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Complete Opera Book

The Stories of the Operas, together
with 400 of the Leading Airs and Motives
in Musical Notation


Gustav Kobbé


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Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari

ERMANNO Wolf-Ferrari was born in Venice, January 12, 1876, the son of August Wolf, a German painter, and an Italian mother. At first self-taught in music, he studied later with Rheinberger in Munich. From 1902-09 he was director of the conservatory Licio Benedetto Marcello. He composed, to words by Dante, the oratorio "La Vita Miova." His operas, "Le Donne Curiose," "Il Segreto di Susanna," and "L’Amore Medici," are works of the utmost delicacy. They had not, however, been able to hold their own on the operatic stage of English speaking countries. This may explain the composer’s plunge into so exaggerated, and "manufactured" a blood and thunder work as "The Jewels of the Madonna." In American opera this has held its own in the repertoire of the Chicago Opera Company. It has at least some substance, some approach to passion, even if this appears worked up when compared with such spontaneous productions as "Cavalleria Rusticana" and "I Pagliacci," which it obviously seeks to outdo in sordidness and brutality.
     The failure of Wolf-Ferrari’s other operas to hold the stage in English speaking countries disappointed many, who regarded him as next to Puccini, the most promising contemporary Italian composer of opera. The trouble is that the plots of his librettos are mere sketches, and his scores delicate to the point of tenuity, so that even with good casts, they are futile attempts to re-invoke the Spirit of Mozart behind the mask of a half-suppressed modern orchestra.



     Oera in three acts by Wolf-Ferrari; plot by the composer, versification by C. Zangarini and E. Golisciani. Produced in German (Der Schmuck der Madonna), at the Kurfuersten Oper, Berlin, December 23, 1911. Covent Garden Theatre, London, March 30, 1912. Auditorium Theatre, Chicago, January 16, 1912; Metropolitan Opera House, New York, March 5, 1912, both the Chicago and New York productions by the Chicago Opera Company, conducted by Cleopante Campanini, with Carolina White, Louis Bérat, Bassi, and Sammares.


Gennaro, in love with Maliella Tenor
Maliella, in love with Rafaele Soprano
Rafaele, leader of the Camorrists Baritone
Carmela, Gennaro’s mother Mezzo-Soprano
Biaiso Tenor
Cicillo Tenor
Stella Soprano
Concetta Soprano
Serena Soprano
Rocco Bass
Grazia, a dancer; Totonno, vendors, monks, populace.

Time-The present.


