Antonio Smareglia: Oceana (1903)

Commedia Fantastico in tre atti. Running Time: 2 hours.

Novita Musicali, Oceana, Del M° Smareglia, Eseguita La Settimana Scorsa Nel Teatro La Scala Di Milano (Atto II)

SETTING: Syria, Roman Era. The nomad Nersa (soprano) is romantically pursued by the elderly but rich Vadar (baritone) but is found by the god of the sea Init (tenor) who renames her Oceàna and tries to led her to his underwater kingdom. A couple of sea spirits named Ers (baritone) and Uls (bass) tell her about the sea and have the village reject Nersa at the end of the first act, otherwise these two characters serve no purpose beyond a lot of exposition. Eventually, Vadar and his brother Hareb (baritone) find Nersa with Init (who causes Hareb to go insane). Nersa is brought back to marry Vadar, but he decides instead to let her go back to Init in exchange for restoring the sanity of his brother (so long as he, Vadar, can go insane instead now that he can not be with Nersa).


ACT 1: A Syrian Village. (47 minutes)

0: In the long overture ** one gets a sense of the sea (a storm perhaps?), and it is pleasantly watery music, with themes which will return oh so frequently. The jumpy main theme can start to wear after a while.

12: Piu non ho filo la falce! The opening chorus of Syrian farmer women * leads to a confrontation between the women and the mysterious, nomadic Nersa.

17: Orvia, non son Eventually Ers scares the women away and he entices Nersa with the wonders of the sea *. As with the rest of the opera so far, we get more whimsical sea music, but not much else. Hareb shows up interrupting Ers with much the same music.

27: Tu che partir mi vedi A brief arioso for Nersa addressing Hareb *, followed by a brief duet with Ers before Vadar shows up and discusses Nersa with Hareb (the music is basically the same, mostly themes from the overture, although the distant choral voices have some effect). The farmers eventually come out to pay homage to fearless leader (Vadar). They decide to punish Nersa for rejecting the dear leader, but how they ask?

37: Ascoltatemi! After a brief climax, the next item of interest is the arrival of Uls * (to a return of the opening theme from the overture). He tells the Syrians that Nersa should be left alone on the seashore for three days and nights.

41: É sera The act ends with five minutes of choral delight as Nersa is dragged off to the shore and the people comment on the moon rise as Hareb comments bemusedly at the turn of events for his brother **. A solidly good ending to the act.

ACT 2: The seashore, night (43 minutes)

0: The act opens with a rather Wagnerian four-minute long prelude * (traces of Lohengrin specifically), before Ers and Uls embark on a dialogue (more prelude in the background). Uls reveals that Init, the god of the sea, no longer wishes to remain celibate and a beautiful woman has been chosen for him, this is Nersa (no duh).

9: Ti veglio e canto A very nice duet for Ers and Uls ** (more melodic and less dependent on earlier themes).

14: Punge la brama The arrival of Init ***, rather grand as expected, he immediately asks Ers and Uls where his bride is (and for me at least it is refreshing to finally hear a tenor after an hour of a lone soprano with three baritones and a bass). Things do settle down very quickly, however.

17: O notte balsamica Init gets the closest thing to a torch song that this opera has to offer **, based on tune from the overture. The chorus of magical sea inhabitants continues their accompaniment before Nersa appears with her mysteriously forlorn theme trying to make heads or tails of where she is. She encounters Init, who asks her for a kiss.

26: Spettacolo strano e giocondo! The dance of the water spirits ***, excellent choral-ballet as Nersa is crowned Oceàna, queen of the waves, or whatnot.

35: Veniste chiamante The female choral members muse to something that sounds a lot like Pier Gynt **. Vadar comes on and tries to drag Nersa back with him. She at first refuses.

39: Spiaggia del mio sogno beato Nersa explodes ** as they discover that Hareb has been turned into a idiot by Init. Nersa returns with Vadar.

ACT 3: The house of Vadar (30 minutes)

0: A mournful prelude * (another theme from the overture, this time modified into a minor key). We come upon Vadar and Nersa on their wedding day in a low-key recitative.

5: Li abbiam tutti ne l’anima Nersa appears very willing to marry Vadar, but she fears that already, before the wedding, Vadar does not love her **.

9: Tu fuggi invano The arrival of Init ** leads to Vadar discovering the god with his bride and Nersa admitting that she loves only Init. It is a very good quartet with Ers rounding things out before the arrival of Uls, but then…

16: Volgi, amor mio, la mente An amazingly glorious melody comes out of Init which forms a quintet *** and surpasses everything else in the opera with its loveliness.

18: Vedi questo fratello The playout ** starts off with Vadar begging Init to restore sanity to his brother Hareb (several themes, including that Pier Gynt theme, this time from Nersa). Init does this, Nersa is free to marry him (more of the overture returns, almost bar for bar at this point, but it is rather delight here and all ends happily, like a Disney film).


At first glance, and by that I mean the first act, it is very easy to pan Oceàna. The most remarkable thing about it is how it begins and ends: the overture quickly runs for such a long piece which contains almost all of the musical themes of the work, and the choral finish is very good, but in between it is rather nondescript and even rather musically dull, like elevator music or a Hollywood documentary soundtrack from the 1930s. It has little if any originality (although am I the only one who finds traces of both Wagner and Grieg in it?). I got the impression that this was an opera better seen than listened to. Then act two happens, and it is a great improvement. But the finest pages of the score lay in act three, specifically the quintet. The musical inspiration is mostly limited to a leitmotif system displayed in the overture for the most part, but oddly enough, and in spite of both a weak, even silly plot and too many baritones, I think I am calling it as an alpha minus.

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