A Book of Operas


THEIR HISTORIES, THEIR PLOTS, AND THEIR MUSIC

DEDICATED TO LUGIEN WULSIN

AN OLD FRIEND

 

“Old friends are best.”—SELDEN.

“I love everything that’s old,--old friends, old times, old manners, old books, old wine.”—GOLDSMITH.

“Old wood to burn! Old wine to drink! Old friends to trust! Old authors to read!”—MELCHIOR.

 

 CONTENTS

 

Chapter I “Il Barbiere di Siviglia”

First performance of Italian opera in the United States—Production of Rossini’s opera in Rome, London, Paris, and New York—Thomas Phillipps and his English version—Miss Leesugg and Mrs. Holman—Emanuel Garcia and his troupe—Malibran—Early operas in America—Colman’s “Spanish Barber”—Other Figaro operas—How Rossini came to Write “Il Barbiere” --The story of a fiasco—Garcia and his Spanish song—“Segui, o caro” --Giorgi-Righetti—The plot of the opera—The overture—“Ecco ridente in cielo”—“Una voce poco fà,”—Rossini and Patti—The lesson scene and what singers have done with it—Grisi, Alboni, Catalani, Bosio, Gassier, Patti, Sembrich, Melba, and Viardot—An echo of Haydn.

Chapter II “Le Nozze di Figaro”

Beaumarchais and his Figaro comedies—“Le Nozze” a sequel to “Il Barbiere”—Mozart and Rossini—Their operas compared—Opposition to Beaumarchais’s “Marriage de Figaro”—Moral grossness of Mozart’s opera—A relic of feudalism—Humor of the horns—A merry overture --The story of the opera—Cherubino,--“Non so più cosa son”—Benucci and the air “Non più andrai”—“Voi che sapete”—A marvellous finale—The song to the zephyr—A Spanish fandango—“Deh vieni non tardar.”

Chapter III “Die Zauberflöte”

The oldest German opera current in America—Beethoven’s appreciation of Mozart’s opera—Its Teutonism—Otto Jahn’s estimate—Papageno, the German Punch—Emanuel Schikaneder—Wieland and the original of the story of the opera—How “Die Zanberflöte” came to be written—The story of “Lulu”—Mozart and freemasonry—The overture to the opera—The fugue theme and a theme from a sonata by Clementi—The opera’s play—“O Isis und Osiris”—“Hellish rage” and fiorituri—The song of the Two Men in Armor—Goethe and the libretto of “Die Zauberflöte”—How the opera should be viewed.

Chapter IV “Don Giovanni”

The oldest Italian operas in the American repertory—Mozart as an influence—What great composers have said about “Don Giovanni,”—Beethoven—Rossini—Gounod—Wagner—History of the opera—Da Ponte’s pilferings—Bertati and Gazzaniga’s “Convitato di Pietra”—How the overture to “Don Giovanni” was written—First performances of the opera in Prague, Vienna, London, and New York—Garcia and Da Ponte --Malibran—English versions of the opera—The Spanish tale of Don Juan Tenorio—Dramatic versions—The tragical note in the overture --The plot of the opera—Gounod on the beautiful in Mozart’s music --Leporello’s catalogue—“Batti, batti o bel Masetto”—The three dances in the first finale—The last scene—Mozart quotes from his contemporaries—The original close of the opera.

Chapter V “Fidelio”

An opera based on conjugal love—“Fidelio,” “Orfeo,” and “Alceste”—Beethoven a Sincere moralist—Technical history of “Fidelio,”—The subject treated by Paër and Gaveaux—Beethoven’s commission—The first performance a failure—A revision by the composer’s friends—The second trial—Beethoven withdraws his opera—A second revision --The revival of 1814--Success at last—First performances in London and New York—The opera enriched by a ballet—Plot of “Fidelio”—The first duet—The canon quartet—A dramatic trio—Milder-Hauptmann and the great scena—Florestan’s air—The trumpet call—The opera’s four overtures—Their history.

Chapter VI “Faust”

The love story in Gounod’s opera—Ancient bondsmen of the devil—Zoroaster, Democritus, Empedocles, Apollonius, Virgil, Albertus Magnus, Merlin, Paracelsus, Theophilus of Syracuse,--The myth-making capacity—Bismarck and the needle-gun—Printing, a black art—Johann Fust of Mayence—The veritable Faust—Testimony of Luther and Melanchthon—The literary history of Dr. Faustus—Goethe and his predecessors—Faust’s covenant with Mephistopheles—Dr. Faustus and matrimony—The Polish Faust—The devil refuses to marry Madame Twardowska—History of Gounod’s opera—The first performance—Popularity of the opera—First productions in London and New York—The story—Marguerite and Gretchen—The jewel song—The ballet.

Chapter VII “Mefistofele”

Music in the mediaeval Faust plays—Early operas on the subject—Meyerbeer and Goethe’s poem—Composers of Faust music—Beethoven—Boito’s reverence for Goethe’s poem—His work as a poet—A man of mixed blood—“Mefistofele” a fiasco in Milan—The opera revised—Boito’s early ambitions—Disconnected episodes—Philosophy of the opera—Its scope—Use of a typical phrase—The plot—Humors of the English translation—Music of the prologue—The Book of Job—Boito’s metrical schemes—The poodle and the friar—A Polish dance in the Rhine country—Gluck and Vestris—The scene on the Brocken—The Classical Sabbath—Helen of Troy—A union of classic and romantic art—First performance of Boito’s opera in America, (footnote).

