MoboReader> Literature > Verdi: Man and Musician

   Chapter 5 FIRST PERIOD WORKS

Verdi: Man and Musician By Frederick James Crowest Characters: 38795

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03


I Due Foscari-Its argument-Failure of the opera in Rome, Paris, and London-Giovanna d'Arco'-A moderate success-Alzira-Attila-More political enthusiasm-Attila given at Her Majesty's Theatre by Mr. Lumley-Its cool reception-The Times and Athen?um critics on Attila-Exceptional activity of Verdi-Macbeth-Jérusalem in Paris-I Masnadieri first given at Her Majesty's Theatre-Jenny Lind in its caste-Plot of the opera-The work a failure everywhere-The critics on I Masnadieri-Mr. Lumley offers Verdi the conductorship at Her Majesty's Theatre-Il Corsaro-La Battaglia di Legnano-Luisa Miller-Mr. Chorley on Luisa Miller-Its libretto-Reception of the work in Naples, London, and Paris.

I Due Foscari was Verdi's next opera. His collaborateur Piave had a libretto well seasoned with that sensational element characteristic of the Italian dramatic lyric stage. Here is its story:-

In 1423 Francisco Foscari was raised to the ducal chair of Venice, notwithstanding the opposition of Peter Lorredano. The latter constantly opposed him in the Council, and that in such a manner, that on one occasion Foscari, irritated, exclaimed, "He could not believe he was really Doge so long as Peter Lorredano lived." By a fatal coincidence, a few months afterwards, Peter and his brother Mark died suddenly, and public report said they had been poisoned. James Lorredano, Peter's brother, believed the tale, and sculptured the names of the Foscari on their tomb, and inserted them in his ledger as his debtors for two lives-waiting with the greatest sang-froid for the moment when he should be enabled to make them pay. The Doge had four sons; three died, and Jacopo the fourth, husband to Lucretia Contarini, being accused of receiving presents from foreign princes, was imprisoned according to the laws of Venice, first at Naples in Romania, and afterwards at Treviso. It happened in the meantime that Ermolaus Donato, chief of the Council of Ten, who had condemned Jacopo, was assassinated on the night of the 5th November 1450, on his return to his palace, from a sitting of the Council. As Olivia, Jacopo's servant, had been seen at Venice a few days previously, and on the very day after the crime had been committed he had publicly mentioned it at the Mestra boat, suspicion fell on the Foscari. The master of the boat and Jacopo's servant were immediately carried to Venice, where they were put to the torture, but in vain; they were then banished for life to Candia. For five years in succession had Jacopo sought for his pardon without obtaining it, and, unable longer to live without revisiting his beloved country, he wrote to the Duke of Milan, Francisco Sforza, begging of him to intercede with the Council on his behalf. The letter fell into the hands of the Ten; and Jacopo, being taken to Venice and tortured, confessed that he had written it with the sole desire of revisiting his country, at the risk of being sent back to prison. He was condemned to remain for life in Candia, to be closely confined for the first year, and threatened with death if he wrote any more letters of the same description. The unfortunate octogenarian Doge, who had conducted himself with Roman fortitude at the judgment and torturing of his son, was allowed to see him in private before his departure, to advise him to be obedient and resigned to the will of the Republic. In the meantime Nicolo Errizo, a Venetian nobleman, died, and on his death-bed acknowledged himself the murderer of Donato. He wished his confession to be published to exculpate Jacopo Foscari. Several of the principal senators had previously felt disposed to plead for his pardon, but unhappily, while this was taking place, he breathed his last in his Candian prison.

The miserable father lived in solitude with a heart full of sorrow; he was seldom seen at the Council. Jacopo Lorredano, in the year 1457, was raised to the dignity of Decemvir, and believing that his hour of vengeance had arrived, carried on his plots so secretly that the Doge was forced at last to abdicate his ducal chair. Twice in the course of the time he held the office Foscari had wished to resign it, but so disinclined were they to yield to his wishes that they obliged him to swear that he would die in the exercise of his power.

Notwithstanding this, he was compelled to leave the ducal palace, and returned, as a simple individual, to his private residence, refusing a large pension offered to him from the public purse.

