A Book of Operas: Their Histories, Their Plots, and Their Music Part 2

He comes in a chariot drawn by lions and surrounded by a brave retinue. Pamina kneels to him, confesses her attempt to escape, but explains that it was to free herself from the odious attentions of Monostatos. The latter, asking his reward for having thwarted the plan of Papageno, receives it from Sarastro in the shape of a bastinado. Pamina pleads for restoration to her mother, but the sage refuses to free her, saying that her mother is a haughty woman, adding the ungallant reflection that woman's heart should be directed by man lest she step outside her sphere. He commands that Tamino and Papageno be veiled and led into the Temple of Probation.

The first act is ended.

The initiation of Tamino and Papageno into the mysteries, their trials, failures, triumph, and reward, form the contents of the second act. At a conclave of the elect, Sarastro announces that Tamino stands at the door of the Temple of Wisdom, desirous to gaze upon the "great light" of the sanctuary. He prays Isis and Osiris to give strength to the neophytes:--

[Musical excerpt--"O Isis und Osiris schenket Der Weisheit Geist dem neuen Paar."]

To the impressiveness of this prayer the orchestra contributes as potent a factor as the stately melody or the solemn harmonies. All the bright-voiced instruments are excluded, and the music a.s.signed to three groups of sombre color, composed, respectively, (1) of divided violas and violoncellos; (2) of three trombones, and (3) of two ba.s.set horns and two ba.s.soons. The a.s.sent of the sacerdotal a.s.sembly is indicated by the three trumpet blasts which have been described in connection with the overture, and Tamino and Papageno are admitted to the Temple, instructed, and begin their probationary trials. True to the notion of the order, two priests warn the neophytes against the wiles of woman. Papageno has little inclination to seek wisdom, but enters upon the trials in the hope of winning a wife who shall be like himself in appearance. In the first trial, which is that of silence, the value of the priestly warning just received is at once made apparent. Tamino and Papageno have scarcely been left alone, when the three female attendants of the Queen of Night appear and attempt to terrify them with tales of the false nature of the priests, whose recruits, say they, are carried to h.e.l.l, body and breeches (literally "mit Haut und Haar," i.e. "with skin and hair"). Papageno becomes terror-stricken and falls to the floor, when voices within proclaim that the sanct.i.ty of the temple has been profaned by woman's presence. The ladies flee.

The scene changes. Pamina is seen asleep in a bower of roses, silvered over by the light of the moon. Monostatos, deploring the fact that love should be denied him because of his color, though enjoyed by everything else in nature, attempts to steal a kiss. A peal of thunder, and the Queen of Night rises from the ground. She importunes Pamina to free herself and avenge her mother's wrongs by killing Sarastro. To this end she hands her a dagger and pours out the "h.e.l.lish rage" which "boils" in her heart in a flood of scintillant staceati in the tonal regions where few soprano voices move:--

[Musical excerpt]

Monostatos has overheard all. He wrenches the dagger from Pamina, urges her again to accept his love, threatens her with death, and is about to put his threat into execution when Sarastro enters, dismisses the slave, and announces that his revenge upon the Queen of Night shall lie in promoting the happiness of the daughter by securing her union with Tamino.

The probationary trials of Tamino and Papageno are continued. The two are led into a hall and admonished to remain silent till they hear a trumpet-call. Papageno falls to chattering with an old woman, is terrified beyond measure by a thunder-clap, and recovers his composure only when the genii bring back the flute and bells and a table of food. Tamino, however, remains steadfast, though Pamina herself comes to him and pleads for a word of love. Papageno boasts of his own hardihood, but stops to eat, though the trumpet has called. A lion appears; Tamino plays his flute, and the beast returns to his cage. The youth is prepared for the final trial; he is to wander for a s.p.a.ce through flood and flame, and Pamina is brought to say her tearful farewells. The courage and will of the neophyte remain unshaken, though the maiden gives way to despair and seeks to take her own life. The genii stay her hand, and a.s.sure her that Tamino shall be restored to her. Two men in armor guard the gates of a subterranean cavern. They sing of the rewards to be won by him who shall walk the path of danger; water, fire, air, and earth shall purify him; and if he withstand death's terrors, heaven shall receive him and he be enlightened and fitted to consecrate himself wholly to the mysteries of Isis:--

