conducted the work myself in 1985 (in a coupling with Puccini’s
next, second opera Edgar) I find this the most satisfactory
way of approaching the work, purely through its music. It’s a
kind of operatic version of the ballet La Sylphide, an ingredient-packed
drama of Wilis, who are beautiful spirit maidens who dance you
to death, a remorseful tenor, vengeful father, and a dramatic
soprano (20 years later mine, Elizabeth Byrne, is singing Brünnhilde
in the current Scottish Opera Ring cycle, so you can see
what sort of voice is required here). The problem with this opera
is that the most dramatic parts occur offstage (Roberto’s seduction
and Anna’s death), and they are only related to its bemused audience
by a spoken narration, possibly in a language they cannot understand.
Instead all operatic clichés have a field day, such as
the opening chorus of village peasants, the massive prayer scene
to close the first act in a full ensemble. Despite such stereotypes,
there is also a hint of Puccini to come (this is a student work),
for Roberto is surely a prototype for Cavaradossi in Tosca
and even Calaph in Turandot, for his aria is hugely intense,
while Anna, the quintessential suffering soprano, is any of Madame
Butterfly, Liù or Mimi in the making, and the third character,
her father Guglielmo, is a typically wounded operatic father (Verdi’s
Rigoletto or Germont père models here).
recording does the work full justice and makes no attempt to cover
up its youthful composer’s weaknesses at this stage of his career.
Judging by the excellent pacing and lush balance here, the harmonic
language and melodic style could be none other than Puccini, while
the small cast and large orchestra enter into the spirit of the
piece from the outset. Not just for anoraks, this is a marvellous
introduction to Puccini.