Stefano Gobatti: I Goti (1873)

Opera in quattro atti.

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I have wanted to write this review for a really long time, like around five or six years. This is perhaps the single most historically important Italian opera that literally no one has ever heard of.

This review is a little difficult, as no complete recording of this entire opera exists, but recordings have been made of the preludes to acts one and four as well as vocal selections (mostly choral or soloist) from acts two, three, and four. So this is more of a reconstruction view of an opera which will probably never be available complete. Unusual for me, there are eight videos in this post.

The historical importance, or rather infamy, of this opera and its role in the vicious feud between the publishing houses of Lucca (Bologna, pro-Wagnerian) and Ricordi (Milan, anti-Wagnerian) in the 1870s to the early 1900s is well worth an entry on this site. But first some biographical information on the composer: Stefano Gobatti was born to a poor family in a town southwest of Venice. Somehow he managed to be trained in musical composition by the composers Busi and Lauro Rossi. At the age of eighteen he composed I Goti (The Goths) which was first performed in Bologna to extraordinary acclaim, receiving 51 curtain-calls, to this day the record in Italian operatic theatre. At first the only naysayer was, perhaps tellingly, Verdi himself who termed the work “a musical abortion”, saying that Gobatti was attempting to speak in a musical language of which he had no real knowledge. That language, from just glancing at the prelude of the work, is obviously Wagnerianism. Bologna was host to the first performance of any Wagner opera in Italy, the famous 1871 performance of Lohengrin. So while Bologna embarked on what in hindsight could only be termed musical insanity appointing Gobatti a member of the city Accademia Filarmonica and made a Knight of the Crown of Italy by Vittorio Emmanuale II, the composer was forced to write two other operas by the Lucca publishing house which, upon their arrivals in 1875 and 1881, completely bombed. Although the writing was already on the wall when the opera failed in both Rome and Milan (both home to far more conservative musical circles, the latter of the two being where Lohengrin had been met with derision in 1873), no one except the Bolognese seemed to either get the work, or be taken in by its amateurish Frankenstein-ing of Verdi and Wagner (to both of whom Gobatti was then being compared). Gobatti retreated to a Franciscan monastery and wrote a massive setting of the Roman Catholic Mass along with two other operas which as far as I can tell have never been performed, but apart from revising much of the score of I Goti in 1899 for a revival, his final three decades were spent in obscurity and poverty at the monastery. Gobatti died in 1913 at the age of 61.

SETTING: Padova and an island on Lake Trasimeno in 534. The main character is Amalasunta (soprano) who is Queen of the Goths and lover of Sveno (tenor), a Roman nobleman.  She is also mother of the child-king Alaric, who is murdered by Lausco (bass) the captain of Teodato (baritone), a Gothic warlord who plots to take the throne for himself by framing Sveno for the murder and imprisoning both of them, thus codifying his power. Amalasunta is imprisoned on an island on Lake Trasimeno where she goes insane. Sveno breaks free and attempts to free her, but she is completely gone and doesn’t recognize him. Goths led by Teodato burst in and kill Sveno which prompts Amalasunta back into sanity long enough for her to curse Teodato and commit suicide.

What follows is a collection of highlights from the opera that happen to be available on YouTube, mostly because BonGiovanni made an hour-long disc of Gobatti music available in 2013. I will only be providing commentary with synopsis here, no stars will be given as I am not really sure the fragmentary nature of the review warrants it.

The Libretto (Italian only) is available at Internet Archive. 

And the score at Petrucci Music Library .

ACT 1:

The 9 to 12 minute long prelude (elongated by Gobatti for the 1899 revival) is a surprisingly striking composition not just for its florid combination of Wagnerian string work and Italian Romanticism but also the fact that it, somehow, does not devolve completely into mashed potatoes and utter garble.

1899 Version of the Prelude:

Original Version:

The remainder of the act is unrecorded but the score indicates that it consists of an aria each for Teodato and Sveno followed by their duet. It appears that Teodato reveals the plot to kill the child, has the murder occur during the aria for Sveno which places him at the scene, and then a vengeance duet.

ACT 2:

The second act opens with an appropriate if rather stereotypical chorus of noble ladies followed by an aria introducing Amalasunta. She embarks on a duet with the mezzo-soprano in drag who is friends with Sveno named Gualtiero and then Lausco (the actual killer) comes on and declares that Sveno is the killer. Amalasunta has Sveno brought to her, and of course is convinced that her lover is not the killer. Then there is a Marcia funebre which involves interjections from Amalasunta and Sveno as the funeral cortege comes on supported by a chorus of black hooded monks.

Teodato blackmails Amalasunta and Sveno, accusing the latter of killing the Gothic child-king, and succeeding in having Sveno arrested.

ACT 3:

Teodato discusses what he is going to do to Sveno with Lausco and his other henchman Svarano. Sveno eventually comes on and embarks on a forlorn romanza (the video below) followed by a triumphal march, chorus, and a brindisi for Sveno before he and Amalasunta are subjected to a show-trial by Teodato and sent away for incarceration.

ACT 4:

For some reason there are three major highlights taken from this act while the other three acts have only one each. The first is the opening prelude (of which there are two versions) followed by a mad scene for Amalasunta.

She prays before Sveno bursts in attempting to liberate his beloved Queen, but he realizes that she has lost her mind in another forlorn romanza. 

There is a climactic battle, Sveno is killed and Amalasunta kills herself leaving Teodato with sole power. The Goths rejoice to their theme from the prelude to act one.

COMMENT:

The score, from what is available, seems to consist of Wagnerian orchestral passages and somewhat awkward recitatives and choruses, while the soloist passages resemble second-rate Verdi or Mercadante (albeit the tenor work for Sveno does come off rather well even if it can be extremely baritonal at times). I would love to hear what other people have to say about this thing.

SOURCES:

Julian Budden. Verdi. Oxford University Press, 1988. p.114.

Axel Korner. Politics of Culture in Liberal Italy: From Unification to Fascism. New York: Routledge, 2009. p.243.

Italian Wikipedia Article on the Opera: https://it.wikipedia.org/wiki/I_Goti

2 thoughts on “Stefano Gobatti: I Goti (1873)

    1. Oh I found it years ago, when the studio highlights came out. I was doing research on rare Italian operas (a little later I found Amleto and Cristina regina di Svezia). I first heard the prelude and at first I was really taken by it. Over the years I have grown to not being sure how to judge it.

      Like

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