Shakespeare and Music



During my researches in Shakespearian music, operatic or other, I have been often hindered by the strange titles under which works were hidden. Having a smattering of French, German, Latin, and a tiny bit of Italian, I could recognise The Merchant of Venice under the title of Il Mercante di Venezia, or Der Kaufman von Venedig, or Shylock; but why Jessica? Yet there is an opera founded on that play, called Jessica, by a Frenchman named Louis Deff�s. Romeo and Juliet is easy to discover under the title I Capuletti ed i Montecchi; but why Les Amants de Verone? Much Ado About Nothing one "spots" at once under the title Beaucoup de Bruit pour Rien, or B�atrice et B�n�dict; but why Hero or Ero? The Tempest is easily discovered as La Tempesta, Die Geisterinsel, Der Sturm, or Miranda, as is The Winter's Tale as Winterm�rchen or Conte d'Hiver; but why did Max Bruch call his opera on the same subject Hermione? Twelfth Night is easy to find as Was Ihr Wollt, not so easy as Cesario. Under the fine-sounding title, Ricardus, Angli� Rex, ab Henrico Richmond� comite vita, simul et Regno exitus, we find an old friend, Richard III.; and Timone Misantropo almost sounds like a pet name for Timon of Athens. The title Macbetto is a very thin and seemingly purposeless disguise for Macbeth; and King Lear is generally called Cordelia, operatically. The Merry Wives of Windsor is called severally Le Vieux Coquet, Falstaff, Falstaff, ossia Letre Burle, Die Lustigen Weibervon Windsor; and Antony and Cleopatra is generally named after the lady. But the greatest surprise I received was when I {18} discovered, lurking under the name of Dinah, Shakespeare's Cymbeline!

It is an opera in four acts, book by Michel Carr�, jun., and Paul Choudens, music by Edmond Missa. Carr� fils is the son of the well-known librettist of Faust and Romeo fame, and Choudens is connected with Choudens Fils, who publish this opera; but concerning the composer, Grove and Riemann are silent. The opera was produced at the Comedie Parisienne, on June 27, 1894, and was not a success. There are only five characters, and a chorus of lords and courtesans. The scene is laid in Venice during the Middle Ages. The characters are Mentano (Posthumus), Iachimo, Philario, Dinah (Imogen), and Flora, a courtesan, a high soprano, not occurring in Shakespeare's text. Cymbeline and the rest of Shakespeare's characters are cut. Boiled down, the plot is (I will give Shakespeare's names):—Posthumus is the lover and beloved of Imogen; they are not married secretly, as in the play; Iachimo is so madly in love with Imogen that he forces a quarrel on Posthumus, and they fight. Just as Posthumus is about to fall under the furious attack of Iachimo, Philario enters and separates them. Iachimo then offers to lay his entire fortune that, within twenty-four hours, he will bring to Posthumus the bracelet the latter had given to Imogen, as proof that he is her lover. Posthumus accepts the wager. In the second act Iachimo creeps into Imogen's sleeping chamber and steals the bracelet. At the appointed hour Posthumus realises that, in one fell swoop, he has lost his fortune and his mistress. From this point the action becomes very obscure, involved, and difficult to follow. Somehow or other Imogen and Posthumus realise the truth; Philario mortally wounds Iachimo in a duel, and the curtain falls on Iachimo apologising handsomely for his shocking behaviour. It will be noted that there is very little Shakespeare in this version, but, really, I have given all there is; and were it not that the librettists have carefully said, "d'apr�s Cymbeline de Shakespeare," few people would have noticed it. It is a mystery to me why {19} the authors changed the beautiful name of Imogen into Dinah. I have always associated the name of Dinah with coon songs and the kitten in Through the Looking-Glass.

The first act opens in Venice with a canal at the back of the stage. The gondoliers sing a bad Mascagni chorus, and Flora enters singing in imitation Italian style. All Flora's part is written in this manner, and unfortunately the composer has chosen a very bad model to imitate—good Mascagni is good, but bad is——! The music is in a curious jumble of styles: sometimes Italian, sometimes pseudo-modern French, with occasional attempts at Wagnerian imitations—Missa's constant use of intentional consecutive fifths becomes very wearing after a time. The music in the masked-ball scene is pretty, and the duet in which Flora tempts Posthumus is melodious, though the situation is rather comic. Imogen's song at the opening of the second act is the best number in the piece, and it is followed by a really good bit of pantomime music while she is preparing for bed; but on the entrance of Iachimo all becomes vulgar again. In the last act Iachimo dies to the tune to which Imogen prepared to go to bed; and if anyone, hearing it, should remember where he heard it before, it might raise a quiet smile. The music is admirably suited to the libretto. Both are in the worst possible taste, and the words "d'apr�s Cymbeline de Shakespeare" seem rather in the nature of an outrage. Still, it is the only opera I can find on the subject, and perhaps on the whole I am glad; a few more Cymbeline operas in this style might smash the entente cordiale.

With the notable exception of the lyric, "Hark, hark, the lark," beautifully set to music by Schubert, very little attention has been paid by important composers to the songs in Cymbeline. True, more than a dozen composers, dating from 1750 to the present day, have set those words, and also the exquisite lyric "Fear no more the heat of the sun," but with indifferent success. An interesting story {20} of the composition of "Hark, hark, the lark," by Schubert, is told by the composer's old friend Doppler. "Returning from a Sunday stroll with some friends through the village of W�hring, he (Schubert) saw a friend sitting at a table in the beer-garden of one of the taverns. The friend, when they joined him, had a volume of Shakespeare on the table. Schubert seized it and began to read; but, before he had turned over many pages, pointed to 'Hark, hark, the lark,' and exclaimed, 'Such a lovely melody has come into my head, if I had but some music paper.' Someone drew a few staves on the back of the bill of fare; and there, amid the hubbub of the beer-garden, that beautiful song, so perfectly fitting the words, so skilful and happy in its accompaniment, came into perfect existence." Two other songs probably followed the same evening: the drinking-song from Antony and Cleopatra, marked "W�hring, July 26," and Who is Sylvia? of the same date—a very good day's work. As for the other settings of these lyrics, G. A. Macfarren's part-songs for S.A.T.B. are, as is usual with him, very musicianly but not inspired.

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