Opera in four acts. Running Time: 2 hours 24 minutes.
One of my cousins is celebrating a birthday today and I have had this post ready for well over a month (I actually stopped working on it in February!). This also gives you all a heads-up that I am still alive, just buried in thesis work. Enjoy!
This is the second attempt I have made at this opera. I scraped my first draft of act one a few months ago; I never got further than that. Both that and this are based on the 1997 production from Sofia, Bulgaria. I have included some photos of Piran, Slovenia and Venice in this post. Also, with this post I am taking around a month off. I have a few completed reviews that are scheduled to show up over the next two months and I am also doing a couple of other Gomes operas, but they will have to wait.
SETTING: Venice, and a pirate layer near the city of Piran in present day Slovenia, 10th century. Gajolo (bass) is the pirate chief and brother of Fosca (soprano). He plans to abduct some young women during a religious festival in Venice. Meanwhile Fosca wants Paolo Giotto (tenor), a prisoner whom her brother releases for ransom money. Cambro (baritone), a Venetian working for Gajolo who happens to be in love with Fosca, offers to kidnap Giotto’s fiancee Delia (soprano) during the festival in exchange for Fosca marrying him. The only other soloists are two basses, Michele Giotto, the father of Paolo, and the unnamed Doge of Venice.
(1997 production from Sofia, Bulgaria):
(1973 production Sao Paulo, Brazil):
LOOK OUT FOR:
ACT 1: Pirate layer near Piran. (40 minutes)
0: The overture * starts with one jovial theme (a leitmotif for the honour of the pirates which returns over and over again) followed by something that seems based on the prelude to Lohengrin then a return of the jovial theme and then finally a climax. Standard but effective.
7: Buon dì, compagni! An opening chorus for the pirates as they unload looted merchandise * is interrupted by the arrival of their chief Gajolo. Things take a more religious tone as he relates to his men his plan to abduct the brides participating in the Feast of the Marys at the church of San Pietro in Venice. After much plotting and scheming, the pirates say a prayer to the Virgin Mary. The plot thickens: A Venetian deserter in the employ of Gajolo, Cambro, arrives with news that Michele Giotto, the father of their prisoner Paolo, is offering a cash reward for the safe return of his son. Everyone agrees that returning the hostage and taking the reward is a good idea except for Fosca, who wants Paolo for herself. She offers an alternative plan in which they collect the money but not return Paolo but her brother is having none of it. The pirates all agree with Gajolo to the first brassy reprise of their leitmotif from the overture.
19: Fratel, da un fascino Fosca’s prayer *. Still Gajolo is hearing none of this dishonourable plan to cheat Giotto. He entrusts her to Cambro and leaves. Fosca has a vocal climax and departs after the pirates are heard singing off-stage.
25: D’amore le ebbrezze Cambro comes on and reveals that he wants Fosca for himself ** . Fiery.
34: Cara città natia Fosca declares her love to Paolo, but he rejects her because he loves his fiancee Delia. Although the recitative is long and melodramatic, the duet proper has a solidly good tune **.
38: La tua rivale odiata Gajolo reunites father and son Giotto much to the anger of Fosca (who is stopped from using a dagger on them by her brother). She is left alone to despair, but Cambro returns and offers to bring her rival into her hands. At first she is repulsed but she hears Paolo in the distance * singing Cara citta and promises to marry Cambro in exchange for capturing Delia.
Aerial view: Peninsula on which is located Piran.
ACT 2 (40 minutes)
Scene 1: A room in the house of Delia, Venice.
0: The entr’acte * features various woodwind instruments and leading into the love scene.
2: Soli, del mondo immemori The Delia-Paolo love duet ** starts off very sad indeed. They are to be wed within the hour. This and the section that follows are very nice (the best scene in the opera actually), very romantic.
8: Io vengo dai mondi Meanwhile, a Turkish merchant selling jewelry arrives at the door of the house. Three part scene: His sales pitch is amusing **, but Delia is having none of it.
11: Mirate questa collana He tries to get Paolo to purchase a necklace for her, nothing doing, but a good scene nevertheless **.
14: Bel cavaliero In the final section the Merchant is packing up. The couple say goodbye for now as they depart in different directions to prepare for the wedding **.
Scene 2: Before the church of San Pietro.
20: Già troppo al mio supplizio Fosca keeps watch. Cambro arrives and tells her the plan is all go. Fosca gets very excited over this *. Cambro departs.
24: Quale orribile peccato Fosca against the world *! For some reason she decides that this is a good time to call upon demons and to curse G-d. There is this constant rocking bit which is a bit ornery.
33: Vieni i vergini! The (anti-)climactic act finale * starts quietly enough with appropriate church organ music and choral off-stagers. Fosca runs into Gajolo who questions her but she promises she has her own agenda and will not interrupt his abduction plot. The virgins are processed into the church satisfactorily, the last being Delia. Apparently this is actually a bridal procession and not just a festival to virgins thing. Fosca stops the wedding(s) and everyone accuses her of being insane. She admits this (how ironic!). Gajolo tells her to shut up, but she does not listen and goes chi-ca-chi-ca-chi-ca all over the place. A climactic (of sorts) ensemble ensues followed by more organ music. In the last minute the pirates invade the church: Delia and the other virgin brides are carried off, as is Paolo, but Gajolo is captured by the Venetians. A very subpar ending to the act, although this may be due to the fact that Gomes cut the original final ensemble for this act in which Gajolo and multiple pirates are captured, Fosca laughs at the fact that they will probably be executed by the Venetians and forces Paolo to follow her to the pirate lair because Delia has been captured by the other pirates.
