Opera in four acts. Running Time: 2 hours 34 minutes.
Self portrait of Salvator Rosa, 1647.
Between the unparalleled (somewhat bizarre?) success of Il Guarany, the disaster of the first version of Fosca, and the fiasco that was Maria Tudor, Gomes did have one undisputed success with both the critics and the public in Salvator Rosa. Although it plays very fast and loose with history and even its source material: in the original novel Masaniello by Eugene de Mirecourt (a satirical journalist and writer who in 1854 wrote an apparently amusing biography of Meyerbeer, and who in later live became a Roman Catholic priest and died in Tahiti in 1880) the love affair is not between the Spanish princess Isabella and Rosa but with Masaniello (yes, that Masaniello!), I think this actually comes closest among the Gomes operas as deserving the title of forgotten Verdi opera. At the very least it can be seen in parallel to La muette de Portici as it relates the events of the same revolt with almost totally different characters.
The real Salvatore Rosa was a famous Neapolitan painter born in 1615 who, unlike Masaniello, outlived the Neapolitan revolt by around a quarter century, dying in 1673. He was know for his avoidance of idyllic and pastoral themes, instead focusing on brooding and melancholy.
SETTING: Naples, 1647. Salvatore Rosa (tenor) is in love with Isabella (soprano) the daughter of the Spanish Viceroy, the Duke of Arcos (bass). Rosa conspires with Masaniello (baritone) to overthrow Spanish rule in Naples, but is conflicted between fighting for liberation and the woman he desperately wants, and the two are mutually exclusive. A peace is signed between the Spanish and the Neapolitans, but it is short lived, as is the romance, which ends in tragedy because this is opera darn it!
LOOK OUT FOR:
0: The overture *, starts off with a trumpet voluntary and timpani roll which anyone who has heard a certain other Gomes opera will realize has some sort of importance later in this opera. It repeats multiple times and eventually is fully expressed by the orchestra a few times. Much of the rest of the overture consists of good, sometimes dreamy (a love theme) sometimes stormy (a revolutionary theme?), sometimes just frustrated, music from various sections of the orchestra ending in a final march. It is a little clunky (and derivative of Verdi) in places but the overall effect is satisfactory. Having reviewed now four overtures from Gomes operas I must say that they tend to consist of semi-random movements and the transitions from sweet and gentle to climactic march can be awkward.
ACT 1: (42 minutes)
Scene 1: The studio of Salvator Rosa, Naples, 1647.
9: Mia peccerella, deh! The opening scene starts off with a chirpy workshop conversation between Salvatore and his vagabond friend Gennariello (a soprano transvestite) who quickly goes into a rather lovely waltzing aria about how Salvatore successfully seduces young women ***.
14: All’armil! Iddio lo vuol! Masaniello arrives and Gennariello is ushered out of the room so the men can discuss the planned uprising against the Spaniards (the noon bell at the local church will be the signal). A furiously bellicose but very good duet ** as Rosa admits he does not like violence but if it will liberate the homeland, he will swear faithfulness to the cause.
20: Forma sublime, eterea Salvatore agonizes on what the uprising might bring **: the loss of his muse (the Princess Isabella, daughter of the Duke of Arcos, the Spanish viceroy, with whom he is secretly in love), even the house of his house.
25: Viva l’arte e l’allegria! Meanwhile, Gennariello runs in warning Salvatore of the arrival of a Spanish nobleman. This is the Count of Badajoz who confusingly is also a tenor. He invites Salvatore to an immediate audience with the Duke at the Viceroyal palace, really Rosa is under arrest as a conspirator in the uprising. Gennariello is nervous about this but Rosa goes with the Count without any struggle. Other students arrive to a mildly inquisitive chorus and are filled in by Gennariello as to the uprising and of the arrest and they rush out to fugal orchestral fury to join the uprising *.
Scene 2: Great hall of the Viceroyal Palace.
