[figure: a musical score excerpt sung to the words “Now Spring’s generous band, Brings flowers to the land]
Dalila is here and it is become necessary to say something of her, having said so much about the man whose destruction she accomplished. Let the ingenious and erudite Philip Hale introduce her: “Was Delilah a patriotic woman, to be ranked with Jael and Judith, or was she merely a courtesan, as certain opera singers who impersonate her in the opera seem to think? E. Meier says that the word ‘Delilah’ means ‘the faithless one.’ Ewald translates it ‘traitress,’ and so does Ranke. Knobel characterizes her as ‘die Zarte,’ which means tender, delicate, but also subtle. Lange is sure that she was a weaver woman, if not an out-and-out ‘zonah.’ There are other Germans who think the word is akin to the verb ‘einlullen,’ to lull asleep. Some liken it to the Arabic dalilah, a woman who misguides, a bawd. See in ‘The Thousand Nights and a Night’ the speech of the damsel to Aziz: ‘If thou marry me thou wilt at least be safe from the daughter of Dalilah, the Wily One.’ Also ‘The Rogueries of Dalilah, the Crafty, and her daughter, Zayrah, the Coney Catcher.'”
We are directly concerned here with the Dalila of the opera, but Mr. Hale invites us to an excursion which offers a pleasant occupation for a brief while, and we cheerfully go with him. The Biblical Delilah is a vague figure, except in two respects: She is a woman of such charms that she wins the love of Samson, and such guile and cupidity that she plays upon his passion and betrays him to the lords of the Philistines for pay. The Bible knows nothing of her patriotism, nor does the sacred historian give her the title of Samson’s wife, though it has long been the custom of Biblical commentators to speak of her in this relation. St. Chrysostom set the fashion and Milton followed it:–
But who is this? What thing of sea or land– Female of sex it seems–
That, so bedeck’d, ornate and gay Comes this way sailing
Like a stately ship
Of Tarsus, bound for the isles
Of Javan or Gadire,
With all her bravery on, and tackle trim, Sails fill’d and streamers waving,
Courted by all the winds that hold them play; An amber scent of odorous perfume–
Her harbinger, a damsel train behind? Some rich Philistian matron she may seem; And now, at nearer view, no other certain Than Dalila, thy wife.
It cannot be without significance that the author of the story in the Book of Judges speaks in a different way of each of the three women who play a part in the tragedy of Samson’s life. The woman who lived among the vineyards of Timnath, whose murder Samson avenged, was his wife. She was a Philistine, but Samson married her according to the conventional manner of the time and, also according to the manner of the time, she kept her home with her parents after her marriage. Wherefore she has gotten her name in the good books of the sociological philosophers who uphold the matronymic theory touching early society. The woman of Gaza whom Samson visited what time he confounded his would-be captors by carrying off the doors of the gates of the city was curtly “an harlot.” Of the third woman it is said only that it came to pass that Samson “loved a woman in the Valley of Sorek, whose name was Delilah.” Thereupon follows the story of her bribery by the lords of the Philistines and her betrayal of her lover. Evidently a licentious woman who could not aspire even to the merit of the heroine of Dekker’s play.
Milton not only accepted the theory of her wifehood, but also attributed patriotic motives to her. She knew that her name would be defamed “in Dan, in Judah and the bordering tribes.”
But in my country, where I most desire, In Eeron, Gaza, Asdod and in Gath,
I shall be nam’d among the famousest Of women, sung at solemn festivals,
Living and dead recorded, who to save Her country from a fierce destroyer, chose Above the faith of wedlock bands; my tomb With odours visited and annual flowers; Not less renown’d than in Mount Ephraim Jael, who, with inhospitable guile,
Smote Sisera sleeping.
In the scene before us Dalila is wholly and simply a siren, a seductress who plays upon the known love of Samson from motives which are not disclosed. As yet one may imagine her moved by a genuine passion. She turns her lustrous black eyes upon him as she hails him a double victor over his foes and her heart, and invites him to rest from his arms in her embraces in the fair valley of Sorek. Temptation seizes upon the soul of Samson. He prays God to make him steadfast; but she winds her toils the tighter: It is for him that she has bound a coronet of purple grapes upon her forehead and entwined the rose of Sharon in her ebon tresses. An Old Hebrew warns against the temptress and Samson agonizingly invokes a veil over the beauty that has enchained him.
“Extinguish the fires of those eyes which enslave me.”–thus he.
“Sweet is the lily of the valley, pleasant the juices of mandragora, but sweeter and more pleasant are my kisses!”–thus she.
The Old Hebrew warns again: “If thou give ear to her honeyed phrases, my son, curses will alight on thee which no tears that thou may’st weep will ever efface.”
But still the siren song rings in his ears. The maidens who had come upon the scene with Dalila (are they priestesses of Dagon?) dance, swinging their floral garlands seductively before the eyes of Samson and his followers. The hero tries to avoid the glances which Dalila, joining in the dance, throws upon him. It is in vain; his eyes follow her through all the voluptuous postures and movements of the dance.
[figure: a musical score excerpt]
And Dalila sings “Printemps qui commence”–a song often heard in concert-rooms, but not so often as the air with which the love-duet in the second act reaches its culmination, which is popularly held also to mark the climax of the opera. That song is wondrously insinuating in its charm; it pulsates with passion, so much so, indeed, that it is difficult to conceive that its sentiments are feigned, but this is lovelier in its fresh, suave, graceful, and healthy beauty:-
[figure: a musical score excerpt, sung to the words “The Spring with her dower of bird and flower, brings hope in her train.”]
As Dalila leaves the scene her voice and eyes repeat their lure, while Samson’s looks and acts betray the trouble of his soul.
It is not until we see and hear Dalila in the second act that she is revealed to us in her true character. Not till now does she disclose the motives of her conduct toward her lover. Night is falling in the valley of Sorek, the vale which lies between the hill country which the Israelites entered from the East, and the coast land which the Philistines, supposedly an island people, invaded from the West. Dalila, gorgeously apparelled, is sitting on a rock near the portico of her house. The strings of the orchestra murmur and the chromatic figure which we shall hear again in her love-song coos in the wood-winds:
[figure: a musical score excerpt]
She awaits him whom passion has made her slave in full confidence of her hold upon him.
Samson, recherchant ma presence,
Ce soir doit venir en ces lieux.
Voici l’heure de la vengeance
Qui doit satisfaire nos dieux!
Amour! viens aider ma faiblesse!
The vengeance of her gods shall be glutted; it is to that end she invokes the power of love to strengthen her weakness. A passion like his will not down–that she knows. To her comes the High Priest: Samson’s strength, he says, is supernatural and flows from a vow with which he was consecrated to effect the glory of Israel. Once while he lay in her arms that strength had deserted him, but now, it is said, he flouts her love and doubts his own passion. There is no need to try to awaken
[figure: a musical score excerpt]
jealousy in the heart of Dalila; she hates Samson more bitterly than the leader of his enemies. She is not mercenary, like the Biblical woman; she scorns the promise of riches which the High Priest offers so she obtain the secret of the Hebrew’s strength. Thrice had she essayed to learn that secret and thrice had he set her spell at naught. Now she will assail him with tears–a woman’s weapon.
The rumblings of thunder are heard; the scene is lit up by flashes of lightning. Running before the storm, which is only a precursor and a symbol of the tempest which is soon to rend his soul, Samson comes. Dalila upbraids her lover, rebukes his fears, protests her grief. Samson cannot withstand her tears. He confesses his love, but he must obey the will of a higher power. “What god is mightier than Love?” Let him but doubt her constancy and she will die. And she plays her trump card: “Mon coeur s’ouvre a ta voix,” while the fluttering strings and cooing wood-winds insinuate themselves into the crevices of Samson’s moral harness and loosen the rivets that hold it together:–
[figure: a musical score excerpt to the words “My heart, at thy dear voice”]
Herein lies the strength and the weakness of music: it must fain be truthful. Dalila’s words may be hypocritical, but the music speaks the speech of genuine passion. Not until we hear the refrain echoed mockingly in the last scene of the drama can we believe that the passion hymned in this song is feigned. And we almost deplore hat the composer put it to such disgraceful use. Samson hears the voice of his God in the growing and again hesitates. The storm bursts as Dalila shrieks out the hate that fills her and runs toward her dwelling.
Beethoven sought to suggest external as well as internal peace in the “Dona nobis” of his Mass in D by mingling the sounds of war with the prayer for peace; Saint-Saens pictures the storm in nature and in Samson’s soul by the music which accompanies the hero as he raises his hands mutely in prayer; then follows the temptress with faltering steps and enters her dwelling. The tempest reaches its climax; Dalila appears at the window with a shout to the waiting Philistine soldiery below. The voice of Samson cuts through the stormy night: “Trahison!”
Act III.–First scene: A prison in Gaza. Samson, shorn of his flowing locks, which as a Nazarite he had vowed should never be touched by shears, labors at the mill. He has been robbed of his eyes and darkness has settled down upon him; darkness, too, upon the people whom his momentary weakness had given back into slavery.
“Total eclipse!” Saint-Saens has won our admiration for the solemn dignity with which he has invested the penitent confession of the blind hero. But who shall hymn the blindness of Manoah’s son after Milton and Handel? From a crowd of captive Hebrews outside the prison walls come taunting accusations, mingled with supplications to God. We recognize again the national mood of the psalmody of the first act. The entire scene is finely conceived. It is dramatic in a lofty sense, for its action plays on the stage of the heart. Samson, contrite, humble, broken in spirit, with a prayer for his people’s deliverance, is led away to be made sport of in the temple of Dagon. There, before the statue of the god, grouped among the columns and before the altar the High Priest and the lords of the Philistines. Dalila, too, with maidens clad for the lascivious dance, and the multitude of Philistia. The women’s choral song to spring which charmed us in the first act is echoed by mixed voices. The ballet which follows is a prettily exotic one, with an introductory cadence marked by the Oriental scale, out of which the second dance melody is constructed–a scale which has the peculiarity of an interval composed of three semitones, and which we know from the song of the priestesses in Verdi’s “Aida”:–
[figure: a musical score excerpt]
[figure: a musical score excerpt]
The High Priest makes mock of the Judge of Israel: Let him empty the wine cup and sing the praise of his vanquisher! Dalila, in the pride of her triumph, tauntingly tells him how simulated love had been made to serve her gods, her hate, and her nation. Samson answers only in contrite prayer. Together in canonic imitation (the erudite form does not offend, but only gives dignity to the scene) priest and siren offer a libation on the altar of the Fish god.
[figure: a musical score excerpt]
The flames flash upward from the altar. Now a supreme act of insolent impiety; Samson, too, shall sacrifice to Dagon. A boy is told to lead him where all can witness his humiliation. Samson feels that the time for retribution upon his enemies is come. He asks to be led between the marble pillars that support the roof of the temple. Priests and people, the traitress and her dancing women, the lords of the Philistines, the rout of banqueters and worshippers–all hymn the praise of Dagon. A brief supplication to Israel’s God–
“And Samson took hold of the two middle pillars upon which the house stood and on which it was borne up, of the one with his right hand and of the other with his left.
“And Samson said, ‘Let me die with the Philistines.’ And he bowed himself with all his might: and the house fell upon the lords and upon all the people that were therein. So the dead which he slew at his death were more than they which he slew in his life.”
