Opera em tres atos. Running Time: 2 hours 14 minutes.
Finally, Phil travels to South America for this, the earliest opera in Brazilian Portuguese! Gomes wrote this, his first opera, in time for the wedding anniversary of Emperor Pedro II, to whom the work is dedicated. The plot is taken from an 1834 poem of the same name by Portuguese novelist Antonio Feliciano de Castilho. It was first performed in Rio de Janeiro, where it proved extremely popular, the premier alone was so overwhelming positive with the public that most critics at the the felt the response was excessive (the composer was given a medal, by the Emperor, on stage after the first performance such was the enthusiasm). Gomes weaves here some of the finest variations of some of the best themes from Verdi (Ernani, Il Trovatore, Un Ballo in Maschera), Donizetti (Fausta, Lucia di Lammermoor), Mercadante (Orazi e Curazi, ghosting Virginia somehow), Bellini (Norma, Puritani) and Apolloni (the main love theme is a modification of a tune featured as a Jewish patriotic melody in Ebreo) and impregnates them with an undertone of gloom and doom befitting the plot. Although sung in Portuguese and set in Iberia, the music is saturated in unmistakably Italian concepts and for a first-timer is brilliantly executed (Gomes was only 25 at the time), although the chorus work seems to be borrowing from Lohengrin in its intensity although it lacks the polyphony of the earlier work. Gomes does show his amateurism in the vocal casting: most of the male vocal parts are composed at a much higher pitch than indicated by the libretto, meaning that the baritone parts are really high baritone (almost tenorial) and the bass roles (such as Count Orlando) are actually designed for baritones. The primary female role is obviously designed for a coloratura soprano capable of executing Lucia.
SETTING: Portugal, a single night during the time of the First Crusade. Leonor (coloratura soprano) is the daughter of Count Orlando (bass) and fiancee of Fernando (baryton-Martin). She also happens to be the apparent widow of Henrique (tenor) who reportedly died in battle at Jerusalem. The old servant Raimundo (baritone) claims to have seen the ghost of a knight. This knight-ghost haunts/tortures Leonor (who has nightmares about a Black Knight slaying everyone), challenges Fernando to a duel (in which the latter is killed off-stage in act 2) and eventually stabs Leonor to death in her bedroom for unfaithfulness. Leonor has a friend, Inez (soprano), who witnesses all of this, although that does Leonor little good.
LOOK OUT FOR:
ACT 1: (55.5 minutes)
0: The four and a half minute long overture ** starts off with a timpani roll and we are off into gothic horror opera territory. Around mid-way we come upon a form of the Golden Melody (it is actually a leitmotif for the love between Leonor and Henrique, which means it shows up frequently, thankfully!). Somehow only Gomes ever realized the full potential of this melody!
Scene 1: A great hall in the castle of Count Orlando.
9: Era Noite Alta After the usual festive choruses (a standard Viva! number), a long aria con coro for old servant Raimundo *** which features the Golden Melody in the cavatina (in which he goes over the apparition of the mysterious Black Knight, who is either Henrique or his ghost, but Raimundo can not make up his mind) and ends with a furious cabaletta worthy of Verdi.
18: Oh Leonor! The Black Knight sings about his mourning of his love for Leonor in a very touching tenor aria ** as he curses everyone, most especially Leonor, who in childhood made a vow of eternal love to hm. Count Orlando reads into this mysterious stranger (figuring out that he is Henrique in seconds, and realizes that Leonor is not actually free to marry Fernando after all) as the strings scatter about and the chorus finishes things off as the orchestra ends the scene on a whimper.
Scene 2: The Boudoir of Leonor in the castle.
27: En sono placido Fernando arrives to take Leonor to the pre-wedding reception dance prompting her to go into recounting her nightmare *** (which always starts off so happily but turns into a murderous terror). It is also a coloratura showcase. Fernando quotes Il Trovatore if you can spot it, the chorus is heard off-stage at the party, Leonor trills about bel canto-ing some more. A queerly tranquil piece.
37, 45, 51: The act finale ** starts off with a series of choral waves inserted between sounds of off-stage dancing. It finishes, and the Black Knight appears to haunt Leonor. Fernando offers a glass of wine to the Knight, who refuses because he has come to kill him. Gomes pulls off the sound and fury very well, but allows it to break for a placid tenor love song **. He takes out a blue ribbon Leonor had given to him years before and throws it at her feet as a rebuke of her unfaithfulness to him, causing her to pass out as Fernando and other knights force him from the room. The scene is so delicate it almost falls into operetta, notice also more quotations from Trovatore. The stretta ** mostly lacks menace but the combination of soprano and tenor vocal effects with the strong orchestration (which appears to be quoting the act one finale of Fausta) is able to bring the ship into port.
