|About this Recording
8.660471-72 - MORLACCHI, F.: Tebaldo e Isolina [Opera] (1825 Dresden version) (Polverelli, Pastrana, Giustiniani, Baglietto, Vlad, Virtuosi Brunensis, Fogliani)
Francesco Morlacchi (1784–1841)
Francesco Morlacchi: a case for revising musical history?
In 1836 the following entry could be read in the Damen Conversations Lexikon (‘Ladies’ Conversation Lexicon’), published by Carl Herlossohn in Leipzig: ‘Morlacchi, Francesco, principal Royal Saxon Kapellmeister. Born in Perugia, Italy on 14 June 1784, educated there and having been decorated with the first blossoms of fame, he found a second home in Germany, and was granted honorary citizenship for his contributions to German art. M. was one of the major opera composers of his homeland before the age of Rossini, Bellini and Donizetti, but his intellect was less suited to ushering in a new era than to continuing an earlier one until the time was ripe for a new era. M’s talent was active in a number of areas; his compositions are evidence of his learned taste, and reveal the education of the older, dignified Italian school, that rejected the frivolous, ephemeral trends of the present while proving not quite capable of pursuing the supreme heights of its genius…’. What is formulated here in condescending terms is in fact a crushing verdict—Morlacchi, in accordance with the prevailing aesthetic of artistic genius in the 19th century, is characterised as one of the poetae minores, whose works will not endure for posterity. The present recording of his acknowledged magnum opus Tebaldo e Isolina offers an opportunity to reappraise Morlacchi’s legacy.
Morlacchi was born in Perugia on 14 June 1784 and received his first musical tuition from his uncle, who was employed as cathedral organist in Perugia. In 1803–04 he studied with Nicola Zingarelli, who was chief conductor in Loreto at the time, later becoming director of the conservatory in Naples. He went on to pursue his further studies in 1805–07 with Padre Mattei in Bologna, whose school Rossini also attended from 1806. He made a prompt debut as an operatic composer with the one-act farce Il poeta disperato (Florence, 1807), which seemed to suggest the beginning of a typical operatic career. Nine further operas followed in rapid succession until 1810, which took Morlacchi via provincial theatres as far as La Scala in Milan and Rome’s Teatro Argentina. His personal associations with a female opera singer and close friend then led him somewhat surprisingly to Dresden, where he was initially engaged as deputy music director in 1810. Following the success of his Raoul de Crequi in 1811, he was appointed music director for life. This meant that he found himself in the well-nigh ideal position for an Italian composer of operas of being excused the obligation of mass production and having largely free rein to compose as he chose. It is therefore understandable that he remained in the post for the rest of his life, even though he had the opportunity to succeed Rossini in Naples in 1822.
The latter phase of the Napoleonic Wars proved in the meantime to be less than propitious for the production of operas in Dresden, with the result that there followed a five-year period during which Morlacchi distinguished himself exclusively as a composer of sacred music. It was not until 1816 that he resumed his composition of operas. Whereas in the 18th century the maintenance of an Italian opera company would have been seen as an element no absolutist court could have been seen without, after the Congress of Vienna this looked like an anachronism. Added to this was the shift in the reputation of ‘Italian opera’ in Germany, to a large extent caused by the works of Rossini, which was no longer viewed as a model to follow among the musically educated, more as a caricature of a musical work of art. Comic operas, however, were more readily tolerated than Italian opere serie. Morlacchi took account of this state of affairs, composing five operas for Dresden between 1816 and 1829, all of them opere buffe. At the same time, from 1817 onwards Morlacchi took care to maintain his presence as an opera composer in Italy—no doubt also a precautionary move, with the constant threat of the Italian opera company in Dresden being disbanded. He also made four musical tours of Italy (in 1818, 1821–22, 1824 and 1828), presenting seven of his operas in the process. Tebaldo e Isolina was planned for the second of these trips in 1822 and received its triumphant premiere in Venice. The opera went on to be performed in 40-odd cities, so becoming Morlacchi’s most successful opera of all. It is also his only opera to have been published in full piano score.
