Maria di Rohan
|Maria di Rohan|
|Opera by Gaetano Donizetti|
|Premiere||5 June 1843
Maria di Rohan is a tragic opera or melodramma tragico in three acts by Gaetano Donizetti. The Italian libretto was written by Salvadore Cammarano, closely modeled after Lockroy and Edmond Badon's 3-act play Un duel sous le cardinal de Richelieu, which had premiered in Paris at the théâtre national du Vaudeville on 9 April 1832.
- The Musical World published a review May 15, 1847 of a performance at the recently renamed Royal Italian Opera - which house reverted to its original name The Royal Opera House, Covent Garden in 1892 - starring Giorgio Ronconi:
ROYAL ITALIAN OPERA
DONIZETTI'S opera seria, Maria di Rohan, was brought out, for the first time in this country, on Saturday last. This opera was chosen for a double purpose, independent of its intrinsic merits:—first, to introduce Madame Ronconi to the subscribers of the Royal Italian Opera and the public; secondly, to exhibit Signor Ronconi in one of his greatest parts. The general cast was admirable, and was as follows:—
Maria di Rohan . . . MADAME RONCONI, Ricardo, Count of Chalais. . . SIGNOR SALVI, Armando di Gondi . . . MADEMOISELLE ALBONI, De Fiesque. . . SIGNOR POLLONINI, Enrico, Duke of Chevreuse. . . SIGNOR RONCONI.
Maria di Rohan is one of Donizetti's latest works, written some five years since, but is certainly not one of his most meritorious. The story, which is powerfully dramatic, is constructed indifferently for lyric exhibition. In this work we find no single sustained concerted morceau, and no chorus of moment, whereby the opera loses considerably in its importance. Donizetti is reported to have written Maria de Rohan with exceeding care. We give little credit to the report.
The opera certainly boasts of a regularly constructed overture, and this tells something in favour of rumour, since the composer seldom hazards a work of this kind: but then, the overture itself is such as the maestro might be supposed to have improvised, and there are unmistakable indications throughout the opera of hasty and careless writing. Maria di Rohan, in our estimation, may be ranked among Donizetti's weakest productions. The hand of the prolific master is, however, occasionally apparent. The ballata in the first act, "Per non istare," sung by Gondi, is assuredly the offspring of one of the composer's very happiest moments of inspiration. The aria in the second act, "Son leggiero, nel amore," also sung by Gondi, is hardly less beautiful. The supplication-song of Chalais in the second act, and the duet in the last act, between Chalais and Maria, are entitled to great praise for their passionate expression and dramatic feeling.
With these exceptions, we remember nothing worthy of particular notice in Maria di Rohan. Certainly an opera of this kind should be granted more than one hearing to entitle the critic to proffer a well-grounded opinion on its merits; but, as we paid all the attention in our power to catch the music; and, as the opera has now been postponed, in consequence of the indisposition of Madame Ronconi; and, as our paper comes out on Saturday, and, as we bring every novelty of the Royal Italian Opera under our weekly notice, we concluded it was better to give a candid opinion on its first production, than to wait for a second hearing and deprive our readers of an anticipated critique. The story of Maria di Rohan is of French extraction, and is familiar to the frequenters of the St. James's Theatre. It is founded on the drama, Un Duel sous Richelieu. The plot is simple, and may be thus told:—
Maria, Countess of Rohan, has loved and been loved by Count Chalais. Their union is interrupted, and Maria marries privily the Duke of Chevreuse, being forced, or instigated thereto, by reasons which do not appear in the operatic version. Chevreuse has killed the nephew of Cardinal Richelieu in a duel, and conceals himself to evade the vengeance of the minister. Chalais, at Maria's entreaty, and still innocent of her marriage, obtains a pardon for Chevreuse, and the latter, thereupon, declares his marriage with Maria. Chalais is infuriated, but conceals his rage, and, as a sort of escape-valve for his frenzy, quarrels with Armando di Gondi, a young courtier, and challenges him to single combat. The challenge is accepted, and the hour signified. Chevreuse volunteers to become the second of Chalais.
