The marriage of figaro

PERICHOLE Fed up with hunger and the scant rewards of street-singing, Perichole writes a painful letter to her beloved Piquillo


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Fed up with hunger and the scant rewards of street-singing, Perichole writes a painful letter to her beloved Piquillo:

But too long we’ve struggled together,

Too long we’ve been ragged and poor.
No use to deny or delay it --

The words I must wring from my heart.

The time has come -- how can I say it?

Perhaps we’ll do better apart.

Can lovers remain fond and tender

When forced to go hungry to bed?

Who can embrace in shared surrender

When craving a morsel of bread?

I am weak, and only human.

I had hoped with my final breath

To bear out my pledge as a woman,

My hand in yours unto death . . .

So our dreams lie torn now in tatters . . .

I know it well . . . what can I do?

Within my own heart where it matters,

Forever I’ll belong to you.

O my darling! I share your sorrow,

And can find no words to console.

Far apart though we be tomorrow,

Think kindly of your Perichole.
An odd looking man can be seen roaming the busy streets of Lima. A master of disguise, who would guess that it was the eccentric but all powerful Viceroy, ruler of the land? Answer: just about everybody.

Discard my crown, disown my castle

To make a stealthy getaway.

On the town with a stack to squander,

Alert and in disguise I go.

At large and known to none, I wander

Incognito, incognito.
A bore to be a courtly king

Without a fling philandering


With whiskers, cloak and smoky glasses,

At liberty and on my own,

I comb the street for lively lasses

That hanker for a baritone.

On the prowl, with purpose single,

I would play the Romeo,

And with the ladies mix and mingle

Incognito, incognito!

I’d waste away and die at court

Without a taste of spice and sport -- Incognito!

Unexpectedly winding up in the Viceroy’s palace, Piquillo pays tribute to women:

Come, make a frank and free confession,

And tell me what you cherish most.

O women! Dear women! Goddesses all!

Long may they reign victorious

Until the stars from heaven fall.

Men out for power, melancholy,

Look down on love as mortal sin.

It’s we good fellows, hail and jolly,

That carry off the heroine.

O women! Dear women! Goddesses all!

Long may they reign victorious

Until the stars from heaven fall.
Now here’s a test for those inclined:

Stop every man that happens by;

Inquire of each what’s on his mind.

Nine out of ten will then reply,

O women! Dear women! Goddesses all!

Long may they reign victorious

Until the stars from heaven fall.

O long may they reign!

The letter, occurring in Act I, is of course by no means the final chapter. Reunited after a bizarre series of circumstances, we find Perichole in a mood of high impa-tience with her less than brilliant lover, and for that matter with the male sex in general:

Invited to a grand salon,

Instead of acting your own age,

Must you take over center stage?

To raise a row at my expense

While I pursue your good alone!

So help me God!

Your head is solid bone, bone, bone.

You men, you men!

My God, you men are dense!

So help me, men are dense!

Our only chance you nearly spoil,

And throw a scene for all to see.

Good Lord! My blood begins to boil --

Have you no confidence in me,

To overturn my strategy?

Go back, and show a grain of sense,

A tiny bow before the throne.

So help me God!

Your head is solid bone, bone, bone.

You men, you men!

My God, you men are dense!

So help me, men are dense!

Oh, you men are dense!

Her words are far sweeter when she visits him in his dungeon cell and brings with her a plan for getting him out:

Men of the world, those on the rise,

Would cast you in a dreadful light.
As for skill, or a trace of talent,

To put it plainly, you’re a mess.

For charming manners, smooth and gallant,

You draw a blank. Nonetheless . . .

You are all that I want,

I’m ashamed to confess.

I adore you and live only for your caress.

You are all that I want,

You’re the rogue I adore!

In your arms I desire nothing more.

Tremolini introduces the fabulous wax museum:
Eve and Adam, for a starter,

Ready for the fatal bite;

Joan of Arc is made a martyr

In the panel on the right.

Lucky folk, we offer here a

Look at wise old Socrates;

Turning to another era,

Faust and Mephistopheles.

Something special for the ladies;

Timeless in its poetry --

Tuneful Orpheus in Hades

Leading back Eurydice.