“DIE KONIGIN VON SABA”
The most obvious reason why Goldmark’s “Konigin von Saba” should be seen and heard with pleasure lies in its book and scenic investiture. Thoughtfully considered the book is not one of great worth, but in the handling of things which give pleasure to the superficial observer it is admirable. In the first place it presents a dramatic story which is rational; which strongly enlists the interest if not the sympathies of the observer; which is unhackneyed; which abounds with imposing spectacles with which the imagination of childhood already had made play, that are not only intrinsically brilliant and fascinating but occur as necessary adjuncts of the story. Viewed from its ethical side and considered with reference to the sources whence its elements sprang, it falls under a considerable measure of condemnation, as will more plainly appear after its incidents have been rehearsed.
The title of the opera indicates that the Biblical story of the visit of the Queen of Sheba to Solomon had been drawn on for the plot. This is true, but only in a slight degree. Sheba’s Queen comes to Solomon in the opera, but that is the end of the draft on the Scriptural legend so far as she is concerned. Sulamith, who figures in the drama, owes her name to the Canticles, from which it was borrowed by the librettist, but no element of her character nor any of the incidents in which she is involved. The “Song of Songs, which is Solomon’s” contributes a few lines of poetry to the book, and a ritualistic service which is celebrated in the temple finds its original text in the opening verses of Psalms lxvii and cxvii, but with this I have enumerated all that the opera owes to the Bible. It is not a Biblical opera, in the degree that Mehul’s “Joseph,” Rossini’s “Moses,” or Rubinstein’s “Maccabees” is Biblical, to say nothing of Saint-Saens’s “Samson et Dalila.” Solomon’s magnificent reign and marvellous wisdom, which contribute a few factors to the sum of the production, belong to profane as well as to sacred history and it will be found most agreeable to deeply rooted preconceptions to think of some other than the Scriptural Solomon as the prototype of the Solomon of Mosenthal and Goldmark, who, at the best, is a sorry sort of sentimentalist. The local color has been borrowed from the old story; the dramatic motive comes plainly from Wagner’s “Tannhauser.”
Assad, a favorite courtier, is sent by Solomon to extend greetings and a welcome to the Queen of Sheba, who is on the way to visit the king, whose fame for wealth and wisdom has reached her ears in far Arabia. Assad is the type (though a milk-and-watery one, it must be confessed) of manhood struggling between the things that are of the earth and the things which are of heaven–between a gross, sensual passion and a pure, exalting love. He is betrothed to Sulamith, the daughter of the High Priest of the temple, who awaits his return from Solomon’s palace and leads her companions in songs of gladness. Assad meets the Queen at Gath, performs his mission, and sets out to return, but, exhausted by the heat of the day, enters the forest on Mount Lebanon and lies down on a bank of moss to rest. There the sound of plashing waters arrests his ear. He seeks the cause of the grateful noise and comes upon a transportingly beautiful woman bathing. The nymph, finding herself observed, does not, like another Diana, cause the death of her admirer, but discloses herself to be a veritable Wagnerian Venus. She clips him in her arms and he falls at her feet; but a reed rustles and the charmer flees. These incidents we do not see. They precede the opening of the opera, and we learn of them from Assad’s narration. Assad returns to Jerusalem, where, conscience stricken, he seeks to avoid his chaste bride. To Solomon, however, he confesses his adventure, and the king sets the morrow as his wedding day with Sulamith.
The Queen of Sheba arrives, and when she raises her veil, ostensibly to show unto Solomon the first view of her features that mortal man has ever had vouchsafed him, Assad recognizes the heroine of his adventure in the woods on Lebanon. His mind is in a maze; bewilderingly he addresses her, and haughtily he is repulsed. But the woman has felt the dart no less than Assad; she seeks him at night in the palace garden; whither she had gone to brood over her love and the loss which threatens her on the morrow, and the luring song of her slave draws him again into her arms.
Before the altar in the temple, just as Assad is about to pronounce the words which are to bind him to Sulamith, she confronts him again, on the specious pretext that she brings gifts for the bride. Assad again addresses her. Again he is denied. Delirium seizes upon his brain; he loudly proclaims the Queen as the goddess of his devotion. The people are panic-stricken at the sacrilege and rush from the temple; the priests cry anathema; Sulamith bemoans her fate; Solomon essays words of comfort; the High Priest intercedes with heaven; the soldiery, led by Baal-Hanan, overseer of the palace, enter to lead the profaner to death. Now Solomon claims the right to fix his punishment. The Queen, fearful that her prey may escape her, begs his life as a boon, but Solomon rejects her appeal; Assad must work out his salvation by overcoming temptation and mastering his wicked passion. Sulamith approaches amid the wailings of her companions. She is about to enter a retreat on the edge of the Syrian desert, but she, too, prays for the life of Assad. Solomon, in a prophetic ecstasy, foretells Assad’s deliverance from sin and in a vision sees a meeting between him and his pure love under a palm tree in the desert. Assad is banished to the sandy waste; there a simoom sweeps down upon him; he falls at the foot of a lonely palm to die, after calling on Sulamith with his fleeting breath. She comes with her wailing maidens, sees the fulfilment of Solomon’s prophecy, and Assad dies in her arms. “Thy beloved is thine, in love’s eternal realm,” sing the maidens, while a mirage shows the wicked Queen, with her caravan of camels and elephants, returning to her home.
The parallel between this story and the immeasurably more poetical and beautiful one of “Tannhauser” is apparent to half an eye. Sulamith is Elizabeth, the Queen is Venus, Assad is Tannhauser, Solomon is Wolfram von Eschenbach. The ethical force of the drama– it has some, though very little–was weakened at the performances at the Metropolitan Opera House [footnote: Goldmark’s opera was presented for the first time in America at the Metropolitan Opera House on December 2, 1885. Cast: Sulamith, Fraulein Lilli Lehmann; die Konigin von Saba, Frau Kramer-Wiedl; Astaroth, Fraulein Marianne Brandt; Solomon, Herr Adolph Robinson; Assad, Herr Stritt; Der Hohe Priester, Herr Emil Fischer; Baal-Hanan, Herr-Alexi. Anton Seidl conducted, and the opera had fifteen representations in the season. These performances were in the original German. On April 3, 1888, an English version was presented at the Academy of Music by the National Opera Company, then in its death throes. The opera was revived at the Metropolitan Opera House by Mr. Conried in the season 1905-1906 and had five performances.] in New York by the excision from the last act of a scene in which the Queen attempts to persuade Assad to go with her to Arabia. Now Assad rises superior to his grosser nature and drives the temptress away, thus performing the saving act demanded by Solomon.
Herr Mosenthal, who made the libretto of “Die Konigin von Saba,” treated this material, not with great poetic skill, but with a cunning appreciation of the opportunities which it offers for dramatic effect. The opera opens with a gorgeous picture of the interior of Solomon’s palace, decked in honor of the coming guest. There is an air of joyous expectancy over everything. Sulamith’s entrance introduces the element of female charm to brighten the brilliancy of the picture, and her bridal song–in which the refrain is an excerpt from the Canticles, “Thy beloved is thine, who feeds among the roses”–enables the composer to indulge his strong predilection and fecund gift for Oriental melody. The action hurries to a thrilling climax. One glittering pageant treads on the heels of another, each more gorgeous and resplendent than the last, until the stage, set to represent a fantastical hall with a bewildering vista of carved columns, golden lions, and rich draperies, is filled with such a kaleidoscopic mass of colors and groupings as only an Oriental mind could conceive. Finally all the preceding strokes are eclipsed by the coming of the Queen. But no time is lost; the spectacle does not make the action halt for a moment. Sheba makes her gifts and uncovers her face, and at once we are confronted by the tragical element, and the action rushes on toward its legitimate and mournful end.
In this ingenious blending of play and spectacle one rare opportunity after another is presented to the composer. Sulamith’s epithalamium, Assad’s narrative, the choral greeting to the Queen, the fateful recognition–all these things are made for music of the inspiring, swelling, passionate kind. In the second act, the Queen’s monologue, her duet with Assad, and, most striking of all, the unaccompanied bit of singing with which Astaroth lures Assad into the presence of the Queen, who is hiding in the shadow of broad-leaved palms behind a running fountain–a melodic phrase saturated with the mystical color of the East–these are gifts of the rarest kind to the composer, which he has enriched to give them in turn to the public. That relief from their stress of passion is necessary is not forgotten, but is provided in the ballet music and the solemn ceremonial in the temple, which takes place amid surroundings that call into active operation one’s childhood fancies touching the sacred fane on Mount Moriah and the pompous liturgical functions of which it was the theatre.
Goldmark’s music is highly spiced. He was an eclectic, and his first aim seems to have been to give the drama a tonal investiture which should be in keeping with its character, external as well as internal. At times his music rushes along like a lava stream of passion, every measure pulsating with eager, excited, and exciting life. He revels in instrumental color. The language of his orchestra is as glowing as the poetry attributed to the royal poet whom his operatic story celebrates. Many composers before him made use of Oriental cadences, rhythms, and idioms, but to none do they seem to have come so like native language as to Goldmark. It is romantic music, against which the strongest objection that can be urged is that it is so unvaryingly stimulated that it wearies the mind and makes the listener long for a change to a fresher and healthier musical atmosphere.
In the ballet scene of Gounod’s most popular opera Mephistopheles conjures up visions of Phryne, Lais, Aspasia, Cleopatra, and Helen of Troy to beguile the jaded interest of Faust. The list reads almost like a catalogue of the operas of Massenet whose fine talent was largely given to the celebration of the famous courtesans of the ancient world. With the addition of a few more names from the roster of antiquity (Thais, Dalila, and Aphrodite), and some less ancient but no less immoral creatures of modern fancy, like Violetta, Manon Lescaut, Zaza, and Louise, we might make a pretty complete list of representatives of the female type in which modern dramatists and composers seem to think the interest of humanity centres.
When Massenet’s “Herodiade” was announced as the first opera to be given at the Manhattan Opera House in New York for the season of 1909-1910 it looked to some observers as if the dominant note of the year was to be sounded by the Scarlet Woman; but the representation brought a revelation and a surprise. The names of the principal characters were those which for a few years had been filling the lyric theatres of Germany with a moral stench; but their bearers in Massenet’s opera did little or nothing that was especially shocking to good taste or proper morals. Herod was a love-sick man of lust, who gazed with longing eyes upon the physical charms of Salome and pleaded for her smiles like any sentimental milksop; but he did not offer her Capernaum for a dance. Salome may have known how, but she did not dance for either half a kingdom or the whole of a man’s head. Instead, though there were intimations that her reputation was not all that a good maiden’s ought to be, she sang pious hosannahs and waved a palm branch conspicuously in honor of the prophet at whose head she had bowled herself in the desert, the public streets, and king’s palaces. At the end she killed herself when she found that the vengeful passion of Herodias and the jealous hatred of Herod had compassed the death of the saintly man whom she had loved. Herodias was a wicked woman, no doubt, for John the Baptist denounced her publicly as a Jezebel, but her jealousy of Salome had reached a point beyond her control before she learned that her rival was her own daughter whom she had deserted for love of the Tetrarch. As for John the Baptist the camel’s hair with which he was clothed must have cost as pretty a penny as any of the modern kind, and if he wore a girdle of skins about his loins it was concealed under a really regal cloak. He was a voice; but not one crying in the wilderness. He was in fact an operatic tenor comme il faut, who needed only to be shut up in a subterranean jail with the young woman who had pursued him up hill and down dale, in and out of season to make love to her in the most approved fashion of the Paris Grand Opera.
