37. Oberto, conte di San Bonifacio (Giuseppe Verdi)

OBERTO, CONTE DI SAN BONIFACIO

Opera in 2 acts

By Giuseppe Verdi

Libretto: Temistocle Solera & Antonio Piazza

Verdi’s first opera.

First performed: Teatro alla Scala, Milan, 17 November 1839


Verdi’s first opera, a bel canto work written under the influence of Rossini, Bellini, and Donizetti.

The backdrop of the opera is Italian feudal politics of the early 13th century, but that’s largely irrelevant.  The plot concerns the usual romantic entanglement of the period: A once loved B, but now loves C.


CHARACTERS

  • Oberto, conte di San Bonifacio (bass)
  • Leonora, his daughter (soprano)
  • Riccardo, conte di Salinguerra (tenor)
  • Cuniza, sister of Ezzelino III da Romano (mezzosoprano)
  • Imelda, Cuniza’s companion (mezzosoprano)

SETTING: Bassano del Grappa in Ezzelino’s castle and its vicinity.  The year is 1228.


SYNOPSIS

Before the opera: Oberto, Count of San Bonifacio, fought a civil war against the Salinguerra family in Verona.  Oberto was defeated in battle by Ezzelino da Romano, tyrant of Verona, Vincenza, and Padua, and forced to flee to Mantua.  His daughter, Leonora, was seduced by a young Salinguerra nobleman, Riccardo, who gave a false name, and promised to marry her.  Riccardo then fell in love with Ezzelino’s sister, Cuniza, and arranged to marry her.  Leonora, meanwhile, learns the truth, and comes to Bassano on the wedding day.

Got that straight?  All you really need to know is that Riccardo loved Leonora, and abandoned her; that he is now engaged to Cuniza; that Leonora wants either revenge or Riccardo; and that her father is in exile.

Act I: Riccardo and a chorus of knights look forward to the wedding.  They leave.  Leonora enters, intent on preventing the marriage, or on vengeance.

Oberto appears on his daughter’s trail.  He accuses Leonora of dishonouring the family, and tells her that Riccardo will either make an honest woman of her, or die.

Leonora and Oberto reveal the truth to Cuniza, who is appalled, but tells Leonora that she will have justice.

At the wedding, Cuniza presents Leonora to Riccardo, and tells him she is his rightful bride.  Riccardo refuses to marry Leonora, and says that he left her because she was unfaithful.  Oberto, infuriated, emerges from hiding, and the two men draw their swords.

Act II: Cuniza tells her maid that she will make Riccardo marry Leonora.

Oberto challenges Riccardo to a duel; the younger man tries to get out of it, pleading that it would be unfair to strike his elder.  Leonora and Cuniza arrive; Cuniza tells Riccardo to marry Leonora, who is overjoyed – but Oberto tells him to meet him in the woods afterwards; there, they will fight.  Verdi considered this quartet “one of the best pieces in the opera”.

Riccardo kills Oberto.  He is overcome with guilt, and flees the country, leaving all his property to Leonora in restitution.

Cuniza promises to protect Leonora, but the girl goes mad.  In the original, she goes into a convent; in some modern productions, she kills herself instead.


Commentary

3 stars

It’s an uneven work, with Verdi’s inspiration only coming through in patches, and hampered by a weak libretto.

The opera is static in a way Verdi’s later operas aren’t, and doesn’t hold the attention.  All the bel canto conventions – the coda Rossini, the mad scene, the soprano’s rondò finale – are present, but less effectively than in, say, Donizetti.  More than the later operas, it feels like a concert in costume rather than a fully-fledged music drama.

Good numbers sit side by side with uninspired recit, dully conventional passages, or overlong set-pieces (e.g. the Cuniza/Riccardo duet in Act I, or the flaccid chorus and Cuniza’s aria that opens Act II).  At this stage, Verdi doesn’t yet have the knack of writing instantly memorable melodies.

The ending – Riccardo’s anguished “Ciel, che feci!” and Leonora’s mad scene/rondò – is powerful, however, and shows what Verdi can do once he gets his teeth into something meaty and dramatic.

Oberto has themes Verdi will return to in his later career: the father/daughter relationship; the father avenging his daughter’s dishonor; the wronged woman; the destructive pursuit of revenge; the generous, self-sacrificing compassion of a woman; civil war; and the exile returning to his native land.


Recommended recordings

Oberto Pesko.jpgZoltán Peskó, Fonit Cetra / Warner Fonit.  With Simon Estes (Oberto), Ángeles Gulin (Leonora), Viorica Cortez (Cuniza), Umberto Grilli (Riccardo), and Maria Grazia Piolatto (Imelda).  Bologna, 1977.


Oberto GARDELLI.jpg

Lamberto Gardelli, Orfeo.  With Rolando Panerai (Oberto), Ghena Dimitrova (Leonora), Ruža Baldani (Cuniza), Carlo Bergonzi (Riccardo), and Alison Browner (Imelda).  Munich, 1983.  Listen to it online here.


Oberto Marriner.jpgNeville Marriner, Philips.  With Samuel Ramey (Oberto), Maria Guleghina (Leonora), Violeta Urmana (Cuniza), Stuart Neill (Riccardo), and Imelda Fulgoni (Imelda).  London, 1996.  Listen to it online here.


Oberto DVD.jpgDVD: Yves Abel, Opus Arte.  Ildar Abdrazakov (Oberto), Evelyn Herlitzius (Leonora), Marianne Cornetti (Cuniza), Carlo Ventre (Riccardo), and Nuria Lorenzo (Imelda).  Bilbao, 2007.