Connoisseurs have showered praises

On the stunning Salome.

Shorn of seven veils, she gazes

Sternly at a covered tray.

On a scale of ten to zero

’Tis the latter that he earns.

Hardly a hero, crazy Nero

Fiddles while the city burns.

Leaving half of Europe littered,

Shaggy Attila the Hun –

Rugged, yes, but all considered,

Not the perfect gentleman.

Now we reach the star attraction –

This we cannot go beyond:

We present with satisfaction


Fiery, feisty old Prince Casimir is a bit sensitive about his age:
What folderol do you imply?

Oh, your nerve is colossal!

Are you suggesting, sir, that I

Am a crusty old fossil?

How many wrinkles do you see?

Are my cheeks not still ruddy?

What idiot would think of me

As an old fuddy-duddy?

Oh, look again before you say

I’m just a man of yesterday.

Still in the pink and feeling great,

Who’d ever think me sixty-eight?

A dynamo, a man of clout,

Yes, I can throw my weight about.

A thoroughbred with steady gaze,

My better days lie well ahead.

At the height of my power,

My seed in full flower,

I am man of the hour …
Zanetta tells the story of the Middle Eastern princess, turned to wax by her jealous husband:
In Trebizonde, so I’ve been told,

A fair Princess did once reside;

She satisfied her husband well,

A model wife he showed with pride.

When dandies tried to catch her eye.

Without a wink she sashayed by;

The polka and the fandango

She kept for Kind Rhotamago …

It happened at the winter ball.

She met a Russian officer

And arm in arm, ’tis said by all,

Till dawn they danced a pas de deux.

The jealous king to wrath was stirred;

He soon began to see the light.

His wife replied, “But how absurd!

You know how cold I am at night.”

The king then waved a magic wand;

His wayward wife he turned to wax.

No man nor match in Trebizonde

Can now reheat that heart so lax.

Zanetta delivers the epilogue:

I never thought, I must confess,

That I’d become the real Princess.

But as we draw the curtain down,

The circus girl puts on the crown.
A foolish tale, but tender, too;

The final word we leave to you.

Remember, please, for all our flaws,

Our pleasure comes with your applause.

Bluebeard, the merry widower whose many marriages have all ended in sudden disaster, is game for another try:
Not again, not again! Oh, so fair and so gentle!

What implacable destiny follows the days of my life?

Through some caprice of fate, bizarre and accidental,

I’ve lost my latest wife . . .


Never out of sorts or sickly,

My first wife died oh so quickly --

No one knows the reason why.


Oh,  my second was a jewel,

But again the gods were cruel.

How I suffered!

Yes, I had a healthy cry.


Then the grave as quickly swallowed

Up the three or four that followed,

Barely time to say goodbye.


Thus without a word of warning,

Once again I’m into mourning,

Ready for another try . . .

It makes perfect sense …


New loves galore

I live to explore,

Which leaves but one recourse;

For I take the fine

Conservative line

And frown upon divorce.
Once again Bluebeard rushes to the palace with the sad story of his latest loss:

Milady! O Milady!  I bring a tale of woe,

For I lost my wife but half an hour ago. 

Seated at the saddle, poised and dignified,

She smiled, little knowing it would be her final ride.


How dark was the forest, though brilliant the night!

She said, “I am certain no storm is in sight.” 

She waved to my window; when still within view

There came without warning a bolt from the blue.


Struck down amid thunder, she tumbled and cried:

“Oh, help! I am dying!”  So doing, she died. 

The blow you can imagine. I cried, “Oh, what a shame!

Yes, I fear that my marriage will never be the same.”


I’ll place her in the grave with flowers and laments;

But as wise men often tell us, we live in the present tense. 

To wax philosophic, each mortal must die.

The crux of the matter, ’twas her and not I . . .

Who is she? Not exactly a person. Call her a guiding force, a caretaker, a tyrannical taskmistress, a not always reliable source of inspiration -- in short, the Muse, with whom Hoffmann has enjoyed a fitful relationship that has left her somewhat disgruntled. Too often neglected, slighted, ignored, cast aside for more vivid attractions, still she is by no means ready to write him off as a lost cause. On the contrary, after having observed his romantic disasters with ever growing exas-peration, she is more than ever determined to claim him exclusively for her own.