ACT 2: The Castle Gardens. (27.5 minutes)
0: A tranquil entr’acte ** leads to some dance music (with traces of storminess and chromaticism).
4: Henrique sings of his love for Leonor to a prefacing theme lifted directly from Il trovatore before going into a standard tenor love yarn **. This is broken up by a distant bridal chorus as Leonor and Fernando come on.
11, 15: Leonor is heard in the distance * before coming on with Fernando (traces of the Golden Melody). Henrique confronts Fernando and challenges him. Leonor trills ** about and passes out as the two men make angry at each other and rush off-stage (more Golden Melody). The chorus breaks in afterwards to provide us with some a cappella intermezzo work.
20, 22: Leonor revives **, is found by Count Orlando, runs off into the forest, sees Fernando killed by Henrique in the distance, screams, comes back, gives us exposition and proceeds to embark on a mad scene con coro (what else?) as she confuses Orlando with Henrique and begs him to spare her life, to which everyone else accords that she is loco ***.
ACT 3: (51 minutes)
Scene 1: Atrium of the castle chapel.
0: Another good entr’acte *, this one a bit more militant (or are those hunting horns), but still mostly placid. The chorus is heard praying for Fernando.
5, 12: /Tu, Fernando, que adotei por filho An aria con coro ** for Count Orlando before he asks his men how the search for Henrique has been going (negative they say). This one has weirdly Rossinian tinges to it. The next number is again for Orlando as he ponders if Fernando or Henrique would make a better son-in-law ** (what is up with the interjections from the brass section?).
Scene 2: Bedchamber of Leonor as in Act 1 Scene 2.
20, 24: Henrique, Henrique Inez tries to get Leonor to go to sleep, but she can not. Instead, she embarks on a long fantasy about her husband ** (this time the quotation is from Luisa Miller). The two women embark on a duet ** to a somewhat forlorn melody, although the rather lively stretta quotes Norma. It is midnight (somehow everything has taken place over this one night).
32, 42, 47: /Tu que a mim desde Criança With about twenty minutes left, Henrique arrives and goes about frightening the two women as he locks up the door and windows. Leonor tries to explain herself: she loves Henrique, and upon learning of his supposed death, wanted to die herself, but she did not, and she healed, and fell in love again with Fernando. Much of this occurs to oddly sub-par almost jovial music, but it eventually changes to a more dramatic gear which improves the situation **. Henrique is horrified, and attempts to get her to kneel and beg his forgiveness, she seems to be about to do so when she suddenly refuses and he attacks her, which gives Inez the opportunity to scream from one of the windows and alert the Count and his soldiers who burst into the room. Henrique stabs Leonor, the Count stabs Henrique, but quickly realizes who he is and attempts to help him, but it is too late. Husband and wife are reconciled as they die (in a final ensemble ** lasting some four minutes which appears to owe something to Bella figlia dell’amore) and the Count and Inez are left to mourns the dreadful fate of the couple. Curtain.
This is a very enjoyable opera, and a very good first timer opera. If I can fault Gomes at all here it would be for mimicry (much of the best music here is literally plagiarized from better known composers and works, particularly Il Trovatore) and for the rather subdued way the tenor lead goes about extracting musical vengeance. There is little characterization for Henrique as a soon to be revenge killer even though the text matches that description.
Otherwise, the plot is rather straight forward, although if anything, Henrique refusing to remove his helmet and remain disguised might come off as funny rather than sinister and that his wife is oblivious to his identity for so long, when her own father figures it all out in seconds requires a bit of credulity.
The characterizations themselves are weak, with Leonor strongly in the Lucia-vein of doomed but slightly guilty operatic heroines and not much else, Henrique singularly bent on revenge and the other characters being rather nondescript apart from Count Orlando and Raimundo, mostly due to them getting a single aria each. Fernando does not get enough stage time before being dispatched.
Although it is true that if I took the time I could probably trace every musical idea in this opera back to one pre-existing Italian opera or another (because there is nothing musically original here at all), it is nevertheless enjoyable and the obscuring of the work since its first couple of years of existence (it appears to never have been performed outside of Brazil, where it was a standard item for several decades) is such that ridiculing it for plagiarism probably does not matter (Gomes is not one of my students after all).
At least he used the Golden Melody effectively.
If one looks at this as the Portuguese equivalent of Batori Maria then the pieces all start to fall into place and it is possible to be washed over by the Brazilian waves and enjoy this piece for what it is: potpourri of things to come.
- Portuguese, Catalan, and Spanish Wikipedia Entries for: A Noite do Castelo. (Unfortunately, there is very little information on this opera available, in Portuguese or otherwise. I used a combination of the synopses from the Portuguese and Spanish entries and musical analysis from the Portuguese and Catalan articles, along with my own opinion, to construct this entry, which is now probably the most in-depth analysis of the opera written in English to date.)