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Stories Of The Standard Operas

( Originally Published 1920 )



BY CHARLES ANNESLEY.

L'Africaine. Opera in 5 acts by Meyerbeer. Text by E. Scribe, translated by Gumpert.

THE first scene is laid in Lisbon. Donna Ines, Admiral Diego's daughter, is to give her hand to Don Pedro, a counsellor of King Emmanuel of Portugal. But she has pledged her faith to Vasco da Gama, who has been sent with Diaz, the navigator, to double the Cape, in order to seek for a new land, containing treasures similar to those discovered by Columbus. Reports have reached Lisbon that the whole fleet has been destroyed, when suddenly Vasco da Gama appears before the assembled council of state.

He eloquently describes the dangers of the unknown seas near the Cape and gives an account of the shipwreck, from which he alone has escaped. He then places his maps before the council, endeavoring to prove that beyond Africa there is another country, yet to be explored and conquered.

Vasco has on his way home picked up a man and a woman of an unknown race. Those slaves, however, stubbornly refuse to betray the name of their country, and a lively debate ensues between the Grand Inquisitor and the younger, more enlightened members of the council, as to the course which should be adopted with Vasco. At last, owing to the irritation caused by his violent reproaches, fanaticism is victorious, and instead of being furnished with a ship to explore those unknown lands, he is thrown into prison, on the plea of his being a heretic, for having maintained the existence of countries which were not mentioned in the Holy Scriptures.

The second act takes place in a cell of the Inquisition, in which Vasco has been languishing for a month past, in the company of the strange slaves Nelusco and Selica. The latter has lost her heart to the proud Portuguese, who saved her and her companion from a slave-ship. But Vasco is only thinking of Ines, and Nelusco, who honors in Selica not only his Queen, but the woman of his love, tried to stab Vasco-the Christian, whom he hates with a deadly hatred. Selica hinders him and rouses the sleeping Vasco, who has been dreaming of and planning his voyage to the unknown country.

Selica now shows him on the map the way to her native isle, and he vows her eternal gratitude. His liberty is indeed near at hand, for hardly has he given his vow than Ines steps in to announce that Vasco is free. She has paid dearly for her lover's deliverance, how-ever, for she has given her hand to Vasco's rival Don Pedro, who, having got all Vasco's plans and maps, is commissioned by government to set out on the voyage of discovery.

Ines has been told that Vasco has forgotten her for Selica the slave. In order to prove his fidelity, our ungrateful hero immediately presents her with the two slaves, and Don Pedro resolves to make use of them for his exploration.

In the third act we are on board of Don Pedro's ship in the Indian seas. Donna Ines is with her husband and Nelusco has been appointed pilot. Don Alvar, a member of the council and Don Pedro's friend, warns the latter that Nelusco is meditating treason, for they have already lost two ships; but Pedro disregards the warning, A typhoon arises, and Nelusco turns the ship again northward. But Vasco has found means to follow them on a small sailing vessel; he overtakes them and, knowing the spot well where Diaz was ship-wrecked, he entreats them to change their course, his only thought being Donna Ines' safety. But Pedro, delighted to have his rival in his power, orders him to be bound and shot. Ines, hearing his voice, invokes her husband's mercy. Just then the tempest breaks out, the vessel strikes upon a rock and the cannibals inhabiting the neighboring country leap on board to liberate their Queen Selica and to massacre the whole crew, in the fulfilment of which intention they are, however, arrested by Selica.

In the following acts Selica resides as Queen on the Isle of Madagascar. The people render her homage, but her priests demand the strangers' Iives as a sacrifice to their gods, while the women are condemned to inhale the poisoned perfume of the Manzanillo-tree. -In order to save Vasco, Selica proclaims him her husband and takes Nelusco as witness, swearing to him that if Vasco is sacrificed she will die with him. Nelusco, whose love for his Queen is greater even than his hatred for Vasco, vouches for their being man and wife, and the people now proceed to celebrate the solemn rites of marriage.

Vasco, at last recognizing Selica's great love, and believing Ines dead, once more vows eternal fidelity to her, but alas! hearing the voice of Ines, who is about to be led to death, he turns pale and Selica but too truly divines the reason.

In the fifth act Selica is resolved to put her rival to death. She sends for her, but perceiving Ines' love, her wrath vanishes, her magnanimity soars above her hatred of the Christians, and she orders Nelusco to bring Ines and Vasco on board of a ship about to sail for Portugal.

Selica herself, unable to endure life without her beloved one, proceeds to the Cape, where the Manzanillo-tree spreads his poisonous shade.-Her eyes fastened on the vast ocean and on the white sail of the retiring vessel, she inhales the sweet but deadly perfume of the blossoms, and the returning Nelusco finds her dying, while an unseen chorus consoles her with the thought that in Love's eternal domain all are equal.

AIDA. Grand Romantic Opera in 4 acts by Giuseppe Verdi. Text by Antonio Ghislanzoni. Translated into German by S. Schanz. English version by Kenney.

The scene of action is alternately Memphis and Thebes, and the story belongs to the period when the Pharaohs sat on the throne.

In the first act we see the King's palace at Memphis. Ramphis, the High Priest of Pharaoh, announces to the Egyptian General Radames that the Ethiopians are in revolt and that the goddess Isis has decided who shall be leader of the army sent out against them. Radames secretly hopes to be the elected, in order to win the Ethiopian slave Aida, whom he loves, not knowing that she is a King's daughter.

Enter Amneris, daughter of Pharaoh. She loves Radames without his knowledge and so does Aida. Amneris, suspecting this, swears to avenge herself, should her suspicion prove correct.

The King's messenger announces that Amonasro, the Ethiopian King (Aida's father), is marching to the capital, and that Radames is chosen to conquer the foe. Radames goes to the temple to invoke the benediction of the goddess and to receive the sacred arms.

In the second act Amneris, in order to test Aida's feelings, tells her that Radames fell in battle, and finds her doubts confirmed by Aida's terror. Amneris openly threatens her Tival, and both hasten to receive the soldiers, who return victorious. In Radames' suite walks King Amonasro, who has been taken prisoner, disguised as a simple officer. Aida recognizes her father, and Amonasro telling his conqueror that the Ethiopian King has fallen, implores his clemency. Radames, seeing Aida in tears, adds his entreaties to those of the Ethiopian; and Pharaoh decides to set the prisoners free, with the exception of Aida's father, who is to stay with his daughter. Pharaoh then gives Amneris to Radames as a recompense for his services.

In the third act Amonasro has discovered the mutual love of his daughter and Radames and resolves to make use of it. While Amneris prays in the temple that her bridegroom may give his whole heart to her, Amonasro bids his daughter discover the secret of the Egyptian war-plans from her lover. Amonasro hides himself, and Aida has an interview with Radames, in which he reveals all to her. She persuades him to fly with her, when Amonasro shows himself, telling him that he has heard all and confessing that he is' the Ethiopian King. While they are speaking, Amneris overtakes and denounces them. Amonasro escapes with his daughter, Radames remains in the land of Ramphis, the High Priest.

In the fourth act Radames is visited in his cell by Amneris, who promises to save him from the awful death of being buried alive, if he renounces Aida. But Radames refuses, though she tells him that Aida has fled into her country, her father being slain on their flight.

Amneris at length regrets her jealousy and repents, but too late !

Nothing can save Radames, and she is obliged to see him led into his living tomb. Amneris curses the priests, who close the subterranean vaults with a rock. Radames, preparing himself for death, discovers Aida by his side. She has found means to penetrate into his tomb, resolved to die with her lover.

While she sinks into his arms, Amneris prays outside for Radames' peace and eternal happiness.

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