What shall we think of the morals of this French opera, after we have seen and heard that compounded by the Englishman Oscar Wilde and the German Richard Strauss? No wonder that England’s Lord Chamberlain asked nothing more than an elimination of the Biblical names when he licensed a performance of “Herodiade” at Covent Garden. There was no loss of dramatic qualitiy in calling Herod, Moriame, and Herodias, Hesotade, and changing the scene from Jerusalem to Azoum in Ethiopia; though it must have been a trifle diverting to hear fair-skinned Ethiopians singing Schma Yisroel, Adonai Elohenu in a temple which could only be that of Jerusalem. John the Baptist was only Jean in the original and needed not to be changed, and Salome is not in the Bible, though Salome, a very different woman is–a fact which the Lord Chamberlain seems to have overlooked when he changed the title of the opera from “Herodiade” to “Salome.”
Where does Salome come from, anyway? And where did she get her chameleonlike nature? Was she an innocent child, as Flaubert represents her, who could but lisp the name of the prophet when her mother told her to ask for his head? Had she taken dancing lessons from one of the women of Cadiz to learn to dance as she must have danced to excite such lust in Herod? Was she a monster, a worse than vampire as she is represented by Wilde and Strauss? Was she an “Israelitish grisette” as Pougin called the heroine of the opera which it took one Italian (Zanardini) and three Frenchmen (Milliet, Gremont, and Massenet) to concoct? No wonder that the brain of Saint-Saens reeled when he went to hear “Herodiade” at its first performance in Brussels and found that the woman whom he had looked upon as a type of lasciviousness and monstrous cruelty had become metamorphosed into a penitent Magdalen. Read the plot of the opera and wonder!
Salome is a maiden in search of her mother whom John the Baptist finds in his wanderings and befriends. She clings to him when he becomes a political as well as a religious power among the Jews, though he preaches unctuously to her touching the vanity of earthly love. Herodias demands his death of her husband for that he had publicly insulted her, but Herod schemes to use his influence over the Jews to further his plan to become a real monarch instead of a Roman Tetrarch. But when the pro-consul Vitellius wins the support of the people and Herod learns that the maiden who has spurned him is in love with the prophet, he decrees his decapitation. Salome, baffled in her effort to save her lover, attempts to kill Herodias; but the wicked woman discloses herself as the maiden’s mother and Salome turns the dagger against her own breast.
This is all of the story one needs to know. It is richly garnished with incident, made gorgeous with pageantry, and clothed with much charming music. Melodies which may be echoes of synagogal hymns of great antiquity resound in the walls of the temple at Jerusalem, in which respect the opera recalls Goldmark’s “Queen of Sheba.” Curved Roman trumpets mix their loud clangors with the instruments of the modern brass band and compel us to think of “Aida.” There are dances of Egyptians, Babylonians, and Phoenicians, and if the movements of the women make us deplore the decay of the choreographic art, the music warms us almost as much as the Spanish measures in “Le Cid.” Eyes and ears are deluged with Oriental color until at the last there comes a longing for the graciously insinuating sentimentalities of which the earlier Massenet was a master. Two of the opera’s airs had long been familiar to the public from performance in the concert-room–Salome’s “Il est doux” and Herod’s “Vision fugitive”–and they stand out as the brightest jewels in the opera’s musical crown; but there is much else which woos the ear delightfully, for Massenet was ever a gracious if not a profound melodist and a master of construction and theatrical orchestration. When he strives for massive effects, however, he sometimes becomes futile, banal where he would be imposing; but he commands a charm which is insinuating in its moments of intimacy.
[Footnote: “Herodiade” had its first performance in New York (it had previously been given in New Orleans by the French Opera Company) on November 8, 1909. The cast was as follows: Salome–Lina Cavalieri; Herodias–Gerville-Reache; John–Charles Dalmores; Herod–Maurice Renaud; Vitellius–Crabbe; Phanuel–M. Vallier; High Priest–M. Nicolay. The musical director was Henriques de la Fuente.]
Lakme is the daughter of Nilakantha, a fanatical Brahmin priest, who has withdrawn to a ruined temple deep in an Indian forest. In his retreat the old man nurses his wrath against the British invader, prays assiduously to Brahma (thus contributing a fascinating Oriental mood to the opening of the opera), and waits for the time to come when he shall be able to wreak his revenge on the despoilers of his country. Lakme sings Oriental duets with her slave, Mallika:–
Sous le dome epais ou le blanc jasmin A la rose s’assemble,
Sur la rive en fleurs, riant au matin Viens, descendons ensemble–
a dreamy, sense-ensnaring, hypnotic barcarole. The opera opens well; by this time the composer has carried us deep into the jungle. The Occident is rude: Gerald, an English officer, breaks through a bamboo fence and makes love to Lakme, who, though widely separated from her operatic colleagues from an ethnological point of view like Elsa and Senta, to expedite the action requites the passion instanter. After the Englishman is gone the father returns and, with an Oriental’s cunning which does him credit, deduces from the broken fence that an Englishman has profaned the sacred spot. This is the business of Act I. In Act II the father, disguised as a beggar who holds a dagger ever in readiness, and his daughter, disguised as a street singer, visit a town market in search of the profaner. The business is not to Lakme’s taste, but it is not for the like of her to neglect the opportunity offered to win applause with the legend of the pariah’s daughter, with its tintinnabulatory charm:–
Ou va la jeune Hindoue
Fille des parias;
Quand la lune se joue
Dans les grand mimosas?
It is the “Bell song,” which has tinkled so often in our concert- rooms. Gerald recognizes the singer despite her disguise; and Nilakantha recognizes him as the despoiler of the hallowed spot in which he worships and incidentally conceals his daughter. The bloodthirsty fanatic observes sententiously that Brahma has smiled and cuts short Gerald’s soliloquizing with a dagger thrust. Lakme, with the help of a male slave, removes him to a hut concealed in the forest. While he is convalescing the pair sing duets and exchange vows of undying affection. But the military Briton, who has invaded the country at large, must needs now invade also this cosey abode of love. Frederick, a brother officer, discovers Gerald and informs him that duty calls (Britain always expects every man to do his duty, no matter what the consequences to him) and he must march with his regiment. Frederick has happened in just as Lakme is gone for some sacred water in which she and Gerald were to pledge eternal love for each other, to each other. But, spurred on by Frederick and the memory that “England expects, etc.,” Gerald finds the call of the fife and drum more potent than the voice of love. Lakme, psychologist as well as botanist, understands the struggle which now takes place in Gerald’s soul, and relieves him, of his dilemma by crushing a poisonous flower (to be exact, the Datura stramonium) between her teeth, dying, it would seem, to the pious delight of her father, who “ecstatically” beholds her dwelling with Brahma.
The story, borrowed by Gondinet and Gille from the little romance “Le Mariage de Loti,” is worthless except to furnish motives for tropical scenery, Hindu dresses, and Oriental music. Three English ladies, Ellen, Rose, and Mrs. Bentson, figure in the play, but without dramatic purpose except to take part in some concerted music. They are, indeed, so insignificant in all other respects that when the opera was given by Miss Van Zandt and a French company in London for the first time in 1885 they were omitted, and the excision was commended by the critics, who knew that it had been made. The conversation of the women is all of the veriest stopgap character. The maidens, Rose and Ellen, are English ladies visiting in the East; Mrs. Bentson is their chaperon. All that they have to say is highly unimportant, even when true. “What do you see, Frederick?” “A garden.” “And you, Gerald?” “Big, beautiful trees.” “Anybody about?” “Don’t know.” “Look again.” “That’s not easy; the fence shuts out the view within.” “Can’t you make a peephole through the bamboo?” “Girls, girls, be careful.” And so on and so on for quantity. But we must fill three acts, and ensemble makes its demands; besides, we want pretty blondes of the English type to put in contrast with the dark-skinned Lakme and her slave. At the first representation in New York by the American Opera Company, at the Academy of Music, on March 1, 1886, the three women were permitted to interfere with what there is of poetical spirit in the play, and their conversation, like that of the other principals, was uttered in the recitatives composed by Delibes to take the place of the spoken dialogue used at the Paris Opera Comique, where spoken dialogue is traditional. Theodore Thomas conducted the Academy performance, at which the cast was as follows: Lakme, Pauline L’Allemand; Nilakantha, Alonzo E. Stoddard; Gerald, William Candidus; Frederick, William H. Lee; Ellen, Charlotte Walker; Rose, Helen Dudley Campbell; Mrs. Bentson, May Fielding; Mallika, Jessie Bartlett Davis; Hadji, William H. Fessenden.
Few operas have had a more variegated American history than “Lakme.” It was quite new when it was first heard in New York, but it had already given rise to considerable theatrical gossip, not to say scandal. The first representation took place at the Opera Comique in April, 1883, with Miss Marie Van Zandt, an American girl, the daughter of a singer who had been actively successful in English opera in New York and London, as creator of the part of the heroine. The opera won a pretty triumph and so did the singer. At once there was talk of a New York performance. Mme. Etelka Gerster studied the titular role with M. Delibes and, as a member of Colonel Mapleson’s company at the Academy of Music, confidently expected to produce the work there in the season of 1883-1884, the first season of the rivalry between the Academy and the Metropolitan Opera House, which had just opened its doors; but though she went so far as to offer to buy the American performing rights from Heugel, the publisher, nothing came of it. The reason was easily guessed by those who knew that there has been, or was pending, a quarrel between Colonel Mapleson and M. Heugel concerning the unauthorized use by the impresario of other scores owned by the publisher.
During the same season, however, Miss Emma Abbott carried a version (or rather a perversion) of the opera, for which the orchestral parts had been arranged from the pianoforte score, into the cities of the West, and brought down a deal of unmerited criticism on the innocent head of M. Delibes. In the season of 1884-1885 Colonel Mapleson came back to the Academy with vouchers of various sorts to back up a promise to give the opera. There was a human voucher in the person of Miss Emma Nevada, who had also enjoyed the instruction of the composer and who had trunkfuls and trunkfuls and trunkfuls of Oriental dresses, though Lakme needs but few. There were gorgeous uniforms for the British soldiers, the real article, each scarlet coat and every top boot having a piece of history attached, and models of the scenery which any doubting Thomas of a newspaper reporter might inspect if he felt so disposed. When the redoubtable colonel came it was to be only a matter of a week or so before the opera would be put on the stage in the finest of styles; it was still a matter of a week or so when the Academy season came to an end. When Delibes’s exquisite and exotic music reached a hearing in the American metropolis, it was sung to English words, and the most emphatic success achieved in performance was the acrobatic one of Mme. L’Allemand as she rolled down some uncalled- for pagoda steps in the death scene.
