Moments of Bliss: the original operatic excerpts in "Art is Calling for Me".
The composer has been generous to Miss Louise Bliss in providing her with the song which will win immediate recognition, "Art is Calling for Me," and Miss Bliss' [sic] voice as well as her vivacious personality are admirably suited to the demands of the occasion. Her name was omitted from the program, but this inadvertence will not hide the young lady's light. She will find comfort in the fact that the same misfortune befell Mr. Herbert's name.
One month later, her singing in New York was again singled out for praise. Writing in Puck on November 22, 1911, another anonymous critic noted: "A newcomer on Broadway, Louise Bliss, has a song 'I Want to be a Prima Donna,' one of the hits of the piece. She is going to make good one of these days."
Despite the predictions for her future success, Bliss disappears from the historical record after further performances in The Enchantress in Baltimore in February 1912. But her hit song "Art is Calling for Me" has lived on to become a standard part of the repertoire of countless soubrettes, especially as a humorous and effective recital closer.
Unknown to modern performers, the version of "Art is Calling for Me" Louise Bliss sang so successfully in the original production is notably
different from that heard today. While researching scores by Victor Herbert at the Library of Congress in the winter of 2011, the authors of this article decided as an afterthought to look at the manuscript of this familiar work. As pianists, we have both played the song countless times and wondered if the original document might hold any revelations. We were greatly surprised to find that the composer's manuscript contains two short interpolations from the operas alluded to in the text: "... I know I'd win fame if I sang in Boheme" and "... Melba I'd oust if I once sang in Faust." The placement of the excerpts is clearly indicated in the libretto, but they were not included in the 1911 piano/vocal score. (1) It is for this reason that they are missing from the single-sheet edition published by Hal Leonard in 1993, also printed as the first selection in The Second Book of Soprano Solos compiled by Joan Frey Boytim. (2)
Beyond the many questions surrounding the missing excerpts, there are substantial discrepancies among the original sources of The Enchantress. The unpublished libretto (also in the collection of the Library of Congress) contains texts for songs that are not included in the piano/vocal score; (3) the score contains songs that are not in the libretto; and some songs are part of both the libretto and the score but are found in different places in each. A detailed analysis of the numerous discrepancies between the original sources would go well beyond the scope of this article. It is sufficient to note that future compilers of a Herbert urtext will face considerable challenges with just this one operetta.
This article begins with an overview of the plot of The Enchantress and a study of Princess Stellina's character.
After focusing on the two missing operatic excerpts themselves, the last section will provide a glossary of terms encountered in the aria to assist performers in interpreting this charming and beloved work.
THE COMIC INTRIGUES OF THE ENCHANTRESS
The plots of operettas are typically well worn molds in which elaborate twists are reconciled at the last minute, often with little more than a sudden "But wait!"--a low tech deus ex machina requiring neither a deity nor a crane. Not surprisingly, the entanglements of The Enchantress are resolved at the last possible moment with just such a fortuitous turn of events.
After five years of study abroad, the dashing Prince Ivan has returned to his native Sergovia to be crowned king. On the day of his coronation, he is also to be married--to a bride who has yet to be chosen! Six excited princesses vie for his affections and quarrel among themselves as to who is the most worthy. Chief among these teenage royals is the "very plump" Princess Stellina.
Inevitably, amid the sunny revels dark clouds soon appear. Miloch, the Prince Regent, has ruled in Ivan's absence and has devoted himself to a life of parties and womanizing (this despite being a mature man in his sixties). Ozir, the scheming Minister of War, has wielded the real power in the realm and has no intention of relinquishing his authority quite so soon. In one of the numerous witty exchanges in the script, Ozir obsequiously growls, "I am content to be the power behind the throne." To which Miloch replies, "That's all right, unless I get thrown behind the power." (4)
In order to have Miloch crowned king, Ozir plots to have Prince Ivan marry the famous singer Vivian Savory, the delectable "enchantress" of the title. Although she is without royal lineage, Ivan met and fell in love with her during his travels as a student. Should Ivan wed a mere commoner, he would have to abdicate the throne; Ozir, with Miloch as a figurehead, would then rule the doomed Sergovians.
At the last moment, a family tree of dubious but acceptable authenticity is produced that contains a "side line" proving Vivian is related to Catherine of Russia, her "great-great-great grandmother." All complications resolved, the entire chorus of women and men joyously proclaim: "I want to be a prima donna! I long to shine upon the stage! ... Art is calling for me!"
