Opera in four acts. Running Time 120 minutes.
Technically, this is the same opera as Stiffelio which I have already reviewed, but it does have a different setting, and even different music at times (the fourth act is entirely original here). Also, I really love Verdi and have a serious desire to just be a completist and review this opera finally. I’m not that happy with the bizarre scenario concept for this production (a late-19th century Roman Catholic Britain that somehow permits legal divorce?) but the singing here is good even if I seriously feel Stiffelio is a much better opera. Kudos to Verdi for writing an opera with exactly 2 hours of music, even if the first act is disproportionately large at 49 of the 120 minutes.
PLOT: Britain, (in this production the late-19th century, originally 1200). A variety of changes to the original scenario of a Protestant minister’s wife guilty of adultery: Aroldo is a soldier (a crusader in the original) his wife Mina (not Nina) is an adulteress (her lover is named Godvino, father is named Egberto) but it is not her wedding ring she isn’t wearing anymore but his mother’s ring given to her when the old woman died. There is all this stuff about a monk named Briano and his relationship with Aroldo as well.
LOOK OUT FOR:
ACT 1: A library in Egberto’s castle. (49 minutes)
0: The overture ** is about as good as the one for Stiffelio because it is the same overture.
13: An all-male a cappella drinking chorus praising Aroldo starts off the opera. Then Mina comes in and collapses out of guilt for her adultery with Godvino (who was seen roaming about the room earlier looking for a letter from her). The music culminates in a prayer * which isn’t terrible but revealing Mina’s adulterous affair this early, and from her directly, rather robs the opera of the buildup to this revelation we get in Stiffelio, and watching Mina in agony like this is too much too soon.
17: Aroldo is wheeled in by Briano and he asks why Mina is so sad. After the monk leaves there is a nice duet between husband and wife * (most of the tunes are in Aroldo’s vocal line as this is a cavatina in duet-format, Mina mostly exclaims and declaims throughout the scene which has a surprisingly lite orchestral accompaniment). He confesses that while away in Syria his thoughts were only of her.
21: In the second half of the duet there is a nice bit before Aroldo finds that Mina isn’t wearing the ring that is good as is the following cabaletta **. She gave the ring to Godvino.
28: Egberto arrives and finds Mina writing a guilty letter to Godvino leading to a good father-daughter duet **. This reveals something that is not in Stiffelio, Mina’s affair with Godvino is essentially already known to Egberto, Mina’s behaviour and her letter (to Aroldo) merely confirms his suspicions.
37: Godvino comes on and slips a letter for Mina into a locked book for which he has a key. Briano observes this and. The guests (now mixed gendered) come on a deliver a rather flighty bit based on a tune you will recognize from the overture *. Briano tells Aroldo about this whole letter in the locked book thing but he stupidly points out Mina’s cousin Enrico as the man who planted the letter (this is illogical and doesn’t really justify the fact that two characters, Mina’s cousins Enrico and Elena, are in this opera.
41, 43: Aroldo confronts Mina with the book to some orchestral dramatics *. He wants the key and goes into an aria about a man in Palestine that he knew who was in a similar situation once, the other four men start off the finale which later includes the two women and the chorus *. This is trying way too hard.
46: Aroldo breaks open the book after Mina stalls on giving him the key. The letter falls out and Egberto grabs it and tears it to bits so Aroldo can’t read it and then we go into the stretta ensemble which ultimately does salvage the scene with Mina’s soprano hysterics and an orchestral crescendo **, but it is just barely at par and there are recordings of this scene which I know are better (and much more explosive, after all it is in waltz time) than this.
ACT 2: A graveyard, the tomb of Mina’s mother prominent. (24.5 minutes)
0: Sad grieving prelude music * goes directly into a solo scene for Mina with mild stormy threats.
5: Mina’s aria *, feels a bit like Nedda’s bird song in Pagliacci as she prays at her mother’s tomb.
9: Godvino arrives and they begrudgingly embrace. Mina goes into a nice cabaletta * but it is much too short. She wants her ring back, he refuses.
11: Egberto surprises the pair and he and Godvino confront each other * (some of this is a cappella). They start to duel after Egberto threats to reveal Godvino as a bastard (as in illegitimate) before Aroldo arrives, and then Briano and then Mina, the later of the three being the only one who understands what the other two men are up to.
16: Aroldo finally figures out everything, and the other characters join in on a sprawling quintet **. Egberto tells his son-in-law to punish the man who has seduced his wife. Godvino, however, refuses to fight Aroldo (why?) and then the parishioners in the adjacent church are heard praying.
21: Briano tries to calm Aroldo while the praying continues as the soloists (except the religious Briano) flop about the stage in agony to little dramatic purpose (Aroldo doesn’t even poignantly faint like Stiffelio). Just a star * because it isn’t as effective as the same scene in Stiffelio.
ACT 3: Same as act 1. (25 minutes)
3: Egberto is destroyed and dishonoured and plans to commit suicide ** having lost the joy his daughter Mina gave his life. It would be better if for once everything going on didn’t focus so much on Mina.
