Imágenes de páginas

consequence what is called an anti-Wagnerite, I would take particular pleasure in calling attention to a fact which turns at the outset against the lyric drama the reproach of inappropriateness, which the Wagnerites were first to hurl at the heads of their adversaries.

[blocks in formation]

The sewing girl at her window, the journeyman in his workshop, with good health and conscience, are very apt, the former to vie in warbling with her caged bird, the latter to vent in song his animal spirits. Singing, in actual life, is the spontaneous expression of vague contentment, of buoyant cheerfulness, the unconscious outburst of happy vitality. From this to the vocalizing of a given situation, expressive of some phase of joy or fun, there is but one step, and we have the comic opera. It should be remarked here that this relief of exuberance in song is much more frequent and natural than the habit of some persons of talking aloud to themselves, a habit rather indicative of an overtaxed, ill-balanced, disordered mind.

But where is the man who would declare his love, curse his enemy, weep over the grave of his child, plan a murder, or meet death, in singing? As our feelings become more earnest, as our passions rise to a higher pitch or sink in somberer depths, not only is singing entirely out of the question, but even the speaking voice loses either its quality, as in anger, or its power, as in terror-ugly screams or hoarse, almost inaudible utterances being then the only sounds emitted.

If, therefore, truth alone were consulted, and the fitness between singing and speech established on a philosophical consideration of human passions, while, as we have seen, and without much stretch of the real, comic opera might not be an altogether illogical extension of the speaking voice, it is evident that serious opera, and particularly the lyric drama, would simply be impossible.

[merged small][merged small][ocr errors]


That it is possible is just as well proved by "Aida" by Fidelio," by Faust" as by "Lohengrin." Therefore,

its reason of being must be independent of what the composers of different nationalities consider as the nearest approach to actual truth, as the fittest musical expression of feeling.

Opera is possible because of the charm and significance of the human voice, which beside being endowed with the most grateful tone to the ear, is capable of conveying sense to the mind. The voice, indeed, not only adds by its supreme charm to the intrinsic beauty of music itself, but corrects it of its bewildering vagueness. We are surrounded with enough mysteries; enough puzzles meet us at every step in this world. We are all devoured with a desire to know, and cannot bear to be gratuitously mystified. That impatience in us which scratches the dirt in spring to see the germing vegetable, will not brook the indefiniteness of sounds which tax in vain the imagination. If by introducing voices at the end of his last symphony, Beethoven did not intend simply to gratify the natural longing of man for clearness, but yielded, on an exceptional occasion, to an imperative want of expression which the orchestra could no longer afford him, not only does the role of enlightener and unraveler claimed here for the voice receive the indorsement of the highest authority, but the supremacy of the voice as a medium of musical expression has been accidentally established beyond cavil or disputation.

Fidelity of musical notation to the movements of the human heart is, of course, one of the aims of composition; but it must not be forgotten that to the witchery of the voice the opera owes to be accepted in spite of its artificiality. In that enchanted world really created by its magic, it should be the endeavor of every musician in his generation, and the duty of successive generations, so to mold the opera as to conform it to the infinite resources and technical requirements of the voice. A prima facie, an opera which misuses or abuses the voice, or slights it to any extent, is untrue to its origin, and by so far remote from artistic beauty and vraisemblance.


If you pass a few hours with a lover, with an inventor, with any one under the influence of a strong thought or feel

ing, you will notice, as in the case of a drunken man, that with slight variations and incidental digressions, they return always to the one subject. As experiences come to us in life, we imagine that they are unique, but we discover later that they are common to all men; and, in fact, there are high roads, by-ways and ruts in the map of humanity, that have been traced by the feet of past generations, and will be traveled by all generations to come. Art cannot ignore this sort of geography.

Intensity is very close to insanity. Lovers and inventors are, like lunatics, one-sided machines, functioning in a regular way of their own, with a method in their madness, and certain forms of brooding well known to the poet, scientist and philosopher.

The child, whether crying, exulting or wondering (and of such are made the first years of our lives,) chops his words and talks flippantly, spasmodically, syllabically. Earnestness comes with the age of reason and emotion. Earnestness speaks legato; why should it not sing as it speaks? Earnestness lays a heavy stress on its statements; why should it be made to skip fitfully from key to key in the noted recital of its most tender or violent feelings?