Maria, who, despite the nuptial tie, nourishes a passion for Chalais, having gained intelligence of the intended meeting, flies to him to urge him to forego the duel. While she is pleading with him, the husband enters, and Chalais conceals his mistress in a closet. This is certainly no tragic situation, more especially as nothing arises from it, the three being left, at the end, in precisely the same circumstances, with regard to the audience, as before the duke entered. When the husband departs, Maria is still seen pleading with Chalais to forego the combat. We see no possible motive for bringing Chevreuse on in this scene, except for the mere purpose of affording the foolish husband and shameless lover an opportunity of singing an obstreperous duet. Maria at last prevails on Chalais to stay at home, and lay aside the weapons of his honour for those of Master Dan Cupid. Previous to the coming of Maria, Chalais had written a letter to his mistress, which, with her portrait, he had enclosed in a packet, to be delivered to her in case he should fall.
Chevreuse, meanwhile, goes to the field of combat, and as his principal does not arrive, Irish like, takes up the cudgels, alias sword, for his friend, and receives a wound in the sword-arm from Armando di Gondi. In the last act, Chalais comes under the ban of Richelieu's displeasure, and plays another game of hide-and-seek with the wily minister. The duke, anxious for his false friend, contrives a means for his escape. Chalais departs, urging Maria to fly with him, and vows that unless she will follow him to a certain place before the clock strikes the next hour, he will return and die at her feet. Now comes the moment of retribution for the guilty lovers. Richelieu, suspecting the Count of treasonable purposes, dispatches a guard of archers to his house, who, in rummaging his papers, discover the packet addressed to Maria, and bring it to the cardinal.
Richelieu, having perused it, sends it to Chevreuse, who becomes distracted at the perfidy of his wife and friend. He threatens to kill her, but relents when Chalais arrives, and a scene of terror ensues. The Duke snatches two pistols from the table, and calls on the Count to render him instant satisfaction. Chalais, seeing all is lost, seizes one of the pistols, rushes into an adjoining apartment, followed by the duke. They fight: Chalais is killed. The duke re-enters, Maria falls senseless to the ground, the royal archers arrive, and the curtain falls on a dramatic tableau.
Such a subject, it will be seen at once, does not present a very happy vehicle for music. There are, nevertheless, situations in the opera that demand, in the artists, dramatic powers of the highest order, and, in these situations, the vocalists of Tuesday evening, left nothing to be desired.
Madame Ronconi, who made her first appearance on Tuesday, had previously appeared, some ten years since at Her Majesty's Theatre. She is an intelligent artist, both as singer and actress, but unfortunately laboured under a severe cold, and was consequently heard to great disadvantage. We understand her singing at rehearsal was far superior to that of her evening's performance; for which reason we do not feel ourselves justly warranted in discussing the fair debutante's merits at any length. That she is a good musician and clever actress is evident; and, we have no doubt, that she will, ultimately, prove a useful and worthy member of the company of which she forms an item.
Salvi acted with great ability and sang most beautifully. His artistic vocalization of the prayer in the second act won him an enthusiastic encore, and he obtained great applause in his portion of the stormy scenes in the last act.
Mademoiselle Alboni gained another ovation on Tuesday night. Her singing of the ballata, in the first scene, was absolutely faultless. She roused her auditors to a state of excitement, seldom witnessed at the Royal Italian Opera, and this was accomplished almost without an effort. The extreme purity and delicious quality of voice, the chasteness, grace, and exquisite finish, exhibited in the simple and quaint ballad, could not fail of impressing any audience with enthusiastic emotion. She was encored in a perfect tornado of applause. The tame words apply to the fair contralto's singing of "Per non istare" in the second act, also uproariously encored. In the part of Armando di Gondi, Mdlle. Alboni exhibited comic powers of much excellence, for which we had given her little credit, and obtained as much applause in her acting as in her singing.