Mme. Adelina Patti was the second Lakme heard in New York. After the fifth season of German opera at the Metropolitan Opera House had come to an end in the spring of 1890, Messrs. Abbey and Grau took the theatre for a short season of Italian opera by a troupe headed by Mme. Patti. In that season “Lakme” was sung once–on April 2, 1890. Now came an opportunity for the original representative of the heroine. Abbey and Grau resumed the management of the theatre in 1891, and in their company was Miss Van Zandt, for whom the opera was “revived” on February 22. Mr. Abbey had great expectations, but they were disappointed. For the public there was metal more attractive than Miss Van Zandt and the Hindu opera in other members of the company and other operas. It was the year of Emma Eames’s coming and also of Jean de Reszke’s (they sang together in Gounod’s “Romeo et Juliette”) and “Cavalleria rusticana” was new. Then Delibes’s opera hibernated in New York for fifteen years, after which the presence in the Metropolitan company of Mme. Marcella Sembrich led to another “revival.” (Operas which are unperformed for a term of two or three years after having been once included in the repertory are “revived” in New York.) It was sung three times in the season of 1906-1907. It also afforded one of Mr. Hammerstein’s many surprises at the Manhattan Opera House. Five days before the close of his last season, on March 21, 1910, it was precipitated on the stage (“pitchforked” is the popular and professional term) to give Mme. Tetrazzini a chance to sing the bell song. Altogether I know of no more singular history than that of “Lakme” in New York.
Lakme is a child of the theatrical boards, who inherited traits from several predecessors, the strongest being those deriving from Aida and Selika. Like the former, she loves a man whom her father believes to be the arch enemy of his native land, and, like her, she is the means of betraying him into the hands of the avenger. Like the heroine of Meyerbeer’s posthumous opera, she has a fatal acquaintance with tropical botany and uses her knowledge to her own destruction. Her scientific attainments are on about the same plane as her amiability, her abnormal sense of filial duty, and her musical accomplishments. She loves a man whom her father wishes her to lure to his death by her singing, and she sings entrancingly enough to bring about the meeting between her lover’s back and her father’s knife. That she does not warble herself into the position of “particeps criminis” in a murder she owes only to the bungling of the old man. Having done this, however, she turns physician and nurse and brings the wounded man back to health, thus sacrificing her love to the duty which her lover thinks he owes to the invaders of her country and oppressors of her people. After this she makes the fatal application of her botanical knowledge. Such things come about when one goes to India for an operatic heroine.
The feature of the libretto which Delibes has used to the best purpose is its local color. His music is saturated with the languorous spirit of the East. Half a dozen of the melodies are lovely inventions, of marked originality in both matter and treatment, and the first half hour of the opera is apt to take one’s fancy completely captive. The drawback lies in the oppressive weariness which succeeds the first trance, and is brought on by the monotonous character of the music. After an hour of “Lakme” one yearns for a few crashing chords of C major as a person enduring suffocation longs for a gush of fresh air. The music first grows monotonous, then wearies. Delibes’s lyrical moments show the most numerous indications of beauty; dramatic life and energy are absent from the score. In the second act he moves his listeners only once –with the attempted repetition of the bell song after Lakme has recognized her lover. The odor of the poppy invites to drowsy enjoyment in the beginning, and the first act is far and away the most gratifying in the opera, musically as well as scenically. It would be so if it contained only Lakme’s song “Pourquoi dans les grands bois,” the exquisite barcarole–a veritable treasure trove for the composer, who used its melody dramatically throughout the work–and Gerald’s air, “Fantaisie aux divins mensonges.” Real depth will be looked for in vain in this opera; superficial loveliness is apparent on at least half its pages.
For a quarter of a century “Cavalleria rusticana” and “Pagliacci” have been the Castor and Pollux of the operatic theatres of Europe and America. Together they have joined the hunt of venturesome impresarios for that Calydonian boar, success; together they have lighted the way through seasons of tempestuous stress and storm. Of recent years at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York efforts have been made to divorce them and to find associates for one or the other, since neither is sufficient in time for an evening’s entertainment; but they refuse to be put asunder as steadfastly as did the twin brothers of Helen and Clytemnestra. There has been no operatic Zeus powerful enough to separate and alternate their existences even for a day; and though blase critics will continue to rail at the “double bill” as they have done for two decades or more, the two fierce little dramas will “sit shining on the sails” of many a managerial ship and bring it safe to haven for many a year to come.
Twins the operas are in spirit; twins in their capacity as supreme representatives of verismo; twins in the fitness of their association; but twins they are not in respect of parentage or age. “Cavalleria rusticana” is two years older than “Pagliacci” and as truly its progenitor as Weber’s operas were the progenitors of Wagner’s. They are the offspring of the same artistic movement, and it was the phenomenal
[figure: a musical score excerpt]
success of Mascagni’s opera which was the spur that drove Leoncavallo to write his. When “Cavalleria rusticana” appeared on the scene, two generations of opera-goers had passed away without experiencing anything like the sensation caused by this opera. They had witnessed the production, indeed, of great masterpieces, which it would be almost sacrilegious to mention in the same breath with Mascagni’s turbulent and torrential tragedy, but these works were the productions of mature masters, from whom things monumental and lasting were expected as a matter of course; men like Wagner and Verdi. The generations had also seen the coming of “Carmen” and gradually opened their minds to an appreciation of its meaning and beauty, while the youthful genius who had created it sank almost unnoticed into his grave; but they had not seen the advent of a work which almost in a day set the world on fire and raised an unknown musician from penury and obscurity to affluence and fame. In the face of such an experience it was scarcely to be wondered at that judgment was flung to the winds and that the most volatile of musical nations and the staidest alike hailed the young composer as the successor of Verdi, the regenerator of operatic Italy, and the pioneer of a new school which should revitalize opera and make unnecessary the hopeless task of trying to work along the lines laid down by Wagner.
And this opera was the outcome of a competition based on the frankest kind of commercialism–one of those “occasionals” from which we have been taught to believe we ought never to expect anything of ideal and lasting merit. “Pagliacci” was, in a way, a fruit of the same competition. Three years before “Cavalleria rusticana” had started the universal conflagration Ruggiero Leoncavallo, who at sixteen years of age had won his diploma at the Naples Conservatory and received the degree of Doctor of Letters from the University of Bologna at twenty, had read his dramatic poem “I Medici” to the publisher Ricordi and been commissioned to set it to music. For this work he was to receive 2400 francs. He completed the composition within a year, but there was no contract that the opera should be performed, and this hoped-for consummation did not follow. Then came Mascagni’s triumph, and Leoncavallo, who had been obliged meanwhile to return to the routine work of an operatic repetiteur, lost patience. Satisfied that Ricordi would never do anything more for him, and become desperate, he shut himself in his room to attempt “one more work”–as he said in an autobiographical sketch which appeared in “La Reforme,” a journal published in Alexandria. In five months he had written the book and music of “Pagliacci,” which was accepted for publication and production by Sonzogno, Ricordi’s business rival, after a single reading of the poem. Maurel, whose friendship Leoncavallo had made while coaching opera singers in Paris, used his influence in favor of the opera, offered to create the part of Tonio, and did so at the first performance of the opera at the Teatro dal Verme, Milan, on May 17, 1892.
Leoncavallo’s opera turns on a tragical ending to a comedy which is incorporated in the play. The comedy is a familiar one among the strolling players who perform at village fairs in Italy, in which Columbina, Pagliaccio, and Arlecchino (respectively the Columbine, Clown, and Harlequin of our pantomime) take part. Pagliaccio is husband to Colombina and Arlecchino is her lover, who hoodwinks Pagliaccio. There is a fourth character, Taddeo, a servant, who makes foolish love to Columbina and, mingling imbecile stupidity with maliciousness, delights in the domestic discord which he helps to foment. The first act of the opera may be looked upon as an induction to the conventional comedy which comes to an unconventional and tragic end through the fact that the Clown (Canio) is in real life the husband of Columbine (Nedda) and is murderously jealous of her; wherefore, forgetting himself in a mad rage, he kills her and her lover in the midst of the mimic scene. The lover, however, is not the Harlequin of the comedy, but one of the spectators whom Canio had vainly sought to identify, but who is unconsciously betrayed by his mistress in her death agony. The Taddeo of the comedy is the clown of the company, who in real life entertains a passion for Nedda, which is repulsed, whereupon he also carries his part into actuality and betrays Nedda’s secret to Canio. It is in the ingenious interweaving of these threads–the weft of reality with the warp of simulation–that the chief dramatic value of Leoncavallo’s opera lies.
Actual murder by a man while apparently playing a part in a drama is older as a dramatic motif than “Pagliacci,” and Leoncavallo’s employment of it gave rise to an interesting controversy and a still more interesting revelation in the early days of the opera. Old theatre-goers in England and America remember the device as it was employed in Dennery’s “Paillaisse,” known on the English stage aa “Belphegor, the Mountebank.” In 1874 Paul Ferrier produced a play entitled “Tabarin,” in which Coquelin appeared at the Theatre Francais. Thirteen years later Catulle Mendes brought out another play called “La Femme de Tabarin,” for which Chabrier wrote the incidental music. The critics were prompt in charging Mendes with having plagiarized Ferrier, and the former defended himself on the ground that the incident which he had employed, of actual murder in a dramatic performance, was historical and had often been used. This, however, did not prevent him from bringing an accusation of theft against Leoncavallo when “Pagliacci” was announced for production in French at Brussels and of beginning legal proceedings against the composer and his publisher on that score. The controversy which followed showed very plainly that Mendes did not have a leg to stand upon either in law or equity, and he withdrew his suit and made a handsome amende in a letter to the editor of “Le Figaro.” Before this was done, however, Signor Leoncavallo wrote a letter to his publisher, which not only established that the incident in question was based upon fact but directed attention to a dramatic use of the motif in a Spanish play written thirty- five years before the occurrence which was in the mind of Leoncavallo. The letter was as follows:–
Lugano, Sept. 3, 1894.
Dear Signor Sonzogno.
I have read Catulle Mendes’s two letters. M. Mendes goes pretty far in declaring a priori that “Pagliacci” is an imitation of his “Femme de Tabarin.” I had not known this book, and only know it now through the accounts given in the daily papers. You will remember that at the time of the first performance of “Pagliacci” at Milan in 1892 several critics accused me of having taken the subject of my opera from the “Drama Nuevo” of the well known Spanish writer, Estebanez. What would M. Mendes say if he were accused of having taken the plot of “La Femme de Tabarin” from the “Drama Nuevo,” which dates back to 1830 or 1840? As a fact, a husband, a comedian, kills in the last scene the lover of his wife before her eyes while he only appears to play his part in the piece.
It is absolutely true that I knew at that time no more of the “Drama Nuevo” than I know now of “La Femme de Tabarin.” I saw the first mentioned work in Rome represented by Novelli six months after “Pagliacci’s” first production in Milan. In my childhood, while my father was judge at Montalto, in Calabria (the scene of the opera’s plot), a jealous player killed his wife after the performance. This event made a deep and lasting impression on my childish mind, the more since my father was the judge at the criminal’s trial; and later, when I took up dramatic work, I used this episode for a drama. I left the frame of the piece as I saw it, and it can be seen now at the Festival of Madonna della Serra, at Montalto. The clowns arrive a week or ten days before the festival, which takes place on August 15, to put up their tents and booths in the open space which reaches from the church toward the fields. I have not even invented the coming of the peasants from Santo Benedetto, a neighboring village, during the chorale.