We all bless Wagner for having swept the cobwebs of the old opera, the set forms as hackneyed as dear sir and yours truly at the beginning and at the end of a letter, and for having infused a new blood into dramatic orchestration. These reforms have been adopted by the bitterest opponents of his theories and of his music. But could he really mean to destroy all forms? Or did his Augean broom happen to sweep them with the rest, as a housekeeper accidentally breaks the precious chinaware which she was fondly cleaning?

I am aware that Wagner did not write operas, but lyric dramas. This distinction, by the way, should silence his fierce detractors and fiercer admirers, for the avowed methods and aims of the lyric drama do not pretend to be those of the opera. At any rate, it would hardly be fair to judge the "Portuguese Sonnets" by the Paradise Lost," and to

[ocr errors]

make of the epic poem the standard of all poetry, and of tragedy the standard of the drama.

But after all, the materials are the same: voice, orchestra, action, costumes, scenery. If it were not impertinent, I should ask why the same master who required such a virtuosity from his orchestra, and made of it so powerful a means of expression, refused to the voice the legitimate use of its technical and artistic capabilities. But the ways of genius are inscrutable, and the work of genius should be reverently accepted as it is given us.

Still the dispassionate and eclectic mind which has followed these last forty years the evolutions and revolutions of dramatic music, cannot help believing that the music of the future will be neither the pure lyric drama as it is to-day, nor the pure opera as it used to be, but a sifting and consolidation of both, of which we have more hints in some of the modern operas than in any of the lyric dramas to which they may be partly indebted for their existence.

There is not, to my knowledge, in all the range of lyrical literature, so grandly classical and intensely dramatic a recitative as the introduction to Beethoven's aria Ah! Perfido." Recitative has its place in the delineation of perplexed, hesitating, tormented sentiments; but when the long tossed mind settles at last on the one idea, a continuous form of some kind seems to be demanded. Wagner himself yields sometimes to this natural law, and what a relief it is to his hearers!

[blocks in formation]

Are we hypocrites when we pretend to admire the songs of Schumann, Franz, Rubinstein, Jansen, etc., which are all framed in perfect forms? And do we not show a singular inconsistency when we condemn in opera what we acknowledge to be anywhere else the truthful expression of live men and women? Can it be that only in opera, melody, the highest of divine gifts, is irreconcilable with intellectuality and technical knowledge? Can it be that only in opera, the voice, the handmaid and interpreter of melody, is called to no nobler function than to label a character or explain the intentions of a bassoon or an ophicleide? This, of course,

would be the opportunity of the auctioneer and train crier, and the end of singing; and, indeed, singing is already thrown aside by some as a relic of the past, and lamented by others as a lost art. But my hope of a perfect opera is built on the perfection of the voice, and all perfect things have in them the conditions of eternity. The orchestra, ever so masterly handled as it may be by a Berlioz or a Wagner, cannot be, will never be, as direct a vehicle, as natural a medium, as adequate an expression of human feelings as the human voice.


Man, after all, is the center of all arts, the converging point of all that is beautiful and true, mysterious and divine, on earth and in heaven, the moral and intelligent force whose expansive will and thought extend to the whole uniWhether your persona are gods with human feelings, or mortals with divine attributes, men they are for all that, speaking and singing to men, with the voices of men. If they stop at appearing and acting, they are not much more than automatons and marionettes. By the voice alone they assert their individuality, their humanity, their very existence.

The singing voice is the essence of the opera, as the speaking voice is the essence of the drama.


By virtue of the solidarity which exists in us between all our senses, and the consequent harmony which exists between all arts, we shall always be most naturally willing to welcome the improvements in theatrical painting, and innovations in stage devices, that will make our illusion more complete, our enjoyment greater, by bringing into closer and closer company, into more and more congruous relations, that very sisterhood of arts. But are they to lose their individuality in menial subservience to music-nay, to the least essential, if most complete, to the least permanent, if most spiritual part of music-the orchestra? Must they be ingloriously absorbed in the hybrid product of a promiscuous collectiveness?

Long before the lyrie drama, the opera had understood

« AnteriorContinuar »