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8.660372-73 - GENERALI, P.: Adelina [Melodramma sentimentale] (Bijelić, Nani, Muñoz, Virtuosi Brunensis, Rigon)
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Pietro Generali (1773–1832)

Melodramma sentimentale di Gaetano Rossi

Adelina – Dušica Bijelić, Soprano
Varner, her father – Gabriele Nani, Baritone
Erneville, Adelina’s lover – Gustavo Quaresma Ramos, Tenor
Carlotta, Adelina’s sister – Silvia Beltrami, Mezzo-soprano
Simone, neighbour and village teacher – Elier Muñoz, Baritone
Firmino, Erneville’s servant – Ugo Rabec, Bass


On 15 September 1810 the autumn season at Venice’s San Moisè theatre opened with two farse (short, one-act operas), both with librettos by Gaetano Rossi: the first was Amore ed interesse, the second Adelina, and the ballet La costanza premiata was staged between the two. Amore ed interesse, with music by Raffaele Orgitano, was defined as “giocosa” (light-hearted), while Adelina was labelled a “melo-dramma sentimentale”. With music by Pietro Generali, the latter was the biggest hit of the season—a season which also saw the debut of a very young Rossini, with the successful première on 3 November of La cambiale di matrimonio (libretto again by Rossi). As the San Moisè employed its company on a season-long basis, the singers who took part in the Rossini had also taken to the stage a few weeks earlier for Adelina: soprano Rosa Morandi (Adelina), tenor Tommaso Ricci (Erneville), basses Luigi Raffanelli (Varner) and Nicola De Grecis (Simone), and the two supporting actors Domenico Remolini (Firmino) and Clementina Lanari (Carlotta).

Unlike Rossini, Generali (1773–1832) was no debutant, and Adelina was not his first hit. Born in Piedmont, he had then studied in Rome and Naples and had made his début in the Rome Carnival season of 1800. He first achieved renown in Venice, however, and with two other farse: Pamela nubile (Rossi) in spring 1804 at the Teatro San Benedetto, and Le lagrime d’una vedova (Foppa) in late December 1808 at the San Moisè.

Like the latter of this pair, Adelina falls into the subcategory of the “sentimental” drama. It tells the story of a girl who is seduced, abandoned by her lover, and then rejected by her father when she tells him she has had a child out of wedlock. It does, however, have a happy ending: Adelina marries her lover and is forgiven by her father, thanks to the intervention of a kindly friend and teacher.

Many farse were comic in tone, but there are not many laughs in Adelina. Young mothers left high and dry by their seducers, abandoned newborns, daughters cursed and shunned by their fathers, not to mention such scandalous subjects as potential suicide, infanticide and honour killing—these are all the stuff of serious drama, or even full-blown tragedy.

Rossi found the inspiration for his libretto in Lisbeth, a drame lyrique in three acts by Edmond de Favières (1755–1837) which was turned into an opéra-comique by Grétry and first staged in Paris at the Théâtre Favart on 10 January 1797. Steeped in Rousseauian ideals (nature worship, the virtues of a small rural-alpine community, the power of the emotions), interwoven with a tribute to the ideas of the French Revolution, Favières’ text is also indebted to Rousseau in another way. His model seems to have been Le devin du village (1752), an intermède (one-act French opera) with words and music both by Rousseau. In place of the pastoral love story of Colin and Colette, resolved by a sympathetic impostor (the devin, or soothsayer, of the title) who knows a bit more about life than these two young villagers, however, Favières introduced a starker, more realistic plot, at whose heart is a character explicitly presented as a philosopher, dispensing gems of moral wisdom. Moreover—in what is virtually a unique case in music theatre—this character is based on a real and contemporary figure, a man who had been dead less than a decade, namely Swiss painter and writer Salomon Gessner (1730–88). Favières cites verbatim from Gessner’s work—firstly the poem Der Tod Abels (1758), and secondly the even better-known Idyllen (1756–72), which updated and further sentimentalized the ancient myth of Arcadia. Given that he also includes a reference to the American War of Independence (1775–81), it is possible to locate the plot of Lisbeth precisely between 1781 and 1788: indeed, even more narrowly, in either 1781 or 1782, because Favières makes mention of a military event known to have taken place in 1781.

