By R. A. Streatfeild.
The death of Verdi occurred so recently that it is still possible to speak of him as representing the music of modern Italy in its noblest and most characteristic manifestation, but his life's record stretches back to a very dim antiquity. His first work, 'Oberto, Conte di San Bonifacio,' was performed in 1839, when 'Les Huguenots' was but three years old, and 'Der Fliegende Holländer' still unwritten. It is thoroughly and completely Italian in type, and, though belonging to a past age in the matter of form, contains the germs of those qualities which were afterwards to make Verdi so popular, the rough, almost brutal energy which contrasted so strongly with the vapid sweetness of Donizetti, and the vigorous vein of melody which throughout his career never failed him. Verdi's next work, a comic opera known alternatively as 'Un Giorno di Regno' and 'Il Finto Stanislao' (1840) was a failure. 'Nabucodonosor' (1842) and 'I Lombardi' (1843) established his reputation in his own country and won favour abroad; but the opera which gave him European fame was 'Ernani' (1844). The story is an adaptation of Victor Hugo's famous play. Elvira, the chosen bride of Don Silva, a Spanish grandee, loves Ernani, an exiled nobleman, who has had to take refuge in brigandage. Silva discovers their attachment, but being connected with Ernani in a plot against Charles V., he defers his vengeance for the moment. He yields his claim upon Elvira's affection, but exacts a promise from his rival, that when he demands it, Ernani shall be prepared to take his own life. Charles's magnanimity frustrates the conspiracy, and Silva, defeated alike in love and ambition, claims the fulfilment of Ernani's oath, despite the prayers of Elvira, who is condemned to see her lover stab himself in her presence. Hugo's melodrama suited Verdi's blood-and-thunder style exactly. 'Ernani' is crude and sensational, but its rough vigour never descends to weakness, though it often comes dangerously near to vulgarity. 'Ernani' is the opera most typical of Verdi's earliest period. With all its blemishes, it is easy to see how its masculine vigour and energy must have captivated the audiences of the day. But there were political as well as musical reasons for the instantaneous success of Verdi's early operas. Italy in the forties was a seething mass of sedition. Verdi's strenuous melodies, often allied to words in which the passionate patriotism of his countrymen contrived to read a political sentiment, struck like a trumpet-call upon the ears of men already ripe for revolt against the hated Austrian rule. Such strains as the famous 'O mia patria, si bella e perduta' in 'Nabucodonosor' proclaimed Verdi the Tyrtæus of awakened Italy.
'Ernani' was followed by a series of works which, for the sake of Verdi's reputation, it is better to pass over as briefly as possible. His success provided him with more engagements than he could conscientiously fulfil, and the quality of his work suffered in consequence. There are some fine scenes in 'I Due Foscari' (1844), but it has little of the vigour of 'Ernani.' 'Giovanna d'Arco' (1845), 'Alzira' (1845), and 'Attila' (1846), were almost total failures. In 'Macbeth' (1847), however, Verdi seems to have been inspired by his subject, and wrote better music than he had yet given to the world. The libretto is a miserable perversion of Shakespeare, and for that reason the opera has never succeeded in England, but in countries which can calmly contemplate a ballet of witches, or listen unmoved to Lady Macbeth trolling a drinking-song, it has had its day of success. 'Macbeth' is interesting to students of Verdi's development as the first work in which he shows signs of emerging from his Sturm und Drang period. There is some admirable declamatory music in it, which seems to foreshadow the style of 'Rigoletto,' and the sleep-walking scene, though old-fashioned in structure, is really impressive. After 'Macbeth' came another series of works which are now forgotten. Among them was 'I Masnadieri,' which was written for Her Majesty's Theatre in 1847. Although the principal part was sung by Jenny Lind, the work was a complete failure, and was pronounced by the critic Chorley to be the worst opera ever produced in England. Passing quickly by 'Il Corsaro' (1848), 'La Battaglia di Legnano' (1849), 'Luisa Miller' (1849) and 'Stiffelio' (1850), all of which have dropped completely out of the current repertory, we come to the brilliant period in which Verdi produced in succession three works which, through all changes of taste and fashion, have manfully held their place in popular favour—'Rigoletto,' 'Il Trovatore,' and 'La Traviata.' 'Rigoletto' (1851) is founded upon Victor Hugo's drama, 'Le Roi s'amuse.' The locale of the story is changed, and the King of France becomes a Duke of Mantua, but otherwise the original scheme of the work remains unaltered. Rigoletto, the Duke's jester, has an only daughter, Gilda, whom he keeps closely immured in an out-of-the-way part of the city, to preserve her from the vicious influence of the court. The amorous Duke, however, has discovered her retreat, and won her heart in the disguise of a student. The courtiers, too, have found out that Rigoletto is in the habit of visiting a lady, and jumping to the conclusion that she is his mistress, determine to carry her off by night in order to pay the jester out for the bitter insults which he loves to heap upon them. Their plan succeeds, and Gilda is conveyed to the Palace. There she is found by her father, and to his horror she confesses that she loves the Duke. He determines to punish his daughter's seducer, and hires a bravo named Sparafucile to put him out of the way. This worthy beguiles the Duke, by means of the charms of his sister Maddalena, to a lonely inn on the banks of the river, promising to hand over his body to Rigoletto at midnight. Maddalena pleads tearfully for the life of her handsome lover, but Sparafucile is a man of honour, and will not break his contract with the jester. Rigoletto has paid for a body, and a body he must have. However, he consents, should any stranger visit the inn that night, to kill him in the Duke's place. Gilda, who is waiting in the street, hears this and makes up her mind to die instead of her lover. She enters the house, and is promptly murdered by Sparafucile. Her body, sewn up in a sack, is handed over at the appointed hour to Rigoletto. The jester, in triumph, is about to hurl the body into the river, when he hears the Duke singing in the distance. Overcome by a horrible suspicion, he opens the sack and is confronted by the body of his daughter.
The music of 'Rigoletto' is on a very different plane from that of 'Ernani.' Verdi had become uneasy in the fetters of the cavatina-cabaletta tradition—the slow movement followed by the quick—which, since the day of Rossini, had ruled Italian opera with a rod of iron. In 'Rigoletto,' although the old convention still survives, the composer shows a keen aspiration after a less trammelled method of expressing himself. Rigoletto's great monologue is a piece of declamation pure and simple, and as such struck a note till then unheard in Italy. The whole of the last act is a brilliant example of Verdi's picturesque power, combined with acute power of characterisation. The Duke's gay and lightsome canzone, the magnificent quartet, in which the different passions of four personages are contrasted and combined with such consummate art, and the sombre terrors of the tempest, touch a level of art which Verdi had not till then attained, nor was to reach again until the days of 'Aida,' twenty years later.