In the character of Enrico, Duke of Chevreuse, Signor Ronconi upheld his name and fame as one of the very greatest operatic singers of the age. Indeed, we should accord him the very highest place among dramatic singers, so long awarded him on the continent, did we not reckon fine quality of voice as one of the essentials of dramatic singing. Signor Ronconi's voice is hard and guttural and possesses little of that charm, peculiar, with some exceptions, to Italian vocalists. It has, however, great power, and is as available in the upper register as any barytone we know. This hard organ the artist manages, occasionally, with fine effect, and in the mezza voce he is heard to singular advantage. When singing thus the tones of his voice sound like those of a tenor, a peculiarity we have not observed in any other barytone. As an actor we cannot confer too much praise on Signor Ronconi. Here he is truly great. Possessed of power, energy, intense feeling, fine dramatic conception, and keen judgment, he adapts himself to the delineation of the higher passions with a lifelike earnestness hardly to be described in words. The great tragic artist is perceptible in every look and motion, and every shade of feeling is depicted with powerful truth. In the entire of the last act Signor Ronconi's acting was beyond praise. We have hardly ever witnessed on the stage, anything more terribly real than the scene with his wife after he discovers her perfidy, and the fiendish cry of exultation that escaped his lips when he finds Chalais within his grasp, was so fearfully natural, that it went like an electric shock through the whole house. One universal shout of astonishment and delight greeted this artistic display. Nor must we omit to do full justice to Signor Ronconi's singing. In one morceau, which he gave with prodigious effect, he was encored, and afterwards recalled twice. A greater triumph it was hardly possible to achieve.
The scenery and mise en scene were excellent, and the dresses extremely splendid. The choruses were good, but had not much to try them. The band was hardly so irreproachable in Maria di Rohan as it was in the previous operas produced at this establishment. Another performance will, no doubt, set matters right, and exhibit Signor Costa's orchestra in its wonted perfection.
- 1843, 5 June, Vienna, Kärntnertortheater, world premiere. Tadolini, Guasco, Ronconi, Novaro, Donizetti conducting.
- 1849, 10 December, New York City, Astor Place Opera House, American premiere:
Apollonia Bertucca, Maria; G. F. Beneventano, Chevreuse; Giuseppe Forti or Giuseppe Guidi(?), Chalais; Giulietta Perrini, Armando di Gondì; I. Kreutzer, conductor; Émile Millet, maître de chant; Frederick Hensler, chorus; Max Maretzek, producer. The performance was by the resident Max Maretzek Italian Opera Company. Bertucca was from the San Carlo, Naples, Forti and Guidi had sung with (respectively) La Fenice and Her Majesty's Theatre, Perrini had been Orsini at the Theatre Italien, while Millet taught at the Paris Conservatoire.
- 1855, 23 March, New York City, Academy of Music. Maria, Balbina Steffanone; Armando di Gondì, Felicita Vestvali; Chevreuse, Cesare Badiali; Chalais, Beagio Bolcioni. "Vestvali looked every inch a man, and truly a very handsome one, and sang with all the spirit and fire that the assumption of male attire appeared to call for.”
|Role||Voice type||Premiere Cast
5 June 1843
14 November 1843
|Maria, countess of Rohan||soprano||Eugenia Tadolini||Giulia Grisi|
|Riccardo, count of Chalais||tenor||Carlo Guasco||Lorenzo Salvi|
|Enrico, duke of Chevreuse||baritone||Giorgio Ronconi||Giorgio Ronconi|
|Armando di Gondì||tenor (then contralto)||Michele Novaro||Marietta Brambilla|
|The visconte of Suze||bass||Friedrich Becher||Giovanni Rizzi|
|de Fiesque||bass||Gustav Hölzel|
|Aubry, secretary of Chalais||tenor||Anton Müller||Nicola Ivanoff|
|A familiar of Chevreuse||bass|
|Knights, the king's cabinet, pages, guards and domestic servants of Chevreuse|
- Time: The reign of Louis XIII of France. Cammarano does not specify a year.
