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   Chapter 8 THIRD PERIOD OPERAS

Verdi: Man and Musician By Frederick James Crowest Characters: 41224

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03


A matured style-Methusaleh of Opera-The last link-A?da-A higher art plane-Ismail Pacha commissions A?da-Its libretto-Production at Cairo-The argument-Patti as A?da-Athen?um criticism of A?da-Otello-Scene in Milan-The initial cast-Its production and reception in London and Paris-Athen?um review of Otello-Its story-Vocal and instrumental qualities-Falstaff-A surprise defeated-Boito-Falstaff produced at La Scala-In France-Falstaff at Covent Garden-The comedy and its music-Athen?um opinion of Falstaff-A crowning triumph.

We venture upon the Third and last, the "mature" period in Verdi's great career. It forms a truly interesting phase of a long life, because it has proved productive of his best music. This later work places Verdi at the head of his profession, and among the most remarkable men of the century. That, when verging on sixty years of age, he should submit A?da, an opera abounding in the strength, vitality, and freedom of youth, constituted a musical event that was greeted with enthusiasm by the whole artistic world; but it was regarded as something more extraordinary when, fifteen years later, the great creative faculty of the master found vent in Otello. This achievement won the admiration of lovers of art and letters throughout the globe. Yet that stroke was to be surpassed. Five years later, when the maestro was eighty years of age, to the astonishment of everybody, Falstaff was given to the world. No wonder that Verdi has been styled the "grand old man" of music.

The genesis of A?da was on this wise. Ismail Pacha, Khedive of Egypt, desired a novelty for the inauguration of the new Italian theatre at Cairo, and sought a brand-new opera, on the composer's own terms. Verdi-consulting pupil Muzio-named the sum of £4000 sterling, to which the Khedive agreed. The feeling was towards a work with local colour and interest; hence the A?da book-the joint production of Mariette Bey, M.C. du Cocle, and Signor Ghislanzoni-was decided upon.

In a few months the score was completed; meanwhile the scenery and costumes were being prepared in Paris. But there proved to be no heed for haste. The Franco-German war broke out, and for several months the art of painter and costumier was locked up in the besieged city. At length the eventful day for the production of A?da came round, however, and the work was given for the first time publicly, at the Cairo theatre, on Sunday, 24th January 1871. The cast was as follows:-A?da, Madame Pozzoni-Anastasi; Amnéris, Madame Grossi; Radamès, Signor Mongini; Ramfis, Signor Medini; Amonasro, Signor Costa; King, Signor Steller, with Signor Bottesini as conductor, because Verdi, having a horror of the sea and given to mal de mer, could not be induced to make the journey to Cairo. The final rehearsal lasted from seven in the evening until half-past three the next morning, while the performance itself was one of the most gorgeous that had graced even the Egyptian capital. Crowds were turned from the doors, and those who had seats might have sold them, to use a common and hardly accurate expression, for their weight in gold.

Notabilities of every country were there, sharing the evident enthusiasm of the Khedive, who, when the representation was concluded, sent a telegram to Verdi congratulating him heartily upon the success and excellence of the work. The excitement was immense, and the salvoes of applause that greeted number after number of the opera were easily heard outside the walls of the theatre. There was only one opinion about A?da. On all sides it was adjudged a masterpiece, the finest work that had been issued from the master's pen. From Cairo A?da was taken to La Scala Theatre (17th February 1872), and subsequently it was presented at the Théatre Italien in Paris, where in three successive seasons it had some seventy representations. In 1876 it was produced for the first time in England at Covent Garden Theatre; and a French version of the opera was also given at the Paris Opéra on 22nd March 1880.

