|About this Recording
8.660245-47 - MEYERBEER, G.: Crociato in Egitto (Il) (Maniaci, Ciofi, Vinco, Zennaro, Pasini, Teatro la Fenice, Villaume)
Giacomo Meyerbeer (1791–1864)
Heroic melodrama in two acts
Armando d’Orville – Michael Maniaci, Countertenor
Orchestra e Coro del Teatro La Fenice
Emanuela Di Pietro, chorus master
“Meyerbeer created his operas not as Delacroix painted a battle or tragic death-scene; rather he made them as a vast, elaborate woven tapestry—showered with detail and colour—the result of years of painstaking work.”
The reputation that Giacomo Meyerbeer has enjoyed since the beginning of the twentieth century is surely that of a meritorious, but deeply old-fashioned, composer, whose works suited the taste of his own day but have little place in opera houses of more recent times. Meyerbeer is remembered as a maker of operas on a grand scale; yet his output during a long career was only seventeen stage works, of which just six remain familiar (by name alone) to most music-lovers, and not all of which are indeed that grand. Such was the impact that several of them made during his lifetime that it is both surprising and regrettable that they are not better known and admired in the 21st century.
This landmark recording of Meyerbeer’s Il crociato in Egitto was made during a performance at the Teatro La Fenice, Venice in January 2007. That production, directed and designed by Pier Luigi Pizzi, was the first anywhere for well over a hundred years and thus this recording offer a welcome opportunity for a reassessment of one of nineteenth-century opera’s long-forgotten, major masterpieces. Il crociato was composed at the close of Meyerbeer’s ‘Italian’ phase, a transitional stylistic period, shortly before he embarked upon his triumphant ‘French’ career.
Born Jakob Beer on 5 September 1791 in Tasdorf, near Berlin, the young prodigy changed his name to Meyerbeer at the age of nineteen, by which time he had already achieved recognition through several notable piano and orchestral compositions. His preference for the forename Giacomo reflected his love of Italian music, fostered during lengthy visits to Italy in his mid-twenties.
With the good fortune of being born into a prosperous Jewish family, Jakob received a musical education and sound advice from some of the most distinguished performers and academics of the day; he could hardly have hoped for better. Franz Lauska, his first teacher, had links with the Prussian Royal House and under his guidance Jakob gave his first public piano recital. He studied for a while with the composer Muzio Clementi, continued with Carl Zelter (two of whose later pupils were Felix Mendelssohn and Otto Nicolai) and knew Antonio Salieri in Berlin. An introduction to Abbé Vogler (Carl Maria von Weber’s teacher) took him to Darmstadt, where he worked and socialised with other young composers and developed an interest in writing for the opera stage. With this valuable experience behind him, Jakob travelled with unceasing energy throughout Germany and Austria (and once to London), continuing to compose and achieving performances of two early operas, Jephtas Gelübde and Wirth und Gast, albeit with mixed results. During this time he also created works in other genres, including songs, instrumental music and oratorios, for which he earned considerable acclaim.
A period in Paris was followed by his formative tours of Italy, when he came to know and admire (and, in the opinion of some contemporaries, to copy) the works of Rossini, almost his exact coeval. In 1817—and by now fully fledged as Giacomo Meyerbeer—his first Italian opera, Romilda e Costanza, was performed in Padua. This enjoyed the appreciable asset of a libretto by Gaetano Rossi. During a long career, Rossi produced over 120 texts for many Italian composers, including five for Meyerbeer himself, and during the next few years his collaboration undoubtedly contributed significantly to the success of Meyerbeer’s Semiramide riconosciuta (1819 in Turin), Emma di Resburgo (1819, Venice) and Margherita d’Anjou (1820, Milan).
Italy had clearly taken Meyerbeer to its heart, to such an extent that one of the country’s most famous theatres, La Fenice in Venice, commissioned a new opera from him for production during the city’s Carnival season of 1824. Il crociato in Egitto (The Crusader in Egypt) was an extraordinary triumph and before many months had passed it was presented in several other Italian cities. The first London performance was given at His Majesty’s Theatre in June 1825 and just three months later its Paris première, at the Théâtre Italien, paved the way for the remainder of Meyerbeer’s career, and his immensely influential output of six grand and comic operas in French. Over the next few years Il crociato was presented in the Americas, in Turkey and throughout Europe with consistent success.