It is interesting to note that even in the case of the operas Morlacchi wrote for Italy, he was an astute observer of the musical scene: whereas in the Germany of the 1820s audiences were more than happy to enjoy Italian comic operas, the trend in Italy was precisely the opposite. So after his second tour of Italy Morlacchi only presented serious topics on the Italian operatic stage. It is also worth noting that of the seven operas he wrote for Italy, Morlacchi only published two of them, Gianni di Parigi and Colombo, in unchanged form in Germany. Tebaldo e Isolina (1822–25) and I Saraceni in Sicilia (1828 and subsequently 1832 as Il rinnegato) were subjected to major revisions, while Boadicea, Donna Aurora and Ilda d’Avenel were ultimately never performed in Germany at all. One look at the performances of his own works in Dresden—ten productions over 21 years—shows moreover that Morlacchi, for all Weber’s complaints, certainly never abused his own position in the city to make himself the centre of attention.
Carl Maria von Weber, alongside Rossini, was the other of the two rocks, so to speak, between which Morlacchi was necessarily obliged to manoeuvre his output. Older biographies of Weber tend to exaggerate the personal animosity between the two composers. In reality, early difficulties between Morlacchi and the newly engaged German Kapellmeister Weber gave way to a more than tolerable working relationship. Besides, any problems had nothing to do with personal rivalries: Saxony, thanks to the alliance with Napoleon, was one of the chief losers of the Congress of Vienna. Not only did the region lose large parts of its territory, but the dominant position of the king was critically weakened, obliging him to seek a settlement with the ambitious middle class at local level. The reorganisation of the court theatre was another notable factor: from being a venue to amuse the aristocracy it became an institution of bourgeois entertainment as well. The separation of the Italian and German companies in 1817 (under Weber) was only the first step in this process; the disbanding of the Italian company followed in 1832. This of course did not mean that Italian operas would no longer be performed, merely that from now on they would be performed in German translation. Morlacchi, still held in high regard as a Kapellmeister, continued to conduct these operas. In his later years as a composer Morlacchi concentrated on the composition of sacred music—works that have never been published and are in urgent need of new premieres.
If we consider Morlacchi’s biography as a whole, it becomes clear that a major difficulty of his career was the extent to which both the institutional and the aesthetic circumstances that led to his engagement in Dresden in 1810 changed fundamentally over the intervening years. Morlacchi was forced to react to these changes and, to give him his due, he certainly did his best to do so. We have a visible example in the case of the renaming of Tebaldo e Isolina, with a libretto by Gaetano Rossi, from a melodramma eroico in Venice to a melodramma romantico in Dresden. This was far more than a mere case of relabelling. In Venice the opera was very deliberately customised for the last of the great castrato, Giovanni Battista Velluti. In Dresden circumstances inevitably dictated that this role be rewritten for a contralto. The retention of secco recitatives was another typically Venetian element. This was less of a problem in Dresden, where audiences were familiar with the German Singspiel tradition and its spoken dialogue. The storyline is set in medieval times, in the region of Altenburg and Meissen: exotic places from a Venetian perspective, but in Dresden a story based near home. The plot of the opera can be swiftly told: the story of Romeo and Juliet with a happy ending. This latter, it should be said, is only made possible by both family patriarchs Boemondo and Ermanno, as well as Tebaldo in a difficult inner struggle, having to overcome their hatred and thirst for vengeance. A large part of this opera is therefore taken up by the depiction of these inner struggles, and it says a great deal for Morlacchi’s talent for characterisation that he took on this challenge. At the end all protagonists renounce their vendetta and celebrate the family reconciliation. This resolution—and this is the trick of the reworked opera—can be seen, Platonically, as a victory of reason over vengeance in all three principal characters, but can equally be viewed essentially as an unexpected miracle. If one accentuates the victory over the self, the result is a heroic opera, whereas if the stress is on the miraculous aspect, the result is a romantic opera (albeit not a melodramma romantico in the Italian sense).
Morlacchi took all these different circumstances into account when after the success of the Venetian version he set up a Dresden version of his own as an alternative: Tebaldo e Isolina was originally an aria-heavy opera in Venice, with each of the principal characters Isolina, Boemondo and Tebaldo represented with a cavatina or aria. There was also an aria for the minor character of Clemenza. There were also three duets, which twice exploited the combination of castrato and tenor, and once the combination of castrato and soprano. Despite this seemingly antiquated concept, the opera turned out to be Morlacchi’s biggest stage hit, which would suggest that Rossini’s far-reaching innovations had not yet become the norm in Venice, at least around the time of 1822. Meanwhile the opera’s success was also sustained by a strong cast (Gaetano Crivelli as Boemondo and Giovanni Battista Velluti as Tebaldo) as well as a storyline which, in Boemondo and Tebaldo, put two characters centre stage that gave Morlacchi—whose gifts were always more as a lyricist than as a master of cabaletta—a chance to show off his flair for characterisation. Boemondo’s Cavatina—essentially an intricately scored accompagnato piece with German-sounding harmonies—and Tebaldo’s Romanza were considered the opera’s showpieces. No doubt the very plot of the opera contributed a great deal to its international success, given that it could be interpreted from the perspective of literary Romanticism. Nor should it be forgotten that Morlacchi made an exhaustive revision of the opera for Dresden in 1825, involving first of all four solo numbers cut from the Venice version and not replaced, which at the very least helped to give the work a more modern dramatic structure. This reduction conversely allowed Morlacchi to expand the remaining numbers, giving the effect of a rapprochement with the Rossinian norms.