What I write now I have mentioned so often in Germany and other parts that several opera houses, notably that of Berlin, had printed on their bills “Scene of the true event.” After all this, M. Mendes insisted on his claim, which means that he does not believe my words. Had I used M. Mendes’s ideas I would not have hesitated to open correspondence with him before the first representation, as I have done now with a well known writer who has a subject that I wish to use for a future work. “Pagliacci” is my own, entirely my own. If in this opera, a scene reminds one of M. Mendes’s book, it only proves that we both had the same idea which Estebanez had before us. On my honor and conscience I assure you that I have read but two of M. Mendes’s books in my life–“Zo Hur” and “La Premiere Maitresse.” When I read at Marienbad a little while ago the newspaper notices on the production of “La Femme de Tabarin” I even wrote to you, dear Signor Sonzogno, thinking this was an imitation of “Pagliacci.” This assertion will suffice, coming from an honorable man, to prove my loyalty. If not, then I will place my undoubted rights under the protection of the law, and furnish incontestable proof of what I have stated here. I have the honor, etc., etc.
At various times and in various manners, by letters and in newspaper interviews, Leoncavallo reiterated the statement that the incident which he had witnessed as a boy in his father’s courtroom had suggested his drama. The chief actor in the incident, he said, was still living. After conviction he was asked if he felt penitent. The rough voice which rang through the room years before still echoed in Leoncavallo’s ears: “I repent me of nothing! On the contrary, if I had it to do over again I’d do it again!” (Non mi pento del delitto! Tutt altro. Se dovessi ricominciare, ricomincerei!) He was sentenced to imprisonment and after the expiration of his term took service in a little Calabrian town with Baroness Sproniere. If Mendes had prosecuted his action, “poor Alessandro” was ready to appear as a witness and tell the story which Leoncavallo had dramatized.
I have never seen “La Femme de Tabarin” and must rely on Mr. Philip Hale, fecund fountain of informal information, for an outline of the play which “Pagliacci” called back into public notice: Francisquine, the wife of Tabarin, irons her petticoats in the players’ booth. A musketeer saunters along, stops and makes love to her. She listens greedily. Tabarin enters just after she has made an appointment with the man. Tabarin is drunk–drunker than usual. He adores his wife; he falls at her feet; he entreats her; he threatens her. Meanwhile the crowd gathers to see the “parade.” Tabarin mounts the platform and tells openly of his jealousy. He calls his wife; she does not answer. He opens the curtain behind him; then he sees her in the arms of the musketeer. Tabarin snatches up a sword, stabs his wife in the breast and comes back to the stage with starting eyes and hoarse voice. The crowd marvels at the passion of his play. Francisquine, bloody, drags herself along the boards. She chokes; she cannot speak. Tabarin, mad with despair, gives her the sword, begs her to kill him. She seizes the sword, raises herself, hiccoughs, gasps out the word “Canaille,” and dies before she can strike.
Paul Ferrier and Emanuel Pessard produced a grand opera in two acts entitled “Tabarin” in Paris in 1885; Alboiz and Andre a comic opera with the same title, music by Georges Bousquet, in 1852. Gilles and Furpilles brought out an operetta called “Tabarin Duelliste,” with music by Leon Pillaut, in 1866. The works seem to have had only the name of the hero in common. Their stories bear no likeness to those of “La Femme de Tabarin” or “Pagliacci.” The Spanish play, “Drama Nuevo,” by Estebanez, was adapted for performance in English by Mr. W. D. Howells under the title “Yorick’s Love.” The translation was made for Mr. Lawrence Barrett and was never published in book form. If it had the denouement suggested in Leoncavallo’s letter to Sonzogno, the fact has escaped the memory of Mr. Howells, who, in answer to a letter of inquiry which I sent him, wrote: “So far as I can remember there was no likeness between ‘Yorick’s Love’ and ‘Pagliacci.’ But when I made my version I had not seen or heard ‘Pagliacci.'”
The title of Leoncavallo’s opera is “Pagliacci,” not “I Pagliacci” as it frequently appears in books and newspapers. When the opera was brought out in the vernacular, Mr. Frederick E. Weatherly, who made the English adaptation, called the play and the character assumed by Canio in the comedy “Punchinello.” This evoked an interesting comment from Mr. Hale: “‘Pagliacci’ is the plural of Pagliaccio, which does not mean and never did mean Punchinello. What is a Pagliaccio? A type long known to the Italians, and familiar to the French as Paillasse. The Pagliaccio visited Paris first in 1570. He was clothed in white and wore big buttons. Later, he wore a suit of bedtick, with white and blue checks, the coarse mattress cloth of the period. Hence his name. The word that meant straw was afterward used for mattress which was stuffed with straw and then for the buffoon, who wore the mattress cloth suit. In France the Paillasse, as I have said, was the same as Pagliaccio. Sometimes he wore a red checked suit, but the genuine one was known by the colors, white and blue. He wore blue stockings, short breeches puffing out a la blouse, a belted blouse and a black, close-fitting cap. This buffoon was seen at shows of strolling mountebanks. He stood outside the booth and by his jests and antics and grimaces strove to attract the attention of the people, and he told them of the wonders performed by acrobats within, of the freaks exhibited. Many of his jests are preserved. They are often in dialogue with the proprietor and are generally of vile indecency. The lowest of the strollers, he was abused by them. The Italian Pagliaccio is a species of clown, and Punchinello was never a mere buffoon. The Punch of the puppet-show is a bastard descendant of the latter, but the original type is still seen in Naples, where he wears a white costume and a black mask. The original type was not necessarily humpbacked. Punchinello is a shrewd fellow, intellectual, yet in touch with the people, cynical; not hesitating at murder if he can make by it; at the same time a local satirist, a dealer in gags and quips. Pagliacci is perhaps best translated by ‘clowns’; but the latter word must not be taken in its restricted circus sense. These strolling clowns are pantomimists, singers, comedians.”
At the first performance of “Pagliacci” in Milan the cast was as follows: Canio, Geraud; Tonio, Maurel; Silvio, Ancona; Peppe, Daddi; Nedda, Mme. Stehle. The first performance in America was by the Hinrichs Grand Opera Company, at the Grand Opera House, New York, on June 15, 1893; Selma Kronold was the Nedda, Montegriffo the Canio, and Campanari the Tonio. The opera was incorporated in the Metropolitan repertory in the season of 1893-1894.
Rinuccini’s “Dafne,” which was written 300 years ago and more, begins with a prologue which was spoken in the character of the poet Ovid. Leoncavallo’s “Pagliacci” also begins with a prologue, but it is spoken by one of the people of the play; whether in his character as Tonio of the tragedy or Pagliaccio of the comedy there is no telling. He speaks the sentiments of the one and wears the motley of the other. Text and music, however, are ingeniously contrived to serve as an index to the purposes of the poet and the method and material of the composer. In his speech the prologue tells us that the author of the play is fond of the ancient custom of such an introduction, but not of the old purpose. He does not employ it for the purpose of proclaiming that the tears and passions of the actors are but simulated and false. No! He wishes to let us know that his play is drawn from life as it is–that it is true. It welled up within him when memories of the past sang in his heart and was written down to show us that actors are human beings like unto ourselves.
An unnecessary preachment, and if listened to with a critical disposition rather an impertinence, as calculated to rob us of the pleasure of illusion which it is the province of the drama to give. Closely analyzed, Tonio’s speech is very much of a piece with the prologue which Bully Bottom wanted for the play of “Pyramus” in Shakespeare’s comedy. We are asked to see a play. In this play there is another play. In this other play one of the actors plays at cross-purposes with the author–forgets his lines and himself altogether and becomes in reality the man that he seems to be in the first play. The prologue deliberately aims to deprive us of the thrill of surprise at the unexpected denouement, simply that he may tell us what we already know as well as he, that an actor is a human being.
Plainly then, from a didactic point of view, this prologue is a gratuitous impertinence. Not so its music. Structurally, it is little more than a loose-jointed pot-pourri; but it serves the purpose of a thematic catalogue to the chief melodic incidents of the play which is to follow. In this it bears a faint resemblance to the introduction to Berlioz’s “Romeo and Juliet” symphony. It begins with an energetic figure,
[figure: a musical score excerpt]
which is immediately followed by an upward scale-passage with a saucy flourish at the end–not unlike the crack of a whiplash:–
[figure: a musical score excerpt]
It helps admirably to picture the bustling activity of the festa into which we are soon to be precipitated. The bits of melody which are now introduced might all be labelled in the Wolzogen-Wagner manner with reference to the play’s peoples and their passions if it were worth while to do so, or if their beauty and eloquence were not sufficient unto themselves. First we have the phrase in which Canio will tell us how a clown’s heart must seem merry and make laughter though it be breaking:–
[figure: a musical score excerpt]
Next the phrase from the love music of Nedda and Silvio:–
[figure: a musical score excerpt]
The bustling music returns, develops great energy, then pauses, hesitates, and makes way for Tonio, who, putting his head through the curtain, politely asks permission of the audience, steps forward and delivers his homily, which is alternately declamatory and broadly melodious. One of his melodies later becomes the theme of the between-acts music, which separates the supposedly real life of the strolling players from the comedy which they present to the mimic audience:–
[figure: a musical score excerpt]
At last Tonio calls upon his fellow mountebanks to begin their play. The curtain rises. We are in the midst of a rural celebration of the Feast of the Assumption on the outskirts of a village in Calabria. A perambulant theatre has been set up among the trees and the strolling actors are arriving, accompanied by a crowd of villagers, who shout greetings to Clown, Columbine, and Harlequin. Nedda arrives in a cart drawn by a donkey led by Beppe. Canio in character invites the crowd to come to the show at 7 o’clock (ventitre ore). There they shall be regaled with a sight of the domestic troubles of Pagliaccio and see the fat mischief-maker tremble. Tonio wants to help Nedda out of the cart, but Canio interferes and lifts her down himself; whereupon the women and boys twit Tonio. Canio and Beppe wet their whistles at the tavern, but Tonio remains behind on the plea that he must curry the donkey. The hospitable villager playfully suggests that it is Tonio’s purpose to make love to Nedda. Canio, half in earnest, half in jest, points out the difference between real life and the stage. In the play, if he catches a lover with his wife, he flies into a mock passion, preaches a sermon, and takes a drubbing from the swain to the amusement of the audience. But there would be a different ending to the story were Nedda actually to deceive him. Let Tonio beware! Does he doubt Nedda’s fidelity? Not at all. He loves her and seals his assurance with a kiss. Then off to the tavern.
Hark to the bagpipes! Huzza, here come the zampognari! Drone pipes droning and chaunters skirling–as well as they can skirl in Italian!
[figure: a musical score excerpt]
Now we have people and pipers on the stage and there’s a bell in the steeple ringing for vespers. Therefore a chorus. Not that we have anything to say that concerns the story in any way. “Din, don!” That would suffice, but if you must have more: “Let’s to church. Din, don. All’s right with love and the sunset. Din, don! But mamma has her eye on the young folk and their inclination for kissing. Din, don!” Bells and pipes are echoed by the singers.
Her husband is gone to the tavern for refreshment and Nedda is left alone. There is a little trouble in her mind caused by the fierceness of Canio’s voice and looks. Does he suspect? But why yield to such fancies and fears? How beautiful the mid-August sun is! Her hopes and longings find expression in the “Ballatella”–a waltz tune with twitter of birds and rustle of leaves for accompaniment. Pretty birds, where are you going? What is it you say? Mother knew your song and used once to tell it to her babe. How your wings flash through the ether! Heedless of cloud and tempest, on, on, past the stars, and still on! Her wishes take flight with the feathered songsters, but Tonio brings her rudely to earth. He pleads for a return of the love which he says he bears her, but she bids him postpone his protestations till he can make them in the play. He grows desperately urgent and attempts to rape a kiss. She cuts him across the face with a donkey whip, and he goes away blaspheming and swearing vengeance.