The scene of the opera is laid at Memphis and at Thebes during the rule of the Pharaohs over Egypt. A?da, daughter of Amonasro, King of Ethiopia, having fallen into the hands of the Egyptians, is brought back a prisoner into Egypt, where her grace and beauty win for her a place as slave to Amnéris, the Egyptian king's daughter. In this association she is seen by Radamès, a captain, and eventually commander-in-chief of the Egyptian troops. Amnéris, entertaining a secret affection for this young soldier in her father's service, becomes alarmed on finding that the bearing of A?da shows her to be similarly affected. Her jealousy is aroused, and she vows vengeance on her rival. Amonasro then comes into prominence. A prisoner in one of the battles between the Egyptians and the Ethiopians, he is brought to Egypt, no one save A?da knowing his rank, for he was fighting as an officer merely. As a reward for his martial services, the Egyptian king offers Radamès his daughter's hand in marriage, which, seeing that he is deeply in love with A?da, places him in a difficult position. Amonasro meanwhile gets scent of the affection between A?da and Radamès, and discovering their trysting-place, urges his daughter to induce Radamès to betray his country. This he does, and being seized, is tried, found guilty, and condemned by the sacred council to be buried alive. Amnéris, the king's daughter, secures for him her father's pardon, on his consenting to abandon A?da for ever. This he refuses to do, for he prefers the slave to the mistress. On the stone being lowered which is to immure him in a living tomb, he is seen with A?da by his side, she having contrived to penetrate into the dark vault of the Temple of Phtha in order to prove her constancy and love, by sharing his fate, and like Romeo and Juliet, dying together. Such is briefly the story of the A?da libretto.

A close study of the plot shows it to be neither strictly logical nor consistent; at the same time the book abounds with striking and sensational situations, appreciated alike by musicians and dramatists.

That empress of song, Madame Patti, created the principal character in A?da when it was first given in this country on the 23rd June 1876. The other principal singers were Mdlle. Ernestina Gindale (Amnéris), Signori Nicolini (Radamès), Graziani (Amonasro), Capponi (Ramfis), and M. Feitlinger (King of Egypt). As every frequenter of the opera who can recall that eventful night will remember, it was a brilliant night. The Royal box was fully tenanted, including the Prince and Princess of Wales, with the Princes Albert Ernest and George Frederick. The cantatrice thrilled the audience by the purity and tenderness of her singing, notably in her delivery of A?da's agonised soliloquy in the third act. In no previous part had she shown greater powers, and the assumption of the part placed her in the front rank of lyric tragédiennes. On all sides it was admitted that Verdi had achieved a great and unexampled success. The main topic was the new order of Verdi's music in A?da, of which more in another chapter.

In 1876 something much like a change of front takes place on the part of the Athen?um. It no longer gives Verdi his congé, but blames the English directors for allowing four years to elapse before producing A?da:-"The reputation of Signor Verdi ought to have induced the directors to bring out, as promptly as possible, any new opera by him."[61] Referring to A?da the notice runs:-"The consecration scene, in which Radamès is invested with the command of the Egyptian army, is highly dramatic; still finer is the finale of the second act. Here are found the most telling points, for the composer revels in the expression of extreme emotion; he has varied and conflicting passions to set; there is the glorification of the return of a victorious general with his army; there is the lament of the Ethiopian prisoners; there is the exultation of Amnéris at her father, the King, having awarded her to Radamès as the prize for his valour; there are the suppressed tones of vengeance of Amonasro, who is not recognised as the Ethiopian monarch and warrior in his thraldom; and there is the deep despair of A?da at losing Radamès, and her grief at her father being in the hands of his enemies. The effect of the ensemble is most imposing; the parts are well and distinctly defined, and to the individual bursts are added the choral and orchestral combinations. This finale is the grandest number in the entire score; there is no other situation in which there is such variety and power. There are no less than six duets in the four acts, but in no one of them is there consistent and coherent writing; there are isolated breaks of beauty, such as passages here and there in the duet between A?da and Amnéris, 'Amore! amore!' in the second act, in which the Egyptian princess discovers that she has a rival in her Ethiopian slave, who is a prisoner; and in the two duets in the third act, the first between A?da and her father Amonasro, in which she is forced to turn spy in the subsequent duo with her lover Radamès, and induce him to disclose the secret pass by which his troops may be attacked by the enemy. The two duets in the last act-the first in which Amnéris endeavours to persuade Radamès to sue for pardon, and the second in the vault under the temple between A?da and Radamès, 'Morir! si pura e bella'-are also excellent. There are few solos. The first is for the tenor, 'Celeste A?da'; the second is the scena of A?da, 'L'insana parola,' when she learns that Radamès is to be the chief to attack her father's army; the third is the romanza of A?da in the third act, 'O cieli azzurri,' recalling the beauties of her own country; and the final solo is that of Amnéris while listening to the trial and condemnation in the vault of Radamès for his treason. The characteristics of these solos are peculiarly those of Signor Verdi, but their finest features forcibly recall airs which he has composed from other operas-thus the Miserere theme of the Trovatore is paraphrased more than once. The work is very heavily scored-over-instrumented in the brass particularly, and it would exact double the number and twice the tone of the strings at Covent Garden to counterbalance the blatant effects. But there are also some remarkably interesting parts in the orchestration; the prelude or overture is short, but it conveys the notion of the Eastern story which follows. It is dreamy and charmingly coloured; the March is magnificent, and is sure to be played by our military bands even if they do not possess the six long Egyptian trumpets used by Signor Verdi.... It is true that the composer in seeking for scientific combinations has not shown his former spontaneity, and that his themes are at times commonplace, while his instrumentation generally is too ponderous; but there are redeeming features in the elaborate score sufficient to prove that he still maintains that peculiar ascendency over the sympathies of audiences which asserts itself in striking situations so vividly. In short, Signor Verdi has the faculty, amidst trivialities, of never writing an opera in which there is not some display of emotional and sensational power."[62]