[Musical excerpt--"Der, welcher wandert diese Stra.s.se voll Beschwerde"]

A marvellous piece of music is consorted with this oracular utterance. The words are set to an old German church melody--"Ach Gott, vom Himmel sieh darein"--around which the orchestral instruments weave a contrapuntal web of wondrous beauty. At the gates Pamina joins her lover and accompanies him on his journey, which is happily achieved with the help of the flute. Meanwhile Papageno is pardoned his loquacity, but told that he shall never feel the joy of the elect. He thinks he can make shift with a pretty wife instead. The old woman of the trial chamber appears and discloses herself as the charming, youthful Papageno, but only for an instant. He calls after her in vain, and is about to hang himself when the genii remind him of his magic bells. He rings and sings; his feathered mate comes to him. Monostatos aids the Queen of Night and her companions in an a.s.sault upon the sanctuary; but a storm confounds them, and Sarastro blesses the union of Tamino and Pamina, amidst joyful hymning by the elect.

An extraordinary hodgepodge, truly, yet, taken all in all, an effective stage piece. Goethe was so impressed with the ingenuity shown by Schikaneder in treating the device of contrast that he seriously contemplated writing a second part, the music of which was to be composed by Wranitzky, who set Gieseke's operatic version of "Oberon." German critics and managers have deplored its absurdities and contradictions, but have found no way to obviate them which can be said to be generally acceptable. The buffooneries cannot be separated from the sublimities without disrupting the piece, nor can its doggerel be turned into dignified verse. It were best, I fancy, that managers should treat the opera, and audiences receive it, as a sort of Christmas pantomime which Mozart has glorified by his music.

The tendency of German critics has been to view it with too much seriousness. It is difficult to avoid this while one is under the magic spell of its music, but the only way to become reconciled to it on reflection is to take it as the story of its creation shows that its creators intended it to be taken; namely, as a piece designed to suit the tastes of the uncultivated and careless ma.s.ses.

This will explain the singular sacrifice of principle which Mozart made in permitting a mountebank like Schikaneder to pa.s.s judgment on his music while he was composing it, to exact that one duet should be composed over five times before he would accept it, and even to suggest melodies for some of the numbers. Jahn would have us believe that Mozart was so concerned at the failure of the first act to win applause at the first performance that he came behind the scenes pale as death to receive comfort and encouragement from Schikaneder; I prefer to believe another story, which is to the effect that Mozart almost died with laughing when he found that the public went into ecstasies over his opera. Certain it is that his pleasure in it was divided. Schikaneder had told him that he might occasionally consult the taste of connoisseurs, and he did so, finding profound satisfaction in the music written for Sarastro and the priests, and doubtless also in the fine ensembles; but the enthusiasm inspired by what he knew to be concessions to the vulgar only excited his hilarity. The beautiful in the score is amply explained by Mozart's genius and his marvellous command of the technique of composition.

The dignity of the simple idea of a celebration of the mysteries of Isis would have been enough, without the composer's reverence for Freemasonry and its principles, to inspire him for a great achievement when it came to providing a setting for the scenes in which the priests figure. The rest of the music he seems to have written with little regard to coherency or unity of character. His sister-in-law had a voice of extraordinary range and elasticity; hence the two display airs; Papageno had to have music in keeping in his character, and Mozart doubtless wrote it with as little serious thought as he did the "Piece for an Organ in a Clock, in F minor, 4-4," and "Andante to a Waltz for a Little Organ," which can be found entered in his autograph catalogue for the last year of his life. In the overture, one of the finest of his instrumental compositions, he returned to a form that had not been in use since the time of Ha.s.se and Graum; in the scene with the two men in armor he made use of a German chorale sung in octaves as a canto firmo, with counterpoint in the orchestra--a recondite idea which it is difficult to imagine him inventing for this opera. I fancy (not without evidence) that he made the number out of material found in his sketch-book. These things indicate that the depth which the critics with deep-diving and bottom-sc.r.a.ping proclivities affect to see in the work is rather the product of imagination than real.