With his career then centred in Paris, (apart from a short break when he returned to Berlin to take up a Court appointment), Meyerbeer composed successively Robert le diable (1831), Les Huguenots (1836), Le prophète (1849), L’étoile du nord (1854), Dinorah (1859) and, finally, L’Africaine, first performed at the Opéra in 1865, almost a year after the composer’s death.
As well as being known for this handful of French operas, Meyerbeer is less happily remembered as the target of lashing criticism from Richard Wagner, which began around 1850 and continued long after Meyerbeer’s death. This burning acrimony was apparently ignited by a mixture of professional jealousy and racial hatred, and seems particularly unpleasant in view of the support that Meyerbeer had given the younger composer a number of years earlier. How far the later decline in Meyerbeer’s reputation can be attributed to Wagner’s vitriol is difficult to assess but, nevertheless, decline it did; he surely remains the best-remembered forgotten composer of the nineteenth century.
When preparing his text for Il crociato in Egitto, Gaetano Rossi loosely based his libretto on a recently published play by Jean-Antoine-Marie Monperlier, Les Chevaliers de Malte (The Knights of Malta), set during the sixth crusade. The opera tells the story of the love of Palmide and Elmireno (otherwise known as Armando d’Orville), their child Mirva, of Armando’s duplicity, of the thwarted but ever-loyal Felicia, of the Knights of Rhodes and the religious tensions between the leading groups of characters, Christian and Muslim. The opera has one special claim to fame, being the last major work composed for a castrato, in this case the celebrated Giovanni Velluti who sang not only at the Venice première, but also in its first London performances; so taken was Velluti with the English capital that for a while he became manager of the King’s Theatre and returned to the city to sing several times, even after that administrative venture failed. Other principals in the first Venice performances were the French dramatic soprano Henriette Méric-Lalande, (who also created rôles for Bellini and Donizetti); mezzo Brigida Lorenzani; the ageing tenor Gaetano Crivelli, and Luciano Bianchi, one of Rossini’s preferred baritones.
When Il crociato was presented in Paris, however, the rôle of Armando was taken by the adored soprano Giuditta Pasta and Meyerbeer composed new music for her performances, to replace some of the original numbers. This led to the loss of several solos and ensembles and was followed by further changes for other productions in Italy and elsewhere. Meyerbeer adapted his scores as necessary—sometimes unwillingly—as his chosen singers were replaced by less satisfactory substitutes at the behest of local management. Such complexity makes analysis of early performances something of a challenge. On the present recording the rôle of Armando/Elmireno is taken by the American male soprano Michael Maniaci, whose timbre and extraordinary vocal agility surely convey something of the qualities of Velluti’s voice. To 21st century ears the unfamiliarity of such a sound can still sound strange, differing as it does from the better known countertenor voice, but Maniaci makes a convincing case for casting a male singer in this rôle, however beautifully Pasta, and later sopranos, may have performed it.
Almost two hundred years after its first performance, Il crociato in Egitto still inspires admiration, truly a ‘woven tapestry showered with detail and colour’, so different in scale from anything that had previously been composed. Meyerbeer led the way for an entirely new nineteenth-century operatic style which many others followed—and are better remembered. Putting it in context, it is worth recalling that in the year of its première Rossini had all but ended his career as an operatic composer; Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony was two years away and Bellini’s first opera had yet to be staged. Berlioz’s first opera was still ten years in the future and Verdi and Wagner were not yet teenagers.
The edition of Il crociato, prepared by Franco Rossi and Carlo Steno Rossi for the 2007 performances, omits some short sections of recitative and slightly reduces other scenes but, for the most part, retains the original version composed for La Fenice in 1824, thus giving a true sense of the original production. It is fitting that this timely new recording should have been made in the very theatre for which Meyerbeer conceived the opera and first saw it performed to such acclaim.
Il crociato in Egitto was first performed at the Teatro la Fenice, Venice on 7 March 1824.
The action takes place in Damietta, Egypt, during the 13th century
Act I, Scene 1: A courtyard in the palace of Sultan Aladino
 An orchestral sinfonia introduces the first scene. A group of enslaved Christians longingly recall their homeland, fearing that they will never return and preferring death to continued servitude.
