Opera in three acts. Running Time: 1 hour 28 minutes.
This was Cilea’s first opera, and like much of his work it disappeared for over 100 years until a production in October-November 2000 (recorded here). It was written as a student graduation exercise and has only been produced three times, in 1889 at Cilea’s graduation, 1892 by Cilea’s publisher to revive interest in him, and in 2000.
PLOT: A French village, 1812-1814. Innkeeper Gina’s brother Uberto is drafted into military service but drifter Giulio takes his place, Gina giving a vow to forever love and marry whoever spares her brother from the army upon the return of the man, symbolized by a ring. When Giulio returns years later he does not have the ring, but love triumphs in the end when Giulio’s officer Flamberge brings the ring and confirming his story.
LOOK OUT FOR:
ACT 1 (24 minutes)
0: The overture is long, starts off with staccato strings, and is strangely classical in orientation. Worth a * for how odd it is.
6, 10: A fine romance for Giulio (tenor) ** as he tells us that he has fallen in love with the innkeeper who let him sleep in her barn last night (this is Gina, of course). It is probably the strongest number in the opera and the tenor sings it well. This is followed by a (seemingly) long duet between sister Gina (mezzo-soprano) and fiancee Lilla (contralto) is rather ornery with some idiotic bells chiming about (although it does have its moments of attempting, attempting, pathos as they pray that Uberto not be drafted) followed by an odd “haha” chorus from some conscripts poking fun at Lilla to a rather forgettable tune. Uberto (baritone) comes on and tells her that he is being drafted. Gina has a comic aria in here somewhere but best of luck to you on finding it.
17: A duet between the recruiting sergeant Flameberge (bass) and Uberto has a weak but okay accompaniment (particularly watch for woodwinds *). Mild choral-soloist interactions lead to more of the baritone and bass going about for such a long while to something between Rossini and ornery. Flameberge tells Uberto he had better be in the lines when the regiment leaves in a few hours.
ACT 2: (32 minutes)
3: After a rushing and agitated prelude Uberto returns thinking about what he should do, leave and defend his country or stay and look after his sister and fiancee/bride *.
8, 10: Something that sounds close (if mild) to the entrance of Maurizio in Adriana Lecouvreur pops in here in the violins and there is a pretty trio after the two ladies show up. Giulio overhears Gina’s vow * on a ring containing the hair of her dead parents that she will marry any man who takes her brother’s place on the front, he decides to do it himself in a mini climactic quartet **.
15, 22: Uberto admits to Lilla that he lied to Gina (he told his sister he would not be leaving for eight more days, actually he is to leave in eight hours). Lilla is hurt but promises not to reveal this deception to Gina. Much of the music here seems off pitch but the number has its own mild brand of pathos even if it lacks anything remotely near a good tune *. Music from the overture pops back into gear as Gina sets things up for dinner. The three engage in some dialogue for all of three minutes when Flamberge can be heard with the troop singing the military anthem. Then things get really agitated and Gina explodes in anger over the conscription *. Uberto is not being taken, Flamberge comes with rejection papers and a note for Gina (read out loud), a man has taken her brother’s place: the man who slept in the barn last night!
25, 27, 30: She realizes this to a sweet little ariette * leading to an okay if not overtly interesting quartet with an interestingly bel canto quality to it as everyone prays **. The military men arrive for an agreeable chorus. Uberto and Lilla realize that Gina has just promised to sacrifice herself to a stranger as she points out Giulio to Flamberge, mild act finale climax that sounds half-way to Offenbach *.
ACT 3: (32 minutes)
0: Sad harp music. Lilla is alone and forlorn, Uberto ended up enlisting anyway in the end and has been gone for over a year. It isn’t an interesting number but worth a star for her time *.
7: Gina comes on and she and Lilla converse. She has a letter from Uberto, he is coming home that very day (how convenience!). This news is greeted with only mild excitement and a strange but okay fioratura aria from Gina *.
10: Uberto arrives with Giulio, the man who saved his life on the battlefield. They go into introductions and explanations rather well and melodically **.
14: After being awkwardly left alone by Uberto and Lilla, Gina begins her duet with Giulio with some repeated fioratura *.
17: Giulio is very serious and confesses his love to Gina ardently **. On his second outing, though the orchestra seems to momentarily fail him but the vocal line is good and the number bounces back. Gina flees his advances because she remembers her vow and does not recognize him as the man she really did forfeit her heart to in exchange for her brother’s freedom.
25, 27: Uberto returns to some scattering strings, he has Giulio ecstatic with cries of joy. Uberto reveals who Giulio is to Gina but she doesn’t believe it, he doesn’t have the ring *. Giulio explains that once, when he thought he would die, he gave the ring to an officer, who exactly he does not remember now. She doesn’t buy it. This climaxes in an ensemble quartet which sounds about forty years older than it actually is *.
30: Three minutes before everything is over, Flamberge arrives with the ring in order to straighten out all of the loose ends regarding the ring and Gina realizes that she and Giulio had best get married soon. The finale ensemble is a cute but serious-sounding piece as everyone is happy that the situation has ended happily *.
Rather than tear this opera apart, I will talk about what is good about it. The tenor role, Giulio, is very well written and performed by Gianluca Terranova. In fact, I think the best music goes to the tenor in this opera although Gina herself does get two fine arias in the last two acts. The music and the story never lack charm, even if the temperature is almost relentlessly low. The orchestration, especially in the last two acts, is fine. I am not sure why the first two acts are not combined though, other than the imbalance of a 55 minute first act and a 33 minute second act. Otherwise this is just a harmless and mildly entertaining countryside romance, and what is wrong with that? C+/B-.