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8.660149-51 - ROSSINI: Maometto Secondo
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Gioachino Rossini (1792-1868)
Maometto II (Venice version)

 

‘At least’, Rossini in his later years told his fellow composer Ferdinand Hiller, ‘I was always extremely dependent on external influences. The various cities in which I wrote stimulated me in different ways; I also accommodated myself to the various tastes that prevailed in one or another audience. In Venice, therefore, my crescendo could never be enough, I gave them plenty of it, although I myself was already satisfied. In Naples I could leave it aside, it was never once wanted there.’

With these words Rossini alluded to the progressive public of Naples, distinguished from the broadly traditional attitude of other Italian theatre-goers. In Naples, thanks to the best orchestra, the permanent mixed chorus and the outstanding singers, Rossini could allow himself experiments and reforms in his operatic style, particularly because of the open-mindedness of the public. His first appearance in Naples in 1815 with Elisabetta brought an approach to the style there and the tradition of composed recitatives, anticipating a degree of modernity in his Otello in 1816 with its murder and suicide on the open stage, something unthinkable in the rest of Italy. Among the nine serious operas written between 1815 and 1822 in Naples Maometto II is the most important reform opera in Rossini’s career. The choice of librettist is striking. Cesare della Valle, Duke of Ventignano, not least through his loyalty to the royal house, was very influential in theatrical circles in Naples. He had won a respectable reputation as a poet with several classical works. That he now adapted his tragedy Anna Erizo as an opera was through the urging of Rossini, to whom Della Valle gave way, without ever being enthusiastic about the ‘lower’ art form of libretto-writing. Already in May 1820 the poet and composer were busy with the material. At the beginning of July revolutionary intrigues forced the king to agree to a constitution. It appears that Della Valle added some patriotic passages, taking into account the current political climate. The libretto was approved by the censors at the end of July. Planned for September, then announced for the middle of November, the opera was finally first performed on 3rd December 1820, with a delay attributed to a creative crisis on the part of Rossini, something to which he was always subject with his innovative works. The opera was praised by the press, but received by the public with a measure of indifference for no clear reason.

Earlier operas such as Ermione (1819) had tended towards putting into question the traditional number opera with large, closed structures. In Maometto II there was an attempt to do away with the usual closed structure of scenes. Among the most important things here is what Rossini himself called the Terzettone that takes up a good third of the first act and includes not less than five numbers, namely a scene, a terzetto, a prayer, another scena and a further final terzetto. Between the terzetto and the prayer there is a complete change of scene and scenery, while the music continues.

In addition to this the plot deviates from the usual dilemma of the heroine between love and duty. In the well enough known situation the girl rebels against the tyranny of her father, since she, usually secretly, loves another man, who may not be suitable in some way. Often the couple have married in secret, like Desdemona and Othello, or even have a child, like Cristina and Eduardo. Anna’s situation is different. She loves a man whom she first believes to be an ally of her country and a friend of her father. In the decisive moment she does not hide her feelings, but openly reveals it to her father, Erisso, and to her new suitor, Calbo. At first, then, there is no recognition that it is a matter of the worst enemy of her people that creates her inner conflict. Rather her love dies in the moment when she realises that the one she loved had betrayed her with a false identity. This betrayal is followed by the fascination this man exercises over her, something that is no reason for her to respond. The rest of the plot deals with the feeling for her father and her country. Her sacrifice is more sacred duty than a way out of a conflict that really is no such thing. Her final willing betrothal to Calbo before her definitive departure is no act of blind obedience but of loyalty to her family. Rossini succeeds in showing her inner unity of character in leit-motifs through her thoughts of her dead mother, and that to her last breath. Anna’s vow of loyalty to her father and her death before the eyes of Maometto are accompanied by that melody heard before when Erisso was by his wife’s tomb. It is no surprise, then, that Rossini shows no interest in the contemporary political implication of the text that the librettist had introduced into the final scene and unswervingly completes his drama as one of a character showing love of parents and loyalty.

In his printed libretto Della Valle writes:

Anna: (appoggiandosi al sepolcro della madre)
E tu che Italia conquistar presumi
impara or tu da un’itala donzella
che ancora degli eroi la patria è quella
(cade morta appiè del sepolcro)

Anna: (supporting herself on her mother’s tomb)
And you who dare to conquer Italy
learn now from an Italian girl
that this is still the country of heroes.
(She falls dead by the tomb.)

In the score Rossini has:

Anna: (mostrando il sepolcro della madre)
Sul cenere materno
io porsi a lui la mano
il cenere materno
abbia il mio sangue ancor.
(si ferisce col pugnale che teneva celato)

Anna: (indicating her mother’s tomb)
Over my mother’s ashes
I stretch forth my hand.
My mother’s ashes
now receives my blood.
(She strikes herself with the dagger that she has held hidden).