Certain aspects of the plot of Lisbeth were genuinely unusual even for French theatre, let alone its far more conformist and conventional Italian counterpart. With notable courage, Rossi kept the same subject, themes and general storyline (including the contemporary setting), simply adapting them to an Italian context. While it is not explained why Firmino at one point asserts, “We have just arrived from America” (“Veniamo or dall’America”, Adelina, Scene 8, CD 1 [10]), there are explicit mentions of Gessner and one of his literary masterpieces—probably the Idyllen, whose Italian translation had gone through twenty or so editions between 1773 and 1809—proof of Adelina’s contemporary setting. The character of Gessner, however, is replaced by a more traditional tutor/ intermediary figure—Simone—created as the kind of buffo bass role so familiar to Italian audiences. Simone has a lot in common with Don Gregorio Cordebono, the protagonist of Giovanni Giraud’s comic play L’aio nell’imbarazzo (Rome, 1807), in which a goodhearted tutor (Cordebono) does everything in his power to reconcile a curmudgeonly father with his son who has got a girl pregnant. Adelina reached the end of its run at the San Moisè on 1 December 1810. Less than a month later, on 26 December, the carnival season of 1810–11 opened with a musical setting of Giraud’s comedy (Emanuele Guarnaccia’s L’aio nell’imbarazzo, a farsa with libretto by Camagna), its plot in part anticipated by that of Adelina.

Unlike Don Gregorio, Simone is a “village schoolmaster”, kindly, yes, but a somewhat unsophisticated rustic type—underfed, on the scrounge, socially inept (to the point that he thinks the young mistress has taken a fancy to him, like Germano in La scala di seta), inclined to making ribald remarks. His educational credentials are questionable too, his Latin pedantic but nonsensical. So, Simone’s role is to add the comic counterbalance to the drama of this semi-serious (or “sentimental”) genre.

Rossi injects an extra burst of drama into the plot by introducing Erneville’s (unfounded) suspicions about Adelina’s fidelity (No. 5). Absent from the Favières version, this strand is developed in a duet which borrows from opera seria in both tone and form: a recitative introduction (as in the decisive No. 7), a “colla parteattacco, confrontation in parallel strophes, and a two-part cantabile section brimming with gestural writing.

A key role is played throughout by the setting within which the plot unfolds—an idyllic alpine landscape—as can be gleaned from the detailed and picturesque opening stage direction, a real homage to the beauties of Nature:

“A beautiful Swiss landscape. The high crags in the distance are split by waterfalls running into Lake Zurich, whose shores are tree-lined. Two of these crags are linked by a rustic bridge, beneath which runs a stream. In the gaps between the crags can be seen lovely countryside and hills, dotted with pretty, newly-built chalets”.

The first thing to happen on stage is a natural phenomenon (the sunrise), and it is to nature that Simone, as if inspired by the muse of poetry, directs his opening lines in affected enthusiasm (Scene 1, CD 1 [2]):

“Ecco il sol che spunta fuori,
e dà vita all’erbe, e fiori.
Scioglie il canto l’augelletto…
Va scherzando il zeffiretto…”

(The sun peeks out from behind its bower,
giving life to grass and flower.
The little bird trills out its song…
The little zephyr gambols along…)

A little later Varner, Adelina’s father, makes his first appearance with a “national song”, in which he states his desire to “uplift humanity” (Scene 2, CD 1 [2]): “All’ombra, amici, all’ombra” (Into the shade, my friends, into the shade), whose melody is intentionally asymmetric, as befits a folklike lyric (newly invented by Rossi). Generali enhances this feel by turning it into a strophic song, even though the librettist had not planned it as such.

On her first appearance, Adelina is moved by the sweet sounds of pastoral music (Scene 5, CD 1 [5]). This is no standard abstract instrumental introduction, but rather a realistic piece of incidental music made up of shepherds’ songs. While listening to them, Adelina mimes a series of actions on stage: a practice taken from mélodrame, increasing the work’s affinities with a cornerstone of the larmoyant style such as Dalayrac’s Nina ou La folle par amour (1786), translated into Italian by Giuseppe Carpani (Monza, 1788) and re-set by Paisiello in 1789 (rev. 1790, 1792).

The natural world, then, forms the backdrop to Adelina, but the unbridled world of the emotions is very much part of it too, and there are close associations with such concepts as homeland and folk traditions. The innate—“natural”—power of emotion plays a leading role. Indeed, Varner eventually gives in to it (“Let us show compassion”, he says, in Scene 14, CD 2 [9]), surrendering to the force of his emotions, to the power of Nature that over-rides convention: “Oh yes, I feel you, Nature: how powerful you are!” (Scene 15, CD 2 [9]).

All in all, this is as emblematic a work as could be of the cultural attitudes in vogue around the turn of the nineteenth century (manifestations of the Sublime), so skilfully highlighted here by Generali. Once again, the world of the farsa proved the most receptive to the latest trends and ideas.

Paolo Fabbri
English translation by Susannah Howe


CD 1

[1] Overture

One Act

Sunrise on Lake Zurich.

