chapter  11
13 Pages

Music and the crusades

The first home grown nineteenth century crusade opera seems to have been The Crusades by Sir Julius Benedict, which was first performed at Drury Lane in London in February 1846. Its cast included Conrade, King of Jerusalem; Bohemond, Prince of Tarentum; Raymond, Count of Toulouse; William, Archbishop of Tyre; Hassan, Prince of the Assassins; two of his followers and Almea, a Sumnite. The chorus or extras consisted of crusaders, Assassins, Knights Hospitaller, Ladies of the Court and the populace of Jerusalem. In the Preface, the author of the libretto, Alfred Bunn, admitted that he had violated the chronological order, leaping from the First to the Third Crusade and that the incidents described were partly historical, partly legendary, with some assistance from Tasso. The opera begins with the Sumnite women attempting to intoxicate the crusade leaders by their beauty and wines. In a scene reminiscent of Rinaldo and Armida, Bohemond is in a forest wherein there is an enchanted garden, 'from every tuft of flowers a young odalisque arises, entangles him in garlands and a mass of roses open and reveal Almea.' In Act II there is an attempt on the life of Bohemond and the siege of Jerusalem, complete with battering rams, cranes and mangonels. In the finale, Almea enters a convent and Bohemond marries Iseult, the daughter of Raymond of Toulouse in the Holy Sepulchre. The Illustrated London News reviewer commented that The Crusades played to packed houses and was the composer's greatest work, but The Athenaeum considered that musical effects had been sacrificed to pageantry.