San Pietro, Venice.
ACT 3: A dungeon in the pirate lair. (31 minutes)
3: Ad ogni mover lontan di frenda Delia has been dumped into a cell. The prelude tries desperately to depict the kind of gothic horror Verdi could conjure up in an instant but it just can’t. Her aria starts initially very well for about twenty seconds * but almost immediately dies, turns to a prayer, then to thoughts of Paolo, then to some pleasantries for a finish. A chorus of prisoners is heard from without. Fosca arrives and tells Delia that she is now her prisoner and slave. Delia recognizes Fosca as the crazy woman who stopped her wedding.
11: Orfana e sola nel materno tetto Delia pleads to whatever better nature Fosca might have in a lovely duet **. Problem is, Fosca has no better nature! Instead of threatening her with enslavement, Fosca now tells her that that Paolo is going to be executed, but Delia finally softens her captor by offering to die in the place of the man they both love. She declares that she, Fosca, will suffer, not Delia, who somehow does not realize she is dealing with a woman who does not own a full set of bocci balls.
18: Dei due qual mente? The pirates express their anger upon learning of the capture of their leader. A good chorus *.
27: Tu la vedrai negli impeti Cambro comes on wanting to make Fosca jealous again *. She (being freaking insane) decides to rescue Gajolo and then marry Cambro.
ACT 4: (33 minutes)
Scene 1: Council chamber of the Palace of the Doge, Venice.
1: Son capitano The chorus of the Council * starts off effectively enough. The Doge arrives; is seated in council. Gajolo is brought. He turns tail on Cambro and reveals the location of his pirate lair near Piran, also that he has a crazy sister named Fosca who is infatuated with Paolo Giotto (this prompts his father Michele to step in and beg for leniency). The Doge agrees to set Gajolo free on the condition that Paolo is returned alive. If Fosca has already executed him, then Gajolo must return to Venice for execution, if not, he will be hounded by the Venetians until he is dead.
8: Di Venezia la vendetta Yet another chorus for the Council ** as they declare that vengeance will always belong to Venice.
Scene 2: Same as Act 1.
10: A good viola concerto * which acts as interlude before the final scene.
17: Ah! Se tu sei fra gli angeli Cambro tells Paolo that Delia is dead. This is not true but it does allow for Paolo to, alone, embark on a massive romanza **.
22: Alfin tremanti e supplici Fosca arrives and orders for the immediate execution of Paolo unless Delia takes poison. There is a seriousness to this scene lacking in the rest of the opera **. Delia is ready to die for him, but Paolo has to be restrained by the pirates. A grand ensemble wells up as Fosca believes that Delia is stalling, but no, she is just about to take the poison from Fosca when Gajolo returns and demands that Paolo and Delia be immediately and safely returned to Venice or otherwise his life is forfeit.
27: Non m’aborrir, compiangimi Fosca has taken the poison herself, but no one else knows this quite yet. In the stretta **, she begs the forgiveness of Delia and Paolo for her mad love. The Venetians leave, Fosca has her last madness and dies. Gajolo and the pirates swear vengeance on Venice to a final bang out of the pirate tune. Curtain.
The Marina, Piran.
The biggest problem with Fosca is not that the music is lame (although much of it is) it is that the title character, were she a man, would be labelled a psychotic pervert. She is one-sidedly in love with a man who is not remotely interested in her in any way, she then kidnaps and imprisons his bride in a dungeon, and then threatens both of her victims with poisoning and execution only to commit suicide in the end. Basically she is the Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction of the tenth century. It is impossible to like her because she is so out of her freaking mind, and this drags down the whole show. Gajolo and the lovers are much more relatable, but there is not enough of them. Cambro is difficult to read, but makes for a more effective villain than our title character.
It is probably no surprise that this opera was not successful in its initial run. The premiere was a fiasco because the score satisfied no one, either bel canto enthusiasts or Wagnerian modernists. However, this and all modern performances of the opera have been of the 1878 revision which not only involves massive cuts to the second act finale but also a totally new cavatina for Cambro in act one and reworks of the relatively famous Fosca-Delia duet in act three.
As a side note, I find the dominate pirate themes to be irksome, in a proto-Pirates of Penzance-y sort of way.
Now out of this mess, there are some goodies (the two-star items are definitely worth your time): most of the music for Paolo (his duet with Fosca in act one, love scene with Delia in act 2, his aria in act four), the Fosca-Delia duet in act three, and the fourth act finale are all good and worthwhile, but much of the rest (excluding a few pieces for Cambro and a chorus here or there) is rather ornery or just plain dull. There is also nothing amazing here as in Il Guarany to at least somewhat off-set the dullness. It is difficult to find anything of that composer in Fosca. Overall I call it a beta, bordering on a minus.
19th century painting of Piran before the piazza was filled in.