
of its spheres, the sublime, the most appropriate and efficient vehicle
of which is the oratorio.

One part of this argument seems to me irrelevant; the other not firmly
founded in fact. It does not follow that because the Greek conscience
evolved the conceptions of rebellious pride and punitive Fate while the
Hebrew conscience did not, therefore the Greeks were the predestined
creators of the art-form out of which grew the opera and the Hebrews of
the form which grew into the oratorio. Neither is it true that because
a people are not disposed toward dramatic creation themselves they can
not, or may not, be the cause of dramatic creativeness in others. Dr.
Chrysander's argument, made in a lecture at the Johanneum in Hamburg in
1896, preceded an analysis of Handel's Biblical oratorios in their
relation to Hebrew history, and his exposition of that history as he
unfolded it chronologically from the Exodus down to the Maccabaean
period was in itself sufficient to furnish many more fit operatic plots
than have yet been written. Nor are there lacking in these stories some
of the elements of Greek legend and mythology which were the
mainsprings of the tragedies of Athens. The parallels are striking:
Jephtha's daughter and Iphigenia; Samson and his slavery and the
servitude of Hercules and Perseus; the fate of Ajax and other heroes
made mad by pride, and the lycanthropy of Nebuchadnezzar, of whose
vanity Dr. Hanslick once reminded Wagner, warning him against the fate
of the Babylonian king who became like unto an ox, "ate grass and was
composed by Verdi"; think reverently of Alcestis and the Christian
doctrine of atonement!

The writers of the first Biblical operas sought their subjects as far
back in history, or legend, as the written page permitted. Theile
composed an "Adam and Eve" in 1678; but our first parents never became
popular on the serious stage. Perhaps the fearful soul of the
theatrical costumer was frightened and perplexed by the problem which
the subject put up to him. Haydn introduced them into his oratorio "The
Creation," but, as the custom goes now, the third part of the work, in
which they appear, is frequently, if not generally omitted in
performance. Adam, to judge by the record in Holy Writ, made an
uneventful end: "And all the days that Adam lived were nine hundred and
thirty years: and he died"; but this did not prevent Lesueur from
writing an opera on his death ten years after Haydn's oratorio had its
first performance. He called it "La Mort d'Adam et son Apotheose," and
it involved him in a disastrous quarrel with the directors of the
Conservatoire and the Academie. Pursuing the search chronologically,
the librettists next came upon Cain and Abel, who offered a more
fruitful subject for dramatic and musical invention. We know very
little about the sacred operas which shared the list with works based
on classical fables and Roman history in the seventeenth and eighteenth
centuries; inasmuch, however, as they were an outgrowth of the pious
plays of the Middle Ages and designed for edifying consumption in Lent,
it is likely that they adhered in their plots pretty close to the
Biblical accounts. I doubt if the sentimental element which was in
vogue when Rossini wrote "Mose in Egitto" played much of a role in such
an opera as Johann Philipp Fortsch's "Kain und Abel; oder der
verzweifelnde Brudermorder," which was performed in Hamburg in 1689, or
even in "Abel's Tod," which came along in 1771. The first fratricidal
murder seems to have had an early and an enduring fascination for
dramatic poets and composers. Metastasio's "La Morte d'Abele," set by
both Caldara and Leo in 1732, remained a stalking-horse for composers
down to Morlacchi in 1820. One of the latest of Biblical operas is the
"Kain" of Heinrich Bulthaupt and Eugen d'Albert. This opera and a later
lyric drama by the same composer, "Tote Augen" (under which title a
casual reader would never suspect that a Biblical subject was lurking),
call for a little attention because of their indication of a possible
drift which future dramatists may follow in treating sacred story.

Wicked envy and jealousy were not sufficient motives in the eyes of
Bulthaupt and d'Albert for the first fratricide; there must be an
infusion of psychology and modern philosophy. Abel is an optimist, an
idealist, a contented dreamer, joying in the loveliness of life and
nature; Cain, a pessimist, a morose brooder, for whom life contained no
beautiful illusions. He gets up from his couch in the night to question
the right of God to create man for suffering. He is answered by
Lucifer, who proclaims himself the benefactor of the family in having
rescued them from the slothful existence of Eden and given them a
Redeemer. The devil discourses on the delightful ministrations of that
Redeemer, whose name is Death. In the morning Abel arises and as he
offers his sacrifice he hymns the sacred mystery of life and turns a
deaf ear to the new-found gospel of his brother. An inspiring thought
comes to Cain; by killing Abel and destroying himself he will save
future generations from the sufferings to which they are doomed. With
this benevolent purpose in mind he commits the murder. The blow has
scarcely been struck before a multitude of spirit-voices call his name
and God thunders the question: "Where is Abel, thy brother?" Adam comes
from his cave and looks upon the scene with horror. Now Cain realizes
that his work is less than half done: he is himself still alive and so
is his son Enoch. He rushes forward to kill his child, but the mother
throws herself between, and Cain discovers that he is not strong-willed
enough to carry out his design. God's curse condemns him to eternal
unrest, and while the elements rage around him Cain goes forth into the
mountain wilderness.

Herr Bulthaupt did not permit chronology to stand in the way of his
action, but it can at least be said for him that he did not profane the
Book as Herr Ewers, Mr. d'Albert's latest collaborator, did when he
turned a story of Christ's miraculous healing of a blind woman into a
sensational melodrama. In the precious opera, "Tote Augen" ("Dead
Eyes"), brought out in March, 1916, in Dresden, Myrocle, the blind
woman, is the wife of Arcesius, a Roman ambassador in Jerusalem. Never
having seen him, Myrocle believes her husband to be a paragon of
beauty, but he is, in fact, hideous of features, crook-backed, and
lame; deformed in mind and heart, too, for he has concealed the truth
from her. Christ is entering Jerusalem, and Mary of Magdala leads
Myrocle to him, having heard of the miracles which he performs, and he
opens the woman's eyes at the moment that the multitude is shouting its
hosannahs. The first man who fills the vision of Myrocle is Galba,
handsome, noble, chivalrous, who had renounced the love he bore her
because she was the wife of his friend. In Galba the woman believes she
sees the husband whom in her fond imagination she had fitted out with
the charms of mind and person which his friend possesses. She throws
herself into his arms, and he does not repel her mistaken embraces; but
the misshapen villain throws himself upon the pair and strangles his
friend to death. A slave enlightens the mystified woman; the murderer,
not the dead hero at his feet, is her husband. Singularly enough, she
does not turn from him with hatred and loathing, but looks upon him
with a great pity. Then she turns her eyes upon the sun, which Christ
had said should not set until she had cursed him, and gazes into its
searing glow until her sight is again dead. Moral: it is sinful to love
the loveliness of outward things; from the soul must come salvation. As
if she had never learned the truth, she returns to her wifely love for
Arcesius. The story is as false to nature as it is sacrilegious; its
trumpery theatricalism is as great a hindrance to a possible return of
Biblical opera as the disgusting celebration of necrophilism in Richard
Strauss's "Salome."

In our historical excursion we are still among the patriarchs, and the
whole earth is of one language and of one speech. Noah, the ark, and
the deluge seem now too prodigious to be essayed by opera makers, but,
apparently, they did not awe the Englishman Edward Eccleston (or
Eggleston), who is said to have produced an opera, "Noah's Flood, or
the Destruction of the World," in London in 1679, nor Seyfried, whose
"Libera me" was sung at Beethoven's funeral, and who, besides Biblical
operas entitled "Saul," "Abraham," "The Maccabees," and "The Israelites
in the Desert," brought out a "Noah" in Vienna in 1818. Halevy left an
unfinished opera, "Noe," which Bizet, who was his son-in-law,
completed. Of oratorios dealing with the deluge I do not wish to speak
further than to express my admiration for the manner in which
Saint-Saens opened the musical floodgates in "Le Deluge."

On the plain in the Land of Shinar the families of the sons of Noah
builded them a city and a tower whose top they arrogantly hoped might
reach unto heaven. But the tower fell, the tongues of the people were
confounded, and the people were scattered abroad on the face of the
earth. Rubinstein attempted to give dramatic representation to the
tremendous incident, and to his effort and vain dream I shall revert in
the next chapter of this book. Now I must on with the history of the
patriarchs. The story of Abraham and his attempted offering of Isaac
has been much used as oratorio material, and Joseph Elsner, Chopin's
teacher, brought out a Polish opera, "Ofiara Abrama," at Warsaw in 1827.

A significant milestone in the history of the Hebrews as well as
Biblical operas has now been reached. The sojourn of the Jews in Egypt
and their final departure under the guidance of Moses have already
occupied considerable attention in this study. They provided material
for the two operas which seem to me the noblest of their kind--Mehul's
"Joseph" and Rossini's "Mose in Egitto." Mehul's opera, more than a
decade older than Rossini's, still holds a place on the stages of
France and Germany, and this despite the fact that it foregoes two
factors which are popularly supposed to be essential to operatic
success--a love episode and woman's presence and participation in the
action. The opera, which is in three acts, was brought forward at the
Theatre Feydeau in Paris on February 17, 1807. It owed its origin to a
Biblical tragedy entitled "Omasis," by Baour Lormian. The subject--the
sale of Joseph by his brothers into Egyptian slavery, his rise to
power, his forgiveness of the wrong attempted against him, and his
provision of a home for the people of Israel in the land of Goshen--had
long been popular with composers of oratorios. The list of these works
begins with Caldara's "Giuseppe" in 1722. Metastasio's "Giuseppe
riconosciuto" was set by half a dozen composers between 1733 and 1788.
Handel wrote his English oratorio in 1743; G. A. Macfarren's was
performed at the Leeds festival of 1877. Lormian thought it necessary
to introduce a love episode into his tragedy, but Alexander Duval, who
wrote the book for Mehul's opera, was of the opinion that the diversion
only enfeebled the beautiful if austere picture of patriarchal domestic
life delineated in the Bible. He therefore adhered to tradition and
created a series of scenes full of beauty, dignity, and pathos, simple
and strong in spite of the bombast prevalent in the literary style of
the period. Mehul's music is marked by grandeur, simplicity, lofty
sentiment, and consistent severity of manner. The composer's
predilection for ecclesiastical music, created, no doubt, by the blind
organist who taught him in his childhood and nourished by his studies
and labors at the monastery under the gifted Hauser, found opportunity
for expression in the religious sentiments of the drama, and his
knowledge of plain chant is exhibited in the score "the simplicity,
grandeur, and dramatic truth of which will always command the
admiration of impartial musicians," remarks Gustave Choquet. The
enthusiasm of M. Tiersot goes further still, for he says that the music
of "Joseph" is more conspicuous for the qualities of dignity and
sonority than that of Handel's oratorio. The German Hanslick, to whom
the absence from the action of the "salt of the earth, women" seemed
disastrous, nevertheless does not hesitate to institute a comparison
between "Joseph" and one of Mozart's latest operas. "In its mild,
passionless benevolence the entire role of Joseph in Mehul's opera," he
says, "reminds one strikingly of Mozart's 'Titus,' and not to the
advantage of the latter. The opera 'Titus' is the work of an
incomparably greater genius, but it belongs to a partly untruthful,
wholly modish, tendency (that of the old opera seria), while the genre
of 'Joseph' is thoroughly noble, true, and eminently dramatic. 'Joseph'
has outlived 'Titus.'" [Footnote: "Die Moderne Opera," p. 92.] Carl
Maria von Weber admired Mehul's opera greatly, and within recent years
Felix Weingartner has edited a German edition for which he composed
recitatives to take the place of the spoken dialogue of the original
book.

There is no story of passion in "Joseph." The love portrayed there is
domestic and filial; its objects are the hero's father, brothers, and
country--"Champs eternels, Hebron, douce vallee." It was not until our
own day that an author with a perverted sense which had already found
gratification in the stench of mental, moral, and physical decay
exhaled by "Salome" and "Elektra" nosed the piquant, pungent odor of
the episode of Potiphar's wife and blew it into the theatre. Joseph's
temptress did not tempt even the prurient taste which gave us the
Parisian operatic versions of the stories of Phryne, Thais, and
Messalina. Richard Strauss's "Josephslegende" stands alone in musical
literature. There is, indeed, only one reference in the records of
oratorio or opera to the woman whose grovelling carnality is made the
foil of Joseph's virtue in the story as told in the Book. That
reference is found in a singular trilogy, which was obviously written
more to disclose the possibilities of counterpoint than to set forth
the story--even if it does that, which I cannot say; the suggestion
comes only from a title. In August, 1852, Pietro Raimondi produced an
oratorio in three parts entitled, respectively, "Putifar," "Giuseppe
giusto," and "Giacobbe," at the Teatro Argentina, in Rome. The music of
the three works was so written that after each had been performed
separately, with individual principal singers, choristers, and
orchestras, they were united in a simultaneous performance. The success
of the stupendous experiment in contrapuntal writing was so great that
the composer fell in a faint amidst the applause of the audience and
died less than three months afterward.

In the course of this study I have mentioned nearly all of the Biblical
characters who have been turned into operatic heroes. Nebuchadnezzar
appeared on the stage at Hamburg in an opera of Keiser's in 1704;
Ariosti put him through his bovine strides in Vienna in 1706. He was
put into a ballet by a Portuguese composer and made the butt of a
French opera bouffe writer, J. J. Debillement, in 1871. He recurs to my
mind now in connection with a witty fling at "Nabucco" made by a French
rhymester when Verdi's opera was produced at Paris in 1845. The noisy
brass in the orchestration offended the ears of a critic, and he wrote:

    Vraiment l'affiche est dans son tort;
      En faux, ou devrait la poursuivre.
    Pourquoi nous annoncer Nabuchodonos--or
      Quand c'est Nabuchodonos--cuivre?


Judas Maccabaeus is one of the few heroes of ancient Israel who have
survived in opera, Rubinstein's "Makkabaer" still having a hold, though
not a strong one, on the German stage. The libretto is an adaptation by
Mosenthal (author also of Goldmark's "Queen of Sheba") of a drama by
Otto Ludwig. In the drama as well as some of its predecessors some
liberties have been taken with the story as told in Maccabees II,
chapter 7. The tale of the Israelitish champion of freedom and his
brothers Jonathan and Simon, who lost their lives in the struggle
against the tyranny of the kings of Syria, is intensely dramatic. For
stage purposes the dramatists have associated the massacre of a mother
and her seven sons and the martyrdom of the aged Eleazar, who caused
the uprising of the Jews, with the family history of Judas himself. J.
W. Franck produced "Die Maccabaische Mutter" in Hamburg in 1679,
Ariosti composed "La Madre dei Maccabei" in 1704, Ignaz von Seyfried
brought out "Die Makkabaer, oder Salmonaa" in 1818, and Rubinstein his
opera in Berlin on April 17,1875.

The romantic career of Jephtha, a natural son, banished from home,
chief of a band of roving marauders, mighty captain and ninth judge of
Israel, might have fitted out many an opera text, irrespective of the
pathetic story of the sacrifice of his daughter in obedience to a vow,
though this episode springs first to mind when his name is mentioned,
and has been the special subject of the Jephtha operas. An Italian
composer named Pollarolo wrote a "Jefte" for Vienna in 1692; other
operas dealing with the history are Rolle's "Mehala, die Tochter
Jephthas" (1784), Meyerbeer's "Jephtha's Tochter" (Munich, 1813),
Generali, "Il voto di Jefte" (1827), Sanpieri, "La Figlia di Jefte"
(1872). Luis Cepeda produced a Spanish opera in Madrid in 1845, and a
French opera, in five acts and a prologue, by Monteclaire, was
prohibited, after one performance, by Cardinal de Noailles in 1832.

Judith, the widow of Manasseh, who delivered her native city of
Bethulia from the Assyrian Holofernes, lulling him to sleep with her
charms and then striking off his drunken head with a falchion, though
an Apocryphal personage, is the most popular of Israelitish heroines.
The record shows the operas "Judith und Holofernes" by Leopold
Kotzeluch (1799), "Giuditta" by S. Levi (1844), Achille Peri (1860),
Righi (1871), and Sarri (1875). Naumann wrote a "Judith" in 1858,
Doppler another in 1870, and Alexander Seroff a Russian opera under the
same title in 1863. Martin Roder, who used to live in Boston, composed
a "Judith," but it was never performed, while George W. Chadwick's
"Judith," half cantata, half opera, which might easily be fitted for
the stage, has had to rest content with a concert performance at a
Worcester (Mass.) festival.

The memory of Esther, the queen of Ahasuerus, who saved her people from
massacre, is preserved and her deed celebrated by the Jews in their
gracious festival of Purim. A gorgeous figure for the stage, she has
been relegated to the oratorio platform since the end of the eighteenth
century. Racine's tragedy "Athalie" has called out music from Abbe
Vogler, Gossec, Boieldieu, Mendelssohn, and others, and a few
oratorios, one by Handel, have been based on the story of the woman
through whom idolatry was introduced into Judah; but I have no record
of any Athalia opera.



CHAPTER III

RUBINSTEIN'S "GEISTLICHE OPER"


I have a strong belief in the essential excellence of Biblical subjects
for the purposes of the lyric drama--at least from an historical point
of view. I can see no reason against but many reasons in favor of a
return to the stage of the patriarchal and heroic figures of the people
who are a more potent power in the world to-day, despite their
dispersal and loss of national unity, than they were in the days of
their political grandeur and glory. Throughout the greater part of his
creative career Anton Rubinstein was the champion of a similar idea. Of
the twenty works which he wrote for the theatre, including ballets, six
were on Biblical subjects, and to promote a propaganda which began with
the composition of "Der Thurmbau zu Babel," in 1870, he not only
entered the literary field, but made personal appeal for practical
assistance in both the Old World and the New. His, however, was a
religious point of view, not the historical or political. It is very
likely that a racial predilection had much to do with his attitude on
the subject, but in his effort to bring religion into the service of
the lyric stage he was no more Jew than Christian: the stories to which
he applied his greatest energies were those of Moses and Christ.

Much against my inclination (for Rubinstein came into my intellectual
life under circumstances and conditions which made him the strongest
personal influence in music that I have ever felt), I have been
compelled to believe that there were other reasons besides those which
he gave for his championship of Biblical opera. Smaller men than he,
since Wagner's death, have written trilogies and dreamed of theatres
and festivals devoted to performances of their works. Little wonder if
Rubinstein believed that he had created, or could create, a kind of
art-work which should take place by the side of "Der Ring des
Nibelungen," and have its special home like Bayreuth; and it may have
been a belief that his project would excite the sympathetic zeal of the
devout Jew and pious Christian alike, as much as his lack of the
capacity for self-criticism, which led him like a will-o'-the-wisp
along the path which led into the bogs of failure and disappointment.

While I was engaged in writing the programme book for the music
festival given in New York in 1881, at which "The Tower of Babel" was
performed in a truly magnificent manner, Dr. Leopold Damrosch, the
conductor of the festival, told me that Rubinstein had told him that
the impulse to use Biblical subjects in lyrical dramas had come to him
while witnessing a ballet based on a Bible story many years before in
Paris. He said that he had seldom been moved so profoundly by any
spectacle as by this ballet, and it suggested to him the propriety of
treating sacred subjects in a manner worthy of them, yet different from
the conventional oratorio. The explanation has not gotten into the
books, but is not inconsistent with the genesis of his Biblical operas,
as related by Rubinstein in his essay on the subject printed by Joseph
Lewinsky in his book "Vor den Coulissen," published in 1882 after at
least three of the operas had been written. The composer's defence of
his works and his story of the effort which he made to bring about a
realization of his ideals deserve to be rehearsed in justice to his
character as man and artist, as well as in the interest of the works
themselves and the subjects, which, I believe, will in the near future
occupy the minds of composers again.

"The oratorio," said Rubinstein, "is an art-form which I have always
been disposed to protest against. The best-known masterpieces of this
form have, not during the study of them but when hearing them
performed, always left me cold; indeed, often positively pained me. The
stiffness of the musical and still more of the poetical form always
seemed to me absolutely incongruous with the high dramatic feeling of
the subject. To see and hear gentlemen in dress coats, white cravats,
yellow gloves, holding music books before them, or ladies in modern,
often extravagant, toilets singing the parts of the grand, imposing
figures of the Old and New Testaments has always disturbed me to such a
degree that I could never attain to pure enjoyment. Involuntarily I
felt and thought how much grander, more impressive, vivid, and true
would be all that I had experienced in the concert-room if represented
on the stage with costumes, decorations, and full action."

The contention, said Rubinstein in effect, that Biblical subjects are
ill adapted to the stage beeause of their sacred character is a
testimony of poverty for the theatre, which should be an agency in the
service of the highest purposes of culture. The people have always
wanted to see stage representations of Bible incidents; witness the
mystery plays of the Middle Ages and the Passion Play at Oberammergau
to-day. But yielding to a prevalent feeling that such representations
are a profanation of sacred history, he had conceived an appropriate
type of art-work which was to be produced in theatres to be specially
built for the purpose and by companies of artists to be specially
trained to that end. This art-work was to be called Sacred Opera
(geistliche Oper), to distinguish it from secular opera, but its
purpose was to be purely artistic and wholly separate from the
interests of the Church. He developed ways and means for raising the
necessary funds, enlisting artists, overcoming the difficulties
presented by the mise en scene and the polyphonic character of the
choral music, and set forth his aim in respect of the subject-matter of
the dramas to be a representation in chronological order of the chief
incidents described in the Old and New Testaments. He would be willing
to include in his scheme Biblical operas already existing, if they were
not all, with the exception of Mehul's "Joseph," made unfit by their
treatment of sacred matters, especially by their inclusion of love
episodes which brought them into the domain of secular opera.

For years, while on his concert tours in various countries, Rubinstein
labored to put his plan into operation. Wherever he found a public
accustomed to oratorio performances he inquired into the possibility of
establishing his sacred theatre there. He laid the project before the
Grand Duke of Weimar, who told him that it was feasible only in large
cities. The advice sent him to Berlin, where he opened his mind to the
Minister of Education, von Muhler. The official had his doubts; sacred
operas might do for Old Testament stories, but not for New; moreover,
such a theatre should be a private, not a governmental, undertaking. He
sought the opinion of Stanley, Dean of Westminster Abbey, who said that
he could only conceive a realization of the idea in the oldtime popular
manner, upon a rude stage at a country fair.

For a space it looked as if the leaders of the Jewish congregations in
Paris would provide funds for the enterprise so far as it concerned
itself with subjects taken from the Old Dispensation; but at the last
they backed out, fearing to take the initiative in a matter likely to
cause popular clamor. "I even thought of America," says Rubinstein, "of
the daring transatlantic impresarios, with their lust of enterprise,
who might be inclined to speculate on a gigantic scale with my idea. I
had indeed almost succeeded, but the lack of artists brought it to pass
that the plans, already in a considerable degree of forwardness, had to
be abandoned. I considered the possibility of forming an association of
composers and performing artists to work together to carry on the
enterprise materially, intellectually, and administratively; but the
great difficulty of enlisting any considerable number of artists for
the furtherance of a new idea in art frightened me back from this
purpose also." In these schemes there are evidences of Rubinstein's
willingness to follow examples set by Handel as well as Wagner. The
former composed "Judas Maccabaeus" and "Alexander Balus" to please the
Jews who had come to his help when he made financial shipwreck with his
opera; the latter created the Richard Wagner Verein to put the Bayreuth
enterprise on its feet.

Of the six sacred operas composed by Rubinstein three may be said to be
practicable for stage representation. They are "Die Makkabaer,"
"Sulamith" (based on Solomon's Song of Songs) and "Christus." The first
has had many performances in Germany; the second had a few performances
in Hamburg in 1883; the last, first performed as an oratorio in Berlin
in 1885, was staged in Bremen in 1895. It has had, I believe, about
fourteen representations in all. As for the other three works, "Der
Thurmbau zu Babel" (first performance in Konigsberg in 1870), "Das
verlorene Paradies" (Dusseldorf, 1875), and "Moses" (still awaiting
theatrical representation, I believe), it may be said of them that they
are hybrid creations which combine the oratorio and opera styles by
utilizing the powers of the oldtime oratorio chorus and the modern
orchestra, with the descriptive capacity of both raised to the highest
power, to illustrate an action which is beyond the capabilities of the
ordinary stage machinery. In the character of the forms employed in the
works there is no startling innovation; we meet the same alternation of
chorus, recitative, aria, and ensemble that we have known since the
oratorio style was perfected. A change, howeer, has come over the
spirit of the expression and the forms have all relaxed some of their
rigidity. In the oratorios of Handel and Haydn there are instances not
a few of musical delineation in the instrumental as well as the vocal
parts; but nothing in them can be thought of, so far at least as the
ambition of the design extends, as a companion piece to the scene in
the opera which pictures the destruction of the tower of Babel. This is
as far beyond the horizon of the fancy of the old masters as it is
beyond the instrumental forces which they controlled.

"Paradise Lost," the text paraphrased from portions of Milton's epic,
is an oratorio pure and simple. It deals with the creation of the world
according to the Mosaic (or as Huxley would have said, Miltonic) theory
and the medium of expression is an alternation of recitatives and
choruses, the latter having some dramatic life and a characteristic
accompaniment. It is wholly contemplative; there is nothing like action
in it. "The Tower of Babel" has action in the restricted sense in which
it enters into Mendelssohn's oratorios, and scenic effects which would
tax the utmost powers of the modern stage-machinist who might attempt
to carry them out. A mimic tower of Babel is more preposterous than a
mimic temple of Dagon; yet, unless Rubinstein's stage directions are to
be taken in a Pickwickian sense, we ought to listen to this music while
looking at a stage-setting more colossal than any ever contemplated by
dramatist before. We should see a wide stretch of the plain of Shinar;
in the foreground a tower so tall as to give color of plausibility to a
speech which prates of an early piercing of heaven and so large as to
provide room for a sleeping multitude on its scaffoldings. Brick kilns,
derricks, and all the apparatus and machinery of building should be on
all hands, and from the summit of a mound should grow a giant tree,
against whose trunk should hang a brazen shield to be used as a signal
gong. We should see in the progress of the opera the bustling activity
of the workmen, the roaring flames and rolling smoke of the brick
kilns, and witness the miraculous spectacle of a man thrown into the
fire and walking thence unharmed. We should see (in dissolving views)
the dispersion of the races and behold the unfolding of a rainbow in
the sky. And, finally, we should get a glimpse of an open heaven and
the Almighty on His throne, and a yawning hell, with Satan and his
angels exercising their dread dominion. Can such scenes be mimicked
successfully enough to preserve a serious frame of mind in the
observer? Hardly. Yet the music seems obviously to have been written in
the expectation that sight shall aid hearing to quicken the fancy and
emotion and excite the faculties to an appreciation of the work.

"The Tower of Babel" has been performed upon the stage; how I cannot
even guess. Knowing, probably, that the work would be given in concert
form oftener than in dramatic, Rubinstein tries to stimulate the fancy
of those who must be only listeners by profuse stage directions which
are printed in the score as well as the book of words. "Moses" is in
the same case. By the time that Rubinstein had completed it he
evidently realized that its hybrid character as well as its stupendous
scope would stand in the way of performances of any kind. Before even a
portion of its music had been heard in public, he wrote in a letter to
a friend: "It is too theatrical for the concert-room and too much like
an oratorio for the theatre. It is, in fact, the perfect type of the
sacred opera that I have dreamed of for years. What will come of it I
do not know; I do not think it can be performed entire. As it contains
eight distinct parts, one or two may from time to time be given either
in a concert or on the stage."

America was the first country to act on the suggestion of a fragmentary
performance. The first scene was brought forward in New York by Walter
Damrosch at a public rehearsal and concert of the Symphony Society (the
Oratorio Society assisting) on January 18 and 19, 1889. The third scene
was performed by the German Liederkranz, under Reinhold L. Herman, on
January 27 of the same year. The third and fourth scenes were in the
scheme of the Cincinnati Music Festival, Theodore Thomas, conductor, on
May 25,1894.

Each of the eight scenes into which the work is divided deals with an
episode in the life of Israel's lawgiver. In the first scene we have
the incident of the finding of the child in the bulrushes; in the
second occurs the oppression of the Israelites by the Egyptian
taskmasters, the slaying of one of the overseers by Moses, who, till
then regarded as the king's son, now proclaims himself one of the
oppressed race. The third scene discloses Moses protecting Zipporah,
daughter of Jethro, a Midianitish priest, from a band of marauding
Edomites, his acceptance of Jethro's hospitality and the scene of the
burning bush and the proclamation of his mission. Scene IV deals with
the plagues, those of blood, hail, locusts, frogs, and vermin being
delineated in the instrumental introduction to the part, the action
beginning while the land is shrouded in the "thick darkness that might
be felt." The Egyptians call upon Osiris to dispel the darkness, but
are forced at last to appeal to Moses. He demands the liberation of his
people as the price to be paid for the removal of the plague; receiving
a promise from Pharaoh, he utters a prayer ending with "Let there be
light." The result is celebrated in a brilliant choral acclamation of
the returning sun. The scene has a parallel in Rossini's opera. Pharaoh
now equivocates; he will free the sons of Jacob, but not the women,
children, or chattels. Moses threatens punishment in the death of all
of Egypt's first-born, and immediately solo and chorus voices bewail
the new affliction. When the king hears that his son is dead he gives
his consent, and the Israelites depart with an ejaculation of thanks to
Jehovah. The passage of the Red Sea, Miriam's celebration of that
miracle, the backsliding of the Israelites and their worship of the
golden calf, the reception of the Tables of the Law, the battle between
the Israelites and Modbites on the threshold of the Promised Land, and
the evanishment and apotheosis of Moses are the contents of the
remainder of the work.



It is scarcely to be wondered at that the subjects which opera
composers have found adaptable to their uses in the New Testament are
very few compared with those offered by the Old. The books written by
the evangelists around the most stupendous tragical story of all time
set forth little or nothing (outside of the birth, childhood,
teachings, miracles, death, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth)
which could by any literary ingenuity be turned into a stage play
except the parables with which Christ enforced and illustrated His
sermons. The sublime language and imagery of the Apocalypse have
furnished forth the textual body of many oratorios, but it still
transcends the capacity of mortal dramatist.

In the parable of the Prodigal Son there is no personage whose
presentation in dramatic garb could be looked upon as a profanation of
the Scriptures. It is this fact, probably, coupled with its profoundly
beautiful reflection of human nature, which has made it a popular
subject with opera writers. There was an Italian "Figliuolo Prodigo" as
early as 1704, composed by one Biffi; a French melodrama, "L'Enfant
Prodigue," by Morange about 1810; a German piece of similar character
by Joseph Drechsler in Vienna in 1820. Pierre Gaveaux, who composed
"Leonore, ou l'Amour Conjugal," which provided Beethoven with his
"Fidelio," brought out a comic opera on the subject of the Prodigal Son
in 1811, and Berton, who had also dipped into Old Testament story in an
oratorio, entitled "Absalon," illustrated the parable in a ballet. The
most recent settings of the theme are also the most significant:
Auber's five-act opera "L'Enfant Prodigue," brought out in Paris in
1850, and Ponchielli's "Il Figliuolo Prodigo," in four acts, which had
its first representation at La Scala in 1880.

