The Music Criticism of Hugo Wolf

By Henry Pleasants; Hugo Wolf | Go to book overview

himself to be the devil, so Signor Castelmary excellently realized this figure, so blatantly tossed off by the composer-poet, with the appropriate bleat. Signor Valero sang Faust comically enough. Just imagine a gray-bearded, bent-over old man lost in dour meditation, and, on top of that, the mutating voice of a fourteen year-old boy and the forever bewildered countenance of Signor Valero as Faust, the widely learned, widely travelled Faust! Very funny! And, in fact, very characteristic. What kind of two poor souls Boito conjured up from purgatory to fashion Faust is hard to determine. Presumably those of a diver and a balloonist. No one will be able to figure out what this brother's heart contains. 3

1.
Wolf seems not to have been aware of the fact that Mefistofele had been produced (in German) in both Cologne and Hamburg in February of 1881.
2.
Armand Castelmary ( 1834-1897), French bass-baritone, whose long career, embracing Paris, London and New York, ended tragically and memorably when he died on the stage of the Metropolitan Opera House in the arms of Jean de Reszke during a performance of Martha on the night of February 10, 1897.
3.
A play on Faust's exclamation in Goethe's Faust: "Das also war des Pudels Kern" -- literally, "so that was the poodle's nucleus" -- when Mephistopheles, having entered his study disguised as a poodle, suddenly assumes human form.

18. An Italianate Aida

May 18, 1884

With the performance of Verdi's Aida, this year's stagione came to an end. The departure of the Italians, as far as we are concerned, is a matter of utter indifference. Quite aside from their hardly notable individual achievements, seldom surpassing the level of mediocrity, we could not accept the grotesquely ludicrous overall impression of the Italian productions, adequately prepared as we were by analogous proceedings in our own German performances. There is no cause for surprise, however, in the manner in which the stagione was welcomed by our opera public, nor in the fact that even bad Italian performances were found preferable to good German performances (and there are such from time to time).

We are, in any case, pretty clear about the character of this public. As we pointed out in our last issue, it is made up for the most part, of the so-called modern Young Germany, i.e., German-Humanitarian-Liberals and Christianity-professing foreigners or intruders (call them what you will). What other business such people have with the intellectual productions of our German masters is hard to imagine. A certain sheer admiration, perhaps, or the

-51-

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