La Muette De Portici
In five acts by AUBER.
Text by SCRIBE.
This opera was first put on the stage in the Grand Opera-House at Paris
in the year 1828, and achieved for its author universal celebrity; not
only, because in it Auber rises to heights, which he never reached
either before or after, but because it is purely historical. The
"Muette" is like a picture, which attracts by its vivid reproduction of
nature. In the local tone, the southern temper, Auber has succeeded in
masterly fashion, and the text forms an admirable background to the
music. Its subject is the revolution of Naples in the year 1647 and
the rise and fall of Masaniello, the fisherman-King.
In the first act we witness the wedding of Alfonso, son of the
Viceroy of Naples, with the Spanish Princess Elvira. Alfonso, who has
seduced Fenella, the Neapolitan Masaniello's dumb sister and abandoned
her, is tormented by doubts and remorse, fearing that she has committed
suicide. During the festival Fenella rushes in to seek protection from
the Viceroy, who has kept her a prisoner for the past month. She has
escaped from her prison and narrates the story of her seduction by
gestures, showing a scarf which her lover gave her. Elvira promises to
protect her and proceeds to the altar, Fenella vainly trying to follow.
In the chapel Fenella recognizes her seducer in the bridegroom of the
Princess. When the newly married couple come out of the church, Elvira
presents Fenella to her husband and discovers from the dumb girl's
gestures, that he was her faithless lover. Fenella flies, leaving
Alfonso and Elvira in sorrow and despair.
In the second act the fishermen, who have been brooding in silence over
the tyranny of their foes, begin to assemble. Pietro, Masaniello's
friend, has sought for Fenella in vain, but at length she appears of
her own accord and confesses her wrongs. Masaniello is infuriated and
swears to have revenge, but Fenella, who still loves Alfonso, does not
mention his name. Then Masaniello calls the fishermen to arms and they
swear perdition to the enemy of their country.
In the third act we find ourselves in the marketplace in Naples, where
the people go to and fro, selling and buying, all the while concealing
their purpose under a show of merriment and carelessness. Selva,
the officer of the Viceroy's body-guard, from whom Fenella has escaped,
discovers her and the attempt to rearrest her is the sign for a general
revolt, in which the people are victorious.
In the fourth act Fenella comes to her brother's dwelling and describes
the horrors, which are taking place in the town. The relation fills
his noble soul with sorrow and disgust. When Fenella has retired to
rest, Pietro enters with comrades and tries to excite Masaniello to
further deeds, but he only wants liberty and shrinks from murder and
They tell him that Alfonso has escaped and that they are resolved to
overtake and kill him. Fenella, who hears all, decides to save her
lover. At this moment Alfonso begs at her door for a hiding-place. He
enters with Elvira, and Fenella, though at first disposed to avenge
herself on her rival, pardons her for Alfonso's sake. Masaniello,
reentering, assures the strangers of his protection and even when
Pietro denounces Alfonso as the Viceroy's son, he holds his promise
sacred. Pietro with his fellow-conspirators leaves him full of rage
Meanwhile the magistrate of the city presents Masaniello with the Royal
crown and he is proclaimed King of Naples.
In the fifth act we find Pietro with the other fishermen before the
Viceroy's palace. He confides to Moreno, that he has administered
poison to Masaniello, in order to punish him for his treason, and
that the King of one day will soon die. While he speaks, Borella
rushes in to tell of a fresh troop of soldiers, marching against the
people with Alfonso at their head. Knowing that Masaniello alone can
save them, the fishermen entreat him to take the command of them once
more and Masaniello, though deadly ill and half bereft of his reason,
complies with their request. The combat takes place, while an eruption
of Vesuvius is going on. Masaniello falls in the act of saving
Elvira's life. On hearing these terrible tidings Fanella rushes to the
terrace, from which she leaps into the abyss beneath, while the
fugitive noblemen take again possession of the city.