Opera in three acts. Running Time 1 hour 43 minutes. This was Cilea’s final opera, he did write more music and even attempted three more operas after this but in spite of the fact that he lived until November 20, 1950, he never had another new opera performed. It is based on an Italian version of Romeo and Juliet and in spite of the fact that I usually dislike that story, I don’t mind it here. Each act gets its own video! The recording under review here is from a 1997 production which I believe is the latest to date.
PLOT: Siena, 15th century. Gloria is the daughter of Aquilante Dei Bardi and the sister of Bardo. On this specific day before the great fountain a herald announces that all people banished from the city are allowed to return for this one day, so long as they are unarmed. Lionetto de Ricci is among those banished who return. He asks Gloria for water from the fountain and falls in love with her, kidnaps her after he reveals he has a sword, wounds her brother, and declares all out war on the city of Siena. That is just act one!
LOOK OUT FOR:
ACT 1: A Square in Siena, a gigantic fountain. (33.5 minutes)
6: The opening scene consists of a prelude with one recurring good and strong theme. The first five minutes or so consists of setting up the whole situation with the return of banished people for this one day to witness the new gigantic fountain. There is then a nice chorus of children and women which ends up taking a somewhat modern lilt and some nice bells and xylophone as everyone waits for the water *. But there is a reprehensible violin here. Gloria comes on with an okay but rather slow moving aria about how the fountain will bring peace and love with it. There is a repeat of the chorus.
12: The effect from the orchestra and chorus when the water starts coming out *. There is some heavy brass here but it has an air of low temperature to it for some reason. Lionetto arrives, no one knows him and he asks Gloria for some water from the fountain. She obliges and he asks her her name. They realize that they used to be neighbours as children and she tells him to be silent.
17: Lionetto’s story * as he is forced to tell everyone who he is, Bardo Gloria’s brother is particularly interested. It ends with high power but not much else as the crowd along with Gloria’s male relatives recognize Lionetto’s father as a traitor. There are some okay female choral effects.
24: Gloria has a nice prayer to the Virgin Mary which is the best music so far *.
30: The end of the act is rather action packed with the trumpeters in the distance calling for the exiles to again leave the city and Lionetto not wanting to leave because he is now in love with Gloria. Her father and brother try to force him out and that not withstanding to have him physically tortured. He is asked to name his price for leaving the city: Gloria herself! This leads to a surprisingly old timer ensemble which is actually really, really good **. Gloria wants peace and so is willing to go with Lionetto, her father and brother refuse and the chorus is freaking out. Lionetto threatens everyone and reveals that he is in fact Fortebrando the Imperial emissary. Everyone now stunned, he takes Gloria with him after stabbing Bardo (non-fatally) but he ends up washing the blood off in that nice new fountain.
ACT 2: The interior of a villa outside of the city, a battle is going on. (41.5 minutes)
0: The prelude depicts the ongoing battle and is actually rather good music **. In the midst of all of this there is a dialogue between Gloria and an unnamed Sienese Woman. She knows that all she has to do is consent to marry Lionetto and the whole siege of the city will be lifted.
7: Gloria, left alone, ponders on what she will have to do in order to buy the liberty of her city and her people **.
10: A chorus of maidens arrive barring baskets of violets and fresh fruits **.
20: A Turkish merchant with wares arrives (it is actually Bardo in disguise). When she realizes it is him she is at first happy but he upbraids her and rebukes her, calling her Lionetto’s mistress among other nasty things. Also, as a side note, he tells her that their father has already been killed in the battle. This is all super ornery stuff although there is a nice patch as she begs for mercy: she is innocent and has already vowed to surrender herself to Lionetto and then kill herself. Finally Bardo surprisingly gives us a rather orchestrally lovely bit as he embraces his sister and begs her forgiveness and a rather climactic duet with Gloria **, a nice four minutes as brother tells sister to slay her kidnapper with a special family heirloom knife so that she might live. She refuses this so he offers poison, she again refuses at first but then gives in. He goes.
