Melodramma serio in 2 acts
Composer: Saverio Mercadante
Libretto: Paolo Pola
First performed: Teatro la Fenice, Venice, 21 February 1826
- CARITEA (soprano): Ester Mombelli
- DON ALFONSO, King of Portugal (tenor): Domenico Donzelli
- DON DIEGO, under the name of Don Pirro of Aragon, son of Don Fernando (contralto): Isabella Fabbrica
- DON FERNANDO, old Spanish captain general (bass): Domenico Cosselli
- DON RODRIGO, other Spanish captain general, Caritea’s ambassador (tenor): Giuseppe Binaghi
- CORRADO, Portuguese official: Brigada Lorenzani Nerici
- Chorus of Spanish knights, Portuguese soldiers; Caritea’s maids, Portuguese and Spanish soldiers, Diego’s soldiers, people
Toledo, and on the banks of the Tagus at Don Alfonso’s camp
King Alfonso of Portugal has declared war on Spain, after Queen Caritea rejected his suit. To her aid comes Don Pirro, who is really one Don Diego in disguise, who killed his rival for the Queen’s affection 20 years ago, and fled with a bounty on his head. Don Diego kills Don Alfonso, then reveals his identity. The Queen forgives him; they marry.
Trio from introduzione.
Mad scene for tenor Don Alfonso.
Tenor / contralto duet.
“There exists more than one painting by a student of Rubens that one would mistake for the master’s work,” wrote Henri Blaze de Bury.
“I will say as much of certain scores by Generali, Caraffa, Mercadante (in his first period), Pacini and many others, which are only simple copies, but copies so exact that posterity will be deceived, if by chance they reach them without the author’s name.”
Caritea, regina di Spagna may have been one of the works Blaze de Bury had in mind.
Mercadante’s 22nd work – and in seven years! – there is little to distinguish it from Rossini.
The structure follows the coda Rossini closely, with introduzione, contralto hero in travesti, set-piece arias, florid singing, and little drama.
The difference is that one is a genius, writing in his own voice, in a style he developed, and the other an (at this stage) competent practitioner, turning out a well-crafted product, in the accepted style.
The opera was well received at its premiere at La Fenice in 1826. The Gazetta di Venezia wrote: “This new child of Mercadante’s creative vein met with such success from start to finish that we, despite 25 years of almost daily presence at the opera in which we have seen no few triumphs by great maestros, have never seen its like before.”
Matteo Summa (CD notes) believes it was the most popular opera since Rossini’s Otello and Semiramide. (What of Rossini’s other operas? What of Meyerbeer?) The opera was performed throughout Italy, and one chorus – “Chi per la patria muor”- was adopted as a Risorgimento anthem, long before Verdi.
There are some attractive pieces – the terzetto in the introduzione; a duet for two tenors, brandishing high notes in territorial display; and another duet, for tenor and contralto, a splendid example of bel canto machismo (even if one of them’s a dame in drag!).
For the rest, there are some lyrical passages, amidst what often feels like vocal display for its own sake, ornamentation and cadenzas without melody or meaning. Caritea belongs to the age of music without drama, the concert in costume.
At nearly three hours, moreover, the opera is long-winded. It lacks the tautness and pace of Mercadante at his best, the sense of events hurtling towards a crescendo he inherited from Meyerbeer and Halévy.
It is markedly inferior to Mercadante’s later operas, particularly the monumental Orazi e Curiazi or Virginia, which combine grandiose frescoes, unusual harmonies and orchestration, Classical subjects, strong emotions, and sensational endings.
This is the third performance from Martina Franca I’ve reviewed in a row. Two were by Mercadante, two were Rossinian imitations, and none of them had a first-rate cast.
Nana Gordaze (Caritea), Jacek Laszczkowski (Don Alfonso), Sonia Lee (Don Diego), Nicolas Rivenq (Don Fernando), Gregory Bonfatti (Don Rodrigo), Ayhan Ustuk (Corrado), with the Orchestra Internazionale d’Italia Opera and Coro da Camera di Bratislava conducted by Giuliano Carella.