Amleto is an opera in four acts by Franco Faccio set to a libretto by Arrigo Boito, based on Shakespeare's play Hamlet. It premiered on 30 May 1865 at the Teatro Carlo Felice in Genoa and was revised for a La Scala production given on 12 February 1871.
The collaboration and friendship between librettist and composer was to last throughout Faccio's lifetime, and in addition (as musicologist William Ashbrook states): "Amleto marks an effort of two prominent members of the Scapigliatura (a late Romantic reform movement in northern Italy in the 1860s and 70s) to renew the tradition of Italian opera."
After the La Scala revival in 1871, the opera disappeared for almost 130 years. However, in recent years copies of the score and libretto have reappeared and conductor Anthony Barrese has created a critical edition which will be presented by Opera Southwest in Albuquerque, New Mexico in October 2014.
The history of Amleto, from a libretto which Italian musicologist Rafaello DeRensis states was written specifically for Faccio by Arrigo Boito, is somewhat unclear as to how the choice of Hamlet as a subject came about, but the librettist completed his "innovatory libretto" on 2 July 1862 while in Poland, well ahead of Faccio's first opera.
However, Faccio's first collaboration with Boito had been in writing a patriotic cantata, Il quattro giugno in 1860 when Boito also wrote some of the music as well as the text, and this was followed by a sequel, La sorelle d'Italia, also in the spirit of the movement towards Italian unification. Ashbrook notes that one aspect of this opera's importance lies in in the fact that, "as the first of Boito's librettos derived from Shakespeare, it reveals the future poet of Otello and Falstaff collaborating with a far less experienced and gifted composer than Verdi.
Faccio's first opera I profughi fiamminghi, was given at La Scala in 1863, but its failure was followed by a celebratory party given for Faccio by his friends and the event included Boito's reading of the infamous "Ode saffica col bicchiere alla mano", which infuriated Giuseppe Verdi. 
The Genoa premiere
The opera was premiered on 30 May 1865 at Genoa's Teatro Carlo Felice. The cast included some of the finest singers of the day. According to DeRensis, the work was accepted at the Carlo Felice because of the personal intervention of Boito's Conservatory professor Alberto Mazzucato, who was friends with Mariani. While Ashbrook notes that the general reaction was "dismay at the score's paucity of melody", he does add that Ophelia's funeral march, the "Marcia Funebre", "[won] general approval". While both of Faccio's operas failed to achieve success, the critics were unanimous in their praise of the promise shown in the young composer and, the following contemporary accounts, the audience appears to have shown its pleasure at what they had heard.
On 31 May, the Gazzetta di Genova wrote:
- The opera was generally applauded at the end of the first act, at Ofelia and Amleto’s duet, at the finale of the second act, at Ofelia’s canzone in the third, and at the funeral march of the fourth. The young maestro was called to the stage many times.
That same day, the paper Movimento wrote:
- The expectations were high for the premiere, because doubt had circulated the reputation of the new type of music attempted by the young maestro. The public therefore rushed in great numbers and with an attitude of one who wishes to judge with circumspection, and, let us also say, with severity. But from expectations of doubt they changed their mind, and after having waited to think about it, a decision was made; they applauded and applauded with spontaneity, with conscience, with enthusiasm.
Barrese provides "a more personal, if not more biased account [which] comes from Mazzucato and was sent to Faccio’s teacher Stafano Ronchetti-Monteviti. The long letter was published in full in the “Giornale della Società del Quartetto” and in Franco Faccio e Verdi, DeRensis reprints the following selections".
- Amleto....aroused unusual and profound emotions in the Genovese public, which celebrated your distinguished student with every type of flattering reception. The curtain-calls for the maestro and the performers were unanimous, insistent, continuous, and ever warmer as the imaginative work unfolded before the eyes of the listeners who were highly surprised with the truth of its conception, the newness of form, the passion of the melodies, the ensemble harmony, and of the robust skill that dominates the whole score.
- [...] As long as we see young Italians give as their second work a creation as serious and strong as that of Amleto, rest assured, my dear colleague, that Italian art is nowhere near death. Amleto’s victory was legitimate, and I am happy because I see in it a new consecration of our ideas, and you must be doubly happy for it, and for the triumph of these ideas, and for the pleasure of having educated a powerful talent like Franco Faccio in the Italian art.
Giuseppe Verdi, when he heard of the success of the opera, wrote to the librettist Francesco Maria Piave stating that, "if Faccio succeeds, I am sincerely happy; others will perhaps will not believe this; but [only] others; you know me and you know that I either keep quiet or say what I feel".
The La Scala revised version
After the premiere, Amleto lay dormant for nearly six years while its authors embarked on a number of musical and extra-musical adventures. It was also during these years that Faccio began conducting, which would prove to be his true calling.