Of this criticism it is but fair to the Athen?um to state that, as regards the "excessive orchestration," it is consistent with one of the late Mr. Chorley's old charges; but in all other respects the apostate Verdi appears now to have claims both for the fullest admiration and attention.

A curious episode in connection with the publication of A?da was the provocation it gave to one Signor Vincenzo Sassaroli, who was most surprisingly perturbed because of the success of the opera and the Requiem mass. He could not conceive how publisher and public could see anything in such music, and he went so far as to write to Ricordi challenging a setting of the A?da libretto, which he would undertake upon certain conditions. The avowed object of the challenge was to prove to the world of art that the book could be set better than it had been!

Passing over Montezuma, in five acts, which Verdi completed in 1878, and which was given for the first time at La Scala, Milan, we come to the master's next great Shakespearean setting-Otello.

Otello, a lyric drama in four acts, with a book by Arrigo Boito, proved the second of the composer's matured period works. It was on the 5th February 1887 that Milan-Otellopolis, as it had been for the nonce christened-was all astir because that Otello was to be positively performed. Soon after daybreak the whole city was a mass of mixed, excited humanity-faces known and unknown from every part of the world-all bent on one eternal theme, Verdi and Otello. Ere 7 P.M. that evening La Scala was packed from pit to dome with perhaps the most brilliant audience that had ever filled the famous theatre. Faccio was to conduct, and no sooner did the distinguished leader appear than thunders of applause burst from all parts of the house, so feverishly expectant was every one concerning the music that was about to be unfolded. No overture, but a few preliminary bars of tempest music, and the curtain rose to a scene on the island of Cyprus, with Iago, Roderigo, and Cassio in evidence.

It was an open secret that an excellent libretto had been prepared by Boito, one to which the strictest of Shakespearean students could hardly take exception; and as number after number of the music proceeded, it became equally apparent that another great opera was born to the world. True, Boito had ignored the first act of the immortal bard's drama, and thus robbed Verdi of the chance of setting that fine declamatory passage: "Most noble, grave, and reverend seigneurs"; but the librettist had to curtail somewhere, and this first act was the rejected one.

The cast on this eventful night included Signora Romilda Pantaleoni (Desdemona), Signor Tamagno (Otello), M. Maurel (Iago), with Signori Fornari and Paroli as Roderigo and Cassio respectively, the part of Emilia being filled by Mdlle. Petrovich-artists who, on the whole, did justice to the masterly music put into their mouths. At the conclusion of the performance Verdi was called forward some twenty times amid a scene of enthusiasm, and the waving of hats and handkerchiefs, indescribable. The excited people yoked themselves to the maestro's carriage, and drew him at a vexatiously slow pace (in order that he might catch the applause) to his hotel; and those who retired to rest that night did so to the accompaniment of singing and cries for Verdi, which had not ceased when all good people should have been asleep. There was a perfect Otello-Verdi mania.

Verdi admittedly had written another grand opera, and the great problem was how, at the age of seventy-four, the composer could produce such a masterpiece. In design and execution it was equal if not superior to A?da-far surpassing in construction any of his First or Second period works. No dissentient voices could be raised in the general chorus of praise, the opinion being that from first to last the music was as extraordinary as it was magnificent. There was grandeur, as there was learning; and when the technical skill did not attract the attention, it was the surpassing beauty, the seemingly inspired nature of the music that won both heart and ear.

