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A Second Book Of Operas by Henry Edward Krehbiel

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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 Bulthanpt 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 Maccabseus,
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 Mascagiii'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 RUSTICASTA"

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!"

CHAPTEE 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,

CHAPTEE 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,

CHAPTEE 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 HofEmannsthal 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 aud 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 whieh 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 "II 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!

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