The 31st October 1457, while listening to the sound of the bells announcing the election of his successor, Pascal Malpiero, he was so violently affected that he expired. He was buried with as great splendour as if he had died a Doge, while Malpiero was attired merely in the simple dress of a senator. It is said that Jacopo Lorredano, when this took place, wrote in his ledger opposite the words we have already mentioned the following sentence-"The Foscari have paid me!"

Out of this argument was evolved a serious opera in four acts, which was produced at the Argentine Theatre at Rome on the 3rd November 1844. It proved a complete failure. Though composed immediately after Ernani, it possessed little of the spontaneity and freshness of that work; so little that the Romans were astounded, and stayed away from the theatre.

In 1846 the work was given in Paris, when Signori Mario and Coletti, with Madame Grisi, sought to establish the opera; but the work would never "go."

The year following Mr. Lumley introduced it at Her Majesty's Theatre for the opening night of the season. "The opera given for the first time in this country, the Due Foscari of Verdi, and the singer, Madame Montenegro, a Spanish lady of good family, with a clear soprano voice of some compass, and an attractive person, pleased, without exciting any marked sensation. Coletti, in the character of the Doge, one of his most famous parts, was, by general accord, pronounced to be an admirable, not to say a great, artist; while Fraschini, by his energy and power, contributed to the effect of the ensemble."[19]

Yet again was the work a failure. The English operatic public, however, did not want a new opera just then. What it sorely needed was Jenny Lind!

Giovanna d'Arco, produced at La Scala Theatre, Milan, on the 15th February 1845, and in which Erminia Frezzolini appeared, "in all the brilliancy of her radiant youth, of her patrician beauty, of her incomparable voice, and of her marvellous talent,"[20] followed I Due Foscari. It was a temporary success, owing to the admirable exertions of the Tuscan cantatrice, whose personal and musical charms considerably aided the exalted part of the heroine. She inspired not a little fervour, something akin probably to that remarkable enthusiasm prompted by the woman-soldier of France, whose imperishable doings saved the throne of Charles VII.

The opera contained several fine numbers, but although the Milanese received it kindly, nay, went out of their way to fête its composer, it never really "took." Some of Verdi's best writing is to be found in Joan of Arc, yet it was not born under a lucky star. Its overture was rescued, and this Verdi (Handel-like) affixed to his operas Les Vêpres Siciliennes and Aroldo.

Alzira, produced with indifferent success at the San Carlo Theatre at Naples on the 12th August 1845, succeeded Giovanna d'Arco, and then came Attila. This was Verdi's most successful work since Ernani. The management of the Fenice had bargained with Verdi for another opera, and Attila was the result.

The scene of the opera is placed principally at Aquileja, a Roman colony on the Adriatic, which from its grandeur was honoured by the ancients by the appellation of "Roma Secunda." Attila, having overcome and desolated this great city, amidst his rejoicings is surprised by a band of Aquilejan virgins led by Odabella, daughter of the Lord of Aquileja, who has been killed in the battle. She defies Attila, who, struck by her beauty, asks what boon he can bestow upon her. She claims his sword, intending to avenge her father's death-to behave, in fact, as Judith did to Holofernes. But she falters, and returns to the barbarian camp, the object of Attila's admiration. Her lover, Foresto, and Ezio, the leader of the defeated Romans, reappear, and plan the poisoning of Attila, for which purpose the services of Odabella are sought. She, however, has consented to share Attila's throne, but hardly are the nuptial rites celebrated than she is upbraided by Foresto and Ezio. Then a revulsion of feeling overcomes her; she thinks of her father, her lover, and her country, and in a fit of despairing anger she stabs Attila to the heart.

Poet Solera supplied the libretto, and when, on 17th March 1846, an expectant audience thronged every part of the theatre, it was to listen to the unfolding of an excellent work. The warmth of its reception surpassed that accorded to Nabucco, and again was political fire aroused within the Venetians.