Though truth may dwell on lonely heights,

The Muse, in radiant apparel,

Is sometimes met on misty nights

Residing in a barroom barrel.


Unwilling to capitulate,

For Hoffmann here I watch and wait,

A poet-dreamer  (choose the order)

Whose glass is seldom filled with water.


Once grateful for my inspiration,

Now heedless of my righteous wrath,

Again he takes the downward path

That leads to loss and desolation.

Infatuated, he pursues

The prima donna, not the Muse.


Rejected, no, I’ll not surrender!

My lyre becomes both sword and shield,

And heaven help the brash contender

That braves me on the battlefield.


But not content with idle bluster,

More subtle means I’ll have to muster.

The hapless hero I’ll attend

As young Nicklausse, his faithful friend.


And thus, of neither sex, but neuter,

I’ll snatch him from the star’s embrace,

And hasten his return to grace

By rounding up a rival suitor.

The Councilor Lindorf will do,

And look! He enters, right on cue.
The Councilor Lindorf, something of a creep, preens himself on his own diabolical but surprisingly successful approach to seduction:

But never say die till it’s over,

Till it’s over . . .


Approaching love a colder way,

The devil’s part I choose to play.

To woo my darling, I rely

Upon a stern, hypnotic eye.

From Satan I derive the art

Of firing up the heart.

In pursuit, I persevere

And prevail by using fear --  naked fear!

On the Grand Canal in Venice, possibly the most romantic spot on earth, the night is warm, the gentlest of breezes ripples the water and the stage is set for melodrama:

Shielding bliss from probing light,

O tender night of love!
Friendly dark must yield to dawn;

Too soon the song is over.

Time for caution later on

When dark must yield to dawn.

O warm and gentle breeze,

With the kiss of a lover

As we together glide

On a smooth flowing tide,

Whisper low, whisper low . . .
Satanic Dapertutto plots to seduce the seducer with a diamond . . .

Sparkling stone, power lies

In fanning the flames of desire.

Tantalize, dazzle her eyes,

And lure my moth to the fire . .
Hoffmann, ever driven by passion, has a moment of painful self-realization:

A haunting phantom fraught with pain

Along a path so often fatal,

Reason cries to me: not again!


Fortune’s favors I blindly squander,

Drunk on dreams that lure me on.

Searching ever, still I wander

On winding paths that lead to parts unknown . . .

After four disasters in love, the Muse comes to Hoffmann’s rescue:

Have you forgot your faithful friend

Whose calming hand has dried away your many tears?

The Muse, who causes sorrow to ascend

In dreams and reveries to higher spheres?

Am I then nothing? No! Let passion’s storm

Subside in vigorous and lyric line.

The lover dies; the poet finds new form.

And thus reborn, live on. Hoffmann, be mine!

Hoffmann gives a passionate response before falling asleep in a drunken stupor:

Or breathe on the smoldering spark

And renew my source of light.

Muse, hereafter I’m yours alone!


Spring has done it again, bursting out with irrepressible, intoxicating

abandon. Magic is in the air. It’s holiday time in Bohemia, time to celebrate:
Come along, the mood is merry;

See the budding peach and cherry.

Love that hovers in the air

Beckons to the young and fair.

Season full of hope and rapture,

Youth and beauty in their glory,

Days of bliss beyond recapture!

Time unfolds a darker story:

Love begins to flicker,

Bored wives boss and bicker,

Husbands turn to liquor.

Now’s the time, sweet lads and lasses,

Green and tender, young and fair.

Live your life before it passes;

Breathe the magic in the air.

Kezal, an enterprising marriage broker, rhapsodizes on the merits of a young

man whom he is trying to foist upon the parents of Marenka, our heroine:

A farm of fifty fertile acres he’ll inherit.

Serene and sunny, he’s lots of money

And charm to spare.
Sweet as candy, mild as bread and water,

Made in heaven for your lovely daughter,

He’s the answer to a mother’s prayer.
A prize example, a peerless model,

He doesn’t gamble, stay up late or hit the bottle.

