Pietro Mascagni: Lodoletta (1917)

Opera in 3 acts. Running Time 1 hour 41 minutes.

PLOT: On Lodoletta’s fifteenth birthday her father rents a portrait of her as the Virgin Mary to an artist and French political exile named Flammen. The girl and the artist fall in love (in spite of the fact that villager Giannotto is in love with her) after he takes her in when her father Antonio dies falling out of a tree, but she orders him back to France when his exile is lifted by Napoleon III. She eventually dies at his front door attempting to return to him.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K9NML1Bi5lQ

LOOK OUT FOR:

ACT 1: A village green in a Catholic part of Holland, a roadside shrine to the Virgin Mary and a tree. It is spring. (39 minutes)

0: The opening scene * has one good tune (albeit oddly Italinate) that pops up every once in a while. There are also some nice tenor melodies from the forlorn Giannotto but otherwise it is just bambini jollying around and the adult chorus members prepping for Lodoletta’s birthday party which aren’t all that interesting. Some Hungarian-sounding violin music pops up, then more kid’s chorus before the French exiles arrive while the villagers dance. These are Flammen and Franz. Seven minutes in Lodoletta herself arrives crying out like a happy Valkyrie to her friends. Some crazy lady named La Pazza comes on about her son. Flammen tries to get a portrait of Lodoletta from her father but only gets him to rent it out to him. I can in all honesty say that the best music here are in the vocal lines of the two tenors. With all of this concluded there is another brief dance, or rather more violin music.

14, 19: Lodoletta talks about her birthday in the first thing that actually sounds somewhat like an aria *. The kids then sing a choral dance. She later has a happy air to spring * which explodes.

21: Giannotto has a rather ardent arioso * in which he reminds Lodoletta that her mother ordered her to be happy. After a response by Lodoletta, Antonio climbs up a tree to an deafening accompaniment and falls to his death. It takes a while for everyone to come to terms with this, and everything turns ornery.

26: A women’s chorus at least releases us from the ornery. La Vanard (whoever she is) shows up. Really sad music mostly in the woodwinds *. Lodoletta’s song of farewell to her dead father sounds like very low temperature Turandot during the Liu funeral scene. Giannotto tries to comfort her but she asks everyone to leave.

29: The act ends with an extended recitative between Lodoletta and Flammen *. At first she is silent but then she responds to him. The orchestra sounds aimless here. Flammen has some lilting  as he tells her not to cry.

33: This turns into an aria, the best in the act ** as he comforts her to the curtain with a tale about a fairy queen. It is eerily both paternal and romantic, especially as he lays a flower at the shrine for her.

ACT 2: The same scene but in autumn, November specifically. (32 minutes)

0: A nice nature prelude *. Lodoletta has an okay solo. A chorus of Dutch girls can be heard in the distance along with some church bells. There is no attempt at local colour here and it sounds Italian, albeit ornery. It is okay but really isn’t that interesting.

7: Flammen saves everything by showing up being his dapper tenor painter self **. He calls himself a thief, his jewel being Lodoletta, obviously. The two live together in the village still and everything is very, very chaste, but no one believes this. She asks him if his house in Paris is beautiful and if there is another Lodoletta waiting for him there crying for him. She has him swear that there isn’t. He falls asleep and a postman arrives with a letter that is then given to him by a child who wakes him up that Napoleon has pardoned him and he can go back to Paris, so he leaves. Lodoletta has a musically dull interlude with the kids. There is almost something that happens but it doesn’t and then….

18: Giannotto arrives and tries to comfort Lodoletta. There is something about this that just doesn’t satisfy until he mentions the spring *. She responds, to ornery music, it starts to flower a little but then deflates only to run up again, drowning out Giannotto before it drops with a thud. He tells her that everyone thinks she has been a bad girl with the artist and she goes off crying.

28: Fiammen returns to a rather classical recitative. He doesn’t know where Lodoletta is, finds her crying, asks why, she tells him to backoff in the quietest way. He declares his love for her dramatically rather than passionately *.

29: She rejects his love *. He tries to make love to her but comes to his senses regarding her age. He flees.

ACT 3: To the left the villa of Fiammen in Paris, to the right the garden of same, it is New Years Eve and the villa is all in lights, a party is going on. (30 minutes)

0: A rather good prelude turns into a waltz. A tenor soloist rings the death of the old year and the birth of the new year *. A male chorus comes on and there is some Offenbach-style dancing from the sounds of the orchestra. On the second go, the tenor is still good but the orchestra is decidedly ornery. There is another waltz.

7: Fiammen comes on to desperate music as Franz tries to keep him from leaving his own party. He gives him info about Lodoletta, which isn’t much as she has disappeared from the village. This recitative is surprisingly 19th century sounding *.

10: Fiammen reflects on everything (including Lodoletta) in a nice aria **. It does go ornery in the middle, but the rest is very good. Some of the guests come out. They go on calling him names, specifically those of famous operatic lovers: Werther, Tristan, Hamlet, Romeo. None of this comes off well, but there is a hint of something after it is all over that sounds like the first bars of the act one comes back to haunt us but it just, just doesn’t.

16: Lodoletta arrives in the snowy garden. She actually gets something good at last **. She is exhausted but also excited and fantasizes for some while about Fiammen in a The Constant Nymph sort of way before she reclines in the snow out of total exhaustion (and hypothermia) and freezes to death begging him to kiss her and the clocks chime midnight. This is all truly effecting.

27: The play out, three minutes starting with the tenor soloist ringing in the new year. The guests all leave the house to go to Montmartre. Fiammen finds Lodoletta’s corpse in the snow, at first he doesn’t not recognize her but soon he does and he cradles her body waiting to freeze to death with her **.

COMMENTS:

This is one of those operas that you think would be a soprano vehicle given the title and it turns out to be an amazing tenor vehicle. Lodoletta does get her poignant death scene but Fiammen is the real star of the show. Giannotto comes up a distance second and without the death scene, he actually has better music than the soprano. The first two acts are rather weak both musically and dramatically being literally held up by the two tenors singing Fiammen and Giannotto almost exclusively, but that third act is wonderfully constructed and the ending packs a punch far stronger than one would expect given the rest of the opera. There are also, as a side note, all of these references to 19th century music, particularly in the recitatives. There are some problems: at points the orchestration overpowers the singers, there are too many characters (10) with only five of them actually contributing to the plot, Antonio’s death by falling from a tree is a little corny, and there is the nature of the relationship between the adult man Fiammen and the 15 year old Lodoletta, which although unconsummated and ultimately proven chaste, is nevertheless disturbing. Incidentally, the story is taken from a novel by Ouida entitled “The Two Little Wooden Shoes”. Like I said, it would make a good vehicle for a tenor of superstar status who can carry what is a poignant and mildly entertaining if otherwise rather dim affair. One would suspect that it shares a plot with a British or European movie made 15 or 20 years later. It is a sweet little opera that you wish you could give more praise to but just can’t. Closer to B- than to B, although worthy of a good future production and with a superstar tenor and convincingly young-ish soprano it might just catch on.

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