The opera soon went the round of the Italian stages, and two years later (1848) Attila was brought to London. Mr. Lumley at Her Majesty's Theatre was straining every nerve to provide attractions that would interest his critical (also let it be added, hypercritical) subscribers, and counteract the opposition from the rival "Royal Italian Opera" enterprise at Covent Garden Theatre. For his ante-Easter season he paraded Attila-"the opera" as he says, "in which I had first heard and been charmed with the rich voice and dramatic qualities of Sophie Cruvelli at Padua. This was, in fact, the opera in which she first appeared upon any stage. None, perhaps, of Verdi's works had kindled more enthusiasm in Italy or crowned the fortunate composer with more abundant laurels than his Attila. Its fame was great in the native land of the composer. In catering for novelty, therefore, the director of Her Majesty's Theatre must be held to have done well in producing a work of so great repute, and in placing before his subscribers the leading opera of the day upon the Italian stage. To prove with what good will this was done, the opera had been 'mounted' with great scenic splendour, and with every 'appliance' likely to produce effect. Attila was produced on Tuesday the 14th March. Cruvelli sang 'con fuoco.' Her fine, fresh, ringing voice 'told.' Beletti displayed unusual histrionic talent, besides all that steadiness and excellence of 'school' which helped to earn him his reputation in this country. Gardoni was in the cast, whilst Cuzzani accepted a second tenor part. On every side were zeal, talent, and good-will employed successfully to execute a work which many cities of Italy had pronounced to be Verdi's masterpiece. But although Verdi had already commenced to make his way to English favour, and this by means of that vigour and dramatic fire which unquestionably belonged to him, the public displayed an unwonted unanimity of sulkiness upon the production of Attila. They would have 'none of it.' Consequently Attila proved a failure. Music and libretto displeased alike."[21]

"This is one of Verdi's more recent operas," wrote a critic, "and met in Italy with the success which works of his (almost the only composer of eminence left to that land of music) are sure to command. The work itself possesses the beauties and defects peculiar to Verdi-a certain grandeur of conception and power of dramatic effect is even more striking here than in many other of the maestro's compositions. There is a warmth, spirit, and energy in the music which carries away the listener, which excites and inspires; at the same time there is a want of softness and repose which is, in this opera, more than usually perceptible. The too frequent use of the drums and the brass instruments is the great fault we have to find in this work."[22]

The Attila music was as horrible to the senses of the Athen?um critic as was that of Nino. "As for the music," we are informed, "were we to carry out and apply Charles Lamb's principle of being 'modest for a modest man,' the fit review thereof would be a charivari. The force of noise can hardly further go; unless we are to resort to the device of Sarti's cannon, fired to time his Russian 'Te Deum' on the taking of Ocsakow, or imitate the anvil chorus which Spontini, we have heard, introduced in one of his operas. It is something to have touched the limits of the outrageous style; but this, we think, we have now done, unless the more recent Alzira and Macbeth of the composer contain double parts for the ophicleides or like extra seasonings.... The melodies are old and unlovely to a degree which is almost impertinent, and I Masnadieri itself was not more devoid of the discourse which enchants the ear than this Gothic opera. May we never hear its like again."[23]

Again we find The Times less "sweeping" respecting Attila, albeit not detecting promise of that grand future which was before Verdi, and which his great genius, his own unaided efforts-amid such remorseless critical opposition-have enabled him to attain.

"Less excelling in melody than any Italian composer of name," we read of Verdi, "he has always chosen to rely rather on the effect of the ensemble than on the isolated displays of the principal singers. His love of ensemble is, however, not attended by any great contrapuntal knowledge. The effects that he produces rather arise from an increase of the mass of sound than from skilful harmonious combination.... That the arias, duets, etc., should be commonplaces, mere repetitions of Donizetti and Bellini and Verdi himself, was naturally to be anticipated, as he is rarely strong in such morceaux. But there is a want of dramatic colouring, even in his ensemble; and for the most part we discern little apprehension of character, and little regard to the peculiarities of situation."[24]

In the light of subsequent events such criticism is not perspicuous. If Verdi had no "contrapuntal knowledge" and "lacked dramatic colouring" power at the age of thirty-two, after learning his art, when and where did he acquire all that tremendous wealth in these departments as seen in A?da, Otello, and Falstaff, and even in earlier operas? Is it not probable that Verdi knew more about the matter than the critics, and understood better than they what the public wanted, what it could swallow, and composed accordingly? Was the musical taste in this country such, for instance, fifty years ago, that opera-frequenters would have relished even Otello? Verdi was probably right in giving a sick patient a pill, not a horse-ball.