The mediaeval mysteries were frequently interspersed with choral songs,
for which the liturgy of the Church provided material. If we choose to
look upon them as incipient operas or precursors of that art-form we
must yet observe that their monkish authors, willing enough to trick
out the story of the Nativity with legendary matter drawn from the
Apocryphal New Testament, which discloses anything but a reverential
attitude toward the sublime tragedy, nevertheless stood in such awe
before the spectacle of Calvary that they deemed it wise to leave its
dramatic treatment to the church service in the Passion Tide. In that
service there was something approaching to characterization in the
manner of the reading by the three deacons appointed to deliver,
respectively, the narrative, the words of Christ, and the utterances of
the Apostles and people; and it may be--that this and the liturgical
solemnities of Holy Week were reverently thought sufficient by them and
the authors of the first sacred operas. Nevertheless, we have Reiser's
"Der Blutige und Sterbende Jesus," performed at Hamburg, and
Metastasio's "La Passione di Gesu Christi," composed first by Caldara,
which probably was an oratorio.

Earlier than these was Theile's "Die Geburt Christi," performed in
Hamburg in 1681. The birth of Christ and His childhood (there was an
operatic representation of His presentation in the Temple) were
subjects which appealed more to the writers of the rude plays which
catered to the popular love for dramatic mummery than did His
crucifixion. I am speaking now more specifically of lyric dramas, but
it is worthy of note that in the Coventry mysteries, as Hone points out
in the preface to his book, "Ancient Mysteries Described," [Footnote:
"Ancient Mysteries Described, especially the English Miracle Plays
Founded on Apocryphal New Testament Story," London, 1823.] there are
eight plays, or pageants, which deal with the Nativity as related in
the canon and the pseudo-gospels. In them much stress was laid upon the
suspicions of the Virgin Mother's chastity, for here was material that
was good for rude diversion as well as instruction in righteousness.



That Rubinstein dared to compose a Christ drama must be looked upon as
proof of the profound sincerity of his belief in the art-form which he
fondly hoped he had created; also, perhaps, as evidence of his artistic
ingenuousness. Only a brave or naive mind could have calmly
contemplated a labor from which great dramatists, men as great as
Hebbel, shrank back in alarm. After the completion of "Lohengrin"
Wagner applied himself to the creation of a tragedy which he called
"Jesus of Nazareth." We know his plan in detail, but he abandoned it
after he had offered his sketches to a French poet as the basis of a
lyric drama which he hoped to write for Paris. He confesses that he was
curious to know what the Frenchman would do with a work the stage
production of which would "provoke a thousand frights." He himself was
unwilling to stir up such a tempest in Germany; instead, he put his
sketches aside and used some of their material in his "Parsifal."

Wagner ignored the religious, or, let us say, the ecclesiastical, point
of view entirely in "Jesus of Nazareth." His hero was to have been, as
I have described him elsewhere, [Footnote: "A Book of Operas," p. 288.]
"a human philosopher who preached the saving grace of Love and sought
to redeem his time and people from the domination of conventional
law--the offspring of selfishness. His philosophy was socialism imbued
by love." Rubinstein proceeded along the lines of history, or orthodox
belief, as unreservedly in his "Christus" as he had done in his
"Moses." The work may be said to have brought his creative activities
to a close, although two compositions (a set of six pianoforte pieces
and an orchestral suite) appear in his list of numbered works after the
sacred opera. He died on November 20, 1894, without having seen a stage
representation of it. Nor did he live to see a public theatrical
performance of his "Moses," though he was privileged to witness a
private performance arranged at the German National Theatre in Prague
so that he might form an opinion of its effectiveness. The public has
never been permitted to learn anything about the impression which the
work made.

On May 25, 1895, a series of representations of "Christus" was begun in
Bremen, largely through the instrumentality of Professor Bulthaupt, a
potent and pervasive personage in the old Hanseatic town. He was not
only a poet and the author of the book of this opera and of some of
Bruch's works, but also a painter, and his mural decorations in the
Bremen Chamber of Commerce are proudly displayed by the citizens of the
town. It was under the supervision of the painter-poet that the Bremen
representations were given and, unless I am mistaken, he painted the
scenery or much of it. One of the provisions of the performances was
that applause was prohibited out of reverence for the sacred character
of the scenes, which were as frankly set forth as at Oberammergau. The
contents of the tragedy in some scenes and an epilogue briefly outlined
are these: The first scene shows the temptation of Christ in the
wilderness, where the devil "shewed unto him all the kingdoms of the
world in a moment of time." This disclosure is made by a series of
scenes, each opening for a short time in the background--castles,
palaces, gardens, mountains of gold, and massive heaps of earth's
treasures. In the second scene John the Baptist is seen and heard
preaching on the banks of the Jordan, in whose waters he baptizes
Jesus. This scene at the Bremen representations was painted from
sketches made by Herr Handrich in Palestine, as was also that of the
"Sermon on the Mount" and "The Miracle of the Loaves and Fishes," which
form the subject of the next part. The fourth tableau shows the
expulsion of the money changers from the Temple; the fifth the Last
Supper, with the garden of Gethsemane as a background; the sixth the
trial and the last the crucifixion. Here, as if harking back to his
"Tower of Babel," Rubinstein brings in pictures of heaven and hell,
with angels and devils contemplating the catastrophe. The proclamation
of the Gospel to the Gentiles by St. Paul is the subject of the
epilogue.



CHAPTER IV

"SAMSON ET DALILA"


There are but two musical works based on the story of Samson on the
current list to-day, Handel's oratorio and Saint-Saens's opera; but
lyric drama was still in its infancy when the subject first took hold
of the fancy of composers and it has held it ever since. The earliest
works were of the kind called sacred operas in the books and are spoken
of as oratorios now, though they were doubtless performed with scenery
and costumes and with action of a sort. Such were "Il Sansone" by
Giovanni Paola Colonna (Bologna, 1677), "Sansone accecato da Filistri"
by Francesco Antonio Uri (Venice, about 1700), "Simson" by Christoph
Graupner (Hamburg, 1709), "Simson" by Georg von Pasterwitz (about
1770), "Samson" by J. N. Lefroid Mereaux (Paris, 1774), "Simson" by
Johann Heinrich Rolle (about 1790), "Simson" by Franz Tuczek (Vienna,
1804), and "Il Sansone" by Francesco Basili (Naples, 1824). Two French
operas are associated with great names and have interesting histories.
Voltaire wrote a dramatic text on the subject at the request of La
Popeliniere, the farmer-general, who, as poet, musician, and artist,
exercised a tremendous influence in his day. Rameau was in his service
as household clavecinist and set Voltaire's poem. The authors looked
forward to a production on the stage of the Grand Opera, where at least
two Biblical operas, an Old Testament "Jephte" and a New Testament
"Enfant prodigue" were current; but Rameau had powerful enemies, and
the opera was prohibited on the eve of the day on which it was to have
been performed. The composer had to stomach his mortification as best
he could; he put some of his Hebrew music into the service of his
Persian "Zoroastre". The other French Samson to whom I have re ferred
had also to undergo a sea-change like unto Rameau's, Rossini's Moses,
and Verdi's Nebuchadnezzar. Duprez, who was ambitious to shine as a
composer as well as a singer (he wrote no less than eight operas and
also an oratorio, "The Last Judgment"), tried his hand on a Samson
opera and succeeded in enlisting the help of Dumas the elder in writing
the libretto. When he was ready to present it at the door of the Grand
Opera the Minister of Fine Arts told him that it was impracticable, as
the stage-setting of the last act alone would cost more than 100,000
francs, Duprez then followed the example set with Rossini's "Mose" in
London and changed the book to make it tell a story of the crusades
which he called "Zephora". Nevertheless the original form was restored
in German and Italian translations of the work, and it had concert
performances in 1857. To Joachim Raff was denied even this poor
comfort. He wrote a German "Simson" between 1851 and 1857. The
conductor at Darmstadt to whom it was first submitted rejected it on
the ground that it was too difficult for his singers. Raff then gave it
to Liszt, with whom he was sojourning at Weimar, and who had taken pity
on his "Konig Alfred"; but the tenor singer at the Weimar opera said
the music was too high for the voice. Long afterward Wagner's friend,
Schnorr von Carolsfeld, saw the score in the hands of the composer. The
heroic stature of the hero delighted him, and his praise moved Raff to
revise the opera; but before this had been done Schnorr died of the
cold contracted while creating the role of Wagner's Tristan at Munich
in 1865. Thus mournfully ended the third episode. As late as 1882 Raff
spoke of taking the opera in hand again, but though he may have done so
his death found the work unperformed and it has not yet seen the light
of the stage-lamps.

Saint-Saens's opera has also passed through many vicissitudes, but has
succumbed to none and is probably possessed of more vigorous life now
than it ever had. It is the recognized operatic masterpiece of the most
resourceful and fecund French musician since Berlioz. Saint-Saens began
the composition of "Samson et Dalila" in 1869. The author of the book,
Ferdinand Lemaire, was a cousin of the composer. Before the breaking
out of the Franco-Prussian War the score was so far on the way to
completion that it was possible to give its second act a private trial.
This was done, an incident of the occasion-which afterward introduced
one element of pathos in its history-being the singing of the part of
Samson by the painter Henri Regnault, who soon after lost his life in
the service of his country. A memorial to him and the friendship which
existed between him and the composer is the "Marche Heroique," which
bears the dead man's name on its title-page. Toward the end of 1872 the
opera was finished. For two years the score rested in the composer's
desk. Then the second act was again brought forth for trial, this time
at the country home of Mme. Viardot, at Croissy, the illustrious
hostess singing the part of Dalila. In 1875 the first act was performed
in concert style by M. Edouard Colonne in Paris. Liszt interested
himself in the opera and secured its acceptance at the Grand Ducal
Opera House of Weimar, where Eduard Lassen brought it out on December
2, 1877. Brussels heard it in 1878; but it did not reach one of the
theatres of France until March 3, 1890, when Rouen produced it at its
Theatre des Arts under the direction of M. Henri Verdhurt. It took
nearly seven months more to reach Paris, where the first representation
was at the Eden Theatre on October 31 of the same year. Two years
later, after it had been heard in a number of French and Italian
provincial theatres, it was given at the Academie Nationale de Musique
under the direction of M. Colonne. The part of Dalila was taken by Mme.
Deschamps-Jehin, that of Samson by M. Vergnet, that of the High Priest
by M. Lassalle. Eight months before this it had been performed as an
oratorio by the Oratorio Society of New York. There were two
performances, on March 25 and 26, 1892, the conductor being Mr. Walter
Damrosch and the principal singers being Frau Marie Ritter-Goetze,
Sebastian Montariol, H. E. Distelhurst, Homer Moore, Emil Fischer, and
Purdon Robinson. London had heard the work twice as an oratorio before
it had a stage representation there on April 26, 1909, but this
performance was fourteen years later than the first at the Metropolitan
Opera House on February 8, 1895. The New York performance was
scenically inadequate, but the integrity of the record demands that the
cast be given here: Samson, Signor Tamagno; Dalila, Mme. Mantelli; High
Priest, Signor Campanari; Abimelech and An Old Hebrew, M. Plancon;
First Philistine, Signor Rinaldini; Second Philistme, Signor de
Vachetti; conductor, Signor Mancinelli. The Metropolitan management did
not venture upon a repetition until the opening night of the season
1915-1916, when its success was such that it became an active factor in
the repertory of the establishment; but by that time it had been made
fairly familiar to the New York public by performances at the Manhattan
Opera House under the management of Mr. Oscar Hammerstein, the first of
which took place on November 13, 1908. Signor Campanini conducted and
the cast embraced Mme. Gerville-Reache as Dalila, Charles Dalmores as
Samson, and M. Dufranne as High Priest. The cast at the Metropolitan
Opera House's revival of the opera on November 15,1915, was as follows:
Dalila, Mme. Margarete Matzenauer; Samson, Signor Enrico Caruso; High
Priest, Signor Pasquale Amato; Abimelech, Herr Carl Schlegel; An Old
Hebrew, M. Leon Rothier; A Philistine Messenger, Herr Max Bloch; First
Philistine, Pietro Audisio; Second Philistine, Vincenzo Reschiglian;
conductor, Signor Polacco.



It would be a curious inquiry to try to determine the source of the
fascination which the story of Manoah's son has exerted upon mankind
for centuries. It bears a likeness to the story of the son of Zeus and
Alcmene, and there are few books on mythology which do not draw a
parallel between the two heroes. Samson's story is singularly brief.
For twenty years he "judged Israel," but the Biblical history which
deals with him consists only of an account of his birth, a recital of
the incidents in which he displayed his prodigious strength and valor,
the tale of his amours, and, at the end, the account of his tragical
destruction, brought about by the weak element in his character.

Commentators have been perplexed by the tale, irrespective of the
adornments which it has received at the hands of the Talmudists. Is
Samson a Hebrew form of the conception personified by the Greek
Herakles? Is he a mythical creature, born in the human imagination of
primitive nature worship--a variant of the Tyrian sun-god Shemesh,
whose name his so curiously resembles? [In Hebrew he is called
Shimshon, and the sun shemesh.] Was he something more than a man of
extraordinary physical strength and extraordinary moral weakness, whose
patriotic virtues and pathetic end have kept his memory alive through
the ages? Have a hundred generations of men to whom the story of
Herakles has appeared to be only a fanciful romance, the product of
that imagination heightened by religion which led the Greeks to exalt
their supreme heroes to the extent of deification, persisted in hearing
and telling the story of Samson with a sympathetic interest which
betrays at least a sub-conscious belief in its verity? Is the story
only a parable enforcing a moral lesson which is as old as humanity? If
so, how got it into the canonical Book of Judges, which, with all its
mythical and legendary material, seems yet to contain a large
substratum of unquestionable history?

There was nothing of the divine essence in Samson as the Hebrews
conceived him, except that spirit of God with which he was directly
endowed in supreme crises. There is little evidence of his possession
of great wisdom, but strong proof of his moral and religious laxity. He
sinned against the laws of Israel's God when he took a Philistine
woman, an idolater, to wife; he sinned against the moral law when he
visited the harlot at Gaza. He was wofully weak in character when he
yielded to the blandishments of Delilah and wrought his own undoing, as
well as that of his people. The disgraceful slavery into which Herakles
fell was not caused by the hero's incontinence or uxoriousness, but a
punishment for crime, in that he had in a fit of madness killed his
friend Iphitus. And the three years which he spent as the slave of
Omphale were punctuated by larger and better deeds than those of Samson
in like situation--bursting the new cords with which the men of Judah
had bound him and the green withes and new ropes with which Delilah
shackled him. The record that Samson "judged Israel in the days of the
Philistines twenty years" leads the ordinary reader to think of him as
a sage, judicial personage, whereas it means only that he was the
political and military leader of his people during that period, lifted
to a magisterial position by his strength and prowess in war. His
achievements were muscular, not mental.

Rabbinical legends have magnified his stature and power in precisely
the same manner as the imagination of the poet of the "Lay of the
Nibelung" magnified the stature and strength of Siegfried. His
shoulders, says the legend, were sixty ells broad; when the Spirit of
God came on him he could step from Zorah to Eshtaol although he was
lame in both feet; the hairs of his head arose and clashed against one
another so that they could be heard for a like distance; he was so
strong that he could uplift two mountains and rub them together like
two clods of earth, Herakles tore asunder the mountain which, divided,
now forms the Straits of Gibraltar and Gates of Hercules.

The parallel which is frequently drawn between Samson and Herakles
cannot be pursued far with advantage to the Hebrew hero. Samson rent a
young lion on the road to Timnath, whither he was going to take his
Philistine wife; Herakles, while still a youthful herdsman, slew the
Thespian lion and afterward strangled the Nemean lion with his hands.
Samson carried off the gates of Gaza and bore them to the top of a hill
before Hebron; Herakles upheld the heavens while Atlas went to fetch
the golden apples of Hesperides. Moreover, the feats of Herakles show a
higher intellectual quality than those of Samson, all of which, save
one, were predominantly physical. The exception was the trick of tying
300 foxes by their tails, two by two, with firebrands between and
turning them loose to burn the corn of the Philistines. An ingenious
way to spread a conflagration, probably, but primitive, decidedly
primitive. Herakles was a scientific engineer of the modern school; he
yoked the rivers Alpheus and Peneus to his service by turning their
waters through the Augean stables and cleansing them of the deposits of
3000 oxen for thirty years. Herakles had excellent intellectual
training; Rhadamanthus taught him wisdom and virtue, Linus music. We
know nothing about the bringing up of Samson save that "the child grew
and the Lord blessed him. And the Lord began to move him at times in
the camp of Dan between Zorah and Eshtaol." Samson made little use of
his musical gifts, if he had any, but that little he made well;
Herakles made little use of his musical training, and that little he
made ill. He lost his temper and killed his music master with his lute;
Samson, after using an implement which only the black slaves of our
South have treated as a musical instrument, to slay a thousand
Philistines, jubilated in song:--

    With the jawbone of an ass
      Heaps upon heaps!
    With the jawbone of an ass
      Have I slain a thousand men!


The vast fund of human nature laid bare in the story of Samson is, it
appears to me, quite sufficient to explain its popularity, and account
for its origin. The hero's virtues--strength, courage, patriotism--are
those which have ever won the hearts of men, and they present
themselves as but the more admirable, as they are made to appear more
natural, by pairing with that amiable weakness, susceptibility to
woman's charms.

After all Samson is a true type of the tragic hero, whatever Dr.
Chrysander or another may say. He is impelled by Fate into a commission
of the follies which bring about the wreck of his body. His marriage
with the Philistine woman in Timnath was part of a divine plot, though
unpatriotic and seemingly impious. When his father said unto him: "Is
there never a woman among the daughters of thy brethren or among all my
people that thou goest to take a wife of the uncircumcised
Philistines?" he did not know that "it was of the Lord that he sought
an occasion against the Philistines." Out of that wooing and winning
grew the first of the encounters which culminated in the destruction of
the temple of Dagon, when "the dead which he slew at his death were
more than they which he slew in his life." So his yielding to the
pleadings of his wife when she betrayed the answer to his riddle and
his succumbing to the wheedling arts of Delilah when he betrayed the
secret of his strength (acts incompatible with the character of an
ordinary strong and wise man) were of the type essential to the
machinery of the Greek drama.

A word about the mythological interpretation of the characters which
have been placed in parallel: It may be helpful to an understanding of
the Hellenic mind to conceive Herakles as a marvellously strong man,
first glorified into a national hero and finally deified. So, too, the
theory, that Herakles sinking down upon his couch of fire is but a
symbol of the declining sun can be entertained without marring the
grandeur of the hero or belittling Nature's phenomenon; but it would
obscure our understanding of the Hebrew intellect and profane the
Hebrew religion to conceive Samson as anything but the man that the
Bible says he was; while to make of him, as Ignaz Golziher suggests, a
symbol of the setting sun whose curly locks (crines Phoebi) are sheared
by Delilah-Night, would bring contumely upon one of the most beautiful
and impressive of Nature's spectacles. Before the days of comparative
mythology scholars were not troubled by such interpretations. Josephus
disposes of the Delilah episode curtly: "As for Samson being ensnared
by a woman, that is to be ascribed to human nature, which is too weak
to resist sin."



It is not often that an operatic figure invites to such a study as that
which I have attempted in the case of Samson, and it may be that the
side-wise excursion in which I have indulged invites criticism of the
kind illustrated in the metaphor of using a club to brain a gnat. But I
do not think so. If heroic figures seem small on the operatic stage, it
is the fault of either the author or the actor. When genius in a
creator is paired with genius in an interpreter, the hero of an opera
is quite as deserving of analytical study as the hero of a drama which
is spoken. No labor would be lost in studying the character of Wagner's
heroes in order to illuminate the impersonations of Niemann, Lehmann,
or Scaria; nor is Maurel's lago less worthy of investigation than Edwin
Booth's.

The character of Delilah presents even more features of interest than
that of the man of whom she was the undoing, and to those features I
purpose to devote some attention presently.

There is no symbolism in Saint-Saens's opera. It is frankly a piece for
the lyric theatre, albeit one in which adherence to a plot suggested by
the Biblical story compelled a paucity of action which had to be made
good by spectacle and music. The best element in a drama being that
which finds expression in action and dialogue, and these being
restricted by the obvious desire of the composers to avoid such
extraneous matter as Rossini and others were wont to use to add
interest to their Biblical operas (the secondary love stories, for
instance), Saint-Saens could do nothing else than employ liberally the
splendid factor of choral music which the oratorio form brought to his
hand.

We are introduced to that factor without delay. Even before the first
scene is opened to our eyes we hear the voice of the multitude in
prayer. The Israelites, oppressed by their conquerors and sore stricken
at the reflection that their God has deserted them, lament, accuse,
protest, and pray. Before they have been heard, the poignancy of their
woe has been published by the orchestra, which at once takes its place
beside the chorus as a peculiarly eloquent expositor of the emotions
and passions which propel the actors in the drama. That mission and
that eloquence it maintains from the beginning to the final
catastrophe, the instrumental band doing its share toward
characterizing the opposing forces, emphasizing the solemn dignity of
the Hebrew religion and contrasting it with the sensuous and sensual
frivolity of the worshippers of Dagon. The choral prayer has for its
instrumental substructure an obstinate syncopated figure,

[figure: an musical score excerpt]

which rises with the agonized cries of the people and sinks with their
utterances of despair. The device of introducing voices before the
disclosure of visible action in an opera is not new, and in this case
is both uncalled for and ineffective. Gounod made a somewhat similar
effort in his "Romeo et Juliette," where a costumed group of singers
presents a prologue, vaguely visible through a gauze curtain. Meyerbeer
tried the expedient in "Le Pardon de Ploermel," and the siciliano in
Mascagni's "Cavalleria Rusticana" and the prologue in Leoncavallo's
"Pagliacci" are other cases in point. Of these only the last can be
said to achieve its purpose in arresting the early attention of the
audience. When the curtain opens we see a public place in Gaza in front
of the temple of Dagon. The Israelites are on their knees and in
attitudes of mourning, among them Samson. The voice of lamentation
takes a fugal form--

[figure: a musical score excerpt]

as the oppressed people tell of the sufferings which they have
endured:--

    Nous avons vu nos cites renversees
    Et les gentils profanants ton autel, etc.


The expression rises almost to the intensity of sacrilegious accusation
as the people recall to God the vow made to them in Egypt, but sinks to
accents of awe when they reflect upon the incidents of their former
serfdom. Now Samson stands forth. In a broad arioso, half recitative,
half cantilena, wholly in the oratorio style when it does not drop into
the mannerism of Meyerbeerian opera, he admonishes his brethren of
their need to trust in God, their duty to worship Him, of His promises
to aid them, of the wonders that He had already wrought in their
behalf; he bids them to put off their doubts and put on their armor of
faith and valor. As he proceeds in his preachment he develops somewhat
of the theatrical pose of John of Leyden in "The Prophet." The
Israelites mutter gloomily of the departure of their days of glory, but
gradually take warmth from the spirit which has obsessed Samson and
pledge themselves to do battle with the foe with him under the guidance
of Jehovah.

Now Abimelech, Satrap of Gaza, appears surrounded by Philistine
soldiers. He rails at the Israelites as slaves, sneers at their God as
impotent and craven, lifts up the horn of Dagon, who, he says, shall
pursue Jehovah as a falcon pursues a dove. The speech fills Samson with
a divine anger, which bursts forth in a canticle of prayer and
prophecy. There is a flash as of swords in the scintillant scale
passages which rush upward from the eager, angry, pushing figure which
mutters and rages among the instruments. The Israelites catch fire from
Samson's ecstatic ardor and echo the words in which he summons them to
break their chains. Abimelech rushes forward to kill Samson, but the
hero wrenches the sword from the Philistine's hand and strikes him
dead. The satrap's soldiers would come to his aid, but are held in fear
by the hero, who is now armed. The Israelites rush off to make war on
their oppressors. The High Priest comes down from the temple of Dagon
and pauses where the body of Abimelech lies. Two Philistines tell of
the fear which had paralyzed them when Samson showed his might. The
High Priest rebukes them roundly for their cowardice, but has scarcely
uttered his denunciation before a Messenger enters to tell him that
Samson and his Israelitish soldiers have overrun and ravaged the
country. Curses and vows of vengeance against Israel, her hero, and her
God from the mouth of Dagon's servant. One of his imprecations is
destined to be fulfilled:--

    Maudit soit le sein de la femme
      Qui lui donna le jour!
    Qu'enfin une compagne infame
      Trahisse son amour!


Revolutions run a rapid course in operatic Palestine. The insurrection
is but begun with the slaying of Abimelech, yet as the Philistines,
bearing away his body, leave the scene, it is only to make room for the
Israelites, chanting of their victory. We expect a sonorous hymn of
triumph, but the people of God have been chastened and awed by their
quick deliverance, and their paean is in the solemn tone of temple
psalmody, the first striking bit of local color which the composer has
introduced into his score--a reticence on his part of which it may be
said that it is all the more remarkable from the fact that local color
is here completely justified:--

[figure: a musical score excerpt, sung to the words "Praise, ye
Jehovah! Tell all the wondrous story! Psalms of praise loudly swell!]

    "Hymne de joie, hymne de deliverance
      Montez vers l'Eternel!"


It is a fine piece of dramatic characterization; which is followed by
one whose serene beauty is heightened by contrast. Dalila and a company
of singing and dancing Philistine women come in bearing garlands of
flowers. Not only Samson's senses, our own as well, are ravished by the
delightful music:--

    Voici le printemps, nous portant des fleurs
    Pour orner le front des guerriers vainquers!
    Melons nos accents aux parfums des roses
                 A peine ecloses!
       Avec l'oiseau chantons, mes soeurs!


[figure: a musical score excerpt sung to the words "Now Spring's
generous band, Brings flowers to the land"]

Dalila is here and it is become necessary to say something of her,
having said so much about the man whose destruction she accomplished.
Let the ingenious and erudite Philip Hale introduce her: "Was Delilah a
patriotic woman, to be ranked with Jael and Judith, or was she merely a
courtesan, as certain opera singers who impersonate her in the opera
seem to think? E. Meier says that the word 'Delilah' means 'the
faithless one.' Ewald translates it 'traitress,' and so does Ranke.
Knobel characterizes her as 'die Zarte,' which means tender, delicate,
but also subtle. Lange is sure that she was a weaver woman, if not an
out-and-out 'zonah.' There are other Germans who think the word is akin
to the verb 'einlullen,' to lull asleep. Some liken it to the Arabic
dalilah, a woman who misguides, a bawd. See in 'The Thousand Nights and
a Night' the speech of the damsel to Aziz: 'If thou marry me thou wilt
at least be safe from the daughter of Dalilah, the Wily One.' Also 'The
Rogueries of Dalilah, the Crafty, and her daughter, Zayrah, the Coney
Catcher.'"

We are directly concerned here with the Dalila of the opera, but Mr.
Hale invites us to an excursion which offers a pleasant occupation for
a brief while, and we cheerfully go with him. The Biblical Delilah is a
vague figure, except in two respects: She is a woman of such charms
that she wins the love of Samson, and such guile and cupidity that she
plays upon his passion and betrays him to the lords of the Philistines
for pay. The Bible knows nothing of her patriotism, nor does the sacred
historian give her the title of Samson's wife, though it has long been
the custom of Biblical commentators to speak of her in this relation.
St. Chrysostom set the fashion and Milton followed it:--

    But who is this? What thing of sea or land--
    Female of sex it seems--
    That, so bedeck'd, ornate and gay
    Comes this way sailing
    Like a stately ship
    Of Tarsus, bound for the isles
    Of Javan or Gadire,
    With all her bravery on, and tackle trim,
    Sails fill'd and streamers waving,
    Courted by all the winds that hold them play;
    An amber scent of odorous perfume--
    Her harbinger, a damsel train behind?
    Some rich Philistian matron she may seem;
    And now, at nearer view, no other certain
    Than Dalila, thy wife.


It cannot be without significance that the author of the story in the
Book of Judges speaks in a different way of each of the three women who
play a part in the tragedy of Samson's life. The woman who lived among
the vineyards of Timnath, whose murder Samson avenged, was his wife.
She was a Philistine, but Samson married her according to the
conventional manner of the time and, also according to the manner of
the time, she kept her home with her parents after her marriage.
Wherefore she has gotten her name in the good books of the sociological
philosophers who uphold the matronymic theory touching early society.
The woman of Gaza whom Samson visited what time he confounded his
would-be captors by carrying off the doors of the gates of the city was
curtly "an harlot." Of the third woman it is said only that it came to
pass that Samson "loved a woman in the Valley of Sorek, whose name was
Delilah." Thereupon follows the story of her bribery by the lords of
the Philistines and her betrayal of her lover. Evidently a licentious
woman who could not aspire even to the merit of the heroine of Dekker's
play.

Milton not only accepted the theory of her wifehood, but also
attributed patriotic motives to her. She knew that her name would be
defamed "in Dan, in Judah and the bordering tribes."

    But in my country, where I most desire,
    In Eeron, Gaza, Asdod and in Gath,
    I shall be nam'd among the famousest
    Of women, sung at solemn festivals,
    Living and dead recorded, who to save
    Her country from a fierce destroyer, chose
    Above the faith of wedlock bands; my tomb
    With odours visited and annual flowers;
    Not less renown'd than in Mount Ephraim
    Jael, who, with inhospitable guile,
    Smote Sisera sleeping.


In the scene before us Dalila is wholly and simply a siren, a
seductress who plays upon the known love of Samson from motives which
are not disclosed. As yet one may imagine her moved by a genuine
passion. She turns her lustrous black eyes upon him as she hails him a
double victor over his foes and her heart, and invites him to rest from
his arms in her embraces in the fair valley of Sorek. Temptation seizes
upon the soul of Samson. He prays God to make him steadfast; but she
winds her toils the tighter: It is for him that she has bound a coronet
of purple grapes upon her forehead and entwined the rose of Sharon in
her ebon tresses. An Old Hebrew warns against the temptress and Samson
agonizingly invokes a veil over the beauty that has enchained him.

"Extinguish the fires of those eyes which enslave me."--thus he.

"Sweet is the lily of the valley, pleasant the juices of mandragora,
but sweeter and more pleasant are my kisses!"--thus she.

The Old Hebrew warns again: "If thou give ear to her honeyed phrases,
my son, curses will alight on thee which no tears that thou may'st weep
will ever efface."

But still the siren song rings in his ears. The maidens who had come
upon the scene with Dalila (are they priestesses of Dagon?) dance,
swinging their floral garlands seductively before the eyes of Samson
and his followers. The hero tries to avoid the glances which Dalila,
joining in the dance, throws upon him. It is in vain; his eyes follow
her through all the voluptuous postures and movements of the dance.

[figure: a musical score excerpt]

And Dalila sings "Printemps qui commence"--a song often heard in
concert-rooms, but not so often as the air with which the love-duet in
the second act reaches its culmination, which is popularly held also to
mark the climax of the opera. That song is wondrously insinuating in
its charm; it pulsates with passion, so much so, indeed, that it is
difficult to conceive that its sentiments are feigned, but this is
lovelier in its fresh, suave, graceful, and healthy beauty:--

[figure: a musical score excerpt, sung to the words "The Spring with
her dower of bird and flower, brings hope in her train."]

As Dalila leaves the scene her voice and eyes repeat their lure, while
Samson's looks and acts betray the trouble of his soul.

