|About this Recording
2.110262 - MASCAGNI, P.: Amica (Festival della Valle d'Itria, 2007) (NTSC)
Pietro Mascagni (1863–1945)
Poème dramatique in two acts
Amica - Anna Malavasi
Orchestra Internazionale d’Italia
Filmed at the Palazzo Ducale, Martina Franca, Italy, 4–6 August 2007,
as part of the 33rd Festival of the Valle d’Itria, Italy
New production by
Festival della Valle d’Itria, Martina Franca and Teatro Goldoni of Livorno
The Italian opera composer Pietro Mascagni was born in Livorno in 1863. His father, a baker, wanted him to study law, but Pietro managed to take music lessons in secret at the Istituto Cherubini. When this was discovered he was taken into the care of his uncle, but he was soon reconciled with his father by having two works performed at the Istituto. An early cantata, In filanda (1881) provided the basis for the dramatic idyll Pinotta of 1883. Count Florestano de Larderei paid for the young Mascagni’s further musical education at the Milan Conservatory, where Ponchielli, the composer of La Gioconda, was among his professors, and he shared a room with Puccini. Mascagni left the Conservatory in 1885 before completing his studies, to join a travelling opera company. He went on to tour Italy with several other companies before settling at Cerinola near Foggia in 1886, as his partner was expecting a child. Here he made a precarious living teaching. In 1888 he abandoned the first version of his opera Guglielmo Ratcliff, on which he had been working since 1882, to enter the competition promoted by the music publishers Sonzogno for a one-act opera. His winning entry, Cavalleria rusticana, greatly impressed the judges, and the opera was very successful from its first performance at the Teatro Costanzi, Rome, in 1890. Henceforth Mascagni was to spend the rest of his career writing operas in different styles and with widely varying subjects.
Mascagni’s next opera, L’amico Fritz (1891), revealed a lyrical vein in contrast to the harsh verismo of Cavalleria rusticana, and consolidated his initial success. In order to promote his own works he began to conduct internationally, and enjoyed considerable success in Vienna, Paris and London. At Covent Garden in 1893 he conducted highly praised performances of his opera I Rantzau, which had been first performed at Florence during the previous year. Guglielmo Ratcliff was given its première with moderate success at La Scala, Milan, in 1895. In the same year Mascagni was appointed director of the Liceo Musicale at Pesaro, where another one-act opera of his, Zanetto, was first performed in 1896. Iris, set in Japan, was given for the first time in Rome during 1898 with success, and started a vogue for operas with exotic locations. Le maschere followed in 1901 with simultaneous premières in seven Italian opera houses, but failed in all except Rome, where the composer’s presence as conductor saved the day. He resigned from the Liceo in 1903, as frequent operatic trips, such as one to North America in 1902, prevented him from fulfilling his academic duties.
Mascagni achieved greater success with his next opera, Amica, at its first performance in Monte Carlo during 1905. It represented a return to the verismo style of Cavalleria rusticana and more sophisticated orchestral writing. This success was further developed with Isabeau, which had its première in Buenos Aires in 1911, prior to further performances and acclaim in Milan and Venice. But failure followed success once again with an unsuccessful collaboration with Gabriele D’Annunzio, Parisina, first performed in 1913. The sentimental lyrical side of his composing returned to the fore with Lodoletta (1917) and the operetta Sì (1919). Mascagni changed stylistic tack once again, returning to verismo with Il piccolo Marat (1921). Despite the success of this opera, the composer came to realise that he was caught in a cycle of musical regression. He became a recluse, producing only two more works of significance: a ‘symphonic vision’ Guardando la Santa Teresa del Bernini and the opera Nerone, which was first performed at La Scala in 1935 with the support of the Italian government of the time. Mascagni died in Rome in 1945.
Following the completion of Le maschere in 1900, Mascagni had become paralysed by the Byzantine workings of the Italian operatic system. The repertoire of most of the major Italian opera houses was controlled by the publishers, which in effect meant the two houses of Ricordi and Sonzogno. Each theatre would normally contract for a season with an impresario, who in turn would contract with a publisher for the season’s complete repertoire. Mascagni was at this time caught between the two principal publishing houses. Ricordi was keen for him to compose an opera on a libretto by Illica entitled Maria Antonietta, which was ill-suited to his talents, as it presented limited opportunities for the portrayal of passionate love. As long as the composer was locked in the embrace of Ricordi, the rival house of Sonzogno, the publisher of Cavalleria rusticana, had no interest in any work from him. Mascagni was thus frozen into creative immobility: he did not wish to write an opera without a publisher, as the chances of performance in such circumstances were slight. He had been courted for many years by foreign publishers, but had steadfastly remained loyal to those of Italy. By 1904, however, he was wavering, and so when he was approached by the French company Choudens, the publisher of music by Berlioz, Gounod and Saint-Saëns, he was definitely open to negotiation, especially as de Choudens’s suggested terms were unbelievably generous: 75% of all rental fees to opera houses in Italy and 50% elsewhere for the length of the copyright period, then eighty years, together with a handsome advance. Finally, the subject of the libretto suggested and written by Paul de Choudens (pseudonym Paul Bérel), the head of the company, was a story of passion and conflict that stimulated Mascagni’s creative drive.