In 1847 a spell of unusual industry overtook Verdi. Opera after opera came with remarkable rapidity. Macbeth was produced at Florence in March 1847, and immediately proved a success. It was Verdi's first effort with a Shakesperian subject. The Florentines were unanimous in their approval of the music, the interpretation of which was considerably aided by an admirable Lady Macbeth-Signora Barbieri-Nini. The score was taken to Milan, and pleased so much that the Milanese, among other doings, represented Verdi practically as having crushed all other Italian composers; while poor Rossini in particular was, dragon-like, under the foot of his great rival! Subsequently, the work was given in Venice, where it met with a reception which Verdi himself could scarcely have expected. It was just before the Revolution of 1848, and when Palma, as Macduff, sang the air:-

"La Patria tradita

Piangendo c'invita";

it so excited the Venetians that they joined in to the full of their voices and showed such other manifestations of uncontrollable feelings, that not only the police, but the military had to be called in.

The composer was now due with an opera for Mr. Lumley; a work to be written expressly for England, and I Masnadieri was the result. That persevering and to-be-pitied impresario's version of the affair runs thus:-

"Of the expected new operas to be produced on the stage of Her Majesty's Theatre, that of Verdi alone remained available. For many years I had been in correspondence with the young Italian composer, for the purpose of obtaining from him a work destined for the London boards. An opera on the subject of "King Lear" had already been promised by Verdi, the principal part being intended for Signor Lablache. But, on that occasion, the serious illness of the composer had prevented the execution of the design. Verdi now offered his I Masnadieri, composed upon the subject of Schiller's well-known play, Die Raüber, and with this proposal I was obliged to close. On Thursday, 2nd July 1847, I Masnadieri (after wearying rehearsals, conducted by the composer himself), was brought out, with a cast that included Lablache, Gardoni, Coletti, Bouche, and, above all, Jenny Lind, who was to appear for the second time only in her career, in a thoroughly original part composed expressly for her. The house was filled to overflowing on the night of the first representation. The opera was given with every appearance of a triumphant success; the composer and all the singers receiving the highest honours-indeed, all the artists distinguished themselves in their several parts. Jenny Lind acted admirably, and sang the airs allotted to her exquisitely. But yet the Masnadieri could not be considered a success. That by its production I had adopted the right course was unquestionable. I had induced an Italian composer, whose reputation stood on the highest pinnacle of continental fame, to compose an opera expressly for my theatre, as well as to superintend its production. More I could not have done to gratify the patrons of Italian music, who desired to hear new works. It may be stated in confirmation of the judgment of the London audience, that I Masnadieri was never successful on any Italian stage. The libretto was even worse constructed than is usually the case with adaptations of foreign dramas to the purpose of Italian opera. To Her Majesty's Theatre the work was singularly ill-suited. The interest which ought to have been centred in Mademoiselle Lind was thrown on Gardoni; whilst Lablache, as the imprisoned father, had to do about the only thing he could not do to perfection-having to represent a man nearly starved to death."[25]

Poor Mr. Lumley! For the benefit of a generation who will not set eyes on Signor Lablache, it should be stated that he was of Herculean proportions, a giant in height, and so portly that he made a superb Falstaff. His voice shook the walls of Her Majesty's Theatre, and he had a heart as big as some men's bodies.

It is well to know something of this "excessive" book. Two brothers, Carlo and Francesco, are the sons of Maximilian Moor, an old Bohemian noble. The younger brother Francesco is envious of the fortunate first-born, and poisons his father's heart against him. Carlo driven from home, joins a robber band, and Francesco impatient to reap the fruits of his wickedness seeks to accelerate the old man's death by telling him that his first-born has met with his death. Francesco's next scheme is to implore Amalia, the betrothed wife of Carlo, to marry him, but she resents his odious suit. Quite by chance she meets Carlo, to whom she tells everything, and as he, in one of his raids in the forest, has discovered his father almost starved to death in a cave, the desire for vengeance cannot be re

strained. He summons his co-outlaws, who swear to avenge the wrongs of the infamous Francesco. This done, Carlo reveals himself to his father and bride, but the horrible revelation that he is a robber does not hinder their sympathy and tenderness towards Carlo. Amalia offers to marry him just as he is, bound by oath to outlawry. This is impossible. Maddened by despair, he thrusts his poniard into her bosom, and thus meets her appeals for relief by death. Thus ends this most tragic story; the music keeping pace with the varied emotions of horror, of melancholy, and tenderness, which the subject alternately excites.

