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The remainder of this is positively impious. Why bring such pictures on the stage? Why shun for such horrors the drama's legitimate and fertile path?
The patrol approaches--passes by, and the priest and his minion await breathlessly the coming of the Esmeralda-a light footstep is heard--the following couplets are sung sotta voce by Claude and by Quasimodo:
She comes, is seized by them, and almost instantly, at her cries, the long-passed patrol returns to rescue her from the hands of her ravishers. The priest escapes, but Quasimodo is arrested. La Esmeralda falls in love with Phoebus, the handsome captain of the watch. We quote the ridiculous dialogue of their first interview. It is untranslatable.
She glides away from the handsome soldier-the patrol disappear with Quasimodo, and the curtain drops.
The first scene of the second act exhibits the Place de Grève. Quasimodo is on the pillory. The populace are making all manner of abuse of him. The hunchback asks for water-all laugh at his request-when the Esmeralda emerges from the crowd and presents a gourd of water to his parched lips. The exhibition is over.
The second scene of this act represents a ball-room in the house of Madame Aloise de Gondelaurier, the intended mother
in-law of Phoebus de Chateaupers; a brilliant company is fast
"Phœbus.-(Avec passion à Fleur-de-Lys, qui boude encore.)
Plus qu'on n'aimerait Venus même.
"Fleur-de-Lys.-Pas de serment! pas de serment!
On ne jure que lorsq'on ment."
The Esmeralda is seen dancing in the streets, and at a signal from Phœbus ascends to exhibit her graceful feats in the saloon. Imagine Fleur-de-Lys's surprise when she sees around the neck of the Bohemian the very scarf that she herself had embroidered for her lover! There is an éclat, and the company disperse. The first scene of the third act must be indeed beautiful. The exterior lawn of a cabaret. The tavern on the right. Trees on the other side. At the bottom a door and a very low wall which encloses the lawn. In the back-ground the roof of Notre-Dame, with its two towers and its spire, and an outline of the ancient Paris thrown in relief upon the golden sky of the setting sun. The Seine runs at the bottom of the picture.
Phœbus is seated with several of his friends around divers tables. Their occupation is sufficiently explained by the opening bacchanalian.
"Sois propice et salutaire
The handsome captain is in the seventh heaven of anticipation; he has a rendezvous with the Esmeralda, and, to his shame be it said, makes a boast of it to his gay comrades. The concluding chorus is characteristic:
"C'est le bonheur suprême
Brief exultation. The priest is there, and with his hand upon his poniard he mutters imprecations and threats. The hour approaches, his companions retire and leave Phoebus. As this latter is wending his way to the scene of adventure, he is accosted by an unknown. The stranger enquires the name of her who awaits the officer, and, singular dramatic improbability! he replies,
"Eh, pardieu! c'est mon amoreuse
"Claude Frollo.-C'est la mort."
This contrast is happy. The gay indifference and reckless impulse of the young soldier, and the ominous warning of the infamous priest, are strikingly true to the nature of these two personages. The counsels of the priest are unheeded, and Phoebus hastens to the rendezvous.
The next scene is the room described in the romance of M. Hugo. But, in order to dramatise (which means to abbreviate) the incidents of the plot, various false witnesses are concealed in a neighbouring closet, and Claude Frollo takes his station amongst them. Phoebus and the Esmeralda enter the apartment-their interchange of love and admiration, and the jealous ire of the priest, are perhaps the finest and at the same time most untranslatable verses in this libretto.
The rage of the priest becomes uncontrollable-he rushes forth from his hiding-place-buries his stiletto in the bosom of Phœbus, and disappears; at the same moment the concealed men enter the room-accuse the Esmeralda of assassination, and carry her off to justice.