Having received the libretto for Amica in June 1904, he completed the short score by the end of November. Working at a feverish pace he finished all the orchestration apart from the Intermezzo by early January 1905, when he left for Paris to meet the cast of the Monte Carlo première and to conduct concerts with the Lamoureux Orchestra. The Intermezzo was completed by mid-February, one month before the first performance which took place on 16 March 1905, with a distinguished cast led by Geraldine Farrar as Amica, and Charles Rousselière and Maurice Renaud as her two lovers, Giorgio and Rinaldo. The première was a triumph, with the Italian critics who covered it noting the new direction taken by Mascagni. Giovanni Pozza of Milan’s Corriere dell Sera wrote: ‘the musical structure and form appear different, there is not a trace left of his early style. The drama unwinds in its principal scenes through free melodic declamation…he has given it his own stamp, a passionate accent, an impulsive sincerity thoroughly Italian.’
The first Italian production took place during May in Rome, but with more muted success. Technical and vocal problems plagued the first night, but once these had been sorted out the production sold out. Thereafter, although eighteen Italian theatres had initially stated after the Monte Carlo première that they would be mounting the new opera, few actually did so. Mascagni attributed this state of affairs to ‘the publishers’ ferocious claws’. Amica was eventually seen in Naples in 1906 and in Venice in 1907, but its extravagant scenic and vocal demands, combined with its short running time of approximately 75 minutes, did not make it an especially attractive proposition to theatres, unless the composer himself was conducting. Mascagni himself formed a company to present it in provincial theatres such as Cremona, Rimini and Pistoia during 1907 and 1908. By the end of 1908, however, he was engaged on his next opera, Isabeau, and apart from several performances during his tour of Latin America in 1911, it vanished from the repertoire until recent revivals in Italy.
1. Opening titles
The setting is the courtyard of a farm. Mountains and fields may be seen in the distance.
2. A chorus of farm workers sing of the joys of the countryside, and of how the ever-present sun caresses the flowers.
3. Camoine (bass), a wealthy farmer who has raised Amica (soprano) as his niece, enters and tells the farm workers that he is happy for them to rest and to enjoy themselves. The workers express their gratitude and all drink wine. Camoine announces that he intends Amica to marry one of his orphan sons, the quiet Giorgio (tenor). The workers congratulate Giorgio, saying how lucky he will be to have such a beautiful wife.
4. Giorgio sings of his good fortune and of how he has dreamed of marrying the beautiful Amica.
5. The workers drink to Giorgio’s happiness.
6. Camoine suggests to his mistress Magdelone (mezzo-soprano) that with Amica married she will now be the mistress of his estate and that they will be able to enjoy each other’s company alone. He tells Magdelone of how in the past he took in two orphan brothers, one of whom was violent (Rinaldo, baritone) while the other (Giorgio) was docile. Magdelone asks if he is sure Amica will do as he wishes in agreeing to marry Giorgio and he assures her that she will.
7. The farm workers join them, wanting to dance. Magdelone leaves while Camoine joins the workers in a drink. Amica enters, sad and confused. Giorgio, about to leave, sees Amica and tells her of his love and happiness at being able to marry her. Amica is hesitant, and Giorgio reflects that if his brother Rinaldo was with them, he would be able to speak on his behalf. Amica tells him sadly that he does not know what she is feeling in her heart.
8. Camoine invites the workers to continue their drinking with him in the local tavern.
9. Amica begs Camoine to recognize her true love and of her concern at coming between Giorgio and Rinaldo. Camoine orders her to obey him, threatening to turn her out if she does not. Without Rinaldo to support her, Amica is in despair.
10. Rinaldo suddenly appears. Amica tells him that Camoine is forcing her to marry another, but does not say who this is. Rinaldo is dismissive of his rival and Amica tries to reassure him of her love for him. Rinaldo encourages her to come with him and to live free in the mountains and the countryside. They flee from Camoine’s farm. Magdelone tells Giorgio, who swears to kill Amica’s seducer.
The setting is a dangerous road in the mountains near a torrential waterfall.
12. Giorgio enters. Despite his exhaustion he feels invincible and is ready to kill his rival for Amica’s love.
13. Rinaldo and Amica enter. Giorgio at first does not recognize his brother, but when he does he is deeply shocked. Rinaldo asks Giorgio to explain everything to him. Giorgio tells Rinaldo that he was intending to marry Amica. Rinaldo is astonished to learn of this and asks Amica why she did not tell him. Amica begs for Rinaldo’s forgiveness.
14. Giorgio recalls their life together as two orphans, and how Rinaldo always protected and looked after him. Giorgio owes his life to Rinaldo. He realizes that his love for Amica is doomed with such a rival as Rinaldo and collapses. Amica is at a loss as to what to do.
15. Rinaldo upbraids Amica for not telling him that Giorgio was in love with her. He believes that if Giorgio loses her he will die, and that he [Rinaldo] and Amica are eternally divided. Amica tells Rinaldo how much she loves him and that she is prepared to make the ultimate sacrifice, killing herself in the waterfall. Rinaldo begs her to turn her love to Giorgio.
16. Rinaldo goes to Giorgio who revives, while Amica moves towards the waterfall. Rinaldo departs into the mountains. As Amica clambers up the rocks around the waterfall, Giorgio gradually regains consciousness. Amica believes all is finished. Rinaldo will leave her, but she still loves him. Amica sings with exultation of how she seeks to come closer to both Rinaldo and to the sun and stars.
17. Amica senses Rinaldo’s voice in the distance. Giorgio seeks to stop Amica, but she falls to her death. Rinaldo sings of how Amica has gone forever—‘fatal love’.
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