33: Padre, a te il grido innalzasi After the Duke gives orders to Fernandez, his captain of the guard (who may not seem important to the plot right now, but think again!), to crush what they anticipate is an immanent revolt (while also revealing a secret passage in the palace if it becomes necessary to spirit Isabella out of the palace), Salvatore is brought in by the Count. A dialogue develops between the two men as they interrogate each other which gets very fiery (the Duke in his accusal of Rosa as a conspirator, Rosa of the Duke for having instituted his own law above that of the King of Spain). Eventually Isabella herself arrives (lots of harp references) and after she and Rosa recognize each other she pleads with her father for mercy on the young artist in a gorgeous trio ***.
39: Quel dolce sguardo m’ha beato This is interrupted by calls from outside for the head of the Viceroy. Isabella and her father run from the hall but Salvatore remains as it appears that the Neapolitans have been successful and the Spanish guards have fallen into retreat at the sight of the mob. The act finale is very successful **, at first furious (the escape of the Spaniards), moving to romantic (Salvatore thinking about sexy Isabella) and finally ending in a patriotic march as Salvatore and Masaniello are declared heroes of the revolution.
ACT 2: (51 minutes)
Scene 1: A room in Castelnuovo.
5: Di sposo, di padre After a dialogue with Isabella in which we learn that that he has accepted an interview with an emissary of Masaniello, the Duke reflects on why he has allowed his life to be controlled by war and not the pleasures of family life **.
14: Sulle rive di Chiala The emissary from Masaniello is of course Salvatore Rosa who arrives to a dapper orchestral accompaniment. The Duke has agreed to all of the terms required by Masaniello and goes to prepare for the festivities and ceremony that will mark this peace. Isabella comes on looking for her father and finds she is alone with Salvatore, who declares his undying love for her and recounts how he first saw her by the banks of the river Chiala rather sublimely ***. She confesses that she also loves him, also sublimely. They are interrupted (not so sublimely) by the Duke who returns to take Isabella to the ceremonies. They go out.
Scene 2: The gates of the city.
22: A festa! A festa! Sort of a standard choral ballo scene *, thankfully not very long (all of three minutes). It seems to be based on the tarantella from Les vepres, just saying.
25: Poiché vi piace udir Gennariello has a military party piece (which brings back that opening theme from the overture) ** in which he describes his apparent bravery in battle. An Italian brigand named Corcelli threatens future violence against the Spanish.
30: Al prode Masaniello Masaniello arrives (more milking of that catchy tarantella and crazy chorusing *).
37: Povero nacqui He quells the Italian blood thirst stating that divine victory was achieved because of justice, and that it must not be stained with vengeance. He also goes into a bit of a fantasy now, telling everyone that all he wants is to return to his little home and fish **.
40: Viva! Viva! The second act finale ** starts off with the procession of the Spanish nobles (catchy but a little pedestrian). Corcelli contemplates violence against them nevertheless.
46: Vieni, o di popoli The peace ceremony *** is a very well crafted scene: The Duke vows to respect the new law, Masaniello vows to be a worthy judge of his promise, Salvatore and Isabella singing hopefully of their love as they are betrothed to cement the peace. Under his breath, however, the Duke swears to crush the rebels, even as the crowd cries Long Live the Duke!
ACT 3: (38 minutes)
Scene 1: A terrace of the Viceroy Palace, a part in progress.
0: A lovely entr’acte ** leading to a festive chorus of a baroque texture.
2: Strane parole mormorar Fernandez and the Count discuss the plan to crush Corcelli and his brigands in their revolt and get them to turn and kill Masaniello. Salvatore joins them and we end up with an unusual scene in which all three of the soloists on stage are tenors *.
5: Alla plebe libiamo! This is followed by some furious chorusing from off-stagers **. Masaniello shows up (apparently drunk), contemplating being declared king of Naples. The nobles are disgusted with his presence and that of the other Italians.
