“The Taming of the Shrew,” a comic opera in four acts, its libretto freely arranged by Joseph Widmann from the Shakespearian comedy of the same name, and with music by Hermann Goetz, was produced at Mannheim in 1872.
Baptista, a rich gentleman of Padua. Katherine, Bianca, his daughters. Hortensio, suitors to Bianca. Lucentio, Petruchio, a gentleman of Verona. Grumio, his servant. A tailor. A steward. A housekeeper.
As in Shakespeare’s play, Baptista has two daughters, one of them Katherine, the shrew, and the other the gentle Bianca. When the curtain rises before Baptista’s house, the love-sick Lucentio is discovered, addressing a serenade to Bianca’s window. His dulcet tones are rudely drowned by a tumult in the house, caused by the vixenish Katherine. The servants coming out, thoroughly tired of her berating, declare that surely the fiend himself inhabits the house. When the storm has subsided, Lucentio, coming back to finish his serenade, has a delightful interview with his lady-love in which he is assured that she is not indifferent. They are interrupted by the arrival of an ancient beau, Hortensio, and his hired musicians, who play a serenade of his own composing. Lucentio is about actively to oppose the rival concert, when Baptista comes out of the house, very cross about having his rest disturbed with continual serenading, and reminds the suitors that there can be no hope for them until Katherine is safely wedded. Could any situation be more hopeless?
They depart in dejection and Hortensio meets the wealthy and gallant Petruchio of Verona, who has recently arrived in Padua. The two are old acquaintances and, in the course of the conversation, Petruchio laments the fact that he is rich and surrounded by sycophants and expresses a longing for the piquancy of having his will opposed.
Hortensio is at once reminded of Katherine, and recommends her for the purpose. Petruchio, drawing upon his memory, recalls her as a froward little girl he once met. who angrily escaped his kiss and ran away. His is a soul which loves to conquer opposition and he vows to wed this recalcitrant young lady. They are before her window, and looking up at it, he laughs quietly to himself and bids her,
Sleep soft, for but one short and passing season, For thee a battle waits.
The second act takes place on the next morning and introduces to us Katherine in her own boudoir. Reports of her shrewishness are found to be entirely correct. Petruchio secures Baptista’s all-too-willing consent and goes bravely about the formidable business of wooing. He has up-hill work of it, especially as Katherine has that very morning renewed her resolution never by any act to merit being called ” the weaker vessel ” like the rest of her sex. She fairly rages against his terms of endearment, but he meets all her scorn with honeyed irony.. It finally occurs to her that, for the first time, she has met a man whose will is as unbending as her own. He insists that by Monday they will be wedded and in her fury she bethinks herself that perhaps she can best subdue him by marrying him and having him conveniently at hand. Promising to return to claim his gentle bride, he gaily departs for Venice.
In the third act, the taming process is seen to have begun even before the wedding. Petruchio makes Katherine submit to the humiliation of having to wait for her bridegroom. In fact, he is so long delayed that the guests depart thinking .her a deserted bride and no one can really find heart to blame him for having repented his bargain. When tardy Petruchio does comes, it is without the promised finery and gifts for the bride. He bustles through the ceremony and despite the pleas of everybody, the bride not excepted, he will not stay for the wedding-feast but hurries Katherine away to the country with him.
In the fourth act, Petruchio and Katherine are seen at their country home with the taming process being continued. They attempt to dine but Petruchio snatches away each dish before his hungry bride can taste it, under the pretext that the waiting-people have not well served them. A tailor comes from Paris with fascinating gowns and bonnets and Kate for a moment forgets that she is half-famished as she inspects them with true feminine delight. She buys and eagerly waits to try the effect upon Petruchio but he declares her choice ridiculous and bids her discard the garments at once. But a strange thing has happened to Katherine. She does not want to fight with this Petruchio. She wants to love him and have him love her and she so confesses. The opera ends as Baptista arrives with Bianca and Lucentio, who just have been married, to find Kate and Petruchio not scratching each other’s eyes out, but making love in the conventional way.
The opera, which is truly charming, was the only product of the genius of a composer, whose early death cut short a career full of promise.
Among the numbers are Lucentio’s serenade, ” Haste ye, tones of love and longing; ” Petruchio’s song, ” She is a wife for such a man created; ” Katherine’s song in the second act, ” I’ll give myself to no man ” and the quintet which closes the act.
In the third act are the love-songs of Lucentio and Hortensio, skilfully mingled with the giving of lessons to Bianca, and the music greeting the belated arrival of Petruchio. In the fourth act occur Katherine’s confession ” Of fighting I am wearying,” and the love-duet of Katherine and Petruchio, ” The silver moon invites.”