If we consider Morlacchi’s later operatic oeuvre in this light, from both the Italian and German perspectives, it becomes quite apparent that his works from Tebaldo e Isolina onwards attempted a kind of balancing act. The intention was to allow both Italian and German audiences to interpret the operas in their own way—by means of the ambivalence between heroic renunciation and the impact of the miraculous. This ambivalence can also be seen subsequently in Colombo and Il rinnegato. Looking at the works from the perspective of musical history, it is tempting to view the late works of Morlacchi as a kind of special case, in their attempt once again to bring together two increasingly divergent musical cultures. What might still have seemed a viable approach in the 1820s could no longer succeed in the 1830s, once the rapidly diverging developments of the 1820s had become entrenched: the result of trying to synthesize both elements ended up creating a hybrid that could never hope to meet either the Italian or the German contemporary demands for fashionable opera. But perhaps this very ambivalent character of Morlacchi’s late works might give them a chance to be performed more today: the nature of their concept tends to mean that these pieces avoid overly simplistic stock characters and predictable storylines. What is more, in contrast to many a pure bel canto opera these plots involve complex situations that present modern directors with exciting interpretative possibilities. This should be more than enough of an incentive to put these works to the test on stage.
A knights’ hall in the castle of Altenburg, ceremonially decked out.
2 The adherents of the Tromberg family are celebrating the victorious homecoming of Ermanno, the head of the family. He, along with his son Geroldo and the noblewoman Clemenza, another member of the family, cheerfully await the knights’ tournament. 3 Ermanno bemoans the fact that the enmity with the Altenburg family has put paid to earlier plans for marriage between his daughter Isolina and Tebaldo von Altenburg; his father Boemondo has been banished and his castle requisitioned by the Trombergs. The whole family, or so he believes, has since perished. 4 The royal household and guests welcome Isolina. A great many knights are hopeful of her hand in marriage, which flatters her. 5 She secretly longs for her lover. 6 Isolina is happy that the knights have turned out in such numbers to accept the invitation to hail her victorious father. Ermanno acknowledges that he owes his victory to an unknown young hero who saved his life. As all make their way to the tournament, Geroldo receives a message that armed knights from Boemondo’s camp have been spotted in the vicinity and that Boemondo may still be alive.
An arena outside the castle of Altenburg.
7 Spectators at the tournament acclaim the victorious knight, who is standing on the field with his visor down. Ermanno asks Isolina to crown the victor with a wreath. He reveals himself as ‘Sigerto’—Ermanno joyfully recognises him as his saviour, while Isolina inwardly rejoices as she recognises her lover. The young hero sees auspicious destiny as responsible for his victory. 8 Isolina presents him with a sword and a laurel wreath as his prize, which he accepts from his secret lover, bursting with hope and love. 9 The man acclaimed as Sigerto is inwardly agitated, for he is none other than Tebaldo, who once swore vengeance on the family to which he is now so intimately connected. His confusion grows as he is invited into the castle of Altenburg, where he grew up. He explains his confusion by citing his unhappy fate as an orphan. The Trombergs promise to replace his family. 10 Isolina, Ermanno and Tebaldo hope for a happy future in this castle together.
A solitary, shady spot in the castle courtyard.
11 Boemondo has managed to gain access to the park of the castle that was once his, via an old secret passage. He bemoans his fate that once saw him accused of murder and banished from this place. His wife was killed 15 years previously by Ermanno’s brother, Corrado von Tromberg. In his grief he notices the trees he had planted after the birth of his children, who all perished at the hand of his arch enemy. He swears to take bloody vengeance. 12 As he ponders his plan for revenge, he sees someone coming and hides. Tebaldo has left the celebration to pay his respects to his family at this very spot. 13 Boemondo approaches. The two recognise each other, and Boemondo believes that the appearance of the son he thought dead is a sign that fate is upholding his vengeance. 14 Tebaldo is aghast when his father presses a dagger into his hand—the very one that was once used to murder his mother—and instructs him to kill Ermanno and his children. He confesses that he loves Isolina. Both see themselves as having been robbed of their hopes. 15 In order not to be ostracised, Tebaldo acquiesces in his father’s wish: Boemondo urges him on to the bloody deed.