However, Amleto was never far from his thoughts, and his friends and family continued to urge him to seek another production. In a letter written on 27 February 1867, his friend the Countess Maffei chided him for missing the opportunity to present Amleto to the Queen of Prussia when he had the chance.
The long-awaited revival was eventually scheduled for the 1870-1871 season at La Scala. According to DeRensis, the performance was made possible for one reason: the libretto by Carré and Barbier for the opera Hamlet and written for Ambrose Thomas, was unanimously judged a profanation. For the La Scala production Mario Tiberini returned to interpret the role of Amleto. He was again joined by some of the most famous singers of the time and La Scala's conductor, Eugenio Terziani, yielded the baton to Faccio.
According to DeRensis the rehearsals began smoothly and the dress rehearsal was set for 16 January 1871. The very next day, Tiberini got sick and the opera was postponed for more than 2 weeks. Eventually rehearsals began again, and Tiberini got sick again. A second dress rehearsal was given and the La Scala Theater Commission judged Tiberini fit to sing, despite Faccio's protestations. 12 February saw the opening night, and what was to be the last performance of Amleto. Despite good intentions, Tiberini was completely voiceless that night.
As Barrese notes: "DeRensis writes that the performance was uncertain and disorganized, and describes it as follows":
- Tiberini, completely voiceless and disoriented, did not emit one note with the accent of that great artist that he was, he lowered the pitches, and did away with entire phrases. He, and with much visible anguish, rendered comprehension of the opera impossible. Faccio directed, apparently calm but in reality very disturbed. Some ensemble pieces like the dance and brindisi [Act 1, Sc. i], the Violoncello prelude [Act 1, sc.ii], the Spettro’s Racconto [Act 1, sc. ii], the Pater noster [Act 3, sc. i] – which procured Bertolasi two curtain calls – the third act trio, the fourth act funeral march (welcomed with roaring applause and two curtain calls for the composer), saved the production from a shipwreck.
After the performance, Faccio, so disturbed by this fiasco, immediately withdrew the piece, and refused to have it performed again. Although Amleto was never produced again in his lifetime, his student (and later composer himself), Antonio Smareglia, noted that it was always very dear to his heart.
|Role||Voice type||Premiere cast
12 March 1857
(Conductor: Angelo Mariani
12 February 1871
(Conductor: Franco Faccio)
|Amleto (Hamlet)||tenor||Mario Tiberini||Mario Tiberini|
|Offelia (Ophelia), Polonius' daughter||soprano||Angiolina Ortolani-Tiberini||Virginia Pozzi-Branzutti|
|Geltrude, (Gertrude), Queen of Denmark
and Hamlet's mother
|mezzo-soprano||Elena Corani||Marietta Bulli-Paoli|
|Claudio (Claudius), King of Denmark||baritone||Antonio Cotogni||Bertolasi|
|Lo Spettro (The Ghost)||bass||Baragiolo||De Giuli Angeli|
|Laerte (Laertes), Polonius' son||tenor|
|Polonio (Polonius), Lord Chamberlain||bass|
|Orazio (Horatio), Hamlet's friend||bass|
Faccio's other activities
Faccio also continued to compose after the premiere of Amleto, writing among other things, a "Sinfonia in fa" and a "Quartetto". Sometime in 1870 Giovanni Ricordi commissioned him to write a third opera, Patria, based on a play by Sardou. Verdi himself intervened on Faccio's behalf to try to secure the rights to the play, but Sardou, hoping that Verdi himself would set the drama to music, refused.
In 1866 both Boito and Faccio joined the Italian army to fight alongside Garibaldi. In addition to his purely militaristic excursions, Faccio used the opportunity to travel extensively throughout Europe, perusing Beethoven's autograph of Fidelio in Berlin in addition to getting to know Tannhäuser and Lohengrin. As his European travels came to an end in 1867, he traveled to Copenhagen on a steamship named Hamlet, and was amused to see other ships named after Shakespeare's tragedy. While in Denmark, he made a special trip to Elsinore and visited the Royal Castle where he had the feeling that at any moment one could imagine seeing the "wandering and troubled shade of the assassinated king."
The disastrous premiere of Boito's Mefistofele at La Scala in 1868 added to the growing necessity of a compositional success by Boito and Faccio, self-appointed representatives of the "Music of the future" in Italy. In early 1870, the Gazzetta Musicale reported on the possibility (eventually unrealized) of staging Amleto in Florence.
Preparation of the critical edition of Amleto
After the La Scala revival in 1871 the opera has never been performed again.
However, conductor Anthony Barrese, who has worked at the Sarasota Opera, the Dallas Opera, and who is Artistic Director and Principal Conductor of Opera Southwest in Albuquerque, New Mexico developed an interest in this opera in the early 2000s and, since 2003, has been researching and (in conjunction with the publishing house Casa Ricordi) has now prepared and edited a critical edition of the opera from a variety of sources, including a newly-discovered libretto from the 1871 staging.
