The almost-lost works of the “born opera composer” return


Historians strive for accuracy, so it’s embarrassing to admit that I can’t remember exactly when I first noticed the existence of Carolina Uccelli’s opera. Sometime around six years ago, this name jumped into my head off the list. I Do Think back to my reaction. In 1835, a female composer put an opera on the stage? With an all-star cast? She must be extraordinary!

It’s the beginning of a journey that culminates with this month’s contemporary premiere of Uccelli’s Anna di Reisberg Presented by New Theater Company in Montclair, NJ, July 20th and in New York City on the 24th. There is a human story hidden behind it, which is touching and a little sad. Now I have the opportunity to add a happy postscript to it.

Italian opera was the most competitive and economically significant branch of music in the world at the beginning of the 19th century. No female composer could gain a foothold in it. At the time, success for women meant publishing miniatures for the Salon, a goal Uccelli achieved while still in her teens. But conceiving entire musicals and competing for them in the marketplace is hard, brutal work; no one could imagine a woman pursuing it.

Carolina Pazzini was born into an upper-class Florentine family in 1810, a courageous young man who sought to set herself apart. She received thorough musical training and earned a reputation locally for her singing and keyboard improvisations. Around 1827, when Italy’s leading publisher released her collection of ariettas, she was married to widower Filippo Uccelli, a famous but sometimes controversial Controversial doctor who supports her incredible ambitions. He handed reporters a letter from Gioachino Rossini praising her first opera, Saul Made in Florence 1830. One of Filippo’s students later wrote dissatisfiedly that the good doctor had squandered the inheritance that should have belonged to his sons on the “capriciousness” of his young stepmother.

By all accounts, “Saul” was a triumph on its opening night, but in later performances there was evidence that a woman stepping outside the confines of her expectations could be prejudiced. London’s Harmonicon reported that “the Florentines delighted in the works of this lady, and in the works of her superiors, both in verse and prose. Protect As we all know, Rossini provided this for her. German Journal Allgemeine Musikalische Zeitung It was baselessly suggested that Rossini was more interested in Uccelli’s beauty than her talent. The Florentine magazine Il Censore denounced the theater as giving way to “female vanity”.

Others defended the fledgling, but it was clear that even after a promising start, the road ahead wouldn’t be easy. After Filippo’s death in 1832, life became even more difficult for the 22-year-old composer, a widow with a young child to support. But Alessandro Lanari, the manager in charge of the premiere of “Saul,” believed in her. In 1834 he signed a contract with the Teatro Royale of Naples, and after much difficulty in persuading the Palace Council to approve his plans, he put Anna di Resburg on the stage the following year.

Today, only one copy of “Anna” exists, housed in the extensive collection of the Conservatoire of Naples. Reading an opera from an orchestral manuscript takes time. You have to decipher the calligraphy before you can start imagining the sounds, and it’s a particularly rushed job, full of errors and not very clear. But as I slowly explored it, admiration turned to admiration and eventually to utter astonishment. This is the work of a born opera composer. This is a real thing.

This is a way of expression. The structure of a bel canto opera is made up of individual numbers—cavatina, duet, finale, etc.—and “Anna” It consists of 12 such numbers. None of it is boring; none of it sounds like filler, none of it fails to embody and advance the story, none of it falls into the wrong place. This twenty-something novice has a masterful grasp of opera as drama.

So why don’t we know about her? There are probably two main reasons. One is that unlike Fanny Mendelssohn, Clara Schumann or Alma Mahler, there was no high-profile musical celebrity in the Uccelli family. The other concerns the fate of the works restored this month.

The story of Anne of Roxburgh (Anne of Roxburgh) revolves around two feudal lords who are dead before the story begins – one of whom was murdered in order to seize her land. Murdered by another. The killer left the dagger in the wound and waited for the victim’s son to enter the room before being caught with the weapon in his hand. The son (an opera tenor) has gone into exile. His wife (Anna) went into hiding, leaving her infant son to be raised as an unknown orphan. On his deathbed, the guilty patriarch confesses his crime to his son and heir (the baritone in the opera), but the latter, overcome with shame, chooses to conceal his confession.