"I HATE SOCIETY": PRINCESS STELLINA'S OPERATIC ASPIRATIONS
By 1911 the Ziegfeld Follies were in their fourth year and a bevy of beauties was a seemingly mandatory part of any Broadway show. While three little maids sufficed for Gilbert and Sullivan, Victor Herbert required no less than eight charming princesses and an additional chic American heiress for the cast of The Enchantress. Behaving like typical hyperactive teens, most of the princesses (each one apparently visiting from a different nearby kingdom) have little in their dialogue to truly personalize their character. Princess Stellina is the notable exception: while considered insensitive to modern audiences, her weight is a central focus of the humor in her scenes and is a prominent feature in the text of her only song.
After the opening chorus at the beginning of Act I, the princesses share some quiet time alone amid the festivities of Ivan's coronation day. Their fast-paced banter, like much of the dialogue, is gently competitive and innocently suggestive. For example, Stellina asks one of her friends for relief from the confines of her formal attire:
Stellina: For pity's sake, unhook me, Adrea, and loosen up these strings, I'm dying. Adrea: Why of course I will, dear. There's no use in deceiving the Prince. Floria: If you marry him, he'll find out what your figure is sometime. Stellina: Well, Prince or no Prince, I'm not going to be squeezed to death before I'm married. Poppy: I suppose afterward you won't object. Diana: How very indelicate! (5)
In the original production, Louise Bliss was apparently cast for her ability to embody, literally, the fictional Princess. The review in the Baltimore Sun of February 20, 1912, observed that "Louise Bliss [has] about the same figure as Tetrazzini and a voice verging on grand opera." Hailed as one of the greatest singers of her day, soprano Luisa Tetrazzini (1871-1940) was past her prime by the time The Enchantress premiered. Later in life it is purported that she recognized both her former fame and current size, saying of herself, "I am old, I am fat, but I am still Tetrazzini." (6)
Stellina sings "Art is Calling for Me" at the beginning of Act II in the great hall of Vivian Savory's lavish villa in Bohemia. At the end of the first act, Prince Ivan declared his love for Vivian but she quickly rejected him, despite her obvious feelings, fearing his well known reputation as a playboy. After a period of time that isn't defined in the libretto, most of the Royal Court has joined Vivian in her home, making for both a lovely company of guests and a convenient chorus.
As part of the stage business at the beginning of the second act, Stellina silently "sings" an unnamed aria as the Russian pianist Ruffinoff accompanies. The ensemble, ignoring both Stellina and her accompanist, gossip in the opening chorus about the Prince and Vivian. Still pantomiming her performance, the stage directions read:
Stellina reaches the climax of her song ... with the note before the last a high sustained tone. As she reaches this she interrupts the chatter with a yell like a steam whistle and at the same time the pianist plays a crash of chords; both showing the greatest excitement over their music. This so breaks into the chatter that the guests start up in alarm ... As all recognize that the cause of the excitement is the end of the song, they all begin to applaud as if they had heard any of it ... Stellina and the pianist bow smiling and delighted at the ovation.
As the action begins in earnest, Vivian's Aunt Moumoute says politely to Stellina, "Delightful! Won't you sing again?" Horrified, the company quickly reacts simultaneously: "No, no. Don't tire yourself!" (7)
Undeterred, Stellina is so envious of La Savory's glamorous lifestyle that she is eager to reveal her own aspirations, even if it should make her a social outcast--at this time, refined young ladies did not seek a career on the stage. In the dialogue just before her song, one of Prince Ivan's loyal ministers (Troute) questions Stellina about her choice of career. In so doing, he highlights the lurid nature of opera by making a veiled reference to such murderous heroines as Lucia di Lammermoor and Tosca. Her final line is the cue for the orchestra to begin "Art is Calling for Me":
Stellina: Oh, this is the life; there's no doubt about it. I just hate the court and I just love Bohemia. Why I'd give up my position at court in a minute to be like Vivian. ... Troute: I trust, Princess, you have no homicidal intentions. Stellina: Oh, I would love it! To be a prima donna is the dearest wish of my heart. (8)
VARIANTS AMONG THE EDITIONS
Beyond the large structural changes made to the production as evident from the addition, omission, and reordering of songs, there are numerous minor differences in dynamics, articulations, and phrasing between Herbert's manuscript orchestral score of "Art is Calling for Me," the reduction in the original piano/vocal score, and the indications in the Hal Leonard edition. In particular, the piece may have been performed slightly slower than heard today: the manuscript clearly shows "Tempo di Marcia" in Herbert's hand at the top of the score; the 1911 score provides no tempo indication; and the Hal Leonard score indicates allegretto in parentheses.