'Il Trovatore' (1853) is melodrama run mad. The plot is terribly confused, and much of it borders on the incomprehensible, but the outline of it is as follows. The mother of Azucena, a gipsy, has been burnt as a witch by order of the Count di Luna. In revenge Azucena steals one of his children, whom she brings up as her own son under the name of Manrico. Manrico loves Leonora, a lady of the Spanish Court, who is also beloved by his brother, the younger Count di Luna. After various incidents Manrico falls into the Count's hands, and is condemned to death. Leonora offers her hand as the price of his release, which the Count accepts. Manrico refuses liberty on these terms, and Leonora takes poison to escape the fulfilment of her promise.
The music of 'Il Trovatore' shows a sad falling off from the promise of 'Rigoletto.' Face to face with such a libretto, Verdi probably felt that refinement and characterisation were equally out of the question, and fell back on the coarseness of his earlier style. 'Il Trovatore' abounds with magnificent tunes, but they are slung together with very little feeling for appropriateness. There is a brutal energy about the work which has been its salvation, for of the higher qualities, which make a fitful appearance in 'Rigoletto,' there is hardly a trace.
'La Traviata' (1853) is an operatic version of Dumas's famous play, 'La Dame aux Caméllias.' The sickly tale of the love and death of Marguerite Gauthier, here known as Violetta, is hardly an ideal subject for a libretto, and it says much for Verdi's versatility that, after his excursions into transpontine melodrama, he was able to treat 'drawing-room tragedy' with success. Alfredo Germont loves Violetta, the courtesan, and establishes himself with her in a villa outside Paris. There his old father pays Violetta a visit, and, by representing that the matrimonial prospects of his daughter are injured by Violetta's connection with Alfredo, induces her to leave him. Alfredo is indignant at Violetta's supposed inconstancy, and insults her publicly at a ball in Paris. In the last act Violetta dies of consumption after an affecting reconciliation with her lover. The music of 'La Traviata' is in strong contrast to Verdi's previous work. The interest of Dumas's play is mainly psychological, and demands a delicacy of treatment which would have been thrown away upon the melodramatic subjects which Verdi had hitherto affected. Much of his music is really graceful and refined, but his efforts to avoid vulgarity occasionally land him in the slough of sentimentality. Nevertheless, the pathos which characterises some of the scenes has kept 'La Traviata' alive, though the opera is chiefly employed now as a means of allowing a popular prima donna to display her high notes and her diamonds.
'Les Vêpres Siciliennes,' which was produced in Paris in 1855, during the Universal Exhibition, only achieved a partial success, and 'Simon Boccanegra' (1857), even in the revised and partly re-written form which was performed in 1881, has never been popular out of Italy. 'Un Ballo in Maschera' (1861), on the other hand, was for many years a great favourite in this country, and has recently been revived with remarkable success. The scene of the opera is laid in New England. Riccardo, the governor of Boston, loves Amelia, the wife of his secretary, Renato. After a scene in a fortune-teller's hut, in which Riccardo's death is predicted, the lovers meet in a desolate spot on the seashore. Thither also comes Renato, who has discovered a plot against his chief and hastens to warn him of his danger. In order to save Riccardo's life Renato resorts to the time-honoured device of an exchange of cloaks. Thus effectually disguised Riccardo makes his escape, leaving Amelia, also completely unrecognisable in a transparent gauze veil, in charge of her unsuspecting husband, who has promised to convey her home in safety. Enter the conspirators, who attack Renato; Amelia rushes between the combatants, and at the psychological moment her veil drops off. Tableau and curtain to a mocking chorus of the conspirators, which forms a sinister background to the anguish and despair of the betrayed husband and guilty wife. In the next act Renato joins forces with the conspirators, and in the last he murders Riccardo at the masked ball from which the opera takes its name. 'Un Ballo in Maschera' is one of the best operas of Verdi's middle period. Like 'Rigoletto' it abounds in sharp and striking contrasts of character, the gay and brilliant music of the page Oscar, in particular, forming an effective foil to the more tragic portions of the score. The same feeling for contrast is perceptible in 'La Forza del Destino,' in which the gloom of a most sanguinary plot is relieved by the humours of a vivandière and a comic priest. This work, which was produced at St. Petersburg in 1862, has never been popular out of Italy, and 'Don Carlos,' which was written for the Paris Exhibition of 1867, seems also to be practically laid upon the shelf. It tells of the love of Don Carlos for his stepmother, Elizabeth, the wife of Philip II. of Spain, and apart from the dulness of the libretto, has the faults of a work of transition. Verdi's earlier manner was beginning to lie heavily upon his shoulders, but he was not yet strong enough to sever his connection with the past. There are scenes in 'Don Carlos' which foreshadow the truth and freedom of 'Aida,' but their beauty is often marred by strange relapses into conventionality.
'Aida' (1871) was the result of a commission from Ismail Pacha, who wished to enhance the reputation of his new opera-house at Cairo by the production of a work upon an Egyptian subject from the pen of the most popular composer of the day. The idea of the libretto seems to have been originally due to Mariette Bey, the famous Egyptologist, who had happened to light upon the story in the course of his researches. It was first written in French prose by M. Camilla du Locle in collaboration with Verdi himself, and afterwards translated by Signor Ghislanzoni.
Aida, the daughter of Amonasro, the King of Ethiopia, has been taken prisoner by the Egyptians, and given as a slave to the princess Amneris. They both love the warrior Radames, the chosen chief of the Egyptian army, but he cares nothing for Amneris, and she vows a deadly vengeance against the slave who has supplanted her. Radames returns in triumph from the wars, bringing with him a chain of prisoners, among whom is Amonasro. The latter soon finds out Aida's influence over Radames, and half terrifies, half persuades her into promising to extract from her lover the secret of the route which the Egyptian army will take on the morrow on their way to a new campaign against the Ethiopians. Aida beguiles Radames with seductive visions of happiness in her own country, and induces him to tell her the secret. Amonasro, who is on the watch, overhears it and escapes in triumph, while Radames, in despair at his own treachery, gives himself up to justice. Amneris offers him pardon if he will accept her love, but he refuses life without Aida, and is condemned to be immured in a vault beneath the temple of Phtha. There he finds Aida, who has discovered a means of getting in, and has made up her mind to die with her lover. They expire in each other's arms, while the solemn chant of the priestesses in the temple above mingles with the sighs of the heart-broken Amneris.