 Palmide arrives, bringing them gifts from Elmireno, whom she loves, not realising that he is in reality Armando d’Orville. The Sultan Aladino, Palmide’s father, joins her and tells her to make ready for the victorious Elmireno’s imminent return. The sound of martial trumpets announces the arrival by ship of a group of the Knights of Rhodes, bringing with them a promise of peace. Palmide and Aladino eagerly anticipate Elmireno’s appearance—though for different reasons.
 Aladino tells his daughter that he has plans for her to wed Elmireno. This arouses the jealousy of the Vizier Osmino, who himself had hopes of Palmide’s love. Palmide, too, is troubled by Aladino’s announcement, as she and Armando are already married as Christians and have a little son, Mirva, a situation of which her father knows nothing.
 To the accompaniment of a chorus, Mirva is brought in and welcomed.
Scene 2: The garden of the Sultan’s palace
 Elmireno arrives in advance of his warriors and sings lovingly to his son.
 Palmide greets Elmireno. She tells him that their wedding celebrations are being planned, but in the religion of her people, not his, to which she is secretly converted. He is forced to reveal to her that he is a Knight of Rhodes and that his uncle, Adriano di Monfort, is the Grand Master. What might befall him if it were known to the Knights that Elmireno had in the past sided with the Egyptians? He confesses that he has previously been betrothed to Felicia and, distraught, sees death as the only way out of his predicament
 Palmide blames Elmireno [who shall now be referred to as Armando] for his treachery as they both regret the prospect of a hopeless future—still loving but forced to be apart.
Scene 3: The port of Damietta
 Alma, Palmide’s confidante, and the chorus see the Knights’ ship approaching.
 The ship arrives at the port and Felicia conveys a message of peace from the Knights of Rhodes.
 Peace is greater than the palm of victory, she tells the Egyptians, and brings happiness to all people…
 …but she confides privately that this is the land where her love Armando died—or so she believes. She seeks consolation for the sorrow of never seeing him again, as the Egyptians rejoice at the message of peace she has brought.
 Vizier Osmino greets her and assures the Knights of a warm welcome in the Sultan’s palace.
Scene 4: The sea shore
 Adriano has come ashore and, musing over the assumed death of his nephew, Armando, wonders if this might be the spot where he met his tragic fate.
 Armando himself arrives, mistaken at first by Adriano for an Egyptian; soon, however, they recognise one another. When Adriano is appalled to see his nephew dressed in Arab garb, the younger man tries to explain that his situation came about by force of circumstance, but Adriano threatens to break Armando’s knight’s sword for his perfidy.
 Armando is accused by his uncle of treachery and disloyalty to his faith; he expresses remorse and begs for pity, only to be urged by Adriano to disclose his true identity to Aladino. He should return home with Adriano and be faithful to his betrothed Felicia.
 To Adriano’s scorn, Armando admits his love for Palmide. She adores Armando too but she suffers as a result of his duplicity. Adriano tells of the sadness of Armando’s mother who is mortally ill and has believed her son to be dead while he was, in truth, lying in the arms of his Egyptian lover. Persuaded by his uncle to take the honourable course, he pledges an oath on his father’s sword and agrees to return home with Adriano.
Scene 5: The garden of the Sultan’s palace
 Felicia sees Mirva in the gardens.
 Palmide tells her that the boy’s father is Armando—and that she is his mother. Felicia is distraught, conceding that she could give up Armando for the boy’s sake, but she would never forget him.
 Felicia remembers how she first encountered Armando and his first avowal of love for her. Palmide takes up her theme, recalling that she heard Armando express similar words of love to her. As the two women share their memories, they hear Armando himself in the distance, a scene that becomes a poignant trio.
 Armando sees Felicia, acknowledges his infidelity and, to Palmide’s despair, he announces his intended departure with Adriano.
Scene 6: Sultan Aladino’s palace
 Preparations are in place for the marriage of Palmide and Armando, introduced by a group of Imams from the palace. Christian Knights extol the virtues of honour, faith and friendship in a scene which develops into a rousing double chorus.
 Sultan Aladino welcomes the Grand Master and the Knights of Rhodes, who have visited in a spirit of friendship, and announces that he is freeing the Christian slaves. This is to celebrate the marriage of Palmide and Armando and confirmation that, in due course, Armando will succeed the Sultan in his rule. Armando steps forward, dressed in Knight’s attire, causing terrible consternation. Adriano stands to support his nephew as Palmide, Felicia, the Sultan and Armando reveal their differing emotions. The Sultan makes as if to kill Armando but Felicia protects him from the threatened dagger.
