Opera in three acts. Running Time: 2 hours.
Is anyone else annoyed that Donizetti wrote four operas all with “Maria” in the title?
This review is of the 1980 performance from La Fenice with Katia Ricciarelli in the title role.
SETTING: Switzerland, 15th century. Anyway, this one is a gothic, bloodthirsty romp in which the title character gets seduced and abandoned, then follows her betrayer, gets stabbed by him and is thought dead, murders her own cousin for marrying him in the bridal chamber, reveals his terrible murderous family secret, and commits suicide. Somehow it survived only two performances before falling into oblivion for about 120 years (it had no performances between 1852 and 1974).
LOOK OUT FOR:
ACT 1: (55.5 minutes)
Scene 1: A rural setting.
1: After a brief and ornery bit of preluding, the choral-soprano introduction scene for Mathilda *, not a normal opener but again this isn’t a normal opera.
5: A cavatina for Corrado * as he waits to see his brother after five long years and consoles himself with thoughts of his beloved Mathilda.
12: The Corrado-Enrico duet **. Enrico is supposedly Corrado’s brother and is the primo tenore role. Corrado goes into details about how he had been carrying on an affair with Mathilda’s cousin Maria, had asked and was refused permission to marry her by his father, fled to Rome and eventually abandoned her in the Roman catacombs, thinking her dead after believing her unfaithful. Enrico is apparently also in love with Mathilda, who is, incidentally, doomed for a convent if Maria can return within a year of her father’s death as per Mathilda’s uncle’s will and claim the estate at Rudenz. If not Mathilda will inherit everything and Corrado can marry her. Tomorrow is the one year anniversary of the death of the old Count. Enrico, meanwhile, hides his own feelings for Mathilda from his brother.
Scene 2: A gothic setting in the Castle of Rudenz.
28, 33, 36: But Maria is alive **, because otherwise we wouldn’t have an opera, and she is found by an elderly relative named Rambaldo praying before a portrait of her father. She does not want to claim the estate from Mathilda and refuses to stop the wedding which is to occur the following day (not knowing that Corrado is the groom and feeling immense grief and guilt for having abandoned her father and his request for her not to leave with Corrado) preferring to be the one who ends up in the convent for the rest of her life **. She leaves and Rambaldo encounters the guards who embark on a lilting chorus which sounds a little like the flow of a river ***. Mathilda arrives with Corrado and Enrico and the Chancellor reads out the Old Count’s Will about how now that Maria is presumed dead, Mathilda will not have to go to the convent and inherits everything and is free to marry.
42, 44, 48, 52: The finale starts off with a mild tune * from the trio of idiots before Maria arrives and blows them all out of the water like Sharknado *** in a cavatina of subtle fury and wrath. Corrado has instant recall and when the all five principles and the chorus get in it flowers into a glorious ensemble ***. Maria orders Mathilda to the convent and has Corrado placed under arrest. The stretta is just glorious *** as Maria takes revenge and power, oh the power!
ACT 2: The throne room of the castle. (32 minutes)
0: The prelude is scored for harp, strings, and I think a saxophone (?) **.
6, 12: Enrico gets into Maria’s good graces (she has been adamant about removing Mathilda to the convent) and reveals his own desire to marry Mathilda **. Maria starts to think this might be a better way of disposing of her country cousin, especially since she knows that Corrado is not his biological brother, rather Corrado was adopted by Enrico’s parents. Maria promises Mathilda to Enrico and he is elated with joy **, comparing Maria to an angel and that happiness is not dead.
20, 25, 27, 29: The remainder of the act consists of Maria and Corrado reflecting on the nature of jealousy, hatred, anger, through the lens of their past relationship. She reveals the secret of his true parentage: he is actually the son of Hugh of Bern, a confessed and executed murderer. This prompts a brief moment in which she actually takes pity on him. Their duet which follows is quiet and delicate with an omniscient horn in the background ***. She offers to forget his secret if he only return to her but she turns and tells him that she is about to either have Mathilda executed or married off to Enrico **. She also says that if he breaks his vow to love her forever that he will be thrown into an underground tomb. This prompts an oddly militant reaction from him **. She drives him to run her threw with his sword ***, which causes the court to come to the scene just as he stabs her but she declaims him guiltless and collapses.
ACT 3: (30.5 minutes)
Scene 1: Before the church at Rudenz.
0, 6, 13: Maria is believed to be dead, again. This has not stopped Mathilda from marrying Corrado, although all of Maria’s loyal vassals disapprove of this turn of events *. It is broken up by the sound of a church organs as the ceremony finishes. Apparently even Enrico was not alerted about the wedding and he challenges Corrado to a duel in a duet ** after dramatically disrupting the wedding party’s exit from the church. Corrado eventually accepts **. There is also this strange ghostly figure of a woman who has been haunting the castle lately…just saying.
Scene 2: Before the bridal chamber.
16, 20, 23, 25: The ballet that starts the scene is a little odd *. Corrado returns having killed Enrico in the duel (this is actually sadder than what has happened to the rather dreadful Mathilda at the same time from behind the curtains and Donizetti depicts much of it through orchestration. Mathilda is heard screaming from within the bridal chamber and Maria RETURNS! At first Corrado believes he is seeing a spirit and that Mathilda has reacted to seeing the Spector but no it really IS Maria and she has taken blood **! The big reveal *** in which everyone realizes that Maria is in fact still alive and she has slain Mathilda in the bridal bed. She reopens her bandages and bleeds to death, but not before giving us a five minute long aria **. This leave Corrado to experience the ultimate revenge at the hands of Maria: both his brother and the two women he has ever loved are dead, but he must live on. (Play Twilight Zone theme music).
I know that I usually trash Donizetti (with exceptions) but I really like this opera! The music is very tuneful and the plot is insanely dark. Given Lucia di Lammermoor, I do not fully understand why the murder-suicide element in this opera would be problematic, and yet this opera has mostly lain in dismal neglect, possibly the libretto’s preoccupation with death and entombment? Maybe the prima donna’s bizarre ability to “come back to life” so frequently? All of ones sympathy goes to Maria (she is, after all, the opera’s most well drawn character). Mathilda is minimally drawn but this does nothing to harm the opera because knowing her better would ruin the rather satisfying effect of seeing her strangled to death in the bridal chamber. Why both Corrado and Enrico are so enthralled by her is unexplainable, and is probably the only real flaw in the opera because Mathilda has no redeeming personality traits and frankly isn’t worth the trouble of the bizarre duel between the two adoptive brothers. She is a rather horrid creature in all honesty, but enough with Mathilda already! An A-.