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- BLUEBEARD - 1/5 -
NOTE from AEWarren: I am not able to reproduce the themes ("_Motivs_" or "_Motive_")
A Musical Fantasy
by Kate Douglas Wiggin
Dedication: To my friend Walter Damrosch Master of the art form so irreverently treated in these pages. Kate Douglas Wiggin
More than a dozen years ago musical scholars and critics began to illuminate the musical darkness of New York with lecture-recitals explanatory of the more abstruse German operas. Previous to this era no one had ever thought, for instance, of unfolding the story, or the "_Leit_ _motive_" (if there happened to be any!), in "The Bohemian Girl," "Maritana," or "Martha." These and many other delightful but thoroughly third-class works unfolded themselves as they went along, to the entire satisfaction of a public so unbelievably care-free, happy, thoughtless, childlike, uninstructed, that it hardly seems as if they could have been our ancestors.
Wagner changed all this at a single blow. One could no longer leave one's brains with one's hat in the coat-room when the "Nibelungen Ring"appeared! Learned critics, pitifully comprehending the fathomless ignorance of the people, began to give lectures on the "Ring" to large audiences, mostly of ladies, through whom in course of time a certain amount of information percolated and reached the husbands--the somewhat circuitous, but only possible method by which aesthetic knowledge can be conveyed to the American male. Women are hopeless idealists! It is not enough for them that their brothers or husbands should pay for the seats at the opera and accompany them there, clad in irreproachable evening dress. Not at all! They wish them to sit erect, keep awake, and look intelligent, and it is but just to say that many of them succeed in doing so. The art-form known as the lecture-recital, then, has succeeded in forcibly educating so large a section of the public that immense audiences gather at the Metropolitan Opera House, one-half of them at least, in a state of such chastened susceptibility and erudition that the Tetralogy of Wagner has no terrors for them.
The next move was in behalf of the more cryptic, symbolic, hectic, toxic works of the ultra-modern French school, which have been so brilliantly illuminated by their protagonists that thousands of women in the larger cities recognize a master's voice whenever one of his themes is played upon the Victrola.
I shall offer my practically priceless manuscript of "Bluebeard" for production in French at the Metropolitan, and in English at the Century Opera House; meantime Mr. Hammerstein is so impressed with its originality, audacity, and tragic power that he is laying the corner-stone for a magnificent new building and will open and close it with "Bluebeard" in German, if no unforeseen legal complications should prevent.
It is in preparation for all this activity that I issue this brief but epoch-making little work.
KATE DOUGLAS WIGGIN. NEW YORK, February, 1914.
CAST OF CHARACTERS
Bluebeard (_baritone_). Man of enormous wealth but dubious morals. Pioneer of the trial-marriage idea.
Fatima (_singing_actress_). Innocent, romantic, frivolous blonde type, rich in personal charm, weak in logic and a poor judge of men.
Sister Anne (_soprano_). Impulsive, magnetic, ambitious, highly marriageable brunette.
The Mother (_contralto_). Impecunious, mercenary widow, determined to settle her daughters in life without any regard to eugenic principles.
Mustapha (_robust_tenor_). Elder brother; the one who has the fat acting part since he rescues Fatima and slays Bluebeard.
Other Brothers (_falsettos_). Of no account save to show the size of the family to which Fatima belongs and her mother's sound convictions on the subject of race suicide. The other brothers have nothing to do except to slay sheep (by accident) when attempting to destroy Bluebeard's tiger and elephant.
The Tiger (_throaty_baritone_). Comic character.
The Elephant & The Dragon (_basses_). Introduced simply as corroborative detail.
Chorus of Bluebeard's Vassals (_baritones_and_basses_).
Chorus of Headless Wives (_sopranos_and_contraltos_).
Chorus of Sheep (_tenors_).