Then Silvio comes–Silvio, the villager, who loves her and who has her heart. She fears he will be discovered, but he bids her be at peace; he had left Canio drinking at the tavern. She tells him of the scene with Tonio and warns him, but he laughs at her fears. Then he pleads with her. She does not love her husband; she is weary of the wandering life which she is forced to lead; if her love is true let her fly with him to happiness. No. ‘Tis folly, madness; her heart is his, but he must not tempt her to its destruction. Tonio slinks in and plays eavesdropper. He hears the mutual protestations of the lovers, hears Nedda yield to Silvio’s wild pleadings, sees them locked in each other’s arms, and hurries off to fetch Canio. Canio comes, but not in time to see the man who had climbed over the wall, yet in time to hear Nedda’s word of parting: A stanotte–e per sempre tua saro–“To-night, and forever, I am yours!” He throws Nedda aside and gives chase after the fugitive, but is baffled. He demands to be told the name of her lover. Nedda refuses to answer. He rushes upon her with dagger drawn, but Beppe intercepts and disarms him. There is haste now; the villagers are already gathering for the play. Tonio insinuates his wicked advice: Let us dissemble; the gallant may be caught at the play. The others go out to prepare for their labors. Canio staggers toward the theatre. He must act the merry fool, though his heart be torn! Why not? What is he? A man? No; a clown! On with the motley! The public must be amused. What though Harlequin steals his Columbine? Laugh, Pagliaccio, though thy heart break!
The between-acts music is retrospective; it comments on the tragic emotions, the pathos foretold in the prologue. Act II brings the comedy which is to have a realistic and bloody ending. The villagers gather and struggle for places in front of the booth. Among them is Silvio, to whom Nedda speaks a word of warning as she passes him while collecting the admission fees. He reminds her of the assignation; she will be there. The comedy begins to the music of a graceful minuet: ?
[figure: a musical score excerpt]
Columbine is waiting for Harlequin. Taddeo is at the market buying the supper for the mimic lovers. Harlequin sings his serenade under the window: “O, Colombina, il tenero fido Arlecchin”–a pretty measure! Taddeo enters and pours out his admiration for Colombina in an exaggerated cadenza as he offers her his basket of purchases. The audience shows enjoyment of the sport. Taddeo makes love to Colombina and Harlequin, entering by the window, lifts him up by the ears from the floor where he is kneeling and kicks him out of the room. What fun! The mimic lovers sit at table and discuss the supper and their love. Taddeo enters in mock alarm to tell of the coming of Pagliaccio. Harlequin decamps, but leaves a philtre in the hands of Columbine to be poured into her husband’s wine. At the window Columbine calls after him: A stanotte–e per sempre io saro tua! At this moment Canio enters in the character of Pagliaccio. He hears again the words which Nedda had called after the fleeing Silvio, and for a moment is startled out of his character. But he collects himself and begins to play his part. “A man has been here!” “You’ve been drinking!” The dialogue of the comedy continues, but ever and anon with difficulty on the part of Pagliaccio, who begins to put a sinister inflection into his words. Taddeo is dragged from the cupboard in which he had taken hiding. He, too, puts color of verity into his lines, especially when he prates about the purity of Columbine. Canio loses control of himself more and more. “Pagliaccio no more, but a man–a man seeking vengeance. The name of your lover!” The audience is moved by his intensity. Silvio betrays anxiety. Canio rages on. “The name, the name!” The mimic audience shouts, “Bravo!” Nedda: if he doubts her she will go. “No, by God! You’ll remain and tell me the name of your lover!” With a great effort Nedda forces herself to remain in character. The music, whose tripping dance measures have given way to sinister mutterings in keeping with Canio’s mad outbursts, as the mimic play ever and anon threatens to leave its grooves and plunge into the tragic vortex of reality, changes to a gavotte:–
[figure: a musical excerpt]
Columbine explains: she had no idea her husband could put on so tragical a mask. It is only harmless Harlequin who has been her companion. “The name! The name!! THE NAME!!!” Nedda sees catastrophe approaching and throws her character to the winds. She shrieks out a defiant “No!” and attempts to escape from the mimic stage. Silvio starts up with dagger drawn. The spectators rise in confusion and cry “Stop him!” Canio seizes Nedda and plunges his knife into her: “Take that! And that! With thy dying gasps thou’lt tell me!” Woful intuition! Dying, Nedda calls: “Help, Silvio!” Silvio rushes forward and receives Canio’s knife in his heart. “Gesumaria!” shriek the women. Men throw themselves upon Canio. He stands for a moment in a stupor, drops his knife and speaks the words: “The comedy is ended.” “Ridi Pagliaccio!” shrieks the orchestra as the curtain falls.
“Plaudite, amici,” said Beethoven on his death bed, “la commedia finita est!” And there is a tradition that these, too, were the last words of the arch-jester Rabelais. “When ‘Pagliacci’ was first sung here (in Boston), by the Tavary company,” says Mr. Philip Hale, “Tonio pointed to the dead bodies and uttered the sentence in a mocking way. And there is a report that such was Leoncavallo’s original intention. As the Tonio began the piece in explanation so he should end it. But the tenor (de Lucia) insisted that he should speak the line. I do not believe the story. (1) As Maurel was the original Tonio and the tenor was comparatively unknown, it is doubtful whether Maurel, of all men, would have allowed of the loss of a fat line. (2) As Canio is chief of the company it is eminently proper that he should make the announcement to the crowd. (3) The ghastly irony is accentuated by the speech when it comes from Canio’s mouth.”
Having neither the patience nor the inclination to paraphrase a comment on Mascagni’s “Cavalleria rusticana” which I wrote years ago when the opera was comparatively new, and as it appears to me to contain a just estimate and criticism of the work and the school of which it and “Pagliacci” remain the foremost exemplars, I quote from my book, “Chapters of Opera” [Footnote: “Chapters of Opera,” by H. E. Krehbiel, p.223] “Seventeen years ago ‘Cavalleria rusticana’ had no perspective. Now, though but a small portion of its progeny has been brought to our notice, we nevertheless look at it through a vista which looks like a valley of moral and physical death through which there flows a sluggish stream thick with filth and red with blood. Strangely enough, in spite of the consequences which have followed it, the fierce little drama retains its old potency. It still speaks with a voice which sounds like the voice of truth. Its music still makes the nerves tingle, and carries our feelings unresistingly on its turbulent current. But the stage- picture is less sanguinary than it looked in the beginning. It seems to have receded a millennium in time. It has the terrible fierceness of an Attic tragedy, but it also has the decorum which the Attic tragedy never violated. There is no slaughter in the presence of the audience, despite the humbleness of its personages. It does not keep us perpetually in sight of the shambles. It is, indeed, an exposition of chivalry; rustic, but chivalry nevertheless. It was thus Clytemnestra slew her husband, and Orestes his mother. Note the contrast which the duel between Alfio and Turiddu presents with the double murder to the piquant accompaniment of comedy in ‘Pagliacci,’ the opera which followed so hard upon its heels. Since then piquancy has been the cry; the piquant contemplation of adultery, seduction, and murder amid the reek and stench of the Italian barnyard. Think of Cilea’s ‘Tilda,’ Giordano’s ‘Mala Vita,’ Spinelli’s ‘A Basso Porto,’ and Tasca’s ‘A Santa Lucia’!
“The stories chosen for operatic treatment by the champions of verismo are all alike. It is their filth and blood which fructifies the music, which rasps the nerves even as the plays revolt the moral stomach. I repeat: Looking back over the time during which this so-called veritism has held its orgies, ‘Cavalleria rusticana’ seems almost classic. Its music is highly spiced and tastes ‘hot i’ th’ mouth,’ but its eloquence is, after all, in its eager, pulsating, passionate melody–like the music which Verdi wrote more than half a century ago for the last act of ‘Il Trovatore.’ If neither Mascagni himself nor his imitators have succeeded in equalling it since, it is because they have thought too much of the external devices of abrupt and uncouth change of modes and tonalities, of exotic scales and garish orchestration, and too little of the fundamental element of melody which once was the be- all and end-all of Italian music. Another fountain of gushing melody must be opened before ‘Cavalleria rusticana’ finds a successor in all things worthy of the succession. Ingenious artifice, reflection, and technical cleverness will not suffice even with the blood and mud of the slums as a fertilizer.”
How Mascagni came to write his opera he has himself told us in a bright sketch of the early part of his life-history which was printed in the “Fanfulla della Domenica” of Rome shortly after he became famous. Recounting the story of his struggle for existence after entering upon his career, he wrote:–
In 1888 only a few scenes (of “Ratcliff”) remained to be composed; but I let them lie and have not touched them since. The thought of “Cavalleria rusticana” had been in my head for several years. I wanted to introduce myself with, a work of small dimensions. I appealed to several librettists, but none was willing to undertake the work without a guarantee of recompense. Then came notice of the Sonzogno competition and I eagerly seized the opportunity to better my condition. But my salary of 100 lire, to which nothing was added, except the fees from a few pianoforte lessons in Cerignola and two lessons in the Philharmonic Society of Canosa (a little town a few miles from Cerignola), did not permit the luxury of a libretto. At the solicitation of some friends Targioni, in Leghorn, decided to write a “Cavalleria rusticana” for me. My mind was long occupied with the finale. The words: Hanno ammazzato compare Turiddu! (They have killed Neighbor Turiddu!) were forever ringing in my ears. I needed a few mighty orchestral chords to give characteristic form to the musical phrase and achieve an impressive close. How it happened I don’t know, but one morning, as I was trudging along the road to give my lessons at Canosa, the idea came to me like a stroke of lightning, and I had found my chords. They were those seventh chords, which I conscientiously set down in my manuscript.
Thus I began my opera at the end. When I received the first chorus of my libretto by post (I composed the Siciliano in the prelude later) I said in great good humor to my wife:
“To-day we must make a large expenditure.”
“An alarm clock.”
“To wake me up before dawn so that I may begin to write on ‘Cavalleria rusticana.'”
The expenditure caused a dubious change in the monthly budget, but it was willingly allowed. We went out together, and after a good deal of bargaining spent nine lire. I am sure that I can find the clock, all safe and sound, in Cerignola. I wound it up the evening we bought it, but it was destined to be of no service to me, for in that night a son, the first of a row of them, was born to me. In spite of this I carried out my determination, and in the morning began to write the first chorus of “Cavalleria.” I came to Rome in February, 1890, in order to permit the jury to hear my opera; they decided that it was worthy of performance. Returning to Cerignola in a state of the greatest excitement, I noticed that I did not have a penny in my pocket for the return trip to Rome when my opera was to be rehearsed. Signor Sonzogno helped me out of my embarrassment with a few hundred francs.
Those beautiful days of fear and hope, of discouragement and confidence, are as vividly before my eyes as if they were now. I see again the Constanzi Theatre, half filled; I see how, after the last excited measures of the orchestra, they all raise their arms and gesticulate, as if they were threatening me; and in my soul there awakens an echo of that cry of approval which almost prostrated me. The effect made upon me was so powerful that at the second representation I had to request them to turn down the footlights in case I should be called out; for the blinding light seemed a hell to me, like a fiery abyss that threatened to engulf me.