Footnotes:

{1} These chords, played by all the wind instruments of the band, are the chords of the introduction raised to a higher power.

CHAPTER IV

"DON GIOVANNI"

In the preceding chapter it was remarked that Mozart's "Zauberflote"

was the oldest German opera in the current American repertory.

Accepting the lists of the last two decades as a criterion, "Don Giovanni" is the oldest Italian opera, save one. That one is "Le Nozze di Figaro," and it may, therefore, be said that Mozart's operas mark the beginning of the repertory as it exists at the present time in America. Twenty-five years ago it was possible to hear a few performances of Gluck's "Orfeo" in English and Italian, and its name has continued to figure occasionally ever since in the lists of works put forth by managers when inviting subscriptions for operatic seasons; but that fact can scarcely be said to have kept the opera in the repertory.

Our oldest Italian opera is less than 125 years old, and "Don Giovanni" only 122--an inconsiderable age for a first-cla.s.s work of art compared with its companion pieces in literature, painting, and sculpture, yet a highly respectable one for an opera. Music has undergone a greater revolution within the last century than any other art in thrice the period, yet "Don Giovanni" is as much admired now as it was in the last decade of the eighteenth century, and, indeed, has less prejudice to contend with in the minds of musicians and critics than it had when it was in its infancy, and I confidently believe that to its score and that of "Le Nozze di Figaro" opera writers will soon be turning to learn the methods of dramatic characterization. Pure beauty lives in angelic wedlock with psychological expression in Mozart's dramatic music, and these factors will act as powerful loadstones in bringing composers who are now laboriously and vainly seeking devices for characterization in tricks and devices based on arbitrary formulas back to the gospel of truth and beauty. Wagner has had no successful imitator. His scheme of thematic identification and development, in its union of calculation, reflection, and musical inspiration, is beyond the capacities of those who have come after him. The bow of Ulysses is still unbent; but he will be a great musician indeed who shall use the resources of the new art with such large ease, freedom, power, and effectiveness as Mozart used those of the comparatively ingenuous art of his day. And yet the great opera composer who is to come in great likelihood will be a disciple of Gluck, Mozart, and the Wagner who wrote "Tristan und Isolde" and "Die Meistersinger"

rather than one of the tribe of Debussy.

The great opera composers of the nineteenth century were of one mind touching the greatness of "Don Giovanni." Beethoven was horrified by its licentious libretto, but tradition says that he kept before him on his writing-table a transcript of the music for the trombones in the second finale of the opera. Shortly after Mme. Viardot-Garcia came into possession of the autograph score of the masterpiece, Rossini called upon her and asked for the privilege of looking at it, adding, "I want to bow the knee before this sacred relic."

After poring over a few pages, he placed his hands on the book and said, solemnly: "He is the greatest, the master of them all; the only composer who had as much science as he had genius, and as much genius as he had science." On another occasion he said to a questioner: "Vous voulez connaitre celui de mes ouvrages que j'aime le mieux; eh bien, c'est 'Don Giovanni.'" Gounod celebrated the centenary of the opera by writing a commentary on it which he dedicated to young composers and artists called upon to take part in performances of the opera. In the preface of his book he characterizes it as "an unequalled and immortal masterpiece," the "apogee of the lyrical drama," a "wondrous example of truth, beauty of form, appropriateness of characterization, deep insight into the drama, purity of style, richness and restraint in instrumentation, charm and tenderness in the love pa.s.sages, and power in pathos"--in one word, a "finished model of dramatic music." And then he added: "The score of 'Don Giovanni' has exercised the influence of a revelation upon the whole of my life; it has been and remains for me a kind of incarnation of dramatic and musical impeccability. I regard it as a work without blemish, of uninterrupted perfection, and this commentary is but the humble testimony of my Veneration and grat.i.tude for the genius to whom I owe the purest and most permanent joys of my life as a musician." In his "Autobiographical Sketch"