- Place: Paris
A hall in the Louvre palace during the reign of Louis XIII. (One notes that the historical Comte de Chalais, Henri de Talleyrand-Périgord , died 19 August 1626 by the axe.) Night is falling, and various candelabra and chandeliers are lit for a birthday gala staged by Richelieu for the Queen-Mother (history's Marie de' Medici, b. 26 April 1575). On the left a staircase to the King’s chambers, on the right, stairs to the Queen’s apartments (Anne of Austria). Doors on either side; at the back a colonnade with silk curtains hung between columns. Passing ladies and gentlemen of the court remark – (coro) Ed è ver? – on the pervading gloom of the court as issuing from the declining position of the hated Cardinal Richelieu, the Minister, and on the futility of Richelieu staging the gala as a distraction to mollify the King. They disperse. Chalais enters from the King’s rooms. He reads aloud a note from Maria asking him to linger, rather than attend the hunt. He notes her new change of heart, where previously she had avoided him. Once, even while denying him, Chalais had seen tears in her eyes, feeding his hopes of love, (cavatina) Quando il cor da lei piagato. (Donizetti wrote an alternative cavatina here for Gaetano Fraschini, Ah! La speme di quest’anima, in 1844, Naples.) This is followed by a cabaletta, A te, divina immagine. Maria enters to ask Chalais to beg the king for Chevreuse’s life, who has been condemned to death for killing the Minister’s hot-tempered nephew when challenged by him in a duel. Chalais - as Maria’s secret ex-lover - asks if her relative Chevreuse might be a rival for her love? The king is heard returning for the celebration, and she reminds him that the scaffold will be erected the next morning. Chalais agrees to intercede with the king and leaves.
Alone, Maria reveals her secret marriage to Chevreuse, and depicts her heart as a cold urn containing a silent hope, (cavatina) Cupa fatal mestizia. De Fiesque, the Visconte, and some courtiers enter, after which a King’s usher hands Maria a paper pardoning her husband. In an aside, Maria expresses her joyful gratitude and love for Chalais, (cabaletta) Ben fu il giorno avventurato. She exits with the ladies to the Queen’s side. Armando di Gondì, a flippant courtier, surprises the others by his appearance, as he was Chevreuse’s second in the duel, and is therefore hated by the Minister. But Gondì predicts the Minister’s imminent downfall to the incredulous group. In a ballata, Per non istare in ozio, he describes how he courted in vain a certain lady without success, until one morning he saw her enter the private apartment of the Minister, comparing her to a fallen Lucretia. When asked, Gondì reveals the falsely-modest woman as Marie de Rohan, Mademoiselle de Montbazon. Incensed, Chalais accuses him of being a despicable slandering liar. Armando draws his sword – a capital crime in the palace – and challenges him to a duel early the next morning, appropriately, at the Tour de Nesle - a notorious symbol of adulterous criminality - on the left bank of the Seine across the river from the Louvre Palace. Chalais accepts. The Duke Chevreuse enters to thank Chalais for saving his life and freeing him from prison, which he will gladly repay one day, if needed, with his own life, (cavatina) Gemea di terro carcere: "I return to the fresh breezes of liberty..." In an aside (cabaletta), he expresses his hidden love of Maria, whom he longs to see again, Se ancor m'è dato stringerti. (The marriage has been kept secret to escape retribution from Richelieu.) On hearing of the duel, to commence “At the first dawning/Of the coming day”, Chevreuse insists on being the other second to Chalais with the Visconte, as required by etiquette.
Maria returns to announce Richelieu’s divestment of his office, as revealed to her by the Queen. Chevreuse is so elated that he announces Maria - whom had been sought by the Minister as a wife for his dead nephew - as his wife. With the Minister’s fall, he can safely reveal this secret marriage of one year ago. In a Largo concertato, D’un anno il giro, Chevreuse paints his relief at being free to love Maria publically, while she and Chalais express their secret inner agony, as contrasted with the congratulations of the court. The Visconte returns from the King to announce Chalais as the new Minister. The tempo di mezzo e stretta , Sparve il nembo minaccioso, iterates the relief of the court at the fall of the Minister. In an aside, Fiesque bitterly resents Chalais’ new elevation, while Chalais secretly concedes, “Of what value are honor and fame to me/If her heart is no longer mine?” Then gazing at the Duke, he contemplates suicide: “I myself shall open his sword’s passage/To this heart of mine.” The curtains are drawn at the back, and a brilliant crowd of maskers is revealed in the torch-lit night gardens of the Louvre palace. Chalais, at the head of the stairs returning to the king’s apartments, oblivious to the brilliance of the courtly world, glances back disconsolately at the woman he loves.
