Antonio Smareglia: La falena (1897)

Opera in three acts. 2 hours 6 minutes.

A Wagnerian-style fantasy, Italian-ish style. Smareglia was born in Pola (present day Pula, Croatia) of half-Italian and half-Croatian ancestry. Trained in Vienna, his style of composition was based on Wagner. His most famous work is Nozze istriane. In this work,  parallels with the plots of Die fliegende Hollander, Tannhauser, and Parsifal are all apparent. Musically the score is indebted to that of Tristan und Isolde. 

SETTING: A kingdom on the Atlantic coast of Europe, sometime in the first millennia. King Stellio (tenor) is enchanted and seduced by La falena (mezzo), yes a moth, into killing Uberto (baritone), the father of his fiancee Albina (soprano) who in turn commits suicide in order to redeem the man she loves. I kid you not, that is the plot of this thing!


ACT 1: Near King Stellio’s castle, evening, coming upon night. (46.5 minutes)

0: The overture * is a brooding and stormy piece with one high violin tune which stands out along with another dance-like tune which sounds like it belongs to the score of a 1930s MGM talkie, this is the Falena leitmotif and it pops up a lot.

5: The sedate opening female chorus * flows immediately without any interruption. Watch out for the high strings just before Albina comments, she emotes rather well as she fears her betrothed, the King Stellio, will leave her for a mysterious being she has met in a dream.

9: Stellio arrives ** and we get a rather lilting bit out of him as he interacts with the women.

11: A hunt is in progress and Uberto engages with the women and his daughter for a while approving of her marriage to the king *.

14, 17, 21: The party comes on and a hunter is brought in for trial for stealing **. Albina intercedes for the hunter as he has children to feed and no food. Stellio passes judgement, or rather clemency **. Uberto tells the hunter to steal no more. Albina is thankful. The entire sequence of the trial is rather lovely **.

22: The Albina-Stellio duet **

27: The evil Falena casts a spell on Stellio and enchants him. The tune from the overture  pops in, this is a leitmotif for the wicked Falena **.

35: Albina is left pondering when her father comes on she explains what has happened. A strange creature is luring Stellio away from her *.

39: The chorus returns, Uberto decides to follow Stellio, and everyone else turns in for the night in a long scene *. The children are heard praying the Pater Noster. Uberto agonizes. Lots of praying, finished off by Albina’s virginal soprano above it all. It all sort of reminds me of the end of act 1 of La Gioconda. 

ACT 2: The lair of the Falena. (43.5 minutes)

0: The prelude * presents our villain as a cross between Klingsor and Kundry.

3: The Falena lies in wait * of King Stellio to seduce him and bring him to ruin through even worse sin, namely murder. Her motivation for this is obscure.

6, 11, 15: Stellio arrives and a long duet starts up for tenor and mezzo. At first it is rather sedate *. It changes to something more mysterious than overtly good **. It gets more lyrical ** and ebbs and flows between patches of sedate and melody for a time.

21, 25, 30, 31, 33, 39, 42: Uberto comes on searching for Stellio **. The Falena tells him to murder Uberto. At first he resists and Uberto is very adamant about escaping from the creature. Eventually Stellio kills Uberto * and just as quickly he is remorseful and the Falena tries to distract him. He prays to Jesus, but the Falena isn’t having any of it *. She has a nice arioso *. This turns into a rather pathetic patch of the Falena leitmotif **. Stellio becomes very contrite *, sobbing violins. They run off together as the curtain falls **.

ACT 3: By the coast, night going into day. (36 minutes)

0: The prelude **, by far the best of the three, depicts the cool moments before dawn.

3: The fisherman Morio’s song as he makes preparations has a very lush orchestral accompaniment ** flowing in from the prelude. A chorus of men come on asking about the whereabouts of the king who has been missing since nightfall, also Uberto. Morio falls asleep.

10: The warning bell rings, the men go off to try to find the King, who comes on with the Falena **. She appears to be dying as a result of the coming dawn. The sequence climaxes   with traces of the Falena motif.

19, 22: Morio wakes up and confronts Stellio, it warms up as the Falena engages in some latter-day bel canto-ing before wondering off into the forest **. Morio freaks out because he knows that the Falena is evil ** and Stellio realizes that he has to confront Albina with the fact that he has murdered her father in cold blood.

26: The chorus comes on **

28: The arrival of Albina ***, raises the opera to a totally new level. Stellio declares that he is unworthy to rule as he has murdered her father. She shockingly forgives him and commits suicide, thus somehow redeeming him. Oddly enough the music here is the most powerful in the score.


Okay, so the plot of this opera is probably beyond redemption, but the music is rather good. There is remarkably little action, and most of the filler material seems to have more symbolic than dramatic meaning (the trial, the long scene with Morio in act three). Most of the score sounds like Italianate Tristan und Isolde and the storyline is basically made up of romantic elements leading to the grand suicide for the sopranoAlthough Wagnerian, the work is more miniature than full-scale Wagner. There are some grand moments: the trial, the Stellio-Albino duet, the arrival of the Falena, portions of the act 2 duet-trio sequence, the finale act) but I can’t help but remember that the plot of this thing is really stupid. It is about an evil moth, which is enough to damn this thing, but her motivations are about as unclear as how Albina’s suicide is redemptive for Stellio. The music is sometimes at alpha level, but the storyline is gamma if not worse, and is about as idiotically sexist as anything Wagner could come up with. It’s basically Puccini’s Edgar but with better music.  One third of the soloists (two baritones) are filler characters, and only two of the six characters even appear in all three acts, and one of them appears in two of the acts rather briefly. I have to call it as something between a gamma and a beta.

2 responses to “Antonio Smareglia: La falena (1897)”

  1. So…how does it compare to Tristan and Parsifal?


  2. Ooou! You know I actually dislike all three stories, they are all basically the same (magic sex, redemption through death). The lack of philosophical ideology here might be a leg up although sometimes I wonder about redemption through death as a theological concept, we all eventually do it after all, but in all three instances it is vicarious rather than personal and I like I said, none of it ever gets explained how or why. Even the main problem of Stellio’s attraction to the Falena is magic based and not the result of his own free will. Musically, I actually like this more, but because of its simplicity. Smareglia isn’t Wagner, he doesn’t have the ability to write musical prescription opioids. There are leitmotifs, but they are more like the ones in Lohengrin than in later Wagner, the only obvious one is the Falena motif and like the motifs in Lohengrin, it is entertaining. The score isn’t constructed of extremely obvious leitmotifs as in Tristan or Parsifal which try to intoxicate and cause one to stop thinking. I could still take the time to check the time with this one.


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