The Music Criticism of Hugo Wolf

By Henry Pleasants; Hugo Wolf | Go to book overview

6. A Dog in the Manger

February 24, 1884

Light opera is not fashioned to flourish in our Court Opera House, and every attempt to establish it on those boards must be seen in advance as doomed to failure. Where festive processions are called for, or bath and battle scenes, or heaven and hell, as in so-called grand opera, a large stage lends itself to the movement of large crowds, to the ingenuity of the stage director and to the no less ingenious stage mechanic. But in light opera the thunder machine very rarely plays any role. The torrent of passions is reduced to a babbling brook wending its way cheerfully between flowering meadows, maybe once in a long while transforming itself playfully into an artificial waterfall. All this, with the dialogue and the small orchestra should go hand in hand with a proportionately smaller stage.

There is in Vienna, unfortunately, no Opéra-Comique,1 and so there is no choice but to cultivate this charming genre in our opera house, which I might describe, in its relationship to light opera as a kind of Dog's Grotto2 in reverse, to which, a few days ago, Le Chien du Jardinier ( The Gardener's Dog) fell a victim. In a smaller theater, this little opus would certainly have delighted the public. In the opera house it passed the listener by like a shadow, leaving not a trace of its passing.

Le Chien du Jardinier, by Albert Grisar,3 was first produced in Paris in 1855. We made the composer's acquaintance and learned to love him as a thoroughly amiable personality in his charming opera. Bon Soir , Monsieur Pantalon. In this opera he revealed himself as a melody squanderer, while in Le Chien du Jardinier he cannot compose away the appearance of a musical miser or did the title have a fateful influence when he fell upon the gardener's dog?4 Enough. He is stingy with his gifts, and is more thrifty with his melodies than becomes a reputable composer.

(Nowdays it's quite another matter. It is thought merely clever if one, in the role of a famous symphonist, lives off an apology for a melody behind which the essential impudence takes cover for an entire symphony and even as often happens, introduces the same coy melody into other compositions (of his own) and discusses it musically, so to speak an effective weapon for achieving popularity through importunity!)

But to come back to the opera, we would like to offer the unbiased operagoer a friendly warning against entertaining the pleasant delusion that he may be witnessing a canine comedy. It is only a sly trick on the part of the librettist

-15-

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