Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780393088953.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Reviews

Review: You Promised Me Everything

Richard Taruskin entitled his 1988 polemical critique of the notion of ‘authenticity’ in the context of historically informed performance, ‘The Pastness of the Present and the Presence of the Past’.

Manon Lescaut, Munich

Puccini’s Manon Lescaut at the Bayerische Staatsoper, Munich. Some will scream in rage but in its austerity it reaches to the heart of the opera.

Proms Saturday Matinée 1

It might seem churlish to complain about the BBC Proms coverage of Pierre Boulez’s 90th anniversary. After all, there are a few performances dotted around — although some seem rather oddly programmed, as if embarrassed at the presence of new or newish music. (That could certainly not be claimed in the present case.)

The Maid of Pskov (Pskovityanka) , St. Petersburg

I recently spent four days in St. Petersburg, timed to coincide with the annual Stars of the White Nights Festival. Yet the most memorable singing I heard was neither at the Mariinsky Theater nor any other performance hall. It was in the small, nearly empty church built for the last Tsar, Nicholas II, at Tsarskoye Selo.

Prom 11 — Grange Park Opera: Fiddler on the Roof

As I walked up Exhibition Road on my way to the Royal Albert Hall, I passed a busking tuba player whose fairground ditties were enlivened by bursts of flame which shot skyward from the bell of his instrument, to the amusement and bemusement of a rapidly gathering pavement audience.

Saul, Glyndebourne

A brilliant theatrical event, bringing Handel’s theatre of the mind to life on stage

Roberta Invernizzi, Wigmore Hall

‘Here, thanks be to God, my opera is praised to the skies and there is nothing in it which does not please greatly.’ So wrote Antonio Vivaldi to Marchese Guido Bentivoglio d’Aragona in Ferrara in 1737.

Montemezzi: L’amore dei tre Re

Asphyxiations, atrophy by poison, assassination: in Italo Montemezzi’s L’amore dei tre Re (The Love of the Three Kings, 1913) foul deed follows foul deed until the corpses are piled high. 

Prom 4: Andris Nelsons

The precision of attack in the opening to Beethoven’s Creatures of Prometheus Overture signalled thoroughgoing excellence in the contribution of the CBSO to this concert.

BBC Proms: The Cardinall’s Musick

When he was skilfully negotiating the not inconsiderable complexities, upheavals and strife of musical and religious life at the English royal court during the Reformation, Thomas Tallis (c.1505-85) could hardly have imagined that more than 450 years later people would be queuing round the block for the opportunity spend their lunch-hour listening to the music that he composed in service of his God and his monarch.

Oberon, Persephone and Iolanta at the Aix Festival

Two of the important late twentieth century stage directors, Robert Carsen and Peter Sellars, returned to the Aix Festival this summer. Carsen’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a masterpiece, Sellars’ strange Tchaikovsky/Stravinsky double bill is simply bizarre.

Betrothal and Betrayal : JPYA at the ROH

The annual celebration of young talent at the Royal Opera House is a magnificent showcase, and it was good to see such a healthy audience turnout.

Jenůfa Packs a Wallop at DMMO

There are few operas that can rival the visceral impact of a well-staged Jenůfa and Des Moines Metro Opera has emphatically delivered the goods.

Des Moines Fanciulla a Minnie-Triumph

The Girl of the Golden West (La Fanciulla del West) often gets eclipsed when compared to the rest of the mature Puccini canon.

First Night of the BBC Proms 2015

First Night of the BBC Proms 2015 with Sakari Oramo in exuberant form, pulling off William Walton’s Belshazzar’s Feast with the theatrical flair it deserves.

Des Moines: A Whole Other Secret Garden

With its revelatory production of Rappaccini’s Daughter performed outdoors in the city’s refurbished Botanical Gardens, Des Moines Metro Opera has unlocked the gate to a mysterious, challenging landscape of musical delights.

Seductive Abduction in Iowa

Des Moines Metro Opera has quite a crowd-pleasing production of The Abduction from the Seraglio on its hands.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Garsington Opera

Even by Shakespeare’s standards A Midsummer Night’s Dream, one of his earlier plays, boasts a particularly fantastical plot involving a bunch of aristocrats (the Athenian Court of Theseus), feuding gods and goddesses (Oberon and Titania), ‘Rude Mechanicals’ (Bottom, Quince et al) and assorted faeries and spirits (such as Puck).

Richard Wagner: Tristan und Isolde

What do we call Tristan und Isolde? That may seem a silly question. Tristan und Isolde, surely, and Tristan for short, although already we come to the exquisite difficulty, as Tristan and Isolde themselves partly seem (though do they only seem?) to recognise of that celebrated ‘und’.

Debussy: Pelléas et Mélisande

So this was it, the Pelléas which had apparently repelled critics and other members of the audience on the opening night. Perhaps that had been exaggeration; I avoided reading anything substantive — and still have yet to do so.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

Pietro Mascagni
26 Apr 2009

Il Piccolo Marat

Try to imagine the scenario: You’re an opera company, giving concert performances of neglected, indeed forgotten, hundred-year-old scores (no sets, no costumes, at least you don’t have those headaches), and you give young singers a chance to do their stuff once a year before a paying New York crowd actually eager to hear music they do not know, and you’ve lit on a genuine obscurity, even in the ranks of the obscure; Mascagni’s penultimate stage work, a huge success at the premiere (as his operas usually were), utterly forgotten nowadays (as, but for Cavalleria Rusticana and, on rare occasion, L’Amico Fritz, they pretty much are), and it’s never been performed in North America ever.