There were beautiful numbers in I Masnadieri, or "The Brigands," notably the grand scena "Tu del mio Carlo al seno," with its cabaletta "Carlo Vive," which Jenny Lind could sing entrancingly; the duet between Amalia and Francesco; the air "Lo, sguardo," deliciously accompanied by the wind instruments; the quartet "Tigre feroce"; the tenor air "O mio castel paterno," wherein Gardoni's beautiful voice, and manner, were so noticeable; the trio in which the superlative powers of Jenny Lind, Gardoni, and Lablache were united; and, to name one more number, the air "Volasti alma beati," with its beautiful harp accompaniment. Notwithstanding many attractions, it was a dead failure, and only kept the boards two or three nights. "I Masnadieri," an authority afterwards wrote, "turned out a miserable failure, as it deserved to do, since it could but, at all events, as was rightly said, increase Signor Verdi's discredit with every one who had an ear, and was decidedly the worst opera that was ever given at Her Majesty's Theatre, the music being in every respect inferior even to that of I Due Foscari."[26]

All the critics did not decry the opera. Writing of I Masnadieri the Illustrated London News said of it:-"The story is in many respects a horrible one; it represents passions and crimes which, if they are unhappily not untrue to human nature, are yet better excluded from theatrical representation, and cannot be considered as within the scope of the tragic art; with all this, however, for the groundwork of an opera it is exceedingly effective, and admirably suited to the character of Verdi's music, which is here dramatic in the extreme, and somewhat excels the masterpieces of Meyerbeer and other composers of the German "Romantic School" of music.... The opera was highly successful. The talented maestro, on appearing in the orchestra to conduct his clever work, was received with three rounds of applause. He was called before the curtain after the first and third acts, and at the conclusion of the opera amidst the most vehement applause. The house was crowded to excess, and was honoured by the presence of Her Majesty and Prince Albert, the Queen-Dowager, and the Duchess of Cambridge."[27]

I Masnadieri gave the leaders of public musical taste another chance-a legitimate opportunity which they did not fail to embrace. The opera was one of those decided failures which occur betimes in every walk of art, very often giving the lie direct to the maker's estimate of his work. Gounod, for instance, used constantly to express, and has done so within our hearing, that Mireille was his best opera. Yet the public has set its seal upon Faust, a work that has brought more money to impresarial coffers than any other opera that could be instanced. Who has heard Mireille, compared with the thousands who have listened to the beautiful and picturesque music of Faust, elevating in its very loveliness? I Masnadieri, to quote the Athen?um, "at all events, must increase Signor Verdi's discredit with every one who has an ear. We take it to be the worst opera which has been given in our time at Her Majesty's Theatre.... There is not one grand concerted piece-a condition hard upon a composer whose only originality has been shown in his concerted music.... The performance must be recorded as the failure of a work which richly deserved to fail, in spite of much noisy applause."[28] "Since our last," continued the Athen?um in a subsequent notice, "I Masnadieri has been played and sang twice. Surely the question of our good (or bad) taste in rejecting Il Maestro as an authority is finally settled, and the field is left open for an Italian composer. Signor Verdi has left England."

Our comment upon this piece of prophetic egotism is that the master is to-day admired by the artistic universe, is unrivalled by any living master of music, and for a while, at least, will be unsurpassed, if ever closely approached, by a composer of his own country.

The Times's notice of I Masnadieri was more favourable. To find some glimmering of good, therefore, in a Verdi score of this period affords, certainly, relieving reading. Jenny Lind's singing is particularly noted, and strangely enough, airs, duets, cabalette, etc. (involving that melodic fancy and invention said to be so wholly wanting in Verdi), are expressly cited as "points" of the opera, to wit-"The duet with Gardoni in the third act was another piece of great effect, and the pleasing cabaletta 'Lassu resplendere' earned the singers a call."[29]

Verdi rushed from England disgusted with the critics; but to be fair to that sagacious regiment, in this instance, their verdict was well found; for nowhere was I Masnadieri successful, not even when as Les Brigands it was produced in France in 1870. This took place at L'Athenée Theatre, when Mademoiselle Marimon filled the part of Amalie.

