Opera in four acts (Running Time 149 minutes)
This completes my reviews of the unfamous operas of Alfredo Catalani, I may review La Wally later but it is a minor rep piece and comparatively famous so this is the last of the rarities. The sound quality is not all that great with this 1975 performance, and you can tell that it has breaks for when the records are changed out but it is the most complete recording I could find. The Bongiovanni from the late 1980s is cut by close to 15 minutes because the soprano singing Dejanice was a last minute replacement. However, the libretto that comes with this CD set is actually complete, and even marks off the dialogue that the recording does not include. It is a great shame that this opera is not better know: the music is incredibly good, although I am biased toward Catalani. However it is extremely similar in storyline to Ponchielli’s La Gioconda (as I will reference) and it was considered the better opera by both Puccini and Mascagni.
PLOT: It is basically the same story as La Gioconda/Angelo/Il Giuramento/Fosca all adapted from Victor Hugo’s Angelo, the Tyrant of Padua. The difference here is that the setting is not renaissance Italy but Ancient Greece and Sicily. Dejanice, a Patrician woman who is now a high-class prostitute, is in love with the Tuscan adventurer Admeto who has just won a navel victory for the Greeks against the Carthaginians just off Syracuse. He is in love with the virginal Argelia, daughter of the Greek Dardano. Dardano hates Admeto because the latter’s father started a rebellion against the Greeks years earlier so when the young man asks for Argelia’s hand in marry it is refused by both Dardano and the population of Syracuse. Dardano enlists Dejanice to spy on Admeto (who is a friend of the Carthaginian pirate Labdaco who has been enslaved by the Greeks) and to become Admeto’s lover, which is not something she is disagreeable to. That is what you need to know to begin, the rest of the plot I will unfold in my review.
The score and libretto are available at the Petrucci Library: http://www.imslp.org/wiki/Dejanice_(Catalani,_Alfredo)
Act 1: The Forum of Syracuse (40 minutes)
0: The overture is a good piece **, starting with a series of foreboding chords that you will heard again several times. This breaks around halfway into a lovely little nature tune, with a whiff of something like a birdsong which flows into a noble and romantic sounding melody that is more than willing to turn dramatic when called to do so.
6: Then with a roar, we have an immediate chorus of Greeks to Mars and “the goddess” (Athena? Venus?). It is a good roaring tune *. The Carthaginian Labdaco is having none of it though. Carthage rules, Greeks drool says he to the now angry Greeks. Admeto’s ship is docking so the rest go off as Labdaco says that if not for Argelia he would have burned the city down already.
11: Argelia arrives with Dardano to a tune that sounds just a little like “O mio babbino caro”*.
12: After some recitative the music turns etherial as Argelia fantasizes about this young man she met years ago (she does not know that it is Admeto) **, there are infrequent interjections from Dardano, who passes it off as a youthful infatuation.
16: The chorus is heard returning from the harbour with the victorious captain. Dardano has a rather noble recitative as he tells Argelia that she is to place the wreath of victory on the hero’s head, and she is excited about this *.
22: The chorus praises Admeto. Dejanice declares how beautiful he is and Argelia recognizes him as the young man. Dardano addresses the hero. Admeto declares that he loves Argelia quietly, and equally quietly Argelia and Dejanice admit that they are in love with him **. Admeto reveals his true identity to the crowd and asks for Argelia’s hand and is ragingly refused by the people and Dardano, although Argelia wouldn’t mind.
24: This leads into a glorious quintet for all of the principles and chorus **. Everyone is split with Argelia, Dejanice, Labdaco and the women sympathizing with Admeto but Dardano has the elders and the men on his side.
28: Admeto is alone and we hear the chords from the beginning of the prelude again **. He can not understand all of the hatred they feel, even after he protected the city victoriously. He hides as Dardano and Dejanice come on.
30: Dardano makes a backroom deal with Dejanice to get some dirt on Admeto to a very agreeable melody in the strings **. Watch for Admeto’s brief interjection.
