John C Mucci

Operatic research

The following are libretti and information concerning these works; not all of the links lead to complete works yet, but will eventually be filled.

Rahab by Clemens von Franckenstein (1909), a one-act opera written by a composer who undeservedly fell into obscurity when the Nazis came to power. A member of the aristocracy, he could have continued to compose under the Third Reich's rules, but retired instead. This in contradistinction to his friend, Richard Strauss, who managed to keep composing, and keep his reputation after the war.
Von Franckenstein's operas were very well attended in the 1920's and 30's, and are quite beautiful in the thick, Straussian manner.

His later opera, Li-Tai-Pe, Der Kaisers Dichter, (1920) is a curious 'tweencursor to the Turandot operas of Busoni (1919) and Puccini (1927). Exotic and languid, it is one of those inscrutable stories in which love conquers all, and was terrifically popular until the end of the 1930's, when von Franckenstein withdrew all his operas from the German stage. I don't believe it has been performed since.

Ero e Leandro by Luigi Mancinelli (1897) was also well received all around the world at the turn of this century, yet after 1903 it fell into disfavor. One reason for this may have been the stagecraft required to mount the production, with a stone tower being destroyed by lightning as a centerpiece of the finale. It has three main characters, against a cast of thousands, dancing exotically in two of the three acts. With today's more tolerant audiences with regard to sensuousness coupled with the more readily believable special effects, Ero e Leandro would have been a terrific revival for its hundredth anniversary at the Metropolitan Opera (1999). Its music is simply gorgeous, truly an Italian version of Tristan and Isolde (from which Mancinelli deliberately quotes). The scene in which Hero (Ero in Italian) awaits the arrival of Leander, as he swims across the Bosphorus, is as powerful as anything in Italian opera, bar none.

Shanewis: or the Robin Woman by Charles Wakefield Cadman (1919). A work performed in two seasons at the Metropolitan (as was Ero), but seldom heard from again. Cadman moved to Hollywood later on in life, and was one of the founders of the Hollywood Bowl; Shanewis was performed on the site (before the final structure was built), in the late 1920's, perhaps for the last time, with a cast of thousands—well, many hundreds, anyhow—performing the Native American dancing in Act II. Perfect locus for a spectacle, yet how the intimacy of the drawing room in Act I was treated, is still a mystery. Shanewis was known as an "Indianist" work, with Native American melodies given western harmonic treatment, as was much of Cadman's early work.

Enthusiasts for such music during the '20's to the '50's probably killed off the appeal of Cadman's visceral score. Endless spinning recitatives weave a tension in music and words, speaking of a love affair between an Indian maiden, Shanewis, and a pampered socialite gentleman of Southern California. If you buy into the concept of the story (which is about as plausible as any operatic plot) the tragedy at the end is quite affecting. Since the work is short, supposedly one act, but in two scenes with a huge set change between, it may have ended up being beyond the capabilities of smaller companies; also, short tragedies are difficult to stage convincingly (witness Il Tabarro; although Salome seems to be the most successful of them staged today). I also am interested in seeing Cadman's A Witch of Salem performed, which is a very different version of The Crucible.

The work of Heinrich Marschner is almost forgotten today: but his most famous operas, Der Vampyr, Hans Heiling, and the grandest of all grand operas this side of Aïda, Der Templer und Die Jüdin (the earliest operatic treatment of Sir Walter Scott's Ivanhoe), are only starting to regain deserved recognition.

I am also a great admirer of the works of Leoncavallo: as such, I realize his La Bohème is performed now and again, but not many people seem to appreciate it. I am working hard to get someone to perform his Edipo Re, which was unfinished at his death and completed by Giovanni Pennacchio, but even in its present form is very powerful. I am also very fond of his opera Zazà (1900), and have a particular interest in the postcards made by the celebrated company Alterocca-Terni.

In studying these works, and others, the following libretti are on line. Some of them may be found in the superb collection by Rick Bogart at Opera Glass.

Opera Grattacielo
presented a landmark performance of Pietro Mascagni's operatic masterpiece,

on November 25, 2003
Alice Tully Hall
at Lincoln Center, New York City

Read David Stivender's article on

The Genesis of a Masterpiece.

I have transcribed, or am in the process of transcribing the following libretti:

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