'Aida' was an immense advance upon Verdi's previous work. The Egyptian subject, so remote from the ordinary operatic groove, seems to have tempted him to a fresher and more vivid realism, and the possibilities of local colour opened a new world to so consummate a master of orchestration. The critics of the day at once accused Verdi of imitating Wagner, and certain passages undoubtedly suggest the influence of 'Lohengrin,' but as a whole the score is thoroughly and radically Italian. In 'Aida' Verdi's vein of melody is as rich as ever, but it is controlled by a keen artistic sense, which had never had full play before. For the first time in his career he discovered the true balance between singers and orchestra, and at once took his proper place among the great musicians of the world. Special attention must be directed to Verdi's use of local colour in 'Aida.' This is often a dangerous stumbling-block to musicians, but Verdi triumphed most where all the world had failed. In the scene of the consecration of Radames, he employs two genuine Oriental tunes with such consummate art that this scene is not only one of the few instances in the history of opera in which Oriental colour has been successfully employed, but, in the opinion of many, is the most beautiful part of the whole opera. Another magnificent scene is the judgment of Radames, in the fourth act, where an extraordinary effect is gained by the contrast of the solemn voices of the priests within the chamber with the passionate grief of Amneris upon the threshold. The love scene, in the third act, shows the lyrical side of Verdi's genius in its most voluptuous aspect. The picture of the palm-clad island of Philae and the dreaming bosom of the Nile is divinely mirrored in Verdi's score. The music seems to be steeped in the odorous charm of the warm southern night.
Sixteen years elapsed before the appearance of Verdi's next work. It was generally supposed that the aged composer had bidden farewell for ever to the turmoil and excitement of the theatre, and the interest excited by the announcement of a new opera from his pen was proportionately keen. The libretto of 'Otello' (1887), a masterly condensation of Shakespeare's tragedy, was from the pen of Arrigo Boito, himself a musician of no ordinary accomplishment. The action of the opera opens in Cyprus, amidst the fury of a tempest. Othello arrives fresh from a victory over the Turks, and is greeted enthusiastically by the people, who light a bonfire in his honour. Then follows the drinking scene. Cassio, plied by Iago, becomes intoxicated and fights with Montano. The duel is interrupted by the entrance of Othello, who degrades Cassio from his captaincy, and dismisses the people to their homes. The act ends with a duet of flawless loveliness between Othello and Desdemona, the words of which are ingeniously transplanted from Othello's great speech before the Senate. In the second act Iago advises Cassio to induce Desdemona to intercede for him, and, when left alone, pours forth a terrible confession of his unfaith in the famous 'Credo.' This, one of the few passages in the libretto not immediately derived from Shakespeare, is a triumph on Boito's part. The highest praise that can be given to it is to say, which is the literal truth, that it falls in no way beneath the poetical and dramatic standard of its context. Othello now enters, and Iago contrives to sow the first seeds of jealousy in his breast by calling his attention to Cassio's interview with Desdemona. Then follows a charming episode, another of Boito's interpolations, in which a band of Cypriotes bring flowers to Desdemona. Othello is won for the moment by the guileless charm of her manner, but his jealousy is revived by her assiduous pleading for Cassio. He thrusts her from him, and the handkerchief with which she offers to bind his brow is secured by Iago. Left with his chief, Iago fans the rising flame of jealousy, and the act ends with Othello's terrific appeal to Heaven for vengeance upon his wife. In the third act, after an interview of terrible irony and passion between Othello and Desdemona, in which he accuses her to her face of unchastity, and laughs at her indignant denial. Cassio appears with the handkerchief which he has found in his chamber. Iago ingeniously contrives that Othello shall recognise it, and at the same time arranges that he shall only hear as much of the conversation as shall confirm him in his infatuation. Envoys from Venice arrive, bearing the order for Othello's recall and the appointment of Cassio in his place. Othello, mad with rage and jealousy, strikes Desdemona to the earth, and drives every one from the hall. Then his overtaxed brain reels, and he sinks swooning to the floor. The shouts of the people outside acclaim him as the lion of Venice, while Iago, his heel scornfully placed on Othello's unconscious breast, cries with ghastly malevolence, 'Ecco il Leone.' The last act follows Shakespeare very closely. Desdemona sings her Willow Song, and, as though conscious of approaching calamity, bids Emilia a pathetic farewell. Scarcely are her eyes closed in sleep, when Othello enters by a secret door, bent on his fell purpose. He wakes her with a kiss, and after a brief scene smothers her with a pillow. Emilia enters with the news of an attempt to assassinate Cassio. Finding Desdemona lead, she calls for help. Cassio, Montano, and others rush in; Iago's treachery is unmasked, and Othello in despair stabs himself, dying in a last kiss upon his dead wife's lips.
In 'Otello' Verdi advanced to undreamed-of heights of freedom and beauty. 'Aida' was a mighty step towards the light, but with 'Otello' he finally shook off the trammels of convention. His inexhaustible stream of melody remained as pure and full as ever, while the more declamatory parts of the opera, down to the slightest piece of recitative, are informed by a richness of suggestion, and an unerring instinct for truth, such as it would be vain to seek in his earlier work. Rich and picturesque as much of the orchestral writing is, the voice remains, as in his earlier works, the key-stone of the whole structure, and though motives are occasionally repeated with exquisite effect—as in the case of the 'Kiss' theme from the duet in the first act, which is heard again in Othello's death scene—Verdi makes no pretence at imitating Wagner's elaborate use of guiding themes. There is an artistic reason for this, apart from the radical difference between the German and Italian views of opera. In 'Otello' the action is rapid for the most part, and in many scenes the music only aims at furnishing a suitable accompaniment to the dialogue. A symphonic treatment of the orchestra, in such scenes as that between Iago and Othello in the second act, would tend to obscure the importance of the dialogue upon the stage, every word of which for the proper comprehension of the drama, must be forcibly impressed upon the listener's attention. In such a scene as the handkerchief trio, in which the situation remains practically the same for some time, a symphonic treatment of the orchestra is thoroughly in place, and here Verdi displays extraordinary skill in working out his theme, though even here his method has very little resemblance to that of Wagner.
