Opera: Il Demonio – Anton Rubinstein

“Il Demonio” or “The Demon,” a lyric play in three acts, with music by Anton Rubinstein and text by Wiskow Atov, after the Russian of Lermontov, was produced in St. Petersburg, Jan. 25, 1875.

CHARACTERS

The Demon. Prince Gudal. Tamara, his daughter. Prince Sinodal, Tamara’s fiancé. The Angel of Light. Servant to Sinodal. Tamara’s Governess. Good and bad spirits, angels.

The scene is laid in Grusia in the Caucasus. The Demon has left the nether world and wanders about on earth in search of prey, impelled by his hatred of the Creator and all his works. When the curtain rises, the Demon is seen in the flashes of the storm, leaping about in fury. The evil spirits and the voices of the wind taunt each other in the darkness and a chorus of created things speak in fervent praise of Heaven. The demon is complaining of his ennui and raving of unprecedented deeds of evil, when approached by the Angel of Light, who in vain begs him to repent and seek the forgiveness of heaven.

In vivid contrast is the second tableau, which discloses Tamara, daughter of Prince Gudal, a maiden of transcendent beauty, making merry with her attendants. She is observed by the Demon, who, enchanted by her appearance, resolves to secure her for himself, despite the fact that he hears her speak of the early return of her adored bride-groom, Prince Sinodal. She feels the baneful influence of his presence even before she sees him. When alone for a moment, she catches a glimpse of him and hears him whisper that she shall be his queen and that all the world shall bow to her. Overwhelmed by astonishment and dismay, she flies to the castle.

The next scene shows a pass in the mountains of the Caucasus. The tinkling of bells announces the approaching caravan of the Prince Sinodal and his suite, who encamp for the night. The former chafes at the delay, which keeps him from his bride-to-be, and his old servant attempts to comfort him. Nevertheless, the usually courageous old servant is weighted down with foreboding, and rebukes the retainers, who sing and jest around the fires. Sinodal sings of the absent Tamara and of the joy anticipated for the morrow, and then falls asleep with the rest. They are surrounded by a band of marauding Tartars and Sinodal, though resisting bravely, is wounded and dies in the old servant’s arms, after catching a glimpse of the Demon, who had decreed his death.

The second act is played in the castle of Prince Gudal, where the nuptial preparations are complete. As the house-hold waits in festive garments to receive the bridegroom, his dead body is brought in upon a bier. The bitter sorrow of Tamara cannot be appeased, although the pitying father bids her seek consolation in Heaven. While frantic with grief, she hears the familiar seductive voice of the Demon assuring her that Sinodal, as the guest of heaven, has now forgotten her. The fiend’s presence makes her fearful that she will not be strong enough to resist him and she begs to be allowed to enter a convent. Her father reluctantly consents and prepares to seek vengeance in war upon the Tartars, the slayers of the prince and destroyer of his daughter’s happiness.

In Act III, the interior of Tamara’s cloister is seen. The old servant of Sinodal sits outside singing a Christian hymn and the Angel of Light guards the threshold. The Demon appears seeking Tamara and struggles with the Angel, who disputes his right to enter. At last he gains entrance and becomes visible to the maiden, whose dreams have been haunted with glimpses of him. He declares his overwhelming passion and invokes Tamara’s love which alone can redeem him from his curse, promising to end his struggle with Heaven and tread in virtue’s path forever-more. He argues in a score of ways and paints vividly the glories he can offer her as his queen. Tamara implores aid from on high but finally her strength gives out and she finds herself powerless to resist the Demon’s embrace. At this the Angel of Light appears and she seeks refuge in his arms and sinks to death. There is a mighty clap of thunder and the nunnery falls in ruins, from the midst of which Tamara is seen carried by angels to Heaven.

In ” The Demon,” the most successful of Rubinstein’s operas, a number of passages are notable. In the first act are the opening chorus of evil spirits and voices of nature ; the Demon’s aria, ” Verhasst, Verfluchte Welt ” (” Despised, accursed World “) ; Tamara’s aria, “Ach ! liebe Mädchen ! ” (“Ah! fair companions “) ; the Tartar chorus, ” Stille, Stille, Schleicher näher ” (” Softly, softly “). In the second act are found the ballet music and the Demon’s romanza, ” Süsses Kind, du weinst vergebens ” (” Dearest child, ’tis vain thy weeping “) ; while the third act contains the long duet between the Demon and Tamara.