Opera comedia in 2 acts (Running Time: 1 hour 42 minutes)
Verdi’s long forgotten first comedy pales in comparison to Falstaff, but it isn’t a horror either. It is actually a rather charming little comedy. In fact, I would suggest that the saddest thing about it would be the massive loss (his wife and two children died) Verdi experienced before and while he wrote it. Although some say this was the reason why the opera failed, that the music was written during a period that was too depressing for Verdi, most of the music does not give away the tragedy in his life during this period and this can only be testament to the remarkable abilities Verdi already possessed.
PLOT: 1733, a castle outside of Brest, France. Belfiore is impersonating the king of Poland at the estate of Baron Kelbar on the orders of the king. He is trying to help Edoardo, nephew of the Treasurer of Brittany, in his suit for the hand of Giulietta, the Baron’s daughter, who is already engaged to the Treasurer. It gets more complicated when the Baron’s widowed niece, the Marchesa, arrives, and she recognizes Belfiore as her long lost lover.
Act 1 (62 minutes):
0: The overture is very charming and cheery *, a series of melodies that bounce from one to another and we will hear most of them in some form again. The opening chorus takes up the initial melody as well.
Scene 1: A gallery in the castle of baron Kelbar.
7: The baron has a very good time going staccato with the strings * as he and the Treasurer give each other greetings.
10: Belfiore arrives to a nice chorus and then goes into a good aria in which he thinks about how jealous his friends in Paris would be now to see him pretending to be king **. This is followed by some secco recitative (the only time in Verdi!) in which Belfiore finds out from the Baron that the Marchesa is arriving soon and he realizes that she could blow his cover. Eduardo arrives very sad, Belfiore tries to perk him up, not working, because Eduardo wants to forget the woman he loves.
17: A duet * between Eduardo and Belfiore, the latter promising to help the young man by enlisting him into the Polish army (meaning he will be sent to Poland). The violin flies around a lot, but Eduardo is still rather sad but this eventually turns around minute 20 into probably the most romantic music we have heard so far, albeit admit Belfiore’s comic buffo baritone plotting.
23: The Marchesa arrives unannounced and plans on testing Belfiore’s love for her in an aria *. In the first part there are some dancing strings. The second part is a bit rushed.
Scene 2: The castle gardens.
27.30: Feminine chorus introduces us to Giulietta not in an orthodox aria * but rather an aria with choral accompaniment. It is very soft and smooth as milk chocolate in the first part, the second is a bit more rowdy (including a trumpet!) and racing. Not bad, but also weird because what she is talking about is how upset she is about marrying an old man.
36: Then out of a sea of recitative confusion rises a golden quintet with an equally golden melody *** for the mezzo and tenor as the baritone acts as if frozen in time and the basses chatter away at each other. It is a small marvel of vocal counterpoint. Two and a half minutes of bliss.
43: The Marchesa makes her way in, the violins are very chatty in the recitative then a brief crescendo as the Marchesa makes it known to the lovers (her cousin is the bride after all) that she is siding with them against her uncle. A good trio then ensues to the end of the scene **.
Scene 3: Same as the first scene.
48: After some recitative Belfiore offers the Treasurer a Polish title, which involves marriage to a widow. By accepting the offer, the Treasurer will end his engagement to Giulietta. The duet that comes out of this is really rather good ** and lively. They tell the Baron who is infuriated that the Treasurer has gone off Giulietta and challenges him.
54: The Marchesa and the lovers arrive, the former proposing that the young couple be married at once (denied). This is followed by a nice sextet **, started by the Baron, then the Treasurer and then the Marchesa’s rather lovely soprano. Giulietta is some what muted but she and Edoardo are singing basically the same music (or at least the same words), it just lacks the golden melody to be a three star item, otherwise it is all there.
59: Belfiore (still as the king) promises to provide a solution to the situation that will satisfy everyone. They hold him to his word as some hints from that tune that started the overture returns and then takes over to the curtain **.