By the end of 2004, Barrese had edited the Amleto' score, presented a scene from Act 3 of the work on stage by apprentice singers at the Sarasota Opera, thereby allowing a re-evaluation of its merits, and he had also completed the critical notes associated with the score. In 2007 Barrese presented the "Marcia funebre" with the Dallas Opera Orchestra for a family concert in 2007. This part of the opera is presented in Corfu each year during Easter, when the band of Philharmonic Society of Corfu performs it during the epitaph litany of Saint Spyridon on the morning of Holy Saturday.
Musical excerpts, which include the following, can be heard here. They are taken from performances given by apprentice singers at the Sarasota Opera.
- Act 1, scene 1: Ofelia’s "Sortita" (for soprano) (From the revised version 1871)
- Act 1, scene 2: The Ghost's aria (for bass)
- Act 2, scene 1: Amleto’s aria "Essere o non essere" ("To be or not to be") (for tenor)
- Act 3, scene 1:
- King Claudio’s Aria (for baritone)
- Scene and Trio (for Polonius, the Queen, Amleto, The Ghost)
- Queen's aria (for Mezzo-Soprano)
- Ophelia's mad scene
- Ashbrook, in Sadie, Vol. 1, p. 110
- Barrese, "Amleto Project History: Composition and the Premiere" online at anthonybarrese.com/projects.
- Ashbrook, in Sadie, Vol. 2, p. 102
- Nardi, p. 1531 (sic)
- Weaver (1994), "Introduction", p. xvii
- Walker (1982), p. 449: The ode is quoted, with the line which annoyed Verdi: "Perhaps the man is already born who will restore art to its purity, on the alter now defiled like the wall of a brothel".
- DeRensis, Franco Facio e Verdi,[page needed], in Barrese
- Verdi to Piave, date unknown, in Phillips-Matz, p. 475
- Maffei to Fuccio, in Nardi, p. 59: "...M'ha assai divertita la vostra resistenza all Regina di Prussia, ma perchè non offrivi di suonare invece di cantare? e far sentire a S. M. la vostra Marcia Funebre? Avreste così avuto l'opportunità di presentare L'Amleto."
- DeRensis, title of work?, p. ?, in Barrese, "Amleto Project: History, Composition and the Premiere"
- Nardi, p. 114.
- DeRensis,[page needed], in Barrese, "Amleto Project History: Composition and the Premiere".
- Roles and their creators taken from Barrese, "Amleto Project: Libretto"
- Nardi. p. 72. Faccio to Countess Maffei, 30 June 1867: "Il Castello Reale splendido, grandioso, antichissimo monumento, ricco di baluardi e di piattaforme, sulle quali, ad ogni istante, si crederebbe di scorgere l'ombra errante ed affanosa del vecchio Re assassinato..."
- Nardi, p. 112
- Barrese, The Amleto Project
- Ashbrook William (1998), "Amleto" in Stanley Sadie, (Ed.), The New Grove Dictionary of Opera, Vol. One. London: MacMillan Publishers, Inc. 1998 ISBN 0-333-73432-7 ISBN 1-56159-228-5
- Ashbrook William (1998), "Faccio, Franco" in Stanley Sadie, (Ed.), The New Grove Dictionary of Opera, Vol. Two, pp. 101 – 102. London: MacMillan Publishers, Inc. ISBN 0-333-73432-7 ISBN 1-56159-228-5
- Barrese, Anthony, The "Amleto Project" at anthonybarrese.com
- Budden, Julian (1984), The Operas of Verdi, Volume 3: From Don Carlos to Falstaff. London: Cassell. ISBN 0-304-30740-8
- DeRensis, Rafaello (1927), L’Amleto di A. Boito, con lettere inedite di Boito, Mariani e Verdi. Ancona: La Lucerna
- DeRensis, Raffaello (1934), Franco Faccio e Verdi, carteggi e documenti inediti. Milano: Fratelli Treves Editori
- Nardi, Piero (1942), Vita di Arrigo Boito, Verona: Mondadori
- Phillips-Matz, Mary Jane (1993), Verdi: A Biography, London & New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-313204-4
- Walker, Frank, The Man Verdi (1982), New York: Knopf, 1962, Chicago: University of Chicago Press. ISBN 0-226-87132-0
- Weaver, William (1994), The Verdi-Boito Correspondence, Chicago: The University of Chicago Press. ISBN
- Heinsen, Geerd Opera Lounge interview with Antony Barrese on operalounge.de. (Intro in German; interview in English)
- Amleto: Audio and piano vocal score excerpts
- Amleto: Complete libretto in Italian and English