At the opening of the fourth act the Esmeralda is in prison-in the midst of her chains and misery she sings a romance of some beauty and of great resignation. The priest enters, and his proffers of life and liberty-their sole condition being that she will accept his heart-are rejected with scorn. The Egyptian is firm to her purpose, and true to her love as to her hate. Still it is easy to produce such characters-villany and crime, when allied to the power of doing evil, are suceptible of an infinite variety of complications. The reason of this is that the catalogue of sins and of their divers phases is infinite,—while virtue and the more beautiful attributes of our nature are of exquisite simplicity-like light, or the colourless white, they are enumerated in a word, while language fails in describing the shades of darkness or of colour.
The prison walls receding, disclose the square before Notre
Dame de Paris-the noble cathedral, with its rich and majestic tracery of ornament and of architecture. Quasimodo is directing the chimes,-how beautiful are the following verses :-
"Mon Dieu! j'aime
L'air qui passe
Aux vieux toits!
Comme elle est !
Joie ou peine
Dans mon âme
Je suis beau!
How dear to me this lonely spot!
The swallow which so faithfully
The chapels which the cross enfolds
Each gentle rose that blooms,
A sketch devoid of form or grace,
Even as it is.
What if the sky be all unclouded
I am a noble blade
In a vile sheath displayed,
The Hunchback conceals himself behind a column as Claude Frollo enters with Clopin Trouillefou. The king of the beggars is instructed to spread detachments of armed vagabonds from the Cour des Miracles throughout the crowd-for we have forgotten to say that it is the morning of the executionnay more, distant murmurs warn us of the multitude's approach. The multitude precedes, escorts, and follows the procession.
This procession of the opera is not the least uninteresting portion of this magnificent institution. It is a well drilled pantomimic army, schooled to display every shade of wholesale emotion: say to the procession, "pray!" and the procession kneels as one man-command it to be gay, and you have the mad populace of the Venetian carnival before you-do you desire to close your eyes and to awake amid the pageants of
by-gone centuries? speak, and the procession appears in full panoply, on horseback, and armed in steel-do you seek to be thrilled with a display of storied horrors? the procession stalks before you, arrayed in the gloomy habiliments of the auto-da-fé.
At other times the procession of the opera is disbandedthrown into groups-now in the market-place of the Muette, where who has not heard its lively chorus? where who has not watched the gathering of the storm, swelling and darkening into the full tempest of popular fury! then hushed, as if by an unseen power, while it kneels to invoke a blessing? and lastly, where who has not watched the struggle of revolution at its most ungovernable height, of mad rebellion with still madder tyranny and now into the bands of patriots who swell the army of William Tell.
From revolution and vehement tumult, the procession of the opera changes, with the most perfect readiness, to the gay revelry of the ball-room. See it appearing in the brilliant masquerade of Gustave! The motley army marches in graceful measure to the majestic Polonaise. Every costume is there; nay, more--each nation joins, not singly but in troops, the mazy dance. The frigid Laplander, the fiery Andalusian, the barbarous Cossack, the Frenchman of the old régime, the Chinese, the Turk, the Persian in rich costume, and then a type of every passion, the happy lovers, the jealous duenna, the bearded magician-all true to nature; i. e. to appearances. At a certain bar of the music, the procession of the opera smiles, three minutes after, it looks sad; all these symptoms of emotion are regulated by the ballet master-and a well-drilled chorister would be much more likely to sing one, two, three, or a dozen false notes, than would one of the processionists of the Grand Opera to smile or sadden out of time.
On Monday the procession of the opera appeared in La Juive ; it there assumed two distinct characters--the triumphal parade of the emperor and his knights, and the mournful cortege which conducts the Juive to execution. On Wednesday the procession of the opera appeared first in Nathalie, a Swiss balletpantomime, wherein Mademoiselle Taglioni plays and dances divinely; it suddenly threw off its gay manners and peaceful costume, and appeared in the third act of William Tell; and, strange transformation! the evening's performance winds up with the masquerade of Gustave. It is Friday night--the Huguenots are played at the opera, and we have already seen the part which the procession plays in this wonderful drama. One would think that the procession of the opera had here had enough of such horrors-but no! it is again Monday night, we are at the fourth act of La Esmeralda-we are, in fact, where we