36: Labdaco tries to recruit Admeto to become a pirate to an agreeable tune * but it doesn’t quite work. Labdaco tries to kill him but Dejanice stops him. Admeto starts to like Labdaco for some reason but Dejanice has to explain herself, yet Admeto is quickly won over.
38: The act ends with a very exciting little trio that ends as quickly as it began *.
Act 2 The seashore, Ithaca. (36 minutes)
2: Some interesting brass is heard in the distance, a few bangs and on to a three part chorus of corsairs, an exciting little tune starts up in the orchestra but then dies just as quickly, then some brooding music as Labdaco prays to the Cathaginian war diety Melctar*. The pirates have jovially taken a ship filled with Egyptian courtesans (this is important later but the number is just so-so).
10: Admeto’s second aria, based at first very much like the first musically. He is over Dejanice and being a pirate. It then becomes more remorseful as he starts to think about Argelia, who is lost to him *. He goes off with the pirates who proclaim him their king. Dejanice comes on complaining that Admeto does not love her anymore, there is then a break until 58:38, which is about twenty seconds and then the pirates bring on Argelia, who they have captured and are fighting over. Dejanice rescues her from the pirates who disperse and then the recording goes out again until 1:01:45.
21: The Dejanice-Argelia confrontation **, somewhat like the similar scene in the second act of La Gioconda, only without the rosary and remembrances of the rival saving mum, also Laura did not have Argelia’s morbid interest in being slain by her rival when asked to leave. It starts off really slowly but then grows into a nice soprano-soprano duet around seven minutes in and by minute nine you will know what I am talking about. However, Argelia realizes that she isn’t so safe.
30: The pirates, Admeto, and Labdaco come on and there is an odd ensemble until Admeto bursts in with a melodic line, he knows that Argelia is not safe here and sends her back in Labdaco’s care ** to a very dramatic final.
Act 3 2 Scenes (42.5 minutes)
Scene 1: The temple of Volinnia. (22.5 minutes)
0: The prelude is possibly the most Wagnerian thing about this opera **, the video breaks briefly to 1:17:26. It is followed by a virginal chorus of priestesses and then Argelia makes a petition because she is about to become a Vestal, back to the chorus.
6: Argelia’s prayer to forget her love **, watch for the ending.
10: Admeto comes into the temple, a lovely and melodic reunion ***. Argelia can not renounce her love and they make vows, but she also must go, temple duties, but they will meet later.
17: Dardano finds Admeto in the temple **, he is not enraged this time but want to provide Admeto with a way to escape the city safely because he returned Argelia to him, but Admeto will not leave with Argelia, she will die without him. Dardano thinks this means that he plans to sacrifice Argelia, rather Admeto wants to marry her but Dardano’s pride alone refuses the happiness of all.
Scene 2: A magnificent room, in a brothel. (20 minutes)
23: This opera’s equivalent of the infamous Danza delle ore, a choral-dance for the workers of the establishment, a rather lovely number actually **. Starts off with a pastoral prelude and then the ladies sing a wonderful song about their job. Watch especially for a dancing bit with the violins in between choruses. There is supposed to be a chorus of drunken sailors praising Venus and voluptuousness (I am not joking) at this point in the libretto but instead we skip to Dejanice coming in in the guise of an Egyptian woman.
28: Dejanice’s Egyptian song ** is not nearly a parody of itself as one might think and the middle bit has a good exotic dance tune. It is the second part of the dance sequence. Labdaco has been moving around the room for a while and asks Dejanice if she has news of Ithaca, disclosing her disguise, the chorus talks about how much of an informant she is in an unflattering way. Admeto is already here and is left alone by everyone with Dejanice, he figures out who she is and chides her for selling him out to Dardano.
38: Dejanice is greatly hurt by this **, she admits that she spied on him after he deserted her but she repents of what she had done and she loves him. He is having none of it. She begs for mercy, for his love, but he consigns her to heaven. To him she is as good as dead. He goes, she cries out to an orchestra crescendo, curtain.
Act 4: A large atrium in Dardano’s house. (31 minutes)
0: The long prelude to the final act ***, an excellent piece of artistic power and beauty.