Wagner confesses that as a lad he cared only for "Die Zauberflote,"

and that "Don Giovanni" was distasteful to him on account of the Italian text, which seemed to him rubbish. But in "Oper und Drama"

he says: "Is it possible to find anything more perfect than every piece in 'Don Juan'? . . . Oh, how doubly dear and above all honor is Mozart to me that it was not possible for him to invent music for 't.i.to' like that of 'Don Giovanni,' for 'Cosi fan tutte' like that of 'Figaro'! How shamefully would it have desecrated music!"

And again: "Where else has music won so infinitely rich an individuality, been able to characterize so surely, so definitely, and in such exuberant plenitude, as here?" {1}

Mozart composed "Don Giovanni" for the Italian Opera at Prague, which had been saved from ruin in the season 1786-1787 by the phenomenal success of "Le Nozze di Figaro." He chose the subject and commissioned Lorenzo da Ponte, then official poet to the imperial theatres of Austria, to write the book of words. In doing so, the latter made free use of a version of the same story made by an Italian theatrical poet named Bertati, and Dr. Chrysander (who in 1886 gave me a copy of this libretto, which Mozart's biographer, Otto Jahn, had not succeeded in finding, despite diligent search) has pointed out that Mozart also took as a model some of the music to which the composer Gazzaniga had set it. The t.i.tle of the opera by Bertati and Gazzaniga was "Il Convitato di Pietra." It had been brought forward with great success in Venice and won wide vogue in Italy before Mozart hit upon it. It lived many years after Mozart brought out his opera, and, indeed, was performed in London twenty-three years before Mozart's opera got a hearing. It is doubtful, however, if the London representation did justice to the work. Da Ponte was poet to the opera there when "Il Convitato" was chosen for performance, and it fell to him to prepare the book to suit the taste of the English people. He tried to persuade the management to give Mozart's opera instead, and, failing in that, had the malicious satisfaction of helping to turn the work of Bertati and Gazzaniga into a sort of literary and musical pasticcio, inserting portions of his own paraphrase of Bertati's book in place of the original scenes and preparing occasion for the insertion of musical pieces by Sarti, Frederici, and Guglielmi.

Mozart wrote the music to "Don Giovanni" in the summer of 1787.

Judging by the circ.u.mstance that there is no entry in his autograph catalogue between June 24 and August 10 in that year, it would seem that he had devoted the intervening seven weeks chiefly, if not wholly, to the work. When he went to Prague in September he carried the unfinished score with him, and worked on it there largely in the summer house of his friends, the Duscheks, who lived in the suburbs of the city. Under date of October 28 he entered the overture in his catalogue. As a matter of fact, it was not finished till the early morn of the next day, which was the day of the first production of the opera. Thereby hangs the familiar tale of how it was composed.

On the evening of the day before the performance, pen had not been touched to the overture. Nevertheless, Mozart sat with a group of merry friends until a late hour of the night. Then he went to his hotel and prepared to work. On the table was a gla.s.s of punch, and his wife sat beside him--to keep him awake by telling him stories.