Evincing clear emendations by an unnamed editor, performers should be aware that the Hal Leonard score includes details that are not found in the original sources. At the text "I've roulades and the trills ...," the trill sign in parentheses is not in the original. Similarly, the trill above the word "frills" and the "ad lib." marking before the refrain are not the composer's. As the noted "ad lib." precedes the fermata, it is difficult to know what exactly the performer is supposed to improvise.
In the original score there is no da capo after "I hate society/I hate propriety/Art is Calling for me." Instead, the chorus (a fickle critic indeed) is now apparently entranced by Stellina's singing and wholeheartedly answers with a truncated version of the refrain. The optional ending in the Hal Leonard score with its high B-flat, while perfectly acceptable, is also an editor's suggestion. This optional ending is sometimes performed at the end of the second refrain, making the last printed page altogether unnecessary and bypassing the arguably repetitive restatement of the closing chorus.
Finally, the composer's manuscript of "Art is Calling for Me" does not specify a character's name, but in the 1911 piano/vocal score "Stellina and Chorus" is printed under the title and the reviews of the first performances state that Louise Brooks sang the song as Princess Stellina. Nonetheless, in both the original piano score and the Hal Leonard edition the name "Mina" is clearly, but inexplicably, placed above the first vocal entrance.
Shown in the cast list at the beginning of the 1911 score, Katherine Witchie (birth and death dates unknown) played the role of Mina in the premiere performances; she went on to have a modestly successful career for the next two decades. Again including Witchie's name, the cast list shown in the review in the Washington Post of October 10, 1911, describes Mina (misspelled as "Nina") as "a maid." In the piano score she dances with Minister Troute in one song in the second act, but otherwise does not sing in the operetta.
The misprint in the original vocal score may be explained by simple human error or the song may have originally been assigned to Mina in an early version of the script (though surely a maid could not have sung the words "Mamma is a queen and papa is a king" unless she were mocking the pretensions of the young women she was serving). The sources currently available do not provide a definitive answer to this mystery, but it is certain that the inclusion of the name "Mina" is incorrect.
HERBERT, PUCCINI, AND ASCAP: THE OMISSION OF THE OPERATIC EXCERPTS
In the original libretto at the end of the first verse of "Art is Calling for Me," Stellina sings: "I've roulades and trills/That would send the cold chills/Down the backs of all hearers of my vocal frills." Just below the last phrase, the following note is printed in parentheses: "Sings a part of Musetta's waltz in Boheme." (9) At the end of the second verse another direction reads: "She sings a part of the Jewel Song in 'Faust.'" (10) The reasons why these excerpts were not included in the piano/vocal score may lie in Victor Herbert's commitment to both a worthy cause and a good friend.
Although copyright law was in its infancy in the United States in the early twentieth century, Herbert was fiercely committed to composers' legal rights to their work and to fair compensation. In 1908, he was a litigant in White-Smith Music Publishing Company vs. The Apollo Company, a landmark case regarding copyright argued before the Supreme Court on January 16 and 17. Although the court initially found against Herbert's side, the ruling was overturned just one year later and was at the foundation of the Copyright Law of 1909.
According to Neil Gould in Victor Herbert: A Theatrical Life, Giacomo Puccini (1858-1924) arrived in New York in 1910, just one year after the new copyright law took effect, to supervise the premiere of La fanciulla del West. Puccini was outraged to hear many of his most popular works played in restaurants and dance halls, knowing that he was receiving no remuneration from the performances. Through a mutual friend, Herbert and Puccini met to discuss the situation. (11)
It is notable that this meeting occurred in 1910, one year after White-Smith vs. Apollo and one year before The Enchantress. Undoubtedly, Herbert was sensitive to the use of the Boheme excerpt and its implications for copyright. Any financial arrangement Herbert may have made with Puccini to use the snippet from Boheme during the actual performances of The Enchantress is unknown; it is safe to assume, however, that he did not use the excerpt without compensating his friend in a fair manner.
Three years after The Enchantress closed, Herbert would be among the founding members of ASCAP (The American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers), established in February 1914 at the Hotel Claridge in New York and dedicated to the rights of creative artists. Herbert served as Vice President of ASCAP from 1914 to his death in 1924.