It is not surprising that all the European capitals clamoured to hear a work of such masterly force and skill, and it is creditable to our country's art instincts to find that the opera was given at the Lyceum Theatre in July 1889, or within little more than two years after its production at Milan. The chief singers included Signora Cataneo (Desdemona), with Signori Tamagno (Otello), Paroli (Cassio), and M. Maurel (Iago). Then an excellent exposition of the work resulted.

On this occasion the Athen?um stated:-"Verdi in A?da cut himself adrift from the conventionalities of Italian opera, and produced a work almost perfectly beautiful, glowing with Oriental colour, and dependent to a very slight extent upon the special devices of Wagnerian music drama. In Otello we miss the special characteristics which lend such a charm to A?da, and are disposed to judge it with severity on account of the composer's rashness in selecting a Shakespearean subject.... The first point that strikes the hearer with regard to the music is its essentially modern character combined with its freedom from direct Wagnerian influences. Verdi in his latest score has adopted even less of Wagner's peculiar methods than he did in A?da. Much has been made of the so-called 'kiss' motive, and we may note a harsh progression in consecutive fifths and octaves which appears two or three times, and is apparently intended to suggest the torture of jealousy, but of Leitmotiv in the accepted sense there is not one.... From hence to the close the music is fragmentary, but intensely dramatic, and as impressive as any operatic music ever penned. An exquisitely touching effect is produced by the use made of the love theme from the first act, and, speaking generally, this final scene is a worthy crown to a work which, if not the finest Verdi has written, is at any rate a splendid example of modern Italian art."[63]

Yet, if such criticism were insufficient to prove that there was, as there had been all along, something of merit in Verdi and his music, we find it accentuated two years later when Otello was given at the Royal Italian Opera, Covent Garden. On this occasion we are told:-"If the score is less equal in inspiration and less remarkable for glowing picturesqueness than that of A?da, it is worthy to rank with that beautiful work, and moreover affords ample proof that a composer of genius can satisfy the requirements of modern opera; that is to say, give full play to the dramatic flow of the story without slavishly following the special devices of Wagnerian music drama. In this sense Otello may be regarded as a model for composers of opera seria apart from its own intrinsic value, which is very great."[64]

On the 12th October 1894 a French version of Otello was given at the Paris Opéra, when Verdi himself attended, superintended the rehearsals, and conducted. All Paris was strongly represented on this gala occasion, and no pains or expense were spared upon the performance. The presence of the veteran composer in the conductor's seat naturally gave zest to this performance, and it is doubtful whether a more enthusiastic reception was ever experienced by Verdi. Applause followed applause, until it was abundantly clear that Verdi had secured another triumph, and that Paris, as well as London and Milan, had approved of the composer's masterly achievements in Otello.

Wherever performed, the especially beautiful numbers of the work have speedily been detected. In the first act, which sounds somewhat on Verdi's conventional lines, the storm prayer, the festal music, and a love duet are particularly fine. The second act includes a great scene for Iago, a duet between Cassio and Iago, and a quartet, the whole finishing with a stirring duet between Otello and Iago. This act is full of declamation, which though helped on by the cantilena passages, and beginning with the garden fête to the sound of mandolini, seems a little monotonous. The quartet, however, between Desdemona, Otello, Iago, and Emilia, is extremely interesting, and supplies as fine a piece of choral writing as Verdi has ever penned. In the third act is an abundance of picturesque theatrical music, such as Verdi could well write, for it is one of his great gifts to know exactly what the public prefer. An interpolation in the original text now provides the "handkerchief" trio for Cassio, Otello, and Iago, which in music and poetry is one of the best pieces in the opera. This is followed by a pathetic duet between Desdemona and her jealous lord, and after much fine dramatic writing, suggested in the main by the masterly additions which Boito has made to the original text in this act, we reach the conclusion where Iago, with his foot on the Moor's heart, answers the chorus with malignant triumph. "The lion is here!" This is a highly dramatic, superb situation in the opera, and never fails to elicit the loudest applause. Desdemona's "Willow" song, with its horn and bassoon accompaniment, has rarely been equalled by Verdi; while the "Ave Maria," partly in monotone, and partly in cantilena phrases accompanied by the strings, is of most exquisite heavenly nature. In the fourth and concluding Act,

Otello kills his wife, spares Iago, and stabs himself, and this is generally acknowledged as the finest part of the work. It abounds with beautiful, luxuriant music, in Verdi's choicest vein, while its intense dramatic character is unsurpassed by anything in the range of opera music. In it, Verdi and all his vast dramatic-musical powers rise to their fullest height.

