The first Masonic opera, the libretto written by Brother William Rufus Chetwood, prompter at Drury Lane Theater, London, for eighteen years, beginning 1722. Sixty-one years before Brother Mozart composed his Masonic opera known as The Manic Flude, Brother Chetwood's work was first performed in public. The following advertisement appeared in the Daily Post, August 20, 1730:
At Oates and Fielding's Great Theatrical Booth at the George Inn Yard in Smithfield, during the time of Bartholomew Fair, will be presented an entire new opera called The Generous Freemason, or the Constant Lady, with the comical humors of Squire Noodle and his man Doodle by Persons from both Theaters. The part of the King of Tunis by Mr. Bareoek, Mirza Mr. Paget; Sebastian, Mr. Oates; Clermont, Mr. Fielding; Sir Jasper, Mr. Burnett; Squire Noodle, Mr. Berry Doodle, Mr. Smith; Davy, Mr. Excell; Captain, Mr. Brogden; the Queen, Nirs. Kilby; Maria, Miss Oates; Celia, Mrs. Grace- Jacinta, Miss Williams- Jenny, the chambermaid, Mrs. Stevens; Lettiee, Mrs. Roberts. All characters newly dressed. With several entertainments of dancing by Monsieur de St. Luee, Mlle. de Lorme, and others, particularly the Wooden Shoe Dance, the Pierrot and Pierrette, and the Dance of the Black Joke. Beginning every day at 2 o'clock.
The two theaters mentioned were Drury Lane and Covent Garden The opera was billed as "a tragicomi-farcical ballad opera" and published by "J. Roberts in Warwick Lane, and sold by the Booksellers of London and Westminster," the third page bearing the following dedication: To the Right Worshipful the Grand Master, Deputy Grand Master, Grand Wardens, and the rest of the Brethren of the Ancient and Honorable Society of Free and Accepted Masons, this opera is humbly inscribed by Your most obedient and devoted Servant, The Author, a Free- Mason. The two leading characters in the play are Maria, an English lady, and Sebastian, an English gentleman, who are secretly engaged to each other. When it is proposed that she marry someone else, Maria agrees to elope with Sebastian to Spain where he has a wealthy uncle. Sebastian expresses his regret at leaving England in these words:
But yet one pang I feel thro' all my joy, That from my noble Brethren I must part; Those men whose lustre spreads from Pole to Pole Possessing every virtue of the Soul. But yet all climes the Brotherhood adorn, As smiling Phoebus gilds the rosie morn! Let I,ove and Friendship then our cares confound, And halcyon days be one eternal round.
During the journey to Spain their vessel is chased by a ship commanded by "the bravest Moor that ploughs the sea," the High Admiral of King Amuranth of Tunis known as Mirza. The captain of the lovers' ship thinks it advisable to surrender but is prevented by Sebastian who declares: "We will for battle instantly prepare: a Briton and a Mason cannot fear." Their brave action is however, all in vain and they are captured, thrown into prison and condemned to die. King Amuranth in the meantime has taken a fanny to Maria and his wife, Queen Zelmana, conceives a like affection for Sebastian. The death sentence is therefore delayed, giving Sebastian an opportunity to give the Masonic signal of distress to Mirza who recognizes him as a Brother and releases the two prisoners, saying to Sebastian: "Come to my arms, thou unexpected Joy, and find in me a Brother and a friend." Mirza accompanies the lovers on a vessel bound for England and Sebastian expresses his Brotherly affection to which Mirza, the generous Freemason replies: v What I have done was in firm Virtue's cause, Thou art my Brother by the strictest laws; A chain unseen fast binds thee to my heart A tie that never can from Virtue part.
After this, "Neptune rises to a symphony of soft musick, attended by Tritons," and the play closes with a song from him praising Freemasonry. The opera was revived at the Haymarket Theater in 1731 and Brother Chetwood, 1733, at the theater in Goodman's Fields rearranged it and produced it in the form of a one-act operetta, entitled The Mock Mason, retaining only the comic phases of the original play. In 1741 The Generous Freemason, in original form, was again given with great popularity. The music for the opera was supplied by three composers, the musical score having been written by Henry Carey known as the author and composer of Sally in our Alley. Richard Charke, a violinist and member of the Drury Lane Theater company, and John Sheeles, a famous teacher of the harpsichord, were the other two responsible for the Iyrics in the opera. Two copies of the opera are at present in the possession of the British Museum and these give the airs of some of the songs without accompaniment, which was the usual method at that time. We are indebted to Brother Richard Northcott, Fellow of the Roval Philharmonic Society, England, for the details given here.
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