Pietro Mascagni: Amica (1905)

Opera in due atti. Running Time: 1 hour 17 minutes.

Amica was an attempt by Mascagni to garner a more international reputation. The libretto was originally in French, although its best recording is of the Italian translation. This review, however, will be on the French original. It is set in 19th century Savoy and concerns a love triangle ending in tragedy for the titular heroine. It also has some of the almost stereotypical Mascagni features such as a ten-minute orchestral intermezzo and a relatively small cast (five soloists and chorus). The score is probably most similar to the more subtle sections of Iris in the first act, while from the intermezzo to the end of the second act it builds gradually towards a heavily brutal chromaticism climaxing in a series of anti-tonal chords depicting the horrific demise of the heroine.

SETTING: Haute Savoie, circa 1900. Amica (dramatic soprano) is the niece of Camoine (baritone) who had years earlier adopted the orphaned brothers Rinaldo (baritone) and Giorgio (tenor). To appease his mistress, Maddalena (mezzo-soprano), Camoine decides to force her to marry Giorgio, but Amica loves Rinaldo and runs away with him, telling him that she will otherwise be forced into marrying someone else, without mentioning exactly who the other man is. When Giorgio catches up with the lovers and reveals that he was to marry Amica, Rinaldo gives her up for his brother, but when she tries to chase after him, she falls to her death in a mountain river.

LOOK OUT FOR:

ACT 1: The farm of Camoine. (44 minutes)

0, 11: Merci, mes comerades! The eight minute opening scene *. Cowbells and a solo oboe give way to a chorus in the background and then some work that could easily be misidentified as part of Iris or Cavalleria rusticana. Respectably picturesque complete with Angelus bells. Eventually Camoine comes out and greets everyone and eventually Giorgio comes on *. This is the first moment of real characterization in the score.

12: Tous le jours A rather brilliant aria for Giorgio as he contemplates his rather pathetic life **.

15: Le crincrin du violoneux A chorus of boys * can not betray its Italian origin even though it is trying to mimic French opera. However, this is the last bit of opening chorus work and the plot gets to begin finally as Camoine and Maddalena meet up. She tells him that he needs to get rid of Amica, he decides to marry her off to Giorgio.

21: La danse donne soif Another jovial choral dance scene *, cut short by the arrival of Amica who encounters Giorgio in a pathetic recitative.

24: Pouquoi garder ce silence Giorgio wonders why Amica is so cool to him *. Again, a mild and sad piece. Camoine tells Amica she has to marry Giorgio, negative says she.

31: Ecoutez-moi! Amica tells Camoine off *. Another sad aria full of misery.

33: Alors, tout est fini pour moi Camoine leaves, giving Amca an opportunity to realize that all is lost *.

37: Ah! tu m’aimes toujours She meets up with Rinaldo who suddenly shows up and they run off together **. Maddalena comes on and encounter Giorgio who realizes that Amica has fled into the mountains.

ACT 2: A mountain pass near a waterfall. (34 minutes)

0: The Intermezzo * starts with a timpani roll and then a series of chromatic features and lyrical passages. It rather hangs about until about half way through when it turns mildly Wagnerian and swirls about. It dies down, returns to the swirling, then finally something resembling a tune pops in. In the last two minutes it starts to become rather touching (the oboe solo bits help). Unfortunately, the whole affair is rather trudged and overall rather unimpressive.

10: J’ai pris un chemin detourne Finally, the plot re-states and Giorgio comes on, searching for Amica. This is surprisingly better than what has preceded it ** and continues into the confrontation with Rinaldo and Amica. However, we do eventually end up in some patches of orchestral bangs. Eventually we do descend into the pathetic as Giorgio ends up accompanied just by the strings. Rinaldo confronts Amica on not telling him that she was to marry Giorgio specifically. She pleads with him not to abandon her to Giorgio, but he does exactly that. This falls into bathos.

