Page:A Dictionary of Music and Musicians vol 4.djvu/569

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BOITO.
553
 

chorus or orchestra. When the curtain fell for the last time, all the members of the orchestra rose to their feet like one man and enthusiastically cheered the unfortunate composer; a rush was made from the pit into the stalls, and a shrieking and howling crowd hissing and applauding wildly rushed forward toward the orchestra. The house was cleared and the frantic audience fought it out in the streets until the next morning. The performance had lasted nearly six hours.

During the week another performance took place: one night the prologue, 1st, 2nd and 3rd acts were given; on the following night prologue, 4th and 5th acts; but the conflicting parties could not agree, and at last the chief of the police thought wise to interfere, and 'Mefistofele' had to be withdrawn by order.

The idea of having the score of the original 'Mefistofele' printed, has been unfortunately abandoned, yet it may be hoped that in time the scheme may be earned out. For even if the thought of having the original opera performed in its entirety were to be dismissed, it would be a matter of regret that musicians should not have the opportunity of becoming acquainted with that grand conception, either by reading it or by partial performances. The 'Mefistofele' in its present form bears the same relation to the original work as a recent performance at the Lyceum to Goethe's masterpiece: it is an adaptation for the stage, of more practical use than the original, but of far less artistic import.

The only decided improvement in the rearrangement is the assignment of the part of Faust to a tenor instead of a baritone: the absence of a tenor makes an opera acoustically dull and engenders monotony, especially in a long work. The parts that have suffered more by the alterations are the scene at Frankfort in the first act, and the 'Sabba Romantico' in the second act. These two parts were much more freely developed, and might now-a-days be performed by themselves as cantatas; and the same applies to the grand scene at the Emperor's Palace, now entirely abandoned. A strikingly original 'intermezzo Sinfonico' (a clever arrangement of which by Marco Sala, for piano duet has been published by Messrs. Ricordi of Milan) stood between the fourth and fifth acts; it was meant to illustrate the battle of the Emperor against the pseudo-Emperor, supported by the infernal legions led by Faust and Mefistofeles—the incident which in Goethe's poem leads to the last period of Faust's life. The three themes—that is, the Fanfare of the Emperor, the Fanfare of the pseudo-Emperor, and the Fanfare infernale, were beautiful in conception and interwoven in a masterly manner, and the scene was brought to a close by Mefistofele leading off with 'Te Deum laudamus' after the victory.

From the spring of 1868 to Oct. 4, 1875, when the revised Mefistofele was for the first time performed at the Teatro Comunale of Bologna, thus beginning its popular career in Italy and abroad, Boito worked hard and in good earnest, yet of the two grand operas which took up most of his time at that period none but a few privileged friends have heard anything. They are 'Ero e Leandro' and 'Nerone.' 'Ero e Leandro' when finished, did not please its author; at one time he contemplated the idea of having the libretto performed as a poetical idyll with musical intermezzos and choruses, then he dismissed the subject altogether, and gave the libretto to Bottesini, who set it not unsuccessfully to music. Of Boito's music nothing remains except four themes; two he made use of in his 'Mefistofele,' one he had printed as a barcarola for four voices, and the other he adapted to an ode he had to write for the opening of the National Exhibition of Turin in the spring of 1882 (unpublished). 'Nerone,' so far, seems to be the opus magnum of the artist's life, but no one can say positively when it will be performed. For a long time the work has been so far advanced that if the author chooses it may be got ready in a few weeks, but there are excellent reasons for not giving the finishing touches to it; these reasons of course are not made public, but it is not difficult to give a guess at them in the right direction. Another work, of no less importance than 'Nerone,' on which Signer Boito is now bent, is 'Orestiade,' but this is surrounded by a still deeper mystery than that in which 'Nerone' is wrapped, though it is perhaps more likely that 'Orestiade' may be submitted to the public earlier than the other.

It is rather early days to pronounce ex cathedra an opinion as to the place which Arrigo Boito will take amongst the great masters; yet one thing is beyond doubt, and that is, that Boito has a right to a conspicuous place amongst the greatest living artists. There are certainly in Europe, and perhaps even in Italy, poets of higher attainment than he: and confronted as a musician with Brahms, Goldmark, Dvořák, Saint-Saëns amongst foreigners, and Sullivan, Stanford, and others, amongst Englishmen, it is very probable that he will not bear off the palm; yet amongst these few privileged artists who, like the Provenjal troubadours, can say 'trove il suono col il moto'? Boito, since Wagner's death, has no rivals, and it remains still to be seen whether, when 'Nerone' is brought within reach of criticism, it will not ultimately be accepted as the greatest musical drama of the 19th century. This is not a groundless supposition; the greatest part of the poem of 'Nerone' is not unknown to the present writer, who is supported by the opinion of an indisputable authority, the late Italian dramatist Cossa. Signor Cossa, who had won his fame by his tragedy 'Nerone,' was allowed by Boito to read his libretto. His opinion was as follows: 'Vi sono dei momenti degni di Shakspeare; il mio Nerone, in confronto al suo a roba da ragazzi.' (There are conceptions worthy of Shakspeare himself: my Nerone compared to his is mere child's-play).