Considered as a whole, Otello must be accounted a very fine opera, a model of opera seria amid all the influence, fashion, and revolution in modern music. Its various beautiful soli pieces, its bold and vigorous choruses, the grand finales, the highly finished duets and quartets, and lastly, but not least, its declamatory music, with the striking and effective recitatives-all this renders the vocal portion well-nigh beyond criticism. The orchestration is particularly remarkable. Here Verdi has surpassed himself, and given us page after page of dramatic tone-painting of the highest order. Rarely has any opera composer shown us anything so dramatic as the finale representing the reception of the delegates from Venice, and the Moor's insulting treatment of his wife. In the first act, the tempest music is wonderfully effective and well conceived, and the second act is full of masterly instrumental device and combination. The grand workings of the orchestra in the "Credo" in this Act could not be surpassed. This same high standard is, on the whole, maintained throughout the third act; while the composer's vocal and instrumental work in the fourth and concluding act is admitted by all judges to be one of the grandest instances of modern orchestral manipulation.

Great as Verdi had been before the production of Otello, and greater still as he became through Otello, there remained yet a further measure of greatness for the justly-famed Italian art king. Those who appreciated and wondered at, to say nothing of listening with delight and amazement to, the superlative musical beauties of A?da and Otello, had yet greater things in store for them. When the composer was busy upon the Otello music, the villagers and others in and around Busseto knew that the master was employed upon serious music. He wore a troubled look, and the expression of his face was one of tragic austerity. Brusque, wrapped up, impatient, he was far from pleasant to deal with, so different from his usual courteous manner and bearing towards the residents. Later, there was a change. A smile played about the composer's lips, he was jovial, open mannered, happy. The peasants and others about the hamlet declared that the composer was in a merry mood; they surmised, and rightly enough, that he was engaged upon some comedy music. This was Falstaff.

The idea of a lyrical comedy taken from Shakespeare haunted Verdi some time before he wrote Falstaff. He spoke to M. Maurel about it, and the latter, in 1890, sent him the version of The Taming of the Shrew arranged by Paul Delair for Coquelin the elder. Verdi returned the manuscript, and wrote from Genoa, saying it was superb, and that he envied the musician whose lot it would be to compose to it; but, as far as he was concerned it was too late. Nearly two years afterwards he told Maurel why it was too late: "Boito and I had planned a lyrical comedy, now nearly finished. It is to be called Falstaff."

Verdi composed the music between 1890 and 1892, and the opera was produced for the first time at La Scala, Milan, on 9th February 1893. It was hailed, and justly so, with enthusiasm, as one of the most remarkable works that ever met the ear inside the walls of that historic opera-house. Musicians from all parts of the world sped to Milan to hear the score concerning which gossip had long been busy-so busy, as to be annoying to Verdi, who wished this, his first comic opera, to burst as a surprise upon the musical world in its complete and final form, instead of being made the subject of anticipation and discussion for at least two years beforehand.

Boito's libretto is, perhaps, the best written and planned book ever presented to a composer. The subject is one of Shakespeare's best, and the librettist has throughout kept Shakespeare to the front, respecting the great dramatist in the most laudable manner. There is little new and little missing in the story, and our old Windsor friends, as jovial and merry as ever, are with us, even in their quaint, fanciful Italian language. There is the jovial, noisy, conceited, amorous Sir John; the villainous, time-serving Bardolph and Pistol; the upright, but jealous Ford; the fussy Dr. Caius; the sentimental Fenton; the truly sweet Anne Page; and last, but not least, the gay, joke-loving, "merry wives," Mistress Ford and Mistress Page.