In spite of all, sleep overcame him, and he was obliged to interrupt his work for several hours; yet at 7 o'clock in the morning the copyist was sent for and the overture was ready for him. The tardy work delayed the representation in the evening, and the orchestra had to play the overture at sight; but it was a capital band, and Mozart, who conducted, complimented it before starting into the introduction to the first air. The performance was completely successful, and floated buoyantly on a tide of enthusiasm which set in when Mozart entered the orchestra, and rose higher and higher as the music went on. On May 7, 1788, the opera was given in Vienna, where at first it made a fiasco, though Mozart had inserted new pieces and made other alterations to humor the singers and add to its attractiveness. London heard it first on April 12, 1817, at the King's Theatre, whose finances, which were almost in an exhausted state, it restored to a flourishing condition. In the company which Manuel Garcia brought to New York in 1825 were Carlo Angrisani, who was the Masetto of the first London representation, and Domenico Crivelli, son of the tenor Gaetano Crivelli, who had been the Don Ottavio. Garcia was a tenor with a voice sufficiently deep to enable him to sing the barytone part of Don Giovanni in Paris and at subsequent performances in London. It does not appear that he had contemplated a performance of the opera in New York, but here he met Da Ponte, who had been a resident of the city for twenty years and recently been appointed professor of Italian literature at Columbia College. Da Ponte, as may be imagined, lost no time in calling on Garcia and setting on foot a scheme for bringing forward "my 'Don Giovanni,'" as he always called it. Crivelli was a second-rate tenor, and could not be trusted with the part of Don Ottavio, and a Frenchman named Milon, whom I conclude to have been a violoncello player, afterward identified with the organization of the Philharmonic Society, was engaged for that part. A Mme. Barbieri was cast for the part of Donna Anna, Mme. Garcia for that of Donna Elvira, Manuel Garcia, Jr. (who died in 1906 at the age of 101 years) for that of Leporello, Angrisani for his old role of Masetto, and Maria Garcia, afterward the famous Malibran, for that of Zerlina. The first performance took place on May 23, 1826, in the Park Theatre, and the opera was given eleven times in the season.

This success, coupled with the speedily acquired popularity of Garcia's gifted daughter, was probably the reason why an English version of the opera which dominated the New York stage for nearly a quarter of a century soon appeared at the Chatham Theatre. In this version the part of the dissolute Don was played by H. Wallack, uncle of the Lester Wallack so long a theatrical favorite in the American metropolis. As Malibran the Signorina Garcia took part in many of the English performances of the work, which kept the Italian off the local stage till 1850, when it was revived by Max Maretzek at the Astor Place Opera-house.

I have intimated that Bertati's opera-book was the prototype of Da Ponte's, but the story is centuries older than either. The Spanish tale of Don Juan Tenorio, who killed an enemy in a duel, insulted his memory by inviting his statue to dinner, and was sent to h.e.l.l because of his refusal to repent him of his sins, was but a literary form of a legend of considerable antiquity. It seems likely that it was moulded into dramatic shape by monks in the Middle Ages; it certainly occupied industriously the minds of playwrights in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries in Spain, Italy, Germany, and England. The most eminent men who treated it at various times were the Spaniard known as Tirza di Molina, the Frenchman Moliere, the Italian Goldoni, and the Englishman Thomas Shadwell, whose "Libertine Destroyed" was brought forward in 1676. Before Mozart, Le Tellier had used it for a French comic opera, Righini and Gazzaniga for Italian operas, and Gluck for a ballet.

But we are concerned now only with the play as Da Ponte and Mozart gave it to us. In the dramatic terminology of the eighteenth century "Don Giovanni" was a dramma giocoso; in the better sense of the phrase, a playful drama--a lyric comedy. Da Ponte conceived it as such, but Mozart gave it so tragical a turn by the awful solemnity with which he infused the scene of the libertine's punishment that already in his day it was felt that the last scene as written and composed to suit the conventional type of a comic opera was an intolerable anticlimax. Mozart sounds a deeply tragical note at the outset of his overture. The introduction is an Andante, which he drew from the scene of the opera in which the ghostly statue of the murdered Commandant appears to Don Giovanni while he is enjoying the pleasures of the table. Two groups of solemn chords command attention and "establish at once the majestic and formidable authority of divine justice, the avenger of crime." {2} They are followed by a series of solemn progressions in stern, sinister, unyielding, merciless, implacable harmonies. They are like the colossal strides of approaching Fate, and this awfulness is twice raised to a higher power, first by a searching, syncopated phrase in the violins which hovers loweringly over them, and next by a succession of afrighted minor scales ascending crescendo and descending piano, the change in dynamics beginning abruptly as the crest of each terrifying wave is reached. These wonderful scales begin thus:--