As Gounod died in 1893, including a section of Faust in the published score would not have proved problematic. But, as we have seen, the Boheme excerpt was another matter, and Herbert must have realized that including the Gounod without the Puccini would have been detrimental to the overall structure of "Art is Calling for Me." These reasons--copyright, friendship, and artistic unity--were undoubtedly among the root causes for the omission of the two excerpts from the 1911 score.
Luckily for modern performers and audiences, La boheme is now in the public domain and "Art is Calling for Me" can again be heard just as it was a century ago.
RESTORING THE LOST MOMENTS OF (LOUISE) BLISS
Examples 1 and 2, shown at the end of this article, are piano reductions of Herbert's previously unpublished inserts that are placed within the context of what immediately precedes and follows them in "Art is Calling for Me." Herbert typically did not include the voice line in his orchestral manuscripts; therefore, those shown in the examples were realized according to the original operas.
In the Puccini excerpt, Herbert seems to assume that the performers are familiar enough with the original to realize the many tempo fluctuations without explicit guidance. Example 1 shows the most import breath marks from the original but, like Herbert's manuscript, leaves the details of the interpretation to the performers. This may have been done as both excerpts should be performed as Stellina singing them, not necessarily as a serious performer would interpret the arias. While the adage "less is more" should be encouraged, performers might introduce "trills" and "roulades" into the excerpts that are in keeping with Stellina's character but that are completely unlike what one would do in any other context.
Herbert may have worked from memory in writing out the Puccini excerpt: he provides only basic blocked chords without the lush details of the original and there are slight discrepancies in the motion of the bass line. Most notably, he truncates the first sixteen measures of "Musetta's Waltz" into just one six measure phrase to make the Puccini and Gounod excerpts exactly the same length. To the average listener the foreshortening of the Boheme aria may go unnoticed; for trained singers, the adjustment will no doubt take some practice to make comfortable.
Much less problematic, the snippet from "Ah! Je veux vivre" required little adjustment on Herbert's part, save for modifying the voice line to end on the tonic. (The fingering in Example 2 for the passage in double thirds is the authors' suggestion.)
UNDERSTANDING A PRINCESS'S WIT: DEFINING STELLINA'S HUMOR
The book and lyrics of The Enchantress were written by French writer Frederique de Gresac (c. 1879-1943) and American author Harry B. Smith (1860-1936). Madame de Gresac's name is most often seen in the masculine form "Fred de Gresac." She is undoubtedly the source of the many Gallic expressions and spellings in the original libretto. A prolific librettist of the period who later wrote silent movie scenarios, de Gresac was the wife of legendary baritone Victor Maurel (1848-1923), chosen by Giuseppe Verdi (1813-1901) to be the first Falstaff and Iago.
To sing "Art is Calling for Me" with absolute conviction, the performer should have a complete command of the unique terms and phrases in the text. The most notable of these are:
* "Embonpoint": literally "in good condition," colloquially meaning "stocky" or "plump." Though typically not heard today, the libretto clearly specifies that this word is used as part of a humorous rhyme: "I have the embonpoint (pwong)/To become the queen of song."
* "... my figure would look pretty as a page": In a "trouser role," a woman sings the part of a young boy, sometimes an errand boy or page, who would typically be slender. Given that Stellina makes several references to the expanse of her figure, a knowledgeable operatic audience may find this line gently humorous.
* "... a screechy, peachy cantatrice": a female singer; from the verb "cantare" meaning to sing.
* "... like other plump girls that I see." Though this is the original text, the Hal Leonard score suggests the more sensitive "Like other songbirds that I see." Given Stellina's noble heritage, "royals" or "blue bloods" are viable, two-syllable alternatives that reflect her character. In two performances found on YouTube (one live concert and one studio recording), famed New Zealand soprano Kiri Te Kanawa perhaps unknowingly changes "plump girls" to the unquestionably harsh "fat girls."
* "And Melba I'd oust ..." Australian soprano Nellie Melba (1861-1931) is generally considered to be one of the greatest singers in history.
* "If I once sang in Faust/That opera so charming by Gounod." Stellina seems to forget that the opera's "charming" plot centers on Satan, dark magic, premarital sex, murder, infanticide, and eternal damnation. Notably, the plot of Boheme is hardly chaste either. Stellina's choice of repertoire may reflect her clearly evident youthful rebellion.
* "With my avoirdupois ..." Stellina uses the term simply to mean "weight." Specifically, avoirdupois is the standard of measurement widely used in the United States, Great Britain, Australia, and Canada in which sixteen ounces equal one pound.