His form perfection,

His clear complexion beyond compare.

Man of vigor, strong and sturdy,

Over twenty, under thirty,

Disposition sweet and pleasant,

Not a yokel, not a peasant,

Seldom rough and never rowdy,

Says “hello” instead of “howdy”,

Not a loner, not a hermit –

Ask a neighbor to confirm it.

Keeps the closet neat and tidy;

Mass on Sunday, fish on Friday.

Gentle as a lamb or kitten,

Warmer than a woolen mitten,

Knows and does his duty,

Never morose or moody,

He’s a father’s pride and joy.

Firm and resolute, bountiful to boot,

But deep inside,

A starry-eyed and simple boy.

The boys in the barroom, beer in hand, are living it up::

A swallow is followed

By vigor and zest.

The barley that ferments and mellows

Turns all into jolly good fellows.

Jenik, a newcomer in town, has the audacity to suggest that life offers something

even better than beer:

In time, you will sing a softer, sweeter song,

And turn to love for inspiration richer

Than ever found in foaming pitcher.

Kezel, the marriage broker, points out the wisdom of choosing wealth over love:

Till the eyes are clear,

Every wife is sheer

Beauty in motion.

By a law unwritten,

Foolish men are smitten

With a purring kitten’s velvet paws.
Horror all the greater

When the tiger later

Bares its sharpened claws.
Till the wheel is spun

And the prize is won,

Love is play and fun,

Pleasure and delight.

Sad to say, but soon

Past the honeymoon,

There’s a change of tune

And of appetite.

Love is bound to lose --

Take it from me.

Wiser men would chose

Income and property.

Ever alert for a commission, he just happens to know a rich widow:

Hogs and horses, coach and carriage –

Yours of course, assuming marriage.
Bypassing details, we leap to the triumphant conclusion:

Love emerges all the stronger.

Wedding bells benignly peeling

Usher in a time of healing.

You that come from far and wide,

Share it with the Bartered Bride!


Carolina, a widow, owner of a large estate in the fertile heartland of Europe, is perfectly happy with things just as they are, unencumbered by husband or lover:

Queen of an entire domain,

Served by all and sundry.
Time to sew or time to reap,

Mow lawns, trim the borders,

Shoe the horses, sheer the sheep,

I give all the orders.

Prima-donna of the dairy,

Autocrat of sty and stable,

My cuisine is legendary

And my brew a thing of fable.

Famous for my bees and honey,

Healthy flocks, and flax and linen,

When the sky’s serene and sunny

I’m the happiest of women.

Who is better off than I?

Weigh the evidence presented,

Think it over, then reply:

Tell me, lives there widow more contented?

Think it over, then reply:

Who is more contented?

Lives there widow more contented than I?

At the county fair I star,

Winning all the glory.

My displays are best by far

In each category.
Then my name is in the news,

Sometimes half a column,

And I comfort those who lose

In words wise and solemn.

I complain and pay my taxes,

Read the journals, barely noting

How the market wanes and waxes;

Ever first in line for voting.

I speak out on matters local,

Claim the mayor’s but a novice

And the governor a yokel.

Throw the rascals out of office!

Who is better off than I? etc.

Unlike her cousin, Anezka, also a widow, suffers and longs for love, though seemingly determined to say no:

Costly is that promise I am keeping.

Sworn forever, ever I deny

Love where alone my happiness could lie.



Harsh! O Goddess! For you grant another

That fulfilling bliss I could have kept . .

Sunlight sweet and sky unclouded,

Blossoms where the seedling sprouted.

What a joy this life would be,

But for love and jealousy!


Day of bright festivity!

All is mirth and revelry.

Gift that knows not rank nor merit;

None so poor that they may share it.

Multi-colored scene!

World of blue and green,

Fields of golden grain,

Gardens after rain.

North to south and west to east,

A bountiful, abundant feast.

Rare and radiant lovely day!


I, alone outside, am not to enter.

Looking on, I am my own tormentor.

Though the feast awaits with table spread,

I refuse it, for my soul is dead.

Sick at heart in my lonely passion.

Wretched widow, miserable woman!

Where, oh where? What comfort have I left,

Lost in this world of love bereft?

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