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The Fencing Master

fmAn Opéra-Comique in 3 Acts: Music by Reginald de Koven; Lyrics by Harry B. Smith

Casino Theatre, New York - 14th November, 1892. Closed 25th February, 1893 (120 perfs)


The story relates the adventure of a young girl, Francesca, whose father is a fencing master. He has educated her as a boy, teaching her fencing among other manly accomplishments. She takes his place as master-at-arms. She loves Fortunio, rightful heir to the throne of Milan. He believes her to be a boy. When the usurping duke and his household magician scheme to remove Fortunio, Francesca accompanies him. Fortunio has been in love with the young Countess Filippa, while the Marchesa Goldoni, a young widow, is enamored of the boyish graces of Francesca. The comedy is supplied by the bankrupt Duke of Milan, who has a private astrologer to whom such fabulous sums have been paid for horoscopes that the ducal exchequer is depleted. The Duke has mortgaged his palace, one room at a time, to the money lenders of Milan. Subsequently the Duke employs a band of Venetian bravos to suppress Fortunio, the bravos being a regularly organized stock company conducted in a strictly business-like manner. The first act ends with the departure of Fortunio and Francesca to Venice on a political mission.

The second act shows Venice by moonlight, and the finale represents the historic ceremony of the marriage with the Adriatic, an elaborate stage pageant, historically accurate, the Bucentaur or golden barge being an exact copy of the original royal craft. Filippa is sent to Venice to be married, but Fortunio plans to elope with her and trusts Francesca with the secret. In her jealousy of Fortunio Francesca betrays the plan to his rival, Guido, who carries off Filippa. Discovering Francesca's treachery, Fortunio provokes a duel with her, wounds the supposed youth, and compels her to reveal her identity. Fortunio is arrested by the Duke, and is about to be taken to a Venetian dungeon when Francesca declares herself to be the real traitor and is led away in his place.

In the third act Francesca escapes from prison in a woman's dress provided by the Marchesa, who still believes her to be a man. Filippa gives a fete at which she is to announce the name of her future husband. Fortunio has an appointment with her, but Francesca, provided with a mask and domino like Filippa's, takes the place of the countess, and learns from Fortunio that he really loves Francesca and not Filippa. The Duke and Pasquino are driven from Milan, while Fortunio is restored to the throne of his ancestors.

Musical Numbers


ACT I - Milan.

  1. Opening Chorus and Tarantella - "Under thy window I wait. Haste, love, to me, for the hour is late..."
  2. Duet - Theresa, Pasquino and Chorus - "Oh, listen! and in verse I will relate the sort of maid the Duke desires to mate..."
  3. Song - Fortunio - "The life or a rover is all very well, it's a very fair kind of a life in its way..."
  4. Scene, Ensemble and Entrance Song - Francesca - "What noise is that? What can it be? 'Tis surely herald of a fight!..."
    4a - Chorus - "Hark! the cathedral chimes pealing..."
  5. Habanera and Quintet - Francesca, Filippa, Marchesa, Guido and Fortunio - "True love is a gem so fair and rare..."
  6. Waltz Quintet - Francesca, Filippa, Marchesa, Guido and Fortunio - "Lady fair, I must decline..."
  7. Chorus and Entrance - Duke and Pasquino - "See in pomp the Duke appears; he expects the public cheers..."
  8. Money-Lenders' Chorus, with Duke and Pasquino - "I play all games of chance, howe'er insidious..."
  9. Finale Act I - "Now the Ducal wedding fète we impatiently await. He comes..."

ACT II - The Piazetta, Venice.

  1. Opening Chorus and Barcarolle - "O-hè! O-hè! Ah! Over the moonlit waves we glide..."
  2. Marinesca - Filippa, Francesca, Marchesa, Duke and Fortunio - "Oh! come my love, the stars are bright..."
  3. Song - Fortunio - "Ev'ry knight must have a star, leading him on, leading him on to the glory of war..."
  4. Serenade - Duke - "Singing a serenade is no light task, I vow; it is a knack that many lack, but I know how..."
  5. Solo and Chorus - Torquato and Bravos - "Giacomo! Michel Angelo! Savonarola! Rafael! ..."
  6. Song - Francesca - "When the moon its radiance throws o'er lake and vale..."
  7. Duet - Francesca and Fortunio - "Ah, yes, I love thee, have loved thee in all of the bygone years..."
  8. March and Chorus - "See! in pomp and pride, our mighty, mighty Doge is drawing near, claiming his bride..."
  9. Finale Act II - "Bucentoro! Bucentoro draws near. It is here. Bucentoro now approaches... "

ACT III - The Marchesa's Villa near Venice.

  1. Carnival Scene - Filippa and Chorus - "Hola! Hola! Hola! To the fête! Come we all to the merry wedding fête!"
  2. Duet and Chorus - Duke, Pasquino and Bravos - "We are very poor musicians. Zum, zum, zum, zum..."
  3. Serenade - Marchesa and Cavaliers - "Wild bird that singeth from yon shaded bower, what says thy music..."
  4. Will-o'-the-wisp Song - Francesca - "Trav'ler wandering wearily in a starless night..."
  5. Duet - Francesca and Fortunio - "Dwells an image in my heart; It never will depart; One true love I own..."
  6. Finale Act III - "I will return to thee, home of mine, e'en were thine azure skies less divine..."


Scenes and settings

ACT I - Milan.
ACT II - The Piazetta, Venice.
ACT III - The Marchesa's Villa near Venice.