This shows once more the coherence and careful attention with which Rossini treated his material. One theme is pre-eminent, while subsidiary scenes are consequently eliminated.

It is possible that soon afterwards Rossini thought of reworking this opera for Paris, when he gained a foothold there, in the same way that he found Mosè in Egitto (1818- 1819) suitable for the Parisian stage. The opportunity for an Italian reworking seemed quite unexpected. In fact his agreement with La Fenice in Venice, beside the composition of a new opera (Semiramide), did not schedule Maometto II for the opening of the 1822-23 season, but Zelmira (1822), which had had great success in Naples and in Vienna. It turned out, however, that this opera, in spite of Rossini’s attempts to keep his score out of the hands of others, had been appropriated by the smaller San Benedetto Theatre, where it was performed on 21st September 1822. For the opening of the La Fenice season an opera never previously heard in Venice had to be provided. For this purpose only Maometto II was in question, a work eminently suitable for the singers engaged and for its plot drawn from the colonial history of Venice. What was not suitable was the formal and contextual modernism of the Naples opera, and so Rossini was compelled to undertake at least two alterations: an overture and a happy ending were essential. In addition he made a number of other changes, pointing already to the revision of the opera for Paris as Le siège de Corinthe (The Siege of Corinth) (1826) and altogether amounting to an undoing of the large structural forms designed for Naples. In this more conventional form the opera had its first performance on 26th December 1822. The overture opened with the long, moving Maestoso that originally introduced the scene of Erisso and Calbo in the catacombs. It proceeded with an exposition of the themes, drawn from the opera, and with the crescendo so much prized by the Venetians, continuing in the general style of Rossini’s early overtures, but showing strongly extended structures that make it one of his longest and most fascinating overtures.

The Introduction (No.1), which, with its first sounds, establishes the atmosphere of the opera, corresponds absolutely to the Naples version. There is one difference: Condulmiero, the general, who at first expresses an opposing view, is not sung, as originally, by a tenor but given to a bass. This is clear not from the surviving musical sources but from the cast-list, which specifies this rôle as for Signor Luciano Mariani, who in the same season created the bass rôle of Oroe in Semiramide.

In the following scene Erisso goes with the generals Calbo and Condulmiero, and not only with Calbo, as in the first version, to Anna’s chamber. There, in a scene taken from the opera Ermione, girls try to cheer her up (No.2). Anna’s cavatina is cut. This was not so much for dramatic as for practical reasons. In Elisabetta in 1815 Rossini had composed a classical entrance aria for Isabella Colbran, and avoided in all his following operas taxing entrances so that the prima donna could keep her voice for the final scene. In Otello she sings a duettino, and in Maometto II the aforementioned cavatina, which only consists of a slow section, with no cabaletta. At the Vienna performance of Elisabetta in 1822 Rossini replaced the entrance aria with a number that here for the first time was a less revealing opening for the prima donna; the famous quartet from Bianca e Falliero, ‘Cielo, il tuo labbro ispira’, which follows here as an expression of what is unspoken, indicates that Anna loves a liar. For this quartet (No.3) the tenor, soprano and contralto are joined by a bass, for musical reasons, with Condulmiero now allotted to a bass, present at Erisso’s planned betrothal of Calbo and Anna. At the same time the following scene in the first version is eliminated, where General Condulmiero turns out to be the traitor who, after having spoken at the assembly for the surrender of weapons, opens the gates of Negroponte to the Turks. Through his presence during the alarms and excursions of war this stain on the honourable Venetian is removed. With this we are plunged into the following scene that was originally part of the grand terzettone and now offers no more than a change of scene. The opening terzetto ‘Conquisa l’anima’, eliminated through the aforementioned quartet, is now moved with newly arranged earlier themes to the conclusion. After the change of scene from Anna’s chamber to the city square there follow scene, chorus, prayer, scene and terzetto (No.4) from the former terzettone of the original with the heart-rending dialogue between Anna and Erisso and the effective conclusion provided by Calbo and the chorus, still a very complex number, which, however, with the omission of the introductory terzetto no longer shows the original tonal unity. The final entrance of the Turks and Maometto’s cavatina (No.5) correspond completely with the Naples version. This is true of the whole finale, with the exception of a small stroke, a new theme for the cabaletta and a rhythmic simplification of the final choral crescendo.