Chapter VIII “La Damnation de Faust”

Berlioz’s dramatic legend—“A thing of shreds and patches”—Turned into an opera by Raoul Gunsbourg—The composer’s “Scenes from Faust” --History of the composition—The Rakoczy March—Concert performances in New York—Scheme of the work—The dance of the sylphs and the aërial ballet—Dance of the will-o’-the-wisps—The ride to hell.

Chapter IX “La Traviata”

Familiarity with music and its effects—An experience of the author’s—Prelude to Verdi’s last act—Expressiveness of some melodies—Verdi, the dramatist—Von Bülow and Mascagni—How “Traviata” came to be written—Piave, the librettist—Composed simultaneously with “Il Trovatore,”—Failure of “La Traviata,” --The causes—The style of the music—Dr. Basevi’s view—Changes in costuming—The opera succeeds—First performance in New York, --A criticism by W. H. Fry—Story of the opera—Dumas’s story and harles Dickens—Controversy as a help to popular success.

Chapter X “Aïda”

Popular misconceptions concerning the origin of Verdi’s opera—The Suez Canal and Cairo Opera-house—A pageant opera—Local color—The entombment scene—The commission for the opera—The plot and its author, Mariette Bey—His archaeological discoveries at Memphis --Camille du Locle and Antonio Ghislanzoni—First performance of the opera—Unpleasant experiences in Paris—The plot—Ancient Memphis—Oriental melodies and local color—An exotic scale—The antique trumpets and their march.

Chapter XI “Der Freischütz”

The overture—The plot—A Leitmotif before Wagner—Berlioz and Agathe’s air—The song of the Bridesmaids—Wagner and his dying stepfather—The Teutonism of the opera—Facts from a court record --Folklore of the subject—Holda, Wotan, and the Wild Hint—How magical bullets may be obtained—Wagner’s description of the Wolf’s Glen—Romanticism and classicism—Weber and Theodor Körner—German opera at Dresden—Composition of “Der Freischütz”—First performances in New York, (footnote).

Chapter XII “Tannhäuser”

Wagner and Greek ideals—Methods of Wagnerian study—The story of the opera—Poetical and musical contents of the overture—The bacchanale—The Tannhäuser legend—The historical Tannhäuser—The contest of minstrels in the Wartburg—Mediaeval ballads—Heroes and their charmers—Classical and other parallels—Caves of Venus—The Hörselberg in Thuringia—Dame Holda—The tale of Sir Adelbert.

Chapter XIII “Tristan und Isolde”

The old legend of Tristram and Iseult—Its literary history—Ancient elements—Wagner’s ethical changes—How the drama came to be written --Frau Wesendonck—Wagner and Dom Pedro of Brazil—First performances in Munich and New York—The prelude—Wagner’s poetical exposition—The song of the Sailor—A symbol of suffering—The Death Phrase—The Shepherd’s mournful melody—His merry tune—Tristan’s death.

Chapter XIV “Parsifal”

The story—The oracle—The musical symbol of Parsifal—Herzeleide—Kundry—Suffering and lamentation—The bells and march—The eucharistic hymn—The love-feast formula—Faith—Unveiling of the Grail—Klingsor’s incantation—The Flower Maidens—The quest of the Holy Grail—Personages and elements of the legend—Ethical idea of Wagner’s drama—Biblical and liturgical elements—Wagner’s aim—The Knights Templars—John the Baptist, Herodias, and the bloody head—Relics of Christ’s sufferings—The Holy Grail at Genoa—The sacred lances at Nuremberg and Rome—Ancient and mediaeval parallels of personages, apparatuses, and scenes—Wagner’s philosophy—Buddhism—First performances of “Parsifal” in Bayreuth and New York.

Chapter XV “Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg”

“Ridendo castigat mores”—Wagner’s adherence to classical ideals of tragedy and comedy—The subject of the satire in “Die Meistersinger” --Wagenseil’s book on Nuremberg—Plot of the comedy—The Church of St. Catherine in Nuremberg—A relic of the mastersingers—Mastersongs in the Municipal Library—Wagner’s chorus of mastersingers—A poem by Sixtus Beckmesser—The German drama in Nuremberg—Hans Sachs’s plays—His Tannhäuser tragedy—“Tristram and Iseult”—“The Wittenberg Nightingale” and “Wach’ auf!”—Wagner’s quotation from an authentic mastersong melody—Romanticism and classicism—The prelude to “Die Meistersinger.”

Chapter XVI “Lohengrin”

Wolfram von Eschenbach’s story of Loherangrin—Other sources of the Lohengrin legend—“Der jüngere Titurel” and “Le Chevalier au Cygne” --The plot of Wagner’s opera—A mixture of myths—Relationship of the Figaro operas—Contradictions between “Lohengrin” and “Parsifal” --The forbidden question—Wagner’s love of theatrical effect—The finale of “Tannhäuser,”—The law of taboo in “Lohengrin”—Jupiter and Semele—Cupid and Psyche—The saga of Skéaf—King Henry, the Fowler.

Chapter XVII “Hänsel und Gretel”

Wagner’s influence and his successors—Engelbert Humperdinck—Myths and fairy tales—Origin of “Hänsel und Gretel”—First performances—An application of Wagnerian principles—The prelude—The Prayer Theme --The Counter-charm—Theme of Fulfilment—Story of the opera—A relic of an old Christmas song—Theme of the Witch—The Theme of Promise—“Ring around a Rosy”—The “Knusperwalzer.”

 

 



 

 

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