In all there are three acts, opening with the interior of the Garter Inn, and closing with the midnight revelry at Herne's Oak, the belabouring of Falstaff, etc. Did we state that the music is fully worthy of Shakespeare's comedy, that would express the matter in a few words, yet something more needs to be told of a work that may be cited as a companion opera to Wagner's Die Meistersinger. Falstaff is an astounding tour de force, reflecting alike the artistic versatility of the librettist, and the consummate, matured powers of the composer. On this point the critics-and it might be added, the musicians-of all nations are agreed. The Shakespearean spirit has been caught by the composer in wonderful fashion, and the English flavour is found and preserved throughout the opera to an unmistakable degree.

One who was present on the eventful night of its first performance wrote:-

"Even setting aside the Milanese themselves, it would be impossible to conceive an audience more representative of the best elements in music, art, politics, and society. Critics were there from all parts of Europe-indeed, one might almost say from all parts of the world. The Italian Royal family were represented by the Duke of Aosta and Princess Letitia; the Government by Signor Martini, Minister of Public Instruction; the 'new school' in Italy by Signor Mascagni, to whom, as it was with Verdi himself, honour has come early; and society in general by MM. Leon Cavallo, Bazzini, Marchetti, Puccini, and a host of other notabilities. The ladies had done honour to the occasion, in characteristic fashion, by donning their most elaborate dresses, and thereby adding immeasurably to the bright and cheerful aspect of the house. The performance began amid absolute stillness, the more desirable as, like Otello, the new opera has neither overture nor prelude."

"This is the last work of my life," he said angrily, striding, a tall, gaunt figure, up and down his large drawing-room, and pushing back the long gray hair from his wrinkled forehead with an impatient gesture. "I am writing it for my own amusement; the public would have known nothing at all about it, had it not been for that Mefistofole of a Boito." This little joke of his own, more perfect in Italian than in English, put him into a good humour again, and on my asking him what his complaint was against his clever librettist, he told me the whole story. They had been dining at the Hotel Milan with Ricordi, the music publisher, his wife, and one or two more. When dessert was on the table Ricordi, turning to Boito, inquired when his "Nerone," an opera for which the Italian public has been waiting for the last five years, would be ready. Boito replied that it had been laid aside in view of a work of much greater importance, and then rising, with his glass in his hand, looked towards Verdi and said, laughing, "Here's to your fat-paunched hero." Inquiries, of course, followed, and in this way the subject of the new opera became known. "I should not have forgiven Boito his indiscretion," Verdi continued, "had he not written me a first-rate libretto. The music that I have put to it is in some passages so droll, that it has often made me laugh while writing it."[65]

The artists entrusted with the first rendering of this chef d'?uvre were Signora Pasqua (Mrs. Quickly), Signorine Emma Zilli (Mrs. Ford), Virginia Guerrini (Mrs. Page), and Adelina Stehle ("Sweet Anne"); with Signori Garbin (Fenton), Pini-Corsi (Ford), Pellegalli-Rosetti (Bardolph), Arimondi (Pistol), Armandi (Caius), and M. Maurel (Falstaff). Signor Mascheroni conducted, and one after another the successive beauties of the work were poured forth amid a scene of excitement such as can only be witnessed in La Scala, and which was unprecedented even there. The interest of the audience was arrested from the first scene; but, as climax after climax was reached, the enthusiasm of the brilliant assemblage began to lose bounds, until, at the close of the opera, there was such a tumultuous applause, such calls for Verdi, as to be deafening. No fewer than thirty times was Verdi called on during the performance.

There was but one admission to make-Verdi, doyen of composers, past-grandmaster of music, had crowned his artistic career with the finest, the most scholarly work that ever issued from his pen. Little wonder that the people almost carried him back to his hotel, that they cried for him from the crowded streets, that they called him, time after time, to the balcony of his apartment in order that he might receive their acclamations.

King Humbert sent the eminent composer the following telegram:-"The Queen and myself, being unable to attend the first performance of Falstaff, anticipate the applause about to greet this fresh proof of an inexhaustible genius, by sending you our best wishes and the expression of our great admiration. May you be preserved for many years to come, to the honour of art, to our affections, and to enjoy the recognition of Italy, which, even in her saddest days, found patriotic comfort in your triumphs."

From that day to this, interest in Falstaff has never ceased, the point most dwelt upon being the remarkable freshness, the youth and gaiety, the fun and frolic, on every page of the music. Could it be old-age work? or, was it that with his decline in physical powers Verdi's mental capacity was reaching greater perfection, suggesting perhaps the splendid spectacle of an after condition when, it is to be hoped for all of us, the mental portion of these sorry frames of ours will be doing its perfect work undeterred, unhampered.

