Antonio Carlos Gomes: Salvator Rosa (1874)

Opera in four acts. Running Time: 2 hours 34 minutes.

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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.

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Landscape of Tobias and the Archangel Raphael, circa 1670. Today housed in Strasbourg. 

COMMENTS:

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.

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Another self-portrait, 1645, also Strasbourg. 

 

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32 thoughts on “Antonio Carlos Gomes: Salvator Rosa (1874)

    1. Well, I liked it. It is essentially in the style I like operas to be written in and since I run this blog, yeah, an alpha, not plus though. As far as I am concerned it was a real find, in that I don’t understand why it isn’t better known category. However, it is completely true (even Gomes admitted it) that the reason for its popular success in the 1870s was that he wrote it as closely to the style of Verdi as he could. Since I think mid-late Verdi is just the bees knees, the boy gets an alpha! 🙂

      Perhaps I should soften derivative to eclectic?

      The performances, especially by the soloists in this 2004 recording, are excellent. I just wished there was a CD available for less than $70! It took me forever to even find a recording of it, I just stumbled upon it actually on Amazon Prime which has two different recordings, I chose the longer (by 20 minutes) which happened to be Dynamic label.

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      1. I think Eclectic probably is the best word and not derivative. It is obvious that Gomes is combining the influences of many different composers (Verdi, Donizetti, Bellini, Meyerbeer). Although it is more Verdi than anyone else, some of it is definitely not Verdi, so it isn’t a total copy of one style.

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    2. All things said I rather like the subjects Gomes chose for his operas, almost all are historical(-ish) and his style is sort of like middle/late period Verdi, but a little more modern. Maybe I will scrap some of what I planned to do this year and just finish off a Gomes series. There are eight operas, I have already reviewed four (Fosca will be out in March, it is already finished I just want to have six operas that are just scheduled to fill in the gaps when I am prepping for and giving my thesis defence), I think only one has not been recorded complete (Joana de Flandres) so I could do seven out of eight, maybe review the cantata about Columbus? I heard O noite do castelo years ago on YouTube but I don’t think it is still up, will have to check.

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      1. Well, go for Gomes! Do whatever you’ll enjoy most – and if you want to explore a composer who takes your fancy, do so.

        I’m still plodding along with French opera. Next on my list is Charpentier’s Médée, which the critics say is the best, most powerful, &c opera from its period. I’ve listened to the first 1hr40 (it goes for 3hr15) – t e p i d.
        Both commercial versions conducted by William Christie – whose conducting is often slow and lifeless. (His Hippolyte’s good, though.)

        I won’t do Desmarest’s Didon either; it’s a Lully knock-off. I’ll give Campra a test drive before I decide if it’s worth writing up. Marais’ Alcyone (1706) is the earliest French opera I’ve heard with actual MUSIC.

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      2. Are you happy doing this because it would bore me to death. All that Lully was more than enough! I know you are doing the history of opera, but could you not speed up the 17th century? I would do the Marais next since, as you say, it has actual music.

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      3. Oui, je le sais. Ca c’est pourquoi je déteste le musique de 17iem siècle.

        Please stop doing this to yourself. No more Lully or pseudo-Lully! In this latest post you supported free market capitalism and obviously didn’t even like this thing, and it wasn’t even by Lully!

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      4. Listening to Campra’s Tancrede (1702). French opera seems to have turned a corner. Campra was the most important French opera composer between Lully and Rameau – and he seems closer to Rameau. It’s more robust AND tuneful than Lully, with some great ensembles, and less talk. I’m listening to Malgoire’s recording, cut by an hour. I hope that now I’ve hit the 18th century, I’m out of the doldrums. Campra and Marais’ scores are both attractive, and certainly Montéclair’s Jephté, 30 years later, is enjoyable.

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      5. Lully proves that some Italians have no gift for melody. We can not blame the French for the disaster that is Lully. Meanwhile, Campra, is he not also Italian? When are there actual French composers writing French operas? You mean that for thirty years some Italian guy was writing all the operas in French?

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      6. No, Lully *did* have a gift for melody. Listen, for instance, to this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G6a23Ba2SnQ

        There are some wonderful moments in Lully – I’ve put some of them on my YouTube channel – but his approach to opera is too often dry and formulaic.

        To quote Donald Jay Grout: “Anyone who plays through the whole score of a Lully opera is likely to emerge from that experience (if he survives it at all) with a confused impression of page upon page of music void of imagination, pale in colour, thin in harmony, monotonous in invention, stereotyped in rhythm, limited in melody, barren of contrapuntal resource and so cut into little sections by perpetually recurring cadences that all sense of movement seems lost in a desert of cliches, relieved all too rarely by oases of real beauty. ”

        But, as Grout says, those oases *are* really beautiful. Problem is that Lully generally confines his melodic invention to divertissements. In most opera, recit bridges numbers (and in the hands of a Meyerbeer, can be melodic and imaginative); in Lully, the recit is most of the opera.

        His most likeable operas are probably Alceste and Thésée, towards the start of his career, and Armide, his final tragédie lyrique.

        Wagner’s music of the future is arguably a throwback to Lullyan Baroque opera: one note to a syllable, lots of recit, mythological spectacle.