6: Dejanice, alone and without much orchestral accompaniment, reveals that she has poisoned Dardano, it then quickly turns lyrical **.
9: Dejanice’s song to death ***.
12: Her thoughts turn to the people whom she has helped, namely Argelia and Admeto ***, it could have been lifted from a late Verdi opera.
14: Dardano comes on in a daze, the poison is working. He is burning up and takes Dejanice to be a ghost. She dissuades him on that count **.
16: Dardano’s song to Argelia, although he is in the last stages of dying and thus not actually talking to her. It is a really good aria **, but Dejanice tells him he will never see her again. The orchestra goes mad as she finishes him off with a dagger. Then there is silence.
19: Admeto can be heard from a distance singing a really nice song **. Dejanice does not believe that she hears him and there is an good orchestral interlude before Argelia arrives with an amphora containing poison. She explains that suicide is her plan to get back at her father for keeping them apart.
27: Admeto starts off the final trio** as he and Argelia are about to take the poison and Dejanice looks on thinking how happy they must be (they really do not seem that sad to be offing themselves), and how unhappy she is. She wants to make amends.
30: The last eighty seconds play out fast**, Admeto and Argelia are about to drink the poison but Dejanice discovers what they are about to do and stops them. A hate and a love stands between them and their happiness, the hate is dead she declares as she shows Admeto the body of Dardano. The love she will extinguish now, and with a mad crescendo foreshadowing Puccini from the orchestra she stabs herself and dies, Argelia fainting into Admeto’s arms as the curtain rapidly falls.
The fourth act of Dejanice is trillions of light-years better than that of La Gioconda to a point that makes Ponchielli’s final act pathetically laughable in comparison, but the rest of the opera, albeit consistently very, very good and at times excellent does not have anything on par with the Dance of the Hours although it might have something on Cielo e mar. The orchestral preludes are consistently the best part, but there are some really good vocal numbers such as the Argelia’s fantasy and Admeto’s forlorn song of lost love in act 1, the Dejanice-Argelia duet at the heart of act 2, the Vestal chorus, Argelia’s aria, duet with Admeto and the latter’s scene with Dardano in act 3 scene 1 and the chorus and Egyptian song which commences the following tableau. The weakest parts of the opera are the first twenty minutes of the second act and maybe the opening chorus of act 1. But the opera itself is compact, moving from one scene to another very quickly so that the two and a half hours fly by quickly. The story is slightly more trim than Gioconda and the only padding consists mostly of scenic choral interludes and exotic-ish songs that do nothing to actually hold up the plot. The characters, apart from Dejanice, do have some strange ways of looking at life though and although Dejanice does commit murder and suicide, she does so to prove the selfless nature of her love for Admeto and within operatic convention this is okay. Dardano is driven by his pride, which destroys him, but his partial change regarding Admeto in act 3 just for returning Argelia from when she was abducted by pirates does seem just a little off. Argelia is to some extent suicidal, asking Dejanice to murder her in the second act and attempting a lovers suicide pact with Admeto in the fourth. It is unknown how long such a woman might last in real life, but yet again this is opera. Admeto has one moment when, having been attacked by Labdaco, he takes a liking to him which I find a little strange. Why does he change his mind about becoming pirate? Labdaco is slightly two dimensional being bent solely on vengeance, but he is also the least important of the five characters, although he is actually connected to them in an interesting way. In the first act he reveals that if Argelia did not live in Syracuse he would have burnt it to the ground already. He is also the one who Argelia explains as having given her the idea of committing suicide with Admeto in the fourth act, both of these hinting moments demonstrate that Labdaco is in love with her, and unwilling to see her innocence taken by another man, would rather see her dead. How that will pan out, since both he and the lovers are apparently still alive at the end unlike Dejanice and Dardano, is hard to conclude. Did he tell Argelia to commit suicide because he was going to do so as well secretly? He and the lovers obviously know nothing of Dejanice’s murder/suicide plan. Oh well, in spite of that Dejanice is a really good opera with some really dramatically good and sometimes great music, so an A/A- for Dejanice, may this review make an opera producer interested in a production or two!