Six years after 'Otello' came 'Falstaff,' produced in 1893, when Verdi was in his eightieth year. Boito's libretto is a cleverly abbreviated version of Shakespeare's 'Merry Wives of Windsor,' with the addition of two or three passages from 'Henry IV.' There are three acts, each of which is divided into two scenes. The first scene takes place in the Garter Inn at Windsor. Falstaff and his trusty followers, Bardolph and Pistol, discomfit Dr. Caius, who comes to complain of having been robbed. Falstaff then unfolds his scheme for replenishing his coffers through the aid of Mrs. Ford and Mrs. Page, and bids his faithful esquires carry the famous duplicate letters to the comely dames. Honour, however intervenes, and they refuse the office. Falstaff then sends his page with the letters, pronounces his celebrated discourse upon honour, and hunts Bardolph and Pistol out of the house. In the second scene, we are in Ford's garden. The letters have arrived, and the merry wives eagerly compare notes and deliberate upon a plan for avenging themselves upon their elderly wooer. Dame Quickly is despatched to bid Falstaff to an interview. Meanwhile Nannetta Ford, the 'Sweet Anne Page' of Shakespeare, has contrived to gain a stolen interview with her lover Fenton, while the treacherous Bardolph and Pistol are telling Ford of their late master's designs on is wife's honour. Ford's jealousy is easily aroused, and he makes up his mind to carry the war into the enemy's country by visiting Falstaff in disguise. The second act takes us back to the Garter. Dame Quickly arrives with a message from Mrs. Ford. Falstaff is on fire at once, and agrees to pay her a visit between the hours of two and three. Ford now arrives, calling himself Master Brook, and paves his way with a present of wine and money. He tells Falstaff of his hopeless passion for a haughty dame of Windsor, Mrs. Alice Ford, begging the irresistible knight to woo the lady, so that, once her pride is broken, he too may have a chance of winning her favour. Falstaff gladly agrees, and horrifies the unlucky Ford by confiding the news to him that he already has an assignation with the lady fixed for that very afternoon. The second scene is laid in a room in Ford's house. The merry wives are assembled, and soon Falstaff is descried approaching. Mrs. Ford entertains him for a few minutes, and then, according to their arrangement, Dame Quickly runs in to say that Mrs. Page is at the door. Falstaff hastily hides himself behind a large screen, but the jest changes to earnest when Mrs. Page herself rushes in to announce that Ford, mad with jealousy and rage, has raised the whole household and is really coming to look for his wife's lover. The women quickly slip Falstaff into a huge basket and cover him with dirty linen, while Nannetta and Fenton who have been indulging in another stolen interview slip behind the screen. Ford searches everywhere for Falstaff in vain, and is beginning to despair of finding him, when the sound of a kiss behind the screen arrests his attention. He approaches it cautiously, and thrusts it aside only to find his daughter in Fenton's arms. Meanwhile Mrs. Ford calls on her servants. Between them they manage to lift the gigantic basket, and, while she calls her husband to view the sight, carry it to the window and pitch it out bodily into the Thames. The first scene of the third act is devoted to hatching a new plot to humiliate the fat knight, and the second shows us a moonlit glade in Windsor Forest, whither he has been summoned by the agency of Dame Quickly. There all the characters assemble disguised as elves and fairies. They give Falstaff a mauvais quart d'heure, and end by convincing him that his amorous wiles are useless against the virtue of honest burghers' wives. Meanwhile Nannetta has induced her father, by means of a trick, to consent to her marriage with Fenton, and the act ends with a song of rejoicing in the shape of a magnificent fugue in which every one joins.
Perhaps the most extraordinary thing about 'Falstaff' is that it was written by a man eighty years old. It is the very incarnation of youth and high spirits. Verdi told an interviewer that he thoroughly enjoyed writing it, and one can well believe his words. He has combined a schoolboy's sense of fun with the grace and science of a Mozart. The part-writing is often exceedingly elaborate, but the most complicated concerted pieces flow on as naturally as a ballad. The glorious final fugue is an epitome of the work. It is really a marvel of contrapuntal ingenuity, yet it is so full of bewitching melody and healthy animal spirits that an uncultivated hearer would probably think it nothing but an ordinary jovial finale. In the last act Verdi strikes a deeper note. He has caught the charm and mystery of the sleeping forest with exquisite art. There is an unearthly beauty about this scene, which is new to students of Verdi. In the fairy music, too, he reveals yet another side of his genius. Nothing so delicate nor so rich in imaginative beauty has been written since the days of Weber.
It is impossible as yet to speak with any degree of certainty as to Verdi's probable influence upon posterity. With all his genius he was perhaps hardly the man to found a school. He was not, like his great contemporary Wagner, one of the world's great revolutionists. His genius lay not in overturning systems and in exploring paths hitherto untrodden, but in developing existing materials to the highest conceivable pitch of beauty and completeness. His music has nothing to do with theories, it is the voice of nature speaking in the idiom of art.
Of the composers who modelled their style upon Verdi's earlier manner, the most important were Petrella (1813-1877); Apolloni (1822-1889), the composer of 'L'Ebreo,' a melodrama of a rough and ready description, which was produced in 1855 and went the round of all the theatres of Italy; and Carlos Gomez (1839-1896), a Brazilian composer, whose opera, 'Il Guarany,' was performed in London in 1872. In him Verdi's vigour often degenerated into mere brutality, but his work is by no means without power, though he has little claim to distinction of style. Of the many operas written by Marchetti (1835-1902) only one, 'Ruy Blas,' founded upon Victor Hugo's play, achieved anything like permanent success. In form and general outline it owes much to Verdi's influence, but the vein of tender melody which runs through it strikes a note of individual inspiration. It was performed in London in 1877.