The failure of I Masnadieri did not lessen Mr. Lumley's unbounded faith in Verdi; and when Signor Costa threw down the baton (this opera being the last he conducted at Her Majesty's) to assume the post of chef d'orchestre at the rival Covent Garden house, Mr. Lumley offered the young Italian maestro the vacancy. A tempting offer of a large salary, a three years' engagement, and the right to put a new opera of his own composition upon the stage each year was made. What tremendous art issues hung in the balance! A consent from Verdi, and his later works might never have been written, for the turmoil of a conductor's life knocks out of a man all energy for composition; besides which, when once the baton is taken up, the creative faculty invariably disappears. Fortunately, the maestro could reply only in the negative, since he was pledged to write two new operas for Lucca the publisher, and a theatre engagement would prevent his fulfilling this contract, the cancelling of which Lucca would not entertain.

The end of this business was that Verdi, on the ne sutor ultra crepidam principle, stuck to his last, and instead of turning conductor remained composer.[30]

In a short time there appeared Il Corsaro and La Battaglia di Legnano, which advanced their composer's reputation but little. Il Corsaro was first given at the Grand Theatre, Trieste, on the 25th October 1848. It had words by Piave, based upon Byron; and Lucca, the publisher, paid Verdi £800 for the score, but it was never a success. A somewhat better reception fell to La Battaglia di Legnano, produced at Rome in 1849, because it afforded the sensitive Italians a further political outlet. The libretto was patriotic in its drift, and Verdi, true to himself, had imparted to the music an ardent aggressive character, which had already won political friends.

Verdi's next opera, however, was to make amends for these scores. The management of the San Carlo Theatre at Naples, the exchequer of which was not in a healthy state, had arranged with Verdi for a new opera, the price for which was to be £510. The libretto was by M. Cammerano, and has been adjudged as one of the best of opera books. It tells of Luisa Miller, the daughter of an old soldier, who has two lovers, the favoured one being Rudolpho, the son of Count Walter, the lord of the village, of whose rank, however, she and her father are ignorant until the latter is informed of it by Wurm, the Count's Castellan, Luisa's rejected suitor, who out of jealousy also informs the old Count Walter of his son's attachment. The Count, on hearing the news, is enraged, and insists upon his son marrying his cousin Federica, the widow of the Duke of Oldstheim, to secure which he imprisons the old soldier Miller, only releasing him upon Rudolpho's threatening to divulge a murder which his father has committed. In the second act Wurm is met urging Luisa to write a letter renouncing Rudolpho, the conditions upon which the Count will release her father, which letter is to prefer the choice of Wurm, and to be witnessed. The document is then taken to Rudolpho, who, maddened, challenges Wurm; while the Count, to accentuate matters, pretends that he is now willing for his son to marry Luisa, but that, as she has betrayed him, he should show his revenge by marrying the Duchess. All advanced tenor singers will recall the fine recitative, "Oh! fede negar potessi agli occhi miei!" and aria, "Quando le sere al placido," in which Rudolpho's anguish is expressed at this crisis of the story. The third act introduces Luisa in the greatest despair, praying for death as a relief to her grief. Here Rudolpho appears, and learning from Luisa's own lips that she wrote the letter, puts poison into a cup, drinks it himself, and offers it to Luisa, who takes a draught. Knowing that her last hour is come, she reveals the plot, when Rudolpho's cries of despair are so intense that Miller, villagers, and Wurm rush to the scene. Suddenly Rudolpho stabs Wurm, and then lays himself down to die by the side of Luisa. The whole is a shocking story, but not more horrible and repulsive than the Rigoletto, Traviata, and Trovatore libretti.