        Campra was half-Italian, but born, bred, and lived in France.

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      7. That’s the one. Interesting dame, by all accounts – ran off with a lover, stole corpses, set fire to hotel rooms, fought duels.

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      8. Get hold of Cencic singing Porpora. It’s a recital disc, so you get 14 wonderful arias, and none of what *you* think is the tedium of opera seria. I listened to Handel’s Agrippina (Jacobs) – really liked it. And the recitativo secco feels so modern after tragedie lyrique. I’ve discovered the joy of secc’s.

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      9. Yeah, I’m sorry. I just really like 19th century music. That is why the blog almost starts at 1810. The earlier operas are up for diversity purposes mostly, although I try to be as positive as I can with them, but it is difficult for me even to get through minor Mozart pieces like Il re pastore (although I like La clemenza di Tito, go figure). Me and the baroque, or even most classical music, it’s like a different sexual orientation, you can’t fight nature. Lully for me is like how most human beings are with opera in general, after about five minutes, I need to eat a pastry in order to keep myself awake! I don’t have this problem with anything from the 19th century and 20th century stuff is either not a problem or just weird (yes, I am thinking of Licht!).

        I’m also not big on countertenors. I never got what my people thought of castrati. I got through act 1 of Giulio Cesare once, I was so bored, it was like you and Luisa Miller.

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      10. Well, I really like 19th century classical music, too – but there are a couple of centuries either side!

        Even most classical music? So for you, is it pretty much opera, and opera alone? Italians, I know, value the voice above everything – but there are wonderful orchestral pieces. Start off with something light and simple, like Mahler. (Chamber music I find a bit boring, I must confess, and I don’t know much about Schubert, Schumann, Brahms and Bruckner.)

        It does surprise me a little; Handel was a big influence on Mozart’s melodies and Rossini’s florid virtuoso style. A voice fan like you should enjoy at least some of the music!

        Which Giulio Cesare? The famous one with Janet Baker isn’ t exactly thrilling. Depends on the countertenor; ave you heard Jaroussky?

        I’d recommend extracts of Lully, possibly Armide as an opera – but, yes, he is, by and large, dull. Handel isn’t, though; Agrippina’s longer than Lully operas (3 1/2 hours to Lully’s 2+), but feels FASTER. No pausing action for a 15-minute dance; recognisable characters; plenty of variety in mood, tempo, &c; some terrific arias; and a sense of humor – it’s Julio-Claudian imperial politics played as sex farce. Carry On Clavdivs. Pretty Mozartean in parts.

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      11. I am a weird personality type. Extroverted empath and I have ADD so I love hearing the voices of other people all the time. In fact unless I am trying to sleep, silence actually terrifies me and even now I sleep with a rain-sound machine.

        Oddly enough, however, I actually started out listening to orchestral non-vocal music (Tchaikovsky, Vivaldi, Beethoven, Wagner, Strauss, Mozart, Bach), from when I was an infant until age nine or ten (although I do occasionally breakout Swan Lake or The Sleeping Beauty, also Fantasia is still my favourite Disney film). Around nine I read Shakespeare (the first play I saw was Macbeth) and then somehow I got into opera from there (maybe an adaptation of a Shakespeare play?) along with a few children friendly operas in elementary school music class like Amahl, Hansel und Gretel, La Cenerentola.

        Sometimes I wish Scriabin had written an opera.

        19th century music speaks best to me. It has a striking elegance, massive orchestration, dramatic power, towering climaxes. Stuff with gongs and crashing cymbals, but not in a metric-y sort of way. I would say diatonic, but I also like Stravinsky, Debussy.

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    3. There is also a difference between good parody and bad parody and this is much more of the former. There were times here where I had to remind myself that this wasn’t some sort of lost 1870s Verdi opera that got suppressed by the censors like Stiffelio. Il Guarany comes off more as bad parody (of Donizetti for some reason, lord knows that Polacca is stuck in my head!) with a lot of great stuff in it.

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      1. “Pastiche is a literary piece that imitates a famous literary work by another writer. Unlike parody, its purpose is not to mock, but to honor the literary piece it imitates. This literary device is generally employed to imitate a piece of literary work light-heartedly, but in a respectful manner.”

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      2. I guess Pastiche is appropriate then. Meanwhile, do you think Cavalleria Rusticana is overrated? I honestly have to admit that while studying the history, it seems like it filled a void in Italian operatic life at the right place at the right time, and is really an average work that got lucky with the public. The twenty year period before its 1890 premiere is a notable Italian operatic dark age when French and German opera was by far in ascendancy. Aida and Otello aside, the only Italian operas from this period that anyone except me and a few music scholars even remember are La Gioconda and maybe Il Guarany. Gomes was the most successful composer at the time which doesn’t even sound right but such was life. Back to Cav, the musical quality is varying and much of it rides on high dramatic passion and sex/violence. Sir Denis referenced that the orchestration is schoolroom standard and the melodies (apart from the Easter Hymn) are rather pedestrian. It is also incredibly slow, with the first quarter hour consisting mostly of non-plot forwarding orchestral music.

        Oh, did anyone ever tell someone off about that Wagner chat board you linked me to last week? That thing was so stupid it is really not worth mentioning.

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