The plot of the opera makes all this come to nothing. The exile returns; the usurper recognizes the orphan and seizes him; the parents expose themselves to the danger of death. In the climactic scene, Anna senses the baritone’s guilt and confronts him. When the condemned husband is about to be executed at his father’s grave, the remorseful man reveals his father’s crimes and wrests a happy ending from tragedy.

Uccelli didn’t get such a happy ending. She encountered the worst luck imaginable. Her opera tells a thrilling Scottish tale of rival families and stolen land, ending with a dramatic scene at an ancestral graveyard. How could she have imagined that a premiere before her own would also have these characteristics? It is called “Lucia of Lammermoor”. Retracing the chronology after the fact is like watching a slow-motion movie of an impending train wreck.

Soprano Fanny Tacchinardi Persiani sang the premiere of Anna October 29, 1835, four days after her 17th Lucia was born. She has won enthusiastic applause from Naples audiences for her wild scenes with Lucia since the opening night in September. Anna is a great character but it doesn’t contain anything like That. For the next opera, if it were to be set in the same atmosphere (Lammermuir and Roxburgh are only 30 miles apart), and probably in the same settings (especially the two final tomb scenes) It would have been a miracle to have been put on a show, to be publicly assessed—at the attention of a public enamored with Donizetti’s new masterpiece. Anna had its second performance on November 3, before management turned to repeating the opera from earlier in the season.

Even good operas can fail. “La Traviata” Madama Butterfly does this from the beginning. But both Verdi and Puccini were recognized stars. Their crushing defeat is bound to draw attention. Not only was Uccelli a novice, but she had pushed herself into a position where many felt women were insignificant. No one came to save the Anna revival; Uccelli never got another theatrical contract, and probably never even sought one.

She remained musically active, gave regular private and public performances, published songs in Italian and French, and left such an impression that she became one of the key figures in François-Joseph Fétis’s Biography of a Musician. One of the few female composers. The star singer frequently performed in her recitals and was well received by critics throughout Europe, but she blended into the typical season’s concert fare rather than striking out as a theatrical hit. In 1852, Uccelli and her soprano daughter Emma appeared at one of the famous Paris salons hosted by Rossini, who had supported Carolina decades earlier. Carolina strives for a man’s seat in the opera.

Is she happy? Does she feel at peace with the career she could pursue? The only known portrait, dating from the mid-1840s, is haunting: a brilliant woman staring into the distance, contemplating what might be. I hope the revival of “Anna” will spur research; after spending part of every day for more than a year editing her opera, I’m eager to learn more about the people behind it.

A short notice about “Italian Musical” In March 1858, readers were informed of Uccelli’s death in Florence. Decades later, when her name appeared in La Conservatory of Milan, its correspondent could write that “if Fettes had not mentioned her, we would hardly have known of her existence,” and this was likely the case is permanent. Much of her music is lost; of “Saul” we have no trace. The published Salon works, while elegant and conforming to the idiomatic style, do not in themselves reveal significant dramatic talent. But regardless, the survival of an opera gives her a chance to speak for herself in the 21st century.

Better late than never. We don’t know what opera Uccelli would have written had she had the career she so boldly pursued, but the opera she left behind is a gem. In page after page, she displays not only the confidence and expressiveness praised by Rossini, but also a daring capacity for experimentation. Duo for solo flute and timpani? A peppy Italian ditty repeated in classic academic form, with the individual entries of the tune a bar apart? A barrage of songs, not comical, but deadly serious? Uccelli has these and more.

One can’t help but ask one final question: Is there anything overtly feminine in her music? How is or might identity be represented in art? We can only vouch for our own reactions; others may detect a particularly feminine quality, but as far as I know, if Anna were written by the unknown Carlo Uccelli, the character in Anna would Nothing comes without varying degrees of surprise.

Carolina, on the other hand, chose a story: that of a mother. Mothers rarely appear in operas, and when they do, they are often frightening. Norma nearly killed her own children; Lucrezia Borgia, Medea, and Azucena did. More often, plays center on male desire and sexual competition, which are present in Anna di Resburg not at all. Instead, it’s the most maternal theme imaginable, with Anna risking her life to protect her child. I suspect this happens randomly. It’s an exciting and inspiring story and I’m so happy that a mother is stepping up to tell this story through music.



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