[Musical excerpt]

in the last scene of the opera. They were an afterthought of the composer's. They did not appear in the original score of the scene, as the autograph shows, but were written in after the music had once been completed. They are crowded into the staves in tiny notes which sometimes extend from one measure into the next. This circ.u.mstance and the other, that they are all fairly written out in the autograph of the overture, indicate that they were conceived either at one of the rehearsals or while Mozart was writing the overture. They could not have been suggested at the first performance, as Jahn seems to imply. {3} The introduction is only thirty measures long, and the Allegro which follows is made up of new material. I quote again from Gounod: "But suddenly, and with feverish audacity, the Allegro breaks out in the major key, an Allegro full of pa.s.sion and delirium, deaf to the warnings of Heaven, regardless of remorse, enraptured of pleasure, madly inconstant and daring, rapid and impetuous as a torrent, flashing and swift as a sword, overleaping all obstacles, scaling balconies, and bewildering the alguazils." {4} From the tragic introduction through the impetuous main section we are led to a peaceful night scene in the garden before the house of Donna Anna. There Leporello, the servant of Don Giovanni, is awaiting in discontented mood for the return of his master, who has entered the house in quest of amatory adventure. Leporello is weary of the service in which he is engaged, and contrasts his state with that of the Don. (Air: "Notte e giorno faticar.") He will throw off the yoke and be a gentleman himself. He has just inflated himself with pride at the thought, when he hears footsteps, and the poltroon in his nature a.s.serts itself. He hides behind the shrubbery. Don Giovanni hurries from the house, concealing his features with his cloak and impeded by Donna Anna, who clings to him, trying to get a look into his face and calling for help. Don Giovanni commands silence and threatens. The Commandant, Donna Anna's father, appears with drawn sword and challenges the intruder. Don Giovanni hesitates to draw against so old a man, but the Commandant will not parley.

They fight. At first the attacks and defences are deliberate (the music depicts it all with wonderful vividness), but at the last it is thrust and parry, thrust and parry, swiftly, mercilessly. The Commandant is no match for his powerful young opponent, and falls, dying. A few broken e.j.a.c.u.l.a.t.i.o.ns, and all is ended. The orchestra sings a slow descending chromatic phrase "as if exhausted by the blood which oozes from the wound," says Gounod. How simple the means of expression! But let the modern composer, with all his apparatus of new harmonies and his mult.i.tude of instruments, point out a scene to match it in the entire domain of the lyric drama! Don Giovanni and his lumpish servant, who, with all his coward instincts, cannot help trying his wit at the outcome of the adventure, though his master is in little mood for sportiveness, steal away as they see lights and hear a commotion in the palace. Donna Anna comes back to the garden, bringing her affianced lover, Don Ottavio, whom she had called to the help of her father. She finds the Commandant dead, and breaks into agonizing cries and tears. Only an accompanied recitative, but every e.j.a.c.u.l.a.t.i.o.n a cry of nature! Gounod is wrought up to an ecstasy by Mozart's declamation and harmonies. He suspends his a.n.a.lysis to make this comment:--

But that which one cannot too often remark nor too often endeavor to make understood, that which renders Mozart an absolutely unique genius, is the constant and indissoluble union of beauty of form with truth of expression. By this truth he is human, by this beauty he is divine. By truth he teaches us, he moves us; we recognize each other in him, and we proclaim thereby that he indeed knows human nature thoroughly, not only in its different pa.s.sions, but also in the varieties of form and character that those pa.s.sions may a.s.sume.

