Shakespeare and Music



This play seems, on the whole, to have been very much avoided by musicians. There must be a certain amount of music in any work of Shakespeare, but producers appear to have been content to use old stuff and adapt it for this piece. Noel Johnson wrote some very pretty music for the Asche-Brayton production; but Sir Frank Benson's version had hardly any music in it: just a dance (the beautiful Rigadoon, by Rameau), a gavotte by Handel, and a song by Sir Henry Bishop, "Should he upbraid"—words not from the Shrew, nor even by Shakespeare.

A musical version, chiefly by Braham and T. S. Cooke, was produced in London in 1828. But the really important work on the subject is Hermann Goetz's opera, Der Widerspenstigen Z�hmung, produced at Mannheim, 1874, book by Joseph Victor Erdmann. This work is Goetz's only complete opera, as, unfortunately for music, he died at the early age of thirty-five, in the height of his powers. His Taming of the Shrew is still in the repertory of the German opera-houses.

The characters have the same names as in the play—Katharina and Bianca, sopranos; Hortensio and Lucentio, bass and tenor; Baptista and Grumio, basses; the Tailor, tenor; and Petruchio, baritone.

The work begins with a full concert overture, a capital number, which would make an excellent opening for any production of the play. The themes are bold, striking, and original, though the composer shows throughout the {131} strong influence of Schumann. The opera is in four acts, the first taking place in a street outside Baptista's house. Lucentio, with guitar, is singing a sentimental ballad, occasionally interrupted by Baptista's servants, who rush from the house singing "The Devil is loose in the house." Baptista asks them what is the matter, and the servants at once give notice on account of Katharina's outrageous behaviour. There is nothing much of Shakespeare in this act, but it makes a brilliant opening to the opera. Katharina then comes on the balcony and tells the people how good she is going to be. The neighbours all join in, and there is a beautiful bit of choral work for principals, neighbours, and chorus. All exit except Lucentio; the chorus in the house sing an unaccompanied sort of evening hymn, the music dies away, the lights in Baptista's house go out, and Lucentio serenades Bianca.

Presently she appears on the balcony, and they sing a beautiful love duet, say good-night, and exit. Hortensio arrives to serenade her also, and quarrels with Lucentio, and the pair of them make such a noise that they waken poor old Baptista, who appears at the house door in his dressing-gown, with a light, still wondering if he will ever get any peace. Petruchio enters to a very blustering tune (the Petruchio motif, I call it). They make themselves known to each other, and Petruchio, in a beautiful and melodious song, describes his deeds in the past, just as in the play, and says what a poor opinion he has of the power of a woman's tongue. The act ends very happily, with Petruchio promising to woo and win Katharina.

The second act starts with a short prelude, sostenuto and slow, and as the curtain goes up Katharina and Bianca begin their quarrel scene, mostly on the former's part. Bianca produces a guitar and plays, while her sister says she will live and die a maid. Petruchio enters and woos the Shrew in a dramatic duet, and the act closes with a fine ensemble for the principals.

The third act opens, after hardly any orchestral introduction, with a quartet for Bianca, Lucentio, Hortensio, {132} and Baptista, lamenting the absence of the bridegroom. Katharina joins in, very scornful about him, and the wedding guests enter, singing how difficult it is to have a wedding without a bridegroom. Then comes the familiar lesson scene. Lucentio sings the first lines of the first book of the �neid, with his own additions. Hortensio also sings to his guitar—a method of music-teaching that even Bianca can see through; and then Baptista enters, and, in a very lively number, gives the news of Petruchio's return. He arrives, more bluff and hearty than ever, clad in eccentric clothes, and hurries his bride-to-be to the church. The domestics of Baptista's house sing a chorus, showing how glad they are that Katharina is finally married and got rid of. The bridal party returns, and Petruchio announces his intention of departing at once. The close of the act must be very effective, according to the stage directions, when properly done. Grumio brings in two horses. Petruchio springs on one, Grumio rides off on the second, the chorus and principals singing lustily the while.

The fourth and last act opens with a male chorus, Petruchio's servants being bullied by Grumio, awaiting their master's return. The bridal pair make a fine entrance, and, as in the play, the husband finds fault with all the food, and sends it away. Katharina is left alone, and sings a beautiful and pathetic soliloquy on her difficult position. Grumio introduces the Tailor, and there is a very amusing quartet for the four. After this the action is much hurried. The changed Katharina arrives at her father's house; her father congratulates his son-in-law on the admirable way in which he has reformed Katharina; everyone is pleased, especially the servants of Baptista, and the whole work ends with a joyous ensemble, making a very brilliant close to the opera.

The opera was refused by innumerable managers, but was finally staged by Ernst Frank at Mannheim, 1874, where its success was immediate and decisive. The next year it was performed at Vienna, Leipsic, Berlin, and other {133} German towns, and it was also produced in London at a matin�e at Drury Lane, October 12, 1878. In 1880 it was revived by the Carl Rosa Company at Her Majesty's, Minnie Hauk taking the part of Katharina. It very well deserves a revival at the present day. Every note of it would be fresh to nine hundred and ninety-nine opera-goers out of a thousand. All the parts are good, and ample scope is given for brilliant singing.

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