Act 2 (40 minutes)
3: A number for the chorus of male servants, who are mystified as to what is going on, some interesting “chorus as a character” working here and it isn’t bad. This flows directly into Edoardo telling them that he has hope now that he will marry Giulietta after all **. Much happier and ethereal that his previous music. The second part of the number, the chorus keeps injecting, is just as good as the first with Edoardo’s beautiful high tenor just flying around in the ear.
9: Recitative again, Giulietta explains that Edoardo’s lack of money is the only objection the Baron has to their marriage so Belfiore demands that the Treasurer give his nephew one of his castles and the revenue attached to same, creating a solution in a rather interesting duet that feels a lot longer than it is. It isn’t bad though *. However, the Treasurer still wants to get out of his duel with the Baron.
Scene 2: A Varanda overlooking the garden.
15,30: Some interesting orchestral intro music leading directly into a duet between the Marchesa and Belfiore in which she tries to get him to admit to his true identity and he angers her by denying it **.
22: She gets fed up and declares that she is marrying a certain Count de Ivrea who just happens to arrive right after this announcement (the chorus says so), but the Marchesa’s aria is rather lovely **, both parts of it as the chorus and Belfiore break up the flow briefly to comment on the arrival of this de Ivrae.
26: Giulietta arrives pleading with Belfiore to release Edoardo from serving the king of Poland’s army. Edoardo then bursts into a lovely melody, followed by some standard bel canto-ing pattering by Giulietta. As usual with their loverly music Edoardo holds most of the melody * with Giulietta’s mezzo mostly forwarding the plot. This is one of the weaker items, but it is far from terrible or even dim. Watch out from the bit at the end.
33: The Count arrives and the finale soon follows him. Starting with the Marchesa and then Belfiore (still pretending to be the King). Four minutes before curtain a message arrives from the real king telling Belfiore to drop the act and he is now a grand marshal (the music from the overture returns at this point, dancing around like mad). Before revealing his true identity, Belfiore gets the Baron to consent to the marriage of Giulietta and Edoardo and declares his own love for the Marchesa who immediately consents to marry him. The last 100 seconds are a modified variation on the theme from the overture. A very happy ending **, too bad Verdi never wrote another of this sort again.
Un Giorno di Regno reveals a Verdi that few who know his later work would recognize. It is a delightfully silly comedy, and it does to some extent make one feel nostalgic that apart from his final opera, Falstaff, Verdi never returned to the genre ever again. Technically, this actually is the only light comedy Verdi ever wrote, Falstaff is to some extent too dark albeit still a comedy. Still, I sort of feel like Verdi should have written more comedies, even though I adore all of his music in any case, it just would have been fun to have more of this kind of frivolity and dare I say it sheer gaiety from the greatest of Italian opera composers. The music here is consistently good, although only a single number, the act 1 scene 2 quintet, truly rises to the level of operatic magic. Here, as in Oberto and as most people know from Nabucco, we have musical motifs introduced in the overture that indicate what is going on. These are good and even rather springy and cheery (in fact they rather make the opera flow), but none of them are stunningly brilliant, excluding that quintet which has a tune not found in the overture anyways. The plot of the opera though is a combination of silliness and the simplistic complicated only by the disguise of the main character. Also, the genre of the opera is, although perfect to lighten the mood of anyone who is sad, was already extremely dated by 1840. This opera represents the last breath of the Italian comic opera tradition which is so attached to Rossini much more so than the famous Don Pasquale by Donizetti. There are some odd problems: the mezzo-soprano role is a bit limp musically and acts as a musical straight (wo-)man to the tenor, who gets most of the more melodic music that the soprano doesn’t get. The second tenor, the Count de Ivrea, is sort of a waste of a tenor (eight minutes?) and only serves a single plot point (an attempt to make Belfiore jealous when the Marchesa gets fed up with his disguise). However, all that said, this opera would be perfect for anyone who is down in the dumps or just plain ordinary sad, I am sure it will lighten anyone’s spirits with its melodic frivolity and charm. For once I can say that an opera I reviewed was fun in an uplifting sort of way. It also is worth mentioning that Verdi was able, with both of his comedies, to write rather good baritone leads each time. Alas a B or B+ depending on personal taste, but one that is worth listening to again, and again. It’s a fun way to spend two spare hours.