William Vincent Wallace: Maritana (1845)

Opera in three acts. Running Time: 2 hours 12 minutes.

Wallace was from Dublin, and discovered as a virtuoso pianist and violinist who in the mid-1830s did concert tours in Tasmania and Australia before abandoning his wife and son there in 1838 to flee to Chile because of debts. He became conductor of an opera house in Mexico in 1841. Returning to Europe he wrote a series of operas between 1845 and 1863. The first of these, Maritana is indisputably the best although that isn’t saying very much. The later operas, particularly those from the period 1858-1861, resemble Weber and Wagner, but with this earlier opera it is worth mentioning that the influences are strictly Italian (Rossini, Donizetti, even very early Verdi). Also, this isn’t a true opera, there is spoken dialogue, however, it is in English,  so don’t complain!

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PLOT: Madrid, 17th century. The King wants to have it off with Maritana, a hot gypsy,   and his advisor, Don Jose, wants to use this fact to procure her for him and then tell the Queen on him. He marries Don Cesar, a nobleman sentenced to death for dulling during Holy Week, to a heavily veiled Maritana. Cesar survives thanks to a young page boy who he saved. In the end Don Jose is killed and Don Cesar is reunited with Maritana and becomes governor of Valencia.

LOOK OUT FOR:

VIDEO 1: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AXst_hcux30

ACT 1: A square in Madrid. (51 minutes)

18: The Overture is gawd awful in so many ways. It cannot decide what genre it is, comic, tragic? What is more it is Wagnerian in length and just frankly boring until the last two minutes or so which finally reach a sad if stronger climax. No star. This is followed by a chorus of townspeople which reenforces the fact that we are in SPAIN (!), but little else, no star. Maritana then gives her first of two numbers in succession, at first very low temp and of no interest, still no star. There really isn’t anything here not worth cutting until Maritana gives us her one good song “Tis the harp in the air” ** which is probably the only famous number in the entire opera, mostly because of its orchestration and the soprano floritura, the chorus is a bit shaky though.

22: The Angelus *, an okay piece, not all that interesting but not terrible either, but also very long (four minutes).

26: Maritana and Don Jose, the King’s advisor, engage in a strange dialogue about music and the acquisition of wealth. Don Jose encourages Maritana’s desire for the high life because he knows the King himself wants to seduce her. The duet * would be frankly stupid if not for its sincerity, which is still trying at times. Otherwise it consists of rather ironically cheap if sugary melodies when it bothers to be melodic.

32: The cabaletta of the duet * is a little more interesting with some coloratura for Maritana. She goes and Don Cesar arrives, penniless. He is also in trouble because hanging is the punishment for dulling during Holy Week, which apparently starts that very day. Lazarillo, a poor page boy who is beaten by his master is taken in by Don Cesar.

37: The quartet that ensues from all of this is rather dramatic as we get closer and closer to Cesar dulling with Lazarillo’s master **, and although he will probably be executed, Maritana herself takes a liking to him.

41: Maritana encourages fortunetelling in order to distract the police from the duel, she ends up having Don Jose seducing her into a plot so she can “marry” the king, although there is one good stead tune *, but either Donizetti or Verdi could have written this. Don Cesar comes on finishing the duel. He is arrested.

47: The finale * resembles a very low key variant of that to the first act of Rossini’s Guillaume Tell.

ACT 2: (48 minutes)

Scene 1: A military prison with chapel.

1: The act opens with a sobering prelude and an equally sad number from Lazarillo * which, were it not in English, could have been cut from any Italian bel canto opera.

5: Don Cesar acknowledges his wasted life ** and an unpaid tailor’s bill.  Some nice tenor coloratura at the end. Don Jose agrees to take in Lazarillo, and tells Cesar that he will be shot, not hanged.

12: Cesar’s militant embrace of death * as he is led away to the firing squad. Don Jose stops everything in order to get Cesar to marry a veiled woman. He is going to trick Maritana into believing that it is the King who marries her so he can possess her and so Jose can then tell on him to the Queen who will then find favour with him.

VIDEO 2: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wdTAzip6f5A&t=3s

16: Don Jose’s placid song of cunning planning *.

20: A quartet with chorus ensues as Maritana (heavily veiled) is brought in for the wedding. It does what it needs to do, no star.

Scene 2: The magnificent ballroom of the luxurious villa of the Marquis and Marchioness de Montefiori.

23: A nice opening chorus for the guests *. An ornery waltz commences. Don Jose presents Maritana as the Marquis’ niece, the Duchess of Bazan.

30: Maritana meets the King disguised as her real husband, Don Cesar. The fact that Cesar is very obviously a tenor and the King a bass gives away the charade and Maritana doesn’t fall for any of it although there is a nice sung minuet from the King and a solo violin *. Meanwhile, Don Cesar has survived the firing squad because Lazarillo removed the bullets from all the guns and now he seeks to claim his wife.

36: Don Cesar’s loverly song **.

40: Don Jose tries to pass the Marchioness off as Don Cesar’s wife but Maritana’s coloratura cries lead to a rather good finale ensemble **. Don Jose has Cesar arrested as an escaped prisoner. Maritana is spirited away to the King.

44: The stretta finale * seems to have a single good tune welling up but it sounds more Gilbert & Sullivan than Donizetti.

ACT 3: (31 minutes): A room in the royal palace.

0: The act starts off with some ironic gypsy music *. Maritana is “sad and lonely”. Her song is sad and pretty but rather sleep inducing as well.

8: Don Jose’s song of victory anticipated *, a little premature given that Don Cesar is still alive. He seems to be putting too many eggs into the basket of the Queen coming in just in time to see the King playing with Maritana.

11: She rejects the royal advances, and then Don Cesar and the King encounter each other in a duet that could have been written by Mozart **. Cesar claims that if the King is Don Cesar then he, Don Cesar, must be the King of Spain. This is the most amusing moment in the opera. The King pardons Don Cesar, but it is rather short shrift.

16: The Maritana-Don Cesar love duet **. They finally recognize that not only do they mutually love each other, they are also married. The love motif which seems to return again and a agin pops up here as well. This and the previous interview between the King and Don Cesar are probably the best constructed numbers in the opera. Watch out for the harp bit towards the end.

20: The Maritana-Lazarillo duet * because why not have the two female singers sing a duet just for the heck of it? The Marquise spilled the beans and Don Jose gets what he deserves.

29: The finale is a tripping little rondo * lead by Maritana as she rejoices at her good fortune and her love for Don Cesar.

COMMENTS:

The main weakness with this opera is that the two leads seem like secondary  characters to whatever it is Don Jose is up to (getting on the Queen’s good side by exposing her husband’s infidelity). They are both bizarrely passive and docile victims of his manipulation throughout until they somehow gain the upper hand in the final act. The first act is musically dreary, the massive overture in particular is a bit of a mash of nothing and the first quarter hour or so does not hold any promise at all until Maritana’s somewhat famous “Tis the harp in the air”, which although not amazing is so welcomed that it is easy to understand why it is the most famous part of the score. The best music, particularly the love music, would be really very good if not for the fact that it is so imitative of Italian bel canto. There is nothing original in this score and often times I found myself able, based on my knowledge of musical conventions of the period, to know just how Wallace would move from chord to chord throughout the score. The music surrounding the duel is rather good mood setting and Don Cesar’s solo pieces and his duets in act 3 with the King and Maritana respectively are probably the finest items here. The act finales and the party music are rather disappointing though. Through it all I can not help but feel that there is something good here even if it isn’t all that original and Massenet would rework the same scenario a few decades later as his first full length opera. Beta, undoubted.

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