Operain 4 Acts by Franco Faccio. Librettoby Arrigo Boito. Premiered May 30, 1865Teatro Carlo Felice, Genova. Revised for a La Scalaproduction given on February 12, 1871.
Composition and Premiere
The history of "Amleto" is very brief and derives from two sources both by the same author: "“L’Amleto” di A. Boito, con lettere inedite di Boito, Mariani e Verdi." DeRensis, Raffaello, 1927, Ancona, La Lucerna. "Franco Faccio e Verdi, carteggi e documenti inediti." DeRensis, Raffaello, 1934, Milano, Fratelli Treves Editori.
The only thing known about pre-compositional decisions has to do with the libretto which DeRensis said was written specifically for Faccio by Boito. The two schoolmates had already collaborated on a "Cantata patria" in 1860, and Boito’s infamous "ode saffica col bicchiere alla mano" which so infuriated Verdi, was written and read at banquet in tribute to Faccio. [See Weaver, William, "The Verdi-Boito correspondence" (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1994), Introduction p. xvii]
It is unclear how the choice of
Hamletcame about, but Boito began work even before the premiere of Faccio's first opera "I profughi fiamminghi" (La Scala 1863), and completed the libretto on July 2, 1862in Poland. [Nardi, Piero. "Arrigo Boito, tutti gli scritti." A. Mondadori, 1942, p. 1531.]
The opera was premiered on May 30, 1865 at Genova’s Teatro Carlo Felice. The cast included some of the finest singers of the day: Mario Tiberini – Amleto, Angiolina Ortolani-Tiberini – Ofelia, Elena Corani – Regina, Antonio Cotogni – Re, Baragiolo – lo Spettro, Angelo Mariani – conductor. According to DeRensis the work was accepted at Carlo Felice because of the personal intervention of Boito’s Conservatory professor Alberto Mazzucato, who was friends with Mariani.
The critics were unanimous in their praise, if not of the work itself, then of the promise shown in the young composer. On
May 31, the "Gazzetta di Genova" wrote:
“The opera was generally applauded at the end of the first act, at Ofelia and Amleto’s duet, at the finale of the second act, at Ofelia’s canzone in the third, and at the funeral march of the fourth. The young maestro was called to the stage many times.” [De Rensis, "L'Amleto di A. Boito", p. 35. "L'opera fu generalmente applaudita al finire del primo atto, al duetto di Ofelia e Amleto, al finale del secondo atto, alla canzone di Ofelia nel terzo, alla marcia funebre del quarto. Il giovine maestro fu chiamato più volte al proscenio."]
That same day, the paper “Movimento” wrote:
“Last night the doors of Carlo Felice opened for the awaited performance of Franco Faccio’s new score, "Amleto". The expectations were high for the premiere, because doubt had circulated the reputation of the new type of music attempted by the young maestro. The public therefore rushed in great numbers and with an attitude of one who wishes to judge with circumspection, and, let us also say, with severity. But from expectations of doubt they changed their mind, and after having waited to think about it, a decision was made; they applauded and applauded with spontaneity, with conscience, with enthusiasm.” [Ibid., p. 35. "Ieri sera le porte del Carlo Felice si apersero al preconizzato spettacolo del nuovo spartito di Franco Faccio, L"'Amleto". Grande era l'aspettativa dell'universale, perchè dubbia era corsa la fama sul nuovo genere di musica tentata dal giovane maestro. Accorse numeroso perciò il pubblico ed in atteggiamento di chi vuol giudicare con circospezione, diciamolo anche, con severità. Ma delle dubbie intenzioni ebbe a cicredersi, e dopo aver voluto pensarci sopra, prese la sua decision; applaudì e applaudì con spontaneità, con entusiasmo."]