It is not until we see and hear Dalila in the second act that she is
revealed to us in her true character. Not till now does she disclose
the motives of her conduct toward her lover. Night is falling in the
valley of Sorek, the vale which lies between the hill country which the
Israelites entered from the East, and the coast land which the
Philistines, supposedly an island people, invaded from the West.
Dalila, gorgeously apparelled, is sitting on a rock near the portico of
her house. The strings of the orchestra murmur and the chromatic figure
which we shall hear again in her love-song coos in the wood-winds:

[figure: a musical score excerpt]

She awaits him whom passion has made her slave in full confidence of
her hold upon him.

    Samson, recherchant ma presence,
    Ce soir doit venir en ces lieux.
    Voici l'heure de la vengeance
    Qui doit satisfaire nos dieux!

    Amour! viens aider ma faiblesse!

The vengeance of her gods shall be glutted; it is to that end she
invokes the power of love to strengthen her weakness. A passion like
his will not down--that she knows. To her comes the High Priest:
Samson's strength, he says, is supernatural and flows from a vow with
which he was consecrated to effect the glory of Israel. Once while he
lay in her arms that strength had deserted him, but now, it is said, he
flouts her love and doubts his own passion. There is no need to try to
awaken

[figure: a musical score excerpt]

jealousy in the heart of Dalila; she hates Samson more bitterly than
the leader of his enemies. She is not mercenary, like the Biblical
woman; she scorns the promise of riches which the High Priest offers so
she obtain the secret of the Hebrew's strength. Thrice had she essayed
to learn that secret and thrice had he set her spell at naught. Now she
will assail him with tears--a woman's weapon.

The rumblings of thunder are heard; the scene is lit up by flashes of
lightning. Running before the storm, which is only a precursor and a
symbol of the tempest which is soon to rend his soul, Samson comes.
Dalila upbraids her lover, rebukes his fears, protests her grief.
Samson cannot withstand her tears. He confesses his love, but he must
obey the will of a higher power. "What god is mightier than Love?" Let
him but doubt her constancy and she will die. And she plays her trump
card: "Mon coeur s'ouvre a ta voix," while the fluttering strings and
cooing wood-winds insinuate themselves into the crevices of Samson's
moral harness and loosen the rivets that hold it together:--

[figure: a musical score excerpt to the words "My heart, at thy dear
voice"]

Herein lies the strength and the weakness of music: it must fain be
truthful. Dalila's words may be hypocritical, but the music speaks the
speech of genuine passion. Not until we hear the refrain echoed
mockingly in the last scene of the drama can we believe that the
passion hymned in this song is feigned. And we almost deplore hat the
composer put it to such disgraceful use. Samson hears the voice of his
God in the growing and again hesitates. The storm bursts as Dalila
shrieks out the hate that fills her and runs toward her dwelling.

Beethoven sought to suggest external as well as internal peace in the
"Dona nobis" of his Mass in D by mingling the sounds of war with the
prayer for peace; Saint-Saens pictures the storm in nature and in
Samson's soul by the music which accompanies the hero as he raises his
hands mutely in prayer; then follows the temptress with faltering steps
and enters her dwelling. The tempest reaches its climax; Dalila appears
at the window with a shout to the waiting Philistine soldiery below.
The voice of Samson cuts through the stormy night: "Trahison!"

Act III.--First scene: A prison in Gaza. Samson, shorn of his flowing
locks, which as a Nazarite he had vowed should never be touched by
shears, labors at the mill. He has been robbed of his eyes and darkness
has settled down upon him; darkness, too, upon the people whom his
momentary weakness had given back into slavery.

"Total eclipse!" Saint-Saens has won our admiration for the solemn
dignity with which he has invested the penitent confession of the blind
hero. But who shall hymn the blindness of Manoah's son after Milton and
Handel? From a crowd of captive Hebrews outside the prison walls come
taunting accusations, mingled with supplications to God. We recognize
again the national mood of the psalmody of the first act. The entire
scene is finely conceived. It is dramatic in a lofty sense, for its
action plays on the stage of the heart. Samson, contrite, humble,
broken in spirit, with a prayer for his people's deliverance, is led
away to be made sport of in the temple of Dagon. There, before the
statue of the god, grouped among the columns and before the altar the
High Priest and the lords of the Philistines. Dalila, too, with maidens
clad for the lascivious dance, and the multitude of Philistia. The
women's choral song to spring which charmed us in the first act is
echoed by mixed voices. The ballet which follows is a prettily exotic
one, with an introductory cadence marked by the Oriental scale, out of
which the second dance melody is constructed--a scale which has the
peculiarity of an interval composed of three semitones, and which we
know from the song of the priestesses in Verdi's "Aida":--

[figure: a musical score excerpt]

[figure: a musical score excerpt]

The High Priest makes mock of the Judge of Israel: Let him empty the
wine cup and sing the praise of his vanquisher! Dalila, in the pride of
her triumph, tauntingly tells him how simulated love had been made to
serve her gods, her hate, and her nation. Samson answers only in
contrite prayer. Together in canonic imitation (the erudite form does
not offend, but only gives dignity to the scene) priest and siren offer
a libation on the altar of the Fish god.

[figure: a musical score excerpt]

The flames flash upward from the altar. Now a supreme act of insolent
impiety; Samson, too, shall sacrifice to Dagon. A boy is told to lead
him where all can witness his humiliation. Samson feels that the time
for retribution upon his enemies is come. He asks to be led between the
marble pillars that support the roof of the temple. Priests and people,
the traitress and her dancing women, the lords of the Philistines, the
rout of banqueters and worshippers--all hymn the praise of Dagon. A
brief supplication to Israel's God--

"And Samson took hold of the two middle pillars upon which the house
stood and on which it was borne up, of the one with his right hand and
of the other with his left.

"And Samson said, 'Let me die with the Philistines.' And he bowed
himself with all his might: and the house fell upon the lords and upon
all the people that were therein. So the dead which he slew at his
death were more than they which he slew in his life."



CHAPTER V

"DIE KONIGIN VON SABA"


The most obvious reason why Goldmark's "Konigin von Saba" should be
seen and heard with pleasure lies in its book and scenic investiture.
Thoughtfully considered the book is not one of great worth, but in the
handling of things which give pleasure to the superficial observer it
is admirable. In the first place it presents a dramatic story which is
rational; which strongly enlists the interest if not the sympathies of
the observer; which is unhackneyed; which abounds with imposing
spectacles with which the imagination of childhood already had made
play, that are not only intrinsically brilliant and fascinating but
occur as necessary adjuncts of the story. Viewed from its ethical side
and considered with reference to the sources whence its elements
sprang, it falls under a considerable measure of condemnation, as will
more plainly appear after its incidents have been rehearsed.

The title of the opera indicates that the Biblical story of the visit
of the Queen of Sheba to Solomon had been drawn on for the plot. This
is true, but only in a slight degree. Sheba's Queen comes to Solomon in
the opera, but that is the end of the draft on the Scriptural legend so
far as she is concerned. Sulamith, who figures in the drama, owes her
name to the Canticles, from which it was borrowed by the librettist,
but no element of her character nor any of the incidents in which she
is involved. The "Song of Songs, which is Solomon's" contributes a few
lines of poetry to the book, and a ritualistic service which is
celebrated in the temple finds its original text in the opening verses
of Psalms lxvii and cxvii, but with this I have enumerated all that the
opera owes to the Bible. It is not a Biblical opera, in the degree that
Mehul's "Joseph," Rossini's "Moses," or Rubinstein's "Maccabees" is
Biblical, to say nothing of Saint-Saens's "Samson et Dalila." Solomon's
magnificent reign and marvellous wisdom, which contribute a few factors
to the sum of the production, belong to profane as well as to sacred
history and it will be found most agreeable to deeply rooted
preconceptions to think of some other than the Scriptural Solomon as
the prototype of the Solomon of Mosenthal and Goldmark, who, at the
best, is a sorry sort of sentimentalist. The local color has been
borrowed from the old story; the dramatic motive comes plainly from
Wagner's "Tannhauser."

Assad, a favorite courtier, is sent by Solomon to extend greetings and
a welcome to the Queen of Sheba, who is on the way to visit the king,
whose fame for wealth and wisdom has reached her ears in far Arabia.
Assad is the type (though a milk-and-watery one, it must be confessed)
of manhood struggling between the things that are of the earth and the
things which are of heaven--between a gross, sensual passion and a
pure, exalting love. He is betrothed to Sulamith, the daughter of the
High Priest of the temple, who awaits his return from Solomon's palace
and leads her companions in songs of gladness. Assad meets the Queen at
Gath, performs his mission, and sets out to return, but, exhausted by
the heat of the day, enters the forest on Mount Lebanon and lies down
on a bank of moss to rest. There the sound of plashing waters arrests
his ear. He seeks the cause of the grateful noise and comes upon a
transportingly beautiful woman bathing. The nymph, finding herself
observed, does not, like another Diana, cause the death of her admirer,
but discloses herself to be a veritable Wagnerian Venus. She clips him
in her arms and he falls at her feet; but a reed rustles and the
charmer flees. These incidents we do not see. They precede the opening
of the opera, and we learn of them from Assad's narration. Assad
returns to Jerusalem, where, conscience stricken, he seeks to avoid his
chaste bride. To Solomon, however, he confesses his adventure, and the
king sets the morrow as his wedding day with Sulamith.

The Queen of Sheba arrives, and when she raises her veil, ostensibly to
show unto Solomon the first view of her features that mortal man has
ever had vouchsafed him, Assad recognizes the heroine of his adventure
in the woods on Lebanon. His mind is in a maze; bewilderingly he
addresses her, and haughtily he is repulsed. But the woman has felt the
dart no less than Assad; she seeks him at night in the palace garden;
whither she had gone to brood over her love and the loss which
threatens her on the morrow, and the luring song of her slave draws him
again into her arms.

Before the altar in the temple, just as Assad is about to pronounce the
words which are to bind him to Sulamith, she confronts him again, on
the specious pretext that she brings gifts for the bride. Assad again
addresses her. Again he is denied. Delirium seizes upon his brain; he
loudly proclaims the Queen as the goddess of his devotion. The people
are panic-stricken at the sacrilege and rush from the temple; the
priests cry anathema; Sulamith bemoans her fate; Solomon essays words
of comfort; the High Priest intercedes with heaven; the soldiery, led
by Baal-Hanan, overseer of the palace, enter to lead the profaner to
death. Now Solomon claims the right to fix his punishment. The Queen,
fearful that her prey may escape her, begs his life as a boon, but
Solomon rejects her appeal; Assad must work out his salvation by
overcoming temptation and mastering his wicked passion. Sulamith
approaches amid the wailings of her companions. She is about to enter a
retreat on the edge of the Syrian desert, but she, too, prays for the
life of Assad. Solomon, in a prophetic ecstasy, foretells Assad's
deliverance from sin and in a vision sees a meeting between him and his
pure love under a palm tree in the desert. Assad is banished to the
sandy waste; there a simoom sweeps down upon him; he falls at the foot
of a lonely palm to die, after calling on Sulamith with his fleeting
breath. She comes with her wailing maidens, sees the fulfilment of
Solomon's prophecy, and Assad dies in her arms. "Thy beloved is thine,
in love's eternal realm," sing the maidens, while a mirage shows the
wicked Queen, with her caravan of camels and elephants, returning to
her home.

The parallel between this story and the immeasurably more poetical and
beautiful one of "Tannhauser" is apparent to half an eye. Sulamith is
Elizabeth, the Queen is Venus, Assad is Tannhauser, Solomon is Wolfram
von Eschenbach. The ethical force of the drama--it has some, though
very little--was weakened at the performances at the Metropolitan Opera
House [footnote: Goldmark's opera was presented for the first time in
America at the Metropolitan Opera House on December 2, 1885. Cast:
Sulamith, Fraulein Lilli Lehmann; die Konigin von Saba, Frau
Kramer-Wiedl; Astaroth, Fraulein Marianne Brandt; Solomon, Herr Adolph
Robinson; Assad, Herr Stritt; Der Hohe Priester, Herr Emil Fischer;
Baal-Hanan, Herr-Alexi. Anton Seidl conducted, and the opera had
fifteen representations in the season. These performances were in the
original German. On April 3, 1888, an English version was presented at
the Academy of Music by the National Opera Company, then in its death
throes. The opera was revived at the Metropolitan Opera House by Mr.
Conried in the season 1905-1906 and had five performances.] in New York
by the excision from the last act of a scene in which the Queen
attempts to persuade Assad to go with her to Arabia. Now Assad rises
superior to his grosser nature and drives the temptress away, thus
performing the saving act demanded by Solomon.

Herr Mosenthal, who made the libretto of "Die Konigin von Saba,"
treated this material, not with great poetic skill, but with a cunning
appreciation of the opportunities which it offers for dramatic effect.
The opera opens with a gorgeous picture of the interior of Solomon's
palace, decked in honor of the coming guest. There is an air of joyous
expectancy over everything. Sulamith's entrance introduces the element
of female charm to brighten the brilliancy of the picture, and her
bridal song--in which the refrain is an excerpt from the Canticles,
"Thy beloved is thine, who feeds among the roses"--enables the composer
to indulge his strong predilection and fecund gift for Oriental melody.
The action hurries to a thrilling climax. One glittering pageant treads
on the heels of another, each more gorgeous and resplendent than the
last, until the stage, set to represent a fantastical hall with a
bewildering vista of carved columns, golden lions, and rich draperies,
is filled with such a kaleidoscopic mass of colors and groupings as
only an Oriental mind could conceive. Finally all the preceding strokes
are eclipsed by the coming of the Queen. But no time is lost; the
spectacle does not make the action halt for a moment. Sheba makes her
gifts and uncovers her face, and at once we are confronted by the
tragical element, and the action rushes on toward its legitimate and
mournful end.

In this ingenious blending of play and spectacle one rare opportunity
after another is presented to the composer. Sulamith's epithalamium,
Assad's narrative, the choral greeting to the Queen, the fateful
recognition--all these things are made for music of the inspiring,
swelling, passionate kind. In the second act, the Queen's monologue,
her duet with Assad, and, most striking of all, the unaccompanied bit
of singing with which Astaroth lures Assad into the presence of the
Queen, who is hiding in the shadow of broad-leaved palms behind a
running fountain--a melodic phrase saturated with the mystical color of
the East--these are gifts of the rarest kind to the composer, which he
has enriched to give them in turn to the public. That relief from their
stress of passion is necessary is not forgotten, but is provided in the
ballet music and the solemn ceremonial in the temple, which takes place
amid surroundings that call into active operation one's childhood
fancies touching the sacred fane on Mount Moriah and the pompous
liturgical functions of which it was the theatre.

Goldmark's music is highly spiced. He was an eclectic, and his first
aim seems to have been to give the drama a tonal investiture which
should be in keeping with its character, external as well as internal.
At times his music rushes along like a lava stream of passion, every
measure pulsating with eager, excited, and exciting life. He revels in
instrumental color. The language of his orchestra is as glowing as the
poetry attributed to the royal poet whom his operatic story celebrates.
Many composers before him made use of Oriental cadences, rhythms, and
idioms, but to none do they seem to have come so like native language
as to Goldmark. It is romantic music, against which the strongest
objection that can be urged is that it is so unvaryingly stimulated
that it wearies the mind and makes the listener long for a change to a
fresher and healthier musical atmosphere.



CHAPTER VI

"HERODIADE"


In the ballet scene of Gounod's most popular opera Mephistopheles
conjures up visions of Phryne, Lais, Aspasia, Cleopatra, and Helen of
Troy to beguile the jaded interest of Faust. The list reads almost like
a catalogue of the operas of Massenet whose fine talent was largely
given to the celebration of the famous courtesans of the ancient world.
With the addition of a few more names from the roster of antiquity
(Thais, Dalila, and Aphrodite), and some less ancient but no less
immoral creatures of modern fancy, like Violetta, Manon Lescaut, Zaza,
and Louise, we might make a pretty complete list of representatives of
the female type in which modern dramatists and composers seem to think
the interest of humanity centres.

When Massenet's "Herodiade" was announced as the first opera to be
given at the Manhattan Opera House in New York for the season of
1909-1910 it looked to some observers as if the dominant note of the
year was to be sounded by the Scarlet Woman; but the representation
brought a revelation and a surprise. The names of the principal
characters were those which for a few years had been filling the lyric
theatres of Germany with a moral stench; but their bearers in
Massenet's opera did little or nothing that was especially shocking to
good taste or proper morals. Herod was a love-sick man of lust, who
gazed with longing eyes upon the physical charms of Salome and pleaded
for her smiles like any sentimental milksop; but he did not offer her
Capernaum for a dance. Salome may have known how, but she did not dance
for either half a kingdom or the whole of a man's head. Instead, though
there were intimations that her reputation was not all that a good
maiden's ought to be, she sang pious hosannahs and waved a palm branch
conspicuously in honor of the prophet at whose head she had bowled
herself in the desert, the public streets, and king's palaces. At the
end she killed herself when she found that the vengeful passion of
Herodias and the jealous hatred of Herod had compassed the death of the
saintly man whom she had loved. Herodias was a wicked woman, no doubt,
for John the Baptist denounced her publicly as a Jezebel, but her
jealousy of Salome had reached a point beyond her control before she
learned that her rival was her own daughter whom she had deserted for
love of the Tetrarch. As for John the Baptist the camel's hair with
which he was clothed must have cost as pretty a penny as any of the
modern kind, and if he wore a girdle of skins about his loins it was
concealed under a really regal cloak. He was a voice; but not one
crying in the wilderness. He was in fact an operatic tenor comme il
faut, who needed only to be shut up in a subterranean jail with the
young woman who had pursued him up hill and down dale, in and out of
season to make love to her in the most approved fashion of the Paris
Grand Opera.

What shall we think of the morals of this French opera, after we have
seen and heard that compounded by the Englishman Oscar Wilde and the
German Richard Strauss? No wonder that England's Lord Chamberlain asked
nothing more than an elimination of the Biblical names when he licensed
a performance of "Herodiade" at Covent Garden. There was no loss of
dramatic quality in calling Herod, Moriame, and Herodias, Hesotade, and
changing the scene from Jerusalem to Azoum in Ethiopia; though it must
have been a trifle diverting to hear fair-skinned Ethiopians singing
Schma Yisroel, Adonai Elohenu in a temple which could only be that of
Jerusalem. John the Baptist was only Jean in the original and needed
not to be changed, and Salome is not in the Bible, though Salome, a
very different woman is--a fact which the Lord Chamberlain seems to
have overlooked when he changed the title of the opera from "Herodiade"
to "Salome."

Where does Salome come from, anyway? And where did she get her
chameleonlike nature? Was she an innocent child, as Flaubert represents
her, who could but lisp the name of the prophet when her mother told
her to ask for his head? Had she taken dancing lessons from one of the
women of Cadiz to learn to dance as she must have danced to excite such
lust in Herod? Was she a monster, a worse than vampire as she is
represented by Wilde and Strauss? Was she an "Israelitish grisette" as
Pougin called the heroine of the opera which it took one Italian
(Zanardini) and three Frenchmen (Milliet, Gremont, and Massenet) to
concoct? No wonder that the brain of Saint-Saens reeled when he went to
hear "Herodiade" at its first performance in Brussels and found that
the woman whom he had looked upon as a type of lasciviousness and
monstrous cruelty had become metamorphosed into a penitent Magdalen.
Read the plot of the opera and wonder!

Salome is a maiden in search of her mother whom John the Baptist finds
in his wanderings and befriends. She clings to him when he becomes a
political as well as a religious power among the Jews, though he
preaches unctuously to her touching the vanity of earthly love.
Herodias demands his death of her husband for that he had publicly
insulted her, but Herod schemes to use his influence over the Jews to
further his plan to become a real monarch instead of a Roman Tetrarch.
But when the pro-consul Vitellius wins the support of the people and
Herod learns that the maiden who has spurned him is in love with the
prophet, he decrees his decapitation. Salome, baffled in her effort to
save her lover, attempts to kill Herodias; but the wicked woman
discloses herself as the maiden's mother and Salome turns the dagger
against her own breast.

This is all of the story one needs to know. It is richly garnished with
incident, made gorgeous with pageantry, and clothed with much charming
music. Melodies which may be echoes of synagogal hymns of great
antiquity resound in the walls of the temple at Jerusalem, in which
respect the opera recalls Goldmark's "Queen of Sheba." Curved Roman
trumpets mix their loud clangors with the instruments of the modern
brass band and compel us to think of "Aida." There are dances of
Egyptians, Babylonians, and Phoenicians, and if the movements of the
women make us deplore the decay of the choreographic art, the music
warms us almost as much as the Spanish measures in "Le Cid." Eyes and
ears are deluged with Oriental color until at the last there comes a
longing for the graciously insinuating sentimentalities of which the
earlier Massenet was a master. Two of the opera's airs had long been
familiar to the public from performance in the concert-room--Salome's
"Il est doux" and Herod's "Vision fugitive"--and they stand out as the
brightest jewels in the opera's musical crown; but there is much else
which woos the ear delightfully, for Massenet was ever a gracious if
not a profound melodist and a master of construction and theatrical
orchestration. When he strives for massive effects, however, he
sometimes becomes futile, banal where he would be imposing; but he
commands a charm which is insinuating in its moments of intimacy.

[Footnote: "Herodiade" had its first performance in New York (it had
previously been given in New Orleans by the French Opera Company) on
November 8, 1909. The cast was as follows: Salome--Lina Cavalieri;
Herodias--Gerville-Reache; John--Charles Dalmores; Herod--Maurice
Renaud; Vitellius--Crabbe; Phanuel--M. Vallier; High Priest--M.
Nicolay. The musical director was Henriques de la Fuente.]



CHAPTER VII

"LAKME"


Lakme is the daughter of Nilakantha, a fanatical Brahmin priest, who
has withdrawn to a ruined temple deep in an Indian forest. In his
retreat the old man nurses his wrath against the British invader, prays
assiduously to Brahma (thus contributing a fascinating Oriental mood to
the opening of the opera), and waits for the time to come when he shall
be able to wreak his revenge on the despoilers of his country. Lakme
sings Oriental duets with her slave, Mallika:--

    Sous le dome epais ou le blanc jasmin
      A la rose s'assemble,
    Sur la rive en fleurs, riant au matin
      Viens, descendons ensemble--


a dreamy, sense-ensnaring, hypnotic barcarole. The opera opens well; by
this time the composer has carried us deep into the jungle. The
Occident is rude: Gerald, an English officer, breaks through a bamboo
fence and makes love to Lakme, who, though widely separated from her
operatic colleagues from an ethnological point of view like Elsa and
Senta, to expedite the action requites the passion instanter. After the
Englishman is gone the father returns and, with an Oriental's cunning
which does him credit, deduces from the broken fence that an Englishman
has profaned the sacred spot. This is the business of Act I. In Act II
the father, disguised as a beggar who holds a dagger ever in readiness,
and his daughter, disguised as a street singer, visit a town market in
search of the profaner. The business is not to Lakme's taste, but it is
not for the like of her to neglect the opportunity offered to win
applause with the legend of the pariah's daughter, with its
tintinnabulatory charm:--

    Ou va la jeune Hindoue
      Fille des parias;
    Quand la lune se joue
      Dans les grand mimosas?


It is the "Bell song," which has tinkled so often in our concert-rooms.
Gerald recognizes the singer despite her disguise; and Nilakantha
recognizes him as the despoiler of the hallowed spot in which he
worships and incidentally conceals his daughter. The bloodthirsty
fanatic observes sententiously that Brahma has smiled and cuts short
Gerald's soliloquizing with a dagger thrust. Lakme, with the help of a
male slave, removes him to a hut concealed in the forest. While he is
convalescing the pair sing duets and exchange vows of undying
affection. But the military Briton, who has invaded the country at
large, must needs now invade also this cosey abode of love. Frederick,
a brother officer, discovers Gerald and informs him that duty calls
(Britain always expects every man to do his duty, no matter what the
consequences to him) and he must march with his regiment. Frederick has
happened in just as Lakme is gone for some sacred water in which she
and Gerald were to pledge eternal love for each other, to each other.
But, spurred on by Frederick and the memory that "England expects,
etc.," Gerald finds the call of the fife and drum more potent than the
voice of love. Lakme, psychologist as well as botanist, understands the
struggle which now takes place in Gerald's soul, and relieves him, of
his dilemma by crushing a poisonous flower (to be exact, the Datura
stramonium) between her teeth, dying, it would seem, to the pious
delight of her father, who "ecstatically" beholds her dwelling with
Brahma.

The story, borrowed by Gondinet and Gille from the little romance "Le
Mariage de Loti," is worthless except to furnish motives for tropical
scenery, Hindu dresses, and Oriental music. Three English ladies,
Ellen, Rose, and Mrs. Bentson, figure in the play, but without dramatic
purpose except to take part in some concerted music. They are, indeed,
so insignificant in all other respects that when the opera was given by
Miss Van Zandt and a French company in London for the first time in
1885 they were omitted, and the excision was commended by the critics,
who knew that it had been made. The conversation of the women is all of
the veriest stopgap character. The maidens, Rose and Ellen, are English
ladies visiting in the East; Mrs. Bentson is their chaperon. All that
they have to say is highly unimportant, even when true. "What do you
see, Frederick?" "A garden." "And you, Gerald?" "Big, beautiful trees."
"Anybody about?" "Don't know." "Look again." "That's not easy; the
fence shuts out the view within." "Can't you make a peephole through
the bamboo?" "Girls, girls, be careful." And so on and so on for
quantity. But we must fill three acts, and ensemble makes its demands;
besides, we want pretty blondes of the English type to put in contrast
with the dark-skinned Lakme and her slave. At the first representation
in New York by the American Opera Company, at the Academy of Music, on
March 1, 1886, the three women were permitted to interfere with what
there is of poetical spirit in the play, and their conversation, like
that of the other principals, was uttered in the recitatives composed
by Delibes to take the place of the spoken dialogue used at the Paris
Opera Comique, where spoken dialogue is traditional. Theodore Thomas
conducted the Academy performance, at which the cast was as follows:
Lakme, Pauline L'Allemand; Nilakantha, Alonzo E. Stoddard; Gerald,
William Candidus; Frederick, William H. Lee; Ellen, Charlotte Walker;
Rose, Helen Dudley Campbell; Mrs. Bentson, May Fielding; Mallika,
Jessie Bartlett Davis; Hadji, William H. Fessenden.

Few operas have had a more variegated American history than "Lakme." It
was quite new when it was first heard in New York, but it had already
given rise to considerable theatrical gossip, not to say scandal. The
first representation took place at the Opera Comique in April, 1883,
with Miss Marie Van Zandt, an American girl, the daughter of a singer
who had been actively successful in English opera in New York and
London, as creator of the part of the heroine. The opera won a pretty
triumph and so did the singer. At once there was talk of a New York
performance. Mme. Etelka Gerster studied the titular role with M.
Delibes and, as a member of Colonel Mapleson's company at the Academy
of Music, confidently expected to produce the work there in the season
of 1883-1884, the first season of the rivalry between the Academy and
the Metropolitan Opera House, which had just opened its doors; but
though she went so far as to offer to buy the American performing
rights from Heugel, the publisher, nothing came of it. The reason was
easily guessed by those who knew that there has been, or was pending, a
quarrel between Colonel Mapleson and M. Heugel concerning the
unauthorized use by the impresario of other scores owned by the
publisher.

During the same season, however, Miss Emma Abbott carried a version (or
rather a perversion) of the opera, for which the orchestral parts had
been arranged from the pianoforte score, into the cities of the West,
and brought down a deal of unmerited criticism on the innocent head of
M. Delibes. In the season of 1884-1885 Colonel Mapleson came back to
the Academy with vouchers of various sorts to back up a promise to give
the opera. There was a human voucher in the person of Miss Emma Nevada,
who had also enjoyed the instruction of the composer and who had
trunkfuls and trunkfuls and trunkfuls of Oriental dresses, though Lakme
needs but few. There were gorgeous uniforms for the British soldiers,
the real article, each scarlet coat and every top boot having a piece
of history attached, and models of the scenery which any doubting
Thomas of a newspaper reporter might inspect if he felt so disposed.
When the redoubtable colonel came it was to be only a matter of a week
or so before the opera would be put on the stage in the finest of
styles; it was still a matter of a week or so when the Academy season
came to an end. When Delibes's exquisite and exotic music reached a
hearing in the American metropolis, it was sung to English words, and
the most emphatic success achieved in performance was the acrobatic one
of Mme. L'Allemand as she rolled down some uncalled-for pagoda steps in
the death scene.

Mme. Adelina Patti was the second Lakme heard in New York. After the
fifth season of German opera at the Metropolitan Opera House had come
to an end in the spring of 1890, Messrs. Abbey and Grau took the
theatre for a short season of Italian opera by a troupe headed by Mme.
Patti. In that season "Lakme" was sung once--on April 2, 1890. Now came
an opportunity for the original representative of the heroine. Abbey
and Grau resumed the management of the theatre in 1891, and in their
company was Miss Van Zandt, for whom the opera was "revived" on
February 22. Mr. Abbey had great expectations, but they were
disappointed. For the public there was metal more attractive than Miss
Van Zandt and the Hindu opera in other members of the company and other
operas. It was the year of Emma Eames's coming and also of Jean de
Reszke's (they sang together in Gounod's "Romeo et Juliette") and
"Cavalleria Rusticana" was new. Then Delibes's opera hibernated in New
York for fifteen years, after which the presence in the Metropolitan
company of Mme. Marcella Sembrich led to another "revival." (Operas
which are unperformed for a term of two or three years after having
been once included in the repertory are "revived" in New York.) It was
sung three times in the season of 1906-1907. It also afforded one of
Mr. Hammerstein's many surprises at the Manhattan Opera House. Five
days before the close of his last season, on March 21, 1910, it was
precipitated on the stage ("pitchforked" is the popular and
professional term) to give Mme. Tetrazzini a chance to sing the bell
song. Altogether I know of no more singular history than that of
"Lakme" in New York.



Lakme is a child of the theatrical boards, who inherited traits from
several predecessors, the strongest being those deriving from Aida and
Selika. Like the former, she loves a man whom her father believes to be
the arch enemy of his native land, and, like her, she is the means of
betraying him into the hands of the avenger. Like the heroine of
Meyerbeer's posthumous opera, she has a fatal acquaintance with
tropical botany and uses her knowledge to her own destruction. Her
scientific attainments are on about the same plane as her amiability,
her abnormal sense of filial duty, and her musical accomplishments. She
loves a man whom her father wishes her to lure to his death by her
singing, and she sings entrancingly enough to bring about the meeting
between her lover's back and her father's knife. That she does not
warble herself into the position of "particeps criminis" in a murder
she owes only to the bungling of the old man. Having done this,
however, she turns physician and nurse and brings the wounded man back
to health, thus sacrificing her love to the duty which her lover thinks
he owes to the invaders of her country and oppressors of her people.
After this she makes the fatal application of her botanical knowledge.
Such things come about when one goes to India for an operatic heroine.