27: Gloria ponders what she has to do and prays like a good Italian opera heroine to the Virgin, and then there is a lovely orchestral intermezzo before Lionetto arrives **.
29: The showdown duet, starts strongly with Lionetto kneeling before Gloria and contemplating the gloriousness of her spotless virginity and that he has lifted the siege on Siena **.
33: She responds to a floating string accompaniment **.
35: He follows up with a nice accompaniment as he breaks his sword at her feet and that he loves her **.
38: A female chorus is heard in the distance. He begs her to confess that she loves him as well. She decides to poison herself instead of kill him. He stops her and asks if it is poison and destroys it, they declare their love **.
40: The chorus cries out in the distance that peace and victory have come as the lovers embrace ***. This is the climax of the opera.
ACT 3: A wedding chapel in the Cathedral of Siena, the tomb of Gloria’s father visible. (28 minutes)
0: There is a nice and long prelude * with a distant bell as the wedding is about to take place.
3.5: Lionetto has a nice little and slightly old fashioned aria as he tells everyone to rejoice in the name of Gloria *. This is sweet but we also know from this that he now controls the city.
8: The Bishop arrives to conduct the marriage rite. Bardo is really angry about this but over the rather balletic organ you can only get this from the words, not the music until there is at last an explosion. He has set up a code word “Dies Irae” Latin for “day of wrath” as a code to the patricians to start a revolt in the church to crash the wedding. The bishop breaks into this to lead the chorus in the Magnificat **.
12: Lionetto is given homage by Bardo (all fake of course) and then Gloria explodes with joy at her brother’s seeming acceptance of her marriage **.
13: The assassination scene is rather spotty and not to the dramatic level one would expect as Bardo stabs Lionetto in the back Julius Cesare style and tries to get Gloria to flee the church with him now that fighting has started in the streets of the city. She refuses to go with him and even tells him to kill her, but he leaves her and follows the conspirators into the streets *.
16.5: The dying Lionetto revives and Gloria gets the idea into her head to pat his forehead with holy water thinking it will help. He eventually starts to rave and tries to draw his sword all the while Gloria tries hopelessly to save him. All of a (long) piece it must be **.
25: Lionetto dies, Gloria screams for him to respond to her and realizing he is dead she stabs herself with his sword and as if in bridal rapture whispers loving words of how death now unites them forever as the city outside burns around them and the chapel as well. Touching **.
The story of this opera is awful. The music, except for a few patches of dull or ornery music in the first act and for about seven minutes in act two, is actually not so bad and some of it is actually stunning especially in the second and third acts. It does take nearly a half and hour for the opera to get anywhere but when it does it moves swiftly. The duet between Gloria and Lionetto in act two would seem the most offensively long number and yet it is one of the most memorable moments in the opera. The choral effects Cilea uses in his earlier operas are better utilized here (especially the off-stage female choruses which can be haunting at times), his orchestration is actually richer if it is not better than in Adriana. There appear to be several themes from other Cilea operas that are reused here or even themes that one would recognize from Puccini and even Wagner at times (the latter particularly in the brass). The plot is, I restate, terrible. Gloria’s brother and father are horrid excuses for human beings and the fact that fatalistic evil and vengeance triumph over love is probably one of the main reasons why the opera has had such an extremely spotty performance history. After two performances in 1907 conducted by Toscanini it was produced in Rome, Naples, and Genoa but never came close to entering the rep and then disappeared until Cilea revised and shortened the opera by about 24 minutes around 1932 (apparently this includes the deletion of a scene between Bardo and Lionetto in act two which was found unfavourable). This revision was recorded in 1969 and is widely available on YouTube if you are pressed for time and want to hear the opera in 79 minutes. It was performed a few times in Italy and Germany in the 1930s and two recordings have been made in the latter half of the 20th century. All things considered it is a neglected solid B.