A varied, unhappy and long gestation distinguishes this opera
from most. Puccini took some two years to write the original
four act version. An interval of 18 months followed before its
first performance at La Scala on Easter Sunday 1889. It was withdrawn
after two more performances. Over the next six years Puccini
revised and re-drafted with succeeding revisions performed in
1891 (Lucca), 1892 (Ferrara and Madrid) before the definitive
three act version of 1905 at Buenos Aires. It has appeared only
This production is of the failed original 1889 version. The plot
makes a little more sense than in the final one which suffers
from dramatic cutting and pasting. However even in this original
version it is still risible if not frequently ludicrous.
When the opera opens, Edgar is at the end of an affair with the
Moor Tigrana. The ‘girl-next- door’ Fidelia loves
Edgar which he almost reciprocates. Tigrana scandalises the church-attending
villagers. They are about to attack her when Edgar comes to her
aid. Edgar sets fire to his family home and fights and wounds
Frank, Fidelia’s brother, as Frank tries to intervene.
Edgar and Tigrana depart. In act 2 Edgar soon tires of his debauched
lifestyle with Tigrana and joins a passing troop of soldiers
captained by the said Frank. Act 3 takes place after an assumed
battle. Edgar and Frank stage Edgar’s ‘funeral’.
Fidelia is distraught. Tigrana is persuaded by the ‘disguised
as a monk’ Edgar, to denounce him as a traitor. The attending
troop of inflamed soldiers, intent upon desecration, open the
empty coffin whereupon Edgar reveals himself. Act 4 reverts to
Fidelia who still believes that Edgar is dead. She asks to be
buried in her bridal veil. Frank and Edgar appear for the grand
reconciliation after which they depart and leave Fidelia alone.
Enter Tigrana who fatally stabs Fidelia. Tigrana is captured
and led away.
This is not Puccini at his best. There is little character development,
more a series of situations to which individuals respond - frequently
without reason. Thus the invigorating lyricism of later Puccini
is heard only occasionally. However there are several motifs
that put one in mind of later Puccini and prevent longueurs allowing
the mind to wander.
Originally set in 1302 Flanders, this production fast-forwards
to the nineteenth century which the accompanying booklet explains
is “... to the political and social atmosphere of the Risorgimento
the period in which the work itself had been composed.” Hardly
- the papal army was defeated in 1870 and for all practical purposes
unification was complete. Never mind: it is a justification for
martial behaviour and flag-waving at the end of act 2. Curiously,
that act together with act 4 produced little audience response
at the premiere with polite applause for the other two acts.
Thus Puccini applied the cut-and-paste technique of today - the
most dramatic being the deletion of Act 4 with its final dénouement
tacked onto Act 3 and Fidelia killing Tigrana instead of vice
. However that is not this version; here we have the
original version with it stilted libretto (by Fontana) and its
surround Edgar and his inexplicable
impetuosity. Loud dominating noise accompanies many of his actions.
Only when introspective does his music suggest the lyricism which
flows through Puccini’s subsequent operas. Act 1 affords
José Cura little or no opportunity to sing: plenty of
declamation, plenty of hard-edged sound. Act 2 is only a little
better with his reflections on his debauched life-style. Incidentally
that act has been transposed for this production: from a castle
to a brothel with his mistress Tigrana as the Madame; so colourful
costumes, some flashing flesh and some suggestive acting. Even
when in disguise as the monk at his ‘own’ funeral,
there is more declamation until the trio when at last his superb
enunciation shines through with some beauty of tone. Similarly
in his final duet with Amarilli Nizza (Fidelia) he is at last
given the chance to sing with restraint and so produces strong
colouring - even if the music itself is somewhat tedious. Unfortunately,
for most of the time, Cura looks mildly bored.
Nizza fares better with her music: but it starts with her entry
when she sounds decidedly uncomfortable. From
the smoothness and tonal beauty with which she invests high stave forte
later scenes the conclusion appears to be that she did not warm
her voice sufficiently before her opening aria. Her act 3 arias Addio,
mio dolce amore
(track 27) and D’ogni dolor questo
30) are superbly delivered with strong dynamics and colouring:
no shrill here: just convincing tonal beauty throughout the wide
With a hint of vocal steel, Julia Gertseva (Tigrana) is an entirely
convincing vamp. Her act 1 aria addressed to the village congregation
would scandalise them by its sensual delivery ignoring the words
and music. She leads a drinking song in act 2 Evviva!... Le
(tr. 18) with runs, leaps and low passages
which she throws off effortlessly. Her temptation of Edgar on
the next track has strong colouring and an outstanding floated
that she allows to drift in the air.
Marco Vratogna is the reliable Frank whose only failure is to
love Tigrana by whom he is rejected. His aria of lamentation
in act 1, Questo amor
(tr. 9) is delivered in strong dark
tones. His duet with Cura and the end of act 1 is noisily effective
and their interaction at the fake funeral is convincing if musically
Carlo Cigni (Gualtiero: Fidelia and Frank’s father) does
not have the most powerful voice but has perhaps the best ‘hummable’ tune
of the opera Mio figlio!
(track 14) leading into the ensemble
of the anti-climactic penultimate scene of act 1. After the ‘funeral’ he
is left with declamatory comfort for Nizza in her semi-delusional
state with no opportunity for vocal display.
At this stage of Puccini’s career the influence of Ponchielli
is very evident. The ensembles are noisy with fortissimo repetition
of earlier music. The problem is that control is even more necessary
than in quieter moments: a point which seems to have escaped
Yoram David. It does not become a competition but more an opportunity
for fortissimo orchestra and singers with little evidence of
a disciplined balance. Sadly, more frequently than is comfortable,
the orchestra almost drowns parts of arias; orchestral music
with vocal accompaniment it should not be. All of which is regrettable
not least because when reined back the flowing strings and strong
brass and timpani give delightful glimpses of the techniques
Puccini had already firmly established.
There are no reservations about the large chorus. Crisp, clear
and controlled, producing some excellent interpretations. Well
balanced voices carrying us into church, at a party in a brothel,
through the fake funeral and supporting the soloists. Great singing.
Great costumes too. No expense spared on any directorial aspect
although the tufted grass floor throughout was a little odd in
The 150th anniversary of Puccini’s birth was the reason
for this revival, given added impetus by the discovery of the
final act score previously thought lost. Is that sufficient justification
for a revival of Puccini’s only failure? Probably, if only
to give added insight to his development over these years.