Opera-ballo in 4 acts
Composer: Antônio Carlos Gomes
Libretto: Antonio Scalvini
First performed: Teatro alla Scala, Milan, 19 March 1870
- Don ANTONIO DE MARIZ, old Portuguese hidalgo (bass): Teodoro Coloni
- CECILIA, his daughter (soprano): Marie Sass
- PERY, chief of the Guarany tribe (tenor): Giuseppe Villani
- Don ALVARO, Portuguese adventurer (tenor): Giuseppe Masato
- GONZALES, Spanish adventurer, Don Antonio’s guest (baritone): Enrico Storti
- RUY-BENTO, idem. (tenor): Annubale Micheloni
- ALONSO, idem. (bass): Severino Mazza
- IL CACICO, chief of the Aimorè tribe (bass or baritone): Victor Maurel
- PEDRO, Don Antonio’s man-at-arms (bass)
CHORUS & EXTRAS
- Adventurers from different countries – Men and women of the Portuguese colony – Aimorè tribe
CORPS DE BALLET
- Men and women of the Aimorè tribe
Brazil, near Rio de Janeiro – 1560
The opera is based on the novel O Guarani (1857), by the Brazilian writer José de Alencar. Guarany and Aimoré are the names of the two principal tribes of Indians. Pery was the chief of the Guarany; and the chief of the Aimoré is simply called “Cacico” (chief).
Outside Don Antonio’s castle
The Aimorè Indians have sworn to avenge one of their women, accidentally killed by a Portuguese. Don Antonio expects the Indians to attack. Pery, chief of the Guarany tribe, promises to help the Europeans; he loves Don Antonio’s daughter Cecilia, whose life he saved. So does the Spanish adventurer Gonzales. But Don Antonio wants Cecilia to marry the Portuguese Don Alvaro.
Pery discovers that the Spaniards are plotting against the Portuguese.
Twilight falls, and the evening bell summons the Europeans to prayer.
Alone, Pery and Cecilia declare their love.
A grotto in the jungle
Gonzales and the Spanish adventurers are plotting to capture a secret mine, and kidnap Cecilia. Pery, who has overheard the conversation, confronts Gonzales, and spares his life if he leaves the country.
The adventurers’ camp
The adventurers plot to attack that night, and sing a song in praise of gold and adventure.
Cecilia, alone in her room, sings a ballad while thinking of the young and handsome Pery.
Gonzales steals into her room, and tries to rape Cecilia. Pery wounds him with an arrow, and denounces him before all. The Aimorè attack the castle.
The camp of the Aimorè tribe
The Aimorè have captured Cecilia.
The Cacico, leader of the tribe, is struck by her beauty, and wants to make her his queen. The Indians bring in Pery, who confesses to entering the camp to kill the chief and rescue Cecilia. He will be eaten by the tribal elders, after a night of love with Cecilia. The Portuguese rescue the couple; Don Alvaro is killed.
The castle vaults
Gonzales and his comrades, now allied with the Aimorè, plot to murder Don Antonio – but he discovers their conspiracy. He baptises Pery, who escapes with Cecilia. When Gonzales and his men arrive, Don Antonio blows them all up.
A Brazilian composer of mixed African, Portuguese, and Amerindian blood, Carlos Gomes was the first Latin American and non-European composer to make it big.
After making his name in Brazil with a couple of Portuguese-language, Italian-style operas, Emperor Dom Pedro II gave Gomes a scholarship to study in Milan.
Gomes’ first Italian work was Il Guarany, an opera-ballo (Italian version of French grand opera, with exotic setting, historical subject, choruses, and dancing).
It was his biggest success at La Scala, and a hit throughout Europe, performed almost everywhere except France, Germany, and Austria.
“This young man begins where I finish,” Verdi remarked; the opera was “true musical genius”. Liszt said that “it displays dense technical maturity, full of harmonic and orchestral maturity.”
The Milan premiere came three weeks after the Brazilians defeated Solano López in Paraguay. “To Brazilians, Il Guarany recalled Verdi’s popular midcentury operas, stemming from the Italian risorgimento, which were loaded with ideas of unification, and moments of patriotic display.” The opera was “a trademark of Brazilianness”.
“Gomes was the first Brazilian to achieve the status of an international composer, elevating Brazil to the status of ‘civilised’ nation.” (Carmen Nava & Ludwig Lauerhass, eds., Brazil in the Making: Facets of National Identity, 2006.)
More operas followed: Fosca (1873), which audiences found too gloomy and Wagnerian; Salvator Rosa (1874), a successful historical work about the Neapolitan revolution (the same subject as Auber‘s Muette de Portici); and Maria Tudor (1879), with a libretto by Arrigo Boito. The Brazilians consider Lo schiavo (1889), calling for the abolition of slavery, Gomes’ masterpiece. The failure of Condor (1891) forced Gomes to leave Italy and return to Brazil.
Gomes the man is more interesting than his music. Il Guarany is a mixture of the good and the conventional, even banal.
Gomes’ talent seems to lie in ensembles, such as the Ave Maria (I), the Coro di Aimorè (III), and the Congiura (IV). Also striking is the Cacico’s invocation at the end of III. It would, I imagine, be exciting on stage; the cavalry – I mean, the Portuguese troops – arrive just as Pery is about to be sacrificed.
Otherwise, the score is full of standard operatic gestures. Cecilia’s inane entrance aria is the sort of thing Bellini and Donizetti were writing 40 years before; she appears singing, of all things to sing in 16th century Brazil, a polacca! The cannibal tribe later dances a mazurka. The Act III trio is of Meyerbeerian cut, particularly the phrase “Or bene insano”, while situations recall L’Africaine (Marie Sasse, who first sang Sélika, also created Cecilia) and Le Prophète (explosive ending).
I investigated four recordings, none fully satisfying.
Manrico Patassini (Pery) and Niza de Castro Tank (Cecilia), with the Orquestra Sinfônica de São Paulo, conducted by Armando Belardi. São Paulo, 1959.
More passion and life than the Domingo, but many cuts.
Plácido Domingo (Pery) and Veronica Villaroel (Cecilia), with the Beethovenhalle Bonn, conducted by John Neschling. Bonn.
Best sound, and a star singer, but rather dull.
I gave up after Act I. Inadequate tenor; static production; impossible translations. (“Caccia” and “Cacico” surely don’t mean “caca”!)