A more personal, if not more biased account comes from Mazzucato and was sent to Faccio’s teacher Stafano Ronchetti-Monteviti. The long letter was published in full in the “Giornale della Società del Quartetto” and in "Franco Facio e Verdi", DeRensis reprints the following selections:
“"Amleto", which had its world premiere last night, aroused unusual and profound emotions in the genovese public, which celebrated your distinguished student with every type of flattering reception. The curtain-calls for the maestro and the performers were unanimous, insistent, continuous, and ever warmer as the imaginative work unfolded before the eyes of the listeners who were highly surprised with the truth of its conception, the newness of form, the passion of the melodies, the ensemble harmony, and of the robust skill that dominates the whole score…“The majority of Italians continue to repeat the stale refrain that the art of composition and creativity is lost in Italy. This is blasphemy I say! I don’t know if it comes more from stupidity or malevolence: this blasphemy that unfortunately thousands of mouths go around parroting, certainly unaware of the harm it does to art, artists, and to the country. As long as we see young Italians give as their second work a creation as serious and strong as that of "Amleto", rest assured, my dear colleague, that Italian art is nowhere near death…“"Amleto"’s victory was legitimate, and I am happy because I see in it a new consecration of our ideas, and you must be doubly happy for it, and for the triumph of these ideas, and for the pleasure of having educated a powerful talent like Franco Faccio in the Italian art…” [Ibid., p. 36. "Amleto" ch'ebbe la sua prima rappresentazione ier sera suscitò insolite e profonde emozioni nel pubblico genovese, che festeggiò l'egregio vostro allievo con ogni sorta di lusinghiere accoglienza. Le chiamate al maestro ed agli esecutori furono unanimi, insistenti, continue, e sempre più calorose di mano in mano che l'immaginoso lavoro dispiegavasi dinanzi agli occhi di uditori altamente sorpresi della verità dei concetti, della novità delle forme, della passione delle melodia, dell'armonia dell'insieme, del robusto magistero che domina in tutto lo spartito... "La maggior parte degl'italiani continua a cantare il troppo vieto ritornello che l'arte della composiiozione e il genio sono perduti in Italia. Questa è una bestemmia, vivaddio! non so se più sciocca o rea: bestemmia che purtroppo mille bocche vanno ripetendo pappagallescamente, ignare certo del male che fanno all'arte, agli artisti e al paese. Finché noi vedremo dei giovani italiani dare per secondo lavoro una creazione seria e forte quale quella di cotesto "Amleto", assicuratevi, mio amatissimo collega, che l'arte italiana non è vicino a morire di massima..."Quella dell"'Amleto" fu una legittima vittoria, ed io me ne rallegro perchè vedo in essa una nuova consacrazione delle nostre idee, e voi ve ne dovete rallegare doppiamente, e pel trionfo di queste idee e per la compiacenza di aver educato all'arte italiana una possente ingegno qual è quello di Franco Faccio..."]
Verdi, for his part, is reported to have said “Who can understand anything among so much noise? Couldn’t they do things more quietly?” And to Maffei he supposedly confided: “I believe that if Faccio really has the talent to make it, it’s necessary for him to distance himself from conservatory and aesthetics professors, and to neither study, nor listen to music for ten years.” [Ibid., p. 40 "Chi può capire qualcosa tra tanto baccano? Ma non si potrebbero fare le cose più quietamente?" "Credo che se Faccio ha veramente ingegno per riuscire, bisogna che si allontani dai professori conservatoristi, estetici, e non studi e non senta più musica per dieci anni."]
Interim and La Scala production
After the premiere, "Amleto" lay dormant for nearly six years while its authors embarked on a number of musical and extra-musical adventures. In 1866 both Boito and Faccio joined the Italian army to fight alongside
Garibaldi. In addition to his purely militaristic excursions, Faccio used the opportunity to travel extensively throughout Europe, perusing Beethoven’s autograph of Fidelioin Berlin in addition to getting to know Tannhauserand Lohengrin. As his European travels came to an end in 1867, he traveled to Copenhagen on a steamship named "Hamlet", and was amused to see other ships named after Shakespeare’s tragedy. While in Denmark, he made a special trip to Elsinore and visited the Royal Castle where he had the feeling that at any moment one could imagine seeing the “wandering and troubled shade of the assassinated king.” [Ibid., p. 72. From a letter of June 30, 1867to Countess Maffei: "Il Castello Reale splendido, grandioso, antichissimo monumento, ricco di baluardi e di piattaforme, sulle quali, ad ogni istante, si crederebbe di scorgere l'ombra errante ed affanosa del vecchio Re assassinato..."]
It was also during these years that Faccio began conducting, which would prove to be his true calling. "Amleto", though, was never far from his thoughts, and his friends and family continued to urge him to seek another production. In a letter written on February 27, 1867, his friend the Countess Maffei chided him for missing the opportunity to present "Amleto" to the Queen of Prussia when he had the chance. [Ibid., p. 59. "...M'ha assai divertita la vostra resistenza all Regina di Prussia, ma perchè non offrivi di suonare invece di cantare? e far sentire a S. M. la vostra "Marcia Funebre"? Avreste così avuto l'opportunità di presentare L"'Amleto"."]
Faccio also continued to compose after the premiere of "Amleto", writing among other things, a "sinfonia in fa" and a "quartetto". Sometime in 1870 Giovanni
Ricordicommissioned him to write a third opera, "Patria", based on a play by Sardou. Verdihimself intervened on Faccio’s behalf to try to secure the rights to the play, but Sardou, hoping that Verdi himself would set the drama to music, refused.
The disastrous premiere of Boito’s
Mefistofeleat La Scala in 1868 added to the growing necessity of a compositional success by Boito and Faccio, self-appointed representatives of the “art of the future” in Italy. In early 1870 we hear from the “Gazzetta Musicale” of a possibility (eventually unrealized) of staging "Amleto" in Florence. [Ibid., p. 112.]