[2] The village schoolmaster Don Simone makes an attempt to sing the praises of nature but without success and as he leaves he thinks that he would rather have something to eat. Varner, Don Simone’s wealthy neighbour, returns from the early morning hunt and orders breakfast to be served, to which he philanthropically invites both friends and staff. [3] The returning Simone, delighted by the bountiful table, is also invited. Carlotta, Varner’s younger daughter, comes in with freshly-picked flowers; she is late because she was waiting for her sister Adelina. With great gusto they tuck into the food and drink. [4] Varner sends Carlotta off to clean the little mountain lodge because he is expecting the lodge’s buyer. He is cross with Adelina, who has still not turned up; for the last six months she has been staying with her uncle and will surely almost have forgotten about him. Don Simone praises his former pupil and is of the opinion that when she returns a banquet should be given in her honour, to general rejoicing. [5] Adelina, with a small bundle on her back, appears on the wooden bridge over the stream which flows into Lake Zurich. In a state of distress and with mixed emotions she hears the sweet sound of local shepherds’ music. [6] She is agitated and at a loss; she has made a mistake, but heaven knows for whom she craves blessing. [7] Simone comes out of the house and realizes that Adelina has been crying. She wants to open her heart to him and asks him, after she has gone, to read a letter which she has dictated to a friend. The naïve Simone is expecting a declaration of love. Instead he reads in astonishment and with concern of the young girl’s misadventures, just as Varner enters and reports happily that he has been told that Adelina has arrived. Simone tempers his joy and hands over to Varner the letter which ‘an unhappy one’ has addressed ‘to pitifulness’; filled with grief, Adelina watches this scene. [8] Varner reads of a young girl who became secretly engaged and who, despite the promise of marriage, was abandoned after falling pregnant and who now, with a small child, hopes for a father’s forgiveness; if she doesn’t receive it she will end her life. Varner is shocked and appalled, while Adelina begs God for mercy and Simone appeals to Varner’s heart. [9] Adelina hopes that what she wrote will have the desired effect; Varner puts himself in the poor father’s position and Simone counts on paternal love to prevail; he thinks that the right moment has arrived to summon Adelina. Beside himself with fury Varner realizes that the sinner is his own daughter. In a blind rage he even grabs his rifle, but Simone is able to prevent the worst from happening and to put a stop to the father’s curses. Varner banishes Adelina from his house and, despite Simone’s pleading, denies her the forgiveness which she craves. He rushes off in a turmoil, while Simone brings the young girl into his own house. [10] Firmino introduces himself to Carlotta: he and Erneville, his young master, who has just returned from America, want to collect the key for the lodge which they have bought. Firmino is keen to wait inside in the company of the little Swiss girl until Varner comes back.

CD 2

[1] Erneville approaches dreamily; the charming landscape reminds him of beautiful times. Only the thought of an act of betrayal causes him briefly to be worried, but his heart predicts new happiness for himself. [2] Firmino and Carlotta tell him that they are still waiting for the key from Varner. Erneville hears this name with consternation, just as Varner himself arrives. Erneville stares at him and asks if he is Adelina’s father whereupon Varner infers that news of his shame has already been spreading. To his horror Erneville deduces from Varner’s muddled words that Adelina has allowed herself to be seduced. Adelina, who has ventured out of Simone’s house, meets Erneville, but instead of receiving a happy embrace from him he rebuffs her. [3] He reproaches her for having betrayed him and regrets loving her, while she reaffirms her loyalty to him. But they still feel drawn to one another and Adelina manages to explain to him that it is he himself who is the accused seducer. Full of happiness they go into Simone’s house arm in arm. [4] As soon as his sister has been sent for from Zofingen, Varner intends to leave his village in order to hide his shame. Simone tries to persuade him that everything will turn out all right in the end and appeals to Varner’s humanity. He defends Adelina: [5] Cupid, no innocent child with a blindfold, is to blame for everything; since the time of Abraham he has been a seasoned seducer who awakens desire in young girls. [6] A peasant brings in a little basket containing Adelina’s baby girl, who was in his care; Erneville is full of joy at their offspring. Simone arrives; he has devised a plan to appease Varner but for that to happen Adelina will have to hand over her child to him. [7] With a heavy heart she gives the baby to Don Simone. She is touched to see how the baby puts her little arms out to Erneville and hopes that the sight of this will also move her father. For a moment she imagines that he could remain hard-hearted. [8] But she trusts that heaven, together with her father’s forgiveness, will clear a path for the family’s happiness. [9] Simone pretends to have found an abandoned infant in the forest. Varner is willing to look after the child, while Simone is to inform the authorities. As Varner looks at the little child he thinks of Cupid and that his Adelina could also abandon her daughter in desperation just now. [10] Smitten, he hands over the baby to the care of Carlotta who, this way, could learn about the vagaries of love. Simone returns and says that unexpectedly he came across the child’s father; surprisingly, he turns out to be the wealthy purchaser of the mountain lodge. [11] Erneville pretends to be full of despair that his bride is to be banished by a haughty father and could perhaps do away with herself. He calls her name, and as Varner reproaches himself, Adelina comes forward and throws herself at his feet. All those present join her and appeal to Varner; Simone intercedes on behalf of the young people. Finally Varner mellows at the sight of the little child and embraces everyone as a mark of his forgiveness; Adelina is advised to be a good mother and wife. They all look forward to happy days ahead.

Reto Müller
English translation by David Stevens

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