It is a rude little tale which Giovanni Verga wrote and which supplied the librettists, G. Targioni-Tozzetti and G. Menasci, with the plot of Mascagni’s opera. Sententious as the opera seems, it is yet puffed out, padded, and bedizened with unessential ornament compared with the story. This has the simplicity and directness of a folk-tale or folk-song, and much of its characteristic color and strength were lost in fitting it out for music. The play, which Signora Duse presented to us with a power which no operatic singer can ever hope to match, was more to the purpose, quicker and stronger in movement, fiercer in its onrush of passion, and more pathetic in its silences than the opera with its music, though the note of pathos sounded by Signor Mascagni is the most admirable element of the score. With half a dozen homely touches Verga conjures up the life of a Sicilian village and strikes out his characters in bold outline. Turiddu Macca, son of Nunzia, is a bersagliere returned from service. He struts about the village streets in his uniform, smoking a pipe carved with an image of the king on horseback, which he lights with a match fired by a scratch on the seat of his trousers, “lifting his leg as if for a kick.” Lola, daughter of Massaro Angelo, was his sweetheart when he was conscripted, but meanwhile she has promised to marry Alfio, a teamster from Licodia, who has four Sortino mules in his stable. Now Turiddu could do nothing better than sing spiteful songs under her window.
Lola married the teamster, and on Sundays she would sit in the yard with her hands posed on her hips to show off the thick gold rings which her husband had given her. Opposite Alfio’s house lived Massaro Cola, who was as rich as a hog, as they said, and who had an only daughter named Santa. Turiddu, to spite Lola, paid his addresses to Santa and whispered sweet words into her ear.
“Why don’t you go and say these nice things to Lola?” asked Santa one day.
“Lola is a fine lady now; she has married a crown prince. But you are worth a thousand Lolas; she isn’t worthy of wearing your old shoes. I could just eat you up with my eyes, Santa”–thus Turiddu.
“You may eat me with your eyes and welcome, for then there will be no leaving of crumbs.”
“If I were rich I would like to have a wife just like you.”
“I shall never marry a crown prince, but I shall have a dowry as well as Lola when the good Lord sends me a lover.”
The tassel on his cap had tickled the girl’s fancy. Her father disapproved of the young soldier, and turned him from his door; but Santa opened her window to him until the village gossips got busy with her name and his. Lola listened to the talk of the lovers from behind a vase of flowers. One day she called after Turiddu: “Ah, Turiddu! Old friends are no longer noticed, eh?”
“He is a happy man who has the chance of seeing you, Lola.”
“You know where I live,” answered Lola. And now Turiddu visited Lola so often that Santa shut her window in his face and the villagers began to smile knowingly when he passed by. Alfio was making a round of the fairs with his mules. “Next Sunday I must go to confession,” said Lola one day, “for last night I dreamt that I saw black grapes.”
“Never mind the dream,” pleaded Turiddu.
“But Easter is coming, and my husband will want to know why I have not confessed.”
Santa was before the confessional waiting her turn when Lola was receiving absolution. “I wouldn’t send you to Rome for absolution,” she said. Alfio came home with his mules, and money and a rich holiday dress for his wife.
“You do well to bring presents to her,” said Santa to him, “for when you are away your wife adorns your head for you.”
“Holy Devil!” screamed Alfio. “Be sure of what you are saying;, or I’ll not leave you an eye to cry with!”
“I am not in the habit of crying. I haven’t wept even when I have seen Turiddu going into your wife’s house at night.”
“Enough!” said Alfio. “I thank you very much.”
The cat having come back home, Turiddu kept off the streets by day, but in the evenings consoled himself with his friends at the tavern. They were enjoying a dish of sausages there on Easter eve. When Alfio came in Turiddu understood what he wanted by the way he fixed his eyes on him. “You know what I want to speak to you about,” said Alfio when Turiddu asked him if he had any commands to give him. He offered Alfio a glass of wine, but it was refused with a wave of the hand.
“Here I am,” said Turiddu. Alfio put his arms around his neck. “We’ll talk this thing over if you will meet me to-morrow morning.”
“You may look for me on the highway at sunrise, and we will go on together.”
They exchanged the kiss of challenge, and Turiddu, as an earnest that he would be on hand, bit Alfio’s ear. His companions left their sausages uneaten and went home with Turiddu. There his mother was sitting up for him.
“Mamma,” Turiddu said to her, “do you remember that when I went away to be a soldier you thought I would never come back? Kiss me as you did then, mamma, for to-morrow I am going away again.”
Before daybreak he took his knife from the place in the haymow where he had hidden it when he went soldiering, and went out to meet Alfio.
“Holy Mother of Jesus!” grumbled Lola when her husband prepared to go out; “where are you going in such a hurry?”
“I am going far away,” answered Alfio, “and it will be better for you if I never come back!”
The two men met on the highway and for a while walked on in silence. Turiddu kept his cap pulled down over his face. “Neighbor Alfio,” he said after a space, “as true as I live I know that I have wronged you, and I would let myself be killed if I had not seen my old mother when she got up on the pretext of looking after the hens. And now, as true as I live, I will kill you like a dog so that my dear old mother may not have cause to weep.”
“Good!” answered Alfio; “we will both strike hard!” And he took off his coat.
Both were good with the knife. Turiddu received the first blow in his arm, and when he returned it struck for Alfio’s heart.
“Ah, Turiddu! You really do intend to kill me?”
“Yes, I told you so. Since I saw her in the henyard I have my old mother always in my eyes.”
“Keep those eyes wide open,” shouted Alfio, “for I am going to return you good measure!”
Alfio crouched almost to the ground, keeping his left hand on the wound, which pained him. Suddenly he seized a handful of dust and threw it into Turiddu’s eyes.
“Ah!” howled Turiddu, blinded by the dust, “I’m a dead man!” He attempted to save himself by leaping backward, but Alfio struck him a second blow, this time in the belly, and a third in the throat.
“That makes three–the last for the head you have adorned for me!”
Turiddu staggered back into the bushes and fell. He tried to say, “Ah, my dear mother!” but the blood gurgled up in his throat and he could not.
Music lends itself incalculably better to the celebration of a mood accomplished or achieved by action, physical or psychological, than to an expression of the action itself. It is in the nature of the lyric drama that this should be so, and there need be no wonder that wherever Verga offered an opportunity for set lyricism it was embraced by Mascagni and his librettists. Verga tells us that Turiddu, having lost Lola, comforted himself by singing spiteful songs under her window. This suggested the Siciliano, which, an afterthought, Mascagni put into his prelude as a serenade, not in disparagement, but in praise of Lola. It was at Easter that Alfio returned to discover the infidelity of his wife, and hence we have an Easter hymn, one of the musical high lights of the work, though of no dramatic value. Verga aims to awaken at least a tittle of extenuation and a spark of sympathy for Turiddu by showing us his filial love in conflict with his willingness to make reparation to Alfio; Mascagni and his librettists do more by showing us the figure of the young soldier blending a request for a farewell kiss from his mother with a prayer for protection for the woman he has wronged. In its delineation of the tender emotions, indeed, the opera is more generous and kindly than the story. Santuzza does not betray her lover in cold blood as does Santa, but in the depth of her humiliation and at the climax of her jealous fury created by Turiddu’s rejection of her when he follows Lola into church. Moreover, her love opens the gates to remorse the moment she realizes what the consequence of her act is to be. The opera sacrifices some of the virility of Turiddu’s character as sketched by Verga, but by its classic treatment of the scene of the killing it saves us from the contemplation of Alfio’s dastardly trick which turns a duel into a cowardly assassination.
The prelude to the opera set the form which Leoncavallo followed, slavishly followed, in “Pagliacci.”
The orchestral proclamation of the moving passions of the play is made by the use of fragments of melody which in the vocal score mark climaxes in the dialogue. The first high point in the prelude is reached in the strain to which Santuzza begs for the love of Turiddu even after she has disclosed to him her knowledge of his infidelity:–
[figure: a musical score excerpt]
[figure: a musical score excerpt]
the second is the broad melody in which she pleads with him to return to her arms:–
[figure: a musical score excerpt]
Between these expositions falls the Siciliano, which interrupts the instrumental flood just as Lola’s careless song, the Stornello, interrupts the passionate rush of Santuzza’s protestations, prayers, and lamentations in the scene between her and her faithless lover:–
[figure: a musical score excerpt setting the words “O Lola, blanca come flor di spino, quando t’affaci ti s’affaccio il sole”]
These sharp contrasts, heightened by the device of surprise, form one of the marked characteristics of Mascagni’s score and one of the most effective. We meet it also in the instrumentation–the harp accompaniment to the serenade, the pauses which give piquancy to Lola’s ditty, the unison violins, harp arpeggios, and sustained organ chords of the intermezzo.
When the curtain rises it discloses the open square of a Sicilian village, flanked by a church and the inn of Lucia, Turiddu’s mother. It is Easter morning and villagers and peasants are gathering for the Paschal mass. Church bells ring and the orchestra breaks into the eager melody which a little later we hear combined with the voices which are hymning the pleasant sights and sounds of nature:–
[figure: a musical score excerpt setting the words “tempo e si mormori”]
A charming conception is the regular beat and flux and reflux of the women’s voices as they sing
[figure: a musical score excerpt setting the words “Gliaranci olezzano sui verdi margini cantando le allo do le tra i mirti in flor . . .”]
Delightful and refreshing is the bustling strain of the men. The singers depart with soft exclamations of rapture called out by the contemplation of nature and thoughts of the Virgin Mother and Child in their hearts. Comes Santuzza, sore distressed, to Mamma Lucia, to inquire as to the whereabouts of her son Turiddu. Lucia thinks him at Francofonte; but Santuzza knows that he spent the night in the village.
In pity for the maiden’s distress, Lucia asks her to enter her home, but Santuzza may not–she is excommunicate. Alfio enters with boisterous jollity, singing of his jovial carefree life as a teamster and his love of home and a faithful wife. It is a paltry measure, endurable only for its offering of contrast, and we will not tarry with it, though the villagers echo it merrily. Alfio, too, has seen Turiddu, and Lucia is about to express her surprise when Santuzza checks her. The hour of devotion is come, and the choir in the church intones the “Regina coeli,” while the people without fall on their knees and sing the Resurrection Hymn. After the first outburst, to which the organ appends a brief postlude, Santuzza leads in the canticle, “Innegiamo il Signor non dmorte”:
Let us sing of our Lord ris’n victorious! Let us sing of our Lord ever glorious:–
[figure: a musical score excerpt]
[figure: a musical score excerpt]
The instrumental basses supply a foundation of Bachian granite, the chorus within the church interpolates shouts of “Alleluia!” and the song swells until the gates of sound fly wide open and we forget the theatre in a fervor of religious devotion. Only the critic in his study ought here to think of the parallel scene which Leoncavallo sought to create in his opera.
