Opera Scotland

Barber of Baghdad The Barber of Baghdad; Der Barbier von Bagdad

Music

Peter Cornelius (born Mainz, 24 December 1824; died Mainz, 26 October 1874)

Text

The Composer

Source

Two stories from The Arabian Nights (old Arabic tales)

 

Premières

First Performance: Weimar (Hoftheater), 15 December 1858.

First Performance (Revision): Karlsruhe, 1 February 1884.

First Performance in UK: London (Savoy Theatre), 9 December 1891.

First Performance in Scotland: Edinburgh (King's Theatre), 23 August 1956.

Scottish Opera première: N/A.

 

Background

If Peter Cornelius is known as a composer in Britain, it is probably for the haunting Christmas carol 'Three Kings from Persian lands afar'. However the more operatically minded may at least have heard of The Barber of Baghdad, even if the music and plot are entirely unfamiliar. This is a pity.

Cornelius's family background was theatrical, and it was only after his father's death that he was able to study music in Berlin. It was only when he joined Liszt's circle at Weimar in 1852 that he was encouraged to think about opera. However Liszt's years at Weimar were coming to an end and the Cornelius work was the victim of those circumstances. The 'other' Barber had a disastrous premiere, in spite of assistance given by Liszt, who conducted. Cornelius then moved to Vienna. As a disciple of Wagner, he later concentrated on teaching in Munich. After the composer's death, The Barber of Baghdad was taken up and rescued by other conductors who re-orchestrated it in a heavier, more Wagnerian style, without effecting the intended rescue. The first London production, at the Savoy, was by students of the Royal College of Music. Karl Richter conducted it at Covent Garden in 1906, by which time the composer's own version had been rescued. Since the Hamburg production was brought to Edinburgh in 1956, the opera has had productions at both the Wexford and Buxton Festivals.

 

Characters

Nureddin, a young gentleman (tenor)

Bostana, an elderly relation of the Cadi (mezzo-soprano)

Abdul Hassan Ali Ebn Bekar, a barber (bass)

Margiana, the Cadi's daughter (soprano)

Baba Mustapha, the Cadi (tenor)

Caliph (baritone)

Slave (tenor)

 

Plot Summary

Nureddin loves the Cadi's daughter, Margiana, and is encouraged in his hopes by Bostana, who tells him when Margiana is expecting him. Bostana will send a barber to help make him presentable for the appointment. The barber arrives, and offers to help. It is only with difficulty that Nureddin gets his preparations completed and escapes from the barber's constant chatter. Meanwhile the Cadi has received an acceptable offer for his daughter's hand. The prospective husband is an old man, but a friend of long-standing, and he has sent a chest of valuables as a sweetener. The Cadi then leaves for the mosque, allowing Nureddin to enter and start his courtship of Margiana. When the cries of a slave undergoing punishment are heard, Nureddin is hidden in the chest, which has quickly been relieved of its contents. The barber, in the belief that the cries were from Nureddin, comes to the rescue. He and the servants are in the process of removing the chest, and Nureddin's supposed corpse, when the Cadi comes home. He takes steps to prevent what he sees as the theft of his treasure. Confusion reigns until the Caliph arrives. The near-suffocated and unconscious Nureddin is released from the chest and revived, and his marriage to Margiana is approved.

The Cast

Abdul Hassan Ali Ebn Bekar
 a barber
Baba Mustapha
  a Cadi
Bostana
 an elderly relation of the Cadi
Caliph
 
Margiana
 the Cadi's daughter
Nureddin
 a young gentleman
Slave
 

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