There is no denying that some art forms come directly from specific parts of the world. In the case of opera, it is a fact that this particular style of art was created in Europe, Italy to be exact. Italy gave us Verdi and Puccini while Austria gave us Mozart, one of the most recognized operatic composer of all time. Works like The Magic Flute and La bohéme are a few examples.
We would like to take some time to check out some operas that have come out of this continent with a deep musical history.
Our first European opera was written by Italian composer Ruggero Leoncavallo. It consists of two acts with a libretto written by Enrico Cavacchioli and Guglielmo Emanuel. It is based on a work by Russian poet Alexander Pushkin titled The Gypsies. The premiere was held on September 16, 1912, in London at the Hippodrome Theatre.
The run Zingari had in London and the United States through the 1912 and 1913 season were incredibly long. This makes Zingari the second most performed Leoncavallo opera after Pagliacci.
It begins with a lovely gypsy woman named Fleana. She has been discovered leaving the gypsy camp at night to meet a stranger to their group. This stranger is a young nobleman by the name of Radu. When they are discovered Radu vows that if the gypsies allow him to marry Fleana he will leave his position and join their group.
The gypsies all agree except for Tamar, a poet who also loves Fleana and declares it for the group to hear. Fleana is not in love with Tamar and tells him so and her lover Radu challenges Tamar to a duel. Tamar flees and the couple weds while, unseen by the group, Radu sings a melancholy song.
After a year of marriage Radu notices a change in Fleana. She is cold and distant but he does not know why. Radu comes upon his wife singing a passionate love song while in her caravan and he comes to the conclusion that she must love another man. Radu asks her if it true she tells him it is.
Fleana tells Radu she does not love him anymore and she continues to sing her wild song. Then Fleana runs to Tamar who rejoices in song to have his love. Radu tries to stop her from running away but it is no use.
Fleana and Tamar disappear into a hut after proclaiming their love to one another. Little do they know that Radu has seen them. He sneaks up on them and sets the hut ablaze and the lover perishes horribly in a fire started by a jilted husband.
La finta giardiniera
Translated to “The Pretend Garden-Girl” this three-act opera was written by Mozart when he was just eighteen years old. Written in Italian, La finta giardiniera premiered at the Salvator theater in Munich on January 13, 1775. Later Mozart rewrote this piece in German and titled it Die Gärtnerin aus Liebe and this version was all that the world knew until the 1970’s when the original Italian version was found.
La finta giardiniera opens in a garden with a wide staircase. These stairs go to the home of the Podestà, or Mayor, who is walking down the stairs with Cavalier Ramiro and Serpetta. Two other characters, Sandrina and Nardo tend to the garden.
Sandrina is upset because Don Anchise, the Podestà, loves her. Meanwhile, Nardo is heartbroken because Serpetta plays games with his affections. The theme of unrequited love continues when we learn that Ramiro is also frustrated because he has just been rejected by Arminda, Don Anchise’s niece.
We find out that Serpetta hates Sandrina because she wants to marry the Podestà. Of course, we can’t forget about Count Belfiore, who is madly in love with Sandrina. Unfortunately, Belfiore has been chosen to marry Arminda.
This confusing tale of several unrequited and unfulfilled loves seems difficult to follow. At one point Belfiore stabs Sandrina out of a jealous rage and, when they reconcile, both go into some sort of deep madness and romp around believing they are Greek Gods. All in all, this early work from Mozart is a romp through love, rejection, an all around amorous tale is a good showing of his more immature work in opera.
With a libretto written by Ferdinando Fontana, this European opera work composed by Giacomo Puccini is an opera in three acts sometimes referred to as drama lirico, or lyrical drama. Loosely centered on La Coupe et les lévres, or The Cup and the Lips, a play written by Alfred de Musset, this work was first performed in Milan on April 21, 1889, at the Teatro alla Scala.
We find innocent and chaste of heart Fidelia as she celebrates Edgar’s return from living with Tigrana, a woman Fidelia’s father adopted after finding her “wandering Moors” when a child. When living with Tigrana, Edgar was wicked.
Fidelia offers Edgar almond blossom but sees Tigrana approaching and retreats. Tigrana tried to seduce Edgar back to their unchaste life together but is spurned when Edgar tells her he loves Fidelia and her innocence. This is when we meet Frank, who loves Tigrana but no matter how he tries she cannot be wooed his way.
Tigrana comes upon some locals praying and makes fun of them. In doing so they become angry and she finds herself seeking refuge in Edgar’s home. He stands by her side, burns down his home, and leaves with her. Frank makes an effort to stop the couple but duels with Edgar in is stabbed. The crowd yell as the lovers’ escape.
Back at Tigrana’s home Edgar has walked out of an orgy she has orchestrated. He finds that he is weary of his life with Tigrana and he wishes to be back with the virtuous Fidelia.
Pelléas et Mélisande
Opening at the Opéra Comique in Paris on April 30, 1902, this opera by Claude-Achille Debussy is that it was his first to be performed. Jean Périer and Mary Garden played the title roles while André Messager was a driving force in convincing the opera house to produce the work in the first place. It is considered an exceptional work for the fact that it is the only opera Debussy ever completed.
Debussy himself had said that he had been trying to incorporate his style of composition with musical theater yet nothing seemed to fit, which ended in a good deal of unfinished and abandoned projects. The key to making it a success would be the libretto. Debussy had written to a friend that he wanted a libretto that was minimal and scenes that moved.
There was a bit of drama on the set during rehearsals because Debussy promised the role of Mélisande to Georgette Leblanc, a singer who was involved with Maeterlinck at the time. It was all but done until Debussy was asked to hear singer Mary Garden from Scotland, once he did the title role was hers. Of course, the writer of the original play would not take this sitting down and tried to sue Debussy and even went as far as to threaten violence upon the composer.
While the first performance was split critically, this opera by Debussy has gone on to become a standard part of the Opéra Comique’s repertoire.
On a completely different note, have you seen Brazilian opera by any chance?