Arrigo Boito, to whom the University of Cambridge accorded the honour of an honorary degree in 1893, has written but one opera, 'Mefistofele,' but his influence upon modern Italian music must be measured in inverse ratio to his productive power. When 'Mefistofele' was originally produced in 1868, Verdi's genius was still in the chrysalis stage, and the novelty and force of Boito's music made 'Mefistofele,' even in its fall—for the first performance was a complete failure—a rallying point for the Italian disciples of truth and sincerity in music. In 1875 it was performed in a revised and abbreviated form, and since then has taken its place among the masterpieces of modern Italy. Boito's libretto reproduces the atmosphere of Goethe's drama far more successfully than any other of the many attempts to fit 'Faust' to the operatic stage. It is a noble poem, but from the merely scenic point of view it has many weaknesses. Its principal failing is the lack of one continuous thread of interest. The opera is merely a succession of episodes, each nicely calculated to throw fresh light upon the character of Faust, but by no means mutually connected. The prologue opens in Heaven, where the compact is made regarding the soul of Faust. The next scene shows the Kermesse, changing to Faust's study, where Mephistopheles appears and the contract is signed which binds him to Faust's service. We then pass to the garden scene, in which Faust is shown as Margaret's lover. Then come the Witches' Sabbath on the summit of the Brocken, and the prison scene with the death of Margaret. After this we have two scenes from the second part of Goethe's 'Faust,' the classical Sabbath, in which the union of Helen and Faust symbolises the embrace of the Greek and Germanic ideals, and the redemption of Faust with the discomfiture of Mephistopheles, which ends the work. Although 'Mefistofele' is unsatisfactory as a whole, the extraordinary beauty of several single scenes ought to secure for it such immortality as the stage has to offer. Boito is most happily inspired by Margaret, and the two scenes in which she appears are masterpieces of beauty and pathos. In the garden scene he has caught the ineffable simplicity of her character with astonishing success. The contrast between her girlish innocence and the voluptuous sentiment of Gounod's heroine cannot fail to strike the most careless listener. The climax of this scene, the delightfully tender and playful quartet, which culminates in a burst of hysterical laughter, is a stroke of genius. In the prison scene Boito rises to still greater heights. The poignant pathos of the poor maniac's broken utterances, the languorous beauty of the duet, and the frenzied terror and agony of the finale, are beyond praise.
Amilcare Ponchielli (1834-1886) owed much to both Verdi and Boito, and his best work, 'La Gioconda,' which was produced in 1876, bears unmistakable traces of the influence of 'Mefistofele' and 'Aida.' The libretto of 'La Gioconda' is founded upon a gloomy play by Victor Hugo, 'Angelo, Tyran de Padoue.' La Gioconda, a Venetian street singer, buys the safety of her lover Enzo from the spy Barnaba with her own hand, only to find that the former uses his new-found liberty to prosecute an intrigue with another woman. She generously contrives to save the lives of Enzo and his mistress, which are threatened by the vengeance of the latter's husband, and commits suicide in order to escape falling into the hands of Barnaba. Ponchielli's opera overflows with melody of a rather commonplace description. He has, besides, a certain dramatic gift, and the concerted music in 'La Gioconda' is powerful and effective. The ballet music is unusually good, and shows many favourable examples of Ponchielli's fondness for fanciful melodic designs, a mannerism which has been freely imitated by his pupils and followers. Another meritorious composer of the same school was Alfredo Catalani (1854-93), whose 'Lorelei' (1890) and 'La Wally' (1892) still hold the stage.
The most important of the younger men is Giacomo Puccini, a composer who during the last decade has come to the front in a decisive manner. His first opera, 'Le Villi,' was produced in 1884. The subject is a strange one to have taken the fancy of a southern composer. It is founded upon one of those weird traditions which seem essentially the property of Northern Europe. Villi, or in English, Wilis, are the spirits of affianced damsels, whose lovers have proved untrue. They rise from the earth at midnight, and assemble upon the highway attired in all their bridal finery. From midnight until dawn they wheel their wild dances and watch for their faithless lovers. If one of the latter happen to pass, he is beguiled into the magic circle, and in the grasp of the relentless Wilis is whirled round and round until he sinks expiring upon the ground. In Puccini's opera, the scene is laid in the Black Forest. The characters are three in number—- Anna, her fiancé Robert, and her father Wilhelm Wulf. The first act opens with the betrothal of the lovers. After the usual festivities Robert departs for Mayence, whither he has to go to claim an inheritance. Six months elapse between the first and second acts. Robert has fallen into the toils of an abandoned woman, and is still at Mayence; Anna has died of a broken heart. The second act opens with two orchestral movements, 'L'Abbandono,' which describes the funeral of Anna, and 'La Tregenda,' the dance of the Wilis. Robert now appears, torn by remorse, and pours forth his unavailing regrets. But the hour of repentance is past. Anna and her attendant Wilis rush on. The unfortunate man, in a kind of hypnotic trance, is drawn into their circling dance. They whirl him round and round in ever wilder and more fantastic gambols, until he drops lifeless upon the ground, and the avenging spirits disappear with a Hosanna of triumph. There is little attempt at local colour in 'Le Villi,' but the music is full of imaginative power. In the purely orchestral parts of the work the composer seems to have escaped from convention altogether, and has written music instinct with weird suggestion and unearthly force.
Puccini's next opera, 'Edgar' (1889), was a failure, but in 'Manon Lescaut' (1893) he once more achieved success. His treatment of the Abbé Prévost's romance, as may well be imagined, differs in toto from that of Massenet. The libretto, in the first place, is laid out upon an entirely different plan. It consists of a string of detached scenes with but little mutual connection, which, without some previous knowledge of the story, would be barely comprehensible. The first act deals with the meeting of the lovers at Amiens and their flight to Paris. In the second act we find Manon installed as the mistress of Géronte di Lavoir, surrounded by crowds of admirers. Des Grieux penetrates to her apartment, and after a scene of passionate upbraiding persuades her to fly with him. But before they can depart they are interrupted by the entrance of Manon's irate protector, who, in revenge for her faithlessness, summons the police and consigns her to St. Lazare. The third act shows the quay at Havre, and the embarkation of the filles de joie for New Orleans; and the last act, which takes place in America, is one long duet between Manon and Des Grieux, ending with Manon's death. Puccini looked at the story of Manon through Italian spectacles. His power of characterisation is limited, and there is little in his music to differentiate Manon and her lover from the ordinary hero and heroine of Italian opera. The earlier scenes of the opera demand a lighter touch than he could then command, but in the tragic scene at Havre he is completely successful. Here he strikes the true note of tragedy. The great concerted piece with which the act ends is a masterly piece of writing, and proves that Puccini can handle a form, which as employed by lesser men is a synonym for stereotyped conventionality, with superb passion and sincerity.