 In a sextet with chorus the principals express their feelings at the dangerous situation that has come about.
 Sultan Aladino condemns Armando and the Knights to imprisonment and Adriano counters with a threat of war. The bands of the opposing sides play in a great closing ensemble [a musical innovation, this, by Meyerbeer] as all the characters and the chorus reflect on their private thoughts at the outcome of this terrible day’s events.
Act II, Scene 1: Sultan Aladino’s palace
 Felicia tells of her continuing love for the imprisoned Armando, ready to sacrifice her own life to save his.
 She adores him still but has no hope that her love is reciprocated. A chorus of Imams advise her to flee the Sultan’s court but, when she determines to stay close to Armando, they give her hope that she may indeed be able to rescue him.
 Felicia is heartened on hearing this advice and believes that she may be successful in effecting his release.
Scene 2: The gardens of the Sultan’s palace
 Palmide expresses her loneliness without Armando.
 Her surroundings remind her constantly of him and she longs to see him just one more time.
 Sultan Aladino threatens to kill Mirva, son of the treacherous Armando, but Palmide offers her own life as a sacrifice instead.
 She urges her father to plunge the deadly knife into her heart, not into that of the innocent child.
 Aladino’s heart softens and, warmly embracing his grandson Mirva, orders Adriano, Armando and the Knights to be released and brought to him. Palmide exults that her earlier terrible sorrow has so soon turned to joy at the prospect of Armando’s freedom.
 As Adriano enters, Sultan Aladino urges him to pardon Armando; but when Adriano learns the truth about Mirva’s parentage, he repudiates his nephew. Aladino offers Armando friendship and a welcome place in his family but Armando determines to placate his uncle and leave Egypt.
Scene 3: A remote part of the sea shore
 Palmide encounters Armando. He hopes to reveal to Adriano and the Knights that they are already married according to Christian rites and suggests that he and Palmide flee from the Sultan’s court; but she fears her father’s wrath. When Felicia joins them Adriano is told of the earlier marriage and is informed that Palmide has already adopted the Christian faith. Felicia embraces Palmide, whose commitment to her husband and child is stronger than loyalty to her father.
 Armando leads a quartet of Christian affirmation.
 Aladino enters, surprising them, and is horrified to see them at prayer. He condemns Palmide and all the Christians to death.
 As part of a complex ensemble, Aladino determines to show no mercy, even to his daughter and her husband.
 By assisting the condemned Knights, the Vizier Osmino sees an opportunity to depose the Sultan and take the throne.
Scene 4: In the prison
 Adriano is reconciled to imminent death.
 He encourages his fellow Knights to be true to their faith, as they join in a final prayer.
 Sultan Aladino commands that the execution of the Knights begin and orders them to give up their swords.
 Adriano and the Knights are defiant and break their swords, offering them to the Sultan…
 …proclaiming that God’s vengeance will fall on the murderous Aladino. They go proudly to their deaths.
 Assured of God’s mercy, Armando knows that the sun of Christianity will continue to shine after his death, as he thinks tenderly of Palmide.
 She will always be true to him, even if he can never return.
 Adriano once more urges his Christian brothers to be faithful and brave.
 Vizier Osmino and the Imams bring hope to the prisoners, with a plan to depose the Sultan Aladino.
 Osmino himself will be the first to attack the Sultan, who then arrives, offering mercy to the Christians. Adriano scoffs at him, preferring death and glory. When ordered to kill the Knights, Osmino turns instead on Aladino, in the furtherance of his murderous plan.
 Armando intervenes to save the Sultan, a ruler betrayed by his own Vizier; Adriano similarly takes to his defence, damning the treacherous Osmino. Aladino is contrite, wishing happiness on Palmide and Armando and cordially agreeing to their marriage; he hopes that the Knights will henceforth be his true friends. Circumstances have worked out unexpectedly joyously (except perhaps for Osmino) and a joint chorus of Christians and Muslims wish the couple happiness.
 Armando makes ready to take his wife and son home to the fair land of Provence, where contentment is assured. Aladino bids a fond farewell to his daughter and grandson and embraces Armando in friendship as the Knights’ ship prepares to set sail for Europe.
Close the window