Thus far the little dramatic matter that has been introduced is wholly expository; yet we are already near the middle of the score. All the stage folk enter the church save Santuzza and Lucia, and to the mother of her betrayer the maiden tells the story of her wrongs. The romance which she sings is marked by the copious use of one of the distinguishing devices of the veritist composers–the melodic triplet, an efficient help for the pushing, pulsating declamation with which the dramatic dialogue of Mascagni, Leoncavallo, and their fellows is carried on. Lucia can do no more for the unfortunate than commend her to the care of the Virgin. She enters the church and Turiddu comes. He lies as to where he has been. Santuzza is quick with accusation and reproach, but at the first sign of his anger and a hint of the vengeance which Alfio will take she abases herself. Let him beat and insult her, she will love and pardon though her heart break. She is in the extremity of agony and anguish when Lola is heard trolling a careless song:–
[figure: musical example setting the word “Fior di giaggiolo . . gli angeli belli stanno a mille in cielo . . .”]
She is about to begin a second stanza when she enters and sees the pair. She stops with an exclamation. She says she is seeking Alfio. Is Turiddu not going to mass? Santuzza, significantly: “It is Easter and the Lord sees all things! None but the blameless should go to mass.” But Lola will go, and so will Turiddu. Scorning Santuzza’s pleadings and at last hurling her to the ground, he rushes into the church. She shouts after him a threat of Easter vengeance and fate sends the agent to her in the very moment. Alfio comes and Santuzza tells him that Turiddu has cuckolded him and Lola has robbed her of her lover:–
Turiddu mi tolse, mi tolse l’onore, E vostra moglie lui rapiva a me!
[figure: musical example setting the above words]
The oncoming waves of the drama’s pathos have risen to a supreme height, their crests have broken, and the wind-blown spume drenches the soul of the listeners; but the composer has not departed from the first principle of the master of whom, for a time, it was hoped he might be the legitimate successor. Melody remains the life-blood of his music as it is that of Verdi’s from his first work to his last;–as it will be so long as music endures.
Terrible is the outbreak of Alfio’s rage:–
Infami lero, ad esse non perdono,
Vendetta avro pria che tra monti il di.
[figure: musical example setting the above words]
Upon this storm succeeds the calm of the intermezzo–in its day the best abused and most hackneyed piece of music that the world knew; yet a triumph of simple, straightforward tune. It echoes the Easter hymn, and in the midst of the tumult of earthly passion proclaims celestial peace. Its instrumentation was doubtless borrowed from Hellmesberger’s arrangement of the air “Ombra mai fu” from “Serse,” known the world over as Handel’s “Largo”–violins in unison, harp arpeggios, and organ harmonies. In nothing artistically distinguished it makes an unexampled appeal to the multitude. Some years ago a burlesque on “Cavalleria rusticana” was staged at a theatre in Vienna.
[figure: a musical score excerpt]
It was part of the witty conceit of the author to have the intermezzo played on a handorgan. Up to this point the audience had been hilarious in its enjoyment of the burlesque, but with the first wheezy tones from the grinder the people settled down to silent attention; and when the end came applause for the music rolled out wave after wave. A burlesque performance could not rob that music of its charm. Ite missa est. Mass is over. The merry music of the first chorus returns. The worshippers are about to start homeward with pious reflections, when Turiddu detains Lola and invites his neighbors to a glass of Mamma Lucia’s wine. We could spare the drinking song as easily as Alfio, entering, turns aside the cup which Turiddu proffers him. Turiddu understands. “I await your pleasure.” Some of the women apprehend mischief and lead Lola away. The challenge is given and accepted, Sicilian fashion. Turiddu confesses his wrong-doing to Alfio, but, instead of proclaiming his purpose to kill his enemy, he asks protection for Santuzza in case of his death. Then, while the violins tremble and throb, he calls for his mother like an errant child:–
[figure: a musical score excerpt]
He has been too free with the winecup, he says, and must leave her. But first her blessing, as when he went away to be a soldier. Should he not return, Santa must be her care: “Voi dovrete fare; da madre a Santa!” It is the cry of a child. “A kiss! Another kiss, mamma! Farewell!” Lucia calls after him. He is gone, Santuzza comes in with her phrase of music descriptive of her unhappy love. It grows to a thunderous crash. Then a hush! A fateful chord! A whispered roll of the drums! A woman is heard to shriek: “They have killed Neighbor Turiddu!” A crowd of women rush in excitedly; Santuzza and Lucia fall in a swoon. “Hanno ammazzato compare Turiddu!” The tragedy is ended.
THE CAREER OF MASCAGNI
It would be foolish to question or attempt to deny the merits of the type of Italian opera established by Mascagni’s lucky inspiration. The brevity of the realistic little tragedy, the swiftness of its movement, its adherence to the Italian ideal of melody first, its ingenious combination of song with an illuminative orchestral part–these elements in union created a style which the composers of Italy, France, and Germany were quick to adopt. “Pagliacci” was the first fruit of the movement and has been the most enduring; indeed, so far as America and England are concerned, “Cavalleria rusticana” and “Pagliacci” are the only products of the school which have obtained a lasting footing. They were followed by a flood of Italian, French, and German works in which low life was realistically portrayed, but, though the manner of composition was as easily copied as the subjects were found in the slums, none of the imitators of Mascagni and Leoncavallo achieved even a tithe of their success. The men themselves were too shrewd and wise to attempt to repeat the experiment which had once been triumphant.
In one respect the influence of the twin operas was deplorable. I have attempted to characterize that influence in general terms, but in order that the lesson may be more plainly presented it seems to me best to present a few examples in detail. The eagerness with which writers sought success in moral muck, regardless of all artistic elements, is strikingly illustrated in an attempt by a German writer, Edmund von Freihold, [Footnote: I owe this illustration to Ferdinand Pfobl’s book “Die Moderne Oper.”] to provide “Cavalleria rusticana” with a sequel. Von Freihold wrote the libretto for a “music drama” which he called “Santuzza,” the story of which begins long enough after the close of Verga’s story for both the women concerned in “Gavalleria rusticana” to have grown children. Santuzza has given birth to a son named Massimo, and Lola to a daughter, Anita. The youthful pair grow up side by side in the Sicilian village and fall in love with one another. They might have married and in a way expiated the sins of their parents had not Alfio overheard his wife, Lola, confess that Turiddu, not her husband, is the father of Anita, The lovers are thus discovered to be half brother and sister. This reminder of his betrayal by Lola infuriates Alfio anew. He rushes upon his wife to kill her, but Santuzza, who hates him as the slayer of her lover, throws herself between and plunges her dagger in Alfio’s heart. Having thus taken revenge for Turiddu’s death, Santuzza dies out of hand, Lola, as an inferior character, falls in a faint, and Massimo makes an end of the delectable story by going away from there to parts unknown.
In Cilea’s “Tilda” a street singer seeks to avenge her wrongs upon a faithless lover. She bribes a jailor to connive at the escape of a robber whom he is leading to capital punishment. This robber she elects to be the instrument of her vengeance. Right merrily she lives with him and his companions in the greenwood until the band captures the renegade lover on his wedding journey. Tilda rushes upon the bride with drawn dagger, but melts with compassion when she sees her victim in the attitude of prayer. She sinks to her knees beside her, only to receive the death-blow from her seducer. There are piquant contrasts in this picture and Ave Marias and tarantellas in the music.
Take the story of Giordano’s “Mala Vita.” Here the hero is a young dyer whose dissolute habits have brought on tuberculosis of the lungs. The principal object of his amours is the wife of a friend. A violent hemorrhage warns him of approaching death. Stricken with fear he rushes to the nearest statue of the Madonna and registers a vow; he will marry a wanton, effect her redemption, thereby hoping to save his own miserable life. The heroine of the opera appears and she meets his requirements. He marries her and for a while she seems blest. But the siren, the Lola in the case, winds her toils about him as the disease stretches him on the floor at her feet. Piquancy again, achieved now without that poor palliative, punishment of the evil-doer.
Tasca’s “A Santa Lucia” has an appetizing story about an oysterman’s son who deserts a woman by whom he has a child, in order to marry one to whom he had previously been affianced. The women meet. There is a dainty brawl, and the fiancee of Cicillo (he’s the oysterman’s son) strikes her rival’s child to the ground. The mother tries to stab the fiancee with the operatic Italian woman’s ever-ready dagger, and this act stirs up the embers of Cicillo’s love. He takes the mother of his child back home–to his father’s house, that is. The child must be some four years old by this time, but the oysterman–dear, unsuspecting old man!–knows nothing about the relation existing between his son and his housekeeper. He is thinking of marriage with his common law daughter-in-law when in comes the old fiancee with a tale for Cicillo’s ears of his mistress’s unfaithfulness. “It is not true!” shrieks the poor woman, but the wretch, her seducer, closes his ears to her protestations; and she throws herself into the sea, where the oysters come from. Cicillo rushes after her and bears her to the shore, where she dies in his arms, gasping in articulo mortis, “It is not true!”
The romantic interest in Mascagni’s life is confined to the period which preceded his sudden rise to fame. His father was a baker in Leghorn, and there he was born on December 7,1863. Of humble origin and occupation himself, the father, nevertheless, had large ambitions for his son; but not in the line of art. Pietro was to be shaped intellectually for the law. Like Handel, the boy studied the pianoforte by stealth in the attic. Grown in years, he began attending a music-school, when, it is said, his father confined him to his house; thence his uncle freed him and took over his care upon himself. Singularly enough, the man who at the height of his success posed as the most Italian of Italian masters had his inspiration first stirred by German poetry. Early in his career Beethoven resolved to set Schiller’s “Hymn to Joy”; the purpose remained in his mind for forty years or so, and finally became a realization in the finale of the Ninth Symphony. Pietro Mascagni resolved as a boy to compose music for the same ode; and did it at once. Then he set to work upon a two-act opera, “Il Filanda.” His uncle died, and a Count Florestan (here is another Beethovenian echo!) sent him to the Conservatory at Milan, where, like nearly all of his native contemporaries, he imbibed knowledge (and musical ideas) from Ponchielli.
After two years or so of academic study he yielded to a gypsy desire and set out on his wanderings, but not until he had chosen as a companion Maffei’s translation of Heine’s “Ratcliff”–a gloomy romance which seems to have caught the fancy of many composers. There followed five years of as checkered a life as ever musician led. Over and over again he was engaged as conductor of an itinerant or stationary operetta and opera company, only to have the enterprise fail and leave him stranded. For six weeks in Naples his daily ration was a plate of macaroni. But he worked at his opera steadily, although, as he once remarked, his dreams of fame were frequently swallowed up in the growls of his stomach, which caused him more trouble than many a millionaire suffers from too little appetite or too much gout. Finally, convinced that he could do better as a teacher of the pianoforte, he ran away from an engagement which paid him two dollars a day, and, sending off the manuscript of “Ratcliff” in a portmanteau, settled down in Cerignola. There he became director of a school for orchestral players, though he had first to learn to play the instruments; he also taught pianoforte and thoroughbass, and eked out a troublous existence until his success in competition for the prize offered by Sonzogno, the Milanese publisher, made him famous in a day and started him on the road to wealth.
It was but natural that, after “Cavalleria rusticana” had virulently affected the whole world with what the enemies of Signor Mascagni called “Mascagnitis,” his next opera should be looked forward to with feverish anxiety. There was but a year to wait, for “L’Amico Fritz” was brought forward in Rome on the last day of October, 1891. Within ten weeks its title found a place on the programme of one of Mr. Walter Damrosch’s Sunday night concerts in