A room in Chalais’ hôtel. Doors on either side, at the rear another entrance door, and a window with a view of the Louvre. His devoted secretary Aubry is in the back as the Count writes at a desk. The count remembers how he was called away from Maria and the birthday gala by a note from his mother (history’s Françoise de Montluc), who is dying that night in the next room. The Louvre clock strikes four in the morning. He folds his paper, attaches a medallion, then locks it in a secret drawer, pocketing the key. He tells Aubry to force the drawer and deliver the letter to the addressee should he not return by the end of the day. (In a 2nd letter, to the King, Chalais indicates that he declines his new appointment as the duel will stain his honor.) Aubry taking the letters, the hard-working secretary leaves. Chalais returns from a small room with two pistols, placing them on the desk. He apostrophizes on his love for his mother, how death will soon unite them, (aria) Alma soave e cara: “O gentle and dear soul,/You who are ascending to your Maker,/Delay your sad departure/For a little while yet.” A cabaletta exists for this aria also, in which Chalais turns his thoughts passionately to Maria, while asking his mother for forgiveness for his obsessive love at such a moment, E tu, se cado esanime. Gondì forces his way in, asking the Conte to postpone the duel for an hour, so that he may say goodbye to a lady, his first youthful love. Chalais agrees good-naturedly. Armando describes how, though “light of love”, even he would be comforted by the thought of this girl crying over his grave, (cavatina) Son leggero, è ver, d’amore. Maria enters masked, and Gondì leaves amused, reprising knowingly the line from his Act 1 ballata, “Lucretias are rarely to be found.”
Chalais is ecstatic when Maria reveals herself, but is crushed when she tells him that Richelieu, the Minister, has talked his way back into power with the King. Chalais must flee because the Minister has accused him of "black plots", and is to be arrested at daybreak, reserved for the headman’s axe. But Chevreuse is heard calling the Conte, who thrusts Maria into a small side armoury room. Chevreuse enters, arriving for Chalais, wondering why he hasn’t yet met him at the Viscount’s house. Chalais thrusts him away from the armoury (duetto, Che fai? T'arresta!), but seeing the mask, the Duke understands that a woman is hidden there, come to say goodbye on this fateful night. Chevreuse warns him that delaying will impugn his reputation. The Duke exhorts them both to the duel, Corriamo alla vittoria, while Chalais agonizes over the thought of Maria’s terror, A brani mi dilania. Thinking Chalais wants a few more minutes to say farewell to the unknown lady in the armoury, Chevreuse parts, laughing as he goes, urging him to hurry after him.
The lovers finally alone, Maria asks Chalais to leave Paris immediately to save his own life, because dueling is a transgression of the law. Chalais now wants to go to the duel, because fate now draws him on. The Louvre clock now strikes five. In the duetto Che mai potrà commuoverti? Maria appeals to his sense of pity for herself, and to his own dying mother, but Chalais tells her that his destiny is already decreed. Two knocks are heard, and the Visconte enters to tell him that Chevreuse is going to fight in his place. Chalais insists that Maria let him go: “Do you wish to dishonor me?” Finally, to stop him rushing off, Maria declares her passionate love in a meltingly lovely larghetto, Ah! e s’io pur mi disonoro. In the conclusion of the duetto A morire incominciai, the lovers express their ecstatic love, Chalais Romantically asking her to come to his tomb sometimes to lament, “And my cold bones will feel a/Sensation of both life and love.” Chalais runs off to duel, with Maria distraught following close behind.
A hall in the Hôtel de Chevreuse. At the back an entrance, a large clock, a door on one side, and a small table with Chalais’ two pistols, at which Chevreuse sits with a bandaged arm attended by Maria and Chalais. Chevreuse leaves through the side door, to “protect you from/The blows of a very different disaster.” In a Larghetto duettino, A così tanto affetto, Chalais and Maria realize that “The wish of an iniquitous destiny/Betrayed our love,” and that death and reunion in heaven are their only hope. A breathless Aubry, sent by the Visconte, now flies in to tell them that a detachment of archers has searched and ransacked his hôtel and taken all of his secret papers. Chalais confesses to Maria that her husband will soon have a letter addressed to her, revealing his love for her. He promises, therefore, to spirit her honorably out of the city to her brother for safety. The Duke emerges from a secret door to announce that a fast horse awaits Chalais by the city walls, and to follow him into the secret passage, then quickly exits again. Chalais finally leaves for the duel after telling Maria that he will return to die with her if she doesn’t come soon to join him.