Pietro Mascagni: Il Piccolo Marat

Il Piccolo Marat: Richard Crawley; L’Orco: Brian Jauhiainen; Mariella: Paula Delligatti; Il Carpentiere: Daniel Ihn-Kyu Lee; Il Soldato: Joshua Benaim; Una voce basso: Alfred Barclift; Una voce tenore: Hugo Vera. Teatro Gratticielo Orchestra, conducted by David Wroe. Teatro Gratticielo at Avery Fisher Hall, April 13.

 

Recordings of ancient performances exist, though, and everyone is really excited to hear it, with its blood-and-skullduggery-defeated-by-true-love French Revolutionary plot, and you gather your forces, and rehearse to a fare-thee-well, and then it happens: the lead tenor in the big title role withdraws due to a death in the family. Okay, hardly the first time that’s happened, there’s still two weeks, you can dig up another tenor, and you do. But then the baritone in the impossibly evil villain’s part (and in verismo opera, it’s the villain who makes the machine run, more than almost anything else), falls ill and cannot sing, and you have mere days to find a baritone capable of learning a long role, to say nothing of performing it Monday night. And you find one, and he can handle Scarpia, so he can probably handle this. And then, the day of the performance, the third male lead, another baritone, has to pull out … and there is no time for anyone to learn this thing now, and no one on earth knows it … but a young singer of no less than three other small roles says he’s been following the sick man’s music and he could give it the old Bastille try. And you give it to him, and smile when the audience shows up, and out of the corner of your mind, the sole corner that remains sane, you vow to rip the soprano’s head off if she so much as murmurs of her rampaging case of bubonic plague, but no, she is a lamb, she is in excellent health and ready to rock, and by all the Muses (but especially Thalia, comedy), the show goes on.

Would you have a stroke? Would you retire? Would you call Mel Brooks or Blake Edwards and try to get them to option this backstage screenplay, far too unlikely to occur in real life? Or maybe a skit on SNL?

And would the show go on?

On April 13, at Avery Fisher Hall, the show – Teatro Gratticielo’s concert performance of Mascagni’s Il Piccolo Marat – went on, and was greeted, at evening’s end, with a standing ovation.

The world premiere, in 1921, took fifty curtain calls. Why, then, did Marat become so rare? I’m told the Grove Dictionary of the Opera blames its failure to hold audiences on its Fascist librettist. This does not make sense when reading (and following) the libretto, which is as passionate a hymn to freedom from tyranny as Fidelio or Tosca. Too, there is a rather beautiful love duet, a melodious lullaby that recalls the peaceful Easter music of Cavalleria Rusticana, and a tense climax that lures the audience into the emotions of the three “good” characters as, desperately, they assault the unkillable Ogre (English for Orco, the character’s nickname – so that’s where Tolkien found the word!).

As is customary in verismo, a school that matured as the bourgeoisie seized political power and its echo in the arts from aristocratic predecessors, the chorus is a main character in this opera, easily swayed and ruthless in its bloodthirsty support of hero or villain by turns. The Cantori New York and the Long Island University Chorus howled gloriously under the direction of Mark Shapiro; we were right at home, ringside to mob rule.

As is also the rule in operas about the French Revolution (think Andrea Chenier or Madame Sans-Gêne), there were innumerable small parts – which proved convenient when one singer of three of them, Daniel Ihn-Kyu Lee, earned a needed promotion to the almost-lead role of the gentle Carpenter, not too sensitive to design death ships but queasy when the Ogre wants him to build them. Joshua Benaim was worthy and forthright as a Soldier sent to investigate the Ogre – a by no means easy role, designed for a Pertile or Del Monaco sound, to give heroic voice to the Revolution during the opera’s early scenes, when the title character, the Piccolo Marat, must conceal his real feelings to win the Ogre’s confidence. Alfred Barclift and Hugo Vera showed promise onstage playing offstage voices. (Versatility is the name of this game.)

Richard Crawley, in the title role, effectively concealed his noble self and warmed up the while in order to sing a passionate duet with Paula Delligatti, as Mariella, the Ogre’s unhappy niece, and then burst out like a Cavaradossi “Vittoria” when the time came. Brian Jauhiainen was less overwhelming as the monstrous Ogre. Neither gentleman indicated, however, by any hesitancy or misstep, how recently they had first encountered this music: these were trim, professional performances and we were all very grateful to have them. Delligatti has an expressive spinto, perhaps less than ideal to the explosions of a Butterfly or Tosca but probably ideal for Liú or Maddalena. Her lullaby, perhaps the opera’s only excerptable number (another reason for the work’s obscurity), was serene and charming.

Conductor David Wroe, who perhaps rehearsed with the singers who cancelled, rather bashed his way through the score. It’s a large score, all right, and the music should be loud, but not holding back in a hall as orchestrally focused as Fisher is a disservice to the singers, who were often inaudible at the opera’s high points.

John Yohalem

Send to a friend

Send a link to this article to a friend with an optional message.

Friend's Email Address: (required)

Your Email Address: (required)

Message (optional):