     Act I. A small square in Naples, near the sea. Carmela’s house, Gennaro’s smithy, an inn, and the little hut of Biaso, the scribe, among many other details. "It is the gorgeous afternoon of the festival of the Madonna, and the square swarms with a noisy crowd, rejoicing and celebrating the event with that strange mixture of carnival and super-stition so characteristic of Southern Italy." This describes most aptly the gay, crowded scene, and the character of the music with which the opera opens. It is quite kaleidoscopic in its constant shifting of interest. At last many in the crowd follow a band, which has crossed the square.
     Gennaro in his blacksmith’s shop is seen giving the finishing touches to a candalabra on which he has been working. He places it on the anvil, as on an altar, kneels before it, and sings a prayer to the Madonna—" Madonna, con sonspiri" (Madonna, tears and sighing).
     Maliella rushes out of the house pursued by Carmela. She is a restless, wilful girl, possessed of the desire to get away from the restraint of the household and throw herself into the life of the city, however evil-a potential Carmen, from whom opportunity has as yet been withheld. Striking an attitude of bravado, and in spite of Gennaro’s protests, she voices her rebellious thoughts in the "Canzone di Cannetella,"—"Diceva Cannetella vendendosi inserata" (Thus sang poor Cannetella, who yearned and sighed for her freedom).
     A crowd gathers to hear her. From the direction of the sea comes the chorus of the approaching Camorrists. Maliella and the crowd dance wildly. When Carmela reappears with a pitcher of water on her head, the wayward girl is dashing along the quay screaming and laughing.
     Carmela tells her son the brief story of Maliella. Gennaro languished, when an infant. Carmela vowed to the Madonna to seek an infant girl of sin begotten, and adopt her. "In the open street I found her, and you recovered." There is a touching duet for mother and son, in which Carmela bids him go and pray to the Madonna, and Gennaro asks for her blessing, before he leaves to do so. Carmela then goes into the house.     Maliella runs in. The Camorrists, Rafaele in the van, are in pursuit of her. Rafaele, the leader of the band, is a handsome, flashy blackguard. When he advances to seize and kiss her, she draws a dagger-like hat pin. Laughing, he throws off his coat, like a duellist, grasps and holds her tightly. She stabs his hand, making it bleed, then throws away the skewer. Angry at first, he laughs disdainfully, then passionately kisses the wound. While the other Camorrists buy flowers from a passing flower girl and make a carpet of them, Rafaele picks up the hat pin, kneels before Maliella, and hands it to her. Maliella slowly replaces it in her hair, and then Rafaele, her arms being uplifted, sticks a flower she had previously refused, on her breast, where she permits it to remain. A few moments later she plucks it out and throws it away. Rafaele picks it up, and carefully replaces it in his buttonhole. A little later he goes to the inn, looks in her direction, and raises his filled glass to her, just at the moment, when, although her back is toward him, a subtle influence compels her to turn and look at him.
     Tolling of bells, discharge of mortars, cheers of populace, announce the approach of the procession of Madonna. While hymns to the Virgin are chanted, Rafaele pours words of passion into Maliella’s ears. The image of the Virgin, bedecked with sparkling jewels-the jewels of the Madonna-is borne past. Rafaele asseverates that for the love of Maliella he would even rob the sacred image of the jewels and bedeck her with them. The superstitious girl is terrified.
     Gennaro, who returns at that moment, warns her against Rafaele as "the most notorious blackguard in this quarter," at the same time he orders her into the house. Rafaele’s mocking laugh infuriates him. The men seem about to fight. Just then the procession returns, and they are obliged to kneel. Rafaele’s looks, however, follow Maliella, who is very deliberately moving toward the house, her eyes constantly turning in the Camorrist’s direction. He tosses her the flower she has previously despised. She picks it up, puts it between her lips, and flies indoors.
     Act II. The garden of Carmela’s house. On the left wall a wooden staircase. Under this is a gap in the back wall shut in by a railing. It is late evening.
     Carmela, having cleared the table, goes into the house. Gennaro starts in to warn Maliella. She says she will have freedom, rushes up the staircase to her room, where she is seen putting her things together, while she hums, "E ndringhete, ndranghete" (I long for mirth and folly).
     She descends with her bundle and is ready to leave. Gennaro pleads with her. As if lost in a reverie, with eyes half-closed, she recalls how Rafaele offered to. steal the jewels of the Madonna for her. Gennaro, at first shocked at the sacrilege in the mere suggestion, appears to yield gradually to a desperate intention. He bars the way to Maliella, locks the gate, and stands facing her. Laughing derisively, she reascends the stairs.
     Her laugh still ringing in his ears, no longer master of himself, he goes to a cupboard under the stairs, takes out a box, opens it by the light of the lamp at the table, selects from its contents several skeleton keys and files, wraps them in a piece of leather, which he hides under his coat, takes a look at Maliella’s window, crosses himself, and sneaks out.
     From the direction of the sea a chorus of men’s voices is heard. Rafaele appears at the gate with his Camorrist friends. To the accompaniment of their mandolins and guitars he sings to Maliella a lively waltzlike serenade. The girl, in a white wrapper, a light scarlet shawl over her shoulders descends to the garden. There is a love duet—"in a torrent of passion, " according to the libretto, but not so torrential in the score:—"T’amo, si, t’amo" ( I love you, I love you), for Maliella; "Stringimi forte" (Cling fast tome) for Rafaele; "Oh! strette ardenti "(Rapture enthralling) for both. She promises that on the morrow she will join him. Then Rafaele’s comrades signal that someone approaches.
     Left to herself, she sees in the moonlight Gennaro’s open tool box. As if in answer to her presentiment of what it signifies, he appears with a bundle wrapped in red damask. He is too distracted by his purpose to question her presence in the garden at so late an hour and so lightly clad. Throwing back the folds of the damask, he spreads out on the table, for Maliella, the jewels of the Madonna.
     Maliella, in an ecstacy, half mystic, half sensual, and seemingly visioning in Gennaro the image of the man who promised her the jewels, Rafaele, who has set every chord of evil passion in her nature vibrating-no longer repulses Gennaro, but, when, at the foot of a blossoming orange tree, he seizes her, yields herself to his embrace;—a scene described in the Italian libretto with a realism that leaves no doubt as to its meaning.
     Act III. A haunt of the Camorrists on the outskirts of Naples. On the left wall is a rough fresco of the Madonna, whose image was borne in procession the previous day. In front of it is a sort of altar.
     The Camorrists gather. They are men and women, all the latter of doubtful character. There is singing with dancing-the "Apache," the "Tarantelle." Stella, Concetta, Serena, and Grazia, the dancer, are the principal women. They do not anticipate Maliella’s expected arrival with much pleasure. When Rafaele comes in, they ask him what he admires in her. In his answer, "Non sapete... di Maliella" (know you not of Maliella), he tells them her chief charm is that he will be the first man to whom she has yielded herself.
     In the midst of an uproar of shouting and dancing, while Rafaele, standing on a table, cracks a whip, Maliella rushes in. In an agony she cries out that, in a trance, she gave herself up to Gennaro. The women laugh derisively at Rafaele, who has just sung of her as being inviolable to all but himself. There is not a touch of mysticism about Rafaele. That she should have confused Gennaro. with him, and so have yielded herself to the young blacksmith, does not appeal to him at all. For him she is a plucked rose to be left to wither. Furiously he rejects her, flings her to the ground. The jewels of the Madonna fall from her cloak. They are readily recognized; for they are depicted in the rough fresco on the wall.
     Gennaro, who has followed her to the haunt of the Camorrists, enters. He is half mad. Maliella, laughing hysterically, flings the jewels at his feet, shrieking that he stole them for her. The crowd, as superstitious as it is criminal, recoils from both intruders. The women fall to their knees. Rafaele curses the girl. At his command, the band disperses. Maliella goes out to drown herself in the sea. "Madonna dei dolor! Miserere!" (Madonna of our pain, have pity), prays Gennaro. His thoughts revert to his mother. "Deh no piangere, O Mamma mia" (Ah! Weep not, beloved mother mine) . Among the débris he finds a knife and plunges it into his heart.