The feature of the libretto which Delibes has used to the best purpose
is its local color. His music is saturated with the languorous spirit
of the East. Half a dozen of the melodies are lovely inventions, of
marked originality in both matter and treatment, and the first half
hour of the opera is apt to take one's fancy completely captive. The
drawback lies in the oppressive weariness which succeeds the first
trance, and is brought on by the monotonous character of the music.
After an hour of "Lakme" one yearns for a few crashing chords of C
major as a person enduring suffocation longs for a gush of fresh air.
The music first grows monotonous, then wearies. Delibes's lyrical
moments show the most numerous indications of beauty; dramatic life and
energy are absent from the score. In the second act he moves his
listeners only once--with the attempted repetition of the bell song
after Lakme has recognized her lover. The odor of the poppy invites to
drowsy enjoyment in the beginning, and the first act is far and away
the most gratifying in the opera, musically as well as scenically. It
would be so if it contained only Lakme's song "Pourquoi dans les grands
bois," the exquisite barcarole--a veritable treasure trove for the
composer, who used its melody dramatically throughout the work--and
Gerald's air, "Fantaisie aux divins mensonges." Real depth will be
looked for in vain in this opera; superficial loveliness is apparent on
at least half its pages.



CHAPTER VIII

"PAGLIACCl"


For a quarter of a century "Cavalleria Rusticana" and "Pagliacci" have
been the Castor and Pollux of the operatic theatres of Europe and
America. Together they have joined the hunt of venturesome impresarios
for that Calydonian boar, success; together they have lighted the way
through seasons of tempestuous stress and storm. Of recent years at the
Metropolitan Opera House in New York efforts have been made to divorce
them and to find associates for one or the other, since neither is
sufficient in time for an evening's entertainment; but they refuse to
be put asunder as steadfastly as did the twin brothers of Helen and
Clytemnestra. There has been no operatic Zeus powerful enough to
separate and alternate their existences even for a day; and though
blase critics will continue to rail at the "double bill" as they have
done for two decades or more, the two fierce little dramas will "sit
shining on the sails" of many a managerial ship and bring it safe to
haven for many a year to come.

Twins the operas are in spirit; twins in their capacity as supreme
representatives of verismo; twins in the fitness of their association;
but twins they are not in respect of parentage or age. "Cavalleria
Rusticana" is two years older than "Pagliacci" and as truly its
progenitor as Weber's operas were the progenitors of Wagner's. They are
the offspring of the same artistic movement, and it was the phenomenal

[figure: a musical score excerpt]

success of Mascagni's opera which was the spur that drove Leoncavallo
to write his. When "Cavalleria Rusticana" appeared on the scene, two
generations of opera-goers had passed away without experiencing
anything like the sensation caused by this opera. They had witnessed
the production, indeed, of great masterpieces, which it would be almost
sacrilegious to mention in the same breath with Mascagni's turbulent
and torrential tragedy, but these works were the productions of mature
masters, from whom things monumental and lasting were expected as a
matter of course; men like Wagner and Verdi. The generations had also
seen the coming of "Carmen" and gradually opened their minds to an
appreciation of its meaning and beauty, while the youthful genius who
had created it sank almost unnoticed into his grave; but they had not
seen the advent of a work which almost in a day set the world on fire
and raised an unknown musician from penury and obscurity to affluence
and fame. In the face of such an experience it was scarcely to be
wondered at that judgment was flung to the winds and that the most
volatile of musical nations and the staidest alike hailed the young
composer as the successor of Verdi, the regenerator of operatic Italy,
and the pioneer of a new school which should revitalize opera and make
unnecessary the hopeless task of trying to work along the lines laid
down by Wagner.

And this opera was the outcome of a competition based on the frankest
kind of commercialism--one of those "occasionals" from which we have
been taught to believe we ought never to expect anything of ideal and
lasting merit. "Pagliacci" was, in a way, a fruit of the same
competition. Three years before "Cavalleria Rusticana" had started the
universal conflagration Ruggiero Leoncavallo, who at sixteen years of
age had won his diploma at the Naples Conservatory and received the
degree of Doctor of Letters from the University of Bologna at twenty,
had read his dramatic poem "I Medici" to the publisher Ricordi and been
commissioned to set it to music. For this work he was to receive 2400
francs. He completed the composition within a year, but there was no
contract that the opera should be performed, and this hoped-for
consummation did not follow. Then came Mascagni's triumph, and
Leoncavallo, who had been obliged meanwhile to return to the routine
work of an operatic repetiteur, lost patience. Satisfied that Ricordi
would never do anything more for him, and become desperate, he shut
himself in his room to attempt "one more work"--as he said in an
autobiographical sketch which appeared in "La Reforme," a journal
published in Alexandria. In five months he had written the book and
music of "Pagliacci," which was accepted for publication and production
by Sonzogno, Ricordi's business rival, after a single reading of the
poem. Maurel, whose friendship Leoncavallo had made while coaching
opera singers in Paris, used his influence in favor of the opera,
offered to create the part of Tonio, and did so at the first
performance of the opera at the Teatro dal Verme, Milan, on May 17,
1892.

Leoncavallo's opera turns on a tragical ending to a comedy which is
incorporated in the play. The comedy is a familiar one among the
strolling players who perform at village fairs in Italy, in which
Columbina, Pagliaccio, and Arlecchino (respectively the Columbine,
Clown, and Harlequin of our pantomime) take part. Pagliaccio is husband
to Colombina and Arlecchino is her lover, who hoodwinks Pagliaccio.
There is a fourth character, Taddeo, a servant, who makes foolish love
to Columbina and, mingling imbecile stupidity with maliciousness,
delights in the domestic discord which he helps to foment. The first
act of the opera may be looked upon as an induction to the conventional
comedy which comes to an unconventional and tragic end through the fact
that the Clown (Canio) is in real life the husband of Columbine (Nedda)
and is murderously jealous of her; wherefore, forgetting himself in a
mad rage, he kills her and her lover in the midst of the mimic scene.
The lover, however, is not the Harlequin of the comedy, but one of the
spectators whom Canio had vainly sought to identify, but who is
unconsciously betrayed by his mistress in her death agony. The Taddeo
of the comedy is the clown of the company, who in real life entertains
a passion for Nedda, which is repulsed, whereupon he also carries his
part into actuality and betrays Nedda's secret to Canio. It is in the
ingenious interweaving of these threads--the weft of reality with the
warp of simulation--that the chief dramatic value of Leoncavallo's
opera lies.

Actual murder by a man while apparently playing a part in a drama is
older as a dramatic motif than "Pagliacci," and Leoncavallo's
employment of it gave rise to an interesting controversy and a still
more interesting revelation in the early days of the opera. Old
theatre-goers in England and America remember the device as it was
employed in Dennery's "Paillaisse," known on the English stage as
"Belphegor, the Mountebank." In 1874 Paul Ferrier produced a play
entitled "Tabarin," in which Coquelin appeared at the Theatre Francais.
Thirteen years later Catulle Mendes brought out another play called "La
Femme de Tabarin," for which Chabrier wrote the incidental music. The
critics were prompt in charging Mendes with having plagiarized Ferrier,
and the former defended himself on the ground that the incident which
he had employed, of actual murder in a dramatic performance, was
historical and had often been used. This, however, did not prevent him
from bringing an accusation of theft against Leoncavallo when
"Pagliacci" was announced for production in French at Brussels and of
beginning legal proceedings against the composer and his publisher on
that score. The controversy which followed showed very plainly that
Mendes did not have a leg to stand upon either in law or equity, and he
withdrew his suit and made a handsome amende in a letter to the editor
of "Le Figaro." Before this was done, however, Signor Leoncavallo wrote
a letter to his publisher, which not only established that the incident
in question was based upon fact but directed attention to a dramatic
use of the motif in a Spanish play written thirty-five years before the
occurrence which was in the mind of Leoncavallo. The letter was as
follows:--

Lugano, Sept. 3, 1894.

Dear Signor Sonzogno.

I have read Catulle Mendes's two letters. M. Mendes goes pretty far in
declaring a priori that "Pagliacci" is an imitation of his "Femme de
Tabarin." I had not known this book, and only know it now through the
accounts given in the daily papers. You will remember that at the time
of the first performance of "Pagliacci" at Milan in 1892 several
critics accused me of having taken the subject of my opera from the
"Drama Nuevo" of the well known Spanish writer, Estebanez. What would
M. Mendes say if he were accused of having taken the plot of "La Femme
de Tabarin" from the "Drama Nuevo," which dates back to 1830 or 1840?
As a fact, a husband, a comedian, kills in the last scene the lover of
his wife before her eyes while he only appears to play his part in the
piece.

It is absolutely true that I knew at that time no more of the "Drama
Nuevo" than I know now of "La Femme de Tabarin." I saw the first
mentioned work in Rome represented by Novelli six months after
"Pagliacci's" first production in Milan. In my childhood, while my
father was judge at Montalto, in Calabria (the scene of the opera's
plot), a jealous player killed his wife after the performance. This
event made a deep and lasting impression on my childish mind, the more
since my father was the judge at the criminal's trial; and later, when
I took up dramatic work, I used this episode for a drama. I left the
frame of the piece as I saw it, and it can be seen now at the Festival
of Madonna della Serra, at Montalto. The clowns arrive a week or ten
days before the festival, which takes place on August 15, to put up
their tents and booths in the open space which reaches from the church
toward the fields. I have not even invented the coming of the peasants
from Santo Benedetto, a neighboring village, during the chorale.

What I write now I have mentioned so often in Germany and other parts
that several opera houses, notably that of Berlin, had printed on their
bills "Scene of the true event." After all this, M. Mendes insisted on
his claim, which means that he does not believe my words. Had I used M.
Mendes's ideas I would not have hesitated to open correspondence with
him before the first representation, as I have done now with a well
known writer who has a subject that I wish to use for a future work.
"Pagliacci" is my own, entirely my own. If in this opera, a scene
reminds one of M. Mendes's book, it only proves that we both had the
same idea which Estebanez had before us. On my honor and conscience I
assure you that I have read but two of M. Mendes's books in my
life--"Zo Hur" and "La Premiere Maitresse." When I read at Marienbad a
little while ago the newspaper notices on the production of "La Femme
de Tabarin" I even wrote to you, dear Signor Sonzogno, thinking this
was an imitation of "Pagliacci." This assertion will suffice, coming
from an honorable man, to prove my loyalty. If not, then I will place
my undoubted rights under the protection of the law, and furnish
incontestable proof of what I have stated here. I have the honor, etc.,
etc.


At various times and in various manners, by letters and in newspaper
interviews, Leoncavallo reiterated the statement that the incident
which he had witnessed as a boy in his father's courtroom had suggested
his drama. The chief actor in the incident, he said, was still living.
After conviction he was asked if he felt penitent. The rough voice
which rang through the room years before still echoed in Leoncavallo's
ears: "I repent me of nothing! On the contrary, if I had it to do over
again I'd do it again!" (Non mi pento del delitto! Tutt altro. Se
dovessi ricominciare, ricomincerei!) He was sentenced to imprisonment
and after the expiration of his term took service in a little Calabrian
town with Baroness Sproniere. If Mendes had prosecuted his action,
"poor Alessandro" was ready to appear as a witness and tell the story
which Leoncavallo had dramatized.

I have never seen "La Femme de Tabarin" and must rely on Mr. Philip
Hale, fecund fountain of informal information, for an outline of the
play which "Pagliacci" called back into public notice: Francisquine,
the wife of Tabarin, irons her petticoats in the players' booth. A
musketeer saunters along, stops and makes love to her. She listens
greedily. Tabarin enters just after she has made an appointment with
the man. Tabarin is drunk--drunker than usual. He adores his wife; he
falls at her feet; he entreats her; he threatens her. Meanwhile the
crowd gathers to see the "parade." Tabarin mounts the platform and
tells openly of his jealousy. He calls his wife; she does not answer.
He opens the curtain behind him; then he sees her in the arms of the
musketeer. Tabarin snatches up a sword, stabs his wife in the breast
and comes back to the stage with starting eyes and hoarse voice. The
crowd marvels at the passion of his play. Francisquine, bloody, drags
herself along the boards. She chokes; she cannot speak. Tabarin, mad
with despair, gives her the sword, begs her to kill him. She seizes the
sword, raises herself, hiccoughs, gasps out the word "Canaille," and
dies before she can strike.

Paul Ferrier and Emanuel Pessard produced a grand opera in two acts
entitled "Tabarin" in Paris in 1885; Alboiz and Andre a comic opera
with the same title, music by Georges Bousquet, in 1852. Gilles and
Furpilles brought out an operetta called "Tabarin Duelliste," with
music by Leon Pillaut, in 1866. The works seem to have had only the
name of the hero in common. Their stories bear no likeness to those of
"La Femme de Tabarin" or "Pagliacci." The Spanish play, "Drama Nuevo,"
by Estebanez, was adapted for performance in English by Mr. W. D.
Howells under the title "Yorick's Love." The translation was made for
Mr. Lawrence Barrett and was never published in book form. If it had
the denouement suggested in Leoncavallo's letter to Sonzogno, the fact
has escaped the memory of Mr. Howells, who, in answer to a letter of
inquiry which I sent him, wrote: "So far as I can remember there was no
likeness between 'Yorick's Love' and 'Pagliacci.' But when I made my
version I had not seen or heard 'Pagliacci.'"

The title of Leoncavallo's opera is "Pagliacci," not "I Pagliacci" as
it frequently appears in books and newspapers. When the opera was
brought out in the vernacular, Mr. Frederick E. Weatherly, who made the
English adaptation, called the play and the character assumed by Canio
in the comedy "Punchinello." This evoked an interesting comment from
Mr. Hale: "'Pagliacci' is the plural of Pagliaccio, which does not mean
and never did mean Punchinello. What is a Pagliaccio? A type long known
to the Italians, and familiar to the French as Paillasse. The
Pagliaccio visited Paris first in 1570. He was clothed in white and
wore big buttons. Later, he wore a suit of bedtick, with white and blue
checks, the coarse mattress cloth of the period. Hence his name. The
word that meant straw was afterward used for mattress which was stuffed
with straw and then for the buffoon, who wore the mattress cloth suit.
In France the Paillasse, as I have said, was the same as Pagliaccio.
Sometimes he wore a red checked suit, but the genuine one was known by
the colors, white and blue. He wore blue stockings, short breeches
puffing out a la blouse, a belted blouse and a black, close-fitting
cap. This buffoon was seen at shows of strolling mountebanks. He stood
outside the booth and by his jests and antics and grimaces strove to
attract the attention of the people, and he told them of the wonders
performed by acrobats within, of the freaks exhibited. Many of his
jests are preserved. They are often in dialogue with the proprietor and
are generally of vile indecency. The lowest of the strollers, he was
abused by them. The Italian Pagliaccio is a species of clown, and
Punchinello was never a mere buffoon. The Punch of the puppet-show is a
bastard descendant of the latter, but the original type is still seen
in Naples, where he wears a white costume and a black mask. The
original type was not necessarily humpbacked. Punchinello is a shrewd
fellow, intellectual, yet in touch with the people, cynical; not
hesitating at murder if he can make by it; at the same time a local
satirist, a dealer in gags and quips. Pagliacci is perhaps best
translated by 'clowns'; but the latter word must not be taken in its
restricted circus sense. These strolling clowns are pantomimists,
singers, comedians."

At the first performance of "Pagliacci" in Milan the cast was as
follows: Canio, Geraud; Tonio, Maurel; Silvio, Ancona; Peppe, Daddi;
Nedda, Mme. Stehle. The first performance in America was by the
Hinrichs Grand Opera Company, at the Grand Opera House, New York, on
June 15, 1893; Selma Kronold was the Nedda, Montegriffo the Canio, and
Campanari the Tonio. The opera was incorporated in the Metropolitan
repertory in the season of 1893-1894.



Rinuccini's "Dafne," which was written 300 years ago and more, begins
with a prologue which was spoken in the character of the poet Ovid.
Leoncavallo's "Pagliacci" also begins with a prologue, but it is spoken
by one of the people of the play; whether in his character as Tonio of
the tragedy or Pagliaccio of the comedy there is no telling. He speaks
the sentiments of the one and wears the motley of the other. Text and
music, however, are ingeniously contrived to serve as an index to the
purposes of the poet and the method and material of the composer. In
his speech the prologue tells us that the author of the play is fond of
the ancient custom of such an introduction, but not of the old purpose.
He does not employ it for the purpose of proclaiming that the tears and
passions of the actors are but simulated and false. No! He wishes to
let us know that his play is drawn from life as it is--that it is true.
It welled up within him when memories of the past sang in his heart and
was written down to show us that actors are human beings like unto
ourselves.

An unnecessary preachment, and if listened to with a critical
disposition rather an impertinence, as calculated to rob us of the
pleasure of illusion which it is the province of the drama to give.
Closely analyzed, Tonio's speech is very much of a piece with the
prologue which Bully Bottom wanted for the play of "Pyramus" in
Shakespeare's comedy. We are asked to see a play. In this play there is
another play. In this other play one of the actors plays at
cross-purposes with the author--forgets his lines and himself
altogether and becomes in reality the man that he seems to be in the
first play. The prologue deliberately aims to deprive us of the thrill
of surprise at the unexpected denouement, simply that he may tell us
what we already know as well as he, that an actor is a human being.

Plainly then, from a didactic point of view, this prologue is a
gratuitous impertinence. Not so its music. Structurally, it is little
more than a loose-jointed pot-pourri; but it serves the purpose of a
thematic catalogue to the chief melodic incidents of the play which is
to follow. In this it bears a faint resemblance to the introduction to
Berlioz's "Romeo and Juliet" symphony. It begins with an energetic
figure,

[figure: a musical score excerpt]

which is immediately followed by an upward scale-passage with a saucy
flourish at the end--not unlike the crack of a whiplash:--

[figure: a musical score excerpt]

It helps admirably to picture the bustling activity of the festa into
which we are soon to be precipitated. The bits of melody which are now
introduced might all be labelled in the Wolzogen-Wagner manner with
reference to the play's peoples and their passions if it were worth
while to do so, or if their beauty and eloquence were not sufficient
unto themselves. First we have the phrase in which Canio will tell us
how a clown's heart must seem merry and make laughter though it be
breaking:--

[figure: a musical score excerpt]

Next the phrase from the love music of Nedda and Silvio:--

[figure: a musical score excerpt]

The bustling music returns, develops great energy, then pauses,
hesitates, and makes way for Tonio, who, putting his head through the
curtain, politely asks permission of the audience, steps forward and
delivers his homily, which is alternately declamatory and broadly
melodious. One of his melodies later becomes the theme of the
between-acts music, which separates the supposedly real life of the
strolling players from the comedy which they present to the mimic
audience:--

[figure: a musical score excerpt]

At last Tonio calls upon his fellow mountebanks to begin their play.
The curtain rises. We are in the midst of a rural celebration of the
Feast of the Assumption on the outskirts of a village in Calabria. A
perambulant theatre has been set up among the trees and the strolling
actors are arriving, accompanied by a crowd of villagers, who shout
greetings to Clown, Columbine, and Harlequin. Nedda arrives in a cart
drawn by a donkey led by Beppe. Canio in character invites the crowd to
come to the show at 7 o'clock (ventitre ore). There they shall be
regaled with a sight of the domestic troubles of Pagliaccio and see the
fat mischief-maker tremble. Tonio wants to help Nedda out of the cart,
but Canio interferes and lifts her down himself; whereupon the women
and boys twit Tonio. Canio and Beppe wet their whistles at the tavern,
but Tonio remains behind on the plea that he must curry the donkey. The
hospitable villager playfully suggests that it is Tonio's purpose to
make love to Nedda. Canio, half in earnest, half in jest, points out
the difference between real life and the stage. In the play, if he
catches a lover with his wife, he flies into a mock passion, preaches a
sermon, and takes a drubbing from the swain to the amusement of the
audience. But there would be a different ending to the story were Nedda
actually to deceive him. Let Tonio beware! Does he doubt Nedda's
fidelity? Not at all. He loves her and seals his assurance with a kiss.
Then off to the tavern.

Hark to the bagpipes! Huzza, here come the zampognari! Drone pipes
droning and chaunters skirling--as well as they can skirl in Italian!

[figure: a musical score excerpt]

Now we have people and pipers on the stage and there's a bell in the
steeple ringing for vespers. Therefore a chorus. Not that we have
anything to say that concerns the story in any way. "Din, don!" That
would suffice, but if you must have more: "Let's to church. Din, don.
All's right with love and the sunset. Din, don! But mamma has her eye
on the young folk and their inclination for kissing. Din, don!" Bells
and pipes are echoed by the singers.

Her husband is gone to the tavern for refreshment and Nedda is left
alone. There is a little trouble in her mind caused by the fierceness
of Canio's voice and looks. Does he suspect? But why yield to such
fancies and fears? How beautiful the mid-August sun is! Her hopes and
longings find expression in the "Ballatella"--a waltz tune with twitter
of birds and rustle of leaves for accompaniment. Pretty birds, where
are you going? What is it you say? Mother knew your song and used once
to tell it to her babe. How your wings flash through the ether!
Heedless of cloud and tempest, on, on, past the stars, and still on!
Her wishes take flight with the feathered songsters, but Tonio brings
her rudely to earth. He pleads for a return of the love which he says
he bears her, but she bids him postpone his protestations till he can
make them in the play. He grows desperately urgent and attempts to rape
a kiss. She cuts him across the face with a donkey whip, and he goes
away blaspheming and swearing vengeance.

Then Silvio comes--Silvio, the villager, who loves her and who has her
heart. She fears he will be discovered, but he bids her be at peace; he
had left Canio drinking at the tavern. She tells him of the scene with
Tonio and warns him, but he laughs at her fears. Then he pleads with
her. She does not love her husband; she is weary of the wandering life
which she is forced to lead; if her love is true let her fly with him
to happiness. No. 'Tis folly, madness; her heart is his, but he must
not tempt her to its destruction. Tonio slinks in and plays
eavesdropper. He hears the mutual protestations of the lovers, hears
Nedda yield to Silvio's wild pleadings, sees them locked in each
other's arms, and hurries off to fetch Canio. Canio comes, but not in
time to see the man who had climbed over the wall, yet in time to hear
Nedda's word of parting: A stanotte--e per sempre tua saro--"To-night,
and forever, I am yours!" He throws Nedda aside and gives chase after
the fugitive, but is baffled. He demands to be told the name of her
lover. Nedda refuses to answer. He rushes upon her with dagger drawn,
but Beppe intercepts and disarms him. There is haste now; the villagers
are already gathering for the play. Tonio insinuates his wicked advice:
Let us dissemble; the gallant may be caught at the play. The others go
out to prepare for their labors. Canio staggers toward the theatre. He
must act the merry fool, though his heart be torn! Why not? What is he?
A man? No; a clown! On with the motley! The public must be amused. What
though Harlequin steals his Columbine? Laugh, Pagliaccio, though thy
heart break!

The between-acts music is retrospective; it comments on the tragic
emotions, the pathos foretold in the prologue. Act II brings the comedy
which is to have a realistic and bloody ending. The villagers gather
and struggle for places in front of the booth. Among them is Silvio, to
whom Nedda speaks a word of warning as she passes him while collecting
the admission fees. He reminds her of the assignation; she will be
there. The comedy begins to the music of a graceful minuet:--

[figure: a musical score excerpt]

Columbine is waiting for Harlequin. Taddeo is at the market buying the
supper for the mimic lovers. Harlequin sings his serenade under the
window: "O, Colombina, il tenero fido Arlecchin"--a pretty measure!
Taddeo enters and pours out his admiration for Colombina in an
exaggerated cadenza as he offers her his basket of purchases. The
audience shows enjoyment of the sport. Taddeo makes love to Colombina
and Harlequin, entering by the window, lifts him up by the ears from
the floor where he is kneeling and kicks him out of the room. What fun!
The mimic lovers sit at table and discuss the supper and their love.
Taddeo enters in mock alarm to tell of the coming of Pagliaccio.
Harlequin decamps, but leaves a philtre in the hands of Columbine to be
poured into her husband's wine. At the window Columbine calls after
him: A stanotte--e per sempre io saro tua! At this moment Canio enters
in the character of Pagliaccio. He hears again the words which Nedda
had called after the fleeing Silvio, and for a moment is startled out
of his character. But he collects himself and begins to play his part.
"A man has been here!" "You've been drinking!" The dialogue of the
comedy continues, but ever and anon with difficulty on the part of
Pagliaccio, who begins to put a sinister inflection into his words.
Taddeo is dragged from the cupboard in which he had taken hiding. He,
too, puts color of verity into his lines, especially when he prates
about the purity of Columbine. Canio loses control of himself more and
more. "Pagliaccio no more, but a man--a man seeking vengeance. The name
of your lover!" The audience is moved by his intensity. Silvio betrays
anxiety. Canio rages on. "The name, the name!" The mimic audience
shouts, "Bravo!" Nedda: if he doubts her she will go. "No, by God!
You'll remain and tell me the name of your lover!" With a great effort
Nedda forces herself to remain in character. The music, whose tripping
dance measures have given way to sinister mutterings in keeping with
Canio's mad outbursts, as the mimic play ever and anon threatens to
leave its grooves and plunge into the tragic vortex of reality, changes
to a gavotte:--

[figure: a musical excerpt]

Columbine explains: she had no idea her husband could put on so
tragical a mask. It is only harmless Harlequin who has been her
companion. "The name! The name!! THE NAME!!!" Nedda sees catastrophe
approaching and throws her character to the winds. She shrieks out a
defiant "No!" and attempts to escape from the mimic stage. Silvio
starts up with dagger drawn. The spectators rise in confusion and cry
"Stop him!" Canio seizes Nedda and plunges his knife into her: "Take
that! And that! With thy dying gasps thou'lt tell me!" Woful intuition!
Dying, Nedda calls: "Help, Silvio!" Silvio rushes forward and receives
Canio's knife in his heart. "Gesumaria!" shriek the women. Men throw
themselves upon Canio. He stands for a moment in a stupor, drops his
knife and speaks the words: "The comedy is ended." "Ridi Pagliaccio!"
shrieks the orchestra as the curtain falls.

"Plaudite, amici," said Beethoven on his death bed, "la commedia finita
est!" And there is a tradition that these, too, were the last words of
the arch-jester Rabelais. "When 'Pagliacci' was first sung here (in
Boston), by the Tavary company," says Mr. Philip Hale, "Tonio pointed
to the dead bodies and uttered the sentence in a mocking way. And there
is a report that such was Leoncavallo's original intention. As the
Tonio began the piece in explanation so he should end it. But the tenor
(de Lucia) insisted that he should speak the line. I do not believe the
story. (1) As Maurel was the original Tonio and the tenor was
comparatively unknown, it is doubtful whether Maurel, of all men, would
have allowed of the loss of a fat line. (2) As Canio is chief of the
company it is eminently proper that he should make the announcement to
the crowd. (3) The ghastly irony is accentuated by the speech when it
comes from Canio's mouth."



CHAPTER IX

"CAVALLERIA RUSTICANA"


Having neither the patience nor the inclination to paraphrase a comment
on Mascagni's "Cavalleria Rusticana" which I wrote years ago when the
opera was comparatively new, and as it appears to me to contain a just
estimate and criticism of the work and the school of which it and
"Pagliacci" remain the foremost exemplars, I quote from my book,
"Chapters of Opera" [Footnote: "Chapters of Opera," by H. E. Krehbiel,
p.223] "Seventeen years ago 'Cavalleria Rusticana' had no perspective.
Now, though but a small portion of its progeny has been brought to our
notice, we nevertheless look at it through a vista which looks like a
valley of moral and physical death through which there flows a sluggish
stream thick with filth and red with blood. Strangely enough, in spite
of the consequences which have followed it, the fierce little drama
retains its old potency. It still speaks with a voice which sounds like
the voice of truth. Its music still makes the nerves tingle, and
carries our feelings unresistingly on its turbulent current. But the
stage-picture is less sanguinary than it looked in the beginning. It
seems to have receded a millennium in time. It has the terrible
fierceness of an Attic tragedy, but it also has the decorum which the
Attic tragedy never violated. There is no slaughter in the presence of
the audience, despite the humbleness of its personages. It does not
keep us perpetually in sight of the shambles. It is, indeed, an
exposition of chivalry; rustic, but chivalry nevertheless. It was thus
Clytemnestra slew her husband, and Orestes his mother. Note the
contrast which the duel between Alfio and Turiddu presents with the
double murder to the piquant accompaniment of comedy in 'Pagliacci,'
the opera which followed so hard upon its heels. Since then piquancy
has been the cry; the piquant contemplation of adultery, seduction, and
murder amid the reek and stench of the Italian barnyard. Think of
Cilea's 'Tilda,' Giordano's 'Mala Vita,' Spinelli's 'A Basso Porto,'
and Tasca's 'A Santa Lucia'!

"The stories chosen for operatic treatment by the champions of verismo
are all alike. It is their filth and blood which fructifies the music,
which rasps the nerves even as the plays revolt the moral stomach. I
repeat: Looking back over the time during which this so-called veritism
has held its orgies, 'Cavalleria Rusticana' seems almost classic. Its
music is highly spiced and tastes 'hot i' th' mouth,' but its eloquence
is, after all, in its eager, pulsating, passionate melody--like the
music which Verdi wrote more than half a century ago for the last act
of 'Il Trovatore.' If neither Mascagni himself nor his imitators have
succeeded in equalling it since, it is because they have thought too
much of the external devices of abrupt and uncouth change of modes and
tonalities, of exotic scales and garish orchestration, and too little
of the fundamental element of melody which once was the be-all and
end-all of Italian music. Another fountain of gushing melody must be
opened before 'Cavalleria rusticana' finds a successor in all things
worthy of the succession. Ingenious artifice, reflection, and technical
cleverness will not suffice even with the blood and mud of the slums as
a fertilizer."

How Mascagni came to write his opera he has himself told us in a bright
sketch of the early part of his life-history which was printed in the
"Fanfulla della Domenica" of Rome shortly after he became famous.
Recounting the story of his struggle for existence after entering upon
his career, he wrote:--

In 1888 only a few scenes (of "Ratcliff") remained to be composed; but
I let them lie and have not touched them since. The thought of
"Cavalleria rusticana" had been in my head for several years. I wanted
to introduce myself with, a work of small dimensions. I appealed to
several librettists, but none was willing to undertake the work without
a guarantee of recompense. Then came notice of the Sonzogno competition
and I eagerly seized the opportunity to better my condition. But my
salary of 100 lire, to which nothing was added, except the fees from a
few pianoforte lessons in Cerignola and two lessons in the Philharmonic
Society of Canosa (a little town a few miles from Cerignola), did not
permit the luxury of a libretto. At the solicitation of some friends
Targioni, in Leghorn, decided to write a "Cavalleria rusticana" for me.
My mind was long occupied with the finale. The words: Hanno ammazzato
compare Turiddu! (They have killed Neighbor Turiddu!) were forever
ringing in my ears. I needed a few mighty orchestral chords to give
characteristic form to the musical phrase and achieve an impressive
close. How it happened I don't know, but one morning, as I was trudging
along the road to give my lessons at Canosa, the idea came to me like a
stroke of lightning, and I had found my chords. They were those seventh
chords, which I conscientiously set down in my manuscript.

Thus I began my opera at the end. When I received the first chorus of
my libretto by post (I composed the Siciliano in the prelude later) I
said in great good humor to my wife:

"To-day we must make a large expenditure."

"What for?"

"An alarm clock."

