Giuseppe Verdi: I Masnadieri (1847)

Opera in four acts. Running Time: 2 hours 7 minutes.

In my opinion this is one of the two worst Verdi operas, I just can not decide if this is worse than Giovanna d’Arco. The video is of the Joan Sutherland recording.

PLOT: Bohemia, late 18th century. Carlo is the elder son of Massimiliano becomes the leader of a band of thieves after receiving a letter from his brother stating that their father has disowned him when the opposite is actually the case. Amalia is Carlo’s beloved who he later kills in order to solve the dilemma of her existence and his vow to be the leader of a band of thieves.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ICnfkDE0ZU4

WHAT TO LOOK OUT FOR:

ACT 1: 44 minutes

Scene 1: Outside a tavern, Saxony.

0, 8, 13: The prelude consists of two main concepts, a strong doom theme which isn’t bad and a brief concerto for viola *. These alternate for some five and a half minutes before we are introduced to Carlo who soon gives us a mostly unaccompanied cavatina (flute/oboe) *. The letter is read out as dialogue by Rolla. Carlo’s response and vow to be the leader of the robbers is a more aggressive cabaletta *.

Scene 2: A room in the castle of Count Moor (Carlo’s father).

20, 23: Francesco congratulates himself on getting rid of his brother in recitative. His two part aria is strangely jolly * and the cabaletta has a good melody, but it is all too jovial *. In between these two parts he forces his servant Ariminio to dress up as a soldier and orders him to tell his father the Count that Carlo died in battle and Amalia is to marry Francesco in order to shock the old man into dying of a stroke or heart attack or something to that effect. The aria and cabaletta here are fine, but seem very out of place for the bad guy to be singing as he plots misery for everyone else.

Scene 3: Count Moor’s bedroom.

28: Amalia watches over the Count and thinks about Carlo in a coloratura aria *. This makes logical sense only because Jenny Lind created this role.

32: The Count wakes up. Their duet limps around on Amalia’s coloratura glory notes *.

37: Francesco arrives with Arminio (as soldier) and delivers the “bad news” of Carlo’s “death” and Amalia’s engagement to Francesco. Amalia and the Count are horrified but taken in by this. Amalia has an emotive bit to some shimmering strings and she gets a crescendo (the best part of the act) as well but eventually the old Count falls into a dead faint and Amalia runs out of the room thinking he is dead to the amusement of Francesco *.

ACT 2: 30 minutes

Scene 1: A graveyard near the castle.

5: Amalia comes on to venerate the grave of the Count and then there is an idiot chorus of party guests who can be heard a cappella from the castle (extremely standard Verdi just without orchestra). Her aria is sub-par on melody but full of coloratura trills and high notes * and the harp starts to become a little obnoxious.

8: Arminio rushes on feeling guilty and reveals to Amalia the surprising news that both Carlo and the old Count are still alive. Then he rushes off again. Alone, Amalia has a cavatina of joy *. Typical coloratura high notes all over the place, but melodically not anywhere. Francesco arrives and proposes to Amalia and she rejects him propelling him to become violent but then she pretends to soften only to grab a knife off of him to defend herself and flees into the nearby forest. Unfortunately even the ardour of his proposal is not melodic enough (and is too similar to other Verdi music) to merit even a star. This is auto-pilot and Verdi pulls every parody and cliche of his operas in this one number.

Scene 2: A clearing in a Bohemian forest.

25, 29: The bandits come on waiting on Carlo and Rolla (the latter having been captured in Prague), while at the same time being pursued by the authorities because Carlo has burnt down much of the city in the rescue. All a lot of racket. Carlo broods for a while but does get a lilting cavatina (no great melody though) worth a star *. The bandits get a lively chorus ending the act with some modulating banging but it is much too short.

ACT 3: 27 minutes

Scene 1: Another clearing in the same forest.

8: Amalia comes on to some stereotypical running music. The bandits are heard near by leading to Carlo discovering her and there is a jovial but not very passionate reconciliation. It sounds more like Carlo was reunited with his long-lost sister than his lover (albeit she is supposed to be his cousin apparently). What is best about this are the standard Verdi gestures coming out of Carlo (when they do). It is a really low voltage item, albeit bouncy toward the end. No star.

Scene 2: Yet another clearing in the same forest.

20: After two minutes of the most idiotic chorus to date, Carlo returns brooding about how he has messed up his life. More idiot chorus in the background. There is a reference to the prelude and then some dark music. Arminio helps Carlo find his father. Massimilio’s description of how Francesco buried him alive and Arminio’s saving of him from certain death should be more interesting than this. Instead it mostly consists of stock Verdi concepts and even overindulgence (particularly in the beginning). Until finally there is some dignity in the vocal line and then a placid theme (the best one so far) *. This is followed by a slow moving rabble rousing chorus in which Carlo orders his men to attack Francesco’s castle.

ACT 4: 26 minutes

Scene 1: Inside the Castle.

10: Francesco has been having terrible guilt ridden nightmares. This consists of very standard gesture music. There is nothing worth a star although I suppose this aria could be acted out well, the music just is so stock level albeit heavily melodramatic. Finally a priest arrives to take Francesco’s confession and refuses him absolution. With all the dramatic resources he can muster, a priest who refuses absolution of a dying man, a dying murderous man, a chorus of bandits storming the castle it gets to * level, just.

Scene 2: The second clearing in the forest.

12: There is a nice brief prelude and then recitative between Carlo and amnesiac Massimiliano who mourns his dead son Carlo (not realizing he is right next to him). There is something noble about the Count’s vocal line here and as the duet starts we have what is certainly the best number in the opera **, a wonderful six minutes.

20: In the last five minutes Amalia and the bandits come on and there are lots of melodramatic emoting. Although not an amazing tune the finale trio * actually has a real melody for once although a reprehensible trombone pops in a lot with the chorus. In the finale minute Carlo tragically decides to stab Amalia to death for philosophical (and theatrically exploitative) reasons and then you have a usual Verdi opera ending.

COMMENTS:

There are so many things that are not so much wrong as boring about this opera. Most of the music consists of standard stock operatic gesturing and cliches as to fall off a cliff of hypnotic ennui. While listen to most of this I felt that I could find traces of other, better, Verdi operas, so why both with this thing? Unlike Giovanna d’Arco, where at least Verdi had a muse in his soprano, he does not seem to have had any inspiration from Jenny Lind in the role of Amalia at all. The best number by far is the father-son duet in the finale scene and the rest of the good music is concentrated in the first act with the finale to that act being probably the second best number in the opera. The second and third acts have little merit (occasionally a melody or a lilting tenor bit shows up that is worth mentioning but nothing stays long enough for it to really matter and the choral numbers, although loud, are not much more than that). The story is so grim that one starts to lose interest quickly. Although not episodic, the constant scene changes (9) causes the opera to feel fragmented nonetheless. C or C-.

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