Verdi finished the score, and leaving Paris, where the cholera had broken out, he reached Naples in time to find the San Carlo house in a state of bankruptcy. The production of, as well as the payment for, the opera was delayed; but eventually, Luisa Miller came out on the 8th December 1849. Verdi was present at the first performance, and while standing on the stage surrounded with friends, had a somewhat ominous experience. A side scene suddenly fell, and would have crushed Verdi, but for his presence of mind in throwing himself back. A superstitious story attributes the accident, and the cold reception of the last act of the opera, compared with the boisterous triumph of the others, to the influence of an evil genius-jettatore-in the person of one Capecelatro, who, evading vigilance, had gained admission to the theatre and to the presence of the composer, just as he had succeeded in doing when Alzira was so coolly received.

It has to be observed that the Neapolitans are renowned for their superstition, and that Capecelatro was credited with possessing the evil eye.

Withal Luisa Miller was a success at Naples, if not later on in London and Paris. Madame Gazzaniga took the part, singing the music superbly, and on all sides it was agreed that the composition was one of Verdi's grandest efforts. Later opinions have somewhat confirmed this, while not a few connoisseurs have regarded Luisa Miller as the most coherent and consistent of the composer's works, excepting always his latest operas.

Luisa Miller was another of the operas which Mr. Lumley produced during his unfortunate reign at Her Majesty's Theatre. Here is the account of its introduction:-

"On Tuesday the 8th June (1858) was given for the first time on the Anglo-Italian boards, Verdi's opera of Luisa Miller, and both Mademoiselle Piccolomini and Madame Alboni were included in the 'cast.' Of this work some Italian critics had been accustomed to speak as the chef d'?uvre of this favourite composer. But the production of Luisa Miller did not greatly benefit the management. The 'Little Lady' (Piccolomini) displayed all her attractive qualities as an actress, and as an actress reaped her harvest of applause. But by general accord, on the part of Verdi-ites, the opera was declared to be the weakest of his many productions. It was considered to be wanting in melody, a charge seldom brought against Signor Verdi. There were no particular salient points to be looked forward to as the grands bouquets of Signor Verdi's musical fireworks, as is the case in most of his other operas. The libretto, also, founded upon Schiller's early tragedy of Kabale und Liebe, a subject, it might be thought, highly favourable to lyrical working out, had lost so much of its true dramatic metal in passing through the crucible of the Italian poeta, that it had come out a mass of unattractive and unsightly ore. Passages of interest and passion could not be altogether wanting with a subject in which the dramatic instincts of the composer could not be utterly silent; but the true element, both musically and dramatically speaking, was evidently absent, at least to English minds. Signor Giuglini sang the one pleasing romanza to the delight of a crowded audience; and Alboni poured forth her mellifluous notes in an interpolated cavatina; but Luisa Miller failed to win the suffrages of the frequenters of Her Majesty's Theatre. It lingered, hoping for success 'against hope,' on the boards of Her Majesty's Theatre for a very few nights, and then fled them to return no more."[31]

An able critic, writing of this feature of the 1858 season, says:-

"The only real novelty that Mr. Lumley ventured to mount and bring forward was Verdi's Luisa Miller ... the result of which was unequivocal failure, for dull and mawkish as is the work itself, Mademoiselle Piccolomini had not the slightest pretension to have been thrust into the leading character, and Madame Alboni made nothing of the small part of the Duchess Fredrica, although she evidently tried to do so, by substituting a cavatina for the original duet of the opera. Giuglini alone was appreciated, the music being somewhat suited to his style; but he began to manifest the bad taste of relying upon long breaths, loud A's, and other meretricious devices, instead of singing legitimately and sensibly. Beneventano, Vialetti, and Castelli, who undertook the other parts, trenched so closely upon the grotesque, that they produced amusement rather than pleasure. In spite of its being said that Luisa Miller had thoroughly succeeded, its immediate withdrawal from the bills positively enough proved the contrary."[32]

Luisa Miller found no favour in the eyes of the Athen?um critic.