"Why?"

"To wake me up before dawn so that I may begin to write on 'Cavalleria
rusticana.'"

The expenditure caused a dubious change in the monthly budget, but it
was willingly allowed. We went out together, and after a good deal of
bargaining spent nine lire. I am sure that I can find the clock, all
safe and sound, in Cerignola. I wound it up the evening we bought it,
but it was destined to be of no service to me, for in that night a son,
the first of a row of them, was born to me. In spite of this I carried
out my determination, and in the morning began to write the first
chorus of "Cavalleria." I came to Rome in February, 1890, in order to
permit the jury to hear my opera; they decided that it was worthy of
performance. Returning to Cerignola in a state of the greatest
excitement, I noticed that I did not have a penny in my pocket for the
return trip to Rome when my opera was to be rehearsed. Signor Sonzogno
helped me out of my embarrassment with a few hundred francs.

Those beautiful days of fear and hope, of discouragement and
confidence, are as vividly before my eyes as if they were now. I see
again the Constanzi Theatre, half filled; I see how, after the last
excited measures of the orchestra, they all raise their arms and
gesticulate, as if they were threatening me; and in my soul there
awakens an echo of that cry of approval which almost prostrated me. The
effect made upon me was so powerful that at the second representation I
had to request them to turn down the footlights in case I should be
called out; for the blinding light seemed a hell to me, like a fiery
abyss that threatened to engulf me.

It is a rude little tale which Giovanni Verga wrote and which supplied
the librettists, G. Targioni-Tozzetti and G. Menasci, with the plot of
Mascagni's opera. Sententious as the opera seems, it is yet puffed out,
padded, and bedizened with unessential ornament compared with the
story. This has the simplicity and directness of a folk-tale or
folk-song, and much of its characteristic color and strength were lost
in fitting it out for music. The play, which Signora Duse presented to
us with a power which no operatic singer can ever hope to match, was
more to the purpose, quicker and stronger in movement, fiercer in its
onrush of passion, and more pathetic in its silences than the opera
with its music, though the note of pathos sounded by Signor Mascagni is
the most admirable element of the score. With half a dozen homely
touches Verga conjures up the life of a Sicilian village and strikes
out his characters in bold outline. Turiddu Macca, son of Nunzia, is a
bersagliere returned from service. He struts about the village streets
in his uniform, smoking a pipe carved with an image of the king on
horseback, which he lights with a match fired by a scratch on the seat
of his trousers, "lifting his leg as if for a kick." Lola, daughter of
Massaro Angelo, was his sweetheart when he was conscripted, but
meanwhile she has promised to marry Alfio, a teamster from Licodia, who
has four Sortino mules in his stable. Now Turiddu could do nothing
better than sing spiteful songs under her window.

Lola married the teamster, and on Sundays she would sit in the yard
with her hands posed on her hips to show off the thick gold rings which
her husband had given her. Opposite Alfio's house lived Massaro Cola,
who was as rich as a hog, as they said, and who had an only daughter
named Santa. Turiddu, to spite Lola, paid his addresses to Santa and
whispered sweet words into her ear.

"Why don't you go and say these nice things to Lola?" asked Santa one
day.

"Lola is a fine lady now; she has married a crown prince. But you are
worth a thousand Lolas; she isn't worthy of wearing your old shoes. I
could just eat you up with my eyes, Santa"--thus Turiddu.

"You may eat me with your eyes and welcome, for then there will be no
leaving of crumbs."

"If I were rich I would like to have a wife just like you."

"I shall never marry a crown prince, but I shall have a dowry as well
as Lola when the good Lord sends me a lover."

The tassel on his cap had tickled the girl's fancy. Her father
disapproved of the young soldier, and turned him from his door; but
Santa opened her window to him until the village gossips got busy with
her name and his. Lola listened to the talk of the lovers from behind a
vase of flowers. One day she called after Turiddu: "Ah, Turiddu! Old
friends are no longer noticed, eh?"

"He is a happy man who has the chance of seeing you, Lola."

"You know where I live," answered Lola. And now Turiddu visited Lola so
often that Santa shut her window in his face and the villagers began to
smile knowingly when he passed by. Alfio was making a round of the
fairs with his mules. "Next Sunday I must go to confession," said Lola
one day, "for last night I dreamt that I saw black grapes."

"Never mind the dream," pleaded Turiddu.

"But Easter is coming, and my husband will want to know why I have not
confessed."

Santa was before the confessional waiting her turn when Lola was
receiving absolution. "I wouldn't send you to Rome for absolution," she
said. Alfio came home with his mules, and money and a rich holiday
dress for his wife.

"You do well to bring presents to her," said Santa to him, "for when
you are away your wife adorns your head for you."

"Holy Devil!" screamed Alfio. "Be sure of what you are saying, or I'll
not leave you an eye to cry with!"

"I am not in the habit of crying. I haven't wept even when I have seen
Turiddu going into your wife's house at night."

"Enough!" said Alfio. "I thank you very much."

The cat having come back home, Turiddu kept off the streets by day, but
in the evenings consoled himself with his friends at the tavern. They
were enjoying a dish of sausages there on Easter eve. When Alfio came
in Turiddu understood what he wanted by the way he fixed his eyes on
him. "You know what I want to speak to you about," said Alfio when
Turiddu asked him if he had any commands to give him. He offered Alfio
a glass of wine, but it was refused with a wave of the hand.

"Here I am," said Turiddu. Alfio put his arms around his neck. "We'll
talk this thing over if you will meet me to-morrow morning."

"You may look for me on the highway at sunrise, and we will go on
together."

They exchanged the kiss of challenge, and Turiddu, as an earnest that
he would be on hand, bit Alfio's ear. His companions left their
sausages uneaten and went home with Turiddu. There his mother was
sitting up for him.

"Mamma," Turiddu said to her, "do you remember that when I went away to
be a soldier you thought I would never come back? Kiss me as you did
then, mamma, for to-morrow I am going away again."

Before daybreak he took his knife from the place in the haymow where he
had hidden it when he went soldiering, and went out to meet Alfio.

"Holy Mother of Jesus!" grumbled Lola when her husband prepared to go
out; "where are you going in such a hurry?"

"I am going far away," answered Alfio, "and it will be better for you
if I never come back!"

The two men met on the highway and for a while walked on in silence.
Turiddu kept his cap pulled down over his face. "Neighbor Alfio," he
said after a space, "as true as I live I know that I have wronged you,
and I would let myself be killed if I had not seen my old mother when
she got up on the pretext of looking after the hens. And now, as true
as I live, I will kill you like a dog so that my dear old mother may
not have cause to weep."

"Good!" answered Alfio; "we will both strike hard!" And he took off his
coat.

Both were good with the knife. Turiddu received the first blow in his
arm, and when he returned it struck for Alfio's heart.

"Ah, Turiddu! You really do intend to kill me?"

"Yes, I told you so. Since I saw her in the henyard I have my old
mother always in my eyes."

"Keep those eyes wide open," shouted Alfio, "for I am going to return
you good measure!"

Alfio crouched almost to the ground, keeping his left hand on the
wound, which pained him. Suddenly he seized a handful of dust and threw
it into Turiddu's eyes.

"Ah!" howled Turiddu, blinded by the dust, "I'm a dead man!" He
attempted to save himself by leaping backward, but Alfio struck him a
second blow, this time in the belly, and a third in the throat.

"That makes three--the last for the head you have adorned for me!"

Turiddu staggered back into the bushes and fell. He tried to say, "Ah,
my dear mother!" but the blood gurgled up in his throat and he could
not.



Music lends itself incalculably better to the celebration of a mood
accomplished or achieved by action, physical or psychological, than to
an expression of the action itself. It is in the nature of the lyric
drama that this should be so, and there need be no wonder that wherever
Verga offered an opportunity for set lyricism it was embraced by
Mascagni and his librettists. Verga tells us that Turiddu, having lost
Lola, comforted himself by singing spiteful songs under her window.
This suggested the Siciliano, which, an afterthought, Mascagni put into
his prelude as a serenade, not in disparagement, but in praise of Lola.
It was at Easter that Alfio returned to discover the infidelity of his
wife, and hence we have an Easter hymn, one of the musical high lights
of the work, though of no dramatic value. Verga aims to awaken at least
a tittle of extenuation and a spark of sympathy for Turiddu by showing
us his filial love in conflict with his willingness to make reparation
to Alfio; Mascagni and his librettists do more by showing us the figure
of the young soldier blending a request for a farewell kiss from his
mother with a prayer for protection for the woman he has wronged. In
its delineation of the tender emotions, indeed, the opera is more
generous and kindly than the story. Santuzza does not betray her lover
in cold blood as does Santa, but in the depth of her humiliation and at
the climax of her jealous fury created by Turiddu's rejection of her
when he follows Lola into church. Moreover, her love opens the gates to
remorse the moment she realizes what the consequence of her act is to
be. The opera sacrifices some of the virility of Turiddu's character as
sketched by Verga, but by its classic treatment of the scene of the
killing it saves us from the contemplation of Alfio's dastardly trick
which turns a duel into a cowardly assassination.

The prelude to the opera set the form which Leoncavallo followed,
slavishly followed, in "Pagliacci."

The orchestral proclamation of the moving passions of the play is made
by the use of fragments of melody which in the vocal score mark
climaxes in the dialogue. The first high point in the prelude is
reached in the strain to which Santuzza begs for the love of Turiddu
even after she has disclosed to him her knowledge of his infidelity:--

[figure: a musical score excerpt]

[figure: a musical score excerpt]

the second is the broad melody in which she pleads with him to return
to her arms:--

[figure: a musical score excerpt]

Between these expositions falls the Siciliano, which interrupts the
instrumental flood just as Lola's careless song, the Stornello,
interrupts the passionate rush of Santuzza's protestations, prayers,
and lamentations in the scene between her and her faithless lover:--

[figure: a musical score excerpt setting the words "O Lola, blanca come
flor di spino, quando t'affaci ti s'affaccio il sole"]

These sharp contrasts, heightened by the device of surprise, form one
of the marked characteristics of Mascagni's score and one of the most
effective. We meet it also in the instrumentation--the harp
accompaniment to the serenade, the pauses which give piquancy to Lola's
ditty, the unison violins, harp arpeggios, and sustained organ chords
of the intermezzo.

When the curtain rises it discloses the open square of a Sicilian
village, flanked by a church and the inn of Lucia, Turiddu's mother. It
is Easter morning and villagers and peasants are gathering for the
Paschal mass. Church bells ring and the orchestra breaks into the eager
melody which a little later we hear combined with the voices which are
hymning the pleasant sights and sounds of nature:--

[figure: a musical score excerpt setting the words "tempo e si mormori"]

A charming conception is the regular beat and flux and reflux of the
women's voices as they sing

[figure: a musical score excerpt setting the words "Gliaranci olezzano
sui verdi margini cantando le allo do le tra i mirti in flor . . ."]

Delightful and refreshing is the bustling strain of the men. The
singers depart with soft exclamations of rapture called out by the
contemplation of nature and thoughts of the Virgin Mother and Child in
their hearts. Comes Santuzza, sore distressed, to Mamma Lucia, to
inquire as to the whereabouts of her son Turiddu. Lucia thinks him at
Francofonte; but Santuzza knows that he spent the night in the village.

In pity for the maiden's distress, Lucia asks her to enter her home,
but Santuzza may not--she is excommunicate. Alfio enters with
boisterous jollity, singing of his jovial carefree life as a teamster
and his love of home and a faithful wife. It is a paltry measure,
endurable only for its offering of contrast, and we will not tarry with
it, though the villagers echo it merrily. Alfio, too, has seen Turiddu,
and Lucia is about to express her surprise when Santuzza checks her.
The hour of devotion is come, and the choir in the church intones the
"Regina coeli," while the people without fall on their knees and sing
the Resurrection Hymn. After the first outburst, to which the organ
appends a brief postlude, Santuzza leads in the canticle, "Innegiamo il
Signor non dmorte":

    Let us sing of our Lord ris'n victorious!
    Let us sing of our Lord ever glorious:--


[figure: a musical score excerpt]

[figure: a musical score excerpt]

The instrumental basses supply a foundation of Bachian granite, the
chorus within the church interpolates shouts of "Alleluia!" and the
song swells until the gates of sound fly wide open and we forget the
theatre in a fervor of religious devotion. Only the critic in his study
ought here to think of the parallel scene which Leoncavallo sought to
create in his opera.

Thus far the little dramatic matter that has been introduced is wholly
expository; yet we are already near the middle of the score. All the
stage folk enter the church save Santuzza and Lucia, and to the mother
of her betrayer the maiden tells the story of her wrongs. The romance
which she sings is marked by the copious use of one of the
distinguishing devices of the veritist composers--the melodic triplet,
an efficient help for the pushing, pulsating declamation with which the
dramatic dialogue of Mascagni, Leoncavallo, and their fellows is
carried on. Lucia can do no more for the unfortunate than commend her
to the care of the Virgin. She enters the church and Turiddu comes. He
lies as to where he has been. Santuzza is quick with accusation and
reproach, but at the first sign of his anger and a hint of the
vengeance which Alfio will take she abases herself. Let him beat and
insult her, she will love and pardon though her heart break. She is in
the extremity of agony and anguish when Lola is heard trolling a
careless song:--

[figure: musical example setting the word "Fior di giaggiolo . . gli
angeli belli stanno a mille in cielo . . ."]

She is about to begin a second stanza when she enters and sees the
pair.    She stops with an exclamation. She says she is seeking Alfio.
Is Turiddu not going to mass? Santuzza, significantly: "It is Easter
and the Lord sees all things! None but the blameless should go to
mass." But Lola will go, and so will Turiddu. Scorning Santuzza's
pleadings and at last hurling her to the ground, he rushes into the
church. She shouts after him a threat of Easter vengeance and fate
sends the agent to her in the very moment. Alfio comes and Santuzza
tells him that Turiddu has cuckolded him and Lola has robbed her of her
lover:--

    Turiddu mi tolse, mi tolse l'onore,
    E vostra moglie lui rapiva a me!


[figure: musical example setting the above words]

The oncoming waves of the drama's pathos have risen to a supreme
height, their crests have broken, and the wind-blown spume drenches the
soul of the listeners; but the composer has not departed from the first
principle of the master of whom, for a time, it was hoped he might be
the legitimate successor. Melody remains the life-blood of his music as
it is that of Verdi's from his first work to his last;--as it will be
so long as music endures.

Terrible is the outbreak of Alfio's rage:--

    Infami lero, ad esse non perdono,
    Vendetta avro pria che tra monti il di.


[figure: musical example setting the above words]

Upon this storm succeeds the calm of the intermezzo--in its day the
best abused and most hackneyed piece of music that the world knew; yet
a triumph of simple, straightforward tune. It echoes the Easter hymn,
and in the midst of the tumult of earthly passion proclaims celestial
peace. Its instrumentation was doubtless borrowed from Hellmesberger's
arrangement of the air "Ombra mai fu" from "Serse," known the world
over as Handel's "Largo"--violins in unison, harp arpeggios, and organ
harmonies. In nothing artistically distinguished it makes an unexampled
appeal to the multitude. Some years ago a burlesque on "Cavalleria
rusticana" was staged at a theatre in Vienna.

[figure: a musical score excerpt]

It was part of the witty conceit of the author to have the intermezzo
played on a handorgan. Up to this point the audience had been hilarious
in its enjoyment of the burlesque, but with the first wheezy tones from
the grinder the people settled down to silent attention; and when the
end came applause for the music rolled out wave after wave. A burlesque
performance could not rob that music of its charm. Ite missa est. Mass
is over. The merry music of the first chorus returns. The worshippers
are about to start homeward with pious reflections, when Turiddu
detains Lola and invites his neighbors to a glass of Mamma Lucia's
wine. We could spare the drinking song as easily as Alfio, entering,
turns aside the cup which Turiddu proffers him. Turiddu understands. "I
await your pleasure." Some of the women apprehend mischief and lead
Lola away. The challenge is given and accepted, Sicilian fashion.
Turiddu confesses his wrong-doing to Alfio, but, instead of proclaiming
his purpose to kill his enemy, he asks protection for Santuzza in case
of his death. Then, while the violins tremble and throb, he calls for
his mother like an errant child:--

[figure: a musical score excerpt]

He has been too free with the winecup, he says, and must leave her. But
first her blessing, as when he went away to be a soldier. Should he not
return, Santa must be her care: "Voi dovrete fare; da madre a Santa!"
It is the cry of a child. "A kiss! Another kiss, mamma! Farewell!"
Lucia calls after him. He is gone, Santuzza comes in with her phrase of
music descriptive of her unhappy love. It grows to a thunderous crash.
Then a hush! A fateful chord! A whispered roll of the drums! A woman is
heard to shriek: "They have killed Neighbor Turiddu!" A crowd of women
rush in excitedly; Santuzza and Lucia fall in a swoon. "Hanno ammazzato
compare Turiddu!" The tragedy is ended.



CHAPTER X

THE CAREER OF MASCAGNI


It would be foolish to question or attempt to deny the merits of the
type of Italian opera established by Mascagni's lucky inspiration. The
brevity of the realistic little tragedy, the swiftness of its movement,
its adherence to the Italian ideal of melody first, its ingenious
combination of song with an illuminative orchestral part--these
elements in union created a style which the composers of Italy, France,
and Germany were quick to adopt. "Pagliacci" was the first fruit of the
movement and has been the most enduring; indeed, so far as America and
England are concerned, "Cavalleria rusticana" and "Pagliacci" are the
only products of the school which have obtained a lasting footing. They
were followed by a flood of Italian, French, and German works in which
low life was realistically portrayed, but, though the manner of
composition was as easily copied as the subjects were found in the
slums, none of the imitators of Mascagni and Leoncavallo achieved even
a tithe of their success. The men themselves were too shrewd and wise
to attempt to repeat the experiment which had once been triumphant.

In one respect the influence of the twin operas was deplorable. I have
attempted to characterize that influence in general terms, but in order
that the lesson may be more plainly presented it seems to me best to
present a few examples in detail. The eagerness with which writers
sought success in moral muck, regardless of all artistic elements, is
strikingly illustrated in an attempt by a German writer, Edmund von
Freihold, [Footnote: I owe this illustration to Ferdinand Pfobl's book
"Die Moderne Oper."] to provide "Cavalleria rusticana" with a sequel.
Von Freihold wrote the libretto for a "music drama" which he called
"Santuzza," the story of which begins long enough after the close of
Verga's story for both the women concerned in "Gavalleria rusticana" to
have grown children. Santuzza has given birth to a son named Massimo,
and Lola to a daughter, Anita. The youthful pair grow up side by side
in the Sicilian village and fall in love with one another. They might
have married and in a way expiated the sins of their parents had not
Alfio overheard his wife, Lola, confess that Turiddu, not her husband,
is the father of Anita, The lovers are thus discovered to be half
brother and sister. This reminder of his betrayal by Lola infuriates
Alfio anew. He rushes upon his wife to kill her, but Santuzza, who
hates him as the slayer of her lover, throws herself between and
plunges her dagger in Alfio's heart. Having thus taken revenge for
Turiddu's death, Santuzza dies out of hand, Lola, as an inferior
character, falls in a faint, and Massimo makes an end of the delectable
story by going away from there to parts unknown.

In Cilea's "Tilda" a street singer seeks to avenge her wrongs upon a
faithless lover. She bribes a jailor to connive at the escape of a
robber whom he is leading to capital punishment. This robber she elects
to be the instrument of her vengeance. Right merrily she lives with him
and his companions in the greenwood until the band captures the
renegade lover on his wedding journey. Tilda rushes upon the bride with
drawn dagger, but melts with compassion when she sees her victim in the
attitude of prayer. She sinks to her knees beside her, only to receive
the death-blow from her seducer. There are piquant contrasts in this
picture and Ave Marias and tarantellas in the music.

Take the story of Giordano's "Mala Vita." Here the hero is a young dyer
whose dissolute habits have brought on tuberculosis of the lungs. The
principal object of his amours is the wife of a friend. A violent
hemorrhage warns him of approaching death. Stricken with fear he rushes
to the nearest statue of the Madonna and registers a vow; he will marry
a wanton, effect her redemption, thereby hoping to save his own
miserable life. The heroine of the opera appears and she meets his
requirements. He marries her and for a while she seems blest. But the
siren, the Lola in the case, winds her toils about him as the disease
stretches him on the floor at her feet. Piquancy again, achieved now
without that poor palliative, punishment of the evil-doer.

Tasca's "A Santa Lucia" has an appetizing story about an oysterman's
son who deserts a woman by whom he has a child, in order to marry one
to whom he had previously been affianced. The women meet. There is a
dainty brawl, and the fiancee of Cicillo (he's the oysterman's son)
strikes her rival's child to the ground. The mother tries to stab the
fiancee with the operatic Italian woman's ever-ready dagger, and this
act stirs up the embers of Cicillo's love. He takes the mother of his
child back home--to his father's house, that is. The child must be some
four years old by this time, but the oysterman--dear, unsuspecting old
man!--knows nothing about the relation existing between his son and his
housekeeper. He is thinking of marriage with his common law
daughter-in-law when in comes the old fiancee with a tale for Cicillo's
ears of his mistress's unfaithfulness. "It is not true!" shrieks the
poor woman, but the wretch, her seducer, closes his ears to her
protestations; and she throws herself into the sea, where the oysters
come from. Cicillo rushes after her and bears her to the shore, where
she dies in his arms, gasping in articulo mortis, "It is not true!"



The romantic interest in Mascagni's life is confined to the period
which preceded his sudden rise to fame. His father was a baker in
Leghorn, and there he was born on December 7,1863. Of humble origin and
occupation himself, the father, nevertheless, had large ambitions for
his son; but not in the line of art. Pietro was to be shaped
intellectually for the law. Like Handel, the boy studied the pianoforte
by stealth in the attic. Grown in years, he began attending a
music-school, when, it is said, his father confined him to his house;
thence his uncle freed him and took over his care upon himself.
Singularly enough, the man who at the height of his success posed as
the most Italian of Italian masters had his inspiration first stirred
by German poetry. Early in his career Beethoven resolved to set
Schiller's "Hymn to Joy"; the purpose remained in his mind for forty
years or so, and finally became a realization in the finale of the
Ninth Symphony. Pietro Mascagni resolved as a boy to compose music for
the same ode; and did it at once. Then he set to work upon a two-act
opera, "Il Filanda." His uncle died, and a Count Florestan (here is
another Beethovenian echo!) sent him to the Conservatory at Milan,
where, like nearly all of his native contemporaries, he imbibed
knowledge (and musical ideas) from Ponchielli.

After two years or so of academic study he yielded to a gypsy desire
and set out on his wanderings, but not until he had chosen as a
companion Maffei's translation of Heine's "Ratcliff"--a gloomy romance
which seems to have caught the fancy of many composers. There followed
five years of as checkered a life as ever musician led. Over and over
again he was engaged as conductor of an itinerant or stationary
operetta and opera company, only to have the enterprise fail and leave
him stranded. For six weeks in Naples his daily ration was a plate of
macaroni. But he worked at his opera steadily, although, as he once
remarked, his dreams of fame were frequently swallowed up in the growls
of his stomach, which caused him more trouble than many a millionaire
suffers from too little appetite or too much gout. Finally, convinced
that he could do better as a teacher of the pianoforte, he ran away
from an engagement which paid him two dollars a day, and, sending off
the manuscript of "Ratcliff" in a portmanteau, settled down in
Cerignola. There he became director of a school for orchestral players,
though he had first to learn to play the instruments; he also taught
pianoforte and thoroughbass, and eked out a troublous existence until
his success in competition for the prize offered by Sonzogno, the
Milanese publisher, made him famous in a day and started him on the
road to wealth.

It was but natural that, after "Cavalleria rusticana" had virulently
affected the whole world with what the enemies of Signor Mascagni
called "Mascagnitis," his next opera should be looked forward to with
feverish anxiety. There was but a year to wait, for "L'Amico Fritz" was
brought forward in Rome on the last day of October, 1891. Within ten
weeks its title found a place on the programme of one of Mr. Walter
Damrosch's Sunday night concerts in New York; but the music was a
disappointment. Five numbers were sung by Mme. Tavary and Signor
Campanini, and Mr. Damrosch, not having the orchestral parts, played
the accompaniments upon a pianoforte. As usual, Mr. Gustav Hinrichs was
to the fore with a performance in Philadelphia (on June 8, 1892), the
principal singers being Mme. Koert-Kronold, Clara Poole, M. Guille, and
Signor Del Puente. On January 31, 1893, the Philadelphia singers, aided
by the New York Symphony Society, gave a performance of the opera,
under the auspices of the Young Men's Hebrew Association, for the
benefit of its charities, at the Carnegie Music Hall, New York. Mr.
Walter Damrosch was to have conducted, but was detained in Washington
by the funeral of Mr. Blaine, and Mr. Hinrichs took his place. Another
year elapsed, and then, on January 10, 1894, the opera reached the
Metropolitan Opera House. In spite of the fact that Madame Calve sang
the part of Suzel, only two performances were given to the work.

The failure of this opera did not dampen the industry of Mascagni nor
the zeal of his enterprising publishers. For his next opera the
composer went again to the French authors, Erckmann-Chatrian, who had
supplied him with the story of "L'Amico Fritz." This time he chose "Les
deux Freres," which they had themselves turned into a drama with the
title of "Rantzau." Mascagni's librettist retained the title. The opera
came out in Florence in 1892. The tremendous personal popularity of the
composer, who was now as much a favorite in Vienna and Berlin as he was
in the town of his birth which had struck a medal in his honor, or the
town of his residence which had created him an honorary citizen, could
not save the work.

Now he turned to the opera which he had laid aside to take up his
"Cavalleria," and in 1895 "Guglielmo Ratcliff," based upon the gloomy
Scotch story told by Heine, was brought forward at La Scala, in Milan.
It was in a sense the child of his penury and suffering, but he had
taken it up inspired by tremendous enthusiasm for the subject, and
inasmuch as most of its music had been written before success had
turned his head, or desire for notoriety had begun to itch him, there
was reason to hope to find in it some of the hot blood which surges
through the score of "Cavalleria." As a matter of fact, critics who
have seen the score or heard the work have pointed out that portions of
"I Rantzau" and "Cavalleria" are as alike as two peas. It would not be
a violent assumption that the composer in his eagerness to get his
score before the Sonzogno jury had plucked his early work of its best
feathers and found it difficult to restore plumage of equal brilliancy
when he attempted to make restitution. In the same year, 1895, his next
opera, "Silvano," made a fiasco in Milan. A year later there appeared
"Zanetto," which seems like an effort to contract the frame of the
lyric drama still further than is done in "Cavalleria." It is a
bozzetto, a sketch, based on Coppee's duologue "Le Passant," a scene
between a strumpet who is weary of the world and a young minstrel. Its
orchestration is unique--there are but strings and a harp. It was
brought out at Pesaro, where, in 1895, Mascagni had been appointed
director of the Liceo Musicale Rossini.

As director of the music-school in Rossini's native town Mascagni's
days were full of trouble from the outset. He was opposed, said his
friends, in reformatory efforts by some of the professors and pupils,
whose enmity grew so virulent that in 1897 they spread the story that
he had killed himself. He was deposed from his position by the
administration, but reinstated by the Minister of Fine Arts. The
criticism followed him for years that he had neglected his duties to
travel about Europe, giving concerts and conducting his operas for the
greater glory of himself and the profit of his publisher. At the time
of the suicide story it was also said that he was in financial straits;
to which his friends replied that he received a salary of 60 lire ($12)
a day as director, 1000 lire ($200) a month from Sonzogno, and lived in
a princely dwelling.

After "Zanetto" came "Iris," to which, as the one opera besides
"Cavalleria rusticana" which has remained in the American repertory, I
shall devote the next chapter in this book. "Iris" was followed by "Le
Maschere," which was brought out on January 17, 1901, simultaneously in
six cities--Rome, Milan, Venice, Genoa, Turin, and Naples. It made an
immediate failure in all of these places except Rome, where it endured
but a short time. Mascagni's next operatic work was a lyric drama,
entitled "Vistilia," the libretto of which, based upon an historical
novel by Racco de Zerbi, was written by Menasci and Targioni-Tozzetti,
who collaborated on the book of "Cavalleria rusticana." The action goes
back to the time of Tiberius and deals with the loves of Vistilia and
Helius. Then came another failure in the shape of "Amica," which lived
out its life in Monte Carlo, where it was produced in March, 1905.

In the winter of 1902-1903 Signor Mascagni was in the United States for
the purpose of conducting performances of some of his operas and giving
concerts. The company of singers and instrumentalists which his
American agents had assembled for his purpose was, with a few
exceptions, composed of the usual operatic flotsam and jetsam which can
be picked up at any time in New York. The enterprise began in failure
and ended in scandal. There had been no adequate preparation for the
operas announced, and one of them was not attempted.

This was "Ratcliff." "Cavalleria rusticana," "Zanetto," and "Iris" were
poorly performed at the Metropolitan Opera House in October, and an
attempt at Sunday night concerts was made. Signor Mascagni's countrymen
labored hard to create enthusiasm for his cause, but the general public
remained indifferent. Having failed miserably in New York, Mascagni,
heavily burdened with debt, went to Boston. There he was arrested for
breach of contract. He retaliated with a suit for damages against his
American managers. The usual amount of crimination and recrimination
followed, but eventually the difficulties were compounded and Mascagni
went back to his home a sadly disillusionized man. [Footnote: The story
of this visit is told in greater detail in my "Chapters of Opera," as
is also the story of the rivalry among American managers to be first in
the field with "Cavalleria rusticana."]

"Zanetto" was produced along with "Cavalleria rusticana" at the
Metropolitan Opera House on October 8, 1902, and "Iris" on October 16.
Signor Mascagni conducted and the parts were distributed as follows
among the singers of the company: Iris, Marie Farneti; Osaka, Pietro
Schiavazzi; Kyoto, Virgilio Bollati; Il Cieco, Francesco Navarrini; Una
Guecha, Dora de Filippe; Un Mercianola, Pasquale Blasio; Un Cencianola,
Bernardino Landino. The opera was not heard of again until the season
of 1907-1908, when, just before the end of the administration of
Heinrich Conried, it was incorporated into the repertory of the
Metropolitan Opera House apparently for the purpose of giving Mme. Emma
Eames an opportunity to vie with Miss Geraldine Farrar in Japanese
opera.



CHAPTER XI

"IRIS"


"Light is the language of the eternal ones--hear it!" proclaims the
librettist of "Iris" in that portion of his book which is neither said
nor sung nor played. And it is the sun that sings with divers voices
after the curtain has risen on a nocturnal scene, and the orchestra has
sought to depict the departure of the night, the break of day, the
revivification of the flowers and the sunrise. As Byron sang of him, so
Phoebus Apollo celebrates himself as "the god of life and poetry and
light," but does not stop there. He is also Infinite Beauty, Cause,
Reason, Poetry, and Love. The music begins with an all but inaudible
descending passage in the basses, answered by sweet concordant
harmonies. A calm song tells of the first streaks of light; woodwind
and harp add their voices; a mellifluous hymn chants the stirring
flowers, and leads into a rhythmically, more incisive, but still
sustained, orchestral song, which bears upon its surface the choral
proclamation of the sun: "I am! I am life! I am Beauty infinite!" The
flux and reflux of the instrumental surge grows in intensity, the music
begins to glow with color and pulsate with eager life, and reaches a
mighty sonority, gorged with the crash of a multitude of tamtams,
cymbals, drums, and bells, at the climacteric reiteration of "Calore!
Luce! Amor!" The piece is thrillingly effective, but as little operatic
as the tintinnabulatory chant of the cherubim in the prologue of
Boito's "Mefistofele."

