Ave Maria in opera "Loreley"

Composer: Alfredo Catalani (1854-1893), 1890


 

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1890  The Musical times and singing-class  circular, Volume 31
  ALFREDO CATALANI'S OPERA LORELEY The composer of this new opera is the accomplished and distinguished professor of composition in the Conservatoire of Milan to which important and envied post he was elected some years ago upon the death of Ponchielli Professor Catalani has within the last ten years produced three operas Elda Dejanire and Edmea each of which in its turn achieved great and deserved success on the leading Italian stages It was in Elda the first of these works that he treated the legend Loreley which the author of the libretto Signor d Ormeville transplanted for that purpose from the Rhine to Scandinavia the intention of both the composer and the dramatic poet being probably to present in a novel form a subject which in the shape of songs cantata opera and otherwise had already been handled by at least a score composers among whom figure conspicuously Mendelssohn Lachner Schumann Schubert Liszt Bruch and others Professor Catalani however possesses in an eminent degree the characteristic of so many great artists and musicians that of never being satisfied with his own work he was not improbably also moved by a conscientious scruple that after all Elda the Scandinavian maiden was something of a travesty of the fascinating Rhenish original who could well afford to stand on her own merits at all events and albeit Elda had been accorded a most flattering reception when produced at Turin he withdrew the opera nor would he rest until he had entirely re modelled and re written it thus restoring Loreley to her legitimate position In this task he was assisted by Signor Zanardini the author of the new libretto and the result is the opera Loreley which was produced at the Teatro Regio of Turin during the recent winter season Among Italian cities Turin holds from a musical point of view an almost unique position which is perhaps shared only by Bologna It is in these two cities that Wagner's operas both in their entirety and in selections performed at Concerts have long taken root and are appreciated by earnest intelligent and musically educated audiences which offer a striking contrast to the more impulsive somewhat turbulent and frequently uncharitable public of Milan as exemplified by the recent more or less stormy performances of Bizet's Pecheurs des Perles following upon the indifferent reception Wagner's Meistersinger at the Scala Hence a genuine success scored at the Teatro Regio of Turin or the Teatro Comunale of Bologna is a far more crucial test than an enthusiastic ovation or the wholesale and hasty condemnation of the Scala In the case of Loreley at Turin Professor Catalani laboured moreover under the initial disadvantage of following close upon a very brilliant series of performances of Lohengrin so much so that the first production of Loreley at which the audience held back and suspended its judgment was pronounced but a qualified success and it was only after repeated hearings that the opera vindicated its merits and in the end achieved a great triumph The principal characters of the opera are five in number Rudolph Margrave of Biberich bass Anna of Rchber his niece mezzo soprano Walter lord of Oberwesel tenor Loreley an orphan soprano Loreley G Ricordi & Co Milan 1890
  and Herrmann the warrior bard of the golden lyre baritone besides a host of choral masses composed ot the Margrave's retinue bards knights pages archers fishermen peasants nymphs and spirits The following may serve as a rapid sketch of the drama the scene of which is of course laid on the banks of the Rhine The first act opens with a pastoral scene in which fishermen peasants and archers discuss the great event which is approaching the marriage of Walter and Anna A bevy of old women predict that the marriage will not be a happy one and that something ominous is impending they are however silenced by the rest of the crowd which disperses at the bidding of Herrmann the bard of the golden lyre Herrmann seeing young Walter approach asks him why on the eve of his wedding he looks so anxious and depressed whereupon the young lord of Oberwesel confides to the Bard that he will marry Anna of Rehberg because he has pledged his word but that for some time he has been deeply in love with Loreley a poor and innocent orphan girl who returns his love The Bard advises his young friend to conquer his passion and to be true to his betrothed At this juncture Loreley herself appears and seeing Walter's agitation wrings from him the confession that he is pledged to marry Anna and that the wedding day is at hand Loreley beside herself with anguish and despair clings to Walter who however repels her and she faints with a shriek and falls to the ground At this point a violent storm bursts and when the clouds ire clearing the scene reveals a rocky inlet formed by the waters of the Rhine in which water nymphs and spirits of the air alternately sing their plaintive strains Loreley