페이지 이미지

materiel of this magnificent opera extended by the Parisian musicasters into five acts. Even the parterre was ashamed not to admire the master-piece of Mozart-especially when presented in a very pretty libretto, and notwithstanding that the baritone part of its hero had been transposed an octave in alt, so as to meet the compass of Nourrit's voice. Still, though its merits were acknowledged by all, Don Juan met only with enthusiasm from the privileged few.

The hiatus intervening between Cherubini's splendid failure, and La Juive, was filled up by Robert le Diable, (now near its two hundredth representation,) and by one or two new ballets, and the thirst of the Parisians after novelty was quenched for a time by the graceful flights of Mademoiselle Taglioni, and by the voluptuous pas de deux of the two Ellslers. Fanny-the younger of these sisters-is surprisingly beautiful as a woman, and beautifully surprising as a danseuse. Her pirouettes and feats of muscular strength and agility are, however, the very opposite of the suave and chaste sylphisms of Taglioni.

At last the Juive was exhibited to the public, who had long awaited her coming. Never did Jewess or opera so surpass all expectations. Mademoiselle Falcon looked and sang the Rebecca of Ivanhoe; the scenery and decorations were brilliant above all traditions of dramatic splendour, and the music has entitled its composer, M. Halevy, to a seat in the French institute. This opera was produced in the spring of 1835, and many a gay Parisian left the masquerades of the Carnival for this splendid spectacle. One hundred and eighty thousand francs were expended in "getting it up," and in one scene a gorgeous procession of one hundred and fifty knights on horseback, in full panoply, pass over the stage. In the last act a large public square is admirably depicted, and the sad illusion of an auto-da-fé is rendered perfect by the procession of penitents, by their appropriate dirge, and by the dead stillness of the multitude assembled to witness the execution.

We hasten from the Juive to the Huguenots, the last work of M. Meyer-Beer, and, as we think, the most extraordinary musical production of the present day.

We have seen, in his preceding opera, with what success this gifted composer has exhibited a perpetual struggle between the principles of good and of evil. Still, the legend of Robert possesses intrinsic elements of interest, and its musical translation was listened to, its dramatic positions observed and admired by the audience, with the same attentive curiosity and with the same breathless anxiety that any intelligent auditory would bestow on the recital of a highly wrought fiction, or with which any crowd of spectators would await the issue of an eventful combat. Rarely has the supernatural been turned to such

[ocr errors]

advantage, and there are many passages in the music of Robert which rank with the renowned supper scene of Don Giovanni.

But when Meyer-Beer proclaimed to all Europe that he had produced another chef d'œuvre, and that the massacre of St. Bartholemew had furnished the materials of this new and ambitious fabric, the musical world knew hardly whether most to admire the audacity of the maestro, or tremblingly and sorrowfully to anticipate a failure. Yet the universal interest in the fate of this new drama was, for a season, doomed to disappointment.

The Huguenots had been promised for rehearsal in the fall of 1834, and a compact to this effect signed by M. Meyer-Beer on the one hand, and by M. Vèron,' the then director of the opera, on the other.

The autumn came, but with it no opera. The composer entreated for a few months' respite-urging illness as a plea for his remissness. Vain prayers! vain excuses! M. Véron insisted upon a fulfilment of the contract, or the penalty of forfeiture, thirty thousand francs. The opulent composer paid the money, left Paris, and, deeply incensed at this treatment, swore that his new opera should make the fortune of some more deserving theatre. Fortunately for us, and for the world, the recording angel dropped a tear on this, as on the oath of my Uncle Toby.

Eighteen months flew by, and M. Vèron learned that MeyerBeer was in treaty with the directors of Feydeau, the Opera Comique: he and his treasurer now repented deeply their unhandsome conduct towards the composer. We were soon informed by the Parisian journals that Vèron had gone to Baden to become, in his turn, a suppliant.

His interview with Meyer-Beer was solemn--a treaty was nevertheless soon concluded-its first stipulation being, that the 10,000 francs he had been forced to pay M. Scribe for the libretto should be refunded, together with the 20,000 francs of dommages interets which the director had also claimed and received.

This clause once adjusted, matters went on smoothly, and Véron returned to Paris with maestro and massacre in his

The rapid fortune of M. Vèron is a singular combination of good luck, and of clever manoeuvring. In his younger days, and while an apothecary's boy, he invented the celebrated Paté Régnaud. This discovery furnished him an income of 10,000 francs: he then became physician to, and, finally, director of, the opera. The first piece brought out by the new director secured him an ample fortune. This piece was Robert le Diable, and, strange to say! he himself had no confidence in its success. At the end of five years he retired upon 800,000 francs!

chaise de poste. The coulisses and boards of the grand opera were set in immediate gestation, and in due time produced "a mountain."

The Huguenots made their debut in the month of March last, and the echoes of the lyres which first vibrated with these seraphic strains, have not yet ceased. A chain of harmonic sympathies unites countries hitherto inimical. France and Russia, Paris and St. Petersburg, with all the intermediate cities, join in hailing this first successful endeavour to drown in music the discords of war, of politics, and of diplomacy. Even Spain, poor, persecuted Spain, might repose from her troubles and dissensions, could this opera be brought out at Madrid. If Orpheus drew after him trees and stones, Meyer-Beer might surely entice from their mountain fastnesses, the guerillas of Don Carlos.