24: Si tu m’as aime Rinaldo tells Amica to marry Giorgio in a surprisingly noble aria *. It is rather understated as well, with mostly string and woodwind accompaniment. He leaves her with Giorgio.

28: Parti! Tout est fini! The playout to curtain **, the strongest section in the opera as Amica pleads with the now distant Rinaldo as she tries to get down the path, Giorgio chasing after her, she falls into the river, and drowns to a chromatic series of chords. The brothers finish the opera declaring her love accursed. And Mascagni tires to pull off a series of finale conventions. Probably too many. Slow curtain.

COMMENTS:

To some extent the plot is based on the stereotypical trope of finding some sort of bizarre way to kill off the titular soprano, the sort of thing I used to produce as a teenager (one of my strangest was to have the soprano get struck by a random bolt of lightening tacked on after I had otherwise provided a happy ending). The opening night at Monte Carlo was a success, but the Italian premiere in Rome was a mixed success. The first act was universally greeted warmly, but in the (albeit brief) second act the machine being used for the waterfall effect started to emit a groaning sound and eventually the tenor started going off pitch. Both premieres were conducted by the composer, who was very noticeable annoyed with the waterfall machine, which was fixed after that initial performance. It then started to suffer from impresarios failing to follow through, only made it to the San Carlo and the Fenice over the following two years (Mascagni claimed that the publishing houses were at work here, trying to block productions). However, it really only picked up an audience when Mascagni himself was scheduled to conduct it. Due to its extravagant stage requirements (the waterfall) and vocal demands (while lacking in any significantly memorable tunes), it has never caught on, and following the 1911 Argentine tour Mascagni pulled off to promote Isabeau (which included performances of Amica) it basically disappeared and has never been performed in the United States. The other problem is that the characters are too vague, although the situation they are in (and much of the music backing them up) is rather strong. Rinaldo is the only one with a full personality, Giorgio is too weak even though his weakness is intentional, although strangely enough I see where the character was going at least and it is a rather interesting study role. He also gets the most stage time of all the soloists. Amica has no discernible personality, she is probably an audience self-insert, and Camoine (a respected father figure) is ultimately morally spineless. Maddalena is an even less discernible feckless c-word. The two older characters also barely contribute to the narrative other than providing it with its main conflict for the triangle. Apart from Rinaldo, no one actually initiates anything, they react to others. However, Mascagni provides what is essentially a rather simplistic story with a score that ends up becoming rather pretentious. The fantastical chromatic fall of the heroine to her death is an operatic cliche, and Mascagni does not have the intense situation here of Tosca needed to keep such a premise from falling into the realm of melodramatics. B-.

SOURCE CONSULTED:

Mallach, Alan. Pietro Mascagni and His Operas. p.165-170.

3 responses to “Pietro Mascagni: Amica (1905)”

  1. I’m unfamiliar with Amica and her malfunctioning waterfall – but nice review. Random bolts of lightening (or even lightning) aren’t so strange. For instance: Carus. Although given he was a soldier emperor … Lightning? yeah right.

    Like

  2. george maclennan Avatar
    george maclennan

    I don’t know Amica, but thought I might mention here Mascagni’s 1919 operetta Si’ (the girl can never say no). The only reviews I’ve seen of this are two brief ones on Amazon, one dismissing it as “Italian bubble gum” the other praising it as “delightful froth.” I’m more inclined to agree with the latter view; there are reminiscences of L’Amico Fritz and (at one point) of Cavalleria, but without rising to the level of either. However the music is consistently tuneful and pleasant on the ear; it seems that the lighter operetta style suited Mascagni’s declining muse at this point in his career. I can’t speak for how it works as drama as I haven’t bothered to follow the libretto which seems like the usual operetta rigmarole. Worth the Phil treatment, though, if you get the chance.

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    1. Good suggestion George, thank you so much for taking me up on an opera suggestion! I will look into it and do some research on Si and figure out what I can do.

      Like

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