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- A Second Book Of Operas - 20/31 -


[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.

CHAPTER X

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 New York; but the music was a disappointment. Five numbers were sung by Mme. Tavary and Signor Campanini, and Mr, Damrosch, not having the orchestral parts, played the accompaniments upon a pianoforte. As usual, Mr. Gustav Hinrichs was to the fore with a performance in Philadelphia (on June 8, 1892), the principal singers being Mme. Koert-Kronold, Clara Poole, M. Guille, and Signor Del Puente. On January 31, 1893, the Philadelphia singers, aided by the New York Symphony Society, gave a performance of the opera, under the auspices of the Young Men's Hebrew Association, for the benefit of its charities, at the Carnegie Music Hall, New York. Mr. Walter Damrosch was to have conducted, but was detained in Washington by the funeral of Mr. Blaine, and Mr. Hinrichs took


A Second Book Of Operas - 20/31

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