But Puccini's earlier successes sank into insignificance by the side of the triumph of 'La Bohème,' which was produced in 1896. It was impossible to weave a connected story from Murger's famous novel. Puccini's librettists attempted nothing of the kind. They took four scenes each complete in itself and put them before the audience without any pretence of a connecting thread of interest. In the first act we see the joyous quartet of Bohemians in their Paris attic—Rodolphe the poet, Marcel the painter, Colline the philosopher, and Schaunard the musician. Rodolphe sacrifices the manuscript of his tragedy to keep the fire going, and Marcel keeps the landlord at bay, until the arrival of Schaunard with an unexpected windfall of provisions raises the spirits of the company to the zenith of rapture. Three of the Bohemians go out to keep Christmas Eve at their favourite café, leaving Rodolphe to finish an article. To him enters Mimi, an embroiderer, who lodges on the same floor, under pretence of asking for a light. A delicious love-duet follows, and the lovers go off to join their friends. The next scene is at the Café Momus, where Musette appears with a wealthy banker. She speedily contrives to get the banker out of the way and rushes into the arms of her old lover, Marcel. This scene, which is very short, is a carnival of bustle and gaiety, and is a brilliant example of Puccini's happy knack of handling concerted music. The next scene is a series of quarrels and reconciliations between the two pairs of lovers, while in the last act Mimi, who has deserted Rodolphe, comes back to see him once more before she dies, and breathes her last on the little bed in the attic. Puccini's music echoes the spirit of Murger's romance with marvellous sincerity. It paints the mingled joy and grief of Bohemian life in hues the most delicate and tender. Like Murger, though dealing with things often squalid and unlovely, he never forgets that he is an artist. The sordid facts of life are gilded by the rainbow colours of romance. Puccini has caught the fanciful grace of Murger's style with the dexterity of genius. His music is thoroughly Italian in style, but he never strikes a false note. He dashes off the irresponsible gaiety of the earlier scenes with a touch which though light is always sure, and when the action deepens to tenderness, and even to pathos, he can be serious without falling into sentimentality and impressive without encroaching upon the boundaries of melodrama. 'La Bohème' is one of the few operas of recent years which can be described as a masterpiece.
With 'La Tosca,' which was produced in 1899, Puccini won another success, though for very different reasons from those which made 'La Bohème' so conspicuous a triumph. The libretto is a clever condensation of Sardou's famous drama. The scene is laid in Rome in the year 1800. In the first act we are introduced to Mario Cavaradossi, a painter, who is at work in a church, and to Flora Tosca, his mistress, a famous singer, who pays him a visit and teases him with her jealous reproaches. Cavaradossi befriends Angelotti, a victim of Papal tyranny, who has escaped from the castle of St Angelo, and despatches him by a secret path to his villa in the outskirts of Rome. Scarpia, the chief of police, who is close upon Angelotti's heels, suspects Cavaradossi of being implicated in Angelotti's escape, and uses La Tosca's jealous suspicions to help him in securing the prisoner. In the next act Angelotti is still at large, but Cavaradossi has been arrested. Scarpia, who has meanwhile conceived a violent passion for La Tosca, extracts from her the secret of Angelotti's hiding-place by putting her lover to the torture in an adjoining room, whence his cries penetrate to her distracted ears. La Tosca buys her lover's safety by promising herself to Scarpia. The latter gives orders that Cavaradossi's execution shall only be a sham one, blank cartridge being substituted for bullets. When they are left alone, La Tosca murders Scarpia with a carving-knife when he tries to embrace her. In the last act, after a passionate duet between the lovers, Cavaradossi is executed—Scarpia having given a secret order to the effect that the execution shall be genuine after all—and La Tosca in despair throws herself into the Tiber.
In 'La Tosca' we are in a world very different from that of 'La Bohème.' Here there is very little scope for grace and tenderness. All is deadly earnest. The melodramatic incidents of the story crowd one upon another, and in the rush and excitement of the plot the music often has to take a secondary place. Whenever the composer has a chance he utilises it with rare skill. There are passages in 'La Tosca' of great lyrical beauty, but as a rule the exigencies of the stage give little room for musical development, and a great deal of the score is more like glorified incidental music than the almost symphonic fabric to which we are accustomed in modern opera.
The history of 'Madama Butterfly' (1904), Puccini's latest opera, is a strange one. At its production in Milan it was hissed off the stage and withdrawn after a single performance. No one seems to know why it failed to please the Scala audience, with whom Puccini had previously been a great favourite. Possibly the unfamiliar Japanese surroundings displeased the conservative Milanese, or the singers may have been inadequate. At any rate, when it was revived a few months later at Brescia, in a slightly revised form, it won more favour, and its London appearance the following year was a brilliant triumph. Since then it has gone the round of Europe and America, and is now probably the most popular opera in the modern repertory. The story of 'Madama Butterfly' is familiar to English hearers, the opera being founded upon the drama by David Belasco, which was played here with great success some years ago. Peculiarly apt for musical setting is the tale of the fascinating little 'mousmé' who contracts a so-called Japanese marriage with a lieutenant in the American navy, and after a brief union is driven by his perfidy to suicide. That the story is what may be called edifying can hardly be claimed, but the world has long since ceased to expect—perhaps even to desire—that opera should inculcate a lofty moral code.
However, to come to business, the scene opens in the garden of a country house among the hills above Nagasaki. Lieutenant Pinkerton and his friend Sharpless, the American consul, are inspecting the retreat which the former has prepared for his Japanese wife. The voices of Butterfly and her girl friends are soon heard in the distance as they ascend the hill. After an amusing scene of greeting and introduction comes the marriage ceremony and its attendant festivities, which are interrupted by the arrival of Butterfly's uncle. This venerable person, who is a priest in a neighbouring temple, has discovered that Butterfly has renounced her own religion and adopted that of her 'husband.' He pronounces the most portentous maledictions upon her and is bundled out by Pinkerton. The act ends with a love-duet of extraordinary beauty, breathing tenderness and passion in strains which seem to embody all the charm and mystery of the perfumed eastern night. Three years have passed when the next act begins. Butterfly is deserted and lives with her two-year-old baby and her faithful maid Suzuki, praying and waiting for the husband who never comes. The friendly consul tries to break to her the news of Pinkerton's marriage with an American girl, but Butterfly cannot comprehend such perfidy. She sees Pinkerton's ship entering the harbour and calls Suzuki to help her deck the house with flowers. The music of this scene is exquisite, as is also that of the scene in which Sharpless reads Pinkerton's letter to Butterfly; but the whole act is a treasure-house of delicious melody and tender pathos. It ends curiously, but not the less effectively, with a short orchestral movement, played whilst Butterfly, Suzuki, and the child post themselves at the windows to watch through the night for the coming of Pinkerton. The grey dawn shows Butterfly still at her post, though the others have fallen asleep, but no Pinkerton appears. A little later that singularly unheroic person sneaks in with his wife, whom he commissions to interview Butterfly while he waits in the garden outside. Mrs. Pinkerton rather cold-bloodedly offers to take charge of the child, to which Butterfly agrees, and, after a passionate farewell, kills herself behind a screen. Puccini's music is unquestionably the strongest thing he has done yet. The score is richer and more solid than that of any of his earlier works, and the orchestration shows no falling off in ingenuity and resource. Melodically 'Madama Butterfly' is perhaps not so fresh or abundant as 'La Bohème,' but the composer's touch is firmer and surer in handling dramatic situations. 'Madama Butterfly' is unquestionably one of the most interesting and important operas of modern times, as it is one of the most attractive. It has established Puccini more firmly than ever in the position of the leading operatic composer of the day.