And now allegory makes room for the drama. To the door of her cottage,
embowered on the banks of a quiet stream, comes Iris. The peak of
Fujiyama glows in the sunlight. Iris is fair and youthful and innocent.
A dream has disturbed her. "Gorgons and Hydras and Chimaeras dire" had
filled her garden and threatened her doll, which she had put to sleep
under a rose-bush. But the sun's rays burst forth and the monsters
flee. She lifts her doll and moves its arms in mimic salutation to the
sun. Osaka, a wealthy rake, and Kyoto, a pander, play spy on her
actions, gloat on her loveliness and plot to steal her and carry her to
the Yoshiwara. To this end they go to bring on a puppet show, that its
diversion may enable them to steal her away without discovery. Women
come down to the banks of the river and sing pretty metaphors as they
wash their basketloads of muslins. Gradually the music of samisens,
gongs, and drums approaches. Osaka and Kyoto have disguised themselves
as travelling players, gathered together some geishas and musicians,
and now set up a marionette theatre. Iris comforts her blind father,
the only object of her love, besides her doll, and promises to remain
at his side. The puppet play tells the story of a maiden who suffers
abuse from a cruel father, who threatens to sell her to a merchant.
Iris is much affected by the sorrows of the puppet. The voice of Jor,
the son of the sun, is heard--it is Osaka, singing without. The melody
is the melody of Turridu's Siciliano, but the words are a promise of a
blissful, kissful death and thereafter life everlasting. The puppet
dies and with Jor dances off into Nirvana. Now three geishas,
representing Beauty, Death, and the Vampire, begin a dance. Kyoto
distracts the attention of the spectators while the dancers flaunt
their skirts higher and wider until their folds conceal Iris, and
Osaka's hirelings seize her and bear her off toward the city. Kyoto
places a letter and money at the cottage door for the blind father.
Through a pedler and the woman he learns that his daughter is gone to
be an inmate of the Yoshiwara. He implores the people who had been
jeering him to lead him thither, that he may spit in her face and curse
her.

Iris is asleep upon a bed in the "Green House" of the district, which
needs no description. A song, accompanied by the twanging of a samisen
and the clanging of tamtams, is sung by three geishas. Kyoto brings in
Osaka to admire her beauty, and sets a high price upon it. Osaka sends
for jewels. Iris awakes and speculates in philosophical vein touching
the question of her existence. She cannot be dead, for death brings
knowledge and paradise joy; but she weeps. Osaka appears. He praises
her rapturously--her form, her hair, her eyes, her mouth, her smile.
Iris thinks him veritably Jor, but he says his name is "Pleasure." The
maiden recoils in terror. A priest had taught her in an allegory that
Pleasure and Death were one! Osaka loads her with jewels, fondles her,
draws her to his breast, kisses her passionately. Iris weeps. She knows
nothing of passion, and longs only for her father, her cottage, and her
garden. Osaka wearies of his guest, but Kyoto plans to play still
further upon his lust. He clothes her in richer robes, but more
transparent, places her upon a balcony, and, withdrawing a curtain,
exhibits her beauty to the multitude in the street. Amazed cries greet
the revelation. Osaka returns and pleads for her love.

"Iris!" It is the cry of the blind man hunting the child whom he thinks
has sold herself into disgraceful slavery. The crowd falls back before
him, while Iris rushes forward to the edge of the veranda and cries out
to him, that he may know her presence. He gathers a handful of mud from
the street and hurls it in the direction of her voice. "There! In your
face! In your forehead! In your mouth! In your eyes! Fango!" Under the
imprecations of her father the mind of Iris gives way. She rushes along
a corridor and hurls herself out of a window.

The third act is reached, and drama merges again into allegory. In the
wan light of the moon rag-pickers, men and women, are dragging their
hooks through the slimy muck that flows through the open sewer beneath
the fatal window. They sing mockingly to the moon. A flash of light
from Fujiyama awakens a glimmer in the filth. Again. They rush forward
and pull forth the body of Iris and begin to strip it of its
adornments. She moves and they fly in superstitious fear. She recovers
consciousness, and voices from invisible singers, tell her of the
selfish inspirations of Osaka, Kyoto, and her blind father; Osaka's
desire baffled by fate--such is life! Kyoto's slavery to pleasure and a
hangman's reward;--such is life! The blind man's dependence on his
child for creature comforts;--such is life! Iris bemoans her fate as
death comes gently to her. The sky grows rosy and the light brings
momentary life. She stretches out her arms to the sun and acclaims the
growing orb. As once upon Ida--

    Glad earth perceives and from her bosom pours
    Unbidden herbs and voluntary flow'rs!

A field of blossoms spreads around her, into which she sinks, while the
sun, again many-voiced and articulate, chants his glory as in the
beginning.

The story is perhaps prettier in the telling than in the performance.
What there is in its symbolism and its poetical suggestion that is
ingratiating is more effective in the fancy than in the experience.
There are fewer clogs, fewer stagnant pools, fewer eddies which whirl
to no purpose. In the modern school, with its distemper music put on in
splotches, there must be more merit and action. Psychological
delineation in music which stimulates action, or makes one forget the
want of outward movement, demands a different order of genius than that
which Signor Mascagni possesses. Mere talent for artful device will not
suffice. There are many effective bits of expressive writing in the
score of "Iris," but most of them are fugitive and aim at coloring a
word, a phrase, or at best a temporary situation. There is little flow
of natural, fervent melody. What the composer accomplished with tune,
characteristic but fluent, eloquent yet sustained, in "Cavalleria
rusticana," he tries to achieve in "Iris" with violent, disjointed,
shifting of keys and splashes of instrumental color. In this he is
seldom successful, for he is not a master of orchestral writing--that
technical facility which nearly all the young musicians have in the
same degree that all pianists have finger technic. His orchestral
stream is muddy; his effects generally crass and empty of euphony. He
throws the din of outlandish instruments of percussion, a battery of
gongs, big and little, drums, and cymbals into his score without
achieving local color. Once only does he utilize it so as to catch the
ears and stir the fancy of his listeners--in the beginning of the
second act, where there is a murmur of real Japanese melody. As a rule,
however, Signor Mascagni seems to have been careless in the matter of
local color, properly so, perhaps, for, strictly speaking, local color
in the lyric drama is for comedy with its petty limitations, not for
tragedy with its appeal to large and universal passions. Yet it is in
the lighter scenes, the scenes of comedy, like the marionette show, the
scenes of mild pathos, like the monologues of Iris, and the scenes of
mere accessory decoration, like that of the laundresses, the mousmes in
the first act, with its purling figure borrowed from "Les Huguenots"
and its unnecessarily uncanny col legno effect conveyed from
"L'Africaine" that it is most effective.



CHAPTER XII

"MADAMA BUTTERFLY"


This is the book of the generation of "Madama Butterfly": An adventure
in Japan begat Pierre Loti's "Madame Chrysantheme"; "Madame
Chrysantheme" begat John Luther Long's "Madame Butterfly," a story;
"Madame Butterfly," the story, begat "Madame Butterfly," a play by
David Belasco; "Madame Butterfly," the play, begat "Madama Butterfly,"
the opera by Giacomo Puccini. The heroine of the roving French
romanticist is therefore seen in her third incarnation in the heroine
of the opera book which L. Illica and G. Giacosa made for Puccini. But
in operatic essence she is still older, for, as Dr. Korngold, a
Viennese critic, pointed out, Selica is her grandmother and Lakme her
cousin.

Even this does not exhaust her family history; there is something like
a bar sinister in her escutcheon. Mr. Belasco's play was not so much
begotten, conceived, or born of admiration for Mr. Long's book as it
was of despair wrought by the failure of another play written by Mr.
Belasco. This play was a farce entitled "Naughty Anthony," created by
Mr. Belasco in a moment of aesthetic aberration for production at the
Herald Square Theatre, in New York, in the spring of 1900. Mr. Belasco
doesn't think so now, but at the time he had a notion that the public
would find something humorous and attractive in the spectacle of a
popular actress's leg swathed in several layers of stocking. So he made
a show of Blanche Bates. The public refused to be amused at the
farcical study in comparative anatomy, and when Mr. Belasco's friends
began to fault him for having pandered to a low taste, and he felt the
smart of failure in addition, he grew heartily ashamed of himself. His
affairs, moreover, began to take on a desperate aspect; the season
threatened to be a ruinous failure, and he had no play ready to
substitute for "Naughty Anthony." Some time before a friend had sent
him Mr. Long's book, but he had carelessly tossed it aside. In his
straits it came under his eyes again, and this time he saw a play in
it--a play and a promise of financial salvation. It was late at night
when he read the story, but he had come to a resolve by morning and in
his mind's eye had already seen his actors in Japanese dress. The drama
lay in the book snugly enough; it was only necessary to dig it out and
materialize it to the vision. That occupation is one in which Mr.
Belasco is at home. The dialogue went to his actors a few pages at a
time, and the pictures rose rapidly in his mind. Something different
from a stockinged leg now!

Glimpses of Nippon--its mountains, waters, bridges, flowers, gardens,
geishas; as a foil to their grace and color the prosaic figures of a
naval officer and an American Consul. All things tinged with the bright
light of day, the glories of sunset or the super-glories of sunrise. We
must saturate the fancy of the audience with the atmosphere of Japan,
mused Mr. Belasco. Therefore, Japanese scenes, my painter! Electrician,
your plot shall be worked out as carefully as the dialogue and action
of the play's people. "First drop discovered; house-lights down; white
foots with blue full work change of color at back of drop; white lens
on top of mountain; open light with white, straw, amber, and red on
lower part of drop; when full on lower footlights to blue," and so on.
Mr. Belasco's emotions, we know, find eloquent expression in stage
lights. But the ear must be carried off to the land of enchantment as
well as the eye. "Come, William Furst, recall your experiences on the
Western coast. For my first curtain I want a quaint, soft Japanese
melody, pp--you know how!"

And so "Madame Butterfly," the play, was made. In two weeks all was
ready, and a day after the first performance at the Herald Square
Theatre, on March 5, 1900, the city began to hum with eager comment on
the dramatic intensity of the scene of a Japanese woman's vigil, of the
enthralling eloquence of a motionless, voiceless figure, looking
steadily through a hole torn through a paper partition, with a sleeping
child and a nodding maid at her feet, while a mimic night wore on, the
lanterns on the floor flickered out one by one and the soft violins
crooned a melody to the arpeggios of a harp.

The season at the Herald Square Theatre was saved. Some time later,
when Mr. Belasco accompanied Mr. Charles Frohman to London to put on
"Zaza" at the Garrick Theatre, he took "Madame Butterfly" with him and
staged it at the Duke of York's Theatre, hard by. On the first night of
"Madame Butterfly" Mr. Frohman was at the latter playhouse, Mr. Belasco
at the former. The fall of the curtain on the little Japanese play was
followed by a scene of enthusiasm which endured so long that Mr.
Frohman had time to summon his colleague to take a curtain call. At a
stroke the pathetic play had made its fortune in London, and, as it
turned out, paved the way for a new and larger triumph for Mr. Long's
story. The musical critics of the London newspapers came to the house
and saw operatic possibilities in the drama. So did Mr. Francis
Nielson, at the time Covent Garden's stage manager, who sent word of
the discovery to Signor Puccini. The composer came from Milan, and
realized on the spot that the successor of "Tosca" had been found.
Signori Illica and Giacosa, librettists in ordinary to Ricordi & Co.,
took the work of making the opera book in hand. Signor Illica's fancy
had roamed in the Land of Flowers before; he had written the libretto
for Mascagni's "Iris." The ephemeral life of Cho-Cho-San was over in a
few months, but by that time "Madama Butterfly," glorified by music,
had lifted her wings for a new flight in Milan.

It is an old story that many operas which are recognized as
masterpieces later, fail to find appreciation or approval when they are
first produced. "Madama Butterfly" made a fiasco when brought forward
at La Scala on February 17, 1904.

[Footnote: At this premiere Campanini was the conductor and the cast
was as follows: Butterfly, Storchio; Suzuki, Giaconia; Pinkerton,
Zenatello; Sharpless, De Luca; Goro, Pini-Corsi; Bonzo, Venturini;
Yakuside, Wulmann. At the first performance in London, on July 10,
1905, at Covent Garden, the cast was: Butterfly, Destinn; Suzuki,
Lejeune; Pinkerton, Caruso; Sharpless, Scotti; Goro, Dufriche; Bonzo,
Cotreuil; Yakuside, Rossi. Conductor, Campanini. After the revision it
was produced at Brescia on May 28, 1904, with Zenatello, of the
original cast, Krusceniski as Butterfly, and Bellati as Sharpless. The
first American performances were in the English version, made by Mrs.
B. H. Elkin, by the Savage Opera Company, which came to the Garden
Theatre, New York, after a trial season in Washington, on November 12,
1906. It had a run of nearly three months before it reached the
Metropolitan Opera House, on February 11, 1907. Mr. Walter Rothwell
conducted the English performance, in which there were several changes
of casts, the original Butterfly being Elza Szamozy (a Hungarian
singer); Suzuki, Harriet Behne; Pinkerton, Joseph F. Sheehan, and
Sharpless, Winifred Goff. Arturo Vigna conducted the first Italian
performance at the Metropolitan, with Geraldine Farrar as Butterfly,
Louise Homer as Suzuki, Caruso as Pinkerton, Scotti as Sharpless, and
Albert Reiss as Goro.]

So complete was the fiasco that in his anxiety to withdraw the work
Signer Puccini is said to have offered to reimburse the management of
the theatre for the expenditures entailed by the production. Failures
of this kind are frequently inexplicable, but it is possible that the
unconventional character of the story and the insensibility of the
Italians to national musical color other than their own, had a great
deal to do with it in this case. Whatever the cause, the popular
attitude toward the opera was displayed in the manner peculiar to
Italy, the discontented majority whistling, shrilling on house keys,
grunting, roaring, bellowing, and laughing in the good old-fashioned
manner which might be set down as possessed of some virtuous merit if
reserved for obviously stupid creations.

"The Pall Mall Gazette" reported that at the time the composer told a
friend that on this fateful first night he was shut up in a small room
behind the scenes, where he could hear nothing of what was going on on
the stage or in the audience-room. On a similar occasion, nearly a
century before, when "The Barber of Seville" scored an equally
monumental failure, Rossini, in the conductor's chair, faced the mob,
shrugged his shoulders, and clapped his hands to show his contempt for
his judges, then went home and composedly to bed. Puccini, though he
could not see the discomfiture of his opera, was not permitted to
remain in ignorance of it. His son and his friends brought him the
news. His collaborator, Giacosa, rushed into the room with dishevelled
hair and staring eyes, crying: "I have suffered the passion of death!"
while Signorina Storchio burst into such a flood of tears and sobs that
it was feared she would be ill. Puccini was cut to the heart, but he
did not lose faith in the work. He had composed it in love and knew its
potentialities, His faith found justification when he produced it in
Brescia three months later and saw it start out at once on a triumphal
tour of the European theatres. His work of revision was not a large or
comprehensive one. He divided the second act into two acts, made some
condensations to relieve the long strain, wrote a few measures of
introduction for the final scene, but refused otherwise to change the
music. His fine sense of the dramatic had told him correctly when he
planned the work that there ought not to be a physical interruption of
the pathetic vigil out of which Blanche Bates in New York and Evelyn
Millard in London had made so powerful a scene, but he yielded to the
compulsion of practical considerations, trying to save respect for his
better judgment by refusing to call the final scene an act, though he
permitted the fall of the curtain; but nothing can make good the loss
entailed by the interruption. The mood of the play is admirably
preserved in the music of the intermezzo, but the mood of the listeners
is hopelessly dissipated with the fall of the curtain. When the scene
of the vigil is again disclosed, the charm and the pathos have
vanished, never to return. It is true that a rigid application of the
law of unities would seem to forbid that a vigil of an entire night
from eve till morning be compressed into a few minutes; but poetic
license also has rights, and they could have been pleaded with
convincing eloquence by music, with its marvellous capacity for
publishing the conflicting emotions of the waiting wife.



His ship having been ordered to the Asiatic station, Benjamin Franklin
Pinkerton, Lieutenant in the United States Navy, follows a custom (not
at all unusual among naval officers, if Pierre Loti is to be believed)
and for the summer sojourn in Japan leases a Japanese wife. (The word
"wife" is a euphemism for housekeeper, companion, play-fellow,
mistress, what not.) This is done in a manner involving little
ceremony, as is known to travellers and others familiar with the social
customs of Nippon, through a nakodo, a marriage broker or matrimonial
agent. M. Loti called his man Kangourou; Mr. Long gave his the name of
Goro. That, however, and the character of the simple proceeding before
a registrar is immaterial. M. Loti, who assures us that his book is
merely some pages from a veritable diary, entertains us with some
details preliminary to his launch into a singular kind of domestic
existence, which are interesting as bearing on the morals of the opera
and as indicative of the fact that he is a closer observer of Oriental
life than his American confrere. He lets us see how merchantable
"wives" are chosen, permits M. Kangourou to exhibit his wares and
expatiate on their merits. There is the daughter of a wealthy China
merchant, a young woman of great accomplishments who can write
"commercially" and has won a prize in a poetic contest with a sonnet.
She is, consequently, very dear--100 yen, say $100--but that is of no
consequence; what matters is that she has a disfiguring scar on her
cheek. She will not do. Then there is Mlle. Jasmin, a pretty girl of
fifteen years, who can be had for $18 or $20 a month (contract
cancellable at the end of any month for non-payment), a few dresses of
fashionable cut and a pleasant house to live in. Mlle. Jasmin comes to
be inspected with one old lady, two old ladies, three old ladies (mamma
and aunts), and a dozen friends and neighbors, big and little. Loti's
moral stomach revolts at the thought of buying for his uses a child who
looks like a doll, and is shocked at the public parade which has been
made of her as a commodity. He has not yet been initiated into some of
the extraordinary customs of Japan, nor yet into some of the
distinctions attendant upon those customs. He learns of one of the
latter when he suggests to the broker that he might marry a charming
geisha who had taken his fancy at a tea house. The manner in which the
suggestion was received convinced him that he might as well have
purposed to marry the devil himself as a professional dancer and
singer. Among the train of Mlle. Jasmin's friends is one less young
than Mlle. Jasmin, say about eighteen, and already more of a woman; and
when Loti says, "Why not her?" M. Kangourou trots her out for
inspection and, discreetly sending Loti away, concludes the arrangement
between night-fall and 10 o'clock, when he comes with the announcement:
"All is arranged, sir; her parents will give her up for $20 a
month--the same price as Mlle. Jasmin."

So Mlle. Chrysantheme became the wife of Pierre Loti during his stay at
Nagasaki, and then dutifully went home to her mother without breaking
her heart at all. But she was not a geisha, only a mousme--"one of the
prettiest words in the Nipponese language," comments M. Loti, "it seems
almost as if there must be a little moue in the very sound, as if a
pretty, taking little pout, such as they put on, and also a little pert
physiognomy, were described by it."

Lieutenant Pinkerton, equally ignorant with Lieutenant Loti but
uninstructed evidently, marries a geisha whose father had made the
happy dispatch at the request of the Son of Heaven after making a
blunder in his military command. She is Cio-Cio-San, also Madama
Butterfly, and she comes to her wedding with a bevy of geishas or
mousmes (I do not know which) and a retinue of relations. All enjoy the
hospitality of the American officer while picking him to pieces, but
turn from their kinswoman when they learn from an uncle, who is a
Buddhist priest and comes late to the wedding like the wicked fairy in
the stories, that she has attended the Mission school and changed her
religion. Wherefore the bonze curses her: "Hou, hou! Cio-Cio-San, hou,
hou!"

Sharpless, United States Consul at Nagasaki, had not approved of
Pinkerton's adventure, fearing that it might bring unhappiness to the
little woman; but Pinkerton had laughed at his scruples and emptied his
glass to the marriage with an American wife which he hoped to make some
day. Neither Loti nor Long troubles us with the details of so prosaic a
thing as the marriage ceremony; but Puccini and his librettists make
much of it, for it provides the only opportunity for a chorus and the
musician had found delightfully mellifluous Japanese gongs to add a
pretty touch of local color to the music. Cio-Cio-San has been
"outcasted" and Pinkerton comforts her and they make love in the
starlight (after Butterfly has changed her habiliments) like any pair
of lovers in Italy. "Dolce notte! Quante stelle! Vieni, vieni!" for
quantity.

This is the first act of the opera, and it is all expository to
Belasco's "Tragedy of Japan," which plays in one act, with the pathetic
vigil separating the two days which form its period of action. When
that, like the second act of the opera, opens, Pinkerton has been gone
from Nagasaki and his "wife" three years, and a baby boy of whom he has
never heard, but who has his eyes and hair has come to bear Butterfly
company in the little house on the hill. The money left by the male
butterfly when he flitted is all but exhausted. Madama Butterfly
appears to be lamentably ignorant of the customs of her country, for
she believes herself to be a wife in the American sense and is
fearfully wroth with Suzuki, her maid, when she hints that she never
knew a foreign husband to come back to a Japanese wife. But Pinkerton
when he sailed away had said that he would be back "when the robins
nest again," and that suffices Cio-Cio-San. But when Sharpless comes
with a letter to break the news that his friend is coming back with an
American wife, he loses courage to perform his mission at the
contemplation of the little woman's faith in the truant. Does he know
when the robins nest in America? In Japan they had nested three times
since Pinkerton went away. The consul quails at that and damns his
friend as a scoundrel. Now Goro, who knows Butterfly's pecuniary
plight, brings Yamadori to her. Yamadori is a wealthy Japanese citizen
of New York in the book and play and a prince in the opera, but in all
he is smitten with Butterfly's beauty and wants to add her name to the
list of wives he has conveniently married and as conveniently divorced
on his visits to his native land. Butterfly insists that she is an
American and cannot be divorced Japanese fashion, and is amazed when
Sharpless hints that Pinkerton might have forgotten her and she would
better accept Yamadori's hand.

First she orders him out of the house, but, repenting her of her
rudeness, brings in the child to show him something that no one is
likely to forget. She asks the consul to write to his friend and tell
him that he has a son, so fine a son, indeed, that she indulges in a
day dream of the Mikado stopping at the head of his troops to admire
him and make him a prince of the realm. Sharpless goes away with his
mission unfulfilled and Suzuki comes in dragging Goro with her, for
that he had been spreading scandalous tales about the treatment which
children born like this child receive in America. Butterfly is tempted
to kill the wretch, but at the last is content to spurn him with her
foot.

At this moment a cannon shot is heard. A man-of-war is entering the
harbor. Quick, the glasses! "Steady my hand, Suzuki, that I may read
the name." It is the Abraham Lincoln, Pinkerton's ship! Now the cherry
tree must give up its every blossom, every bush or vine its violets and
jessamines to garnish the room for his welcome! The garden is stripped
bare, vases are filled, the floor is strewn with petals. Perfumes
exhale from the voices of the women and the song of the orchestra. Here
local color loses its right; the music is all Occidental. Butterfly is
dressed again in her wedding gown of white and her pale cheeks are
touched up with carmine. The paper partitions are drawn against the
night. Butterfly punctures the shoji with three holes--one high up for
herself to look through, standing; one lower for the maid to look
through, sitting; one near the floor for the baby. And so Butterfly
stands in an all-night vigil. The lanterns flicker and go out. Maid and
babe sink down in sleep. The gray dawn creeps over the waters of the
harbor. Human voices, transformed into instruments, hum a barcarolle.
(We heard it when Sharpless tried to read the letter.) A Japanese tune
rises like a sailors' chanty from the band. Mariners chant their "Yo
ho!" Day is come. Suzuki awakes and begs her mistress to seek rest.
Butterfly puts the baby to bed, singing a lullaby. Sharpless and
Pinkerton come and learn of the vigil from Suzuki, who sees the form of
a lady in the garden and hears that it is the American wife of
Pinkerton. Pinkerton pours out his remorse melodiously. He will be
haunted forever by the picture of his once happy home and Cio-Cio-San's
reproachful eyes. He leaves money for Butterfly in the consul's hands
and runs away like a coward. Kate, the American wife, and Suzuki meet
in the garden. The maid is asked to tell her mistress the meaning of
the visit, but before she can do so Butterfly sees them. Her questions
bring out half the truth; her intuition tells her the rest. Kate (an
awful blot she is on the dramatic picture) begs forgiveness and asks
for the baby boy that her husband may rear him. Butterfly says he shall
have him in half an hour if he will come to fetch him. She goes to the
shrine of Buddha and takes from it a veil and a dagger, reading the
words engraved on its blade: "To die with honor when one can no longer
live with honor." It is the weapon which the Mikado had sent to her
father. She points the weapon at her throat, but at the moment Suzuki
pushes the baby into the room. Butterfly addresses it passionately;
then, telling it to play, seats it upon a stool, puts an American flag
into its hands, a bandage around its eyes. Again she takes dagger and
veil and goes behind a screen. The dagger is heard to fall. Butterfly
totters out from behind the screen with a veil wound round her neck.
She staggers to the child and falls, dying, at its feet. Pinkerton
rushes in with a cry of horror and falls on his knees, while Sharpless
gently takes up the child.



I have no desire to comment disparagingly upon the denouement of the
book of Mr. Long or the play of Mr. Belasco which Puccini and his
librettists followed; but in view of the origin of the play a bit of
comparative criticism seems to be imperative. Loti's "Madame
Chrysantheme" was turned into an opera by Andre Messager. What the
opera was like I do not know. It came, it went, and left no sign; yet
it would seem to be easy to guess at the reason for its quick
evanishment. If it followed the French story, as no doubt it did, it
was too faithful to the actualities of Japanese life to awaken a throb
of emotion in the Occidental heart. Without such a throb a drama is
naught--a sounding brass and tinkling cymbal. The charm of Loti's book
lies in its marvellously beautiful portrayal of a country, a people,
and a characteristic incident in the social life of that people. Its
interest as a story, outside of the charm of its telling, is like that
excited by inspection of an exotic curio. In his dedication of the book
the author begged Mme. la Duchesse de Richelieu not to look for any
meaning in it, but to receive it in the same spirit in which she would
receive "some quaint bit of pottery, some grotesque carved ivory idol,
or some preposterous trifle brought back from the fatherland of all
preposterousness." It is a record of a bit of the wandering life of a
poet who makes himself a part of every scene into which fortune throws
him. He has spent a summer with a Japanese mousme, whom he had married
Japanese fashion, and when he has divorced her, also in Japanese
fashion, with regard for all the conventions, and sailed away from her
forever, he is more troubled by thoughts of possible contamination to
his own nature than because of any consequences to the woman. Before
the final farewell he had felt a touch of pity for the "poor little
gypsy," but when he mounted the stairs to her room for the last time he
heard her singing, and mingled with her voice was a strange metallic
sound, dzinn, dzinn! as of coins ringing on the floor. Is she amusing
herself with quoits, or the jeu du crapaud, or pitch and toss? He
creeps in, and there, dressed for the departure to her mother's,
sitting on the floor is Chrysantheme; and spread out around her all the
fine silver dollars he had given her according to agreement the night
before. "With the competent dexterity of an old money changer she
fingers them, turns them over, throws them on the floor, and armed with
a little mallet ad hoc, rings them vigorously against her ear, singing
the while I know not what little pensive, birdlike song, which I dare
say she improvises as she goes along. Well, after all, it is even more
completely Japanese than I could possibly have imagined it--this last
scene of my married life! I feel inclined to laugh." And he commends
the little gypsy's worldly wisdom, offers to make good any counterfeit
piece which she may find, and refuses to permit her to see him go
aboard of his ship. She does, nevertheless, along with the Japanese
wives of four of his fellow officers, who peep at their flitting
husbands through the curtains of their sampans. But when he is far out
on the great Yellow Sea he throws the faded lotus flowers which she had
given him through the porthole of his cabin, making his best excuses
for "giving to them, natives of Japan, a grave so solemn and so vast";
and he utters a prayer: "O Ama-Terace-Omi-Kami, wash me clean from this
little marriage of mine in the waters of the river of Kamo!"

The story has no soul, and to give his story, which borrowed its motive
from Loti's, a soul, Mr. Long had to do violence to the verities of
Japanese life. Yet might not even a geisha feel a genuine passion?



The use of folk-tunes in opera is older than "Madama Butterfly," but
Puccini's score stands alone in the extent of the use and the
consistency with which Japanese melody has been made the foundation of
the music. When Signor Illica, one of the librettists, followed Sar
Peladan and d'Annunzio into Nippon seeking flowers for "Iris," he took
Mascagni with him--metaphorically, of course. But Mascagni was a timid
gleaner. Puccini plucked with a bolder hand, as indeed he might, for he
is an incomparably greater adept in the art of making musical nosegays.
In fact, I know of only one score that is comparable with that of
"Madama Butterfly" in respect of its use of national musical color, and
that is "Boris Godounoff." Moussorgsky, however, had more, richer, and
a greater variety of material to work with than Puccini. Japanese music
is arid and angular, and yet so great is Puccini's skill in combining
creative imagination and reflection that he knew how to make it blossom
like a rose. Pity that he could not wholly overcome its rhythmical
monotony. Japanese melody runs almost uninterruptedly through his
instrumental score, giving way at intervals to the Italian style of
lyricism when the characters and passions become universal rather than
local types. Structurally, his score rests on the Wagnerian method, in
that the vocal part floats on an uninterrupted instrumental current. In
the orchestral part the tunes which he borrowed from the popular music
of Japan are continuously recurrent, and fragments of them are used as
the connecting links of the whole fabric. He uses also a few typical
themes (Leitmotive) of his own invention, and to them it might be
possible, by ingenious study of their relation to text and situation,
to attach significances in the manner of the Wagnerian handbooks; but I
do not think that such processes occupied the composer's mind to any
considerable extent, and the themes are not appreciably characteristic.
His most persistent use of a connecting link, arbitrarily chosen, is
found in the case of the first motive of the theme, which he treats
fugally in the introduction, and which appears thereafter to the end of
the chapter (a, in the list of themes printed herewith). What might be
called personal themes are the opening notes of "The Star-Spangled
Banner" for Pinkerton and the melody (d) which comes in with Yamadori,
in which the Japanese tune used by Sir Arthur Sullivan in "The Mikado"
is echoed. The former fares badly throughout the score (for which no
blame need attach to Signor Puccini), but the latter is used with
capital effect, though not always in connection with the character.

If Signor Puccini had needed the suggestion that Japanese music was
necessary for a Japanese play (which of course he did not), he might
have received it when he saw Mr. Belasco's play in London. For the
incidental music in that play Mr. William Furst provided Japanese
tunes, or tunes made over the very convenient Japanese last. Through
Mr. Belasco's courtesy I am able to present here a relic of this
original "Butterfly" music. The first melody (a) was the theme of the
curtain-music; (b) that accompanying Cho-Cho-San, when discovered at
the beginning spraying flowers, presenting an offering at the shrine
and burning incense in the house at the foot of Higashi hill; (c) the
Yamadori music; (d) the music accompanying the first production of the
sword; (e) the music of the vigil. There were also two Occidental
pieces--the melody of a little song which Pinkerton had taught
Cho-Cho-San, "I Call Her the Belle of Japan," and "Rock-a-bye, Baby."