A hall in the castle of Altenburg.
16 Isolina has revealed her love for Sigerto and is overjoyed that her father has consented to the union. However, the young man must earn Isolina’s hand in marriage by defeating the hostile warriors who are threatening the castle. Geroldo has gathered a troop of knights. ‘Sigerto’ arrives and is immediately urged to lead the knights at their head. Ermanno promises him the hand of Isolina, if he returns victorious. 17 As Tebaldo, seeing his hopeless situation, struggles to find words, Boemondo suddenly appears with his visor down. All present freeze in terror. Tebaldo admits that the strange man is the father he believed dead and that he is duty-bound to him. Ermanno declares that his family loves Sigerto like a son and offers the knight his friendship, which Boemondo curtly refuses. 18 Geroldo announces that his troops are ready. In the general commotion Tebaldo manages to snatch his father away. Shocked by this scene, Ermanno, Isolina, Geroldo and the knights are left in the hall, without having realised the true identity of the two men.
An entrance hall with adjoining gardens.
1 Isolina is inconsolable at her lover’s disappearance. Clemenza hands her a letter, brought in by Sigerto’s squire. In it Sigerto/Tebaldo acknowledges his true identity, explaining that his vow means he must give Isolina up and that he wants to die. 2 Isolina abandons herself to the depths of despair. 3 She is utterly incapable of explaining the situation to her distraught father and the courtiers as they hurry in.
A grotto in the Ore Mountains, with the graves of Boemondo’s wife and daughter: the inscriptions accuse Corrado von Tromberg of their death.
4 Boemondo succumbs to grief over the loss of his wife and daughter. He swears on their graves to avenge Corrado’s atrocities by shedding the blood of his brother Ermanno and his children. Knights cloaked in black appear, announcing that they are ready to attack. 5 Boemondo confides in them his plans for revenge and has the knights swear allegiance by the spirits of his dead relatives. 6 Boemondo is happy at the hope of imminent revenge. He sets out to attack Altenburg, followed by the knights.
An entrance hall in the castle of Altenburg, illuminated by lanterns.
7 Isolina is lost in the darkest of thoughts when she is startled by an increasing commotion. Ermanno reports that soldiers are attacking Altenburg in the name of Boemondo. He hurries away to assist his son Geroldo in the defence of the castle. Tebaldo then appears with bloodied sword, intending to take his leave of Isolina for ever. 8 Isolina tries to restrain Tebaldo, but he is unable to explain his desperate situation. Clemenza rushes in and names Tebaldo as Geroldo’s murderer. Isolina is speechless. Tebaldo assures her that he had to kill her brother to save his own father from Geroldo’s sword. He asks to die at Isolina’s own hand, that she may avenge her brother. But she is unable to carry out such a deed and forgives her beloved, on the grounds that he deserves clemency for having previously saved her father’s life. 9 Promising to remember their love for each other, the lovers part for ever. The noise of battle causes them both to fear for their fathers’ lives. Tebaldo hurries away.
A spot before the castle of Altenburg. At the side there is a church.
10 Tebaldo wanders around looking for his father, whose supporters have fled after losing the battle. He hears the sounds of a harp from the castle. 11 He recognises Isolina’s playing, which reminds him of her love that has been lost for ever. 12 Amid whoops of ‘victory!’ the Trombergs’ knights hunt for Boemondo, who has managed to find sanctuary unobserved in the church. Ermanno encounters ‘Sigerto’ and calls upon him to kill Tebaldo. In the background Boemondo emerges from the church and is about to set upon Ermanno, but Isolina, coming out of the church, manages to shout out a warning in time, and Tebaldo interposes himself before Ermanno to protect him. The knights disarm Boemondo, but now Tebaldo defends the latter, revealing himself as Boemondo’s son. As the man who twice saved Ermanno’s life, he begs for the life of his own father, which Boemondo rejects as cowardice. 13 Isolina asks for forgiveness; Ermanno forgives all present and invokes a spirit of unity. Boemondo is finally swayed to soften in the face of such magnanimity and consents to the union of Isolina and Tebaldo. 14 In a roundelay, all profess peace and love after the torments they have endured.
Close the window