Opera: Der Barbier Von Bagdad – Peter Cornelius

“Der Barbier von Bagdad,” or “The Barber of Bagdad,” is a comic opera in two acts with music and text by Peter Cornelius. It was first presented at the Court Theatre, Weimar, in 1858.


Baba Mustapha, a Cadi. Margiana, his daughter. Bostana, a kinswoman of the Cadi. Nureddin. Abul Hassan Ali Ebe Bekar, a barber. Attendants of Nureddin, friends of the Cadi, people of Bagdad, female mourners, suite of the Caliph.

The plot of ” The Barber of Bagdad ” is light to the point of the trivial but so masterly is the musical setting, so rich in inspiration and fantasy and so abounding in that rarest of qualities, true musical humor, that the opera is classed among the masterpieces. This is true, despite the fact that it is but rarely performed either in the United States or Europe.

When we are introduced to our hero Nureddin, he is in a distressful plight, lying, apparently about to breathe his last upon a couch near to many medicine bottles and surrounded by downcast attendants. In his delirium Nureddin murmurs the name ” Margiana ” and it looks as if a man were at last going to give the poet the lie by dying for love.

When the servants tiptoe away, Nureddin is visited by Bostana, a friendly handmaid, who comes to suggest that when Margiana’s father, the Cadi, has strolled piously mosqueward at noon, the lover may find it an opportune time to call at his sweetheart’s residence.

At this Nureddin’s condition improves to an amazing degree. He arises from his couch and feels some concern over his appearance. Bostana recommends the services of her friend Abul Hassan, ” a very virtuoso among barbers.” When Abul arrives, he proves to be the most garrulous old body imaginable and interrupts the shaving to recite his manifold accomplishments. But Nureddin is in no mood to appreciate his versatility and, at last becoming quite desperate, he calls upon the servants to interfere. But Abul Hassan is a barber indeed, and their combined efforts fail to stop the flow of his eloquence.

At last the shaving is resumed and Nureddin is so badly in love that he cannot refrain from talking, even to the barber, of the subject uppermost in his mind. Abul Hassan is all sympathy and relates how his six brothers died for love and how he, at ninety years of age, is likely to meet the same fate. Being so well fitted by nature to appreciate the situation, he insists upon accompanying Nureddin on his call, much to the young man’s disgust. So summoning his attendants again, he informs them that the barber is ill, and has him put to bed, willy-nilly.

The scene of the second act is laid in the Cadi’s dwelling, where Margiana is awaiting the noon hour in a fine state of excitement. Just before he goes to his devotions, her father brings in a huge chest full of gifts from an ancient friend in Damascus, whom he has decided to make his son-in-law. When after the departure of the unsympathetic parent, Nureddin at last finds himself in his sweet-heart’s presence, he discovers that the persistent Abul Hassan has escaped and followed him, and is making a great noise with his rapturous serenade beneath the window. But nothing can seriously disturb the happiness of the long-separated lovers.

The Cadi returns rather earlier than usual and proceeds to bastinado a slave for breaking a vase. Abul Hassan, hearing the cries, fancies that the irate father is murdering his new friend and raises a great outcry which brings a crowd upon the scene. Bostana and Margiana hastily conceal Nureddin in the chest of the Damascan suitor and Abul is summoned to carry it forth. He has the misfortune to meet the Cadi on the way out and is accused by him of being a thief. The Caliph, who is passing by just then with his suite, stops to learn the cause of the disturbance and orders the chest opened. Within lies Nureddin motionless and horror is general but, at the magic sound of Margiana’s name breathed in his ear by Abul Hassan, the young lover rouses and thus relieves the Cadi of the suspicion of murder. The Caliph crowns the love affair with his majestic approval, and so it comes to pass that the too interested barber has been, after all, a benefactor.

The composer, called by his associates the ” German Cherubini,” was a disciple of Liszt, who greatly admired him and the frigid reception accorded to ” The Barber ” was the reason for Liszt’s severing his relations with the Weimar opera house. The opera has since been revived at Munich in 1885 and in other German cities and was in the repertory of the Metropolitan Opera House Company in New York during the seasons of 1889-1890 and 1890-1891.

The Muezzin’s call, the scene of the bastinadoing of the slave and Abul’s famous bass solo, with the chorus ” Salaam ! Alëikoum ! ” are especially fine passages.