I think all modern day Ouidaites can agree on the notion that Ouida was a serious music lover. It is well known that the novel Moths (1880) was, in part, devoted to her favorite opera singer, Mario Candia, and biographical accounts of the author point out that her room at Villa Farinola boldly displayed the singer’s portrait. If you pay close attention to her work, I would argue that you could begin to trace the outlines of the author’s particular musical preferences. I would hazard to assert, for instance, that she enjoyed the early baroque and classical period somewhat above the romantic and modern period compositions that graced the music halls of her own generation. Yet, we also come away with the impression that she was not averse to at least some of the music of her age, particularly when could she identify within it, the mark of genius. With that, it is interesting to note that in addition to the musical references that Ouida purposefully included in her works of fiction, some of the stories themselves eventually became the source of new musical compositions. For your listening pleasure, I put together a short list of some of the musical references found in her novels and some of the music later inspired by her works.
Musical works referenced by Ouida:
In an important scene in Ariadne (1877), Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte (The Magic Flute) makes quite the dramatic appearance. As this opera instilled a love for the genre within me during my teenage years, I am not surprised that Ouida chose to infuse the work into the story’s plotline.
A moving scene in the novel Syrlin (1890) features the haunting beauty of Schumann’s In der Fremde. Here, supporting character Ina d’Esterre is overheard by the novel’s protagonist playing the melody on her violin.
Richard Wagner makes a surprise literary cameo in The Nürnberg Stove (1895), playing “motives” from his own Parsifal in a brief, yet effective scene at the end of the story.
Not all of Ouida’s musical references are devoted to drawing our attention to "high culture." The popular songs of her day also appear in her stories on occasion. The character Lascelles, for example, finds himself dreamily humming the tune of “Stars of the Summer Night” in “How One Fire Lit Another” of the Randolph Gordon (1867) collection.
Musical works based on her books:
At least two of Ouida’s novels, Signa (1875) and Two Little Wooden Shoes (1874), were adapted into operas. The latter, adapted as Lodoletta by Pietro Mascagni, has enjoyed full-scale stage productions. Only recently have these works begun to receive the scholarly attention they most certainly merit.
Gerald Tyrwhitt-Wilson, Lord Berners’s score for Frederick Ashton's ballet Les Sirèns is probably one of the most overlooked Ouida adaptations. This ballet is loosely based on the novel Moths.
Ouida’s A Dog of Flanders (1872) is by far the most popular of her works in present times. The opening theme for the film-length Japanese animation version of the story offers just one of many musical interpretations of this celebrated work.