But to our purpose-the Huguenots, and the immense difficulties which must have encompassed the composer. We have already remarked that Robert was a facile theme when compared with its younger and more sober brother. A consideration of the education and habits of the Gallic nation-of their irreligion, and of the gaiety which, with them, converts every frown into its corresponding smile,—

Each tear of sadness to its mate of joy,

will show that great and splendid talent was requisite to convulse with interest, in a religious opera, the same audience beneath the warmth of whose enthusiasm La Muette de Portici and Robert had budded and bloomed into existence.

Next to liberty, glory, love-and mayhap before the latterthe dramatist may draw his readiest and most felicitous inspirations from the mysterious, the wonderful, the supernatural-from those fancies which seize on the imagination, which nourish it with the vague surmises of superstition, with the soul's curiosity to know more of itself, and with its longings to encroach on the forbidden realms of the invisible. From such sources have the Germans derived most of their original poetry, romance, and music. In proof of this, we need only cite Faust and Der Freyschütz.

It had ever been deemed improper to exhibit religion on the stage, and the enthusiasm of piety had found most seeming vent in oratorios. The great masters in this high department of musical art-Handel, Sebastian Bach, Martini, Haydn, Glück, Mozart, Beethoven-had, morover, little confidence in the effects of sacred music upon a theatrical audience.

Of late years this has changed. The Muette has its beautiful prayer at the chapel door, and in the market-place. The church was here in limine of the French stage-Robert

concludes in a chapel, and the Juive opens like the Muette, the organ uniting most harmoniously the chants of high mass within the cathedral to the appropriate chorus of the populace without.

The Huguenots is a struggle between the solemn depths and severe abstractions of German music, and the gay and lucid compositions of the Italian school. A contest between Klopstock and Ariosto, between Goethe and Tasso, between Schiller and Metastasio, in poetry; between Weber and Rossini, between Il Barbiere di Seviglia, and Robindes Bois, between the Faust of Spohr, and the Matrimonio Segreto of Cimarosa, in music. The partisans of Coligny maintain throughout, a mixture of martial and of psalmodic harmonies, while the catholics contrast the momentary devotion of a processional prayer, now with shouts of mirthful revelry, now with clamours of vengeance, and finally, with the demoniac howlings of blood-thirsty politico-religious fanaticism. The joy of the protestants is of so sombre, and the sternest gravity of the catholics of so gay a hue, that each seems mockery of the other. To unite these distinct shades of musical conception, to blend them together, to clothe them with the rarest and richest modulations of harmony, and to throw unity of light and of colouring over the whole design-such has been the aim of Meyer-Beer. The attempt constitutes his audacity, its success his glory.

Let us take, for illustration's sake, the third act of this opera, in all probability the richest tissue of dramatic music the world possesses. It opens with a joyous chorus of gay groupes of walkers in a public promenade;

"C'est le jours du Dimanche
C'est le jours du répos."

This glad ebullition of contentment, is soon interrupted by the couplets sung by the protestant soldiers, and to these couplets are joined the litanies sung by the female catholics. These three chorusses are carried on simultaneously, and we may readily conceive the difficulty surmounted, when, in lieu of a painfully elaborate composition, of a confused mass addressing itself rather to the eye than to the ear, or of one of those tours de force, called by the old school doubles fugues, and "invented," says a French writer, "by old Martini to scare away the devil," an individual, par parenthèse, whom such music was well calculated to frighten; in short, when, instead of finding any such imperfections, we are charmed with the natural and distinct preservation of all the unities without apparent effort, and without harmonic obscurity.

The first chorus of soldiers-full of energy, of warmth and of frankness-is accompanied syllabically by voices imitating the


drum,' and thus accentuating the measure, and is followed by a sweet prayer, sung by female voices, and which, like the preceding couplet, chanted at first without accompaniment, is blended with it most admirably at the return of the orchestra. Nothing can be more perfect in harmony than the chain which unites these two so dissimilar motives, and yet they are joined at the second measure, by a third chorus of male catholics, who manifest with violent exclamations the horror inspired by the impious songs of the Huguenots, at the moment of the passage of the holy images. In this complicated act, which would have been chaos in other hands, do we see light, form and symmetry spring up under the composer's master touch.

As we become warmed into enthusiasm by the remembrance of this opera, and as we recall to mind the splendour of the two last acts, we are fain to repent of the preference we had given to the magnificent combinations of choruses of different characters we have just failed in describing. Despite the harmonic richness of their results, they can scarcely be compared to the passionate scenes which ensue. Yes! love, and even vengeance, fear, and even frenzy, and many of the more pronounced phases of contrasting passions, are more vividly portrayed as the piece approaches its dénouement: the composer seeming to acquire fresh strength and elasticity at each onward bar. The three preceding acts are, indeed, but preparatory to the conspiracy of catholics and to the bloody massacre which follows.

In the first act we find Raoul de Nangis, a young protestant gentleman, seated at a feast with a joyous company of catholic noblemen. The chorus à table is inimitably fresh and vigorous. Then follows a bacchanalian episode de la Touraine versez les vins, of the highest rhythmical originality. But Raoul is sad, he is bantered by his comrades and provoked by them, he owns that he loves an angel of beauty whom he once rescued from the hands of a troop of students, but without learning her name. After painting her in a series of animated phrases he thus gives vent to his exultation.

[ocr errors][merged small]

The orchestra stops for a moment as if at a loss to follow him, but re-enters with the return of the singer from his wilder flight into the key he had left

-Reine des Amours!

'Rataplan-plan: Rataplan-plan, &c.

VOL. XXI.-NO. 41.

« 이전계속 »