"There is little from first to last in the music to reconcile us to the composer.... As regards the solo music, Luisa Miller contains nothing so good.... The heroine might be Gilda, Violetta, or Abigaille for any touch that marks her life or her country.... The want of local colour, however, might be overlooked (in consideration of the master's school and country), were there any compensating beauty of melody. Everything that is not trite in the score is unpleasant.... The songs are in the known Verdi patterns, full of fever, empty of feeling.... The music of I Due Foscari was meagre and dismal enough, but the music of Luisa Miller, so far as idea is concerned, seems yet more meagre and dismal."[33]

In these and similar terms did Mr. Chorley dismiss Luisa Miller. Nor was The Times criticism more hopeful, since that summed up the opera "as an uninterrupted series of commonplaces, pale, monotonous, and dreary, which may fairly be symbolised as the sweepings of our composer's study or the rinsings of his wine-bottles.... The music of Luisa Miller is not worth the consideration to which an ambitious failure might be entitled."[34]

If Verdi studied his press notices at all attentively-Press Cutting Agencies were not institutions of those days-he could have been under no apprehension as to what two at least of the English journals thought of his endeavours. Yet, here was the opera containing among other beautiful music that really fine piece of declamatory song-writing, the recitative and romanza "Quando le sere al placido." Any one fortunate enough to have heard the late Gardoni sing this beautiful song-neighbours in Duke Street, Portland Place, where Gardoni several years back lodged in the same house with Pinsuti, often heard it-would assuredly apply to it some better epithet than "wine-bottle rinsings" or "sweepings." Thousands of pounds in royalties are to-day being paid on maudlin, semi-religious, and other songs which, for sterling musical worth and merit, are no more to be compared with this one song by Verdi than a rush-light is to be likened to the illumining power of the glorious mid-day orb.

Not even in his Recollections was Mr. Chorley able to forget his bête noir. Speaking of the 1858 season, he says: "Also there was presented a third work, new to our Italian stage, Signor Verdi's Luisa Miller.... It has seemed to me that, as one among Signor Verdi's operas, Luisa Miller, taken on its own terms, of fire, faggot, and rack, is the weakest of the weak. There are staccato screams in it enough to content any lover of shocking excitement; but the entire texture of the music implies (I can but fancy) either a feeble mistake, or else a want of power on the part of an artificer who, obviously (as Signor Verdi does) demanding situation and passion and agony to kindle the fire under his cauldron, has, also, only one alphabet, one grammar, one dictionary, whatsoever the scene, whatsoever the country-one cantabile, one spasmodic bravura, one feverish crescendo, as the average tools, by pressure of which the stress on the public is to be strained out."[35]

Feeble criticism, indeed, so far as the genius of penetration is concerned, but powerful enough in all conscience in its egotism and exuberance of etymology.

It was given on the 7th December 1852 at the Théatre Italien in Paris, when Mademoiselle Sophie Cruvelli (La Baronne Vigier) took the title r?le, but neither Cruvelli, nor, a few weeks later, the admirable Bosio, could give wings to the work. As recently as 1874 Madame Adelina Patti achieved a genuine success with the part, albeit she was badly supported by her colleagues in the cast. During the London Italian Opera season of that year, Madame Patti, much to her credit, added this work to her already extensive répertoire.

Two operas-one Stiffelio, produced unsuccessfully at Trieste on the 16th November 1850, the other, Il Finto Stanislas, belonging to the same year-require mentioning only, before we pass to the period of those successful operas which brought Verdi universal fame.

[19] Reminiscences of the Opera, p. 180.

[20] The Life and Works of Verdi (Pougin-Matthew), p. 92.

[21] Reminiscences of the Opera (Lumley), p. 214.

[22] Illustrated London News, 18th March 1848.

[23] Athen?um, 18th March 1848.

[24] The Times, 15th March 1848.

[25] Reminiscences of the Opera, p. 192.

[26] Musical Recollections of the Last Half-Century, vol. ii. p. 195.

[27] Illustrated London News, 24th July 1847.

[28] Athen?um, 24th July 1847.

[29] The Times, 23rd July 1847.

[30] It will be remembered that Michael William Balfe eventually took Signor Costa's place at Her Majesty's Theatre.

[31] Reminiscences of the Opera (Lumley), p. 442.

[32] Musical Recollections of the Last Half-Century, vol. ii. p. 320.

[33] Athen?um, 12th June 1858.

[34] The Times, 14th June 1858.

[35] Chorley's Musical Recollections, vol. ii. p. 297.

* * *

Free to Download MoboReader
(← Keyboard shortcut) Previous Contents (Keyboard shortcut →)
 Novels To Read Online Free

Scan the QR code to download MoboReader app.

Back to Top

shares