By beauty the real is transfigured, although at the same time it is left entirely recognizable; he elevates it by the magic of a superior language and transports it to that region of serenity and light which const.i.tutes Art, wherein Intelligence repeats with a tranquillity of vision what the heart has experienced in the trouble of pa.s.sion. Now the union of truth with beauty is Art itself.

Don Ottavio attempts to console his love, but she is insane with grief and at first repulses him, then pours out her grief and calls upon him to avenge the death of her father. Together they register a vow and call on heaven for retribution.

It is morning. Don Giovanni and Leporello are in the highway near Seville. As usual, Leporello is dissatisfied with his service and accuses the Don with being a rascal. Threats of punishment bring back his servile manner, and Don Giovanni is about to acquaint him of a new conquest, when a lady, Donna Elvira, comes upon the scene.

She utters woful complaints of unhappiness and resentment against one who had won her love, then deceived and deserted her. (Air: "Ah! chi mi dice mai.") Don Giovanni ("aflame already," as Leporello remarks) steps forward to console her. He salutes her with soft blandishment in his voice, but to his dismay discovers that she is a n.o.ble lady of Burgos and one of the "thousand and three" Spanish victims recorded in the list which Leporello mockingly reads to her after Don Giovanni, having turned her over to his servant, for an explanation of his conduct in leaving Burgos, has departed unperceived. Leporello is worthy of his master in some things.

In danger he is the veriest coward, and his teeth chatter like castanets; but confronted by a mere woman in distress he becomes voluble and spares her nothing in a description of the number of his master's amours, their place, the quality and station of his victims, and his methods of beguilement. The curious and also the emulous may be pleased to learn that the number is 2065, geographically distributed as follows: Italy, 240; Germany, 231; France, 100; Turkey, 91; and Spain, 1003. Among them are ladies from the city and rustic damsels, countesses, baronesses, marchionesses, and princesses. If blond, he praises her dainty beauty; brunette, her constancy; pale, her sweetness. In cold weather his preferences go toward the buxom, in summer, svelte. Even old ladies serve to swell his list. Rich or poor, homely or beautiful, all's one to him so long as the being is inside a petticoat. "But why go on? Lady, you know his ways." The air, "Madamina," is a marvel of malicious humor and musical delineation. "E la grande maestoso"--the music rises and inflates itself most pompously; "la piccina"--it sinks in quick iteration lower and lower just as the Italians in describing small things lower their hands toward the ground. The final words, "Voi sapete, quel che fa," scarcely to be interpreted for polite readers, as given by ba.s.s singers who have preserved the Italian traditions (with a final "hm" through the nose), go to the extreme of allowable suggestiveness, if not a trifle beyond. The insult throws Elvira into a rage, and she resolves to forego her love and seek vengeance instead.

Don Giovanni comes upon a party of rustics who are celebrating in advance the wedding of Zerlina and Masetto. The damsel is a somewhat vain, forward, capricious, flirtatious miss, and cannot long withstand such blandishments as the handsome n.o.bleman bestows upon her. Don Giovanni sends the merrymakers to his palace for entertainment, cajoles and threatens Masetto into leaving him alone with Zerlina, and begins his courtship of her. (Duet: "La ci darem la mano.") He has about succeeded in his conquest, when Elvira intervenes, warns the maiden, leads her away, and, returning, finds Donna Anna and Don Ottavio in conversation with Don Giovanni, whose help in the discovery of the Commandant's murderer they are soliciting. Elvira breaks out with denunciations, and Don Giovanni, in a whisper to his companions, proclaims her mad, and leads her off. Departing, he says a word of farewell, and from the tone of his voice Donna Anna recognizes her father's murderer. She tells her lover how the a.s.sa.s.sin stole into her room at night, attempted her dishonor, and slew her father. She demands his punishment at Don Ottavio's hands, and he, though doubting that a n.o.bleman and a friend could be guilty of such crimes, yet resolves to find out the truth and deliver the guilty man to justice.

