Errico Petrella: Ione (1858)

Opera in Four Acts: Running Time: 2 hours 24 minutes.

Okay, so apparently this opera is the only Italian-language non-Verdi opera from the entirety of the 1850s that managed to remain in the repertoire for more than 50 years. Why did it disappear after the 1920s you might ask? Well it appears as if Verdi might have had something to do with it. You see Verdi did not like Petrella, and considered his music to be crude. This may be the case, judge for yourself. The story is “The Last Days of Pompeii” some may be familiar with.

The score is available at Petrucci Library:

PLOT: Pompeii, 79. Glauco (tenor) is in love with Ione (soprano) who is pursued by her protector, the High Priest of Isis Arbaco (baritone) and is himself the beloved of his slave Nidia (mezzo-soprano). Burbo (bass), an innkeeper who is also the henchman of Arbaco, gives Nidia poison (telling her it is a love potion) which she gives to Glauco, who drinks enough to become delirious. This leads to Glauco desecrating the Temple of Isis, and he is sentenced to death, but just as he is about to fight to the death in the circus (Ione having refused to submit to Arbaco to save Glauco), Vesuvius erupts. Arbaco dies early, Ione and Glauco find each other and Nidia (who presented evidence to the governor of the framing of Glauco by Arbaco), but the slave girl decides to die in the eruption and allow the lovers to survive without rival.

Act 1: 48 minutes

Scene 1 A Tavern (28 minutes)

10: Canti chi vuole The Sound quality here doesn’t help dissipate Verdi’s accusation that Petrella’s music was crude. The overture goes on for almost eight minutes like silent movie organ music which is supposedly the same as the famous funeral march from this opera, this doesn’t bode well. The first music of any note would be a drinking song for Glauco to a breezy, dizzy melody ** and is most notable for how high its tessatura is (it has around 2 dozen high G’s and a half dozen high A’s). In fact, the entire part of Glauco seems to be composed for a high tenor.

16: Abbandonata ed orfana Nidia gets a short time to emote *, a brief aria which just shows up out of the blue.

18: Ah! La troppa gioia  This leads to a rather good rousing ensemble which would probably best belong in Gounod’s Faust *.

25: Che dici tu? After some recitative, Arbace and Burbo (tavern-keeper) plot out getting rid of Glauco as rival for Ione with poison which they will give to Nidia *.

Scene 2: Ione’s room. (20 minutes)

29, 34: Nel sol quand/Lamo e la fiamma Ione gets an aria, a bit of a bore at first but then she gets a little high bit that is okay towards the end of the first part (a high D). The second part of the aria, in which she exclaims about love, is a bit better * although it is obvious that the composer thought this number was more interesting than it actually is.

38, 41: Fra danze oscene/Quella schiava Arbace shows up, freaking Ione out. The remainder of the act consists of a duet * between them until Nidia is announced by Ione’s servant making it a trio which has a really lovely harp accompanied passage **. Nidia is told by Arbace that he will send his man Burbo with a potion which she things will make Glauco fall in love with him, (it will actually cause him to go insane).

ACT 2:  A room with access to the garden of Ione’s home. (30.30 minutes).

9: Inganno egli e! There is a stormy, brooding, prelude. A female chorus, and Nidia fantasizes. Burbo shows up. Their duet is okay *, but is probably more important dramatically than musically. Burbo then has a recitative to some Mickey Mousing orchestral work.

19: After an orchestral interlude, Glauco comes on totally out of it and the finale to act 2 begins. Ione shows up and Glauco has a nice bit * a few times, although much of it is going up and down vocal scales.

25: Glauco’s mad scenes sounds ** about a decade older than it actually is, sort of like a Donizetti piece than an imitation of Verdi. Arbace uses the situation to try to get Ione off of Glauco. The ending is rather standard, what with Glauco out of his mind because of Arbace’s potion administered by Nidia (thinking it a love potion) in order order to get Ione to leave Glauco.

ACT 3: 29 minutes.

Scene 1: A piazza in Pompeii before the temple of Isis (10 minutes).

0: The chorus that starts the act is rather tuneful **.

4: Possente diva Arbace’s song of Egyptian supremacy is also rather tuneful ***, and is the best piece in the opera.

Scene 2: A Magnificent room in Arbace’s home (21 minutes).

10: A sort of a flute concerto * and possibly either some cuts in the recording or something. There is supposed to be a brief sequence in which Nidia shows up moaning about Ione being lost to Arbace’s Egyptian cult before the scene change.

14: Again, we are already into the act finale, this time with Arbace (again?) welcoming Ione into the temple of Isis. There is a male chorus about flowers which sounds weird but shouldn’t. Arbace shows Ione an apparition telling her to love him (fake of course). It is okay *.

22: Glauco finally shows up with Nidia, the drug having worn off apparently.  What transpires includes Glauco rescuing Ione from Arbace but then Arbace has Glauco arrested. It has an okay melody. Watch for the high note from Ione at the end *.

ACT 4: 29 minutes.

Scene 1: Before the amphitheater of Pompeii.

2: After a short male chorus, this funeral march is just weird *. It sounds like a circus act and it becomes a little disjoined towards the end. I know that it is supposed to be the opera’s most famous number, but there is better music here than this.

5: Glauco has another nice solo, this time a romance **.

10: This second march is a bit better **.

12: Ione arrives and she and Arbace have a confrontation. Much of the music sounds like a second class voltage of Verdi.

22: That march comes back as well as a reprisal of the duet ** this time a little more fleshed out.

23: The last seven minutes consist of Arbace dying off stage (not very effective) but then suddenly the volcano erupts and we get this excited but strangely not terrified melody going on. Mozart could have written music for the eruption that would have sounded more effective, if not for the gong. Ione and Glauco plead with Nidia to flee the eruption with them but she refuses. The march tune returns to save the day and finally for the last two minutes the music finally works its way up effectively as everyone else runs towards the sea **.

This isn’t a great opera, in fact I am surprised that it was as successful for as long as it was. It plods around almost like an 18th century opera seria only with more up to date-(ish) music. Most of the music does come off as rather crude and simplistic (losts of arpeggios, scales, and oom-pah-pah-pah chords) although Arbace’s aria in the 3rd aria is worth repeated listening. I’m not sure why the opera is named for Ione, Nidia is more effective dramatically throughout the work. Arbace is the strongest of the male characters as Glauco is mostly out of the picture until act 4 (appearing in only the act 1 introduction, and the acts 2 and 3 finales), although when he is on stage he gets the best music 9 times out of 10. None of the characters are fleshed out effectively enough and the music, with the exception of one aria, is never more than just ordinarily good and much of it is rather meh. However, it isn’t a terrible opera either, although the eruption is a bit rushed.  B- or C+.

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