Alfredo Catalani: La Falce (1875)

I apologise to all of my fans out there that I have waited over two months to post what amount to a very short entry. Thank you so much for visiting and reading my work! I am so happy to see that people from as far away as Hungary, Russia, and Italy have graced my little blog and I hope you continue to enjoy my selections and reviews!

I actually own a different performance of this opera in my personal collection, specifically the Bongiovanni release from the 1990s, but I strongly feel that this 1970 performance is significantly better. First of all the singers (soprano and tenor) are much better here, although the orchestras are both very good. The problem with the Bongiovanni recording being the usage of two provincial Italian singers, a frequently wobbly soprano and a dark dramatic tenor who sings well but his voice makes my eyes water. This is only technically an opera, having been written by Catalani for his graduation exams at the Milan Conservatory. It really consists of a long (10-12 minute) symphony that depicts most of the real action (an historic battle between a caravan led by the Prophet Muhammad and a band of pagan thieves ending in the intervention of angels). This Symphonic Poem is one of the most Wagnerian (and yet Italianate) pieces Catalani ever wrote, most of the Wagnerian being the incredibly rich orchestration (Catalani was only 21 when he composed this). What follows is a brief 30-minute opera, or rather oriental eclogue, consisting of a soprano aria (a lone survivor of the caravan), a duet for soprano and tenor, an aria for tenor, another duet, and finally a chorus (another caravan) joins the two soloists as the opera ends. The primary issues in the opera are the human struggle between life and death, and faith in God. The opera in fact ends with the soloists reciting the First Pillar of Islam. The librettist was the famous Arrigo Boito, then 33 years old and possibly working on the libretto for Ponchielli’s La Gioconda at the same time.

Running Time: 39:06 Thank s to Allan Rizzetti


Zohra: Antonietta Cannarile Berdini, Il falciatore: Luigi Infantino
Orchestra e Coro della RAI di Milano – Direttore Ferruccio Scaglia
Milano, RAI — 07.02.1970

0: The Symphonic Poem: Sounds a lot like the score of 1956’s The Ten Commandments at first but then becomes very unique and rather powerful musically in its depiction of the caravan, the attack, the battle, and the intervention of the Angels.

12: We meet a survivor among the wreckage of the caravan, Zohra, who describes how in the battle her father and brothers were all killed.

19: The falciatore (or scythe wielder) finally arrives, Zohra thinks he is Death (because the scythe obviously) coming to take her.

23: The falciatore tries to clam her, she having collasped in front of him. She still thinks he is death and he finds that he has to kiss her in order to snap her out of her preoccupation with dying. She tells him he is the angel of death, he tells her his name is Seid and asks her name, Zohra. She then asks him the most obvious question: why does he carry that scythe?

29: The music switches gears as Seid goes into his aria about harvesting grain and oats. Then swearing by everything holy in Islam he casts away his scythe for her love.

32:30: They declare their love and decide to wonder the desert.

35: A choral caravan arrives imploring the protection of Allah. The religious motif from the symphonic poem returns. Zohra asks if they should join the caravan and Seid says that love does not like crowds. Leaving they declare their belief in God.

This opera is by far the shortest in my collection, which makes it difficult to evaluate. It has many things going for it including a rather inovative score utilising various influences from Verdi to Wagner. The libretto does a good job of balancing the three dominant themes of love, death, and religious faith. There is a natural sensual tension between the soprano and tenor. Each has a different style of speaking with the soprano being extremely wordy and the tenor oftentimes declaring or declaiming. The choice of vocal types is extremely logical (being the highest for each gender and the most realistic romantic pairing). Unfortunately there isn’t much else to say. This is not a famous opera by any means and as far as I know it is rarely performed, which makes it perfect for this blog! Please do not overlook this little gem! A- or B+.


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