Paris had the work at the Opéra Comique in April 1894, when the performance was rendered more interesting by the presence of the composer himself, who received a tribute of enthusiastic applause from a crowded house containing two thousand of the most notable representatives of the Parisian world. The scene was a very striking one when Verdi, in his eighty-first year, yet carrying his age exceedingly well, was led forward between Victor Maurel and Mlle. Delna, the two principal interpreters of this version of the Merry Wives of Windsor.

In May 1894, Falstaff was given for the first time in London, at Covent Garden, with the Scala troupe of artists, the occasion furnishing the musical event of the season. The performance was witnessed by a brilliant audience, royalty being represented by the Prince of Wales, and the Duchess of Saxe-Coburg and her daughter, while the general gathering included nearly all the personages of "light and leading" in the London musical world. The comic masterpiece was a complete and unqualified success.

Signor Mancinelli conducted, and the principal r?les were filled by Signorine Kitzu (Meg), Giulia Ravogli (Dame Quickly), Olga Olghina (Nanetta), and Zilli (Alice); Signor Pessina represented an excellent fat knight (the part created by M. Maurel in Milan), and Signori Pellegalli-Rosetti, Arimondi, Armandi, and Pini-Corsi, were capital as Bardolph, Pistol, and Dr. Caius, and Ford, respectively. The reception of the opera, from beginning to end, was most enthusiastic, and time after time the curtain descended amid tumultuous applause, and the calling forward of the singers.

Where a work is replete with splendid points and brilliant episodes-uniform in its excellence from opening to close-it is unnecessary to particularise one number more than another. Yet it is well to record the most "taking" pieces, even in a composition so consistently beautiful, both in libretto and in music, as Falstaff admittedly is. The first act opens in the interior of the Garter Inn, and amid the animated scene which follows, there is some excellent music to the doings of Bardolph, Pistol, and Dr. Caius. The canonic "Amen" is amusing, and Sir John's soliloquy upon "honour," gives the baritone a capital chance of displaying his powers. Another attractive number, where all is so attractive, is the chattering quartet of women, at the end of the first act. With the second act, we still are in the Garter hostelry-and the fun thickens. Mrs. Quickly and Ford, in turn, "interview" Falstaff, and here, as in the scene in Ford's house, and the search for the missing knight, the music is of the liveliest, happiest character. The fat knight's solo, "When I was page to the Duke of Norfolk, slender of figure," the love duet, and Anne Page's song in the forest scene are further superlatively beautiful instances among many in this richly-gemmed work. The opera has been given in Milan, Berlin, Vienna, Paris, and London-here several times, as recently as the last season-and whenever performed, the sparkling numbers enumerated are always encored, and re-demanded.

Critically regarded, the music is unquestionably the best that Verdi has written. Its leading features are its freshness, spontaneity, irresistible humour, and youthfulness; yet, its finished character, the carefully conceived and highly wrought detail, involving much technical skill and learning, bespeak unmistakably the ripened master-mind. What a reply, too, it is to all the early critical opposition which made out that there was nothing in Verdi beyond the power of adapting his countrymen's melodic commonplaces, and stringing them together suitably for a speedy oblivion!

"The age of miracles is supposed to be past, but those who declare it so would do well to consider the miracle of Verdi's persistent artistic vitality.... When count is taken of the quality as well as of the quantity of Verdi's achievements, these must be confessed well-nigh miraculous. The list of his operas is an epitome, one might say, of the development of operatic music. Trace the steady march of his genius from the period of I Lombardi to Otello, remember the successive stages typified by Trovatore, Ernani, Rigoletto, A?da,-each a masterpiece after its kind,-and you find yourself in the presence of a man who has never swerved from the search after the highest ideal. Between I Lombardi and Otello there is a gap which it might seem no one man could span. And yet, however different the methods of expression which Verdi has chosen in each stage of his development, the form has always been inevitable, and the man's personality is as apparent and as potent in one as in the other. A?da seemed likely to be his last work; but with Otello came a new apocalypse. He had not been afraid to modify his method, that it might fit his subject more completely, and there was not wanting those who (wrongly) saw in it a confession of conversion to the Wagnerian gospel. No one believed that the octogenarian composer would find anything fresh to say or any fresh way of saying it. The miracle has been repeated, for in Falstaff, produced at Milan on the 9th inst., we have a work which proclaims itself the expression of a phase of Verdi's nature quite unguessed at. The antiquaries of music, who care less to enjoy a work than to classify it, will not find the task in the case of Falstaff easy, for Falstaff does not fall readily into any of the required classes. It belongs to no school, not even to that of Verdi himself, for there was little in any of his other operas to show that he possessed the supreme gift of humour, though indeed we might have remembered that so exquisite a sense of proportion as his never goes unaccompanied with humour, and is dependent on it for perfection."[66]