The second act shows greater changes than the first, although the announcement that the composer had taken on the task of completely rewriting the second act is not strictly true. The opening chorus of Turkish girls (No.7) is identical with the Naples version. The interventions in the following scene and duet (No.8) are complicated; as here the directly concluding aria of Maometto with chorus is omitted, the dramatic events included there, the urging by the Turks for Maometto to counterattack and his handing over of the imperial ring to Anna, have to be integrated with the duet. This takes place through the introduction of martial music and the complete reworking of the cabaletta, with the introduction of a new final cadenza with thematic borrowings from the omitted aria of Maometto, which brings the number to an end. To make clear the following change of scene from Maometto’s tent to a deserted part of Negroponte near the city walls, a dramatically irrelevant recitative is inserted for Selim. The scene and aria of Calbo (No.9) show three more or less substantial cuts from the Naples version, but remain otherwise identical in form. The handing over of the imperial ring has already happened, and Erisso and Calbo have been able to gain their freedom, in Turkish disguise. In spite of their rescue by Anna, Erisso still doubts her loyalty, while Calbo in his great aria gives strong expression to the opposite view. The tessitura of Calbo’s vocal line lies lower than in Naples and is less embellished. This is followed by a completely new dramatic situation: Maometto and Erisso confront each other, leading to a newly composed terzetto (No.10) in which Calbo enters, explaining that he is not Anna’s brother but her betrothed: both leave to fight in single combat.

A new change of scene leads now to the catacombs, where Anna has had to remain and awaits her death. The introductory Maestoso comes from the original catacomb scene, which in Naples preceded Calbo’s aria and has already been heard in the overture (whereby Rossini established the connection, important to him, between the overture and the opera, something always denied him in the related literature). The rest of the scene and chorus (No.11) make use of parts of the extended finale of the Naples version. Anna’s scene ‘Alfin compiuta è una metà dell’opera’ remains largely intact and the final chorus of women ‘Nume cui’l sole à trono’ is shortened.

The final scene is newly composed. In the battle the walls of the church are broken open, with no entry of avenging Turks but of victorious Venetians crying ‘Vittoria! Vittoria! Il Veneto valor trionfò’. Clearly Calbo has defeated Maometto in combat and the Venetians have won the upper hand over the Turks. United with her father and her betrothed, to whom she now reaches out her hand, Anna has now only to sing the happy Rondò finale (No.12), that comes, with the words ‘Fra il padre, e fra l’amante’, from La donna del lago.

The question remains what good the whole exercise was. In the first place the tragic ending had to give way to a happy conclusion. This meant a whole range of dramatic changes, namely in the second act, so that the new dénouement might seem fairly plausible. Through the omission of the suicide scene by her mother’s tomb Rossini had to sacrifice the leitmotifs associated with the identity of Anna, losing something of its compelling nature. The change of fortune was brought about by a conventional duel scene.

At the same time Rossini took the opportunity to reduce the demands on the three principal soloists (no entrance aria and a decidedly shorter final scene for Anna, only one aria for Maometto, a less demanding aria for Calbo and less taxing ensembles for all). In fact he met the demands not only of star singers, who soon took part in a major performance with Semiramide, but also made it possible for later stagings of the opera with less bravura singers. Finally Rossini reworked the structure of the opera in more conventional forms, which could be accepted by the public as separate numbers, facilitating the entrance of the opera into the repertoire of provincial opera houses. For all these requirements Rossini mercilessly sacrificed the formal advances achieved in Naples and the parental motif that was so important to him. With his usual pragmatism he set out for total functionalism, where continuing ambitions were impossible or made no sense.

Success of the work in this form remained limited and reflections on its quality as in other failures are out of place. One reason could be in the total rejection by the public of Isabella Colbran, who was no longer at the height of her powers. After this Rossini did nothing to promote the work further and waited for the opportunity to rework it in a new form as reforms took place in Venetian opera, a thing he achieved in Paris with Le siège de Corinthe, and the final exclusion of Maometto II from the stage. Today we have the opportunity to test the effectiveness of the Venice version, following the example of the pragmatic Rossini, not drawing comparisons with the earlier and later versions but judging the present version on its own merits.

Reto Müller

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The Venice Version

The Wildbad edition of Maometto II cannot and is not intended to anticipate the long-awaited Fondazione Rossini Pesaro edition. Our performance-orientated practical version is based, in so far as is clear, on the tolerably complete manuscript of the piece, preserved in Bologna. In this manuscript there are contradictions stemming from its origins to be explained, as, for example, the notation for Condulmiero as a tenor in the Introduction and as a bass in the Quartet, to explain which it is necessary to go back to the Venice conducting score and if possible to the autograph. This problem, missing bars and some details, and a number of copyist’s mistakes, have to be solved editorially. The final aria Tanti affetti from La donna del lago, only indicated in the manuscript, follows a Modena manuscript, but is in the Venice libretto. Calbo’s aria is not simplified or shortened in the Bologna manuscript, perhaps a pointer that the simplification sketched in the Pesaro autograph and edited by Alberto Zedda for a recording with Marilyn Horne, is maybe to be seen as a temporary reduction (possibly in view of the heavy burden on the singer in Venice with the performance of Semiramide?). As the aria in the manuscript is notated in E, but for the performance is marked at the beginning a tone lower, we have taken the liberty here of choosing the higher key, in view of the tessitura of our Calbo.

Jochen Schönleber
English versions by Keith Anderson


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