The Apothecary


Comic Opera by JOSEF HAYDN (1768).

After a sleep of 125 years in the dust of Prince Esterhazy's archives

at Eisenstadt, Dr. Hirschfeld received permission from Prince Paul

Esterhazy of Galantha to copy the original manuscript.

It is Dr. Hirschfeld's merit to have revived and rearranged this

charming specimen of the old master's genius. And again it
was Ernst

Schuch, the highly gifted director of the Dresden opera who had it

represented on this stage in 1895, and st the same time introduced it

to the Viennese admirers of old Haydn, by some of the best

members of his company.

The music is truly Haydn'ish, simple, naive, fresh and clear as

crystal, and it forms an oasis of repose and pure enjoyment to modern

ears, accustomed to and tired of the astonishing oddities of modern


The plot is simple but amusing. A young man, Mengino, has entered the

service of the apothecary Sempronio, though he does not possess the

slightest knowledge of chemistry. His love for Sempronio's ward

Grilletta has induced him to take this step and in the first scene we

see him mixing drugs, and making melancholy reflections on his lot,

which has led him to a master, who buries himself in his newspapers

instead of attending to his business, and letting his apprentices go on

as best they may.

Sempronio entering relates that the plague is raging in Russia; and

another piece of news, that an old cousin of his has married his young

ward, is far more interesting to him than all his drugs and pills, as

he intends to act likewise with Grilletta. This young lady has no

fewer than three suitors, one of whom, a rich young coxcomb enters to

order a drug. His real intention is to see Grilletta. He is not slow

to see, that Mengino loves her too, so he sends him into the drug

kitchen, in order to have Grilletta all to himself. But the pert young

beauty only mocks him, and at Mengino's return Volpino is obliged to


Alone with Mengino, Grilletta encourages her timid lover, whom she

likes very much, but just when he is about to take her hand Sempronio

returns, furious to see them in such intimacy. He sends Mengino to his

drugs and the young girl to her account books, while he buries himself

once more in the study of his newspapers. Missing a map he is obliged

to leave the room. The young people improve the occasion by making

love, and when Sempronio, having lost his spectacles, goes to fetch

them, Mengino grows bolder and kisses Grilletta. Alas, the old man

returns at the supreme moment, and full of rage, sends each to his room.

Mengino's effrontery ripens the resolution in the guardian's breast to

marry Grilletta at once, he is however detained by Volpino, who comes

to bribe him by an offer from the Sultan to go into Turkey as

apothecary at court, war having broken out in that country. The wily

young man insinuates, that Sempronio will soon grow stone-rich, and

offers to give him 10,000 ducats at once, if he will give him Grilletta

for his wife. Sempronio is quite willing to accept the Sultan's

proposal, but not to cede Grilletta. So he sends Mengino away, to

fetch a notary, who is to marry him to his ward without delay. The

maiden is quite sad, and vainly tortures her brain, how to rouse her

timid lover into action. Sempronio, hearing her sing so sadly,

suggests that she wants a husband and offers her his own worthy person.

Grilletta accepts him, hoping to awaken Mengino's jealousy and to rouse

him to action. The notary comes, in whom Grilletta at once

recognizes Volpino in disguise. He has hardly sat down, when a second

notary enters, saying that he has been sent by Mengino and claiming his

due. The latter is Mengino himself, and Sempronio, not recognizing the

two, bids them sit down. He dictates the marriage contract, in which

Grilletta is said to marry Sempronio by her own free will besides

making over her whole fortune to him. This scene, in which the two

false notaries distort every word of old Sempronio's, and put each his

own name instead of the guardian's, is overwhelmingly comical. When

the contract is written, Sempronio takes one copy, Grilletta the other

and the whole fraud is discovered.--Volpino vanishes, but Mengone

promises Grilletta to do his best in order to win her.

In the last scene Sempronio receives a letter from Volpino, telling

him, that the Pasha is to come with a suite of Turks to buy all his

medicines at a high price, and to appoint him solemnly as the Sultan's

apothecary. Volpino indeed arrives, with his attendants, all disguised

as Turks, but he is again recognized by Grilletta. He offers his gold,

and seizes Grilletta's hand, to carry her off, but Sempronio

interferes. Then the Turks begin to destroy all the pots and glasses

and costly medicines, and when Sempronio resents this, the false Pasha

draws his dagger, but Mengino interferes and at last induces the

frightened old man, to promise Grilletta to him, if he succeeds in

saving him from the Turks. No sooner is the promise written and

signed, than Grilletta tears off the Pasha's false beard and reveals

Volpino, who retires baffled, while the false Turks drink the young

couple's health at the cost of the two defeated suitors.