Scholarship is a fascinating process. "Art is Calling for Me" has long been a standard part of the vocal repertoire and as such the authors of this article never suspected that a study of the manuscript would yield deep insights. On the contrary, this investigation into the operatic excerpts Louise Bliss performed in the original production of The Enchantress yielded numerous revelations not only about Victor Herbert as a composer, but also as a human being. It is the authors' hope that the musical and historical observations in this article will add fresh new avenues of thought for performers interpreting this perennial audience favorite.
(1.) Victor Herbert, The Enchantress: An Opera Comique. Book and Lyrics by Fred de Gresac and Harry B. Smith (New York: M. Witmark and Sons, 1911).
(2.) Victor Herbert and Harry B. Smith, "Art is Calling for Me (The Prima Donna Song)" (Milwaukee, WI: Hal Leonard Publishing Corporation, 1993); Joan Frey Boytim, The Second Book of Soprano Solos (New York, NY: G. Schirmer, Inc., distributed by Hal Leonard Corporation), 4-9.
(3.) Harry B. Smith and F. de Gresac, The Enchantress: An Operetta in Two Acts (Unpublished typed libretto, c. 1911. Collection of the Library of Congress). The first and second acts are paginated separately; therefore, the numbers referenced below will indicate the act and the page: I/56 (act one, page 56).
The authors of this article made copies of the manuscript score and libretto at the Library of Congress, but copies of the piano/vocal score and libretto of The Enchantress, as well as countless other Herbert materials, can be found at the extraordinary website of Victor Herbert Source (vhsource. com or vherbert.com).
(4.) Ibid., I/30.
(5.) Ibid., I/3.
(6.) Charles Nelson Gattey, Luisa Tetrazzini: The Florentine Nightingale (Portland, OR: Amadeus Press, 1995), 259. The complete quote reads: "When friends called who had not seen her for a long time, she would tell them: 'Sono vecchia, sono grassa, ma sono sempre la Tetrazzini!' She was old and fat but still Tetrazzini."
(7.) Smith and de Gresac, II/3-4.
(8.) Ibid., II/7-8.
(9.) Ibid., II/8.
(10.) Ibid., II/9.
(11.) Neil Gould, Victor Herbert: A Theatrical Life (Bronx, NY: Fordham University Press, 2008), 318-319.
Dr. Andrew Adams is the Assistant Professor of piano at Western Carolina University in Cullowhee, North Carolina. He earned the Bachelor of Music in Piano Perfonnance from the Kansas City Conservatory of Music and the Master of Music in Vocal Coaching and Accompanying from the University of Illinois. While there, he studied with John Wustman, the accompanist of such internationally acclaimed singers as Luciano Pavarotti, Birgit Nilsson, and Carlo Bergonzi.
For six summers (1996-2001) he was a vocal coach at the Utah Festival Opera Company in Logan, Utah and was the Head Coach of the festival for the 2000 summer season. In April 2005, he completed his Doctorate in Piano Perfonnance at the University of Colorado at Boulder where he was a student of Robert Spillman. During his third year of residency he served on the adjunct faculty and taught diction for singers and accompanying.
From 2003 to 2006 Dr. Adams served as Vocal Coach and Director of Collaborative Piano at Iowa State University. Andrew joined the Editorial Board of the Journal of Singing in 2008.
Dr. Bradley Martin is an Associate Professor of Music at Western Carolina University, where he conducts the Civic Orchestra, serves as music director for opera, teaches piano, class piano, music appreciation, and music theory. He completed his Bachelor of Music in Piano Performance at the University of Western Australia and Master of Music in Accompanying and Chamber Music at the University of Michigan. His Doctorate in Piano Performance is from the University of Colorado at Boulder. In addition, he completed four years of postgraduate work at the Moscow Conservatory. Martin has taught at Oklahoma City University, the Anglo-American School of Moscow, and the Western Australia Conservatory of Music. As a solo pianist, chamber musician, and accompanist he has appeared in recitals throughout the United States, Russia, Europe, Australia, and Asia. Highlights of his performing include appearances with the Pacific Music Festival in Japan, Western Australian Symphony Orchestra, Australian Opera and Ballet Orchestra, Kusciuzko Foundation of New York, Bolshoi Theater, and an Australian Tour in 1993.
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|Author:||Adams, Andrew; Martin, Bradley|
|Publication:||Journal of Singing|
|Article Type:||Opera review|
|Date:||May 1, 2014|
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