The name of Pietro Mascagni is chiefly connected in the minds of opera-goers with 'Cavalleria Rusticana,' This work, which was produced in 1890, lifted its composer at once into popularity. The story is founded upon one of Verga's Sicilian tales. Turiddu, a village Adonis, is beloved by the fair Lola. He enlists as a soldier, and on his return from the wars finds that the fickle damsel has married Alfio, a carter. He looks round him for fresh conquests, and his choice falls upon Santuzza. This arouses all Lola's latent coquetry, and she soon contrives to win him back to her side. The deserted Santuzza appeals in vain to his love and pity. He repulses her roughly, and in despair she tells Alfio the story of his wife's inconstancy. Alfio challenges Turiddu to mortal combat, and kills him as the curtain falls. Squalid as the story is, it is full of life and movement, and has that simple directness which is essential to success. The music is melodious, if not very original, and vigorous even to brutality. Mascagni here shows a natural instinct for the theatre. His method is often coarse, but his effects rarely miss their mark. At its production 'Cavalleria' was absurdly overpraised, but it certainly is a work of promise. Unfortunately the promise so far has not been fulfilled. 'L'Amico Fritz' and 'I Rantzau,' two adaptations of novels by Erckmann-Chatrian, produced respectively in 1891 and 1892, have almost disappeared from the current repertory. The first is a delicate little story of an old bachelor's love for a pretty country girl, the second a village 'Romeo and Juliet,' showing how an internecine feud between two brothers is ended by the mutual love of their children. Mascagni's melodramatic style was ill suited to idylls of this kind. He drowned the pretty little stories in oceans of perfervid orchestration, and banged all the sentiment out of them with drums and cymbals. Yet, in the midst of the desert of coarseness and vulgarity came oases of delicate fancy and imagination. The 'Cherry Duet' in 'L'Amico Fritz,' and the Cicaleccio chorus in 'I Rantzau,' are models of refinement and finish, which are doubly delightful by reason of their incongruous environment. Unfortunately such gems as these only make the coarseness of their setting the more conspicuous, and on the whole the sooner the world forgets about 'L'Amico Fritz' and 'I Rantzau' the better it will be for Mascagni's reputation. 'Guglielmo Ratcliff' and 'Silvano,' both produced in 1895, have not been heard out of Italy, nor is there much probability that they will ever cross the Alps. 'Zanetto' (1896), on the other hand, seems to contain the best work which Mascagni has yet given to the world. It is founded upon Francois Coppée's charming duologue, 'Le Passant,' a graceful scene between a world-weary courtesan and a youthful troubadour who passes beneath her balcony. Mascagni's music, which is scored only for strings and harp, is both delicate and refined, and instinct with a tender melancholy, for which it would be vain to look in his earlier works. 'Iris' (1898), an opera on a rather unpleasant Japanese story, has met with a certain degree of favour, but 'Le Maschere' (1901), an attempt to introduce Harlequin and Columbine to the lyric stage, failed completely, nor does 'Amica' (1905) seen to have done much to rehabilitate the composer's waning reputation. Mascagni has as yet done little to justify the extravagant eulogies with which his first work was greeted, and his warmest admirers are beginning to fear that the possibility of his doing something to redeem the early promise of 'Cavalleria' is getting rather remote.
Leoncavallo, though older than Mascagni, must be regarded as in a certain sense his follower, since his most popular work, 'Pagliacci,' was undoubtedly inspired by 'Cavalleria Rusticana.' The story begins with the arrival of a troupe of travelling comedians, or Pagliacci, in an Italian village. All is not harmony in the little company. Tonio (the Taddeo, or clown) loves Nedda (Columbine), the wife of Canio (Pagliaccio), but she already has a lover in the shape of Silvio, a young villager, and rejects the clumsy advances of the other with scorn. Tonio overhears the mutual vows of Nedda and her lover, and bent upon vengeance, hurries off to bring the unsuspecting Canio upon the scene. He only arrives in time to see the disappearance of Silvio, and cannot terrify his wife into disclosing her lover's name, though he is only just prevented by Beppe, the Harlequin of the troupe, from stabbing her on the spot. The second act is on the evening of the same day, a few hours later. The curtain of the rustic theatre goes up and the little play begins. By a curious coincidence the scheme of the plot represents something like the real situation of the actors. Columbine is entertaining her lover Harlequin in the absence of her husband Pagliaccio, while Taddeo keeps a look-out for his return. When he returns we see that the mimic comedy is to develop into real tragedy. Canio scarcely makes a pretence of keeping to his rôle of Pagliaccio. Mad with jealousy, he rushes on his wife and tries to make her confess the name of her lover. She refuses, and in the end he stabs her, while Silvio, who has formed one of the rustic audience, leaps on to the stage only to receive his death-blow as well. As in 'Cavalleria,' the theme of the story is squalid and unpleasant, though lucid and undeniably effective for stage purposes. The music makes an effective accompaniment to the exciting incidents of the plot, but it has few claims to intrinsic interest. Leoncavallo is never much of a melodist, and 'Pagliacci' teems with reminiscences. The opera was probably written in a hurry, in order to pander to the taste for melodrama which 'Cavalleria' had excited. In 'I Medici' (1893), a tale of the Florentine Renaissance, Leoncavallo aimed far higher. Here, too, however, his music is for the most part a string of ill-digested reminiscences, though scored with such extraordinary cleverness and fertility of resource as almost to disguise the inherent poverty of the score. 'Chatterton' (1896) was a failure, but 'La Bohème' (1897), though somewhat cast into the shade by Puccini's work upon the same subject, scored a decided success. Leoncavallo's music is conceived in a totally different mood from that of Puccini. He has little of Puccini's grace and tenderness, but he treated the scenes of Bohemian life with amazing energy and spirit, if with an occasional suggestion of brutality. 'Zaza' (1900), founded upon a French play which recently achieved a scandalous notoriety, has found little favour even in Italy. Leoncavallo's latest work, 'Der Roland,' was written in response to a commission from the German Emperor, who believed that he had found in the composer of 'I Medici' a musician worthy to celebrate the mighty deeds of the Hohenzollerns. 'Der Roland' was produced in a German version at Berlin in 1904, and in spite of Court patronage failed completely.