     "Le Donne Curiose" (Inquisitive Women), words by Luigi Sagana, after a comedy by Goldoni, was produced at the Hofoper, Munich, November 27, 1903, in German. It was given for the first time in Italian at the Metropolitan Opera House, New York, January 3, 1912.
Several Venetian gentlemen, including Ottavio, the father of Rosaura, who is betrothed to Florindo, have formed a club, to which women are not admitted. The latter immediately have visions of forbidden pleasures being indulged in by the men at the club. By various intrigues the women manage to obtain a set of keys, and enter the club, only to find the men enjoying themselves harmlessly at dinner. All ends in laughter and dancing.
     The principal characters are Ottavio, a rich Italian (Bass); Beatrice, his wife (Mezzo-Soprano); Rosaura, his daughter (Soprano); Florindo, betrothed to Rosaura (Tenor); Pantalone, a Venetian merchant (Buffo-Baritone); his friends, Lelio (Baritone), and Leandro (Tenor); Colombina, Rosaura’s maid (Soprano); Eleanora, wife to Lelio (Soprano); Arlechino; servant to Pantalone (Buffo-Bass) . There are servants, gondoliers, and men and women of the populace. The action is laid in Venice in the middle of the eighteenth century. There are three acts:
     Act I, in the Friendship Club, and later in Ottavio’s home; Act II, in Lelio’s home; Act III, a street in Venice near the Grand Canal, and later in the club.
     In the music the club’s motto, "Bandie xe le Done" (No Women Admitted) is repeated often enough to pass for a motif. The most melodious vocal passage is the duet for Rosaura and Florindo in Act II, "I; cor nel contento" (My heart, how it leaps in rejoicing) . In the first scene of Act III a beautiful effect is produced by the composer’s use of the Venetian barcarolle, "La Biondina in Gondoletta," which often, in the earlier days of Rossini’s Opera, "Il Barbiere di Siviglia," was introduced by prima donnas in the lesson scene.
     In the Metropolitan production Farrar was Rosaura, Jadloker Florindo, and Scotti Lelio. Toscanini conducted. The rôles of Colombina and Arlecchino (Harlequin) are survivals of old Italian comedy, which Goldoni still retained in some of his plays.

     "Il Segreto di Susanna" (The Secret of Suzanne), the scene a drawing-room in Piedmont, time 1840, is in one act. Countess Suzanne (Soprano) smokes cigarettes. The aroma left by the smoke leads Count Gil (Baritone) to suspect his wife of entertaining a lover. He discovers her secret—and all is well. The third character, a servant, Sante, is an acting part.-A musical trifle, at the Hofoper, Munich, November 4, I 909; Metropolitan Opera House, New York, by the Chicago Opera Company, March 14, 1911, with Carolina White and Sammarco; Constanzi Theatre, Rome, November 27, 1911. The "book" is by Enrico Golisciani, from the French.

     "L’Amore Medico," Metropolitan Opera House, March 25, 1914, is another typical bit of Wolf-Ferrari musical bric-a-brac-slight, charming, and quite unable to hold its own in the hurly-burly of modern verismo. A girl is lovesick. Her father, who does not want her ever to leave him, thinks her ailment physical, and vainly summons four noted physicians. Then the clever maid brings in the girl’s lover disguised as a doctor. He diagnoses the case as love-hallucination, and suggests as a remedy a mock marriage, with himself as bridegroom. The father consents, and an actual marriage takes place.
     The scene of "L’Amore Medico" (Doctor Cupid), words by Golisciano after Molière’s "L’Amour Médecin," is a villa near Paris, about 1665 (Louis XIV). The characters are Arnolfo, a rich, elderly landowner (Bass); Lucinda, his daughter (Soprano); Clitandro, a young cavalier, (Tenor); Drs. Tomes (Bass); Desfonandres (Bass); Macroton (Baritone); Bahis (Tenor); Lisetta, Lucinda’s maid (Soprano); Notary (Bass) . There also are servants, peasants and peasant girls, musicians, dancing girls, etc. The work is in two acts, the scene of the first the villa garden; of the second a handsome interior of the villa. The original production, in German, was at the Dresden Royal Opera House, December 4, 1913.

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