Page:A Dictionary of Music and Musicians vol 2.djvu/534

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522
OPERA.
 

Emma, whence is stolen the poisoned Ring afterward brough forward in evidence of Euryanthe's faithlessness. The whole passage is treated with a dramatic force never afterwards exceeded even by Weber himself. He seems, indeed, to have 'Euryanthe,' in which he so far departed from German custom as to substitute heavily accompanied Recitative for spoken dialogue throughout—an expedient which he did not follow up in his later English opera 'Oberon,' and for the introduction of which it is certain that neither English nor German audiences were at that time prepared.

Though Spohr cannot be justly credited with the invention of the 'Romantic Opera,' his imaginative temperament and rich creative powers him to cultivate it with very great success; while his unlimited command over the intricacies of the Chromatic and Enharmonic Genera lent a peculiarly delicious colouring to his method of treatment. His 'Faust'—now temporarily thrust aside to make room for another work of the same name—contains beauties enough to remove all danger of its permanent extinction. 'Der Berggeist' (1825), though less generally known, is, in some respects, still finer; and is especially remarkable for its magnificent Overture, as well as for the skilful treatment of a Scene, in which the phantoms of the heroine's friends are sent, by the power of a magic spell, to cheer her in her solitude. The shadowy Music assigned to the ghostly forms, contrasted with that sung by the same individuals when present in their own proper persons, tells the story with true dramatic accuracy. Spohr also reached a very high standard in 'Zemire und Azor' (1819), 'Der Alchymist' (1830), and 'Der Kreuzfahrer' (1845). In 'Jessonda,' produced in 1823, and regarded by himself as his best Opera, he made an attempt, like Weber, to abolish spoken dialogue in favour of Accompanied Recitative; but found, like Weber, that popular feeling was too strong to listen to reason on a point concerning which tt still holds its ground, both in Germany, France, and England. In Italy alone has uninterrupted singing been always regarded as a sine qua non at the Opera.

Next in order of merit are the Operas of Heinrich Marschner, whose more important productions, 'Der Vampyr' (1828), 'Der Templer and die Jüdin' (1829), 'Hans Heiling' (1833), and 'Adolph von Naaman' (1844 [App. p.735 "1843"]), rank among the best works of the kind that have been produced in modern times. Of the eleven Operas written by Ernst Theodor Hoffmann, and now preserved in MS. at Berlin, one only, founded on De la Motte Fouqué's story of 'Undine,' seems to have produced any very strong impression. Weber has praised this, most enthusiastically; yet, notwithstanding its originality, its characteristic Instrumentation, and its intense dramatic power—more especially as exhibited in the part of Küleborn—nothing as ever been heard of it since it was first produced in 1817. Amost equally forgotten are the Romantic Operas of Lindpaintner, whose 'Lichtenstein,' 'Die Sicilianische Vesper,' 'Der Bergkönig,' and 'Der Vampyr,' far excel, both in artistic conception and technical development, many works which have unaccountably outlived them. Lindpaintner died in 1856; and, in noticing his works, we virtually bring our history of the German Opera down to the present time; for it is unnecessary that we should criticise the ephemeral productions of Conradin Kreutzer, Lortzing, and other writers who confessedly entertained no higher aim than that of pleasing the frequenters of the theatres at which they were severally engaged; and—except in one important instance, too grave to be either passed over in silence or discussed in company with others—we think it best to leave the inspirations of living Composers to the judgment of a future generation.

When Chernbini fulfilled his great Art-mission in Paris, he worked side by side with men, who, though wholly unworthy to be placed in the same category with himself, or with Beethoven—the only other Composer whose Dramatic Music beats the slightest analogy to his own—were, nevertheless earnest enough, in their way, and conscientiously acted up to their light. Of these Composers we now propose to speak, as the chief actors in our Sixteenth Period, the most brilliant in the history of the Opéra comique.

After the retirement of Gluck, Piccinni still enjoyed a certain term of popularity: but, when the excitement of faction had settled down into the calm of sounder judgment, the field was really open to any French Composer with talent enough to secure a fair hearing. At this juncture, Grétry and Méhul stepped forward to fill the gap. Both were men of more than ordinary talent, and the works of both became extremely popular, and held firm possession of the Stage for many years. Grétry's style was light and and exactly adapted to the taste of a Parisian audience. Méhul was even a more thorough Musician, and aimed at higher things; striving conscientiously to carry out the principles of his instructor, Gluck, for whom be entertained the deepest reverence, and to whose wise counsels he was indebted for many of the sterling qualities which tended to make his work deservedly famous. It was chiefly by the exertions of these two genial writers, and their equally talented countryman and contemporary, Boieldieu, that the Opéra comique was raised to the position which it has ever since maintained, as one of the most popular branches of French Dramatic Art—for the great works of Cherubini, though Opéras comiques in name, are, in style, much more nearly allied to the German 'Romantic Opera.' The true Opéra comique is essentially a French creation. Its title is somewhat anomalous, for it is not at afl necessary that it should introduce a single comic Scene or Character: but its dénouement must be a happy one and the dialogue must be spoken. Even Méhul's 'Joseph' (1807), though founded strictly upon the Scripture narrative, is included, by virtue of this in the category, as are many other