Following this fulsome preamble is a highly flattering detailed account of Verdi's music to Falstaff-which stands in strange contrast to much that we have read of the maestro in the pages of the Athen?um. Such phrases as the following, to be found in the notice, must indeed have proved balm to Verdi after his years of castigation at the hands of this journal:-

"Petulant contempt" (referring to the part where Falstaff harangues his servants on the point of honour) "is no easy thing to express in music, but here the difficulty is overcome without effort, and we are launched, so to say, on that sparkling sea of humour which has yet had but few successful navigators. The scene ends as Falstaff chases his chivalrous servants from the room.... Of the music it is enough to say that the ensemble of the nine voices is treated with consummate skill, and that the chattering quartet in E major for the women's voices, unaccompanied, is one of the most delightful passages in the whole score.... The great scene in which Falstaff is obliged to take refuge in the buck-basket is handled with immense skill by librettist and composer alike. Putting aside Wagner's treatment of the street scene in Die Meistersinger, there is nothing in comic music to be set beside the ensemble of this (second) act, in which Verdi has brought together with magnificent skill such incongruous elements as the lovers behind the screen, etc.... In the music to this" (the last act) "the highest level is reached: poetry, grace, and humour are balanced and combined with marvellous delicacy. The whole scene is a triumph; in the matter of sheer beauty of form Mozart himself could not have surpassed it.... The charm that comes of absolute simplicity is the chief; and the presence of humour, now broadly laughing and now quaintly fantastic, need not be further insisted on. The manner is not less simple than the matter. There is nothing approaching the use of representative themes; and though no resource of the modern orchestra is left untried, the outlines of the music are as clear, its colouring as pure, as is a picture by Perugino."[67]

The score of Falstaff is something of an alpha and omega of a musical life-there is the young and the old, the youth and the philosopher present and apparent, in rare harmonious weaving. The symmetry of the whole is striking indeed; while the clever construction throughout shows not merely the educated, but also the painstaking composer. All the music is not of such superlative grace as that delicious scene where the animated quartet of merry wives are reading Falstaff's love-letters; or the duet for Falstaff and Ford-the orchestration of which is so perfect, that even the merry jingling that accompanies Ford's rattling of the gold bag has not been missed. Such a standard of artistic excellence could not be maintained throughout any opera by any master; nevertheless, not a weak or unworthy number can be pointed to throughout the score. Even the penultimate tableau preceding the fugue finale of the opera-justly declared to be somewhat poor-suffers more than would otherwise be the case by comparison with the uniformly high order of the other music in the opera.

It is one of the most difficult tasks which even a master-musician can have set him to write comic music that shall be at once original and humorous. Yet, here Verdi succeeded at his first attempt. True, he has left Falstaff, and the style thereof, until the eve of his artistic career; yet, what a crowning work it stands! Lyric tragedy occupied the master's mind for nearly the whole of his long life, until it appeared almost that he could write nothing else but lyric tragedy. Then to show that this was otherwise, he went to comedy-he composed one comic opera. What an example it is! Its proportions are colossal: its comedy is equal to Mozart; its technique, ingenuity, and construction rival Wagner. No grander piece of work could crown the master's career. Through Verdi, national opera as made in Italy stands to-day on as high ground as the lyric drama-the grand opera of France and Germany. England, unfortunately, cannot yet be considered in the matter.

[61] Athen?um, 1st July 1876.

[62] Athen?um, 1st July 1876.

[63] Athen?um, 13th July 1889.

[64] Athen?um, 18th July 1891.

[65] The Daily Graphic, 14th January 1893.

[66] Athen?um, 18th February 1893.

[67] Athen?um, 18th February 1893.

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