sitting on the edge of the famous rock which bears her name broods revenge and appeals to the spirits for power to punish her faithless lover and they promise to endow her with irresistible beauty which will allure and entrap him if she will swear to wed the Rhine She swears and throws herself into the arms of her bridegroom the river immediately afterwards re appearing on the rock in transcendent beauty clad in a star spangled garment of flaming red The second act introduces Anna the promised bride joyous and happy preparing for the wedding The marriage procession is formed and on its way to the chapel passes along the terrace of the Margrave Rudolph's castle from which the Loreley rock can be seen Suddenly a stroke of lightning disturbs the procession Walter turning towards the fatal rock sees Loreley in all her beauty bidding him to come The fascination is irresistible He leaves his bride the procession breaks up in consternation the bride faints away in horror and despair the Margrave and the Bard vow vengeance but Walter in a trance follows Loreley who after alluring him along the banks of the river suddenly plunges and disappears in the water The third and last act opens with the funeral procession of Anna who could not survive her grief and despair Walter having learned her sad end is present to pay her his last tribute but is indignantly repelled by the mourning Margrave and his retinue Forsaken by all he is on the point of taking his own life when Loreley once more appears on the rock He sees her hastens to her she comes to meet him The sweet remembrance of their first love once more unites them and she falls into his arms when the nymphs rise out of the water to remind her that she is no longer on earth but herself a nymph wedded to the Rhine Walter seeing all hope gone throws himself into the river and Loreley realising her awful fate sinks lifeless on the rock The dramatic action which is all the more effective because it is concentrated in three acts instead of being spread as is often the case in the operas of the day over four and even five may be said to recall here and there scenes from such operas as Puccini's Le Villi Lort zing's Undine and even Tannhauser but reminiscences such as these might be multiplied indefinitely and they spring up naturally and necessarily in every work treating of a kindred subject The libretto by Signori d Ormeville and Zanardini is one of undoubted dramatic and poetical merit and has furnished Professor Catalani with ample opportunity for displaying his powers as a lyrico dramatic composer As such he has a pronounced tendency to write in the minor key which imparts to his
  style a peculiarly plaintive often mournful character but this too is strictly in harmony with the subject of Loreley and is moreover relieved by the refined taste the abundance of pathetic melody and the scholarly workmanship in which he excels These constitute indeed the most prominent merits of the score and go far to make up for an occasional want of dash and impassioned grandeur Among the most noteworthy features of the score may be mentioned the graceful prelude of the opera constructed on the leading theme of the second scene of the first act viz Loreley's appeal to the nymphs and her vow to wed the Rhine the duet for tenor and baritone Walter and the Bard in the first act the duet between Walter and Loreley Da che tutta mi son data all ebbrezza dell amor and the second scene Loreley's vow already referred to In the second act may be noticed more especially Anna's air mezzo soprano Amor celeste ebbrezza e pena the Ave Maria the wedding march and the grand Finale which in the sudden appearance of Loreley during the marriage procession and Walter's betrayal of his bride marks the climax of the opera This concerted piece is an excellent specimen of polyphonic writing and is only somewhat marred by the long harangues of the Bard a tedious and superfluous personage whose part might with advantage be curtailed or dispensed with The third act is decidedly the best so far as musical structure and originality of treatment are concerned This applies more particularly to the funeral march for chorus and orchestra which marks quitea new departure from the beaten track of similar compositions to the graceful and fantastic dance of the nymphs though this seems a contradiction in terms which has already been separately produced at orchestral concerts and to the final duet between Walter and Loreley in which the fantastic and poetical subjects which it is meant to portray are admirably blended The opera was most efficiently conducted by Signor Mareschori one of the leading Italian conductors of the day who contributed in an eminent degree to the success which attended its production in Turin where only the other day he was presented with a handsome testimonial by the spirited and enterprising Committee of the Teatro Regio anxious to attest their recognition of his services in bringing the winter season to a close with two such masterworks as Lohengrin and Loreley CPS

 
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