Alone, Maria reflects bitterly on agreeing to the marriage which her mother arranged for her with Chevreuse, (recit.) Infausto imene. She prays on her knees to her mother in heaven (the historical Madeleine de Lenoncourt) to intercede for her, (preghiera) Havvi un Dio. (There is a cabaletta also, Benigno il cielo arridere, written for Giulia Grisi in Paris.) Chevreuse returns from the secret passage. A Famigliare announces the Captain of the Archers, Fiesque, and also that the Queen has sent for Maria to return at once. Maria leaves as Fiesque arrives with archers, passing each other in the doorway. Fiesque relates that the Minister would like to know where the Count Chalais is, hands him Chalais’ letter and a little portrait of Maria, then withdraws. Chevreuse reads the compromising love letter aloud, thunderstruck, realizing now that his best friend and wife are lovers. Destroyed, he sinks into a chair, and muses on his vanished happiness, (aria) Bella e di sol vestita, sighing that “The air has turned poisonous for me...” Chevreuse tells a returning Fiesque that Chalais has fled, but Fiesque answers that Maria is indeed still in the house, as no one has been allowed to leave now. Alone again, Chevreuse thunders out his anger and desire for a most bloody revenge, Voce fatal di morte, then exits through the side door.
Maria returns, going downstage, while Chevreuse returns upstage unseen, holding a dagger, but he suddenly feels pity and muses on stabbing himself instead. Terrified, Maria is lacerated by Chevreuse’s mounting dark insinuations of betrayal, So per prova il tuo bel core. His wound seeps blood, but rebuffing her solicitude, he instead remarks how he has only shed it for a wretched traitor. The clock strikes six, and Maria screams, glancing at the secret door. Realizing that Chalais might return from there, he drags her towards the door by the wrist to wait, Sull’uscio tremendo lo sguardo figgiamo. Chalais then enters through the secret door, compelled by “The power of an adverse destiny,/An eager wish to die.” The Famigliare announces that a detachment of archers has arrived, and Chenvreuse restrains Chalais from killing himself. But then the Duke places a pistol into Chalais’ hand, who refuses to follow him into the passage. Chevreuse insists he will not leave alive, while Chalais asks that he run him through instead, while Maria asks to be killed also, (terzetto) Vivo non t’è concesso. Chevreuse demands Chalais follow him, who finally agrees. Loud banging at the back door. Chevreuse drags the Conte out through the side door. Maria faints into a chair. The archers and Fiesque beat the rear door down, and a pistol shot is heard offstage. Fiesque demands to know where Chalais is hidden. Chevreuse returns through the side door, his eyes wild with hate. “Rather than a living man, one would believe him a spectre.” Fiesque repeats his demand. Chevreuse: “To escape/The hand of the executioner,/He took his own life.” Fiesque enters the secret passage with some archers, while the Duke approaches his wife:
Chev. - La morte a lui.
Maria - Crudel!
(throwing the letter and the portrait before her.)
Chev. - La vita coll’infamia/A te, donna infidel!
Maria collapses to her knees, hands clasped to heaven, as the curtain falls on this most tragic tableau.
(Donizetti wrote a culminating cabaletta for Maria - Onta eternal?...Io non t’amai! - but wisely crossed it out prior to the 1843 Vienna prima, preferring to end the opera in a starkly innovative and veristic manner.)
Armando di Gondi)
Opera House and Orchestra
Anna Maria Rota
Orchestra & Chorus of Teatro San Carlo, Naples
(Recorded at a live performance at San Carlo, Naples on 24 March)
|Black Disk: Great Opera Performances
Cat: GOP 045/046
Orchestra & Chorus of Teatro La Fenice, Venice
(Recorded at a live performance at Le Fenice, Venice on 26 March)
|Audio CD: Opera D'Oro
Cat: OPD 1412
Radio Symphonieorchester Wien and Wiener Konzertchor
(Recorded at performances in the Konzerthaus, Vienna, on 6 and 12 December)
|Audio CD: Nightingale
Cat: NC 070567-2
|Sir Mark Elder,
Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment
Recorded at Henry Wood Hall, Oct/Nov.
|Audio CD: Opera Rara
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