8: Masaniel! Masaniello! Masaniello is confronted by Rosa who tries unsuccessfully to sober him up *. The orchestra successfully conjures up delirium.
11: La… su quel fragil legno Masaniello thinks about being a fisherman and Salvatore comes to a terrifying realization ***. Masaniello is not drunk, he has been drugged by the Spanish with something far more powerful than alcohol. The Duke arrives with soldiers which confirms this and Salvatore is arrested. A successful finish to the scene.
Scene 2: The courtyard of a monastery.
18: D’aura di luce Amid the sounds of bells, church organ, and a tippy-toe two-part chorus of nuns, Isabella waits in anticipation of her wedding hour with her maid Inez *.
23, 24: Alla infelice suora/Volate, o libere Isabella has her chance at a big solo here (finally!) Two parts: the first * is just forlorn, but the second (and longer) *** could have been written by Verdi as it quietly takes flight.
30: Solo il mio bianco crine The remainder of the act is taken up by a duet for Isabella and the Duke **. At first she asks him what is in store for her as a new bride, but quickly things turn south as her own father blackmails her into consenting to marry Captain Fernandez (which she only permits when he threatens to have Salvatore executed if she defies her father). At first oddly tender, then a bit slowed up, it climaxes well as Isabella resigns herself more to death than to fate.
ACT 4: Before the Basilica Carmine (23 minutes)
0: Mia peccerella deh! Gennariello has a beautiful serenata *** based on the earlier act 1 aria for him. After this, much of the act sort of just happens, the musical inspiration mostly being gone at this point although there are a couple of items. Meanwhile the Count and Corcelli and his men conspire to murder Masaniello inside the Basilica, and Isabella happened to arrive in her bridal dress ostensibly for the forced wedding to Fernandez although she is willing to leave Rosa forever in exchange for calling off the wedding to Fernandez (which does seem a rather odd idea). Off-stager chorus sings jovially before Salvatore arrives being freed by the Count.
7: Salvatore! The reunion duet ** is only happy at first, once Isabella reveals the whole plot to murder Masaniello to Rosa he has no other interest than to warn his friend and he curses and deserts the girl in her bridal dress. Certain middle parts of the duet do dip a little temperature-wise but overall it maintains dramatic tension well. Alone, Isabella turns to go into the church (having nothing else to do). The sounds of several firearms going off at once can be heard from within the Basilica.
16: Padre! In quelia chiesa The finale ***: The mortally wounded Isabella stumbles out of the church just as the Duke and his men are about to attack Masaniello and Salvatore. She begs her father to stop the bloodshed and he finally relents as she collapses. Gennariello tries to comfort Salvatore as he cradles the dying Isabella in his arms. She vows to pray for him so that they can be in heaven together forever and then she dies. Rosa is destroyed, the people swear vengeance on the Spanish. Curtain.
Landscape of Tobias and the Archangel Raphael, circa 1670. Today housed in Strasbourg.
Of the four operas by Gomes I have reviewed so far (I completed Fosca already it just has not been published yet, I am saving it for next month!) this is in my opinion by far the best. In many ways it is a simple copy-cat of middle/late period Verdi (Isabella especially seems to be based on Leonora in Il Trovatore), but this simple fact partially explains the public success the work had in its day. The plot, although a little predictable, is very engaging with multiple instances of pathos for the characters. The finale, with the prima donna in her blood stained wedding dress dying for the man she loves at the hands of assassins in the hire of her own father, is melodramatic platinum. Incidentally the libretto (like that of Fosca) was written by Antonio Ghislanzoni, the librettist of Aida and rather a few of the Italian operas that have already been reviewed on this blog. The last two acts are musically weaker than the first two (and the fourth is significantly shorter than the other three, feeling more like an epilogue than a proper act), but overall I would say that if any opera seemed like the opera Verdi never wrote, this would be it. The impression one gets is of a total work of art. A forgotten alpha.
Another self-portrait, 1645, also Strasbourg.