[figure: a musical score excerpt]

[figure: a musical score excerpt]

Themes from Puccini's "Butterfly" music By permission of Ricordi & Co.

[figure: a musical score excerpt]

Meiodies from Mr. Furst's "Butterfly" music By permission of Mr. David
Belasco.



CHAPTER XIII

"DER ROSENKAVALIER"


In the beginning there was "Guntram," of which we in America heard only
fragmentary echoes in our concert-rooms. Then came "Feuersnot," which
reached us in the same way, but between which and the subject which is
to occupy me in this chapter there is a kinship through a single
instrumental number, the meaning of which no commentator has dared more
than hint at. It is the music which accompanies the episode, politely
termed a "love scene," which occurs at the climax of the earlier opera,
but is supposed to take place before the opening of the curtain in the
later. Perhaps I shall recur to them again--if I have the courage.

These were the operas of Richard Strauss which no manager deemed it
necessary or advisable to produce in New York. Now came "Salome."
Popular neurasthenia was growing. Oscar Wilde thought France might
accept a glorification of necrophilism and wrote his delectable book in
French. France would have none of it, but when it was done into German,
and Richard Strauss accentuated its sexual perversity by his hysterical
music, lo! Berlin accepted it with avidity. The theatres of the
Prussian capital were keeping pace with the pathological spirit of the
day, and were far ahead of those of Paris, where, it had long been the
habit to think, moral obliquity made its residence. If Berlin, then why
not New York? So thought Mr. Conned, saturated with German
theatricalism, and seeing no likely difference in the appeal of a
"Parsifal" which he had successfully produced, and a "Salome," he
prepared to put the works of Wagner and Strauss on the same footing at
the Metropolitan Opera House. An influence which has not yet been
clearly defined, but which did not spring from the director of the
opera nor the gentlemen who were his financial backers, silenced the
maunderings of the lust-crazed Herod and paralyzed the contortions of
the lascivious dancer to whom he was willing to give one-half his
kingdom. [Footnote: For the story of "Salome" in New York, see my
"Chapters of Opera" (Henry Holt & Co., New York), p. 343 et seq.]

Now Mr. Hammerstein came to continue the artistic education which the
owners of the Metropolitan Opera House had so strangely and
unaccountably checked. Salome lived out her mad life in a short time,
dying, not by the command of Herod, but crushed under the shield of
popular opinion. The operation, though effective, was not as swift as
it might have been had operatic conditions been different than they are
in New York, and before it was accomplished a newer phase of Strauss's
pathological art had offered itself as a nervous, excitation. It was
"Elektra," and under the guise of an ancient religious ideal, awful but
pathetic, the people were asked to find artistic delight in the
contemplation of a woman's maniacal thirst for a mother's blood. It is
not necessary to recall the history of the opera at the Manhattan Opera
House to show that the artistic sanity of New York was proof against
the new poison.

Hugo von Hoffmannsthal had aided Strauss in this brew and collaborated
with him in the next, which, it was hoped, probably because of the
difference in its concoction and ingredients, would make his rein even
more taut than it had ever been on theatrical managers and their
public. From the Greek classics he turned to the comedy of the
Beaumarchais period. Putting their heads together, the two wrote "Der
Rosenkavalier." It was perhaps shrewd on their part that they avoided
all allusion to the opera buffa of the period and called their work a
"comedy for music." It enabled them, in the presence of the ignorant,
to assume a virtue which they did not possess; but it is questionable
if that circumstance will help them any. It is only the curious critic
nowadays who takes the trouble to look at the definition, or epithet,
on a title page. It is the work which puts the hallmark on itself; not
the whim of the composer. It would have been wise, very wise indeed,
had Hoffmannsthal avoided everything which might call up a comparison
between himself and Beaumarchais. It was simply fatal to Strauss that
he tried to avoid all comparison between his treatment of an eighteenth
century comedy and Mozart's. One of his devices was to make use of the
system of musical symbols which are irrevocably associated with
Wagner's method of composition. Mozart knew nothing of this system, but
he had a better one in his Beaumarchaisian comedy, which "Der
Rosenkavalier" recalls; it was that of thematic expression for each new
turn in the dramatic situation--a system which is carried out so
brilliantly in "Le Nozze di Figaro" that there is nothing, even in "Die
Meistersinger," which can hold a candle to it. Another was to build up
the vocal part of his comedy on orchestral waltzes. Evidently it was
his notion that at the time of Maria Theresa (in whose early reign the
opera is supposed to take place) the Viennese world was given over to
the dance. It was so given over a generation later, so completely,
indeed, that at the meetings in the ridotto, for which Mozart, Haydn,
Gyrowetz, Beethoven, and others wrote music, retiring rooms had to be
provided for ladies who were as unprepared for possible accidents as
was one of those described by Pepys as figuring in a court ball in his
time; but to put scarcely anything but waltz tunes under the dialogue
of "Der Rosenkavalier" is an anachronism which is just as disturbing to
the judicious as the fact that Herr Strauss, though he starts his
half-dozen or more of waltzes most insinuatingly, never lets them run
the natural course which Lanner and the Viennese Strauss, who suggested
their tunes, would have made them do. Always, the path which sets out
so prettily becomes a byway beset with dissonant thorns and thistles
and clogged with rocks.

All of this is by way of saying that "Der Rosenkavalier" reached New
York on December 9, 1913, after having endured two years or so in
Europe, under the management of Mr. Gatti-Casazza, and was treated with
the distinction which Mr. Conried gave "Parsifal" and had planned for
"Salome." It was set apart for a performance outside the subscription,
special prices were demanded, and the novelty dressed as sumptuously
and prepared with as lavish an expenditure of money and care as if it
were a work of the very highest importance. Is it that? The question is
not answered by the fact that its music was composed by Richard
Strauss, even though one be willing to admit that Strauss is the
greatest living master of technique in musical composition, the one
concerning whose doings the greatest curiosity is felt and certainly
the one whose doings are the best advertised. "Der Rosenkavalier," in
spite of all these things, must stand on its merits--as a comedy with
music. The author of its book has invited a comparison which has
already been suggested by making it a comedy of intrigue merely and
placing its time of action in Vienna and the middle of the eighteenth
century. He has gone further; he has invoked the spirit of Beaumarchais
to animate his people and his incidents. The one thing which he could
not do, or did not do, was to supply the satirical scourge which
justified the Figaro comedies of his great French prototype and which,
while it made their acceptance tardy, because of royal and courtly
opposition, made their popular triumph the more emphatic. "Le Nozze di
Figaro" gave us more than one figure and more than one scene in the
representation, and "Le Nozze di Figaro" is to those who understand its
text one of the most questionable operas on the current list. But there
is a moral purpose underlying the comedy which to some extent justifies
its frank salaciousness. It is to prevent the Count from exercising an
ancient seigniorial right over the heroine which he had voluntarily
resigned, that all the characters in the play unite in the intrigue
which makes up the comedy. Moreover, there are glimpses over and over
again of honest and virtuous love between the characters and beautiful
expressions of it in the music which makes the play delightful, despite
its salaciousness. Even Cherubino who seems to have come to life again
in Octavian, is a lovable youth if for no othe reason than that he
represents youth in its amorousness toward all womankind, with thought
of special mischief toward none.

"Der Rosenkavalier" is a comedy of lubricity merely, with what little
satirical scourge it has applied only to an old roue who is no more
deserving of it than most of the other people in the play. So much of
its story as will bear telling can be told very briefly. It begins,
assuming its instrumental introduction (played with the scene
discreetly hidden) to be a part of it, with a young nobleman locked in
the embraces of the middle-aged wife of a field marshal, who is
conveniently absent on a hunting expedition. The music is of a
passionate order, and the composer, seeking a little the odor of
virtue, but with an oracular wink in his eye, says in a descriptive
note that it is to be played in the spirit of parody (parodistisch).
Unfortunately the audience cannot see the printed direction, and there
is no parody in music except extravagance and ineptitude in the
utterance of simple things (like the faulty notes of the horns in
Mozart's joke on the village musicians, the cadenza for violin solo in
the same musical joke, or the twangling of Beckmesser's lute); so the
introduction is an honest musical description of things which the
composer is not willing to confess, and least of all the stage manager,
for when the curtain opens there is not presented even the picture
called for by the German libretto. Nevertheless, morn is dawning, birds
are twittering, and the young lover, kneeling before his mistress on a
divan, is bemoaning the fact that day is come and that he cannot
publish his happiness to the world. The tete-a-tete is interrupted by a
rude boor of a nobleman, who come to consult his cousin (the princess)
about a messenger to send with the conventional offering of a silver
rose to the daughter of a vulgar plebeian just elevated to the nobility
because of his wealth. The conversation between the two touches on
little more than old amours, and after the lady has held her levee
designed to introduce a variety of comedy effects in music as well as
action, the princess recommends her lover for the office of rosebearer.
Meanwhile the lover has donned the garments of a waiting maid and been
overwhelmed with the wicked attentions of the roue, Lerchenau. When the
lovers are again alone there is a confession of renunciation on the
part of the princess, based on the philosophical reflection that, after
all, her Octavian being so young would bring about the inevitable
parting sooner or later.

In the second act what the princess in her prescient abnegation had
foreseen takes place. Her lover carries the rose to the young woman
whom the roue had picked out for his bride and promptly falls in love
with her. She with equal promptness, following the example of Wagner's
heroines, bowls herself at his head. The noble vulgarian complicates
matters by insisting that he receive a dowry instead of paying one. The
young hot-blood adds to the difficulties by pinking him in the arm with
his sword, but restores order at the last by sending him a letter of
assignation in his first act guise of a maid servant of the princess.

This assignation is the background of the third act, which is farce of
the wildest and most vulgar order. Much of it is too silly for
description. Always, however, there is allusion to the purpose of the
meeting on the part of Lerchenau, whose plans are spoiled by
apparitions in all parts of the room, the entrance of the police, his
presumptive bride and her father, a woman who claims him as her
husband, four children who raise bedlam (and memories of the
contentious Jews in "Salome"); by shouting "Papa! papa!" until his mind
is in a whirl and he rushes out in despair. The princess leaves the
new-found lovers alone.

They hymn their happiness in Mozartian strains (the melody copied from
the second part of the music with which Papageno sets the blackamoors
to dancing in "Die Zauberflote"), the orchestra talks of the matronly
renunciation of the princess, enthusiastic Straussians of a musical
parallel with the quintet from Wagner's "Meistersinger," and the opera
comes to an end after three and one-half hours of more or less
unintelligible dialogue poised on waltz melodies.

I have said unintelligible dialogue. For this unintelligibility there
are two reasons-the chief one musical, the other literary. Though
Strauss treats his voices with more consideration in "Der
Rosenkavalier" than in his tragedies, he still so overburdens them that
the words are distinguishable only at intervals. Only too frequently he
crushes them with orchestral voices, which in themselves are not
overwhelming--the voices of his horns, for instance, for which he shows
a particular partiality. His style of declamation is melodic, though it
is only at the end of the opera that he rises to real vocal melody; but
it seems to be put over an orchestral part, and not the orchestral part
put under it. There is no moment in which he can say, as Wagner
truthfully and admiringly said of the wonderful orchestral music of the
third act of "Tristan und Isolde," that all this swelling instrumental
song existed only for the sake of what the dying Tristan was saying
upon his couch. All of Strauss's waltzes seem to exist for their own
sake, which makes the disappointment greater that they are not carried
through in the spirit in which they are begun; that is, the spirit of
the naive Viennese dance tune.

A second reason for the too frequent unintelligibility of the text is
its archaic character. Its idioms are eighteenth century as well as
Viennese, and its persistent use of the third person even among
individuals of quality, though it gives a tang to the libretto when
read in the study, is not welcome when heard with difficulty. Besides
this, there is use of dialect--vulgar when assumed by Octavian, mixed
when called for by such characters as Valzacchi and his partner in
scandal mongery, Annina. To be compelled to forego a knowledge of half
of what such a master of diction as Mr. Reiss was saying was a new
sensation to his admirers who understand German. Yet the fault was as
little his as it was Mr. Goritz's that so much of what he said went for
nothing; it was all his misfortune, including the fact that much of the
music is not adapted to his voice.

The music offers a pleasanter topic than the action and dialogue. It is
a relief to those listeners who go to the opera oppressed with memories
of "Salome" and "Elektra." It is not only that their ears are not so
often assaulted by rude sounds, they are frequently moved by phrases of
great and genuine beauty. Unfortunately the Straussian system of
composition demands that beauty be looked for in fragments. Continuity
of melodic flow is impossible to Strauss--a confession of his inability
either to continue Wagner's method, to improve on it, or invent
anything new in its place. The best that has been done in the Wagnerian
line belongs to Humperdinck.

[Footnote: "Der Rosenkavalier" had its first American production at the
Metropolitan Opera House, New York, on December 9, 1913, the cast being
as follows:--

  Feldmarschallin Furstin Werdenberg............ Frieda Hempel
  Baron Ochs auf Lerchenau...................... Otto Goritz
  Octavian, genannt Quinquin.................... Margarete Ober
  Herr von Faninal.............................. Hermann Weil
  Sophie, seine Tochter......................... Anna Case
  Jungfer Marianne Leitmetzerin................. Rita Fornia
  Valzacchi, ein Intrigant...................... Albert Reiss
  Annina, seine Begleiterin..................... Marie Mattfeld
  Ein Polizeikommissar.......................... Carl Schlegel
  Haushofmeister der Feldmarschalh'n............ Pietro Audisio
  Haushofmeister bei Faninal.................... Lambert Murphy
  Ein Notar..................................... Basil Ruysdael
  Ein Wirt...................................... Julius Bayer
  Ein Sanger.................................... Carl Jorn
  Drei adelige Waisen........................... Louise Cox
                                                 Rosina Van Dyck
                                                 Sophie Braslau
  Eine Modistin................................. Jeanne Maubourg
  Ein Lakai..................................... Ludwig Burgstaller
  Ein kleiner Neger............................. Ruth Weinstein

  Conductor--Alfred Hertz]



CHAPTER XIV

"Konigskinder"


Once upon a time a witch cast a spell upon a king's daughter and held
her in servitude as a gooseherd. A prince found her in the forest and
loved her. She loved him in return, and would gladly have gone away
from her sordid surroundings with him, though she had spurned the crown
which he had offered her in exchange for her wreath of flowers; but
when she escaped from her jailer she found that she could not break the
charm which held her imprisoned in the forest. Then the prince left the
crown lying at her feet and continued his wanderings. Scarcely had he
gone when there came to the hut of the witch a broommaker and a
woodchopper, guided by a wandering minstrel. They were ambassadors from
the city of Hellabrunn, which had been so long without a king that its
boorish burghers themselves felt the need of a ruler in spite of their
boorishness. To the wise woman the ambassadors put the questions: Who
shall be this ruler and by what sign shall they recognize him? The
witch tells them that their sovereign shall be the first person who
enters their gates after the bells have rung the noon hour on the
morrow, which is the day of the Hella festival. Then the minstrel
catches sight of the lovely goose-girl, and through the prophetic gift
possessed by poets he recognizes in her a rightly born princess for his
people. By the power of his art he is enabled to put aside the
threatening spells of the witch and compel the hag to deliver the
maiden into his care. He persuades her to break the enchantment which
had held her bound hitherto and defy the wicked power.

Meanwhile, however, grievous misfortunes have befallen the prince, her
lover. He has gone to Hellabrunn, and desiring to learn to serve in
order that he might better know how to rule, he had taken service as a
swineherd. The daughter of the innkeeper becomes enamoured of the
shapely body of the prince, whose proud spirit she cannot understand,
and who has repulsed her advances. His thoughts go back to the
goosegirl whose wreath, with its fresh fragrance, reminds him of his
duty. He attempts to teach the burghers their own worth, but the wench
whose love he had repulsed accuses him of theffy and he is about to be
led off to prison when the bells peal forth the festal hour.

Joyfully the watchmen throw open the strong town gates and the
multitude and gathered councillors fall back to receive their king. But
through the doors enters the gooseherd, proudly wearing her crown and
followed by her flock and the minstrel The lovers fall into each
other's arms, but only the poet and a little child recognize them as of
royal blood. The boorish citizens, who had fancied that their king
would appear in regal splendor, drive the youth and maiden out with
contumely, burn the witch and cripple the minstrel by breaking one of
his legs on the wheel. Seeking his home, the prince and his love lose
their way in the forest during a snowstorm and die of a poisoned loaf
made by the witch, for which the prince had bartered his broken crown,
under the same tree which had sheltered them on their first meeting;
but the children of Hellabrunn, who had come out in search of them,
guided by a bird, find their bodies buried under the snow and give them
royal acclaim and burial. And the prescient minstrel hymns their
virtues.

This is the story of Engelbert Humperdinck's opera "Konigskinder,"
which had its first performance on any stage at the Metropolitan Opera
House, New York, on December 28,1910, with the following cast:

  Der Konigssohn......................Herman Jadlowker
  Die Gansemagd.......................Geraldine Farrar
  Der Spielmann........................... Otto Goritz
  Die Hexe................................Louise Homer
  Der Holzhacker.......................... Adamo Didur
  Der Besenbinder........................ Albert Reiss
  Zwei Kinder..............Edna Walter and Lotte Engel
  Der Ratsalteste....................... Marcel Reiner
  Der Wirt..........................Antonio Pini-Corsi
  Die Wirtstochter................... Florence Wickham
  Der Schneider.......................... Julius Bayer
  Die Stallmagd.........................Marie Mattfeld
  Zwei Torwachter..... Ernst Maran and William Hinshaw

  Conductor: Alfred Hertz


To some in the audience the drama was new only in the new operatic
dress with which Humperdinck had clothed it largely at the instance of
the Metropolitan management. It had been known as a spoken play for
twelve years and three of its musical numbers--the overture and two
pieces of between-acts music--had been in local concert-lists for the
same length of time. The play had been presented with incidental music
for many of the scenes as well as the overture and entr'actes in 1898
in an extremely interesting production at the Irving Place Theatre,
then under the direction of Heinrich Conried, in which Agnes Sorma and
Rudolf Christians had carried the principal parts. It came back four
years later in an English version at the Herald Square Theatre, but
neither in the German nor the English performance was it vouchsafed us
to realize what had been the purpose of the author of the play and the
composer of the music.

The author, who calls herself Ernst Rosmer, is a woman, daughter of
Heinrich Forges, for many years a factotum at the Bayreuth festivals.
It was her father's devotion to Wagner which gave her the name of Elsa.
She married a lawyer and litterateur in Munich named Bernstein, and has
written a number of plays besides "Konigskinder," which she published
in 1895, and afterward asked Herr Humperdinck (not yet a royal Prussian
professor, but a simple musician, who had made essays in criticisms and
tried to make a composer out of Siegfried Wagner) to provide with
incidental music. Mr. Humperdinck took his task seriously. The play,
with some incidental music, was two years old before Mr. Humperdinck
had his overture ready. He had tried a new experiment, which proved a
failure. The second and third acts had their preludes, and the songs of
the minstrel had their melodies and accompaniments, and all the
principal scenes had been provided with illustrative music in the
Wagnerian manner, with this difference, that the dialogue had been
"pointed," as a church musician would say--that is, the rhythm was
indicated with exactness, and even the variations of pitch, though it
was understood that the purpose was not to achieve song, but an
intensified utterance, halfway between speech and song. This was
melodrama, as Herr Humperdinck conceived it and as it had no doubt
existed for ages--ever since the primitive Greek drama, in fact. It is
easy to understand how Herr Humperdinck came to believe in the
possibility of an art-form which, though accepted, for temporary
effect, by Beethoven and Cherubini, and used for ballads with greater
or less success by Schumann, had been harshly rejected by his great
model and master, Wagner. Humperdinck lives in Germany, where in nearly
every theatre there is more or less of an amalgamation of the spoken
drama and the opera--where choristers play small parts and actors,
though not professional singers, sing when not too much is required of
them. And yet Herr Humperdinck found out that he had asked too much of
his actors with his "pointed" and at times intoned declamation, and
"Konigskinder" did not have to come to America to learn that the
compromise was a failure. No doubt Herr Humperdinck thought of turning
so beautiful a play into an opera then, but it seems to have required
the stimulus which finally came from New York to persuade him to carry
out the operatic idea, which is more than suggested in the score as it
lies before me in its original shape, into a thorough lyric drama. The
set pieces which had lived in the interim in the concert-room were
transferred into the opera-score with trifling alterations and
condensations and so were the set songs. As for the rest it needed only
that note-heads be supplied to some of the portions of the dialogue
which Humperdinck had designed for melodic declamation to have those
portions ready for the opera. Here an example:--

[figure: a musical score excerpt]

A German opera can generally stand severer criticism than one in
another language, because there is a more strict application of
principles in Germany when it comes to writing a lyric drama than in
any other country. So in the present instance there is no need to
conceal the fact that there are outbreaks of eroticism and offences
against the German language which are none the less flagrant and
censurable because they are, to some extent, concealed under the thin
veneer of the allegory and symbolism which every reader must have
recognized as running through the play. This is, in a manner,
Wagnerian, as so much of the music is Wagnerian--especially that of the
second act, which because it calls up scenes from the "Meistersinger"
must also necessarily call up music from the same comedy. But there is
little cause here for quarrel with Professor Humperdinck. He has
applied the poetical principle of Wagner to the fairy tale which is so
closely related to the myth, and he has with equal consistency applied
Wagner's constructive methods musically and dramatically. It is to his
great honor that, of all of Wagner's successors, he has been the only
one to do so successfully.

The story of "Konigskinder," though it belongs to the class of fairy
tales of which "Hansel und Gretel" is so striking and beautiful an
example, is not to be found as the author presents it in the literature
of German Marchen. Mme. Bernstein has drawn its elements from many
sources and blended them with the utmost freedom. To avoid a
misunderstanding Germans will insist that the title be used without the
article, for "Die Konigskinder" or "Zwei Konigskinder" both suggest the
simple German form of the old tale of Hero and Leander, with which
story, of course, it has nothing whatever to do. But if literary
criticism forbids association between Humperdinck's two operas, musical
criticism compels it. Many of the characters in the operas are close
relations, dramatically as well as musically--the royal children
themselves, the witches, of course, and the broom-makers. The rest of
the characters have been taken from Wagner's "Meistersinger" picture
book; the citizens of Hellabrunn are Nuremberg's burghers, the city's'
councillors, the old master singers. The musical idiom is
Humperdinck's, though its method of employment is Wagner's. But here
lies its charm: Though the composer hews to a theoretical line, he does
it freely, naturally, easily, and always with the principle of musical
beauty as well as that of dramatic truthfulness and propriety in view.
His people's voices float on a symphonic stream, but the voices of the
instruments, while they sing on in endless melody, use the idiom which
nature gave them. There is admirable characterization in the orchestral
music, but it is music for all that; it never descends to mere noise,
designed to keep up an irritation of the nerves.



CHAPTER XV

"BORIS GODOUNOFF"


From whatever point of view it may be considered Mossourgsky's opera
"Boris Godounoff" is an extraordinary work. It was brought to the
notice of the people of the United States by a first performance at the
Metropolitan Opera House, in New York, on March 19, 1913, but
intelligence concerning its character had come to observers of musical
doings abroad by reports touching performances in Paris and London. It
is possible, even likely, that at all the performances of the work
outside of Russia those who listened to it with the least amount of
intellectual sophistication derived the greatest pleasure from it,
though to them its artistic deficiencies must also have been most
obvious. Against these deficiencies, however, it presented itself,
first of all, as a historical play shot through and through with a
large theme, which, since it belongs to tragedy, is universal and
unhampered by time or place or people. To them it had something of the
sweep, dignity, and solemnity and also something of the dramatic
incongruity and lack of cohesion of a Shakespearian drama as
contradistinguished from the coherence of purpose and manner of a
modern drama.

To them also it had much strangeness of style, a style which was not
easily reconciled to anything with which the modern stage had made them
familiar. They saw and heard the chorus enter into the action, not for
the purpose of spectacular pageantry, nor as hymners of the
achievements of the principal actors in the story, but as participants.
They heard unwonted accents from these actors and saw them behave in
conduct which from moment to moment appeared strangely contradictory.
There were mutterings of popular discontent, which, under threats, gave
way to jubilant acclamation in the first great scenes in the beginning
of the opera. There were alternate mockeries and adulations in the next
scene in which the people figured; and running through other scenes
from invisible singers came ecclesiastical chants, against which were
projected, not operatic song in the old conception, but long passages
of heightened speech, half declamatory, half musical. A multitude
cringed before upraised knouts and fell on its knees before the
approach of a man whose agents swung the knotted cords; anon they
acclaimed the man who sought to usurp a throne and overwhelmed with
ridicule a village imbecile, who was yet supposed because of his mental
weakness to be possessed of miraculous prescience, and therefore to
have a prevision of what was to follow the usurpation. They saw the
incidents of the drama moving past their eyes within a framework of
barbaric splendor typical of a wonderful political past, an amazing
political present, and possibly prophetic of a still more amazing
political future.

These happily ingenuous spectators saw an historical personage racked
by conscience, nerve-torn by spectres, obsessed by superstitions,
strong in position achieved, yet pathetically sweet and moving in his
exhibition of paternal love, and going to destruction through remorse
for crime committed. They were troubled by no curious questionings as
to the accuracy of the historical representation. The Boris Godounoff
before them was a remorse-stricken regicide, whose good works, if he
did any, had to be summed up for their imagination in the fact that he
loved his son. In all this, and also in some of its music, the new
opera was of the opera operatic. But to the unhappily disingenuous (or
perhaps it would be better to say, to the instructed) there was much
more in the new opera; and it was this more which so often gave
judgment pause, even while it stimulated interest and irritated
curiosity. It was a pity that a recent extraordinary outburst of
enthusiasm about a composer and an opera should have had the effect of
distorting their vision and disturbing their judgment.

There was a reason to be suspicious touching this enthusiasm, because
of its origin. It came from France and not from the home land of the
author of the play or the composer of the music. Moreover, it was
largely based upon an element which has as little genuineness in France
as a basis of judgment (and which must therefore be set down largely as
an affectation) as in America. Loud hallelujahs have been raised in
praise of Moussorgsky because, discarding conventional law, he
vitalized the music of the lyric poem and also the dramatic line, by
making it the emotional flowering of the spoken word. When it became
necessary for the precious inner brotherhood of Frenchmen who hold
burning incense sticks under each others' noses to acclaim "Pelleas et
Melisande" as a new and beautiful thing in dramatic music, it was
announced that Moussorgsky was like Debussy in that he had demonstrated
in his songs and his operas that vocal melody should and could be
written in accordance with the rhythm and accents of the words. We had
supposed that we had learned that lesson not only from Gluck and
Wagner, but from every true musical dramatist that ever lived! And when
the Frenchmen (and their feeble echoers in England and America) began
to cry out that the world make obeisance to Moussorgsky on that score,
there was no wonder that those whose eagerness to enjoy led them to
absorb too much information should ask how this marvellous psychical
assonance between word and tone was to be conveyed to their unfortunate
sense and feeling after the original Russian word had been
transmogrified into French or English. In New York the opera, which we
know to be saturated in some respects with Muscovitism, or Slavicism,
and which we have every reason to believe is also so saturated in its
musico-verbal essence, was sung in Italian. With the change some of the
character that ought to make it dear to the Russian heart must have
evaporated. It is even likely that vigorous English would have been a
better vehicle than the "soft, bastard Latin" for the forceful
utterances of the operatic people.

It is a pity that a suspicion of disingenuousness and affectation
should force itself upon one's thoughts in connection with the French
enthusiasm over Moussorgsky; but it cannot be avoided. So far as
Moussorgsky reflects anything in his art, it is realism or naturalism,
and the latter element is not dominant in French music now, and is not
likely to be so long as the present tendency toward sublimated
subjectivism prevails. Debussy acclaimed Moussorgsky enthusiastically a
dozen years ago, but for all that Moussorgsky and Debussy are antipodes
in art--they represent extremes.

It is much more likely that outside of its purely literary aspect (a
large aspect in every respect in. France) the Moussorgsky cult of the
last few years was a mere outgrowth of the political affiliation
between France and Russia; as such it may be looked upon in the same
light as the sudden appreciation of Berlioz which was a product of the
Chauvinism which followed the Franco-Prussian War. It is easy even for
young people of the day in which I write to remember when a Wagner
opera at the Academie Nationale raised a riot, and when the dances at
the Moulin Rouge and such places could not begin until the band had
played the Russian national hymn.

Were it not for considerations of this sort it would be surprising to
contemplate the fact that Moussorgsky has been more written and talked
about in France than he was in his native Russia, and that even his
friend Rimsky-Korsakoff, to whose revision of the score "Boris
Godounoff" owes its continued existence, has been subjected to much
rude criticism because of his work, though we can only think of it as
taken up in a spirit of affection and admiration. He and the Russians,
with scarcely an exception, say that his labors were in the line of
purification and rectification; but the modern extremists will have it
that by remedying its crudities of harmonization and instrumentation he
weakened it--that what he thought its artistic blemishes were its
virtues. Of that we are in no position to speak, nor ought any one be
rash enough to make the proclamation until the original score is
published, and then only a Russian or a musician familiar with the
Russian tongue and its genius. The production of the opera outside of
Russia and in a foreign language ought to furnish an occasion to demand
a stay of the artistic cant which is all too common just now in every
country.

We are told that "Boris Godounoff" is the first real Russian opera that
America has ever heard. In a sense that may be true. The present
generation has heard little operatic music by Russian composers.
Rubinstein's "Nero" was not Russian music in any respect. "Pique Dame,"
by Tschaikowsky, also performed at the Metropolitan Opera House, had
little in it that could be recognized as characteristically Russian.
"Eugene Onegin" we know only from concert performances, and its
Muscovitism was a negligible quantity. The excerpts from other Russian
operas have been few and they demonstrated nothing, though in an
intermezzo from Tschaikowsky's "Mazeppa," descriptive of the battle of
Poltava, which has been heard here, we met with the strong choral tune
which gives great animation to the most stirring scene in "Boris"--the
acclamation of the Czar by the populace in the first act. Of this
something more presently. There were American representations, however,
of a Russian opera which in its day was more popular than "Boris" has
ever been; but that was so long ago that all memories of it have died,
and even the records are difficult to reach. Some fifty years ago a
Russian company came to these shores and performed Verstoffsky's
"Askold's Tomb," an opera which was republished as late as 1897 and
which within the first twenty-five years of its existence had 400
performances in Moscow and 200 in St. Petersburg. Some venturesome
critics have hailed Verstoffsky as even more distinctively a
predecessor of Moussorgsky than Glinka; but the clamor of those who are
preaching loudly that art must not exist for art's sake, and that the
ugly is justified by the beauty of ugliness, has silenced the voices of
these critical historians.