8: Egberto is stopped from poisoning himself to death by Briano who tells him that Godvino has been captured and is momentarily to be brought to the castle. Egberto is overjoyed to have his chance to either slay Godvino or be killed by him and thus put out of his misery *. There is a point where the aria goes ornery and the orchestra temporarily dies.
14, 19: Aroldo comes on for an interview with Godvino (why? I get why Stiffelio, a minister, talked with his wife’s lover but why the warrior Aroldo? and in 1200 this would make even less sense than in 1890 or whatever). Godvino just comes off as a cowardly jerk, and Aroldo tells him to hide behind a curtain while he asks Mina if she wants a divorce (also illogical, in Catholic anywhere?) The Aroldo-Mina divorce request duet (although dramatically illogical) is musically beautiful and gentle *** until Mina breaks down when it becomes poignantly sad ** as she admits that her adultery was the result of trickery and that she has only ever truly loved Aroldo (although how this is so is never explained).
22: Suddenly Egberto comes on with a bloody sword, Briano explains that Godvino has just been stabbed to death by Egberto from behind the curtain. Aroldo starts off the finale tune ** and is escorted off to the church by Briano as Mina recognizes that she has received no forgiveness for her sin. I’m not happy with using what was originally the end of a tableau as an act finale, but what can I do?
ACT 4: Outside a monastery by a loch in Scotland. (22 minutes)
1: So now we have totally new music, Stiffelio, the score at least, no longer haunts what remains of the opera. After some brief preluding tone painting we have male and female choruses alternating in an oddly charming number **.
5: Aroldo (now a monk?) comes on and tells Briano he still loves Mina. Briano orders prayer time, Aroldo: Prayer time!, Chorus: Prayer TIME!!! to an organ accompaniment but otherwise basically a cappella ** mostly consisting of the two men leading the off-stage choristers who echo what they say.
8: A storm **, starts innocently enough with strings and flutes, then drop by drop the rains come and then the winds and then some force-3 gales. Somehow this is enough to freak out the chorus and shipwreck Mina and Egberto who just happened to be on the loch. It ends nicely though with a patch of melodious nature music and it broods into the following recitative. I especially like the first rain drops, very natural.
17: Mina is really exhausted, the elderly Egberto not so much. Egberto rings the doorbell trying to find shelter in the monastery but Aroldo is against the idea of Mina being allowed entry and at first orders her to go. Egberto pleads with Aroldo to accept her as his daughter (which is true) if he refuses the woman help as his wife (equally true). Mina asks for nothing but forgiveness from her estranged husband **. The entire scene has a weak orchestral accompaniment, most of the stress is placed on Mina’s vocal line. After a trio which takes a while to not be a series of arias for father and daughter Briano shows up quoting Jesus’ “let him who is without sin cast the first stone” which melts Aroldo who returns to Mina in two minutes flat and so a nice little quartet ends the opera.
Story-wise this opera is inferior to Stiffelio on every level. Because the protagonist is no longer a minister of religion, all that is left of the story is an adulteress, her much hated seducer (Godvino is far worse a human being than Raffaele), and recast religiosity in the form of the not dramatically impactful Briano. Although Mina is more interesting than Lina, only Stankar/Egberto remains consistent as a personality in both operas. There are so many questions here: Why is the warrior Aroldo so pacifistic towards the man who cuckolded him? Why does Mina tolerate Godvino’s horrid behaviour towards her? What is the point of the entire new fourth act (with Aroldo in monastic garb) when Briano could have just as easily given his “Let he who is without sin” message at the end of act 3 upon Egberto’s assassination of Godvino and the revelation that Mina was raped (?) possibly by Godvino rather than willingly seduced into committing adultery. Was the sole purpose of act 4 to provide the original audience in 1857 with something new and so was only meant to draw in audiences to what is otherwise an abridged reworking of Stiffelio? Still, the fourth act is new music and to some extent exposure to it is required of anyone who seriously studies Verdi. The score’s focus on Mina in act 1 is unrelenting and is simply too much agony and moral dilemma for so early in the opera. Interestingly, although Mina is the focus of act 1, in the following acts she is mostly sidelined, if on stage a lot, and mostly seen from the perspectives of the men in her life. Also, the last three acts are disproportionately short in comparison to the first act and come off more like brief episodes that are forcibly disconnected from each other in order to maintain the structure of the original opera. The end to act two is not as effective because Aroldo is not a minister, and the chorus just happens to be at prayer in church. The motivation at the end of the opera: to forgive Mina because Jesus, is rather bizarre. Aroldo does have other motivations to forgive Mina (the probability that she was actually molested by her seducer who is offed at the end of the previous scene by her dad, the fact that in spite of everything husband and wife still mutually love each other) and forgiveness is so sudden after so much agony. The divorce bit is simply stupid (who even heard of divorce prior to the French Revolution in a Roman Catholic country much less actively encouraged it?). Was Briano planning on using Pauline privilege by getting Aroldo into the monastery, thus legally and canonically freeing Mina to marry that jerk Godvino? If so, then why does Briano of all people bring the couple back together in the end, did he and Aroldo have some unseen falling out suddenly? Although most would say that later Verdi is better Verdi (and they may well be right) I am not convinced in the case of Aroldo. For me a B, albeit a solid one, but for those who disagree with me, and you are many, let us agree to disagree.