Umberto Giordano, who during the last few years has steadily worked his way to the front rank of Italian composers, started his career with a succès de scandale in 'Mala Vita' (1892), a coarse and licentious imitation of 'Cavalleria Rusticana.' There is far better work in 'Andrea Chénier' (1896), a stirring tale of the French Revolution set to music which shows uncommon dramatic power and in certain scenes a fine sense of lyrical expression. After a good deal of preludial matter the plot centres in the rivalry of Chénier the poet and Gérard, a revolutionary leader, for the hand of Madeleine. Gérard condemns Chénier to death, but is melted by Madeleine's pleading, and rescinds the order for his execution. The pardon, however, comes too late, and Madeleine and Chénier ascend the scaffold together, in an ecstasy of lyrical rapture. 'Fedora' (1898), an adaptation of Sardou's famous drama, has less musical interest than 'Andrea Chénier,' the breathless incidents of the plot giving but little scope for musical treatment. The first act shows the death of Vladimir, the police investigation and Fedora's vow to discover the murderer. In the second Fedora extorts from Loris Ipanoff a confession of the vengeance that he wreaked upon the perfidious Vladimir, and, finding Loris innocent and Vladimir guilty, in a sudden revulsion of feeling throws herself into Loris's arms, bidding him stay with her rather than leave the house to fall into the hands of spies. In the third act Fedora, certain of detection, confesses to Loris her previous machinations against him, which have resulted in the deaths of his mother and brother, and takes poison before his eyes. Giordano touched a far higher level in 'Siberia' (1903), a gloomy tale of Russian crime and punishment. Stephana, a courtesan, among all her lovers cares only for the young sergeant Vassili. Vassili, who has learnt to love her, not knowing who she is, when he discovers the truth, bursts in upon a fête she is giving, quarrels with a lieutenant and kills him on the spot. He is condemned to exile in Siberia, but is followed by Stephana, who overtakes him at the frontier, and gets leave to share his fate. In the mines they find Globy, Stephana's original seducer, whose infamy she exposes to the assembled convicts. In revenge Globy betrays to the authorities a project of escape devised by Stephana and Vassili, and the lovers are shot just as liberty appears to be within their grasp. The music of 'Siberia' is more artistic than anything Giordano has previously written. The situations are skilfully handled, and the note of pity and pathos is touched with no uncertain hand. The opera is unequal, but the scene of the halt at the frontier is treated in masterly fashion.
Francesco Ciléa won no marked success until the production of his 'Adriana Lecouvreur' in 1902. The plot is an adaptation of Scribe's famous play, but so trenchantly abbreviated as to be almost incomprehensible. The opening scene in the foyer of the Comédie Française is bright and lively, the handling of the score arousing pleasant reminiscences of Verdi's 'Falstaff,' but the more dramatic passages in the struggle of Adrienne and her rival the Princess de Bouillon for Maurice de Saxe seem to be outside the scope of the composer's talent, and the great moments of the piece are somewhat frigid and unimpressive. There is a note of pathos, however, in Adrienne's death-scene, and the character of Michonnet is elaborated with skill and feeling. Ciléa's latest opera, 'Gloria' (1907), a blood-thirsty story of the struggle between the Guelphs and Ghibellines, does not appear to have won much favour in Italy.
Edoardo Mascheroni's early laurels were won as a conductor, but in 1901 he sprang into fame as the composer of 'Lorenza,' an opera which has met with much success in various cities of Spain and Spanish America as well as in Italy. 'Lorenza' is a Calabrian version of the time-honoured story of Judith and Holofernes, though in this case the Judith, so far from slaying her brigand Holofernes, falls in love with him, and ends by disguising herself in his cloak and allowing herself to be shot by the soldiers who come to capture the bandit chief. Mascheroni's score overflows with thoroughly Italian melody, and shows considerable knowledge of dramatic effect, which from a conductor of his experience was only to be expected.
Of the numerous other Italian composers who bask in the sunshine of popularity south of the Alps very few are known to fame beyond the frontiers of Italy. The younger men follow religiously in the steps of Mascagni or Puccini, while their elders still hang on to the skirts of 'Aida.' Giacomo Orefice won a success of curiosity in 1901 with his 'Chopin,' a strange work dealing in fanciful fashion with the story of the Polish composer's life, the melodies of the opera being taken entirely from Chopin's music.
Spinelli's 'A Basso Porto' (1895), which has been performed in English by the Carl Rosa Opera Company, is redolent of Mascagni's influence, but the nauseating incidents of the plot make 'Cavalleria,' by comparison, seem chaste and classical. The libretto deals with the vengeance wreaked by a villainous Neapolitan street loafer upon a woman who has played him false—a vengeance which takes the form of ruining her son by drink and play, and of attempting to seduce her daughter. In the end this egregious ruffian is murdered in the street by the mother of his two victims, just in time to prevent his being knifed by the members of a secret society whom he had betrayed to justice. The music is not without dramatic vigour, and it has plenty of melody of a rough and ready kind. There is technical skill, too, in the treatment of the voices and in the orchestration, but hardly enough to reconcile an English audience to so offensive a book. Salvatore Auteri-Manzocchi has never repeated the early success of 'Dolores,' and Spiro Samara, a Greek by birth, but an Italian by training and sympathies, seems to have lost the secret of the delicate imagination which nearly made 'Flora Mirabilis' a European success, though his 'Martire,' a work of crude sensationalism, enjoyed an ephemeral success in Italy. Franchetti, the composer of 'Asrael,' 'Cristoforo Colombo,' and other works, conceived upon a scale grandiose rather than grand, appears anxious to emulate the theatrical glories of Meyerbeer, and to make up for poverty of inspiration by spectacular magnificence, but none of his operas has yet succeeded in crossing the Alps.
This is taken from The Opera.
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