The Don commands a grand entertainment for Zerlina's wedding party, for, though temporarily foiled, he has not given up the chase.

Masetto comes with pretty Zerlina holding on to the sleeve of his coat. The boor is jealous, and Zerlina knows well that he has cause.

She protests, she cajoles; he is no match for her. She confesses to having been pleased at my lord's flattery, but he had not touched "even the tips of her fingers." If her fault deserves it, he may beat her if he wants to, but then let there be peace between them.

The artful minx! Her wheedling is irresistible. Listen to it:--

[Musical excerpt--"Batti, batti, o bel Masetto"]

The most insinuating of melodies floating over an obbligato of the solo violoncello "like a love charm," as Gounod says. Then the celebration of her victory when she captures one of his hands and knows that he is yielding:--

[Musical excerpt--"Pace, pace o vita mia"]

A new melody, blither, happier, but always the violoncello murmuring in blissful harmony with the seductive voice and rejoicing in the cunning witcheries which lull Masetto's suspicions to sleep. Now all go into Don Giovanni's palace, from which the sounds of dance music and revelry are floating out. Donna Elvira, Donna Anna, and Don Ottavio, who come to confront him who has wronged them all, are specially bidden, as was the custom, because they appeared in masks.

Within gayety is supreme. A royal host, this Don Giovanni! Not only are there refreshments for all, but he has humored both cla.s.ses of guests in the arrangement of the programme of dances. Let there be a minuet, a country-dance, and an allemande, he had said to Leporello in that dizzying song of instruction which whirls past our senses like a mad wind: "Finch' han dal vino." No one so happy as Mozart when it came to providing the music for these dances. Would you connoisseurs in music like counterpoint? We shall give it you;--three dances shall proceed at once and together, despite their warring duple and triple rhythms:--

[Musical excerpts]

Louis Viardot, who wrote a little book describing the autograph of "Don Giovanni," says that Mozart wrote in the score where the three bands play thus simultaneously the word accordano as a direction to the stage musicians to imitate the action of tuning their instruments before falling in with their music. Of this fact the reprint of the libretto as used at Prague and Vienna contains no mention, but a foot-note gives other stage directions which indicate how desirous Mozart was that his ingenious and humorous conceit should not be overlooked. At the point where the minuet, which was the dance of people of quality, is played, he remarked, "Don Ottavio dances the minuet with Donna Anna"; at the contra-dance in 2-4 time, "Don Giovanni begins to dance a contra-dance with Zerlina"; at the entrance of the waltz, "Leporello dances a 'Teitsch' with Masetto."

The proper execution of Mozart's elaborate scheme puts the resources of an opera-house to a pretty severe test, but there is ample reward in the result. Pity that, as a rule, so little intelligence is shown by the ballet master in arranging the dances! There is a special significance in Mozart's direction that the cavalier humor the peasant girl by stepping a country-dance with her, which is all lost when he attempts to lead her into the aristocratic minuet, as is usually done.

At the height of the festivities, Don Giovanni succeeds in leading Zerlina into an inner room, from which comes a piercing shriek a moment later. Antic.i.p.ating trouble, Leporello hastens to his master to warn him. Don Ottavio and his friends storm the door of the anteroom, out of which now comes Don Giovanni dragging Leporello and uttering threats of punishment against him. The trick does not succeed. Don Ottavio removes his mask and draws his sword; Donna Anna and Donna Elvira confront the villain. The musicians, servants, and rustics run away in affright. For a moment Don Giovanni loses presence of mind, but, his wits and courage returning, he beats down the sword of Don Ottavio, and, with Leporello, makes good his escape.

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