The long awaited revival was eventually slated for the 1870-1871 season at La Scala. According to DeRensis, the performance was made possible for one reason: the "Hamlet" libretto by Carré and Barbier (written for Thomas) was unanimously judged a profanation. Verdi is reported to have said:
“Poor Shakespeare! How they have poorly adapted him. What have they done with that character of Hamlet, so great and original? Where is that strange, superior, and sublime atmosphere that one breathes reading the English text? I had the impression of a comic opera taken seriously. Thomas has great merit if he is able to obtain a success with a libretto lacking in ensemble and details.” [Ibid., p. 113. "Pover Shakespeare, come l'hanno mal cucinato. Che ne hanno fatto del carattere così grande ed originale di Amleto? dov'è quell'atmosfera strana, superiore, sublime, che si respira leggendo il testo inglese? Ho avuto l'impressione di un'opera comica presa sul serio. Thomas ha un grande merito se è riuscito ad ottenere un successo con un libretto mancato nell'insieme e nei dettagli."]
For the La Scala production Mario Tiberini returned to interpret the role of "Amleto". He was again joined by some of the most famous singers of the time: Virginia Pozzi-Branzutti – Ofelia, Bulli-Paoli – La Regina, Bertolasi – Il Re, De Giuli Angeli – lo Spettro. La Scala’s conductor, Eugenio Terziani, yielded the baton to Faccio. [Ibid., p. 114.]
According to DeRensis the rehearsals began smoothly and the dress rehearsal was set for January 16, 1871. The very next day, Tiberini got sick and the opera was postponed for more than 2 weeks. Eventually rehearsals began again, and Tiberini got sick again. A second dress rehearsal was given and the La Scala Theater Commission judged Tiberini fit to sing, despite Faccio’s protestations.
February 12saw the opening night, and what was to be the last performance of "Amleto" in history.
Despite good intentions, Tiberini was completely voiceless that night. DeRensis writes that the performance was uncertain and disorganized, and describes it as follows:
"Tiberini, completely voiceless and disoriented, did not emit one note with the accent of that great artist that he was, he lowered the pitches, and did away with entire phrases. He, and with much visible anguish, rendered comprehension of the opera impossible. Faccio directed apperntly calm, but in reality very disturbed. Some ensemble pieces like the dance and brindisi [Act I i] , the Violoncello prelude [Act I ii] , the Spettro’s Racconto [Act I ii] , the Pater noster [Act III, i] – which procured Bertolasi two curtain calls – the third act trio, the fourth act funeral march (welcomed with roaring applause and two curtain calls for the composer), saved the production from a shipwreck. [Ibid., p. 115. Il Tiberini, totalmente afono e disorientato, non emette una sola nota con l'accento di quel grande artista che fu sempre, abbassa le tonalità, sopprime intere frasi. Egli, e con molto visibile angoscia, rende, impossibile la comprensione dell'opera. Faccio dirige apparentemente calmo, ma in realtà turbatissimo. Alcuni pezzi d'insieme come la danza e il brindisi, il preludio dei violoncelli, il racconto dello Spettro, il "Pater noster" - che procura al Bertolasi due "appellazioni" - il terzetto del terzo atto, la marcia funebre del quarto (questa accolta con strepitosi applausi e con due chiamate all'autore), si salvano dal naufragio."]
Faccio, in a letter written to Verdi a few days later, confesses to much of the same:
“some pieces, inferior in the opinion of me and Giulio [Ricordi] , for example a waltz and brindisi in the first act, were appreciated and applauded because they were performed as the author had written them. Others, of a more intrinsic worth in our opinion, passed in silence or were disapproved just because they were entrusted to the protagonist.” [Ibid., p. 117. "Alcune pagine d'un merito, per me e per Giulio, inferiore, come per esempio un valzer ed un brindisi nell'atto primo vennero gustate ed applaudite perchè eseguite come l'autore le aveva scritte. Altre, all'opposto, d'un valore, a nostro parere, più intrinseco, passarono in silenzio o vennero disapprovate appunto perchè affidate al protagonista..."]
As Ricordi noted in the “Gazzetta Musicale”: “L’Amleto si è rappresentato senza Amleto.” After the performance, Faccio, so disturbed by this fiasco, immediately withdrew the piece, and refused to have it performed again.
Although "Amleto" was never produced again in his lifetime, his student Antonio Smareglia noted that it was always very dear to his heart. This is perhaps best (and heartbreakingly) illustrated by a sign that hung from the harmony room door in the Milan Conservatory the day after the La Scala performance that read:
“chiuso per la morte di Amleto”
* [http://www.anthonybarrese.com/Amletoproject.htm The Amleto Project at anthonybarrese.com]
* [http://www.anthonybarrese.com/excerpts.htm Audio and piano vocal score excerpts]
* [http://www.anthonybarrese.com/amletolibretto.htm Complete libretto in Italian and English]
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