WE are proceeding on the supposition that this music-drama of "Bluebeard" is a posthumous work of Richard Wagner. It is said (our authority being a late number of the musical and Court Journal, _Die_Fliegende_Bla'tter_) that a housemaid, while tidying one of the rooms in a villa formerly occupied by the Wagner family in summer, perceived an enormous halo shining persistently over a certain bedstead standing against the wall, the said halo absolutely refusing to remove itself when attacked with a feather- duster. The housemaid thought at first that it was simply an effect of the sunlight, but observed subsequently that the halo was just as large, fine yellow, opaque, and circular on dark days as on bright ones; consequently, on a certain morning when it was so huge and glaring as to be positively offensive to the eye, inasmuch as it did not hang over a Holy Family, but over an ordinary and somewhat uncomfortable article of furniture, she adopted the courageous feminine expedient of looking underneath the bed, where she found this priceless legacy of the master reposing in a hat-box in which it had lain for nearly half a century, unsuspected, undisturbed.
If this incident is true it is exquisitely pretty and touching; if not, it is highly absurd and ridiculous, but the same may be said of many hypothetical historical incidents. At all events, the financial arrangements which followed upon the discovery of the MS. and the price demanded for it by the Wagnerian housemaid convinces me absolutely of its authenticity.
To me it is not strange that Wagner should choose to immortalize the story of Bluebeard, for the interesting and inspiring myth has been used in all ages and in all countries. It differs slightly in the various versions. In some, the shade of the villain's beard is robin's-egg and in others indigo; in some the fatal key is blood-stained instead of broken; while in the matter of wives the myth varies according to the customs of the locality where it appears: In monogamous countries the number of ladies slain is generally six, but in bigamous and polygamous countries the interesting victims mount (they were always hung high, you remember) to the number of one hundred and seventeen.
I ought, perhaps, to confess to you that there are critics who still deny the authenticity of this work, although they concede that it is full of Wagner's spirit and influence and may have been produced by some ardent follower or pupil; one steeped to the eyebrows in mythologic lore and capable of hurling titanic tonal eccentricities against the uncomprehending ear-drum of the dull and ignorant herd. There are those, too, who think that some disciple of Richard II.,--Strauss, not Wagner,--had a hand in the orchestration, simply because his "Sinfonia Domestica" occupies itself with the same sweet history of the inglenook which is the basis of the Bluebeard libretto. Strauss's symphony is worked out along more tranquil lines, to be sure, but it is only the history of a single day of married life and a day arbitrarily chosen by the composer. It is conceivable that there may have been other days!
The incredulous ones urge that Wagner would never have been drawn to the Bluebeard myth as a foundation for a libretto; but for myself I regard its selection as a probable reaction, violent, no doubt, from the composition of Parsifal. In Parsifal the central themes and the unavoidable conclusion are derived from outgrown beliefs that have long since ceased to influence the heart of mankind. Parsifal is medieval, mystic, rapt, devout. Its ideals are those of celibacy and asceticism, the products of an age whose theories and practices as regards sex-relationships can have no echo in modern civilization. What more natural than that Wagner should fling himself, for mental and emotional relief, into a story throbbing with human love and marriage? Neither would some calm domestic drama serve, some story of the nursery or hearth-stone, dealing with the relations of one fond husband and father, one doting mother and child. As a contrast to the asceticism and celibacy of Parsifal we have in Bluebeard rampant and tropical polygamy; fervent, untiring connubialism. The ardent and susceptible Solomon might have been a more dignified hero, one would think; but, although he could furnish wives enough to properly fill the stage, his domestic life was not nearly as varied, as thrilling, and as upset as Bluebeard's, whose story makes a well-nigh invincible appeal to manager, artists, and subscribers alike; and, for that matter, is as likely to be popular with box-holders as with the gallery-gods.
This master work enunciates the world law that Woman (symbolized by Fatima, Seventh Wife, singing actress) is determined to marry once at any cost; and that Man (symbolized by Bluebeard, baritone) is determined, if he marries at all, to marry as thoroughly and as often as possible. It holds up to scorn the marriage of ambition and convenience on the one hand, but on the other, pursues with wrath and vengeance the law-breaker, the indiscriminate love-winner, the wife-collector and wife-slayer; and, although women still have a strange and persistent fancy for marriage, they might sometimes avoid it if they realized that a violent death were the price.
We must first study the musical construction of the overture with which the music-drama opens, as it is well known that Wagner in his Preludes prepares the spectator's mind for the impressions that are to follow. Several of the leading motives appear in this _Vorspiel_ and must be appreciated to be understood. First we have the "_Blaubart_motiv_" (Bluebeard Motive). This
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