This may thus far have seemed a long and discursive disquisition on the
significance of the new opera; but the questions to which the
production of "Boris Godounoff" give rise are many and grave,
especially in the present state of our operatic activities. They have a
strong bearing on the problem of nationalism in opera, of which those
in charge of our operatic affairs appear to take a careless view. Aside
from all aesthetic questions, "Boris Godounoff" bears heavily on that
problem. It is a work crude and fragmentary in structure, but it is
tremendously puissant in its preachment of nationalism; and it is
strong there not so much because of its story and the splendid
barbarism of its external integument as because of its nationalism,
which is proclaimed in the use of Russian folk-song. All previous
experiments in this line become insignificant in comparison with it,
and it is questionable if any other body of folk-song offers such an
opportunity to the operatic composer as does the Russian. The hero of
the opera is in dramatic stature (or at least in emotional content) a
Macbeth or a Richard III; his utterances are frequently poignant and
heart searching in the extreme; his dramatic portrayal by M. Chaliapine
in Europe and Mr. Didur in America is so gripping as to call up
memories of some of the great English tragedians of the past. But we
cannot speak of the psychology of the musical setting of his words
because we have been warned that it roots deeply in the accents and
inflections of a language with which we are unfamiliar and which was
not used in the performance. But the music of the choral masses, the
songs sung in the intimacy of the Czar Boris's household, the chants of
the monks, needed not to be strange to any student of folk-song, nor
could their puissance be lost upon the musically unlettered. In the old
Kolyada Song "Slava" [Footnote: Lovers of chamber music know this
melody from its use in the allegretto in Beethoven's E minor Quartet
dedicated to Count Rasoumowski, where it appears thus:--] with which
Boris is greeted by the populace, as well as in the wild shoutings of
the Polish vagrom men and women in the scene before the last, it is
impossible not to hear an out-pouring of that spirit of which Tolstoi
wrote: "In it is yearning without end, without hope; also power
invincible, the fateful stamp of destiny, iron preordination, one of
the fundamental principles of our nationality with which it is possible
to explain much that in Russian life seems incomprehensible."

No other people have such a treasure of folk-song to draw on as that
thus characterized, and it is not likely that any other people will
develop a national school of opera on the lines which lie open to the
Russian composer, and which the Russian composer has been encouraged to
exploit by his government for the last twenty years or more.

It is possible that some critics, actuated by political rather than
artistic considerations, will find reasons

[figure: a musical score excerpt]

for the present condition of Moussorgsky's score in the attitude of the
Russian government. It is said that court intrigues had much to do with
the many changes which the score had to undergo before it became
entirely acceptable to the powers that be in the Czar's empire.
Possibly. But every change which has come under the notice of this
reviewer has been to its betterment and made for its practical
presentation. It is said that the popular scenes were curtailed because
they represented the voice of the democracy. But there is still so much
choral work in the opera that the judgment of the operatic audiences of
to-day is likely to pronounce against it measurably on that account.
For, splendid as the choral element in the work is, a chorus is not
looked upon with admiration as a dramatic element by the ordinary opera
lover. There was a lack of the feminine element in the opera, and to
remedy this Moussorgsky had to introduce the Polish bride of the False
Dmitri and give the pair a love scene, and incidentally a polonaise;
but the love scene is uninteresting until its concluding measures, and
these are too Meyerbeerian to call for comment beyond the fact that
Meyerbeer, the much contemned, would have done better. As for the
polonaise, Tschaikowsky has written a more brilliant one for his
"Eugene Onegin."

The various scores of the opera which have been printed show that
Moussorgsky, with all his genius, was at sea even when it came to
applying the principles of the Young Russian School, of which he is set
down as a strong prop, to dramatic composition. With all his additions,
emendations, and rearrangements, his opera still falls much short of
being a dramatic unit. It is a more loosely connected series of scenes,
from the drama of Boris Godounoff and the false Dmitri, than Boito's
"Mefistofele" is of Goethe's "Faust." Had he had his own way the opera
would have ended with the scene in which Dmitri proceeds to Moscow amid
the huzzas of a horde of Polish vagabonds, and we should have had
neither a Boris nor a Dmitri opera, despite the splendid opportunities
offered by both characters. It was made a Boris opera by bringing it to
an end with the death of Boris and leaving everything except the scenes
in which the Czar declines the imperial crown, then accepts it, and
finally dies of a tortured conscience, to serve simply as intermezzi,
in which for the moment the tide of tragedy is turned aside. This and
the glimpse into the paternal heart of the Czar is the only and
beautiful purpose of the domestic scene, in which the lighter and more
cheerful element of Russian folk-song is introduced.

At the first American performance of "Boris Godounoff" the cast was as
follows:--

  Boris.....................................Adamo Didur
  Theodore....................................Anna Case
  Xenia..................................Lenora Sparkes
  The Nurse...............................Maria Duchene
  Marina...................................Louise Homer
  Schouisky.................................Angelo Bada
  Tchelkaloff......................Vincenzo Reschiglian
  Pimenn...................................Leon Rothier
  Dmitri......................Paul Althouse (his debut)
  Varlaam....................... ....Andrea de Segurola
  Missail............................... Pietro Audisio
  The Innkeeper........................ Jeanne Maubourg
  The Simpleton............................Albert Reiss
  A Police Officer.........................Giulio Rossi
  A Court Officer..................... Leopoldo Mariani
  Lovitzky......).Two Jesuits..........( V. Reschiglian
  Tcerniakowsky,)                      ( Louis Kreidler

  Conductor: Arturo Toscanini



CHAPTER XVI

"MADAME SANS-GENE" AND OTHER OPERAS BY GIORDANO


The opera-goers of New York enjoyed a novel experience when Giordano's
"Madame Sans-Gene" had its first performance on any stage in their
presence at the Metropolitan Opera House on January 25, 1915. It was
the first time that a royal and imperial personage who may be said to
live freshly and vividly in the minds of the people of this generation
as well as in their imaginations appeared before them to sing his
thoughts and feelings in operatic fashion. At first blush it seemed as
if a singing Bonaparte was better calculated to stir their risibilities
than their interest or sympathies; and this may, indeed, have been the
case; but at any rate they had an opportunity to make the acquaintance
of Napoleon before he rose to imperial estate. But, in all seriousness,
it is easier to imagine the figure which William II of Germany would
cut on the operatic stage than the "grand, gloomy, and peculiar"
Corsican. The royal people with whom the operatic public is familiar as
a rule are sufficiently surrounded by the mists of antiquity and
obscurity that the contemplation of them arouse little thought of the
incongruity which their appearance as operatic heroes ought to create.
Henry the Fowler in "Lohengrin," Mark in "Tristan und Isolde," the
unnumbered Pharaoh in "Aida," Herod in "Salome" and "Herodiade," and
the few other kings, if there are any more with whom the present
generation of opera-goers have a personal acquaintance, so to speak,
are more or less merely poetical creations whom we seldom if ever think
of in connection with veritable history. Even Boris Godounoff is to us
more a picture out of a book, like the Macbeth whom he so strongly
resembles from a theatrical point of view, than the monarch who had a
large part in the making of the Russian people. The Roman censorship
prevented us long ago from making the acquaintance of the Gustavus of
Sweden whom Ankerstrom stabbed to death at a masked ball, by
transmogrifying him into the absurdly impossible figure of a Governor
of Boston; and the Claudius of Ambroise Thomas's opera is as much a
ghost as Hamlet's father, while Debussy's blind King is as much an
abstraction as is Melisande herself.

Operatic dukes we know in plenty, though most of them have come out of
the pages of romance and are more or less acceptable according to the
vocal ability of their representatives. When Caruso sings "La donna e
mobile" we care little for the profligacy of Verdi's Duke of Mantua and
do not inquire whether or not such an individual ever lived.
Moussorgsky's Czar Boris ought to interest us more, however. The great
bell-tower in the Kremlin which he built, and the great bell--a
shattered monument of one of his futile ambitions--have been seen by
thousands of travellers who never took the trouble to learn that the
tyrant who had the bell cast laid a serfdom upon the Russian people
which endured down to our day. Boris, by the way, picturesque and
dramatic figure that he is as presented to us in history, never got
upon the operatic stage until Moussorgsky took him in hand. Two hundred
years ago a great German musician, Mattheson, as much scholar as
composer if not more, set him to music, but the opera was never
performed. Peter the Great, who came a century after Boris, lived a
life more calculated to invite the attention of opera writers, but even
he escaped the clutches of dramatic composers except Lortzing, who took
advantage of the romantic episode of Peter's service as ship carpenter
in Holland to make him the hero of one of the most sparkling of German
comic operas. Lortzing had a successor in the Irishman T. S. Cooke, but
his opera found its way into the limbo of forgotten things more than a
generation ago, while Lortzing's still lives on the stage of Germany.
Peter deserved to be celebrated in music, for it was in his reign that
polyphonic music, albeit of the Italian order, was introduced into the
Russian church and modern instrumental music effected an entrance into
his empire. But I doubt if Peter was sincerely musical; in his youth he
heard only music of the rudest kind. He was partial to the bagpipes
and, like Nero, played upon that instrument.

To come back to Bonaparte and music. "Madame Sans-Gene" is an operatic
version of the drama which Sardou developed out of a little one-act
play dealing with a partly fictitious, partly historical story in which
Napoleon, his marshal Lefebvre, and a laundress were the principal
figures. Whether or not the great Corsican could be justified as a
character in a lyric drama was a mooted question when Giordano
conceived the idea of making an opera out of the play. It is said that
Verdi remarked something to the effect that the question depended upon
what he would be called upon to sing, and how he would be expected to
sing it. The problem was really not a very large or difficult one, for
all great people are turned into marionettes when transformed into
operatic heroes.

In the palmy days of bel canto no one would have raised the question at
all, for then the greatest characters in history moved about the stage
in stately robes and sang conventional arias in the conventional
manner. The change from old-fashioned opera to regenerated lyric drama
might have simplified the problem for Giordano, even if his librettist
had not already done so by reducing Napoleon to his lowest terms from a
dramatic as well as historical point of view. The heroes of
eighteenth-century opera were generally feeble-minded lovers and
nothing more; Giordano's Napoleon is only a jealous husband who helps
out in the denouement of a play which is concerned chiefly with other
people.

In turning Sardou's dramatic personages into operatic puppets a great
deal of bloodletting was necessary and a great deal of the
characteristic charm of the comedy was lost, especially in the cases of
Madame Sans-Gene herself and Napoleon's sister; but enough was left to
make a practicable opera. There were the pictures of all the plebeians
who became great folk later concerned in the historical incidents which
lifted them up. There were also the contrasted pictures which resulted
from the great transformation, and it was also the ingratiating
incident of the devotion of Lefebvre to the stout-hearted, honest
little woman of the people who had to try to be a duchess. All this was
fair operatic material, though music has a strange capacity for
refining stage characters as well as for making them colorless.
Giordano could not do himself justice as a composer without refining
the expression of Caterina Huebscher, and so his Duchess of Dantzic
talks a musical language at least which Sardou's washerwoman could not
talk and remain within the dramatic verities. Therefore we have "Madame
Sans-Gene" with a difference, but not one that gave any more offence
than operatic treatment of other fine plays have accustomed us to.

To dispose of the artistic merits of the opera as briefly as possible,
it may be said that in more ways than one Giordano has in this work
harked back to "Andrea Chenier," the first of his operas which had a
hearing in America. The parallel extends to some of the political
elements of the book as well as its musical investiture with its echoes
of the popular airs of the period of the French Revolution. The style
of writing is also there, though applied, possibly, with more mature
and refined skill. I cannot say with as much ingenuousness and
freshness of invention, however. Its spirit in the first act, and
largely in the second, is that of the opera bouffe, but there are many
pages of "Madame Sans-Gene" which I would gladly exchange for any one
of the melodies of Lecocq, let us say in "La Fille de Mme. Angot." Like
all good French music which uses and imitates them, it is full of crisp
rhythms largely developed from the old dances which, originally
innocent, were degraded to base uses by the sans-culottes; and so there
is an abundance of life and energy in the score though little of the
distinction, elegance, and grace that have always been characteristic
of French music, whether high-born or low. The best melody in the
modern Italian vein flows in the second act when the genuine affection
and fidelity of Caterina find expression and where a light touch is
combined with considerable warmth of feeling and a delightful
daintiness of orchestral color. Much of this is out of harmony with the
fundamental character of Sardou's woman, but music cannot deny its
nature. Only a Moussorgsky could make a drunken monk talk truthfully in
music.

If Giordano's opera failed to make a profound impression on the New
York public, it was not because that public had not had opportunity to
learn the quality of his music. His "Andrea Chenier" had been produced
at the Academy of Music as long before as November 13, 1896. With it
the redoubtable Colonel Mapleson went down to his destruction in
America. It was one of the many strange incidents in the career of Mr.
Oscar Hammerstein as I have related them in my book entitled "Chapters
of Opera" [Footnote: New York, Henry Holt & Co.] that it should have
been brought back by him twelve years later for a single performance at
the Manhattan Opera House. In the season of 1916-1917 it was
incorporated in the repertory of the Boston-National Opera Company and
carried to the principal cities of the country. On December 16, 1906,
Mr. Heinrich Conried thought that the peculiar charms of Madame
Cavalieri, combined with the popularity of Signor Caruso, might give
habitation to Giordano's setting of an opera book made out of Sardou's
"Fedora"; but it endured for only four performances in the season of
1906-1907 and three in the next, in which Conried's career came to an
end. In reviving "Andrea Chenier" Mr. Hammerstein may have had visions
of future triumphs for its composer, for a few weeks before (on
February 5, 1908) he had brought forward the same composer's "Siberia,"
which gave some promise of life, though it died with the season that
saw its birth.

The critical mind seems disposed to look with kindness upon new works
in proportion as they fall back in the corridors of memory; and so I am
inclined to think that of the four operas by Giordano which I have
heard "Andrea Chenier" gives greatest promise of a long life. The
attempt to put music to "Fedora" seemed to me utterly futile. Only
those moments were musical in the accepted sense of the word when the
action of the drama ceased, as in the case of the intermezzo, or when
the old principles of operatic construction waked into life again as in
the confession of the hero-lover. Here, moreover, there comes into the
score an element of novelty, for the confession is extorted from Lorris
while a virtuoso is entertaining a drawing-roomful of people with a set
pianoforte solo. As for the rest of the opera, it seems sadly deficient
in melody beautiful either in itself or as an expression of passion.
"Andrea Chenier" has more to commend it. To start with, there is a good
play back of it, though the verities of history were not permitted to
hamper the imagination of Signor Illica, the author of the book. The
hero of the opera is the patriotic poet who fell under the guillotine
in 1794 at the age of thirty-two. The place which Saint-Beuve gave him
in French letters is that of the greatest writer of classic verse after
Racine and Boileau. The operatic story is all fiction, more so, indeed,
than that of "Madame Sans-Gene." As a matter of fact, the veritable
Chenier was thrown into prison on the accusation of having sheltered a
political criminal, and was beheaded together with twenty-three others
on a charge of having engaged in a conspiracy while in prison. In the
opera he does not die for political reasons, though they are alleged as
a pretext, but because he has crossed the love-path of a leader of the
revolution.

When Giordano composed "Siberia," he followed the example of Mascagni
and Puccini (if he did not set the example for them) by seeking local
color and melodic material in the folk-songs of the country in which
his scene was laid. Puccini went to Japan for musical ideas and devices
to trick out his "Madama Butterfly" as Mascagni had done in "Iris."
Giordano, illustrating a story of political oppression in "Siberia,"
called in the aid of Russian melodies. His exiles sing the
heavy-hearted measures of the bargemen of the Volga, "Ay ouchnem," the
forceful charm of which few Russian composers have been able to resist.
He introduced also strains of Easter music from the Greek church, the
popular song known among the Germans as "Schone Minka" and the "Glory"
song (Slava) which Moussorgsky had forged into a choral thunderbolt in
his "Boris Godounoff." It is a stranger coincidence that the "Slava"
melody should have cropped up in the operas of Giordano and Moussorgsky
than that the same revolutionary airs should pepper the pages of
"Madame Sans-Gene" and "Andrea Chenier." These operas are allied in
subject and period and the same style of composition is followed in
both.

Chenier goes to his death in the opera to the tune of the
"Marseillaise" and the men march past the windows of Caterina
Huebscher's laundry singing the refrain of Roget de Lisle's hymn. But
Giordano does not make extensive use of the tune in "Madame Sans-Gene."
It appears literally at the place mentioned and surges up with fine
effect in a speech in which the Duchess of Dantzic overwhelms the proud
sisters of Napoleon; but that is practically all. The case is different
with two other revolutionary airs. The first crash of the orchestra
launches us into "La Carmagnole," whose melody provides the thematic
orchestral substratum for nearly the entire first scene. It is an
innocent enough tune, differing little from hundreds of French
vaudeville melodies of its period, but Giordano injects vitriol into
its veins by his harmonies and orchestration. With all its innocence
this was the tune which came from the raucous throats of politically
crazed men and women while noble heads tumbled into the bloody sawdust,
while the spoils of the churches were carried into the National
Convention in 1793, and to which "several members, quitting their
curule chairs, took the hands of girls flaunting in priests' vestures"
and danced a wild rout, as did other mad wretches when a dancer was
worshipped as the Goddess of Reason in the Cathedral of Notre Dame.

Caterina's account of the rude familiarity with which she is treated by
the soldiery (I must assume a knowledge of Sardou's play which the
opera follows) is set to a melody of a Russian folk-song cast in the
treatment of which Russian influences may also be felt; but with the
first shouts of the mob attacking the Tuileries in the distance the
characteristic rhythmical motif of the "Ca ira" is heard muttering in
the basses. Again a harmless tune which in its time was perverted to a
horrible use; a lively little contradance which graced many a cotillion
in its early days, but which was roared and howled by the mob as it
carried the beauteous head of the Lamballe through the streets of Paris
on a pike and thrust it almost into the face of Marie Antoinette.

Of such material and a pretty little dance ("La Fricassee") is the
music of the first act, punctuated by cannon shots, made. It is all
rhythmically stirring, it flows spiritedly, energetically along with
the current of the play, never retarding it for a moment, but,
unhappily, never sweetening it with a grain of pretty sentiment or
adorning it with a really graceful contour. There is some graciousness
in the court scene, some archness and humor in the scene in which the
Duchess of Dantzic submits to the adornment of her person, some
dramatically strong declamation in the speeches of Napoleon, some
simulation of passion in the love passages of Lefebvre and of Neipperg;
but as a rule the melodic flood never reaches high tide.



CHAPTER XVII

TWO OPERAS BY WOLF-FERRARI


When the operas of Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari came to America (his beautiful
setting of the "Vita Nuova" was already quite widely known at the
time), it was thought singular and somewhat significant that though the
operas had all been composed to Italian texts they should have their
first Italian performances in this country. This was the case with "Le
Donne Curiose," heard at the Metropolitan Opera House, New York, on
January 3, 1912; of "Il Segreto di Susanna," which the
Chicago-Philadelphia Opera Company brought to New York after giving it
a hearing in its home cities, in February, 1912; of "I Giojelli della
Madonna" first produced in Berlin in December, 1911, and in Chicago a
few weeks later. A fourth opera, "L'Amore Medico," had its first
representation at the Metropolitan Opera House, New York, on March 25,
1914.

The circumstance to which I have alluded as worthy of comment was due,
I fancy, more to the business methods of modern publishers than to a
want of appreciation of the operas in Italy, though

[figure: a musical score excerpt.  A page of the Score of the German
"Donne Curiose"]

Signor Wolf-Ferrari sought to meet the taste of his countrymen
(assuming that the son of a German father and a Venetian mother is to
be set down as an Italian) when he betrayed the true bent of his genius
and sought to join the ranks of the Italian veritists in his "Giojelli
della Madonna." However, that is not the question I am desirous to
discuss just now when the first impressions of "Le Donne Curiose" come
flocking back to my memory. The book is a paraphrase of Goldoni's
comedy of the same name, made (and very deftly made) for the composer
by Count Luigi Sugana. It turns on the curiosity of a group of women
concerning the doings of their husbands and sweethearts at a club from
which they are excluded. The action is merely a series of incidents in
which the women (the wives by rifling the pockets of their husbands,
the maidens by wheedling, cajoling, and playing upon the feelings of
their sweethearts) obtain the keys of the club-room, and effect an
entrance only to find that instead of gambling, harboring mistresses,
seeking the philosopher's stone, or digging for treasure, as is
variously suspected, the men are enjoying an innocent supper. In their
eagerness to see all that is going on, the women betray their presence.
Then there follow scoldings, contrition, forgiveness, a graceful
minuet, and the merriment runs out in a wild furlana.

Book and score of the opera hark back a century or more in their
methods of expression. The incidents of the old comedy are as loosely
strung together as those of "Le Nozze di Figaro," and the parallel is
carried further by the similarity between the instrumental apparatus of
Mozart and Wolf-Ferrari and the dependence of both on melody, rather
than orchestral or harmonic device, as the life-blood of the music upon
which the comedy floats. It is Mozart's orchestra that the modern
composer uses ("the only proper orchestra for comedy," as Berlioz
said), eschewing even those "epical instruments," the trombones. It
would not do to push the parallel too far, though a keen listener might
feel tempted also to see a point of semblance in the Teutonism which
tinctures the Italian music of both men; a Teutonism which adds an
ingredient more to the taste of other peoples than that of the people
whose language is employed. But while the Italianism of Mozart was
wholly the product of the art-spirit of his time, the Teutonism of
Wolf-Ferrari is a heritage from his German father and its Italianism
partakes somewhat of the nature of a reversion to old ideals from which
even his mother's countrymen have departed. There is an almost amusing
illustration of this in the paraphrase of Goldoni's comedy which the
composer took as a libretto. The Leporello of Da Ponte and Mozart has
his prototype in the Arlecchino of the classic Italian comedy, but he
has had to submit to so great a metamorphosis as to make him scarcely
recognizable. But in the modern "Donne Curiose" we have not only the
old figure down to his conventional dress and antics, but also his
companions Pantaloon and Columbine. All this, however, may be better
enjoyed by those who observe them in the representation than those who
will only read about them, no matter how deftly the analysis may be
made.

It is Mozart's media and Mozart's style which Wolf-Ferrari adopts, but
there are traces also of the idioms of others who have been universal
musicians rather than specifically Italian. Like Nicolai's "O susse
Anna!" (Shakespeare's "Oh, Sweet Anne Page"), Wolf-Ferrari's Florindo
breathes out his languishing "Ah, Rosaura!" And in the lively chatter
of the women there is frequently more than a suggestion of the lively
gossip of Verdi's merry wives in his incomparable "Falstaff."
Wolf-Ferrari is neither a Mozart nor a Verdi, not even a Nicolai, as a
melodist, but he is worthy of being bracketed with them, because as
frankly as they he has spoken the musical language which to him seemed
a proper investiture of his comedy, and like them has made that
language characteristic of the comedy's personages and illustrative of
its incidents. He has been brave enough not to fear being called a
reactionary, knowing that there is always progress in the successful
pursuit of beauty.

The advocates of opera sung in the language native to the hearers may
find an eloquent argument in "Le Donne Curiose," much of whose humor
lies in the text and is lost to those who cannot understand it despite
the obviousness of its farcical action. On the other hand, a feeling of
gratitude must have been felt by many others that they were not
compelled to hear the awkward commonplaces of the English translation
of the libretto. The German version, in which the opera had its first
hearing in Munich six years before, is in a vastly different
case--neither uncouth nor halting, even though it lacks the
characteristic fluency essential to Italian opera buffa; yet no more
than did the speech of most of the singers at the Metropolitan
performance. The ripple and rattle of the Italian parlando seem to be
possible only to Italian tongues.

The Mozartian type of music is illustrated not only in the character of
many of its melodies, but also in the use of motivi in what may be
called the dramatic portions--the fleet flood upon which the dialogue
dances with a light buoyancy that is delightfully refreshing. These
motivi are not used in the Wagnerian manner, but as every change of
situation or emotion is characterized in Mozart's marvellous ensembles
by the introduction of a new musical idea, so they are in his modern
disciple's. All of them are finely characteristic, none more so than
the comical cackle so often heard from the oboe in the scenes wherein
the women gossip about the imaginary doings of the men--an intentional
echo, it would almost seem, of the theme out of which Rameau made his
dainty harpsichord piece known as "La Poule." The motto of the club,
"Bandie xe le done," is frequently proclaimed with more or less
pomposity; Florindo's "Ah, Rosaura," with its dramatic descent, lends
sentimental feeling to the love music, and the sprightly rhythm which
accompanies the pranks of Colombina keeps much of the music bubbling
with merriment. In the beginning of the third act, not only the
instrumental introduction, but much of the delightful music which
follows, is permeated with atmosphere and local color derived from a
familiar Venetian barcarolle ("La biondina in gondoleta"), but the
musical loveliness reaches its climax in the sentimental scenes--a
quartet, a solo by Rosaura, and a duet, in which there breathes the
sympathetic spirit of Smetana as well as Mozart.

[Footnote: The cast at the first performance at the Metropolitan Opera
House was as follows:--

  Ottavio.................................Adamo Dfdur
  Beatrice........................... Jeanne Maubourg
  Rosaura............................Geraldine Farrar
  Florindo......................... Hermann Jadlowker
  Pantalone....................... Antonio Pini-Corso
  Lelio............................... Antonio Scotti
  Leandro................................ Angelo Bada
  Colombina...............................Bella Alten
  Eleonora................................Rita Fornia
  Arlechino....................... Andrea de Segurola
  Asdrubale........................... Pietro Audisio
  Almoro.............................. Lambert Murphy
  Alviso.......................... Charles Hargreaves
  Lunardo....................... Vincenzo Reschiglian
  Momolo............................... Paolo Ananian
  Menego................................ Giulio Rossi
  Un Servitore....................... Stefen Buckreus
  Conductor--Arturo Toscanini.]

In "Le Donne Curiose," the gondoliers sing their barcarolle and compel
even the cynic of the drama to break out into an enthusiastic
exclamation: "Oh, beautiful Venice!" The world has heard more of the
natural beauties of Naples than of the artificial ones of Venice, but
when Naples is made the scene of a drama of any kind it seems that its
attractions for librettist and composer lie in the vulgarity and vice,
libertinism and lust, the wickedness and wantonness, of a portion of
its people rather than in the loveliness of character which such a
place might or ought to inspire.

Perhaps it was not altogether surprising that when Wolf-Ferrari turned
from Venice and "Le Donne Curiose" to "I Giojelli della Madonna" with
Naples as a theatre for his drama he should not only change the style
of his music, but also revert to the kind of tale which his
predecessors in the field seem to have thought appropriate to the place
which we have been told all of us should see once and die out of sheer
ecstasy over its beauty. But why are only the slums of Naples deemed
appropriate for dramatic treatment?

How many stories of Neapolitan life have been told in operas since
Auber wrote his "La Muette di Portici" I do not know; doubtless many
whose existence ended with the stagione for which they were composed.
But it is a singular fact bearing on the present discussion that when
the young "veritists" of Italy broke loose after the success of
Mascagni's "Cavalleria rusticana" there came almost a universal desire
to rush to the Neapolitan shambles for subjects. New York has been
spared all of these operas which I have described in an earlier chapter
of this book, except the delectable "A Basso Porto" which Mr. Savage's
company gave to us in English sixteen years ago; but never since.

Whether or not Wolf-Ferrari got the subject of "I Giojelli della
Madonna" from the sources drawn on by his predecessors, I do not know.
I believe that, like Leoncavallo, he has said that the story of his
opera has a basis of fact. Be this as it may, it is certain that the
composer called on two versifiers to help him out in making the book of
the opera and that the story in its essence is not far removed from
that of the French opera "Aphrodite," by Baron Erlanger. In that opera
there is a rape of the adornments of a statue of Venus; in
Wolf-Ferrari's work of the jewels enriching an effigy of the Virgin
Mary. The story is not as filthy as the other plots rehearsed
elsewhere, but in it there is the same striving after sharp ("piquant,"
some will say) contrasts, the blending of things sacred and profane,
the mixture of ecclesiastical music and dances, and--what is most
significant--the generous use of the style of melody which came in with
Ponchielli and his pupils. In "I Giojelli della Madonna" a young woman
discards the love of an honest-hearted man to throw herself, out of
sheer wantonness, into the arms of a blackguard dandy. To win her heart
through her love of personal adornment the man of faithful mind (the
suggestion having come from his rival) does the desperate deed of
stealing for her the jewels of the Madonna. It is to be assumed that
she rewards him for the sacrilegious act, but without turning away from
the blackguard, to whom she grants a stolen interview during the time
when her true love is committing the crime. But even the vulgar and
wicked companions of the dandy, who is a leader among the Camorristi,
turn from her with horror when they discover the stolen jewels around
her neck, and she gives herself to death in the sea. Then the poor
lover, placing the jewels on the altar, invokes forgiveness, and,
seeing it in a ray of light which illumines them, thrusts a dagger into
his heart and dies at the feet of the effigy of the goddess whom he had
profaned.

The story would not take long in the telling were it not tricked out
with a multitude of incidents designed to illustrate the popular life
of Naples during a festival. Such things are old, familiar, and
unnecessary elements, in many cases not even understood by the
audience. But with them Signor Wolf-Ferrari manages to introduce most
successfully the atmosphere which he preserves even throughout his
tragical moments--the atmosphere of Neapolitan life and feeling. The
score is saturated with Neapolitan folk-song. I say Neapolitan rather
than Italian, because the mixed population of Naples has introduced the
elements which it would be rash to define as always Italian, or even
Latin. While doing this the composer surrendered himself unreservedly
and frankly to other influences. That is one of the things which make
him admirable in the estimation of latter-day critics. In "Le Donne
Curiose" he is most lovingly frank in his companionship with Mozart. In
"II Segreto" there is a combination of all the styles that prevailed
from Mozart to Donizetti. In "I Giojelli" no attempt seems to have been
made by him to avoid comparison with the composer who has made the most
successful attempt at giving musical expression to a drama which fifty
years ago the most farsighted of critics would have set down as too
rapid of movement to admit of adequate musical expression? Mascagni and
his "Cavalleria rusticana," of course. But I am tempted to say that the
most marvellous faculty of Wolf-Ferrari is to do all these things
without sacrifice of his individuality. He has gone further. In "La
Vita Nuova" there is again an entirely different man. Nothing in his
operas seems half so daring as everything in this cantata. How he could
produce a feeling of mediaevalism in the setting of Dante's sonnets and
yet make use of the most modern means of harmonization and
orchestration is still a mystery to this reviewer. Yet, having done it
long ago, he takes up the modern style of Italian melody and blends it
with the old church song, so that while you are made to think one
moment of Mascagni, you are set back a couple of centuries by the
cadences and harmonies of the hymns which find their way into the
merrymakings of the festa. But everything appeals to the ear? nothing
offends it, and for that, whatever our philosophical notions, we ought
to be grateful to the melodiousness, the euphony, and the rich
orchestration of the new opera. [The performances of "I Giojelli della
Madonna" by the Chicago-Philadelphia Opera Company, as it was called in
Chicago, the Philadelphia-Chicago Opera Company, as it was called in
Philadelphia, were conducted by Cleofonte Campanini and the principal
parts were in the hands of Carolina White, Louisa Barat, Amadeo Bassi,
and Mario Sammarco.]





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