The Bilbao production makes the best case for the work.  It’s blessedly straightforward, and Evelyn Herlitzius is terrific as Leonora.  You can watch it online (with Dutch subtitles) here:

RÔLES

Oberto, conte di San Bonifacio (bass): Ignazio Marini

Leonora, his daughter (soprano): Antonietta Rainieri Marini

Riccardo, conte di Salinguerra (tenor): Lorenzo Salvi

Cuniza, sister of Ezzelino III da Romano (mezzosoprano): Mary Shaw

Imelda, Cuniza’s companion (mezzosoprano): Marietta Sacchi

Knights, Ladies, Vassals (Chorus)

TIME AND PLACE

The action takes place at Bassano del Grappa in Ezzelino’s castle and its vicinity.  The year is 1228.


STRUCTURE

Sinfonia

ATTO I

Countryside; in the distance, Bassano.

No. 1.  Introduzione

  • Coro Di vermiglia amabil luce (Coro) Scena I

No. 2.  Aria di Riccardo

  • Cavatina Son fra voi! – Già sorto è il giorno (Riccardo, Coro) Scena I
  • Cabaletta Già parmi udire il fremito (Riccardo, Coro) Scena I

No. 3.  Scena e Cavatina di Leonora

  • Scena Ah sgombro è il loco alfin! (Leonora) Scena II
  • Cavatina Sotto il paterno tetto (Leonora) Scena II
  • Cabaletta Oh potessi nel mio core (Leonora) Scena II

No. 4.  Scena e Duetto di Leonora e Oberto

  • Scena Oh patria terra, alfin io ti rivedo (Oberto, Leonora) Scena III-IV
  • Duetto Non ti bastò il periglio (Oberto, Leonora) Scena IV
  • Andante del Duetto Del tuo favor soccorrimi (Leonora, Oberto) Scena IV
  • Tempo di mezzo Odi! – In quell’alte torri (Oberto, Leonora) Scena IV
  • Cabaletta Un amplesso ricevi, o pentita (Oberto, Leonora) Scena IV

Magnificent hall in Ezzelino’s palace.

No. 5.  Coro

  • Coro Fidanzata avventurosa (Coro) Scena V

No. 6.  Recitativo e Duetto di Cuniza e Riccardo

  • Scena Basta, basta, o fedeli! (Cuniza, Riccardo) Scena VI
  • Duetto Il pensier d’un amore felice (Cuniza, Riccardo) Scena VI

No. 7.  Scena e Terzetto

  • Scena Alta cagione adunque (Imelda, Leonora, Cuniza) Scena VII-VIII
  • Terzetto Sono io stesso! A te davanti! (Oberto, Cuniza, Leonora) Scena IX
  • Tempo di mezzo Altra donna!… – Ciel!… chi è dessa? (Oberto, Cuniza, Leonora) Scena IX
  • Andantino Su quella fronte impressa (Oberto, Cuniza, Leonora) Scena IX
  • Cabaletta Ma fia l’estremo, o misera (Cuniza, Oberto, Leonora) Scena IX

No. 8.  Finale I

  • Finale I A me gli amici! – Mira! – Io gelo! avvampo d’ira! (Cuniza, Riccardo, Leonora, Oberto, Coro) Scena IX-X
  • Canone A quell’aspetto un fremito (Coro, Oberto) Scena X
  • Seguito e stretta del Finale I Non basta una vittima (Oberto, Riccardo, Leonora, Cuniza, Imelda, Coro) Scena X

ATTO II

Cuniza’s chambers

No. 9.  Coro, Recitativo e Aria di Cuniza

  • Coro Infelice! Nel core tradito (Coro) Scena I
  • Recitativo A te Riccardo favellar desìa (Imelda, Cuniza) Scena I
  • Aria Oh chi torna l’ardente pensiero (Cuniza) Scena I
  • Tempo di mezzo Dunque imponi… (Imelda, Cuniza) Scena I
  • Cabaletta con coro Più che i vezzi e lo splendore (Cuniza, Coro) Scena I

Remote place near the castle gardens.

No. 10.  Coro

  • Coro Dov’è l’astro che nel cielo (Coro di Cavalieri) Scena II

No. 11.  Recitativo e Aria di Oberto

  • Recitativo Ei tarda ancor!… (Oberto) Scena III
  • Aria L’orror del tradimento (Oberto) Scena III
  • Tempo di mezzo Oberto! Oberto! – Qual lieto grido! (Coro, Oberto) Scena III
  • Cabaletta Ma tu, superbo giovane (Oberto) Scena III

No. 12.  Recitativo, Scena e Quartetto

  • Recitativo Eccolo!… è desso! (Oberto, Riccardo) Scena III-IV
  • Quartetto Vili all’armi! a donne eroi (Oberto, Riccardo, Leonora, Cuniza) Scena IV-V
  • Tempo di mezzo Conte, lo vedi, orribile (Cuniza, Riccardo, Leonora, Oberto) Scena V
  • Cabaletta Ah Riccardo, se a misera amante (Leonora, Riccardo, Oberto, Cuniza) Scena V

No. 13.  Coro

  • Coro Li vedeste? – Ah sì! la mano (Coro di Cavalieri) Scena VI

No. 14.  Romanza di Riccardo

  • Romanza Ciel, che feci!… di qual sangue (Riccardo) Scena VII

No. 15.  Scena e Rondò Finale

  • Scena Dove son?… li cerco invano! (Cuniza, Imelda, Coro) Scena VIII
  • Adagio Vieni, o misera (Cuniza, Coro) Scena IX
  • Scena Tutto ho perduto!… tutto! (Leonora, Coro) Scena IX
  • Rondò finale Sciagurata! a questo lido (Leonora, Coro) Scena IX-X

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