- Dramma storico-lirico in 3 acts
- Composer: Jacopo Foroni
- Libretto: Giovanni Carlo Casanova
- First performed: Mindre Teatern, Stockholm, Sweden, 19th May 1849
|CRISTINA, Queen of Sweden||Soprano||Rosina Penco|
|MARIA EUPHROSINA, secretly in love with Magnus Gabriel de la Gardie||Mezzo|
|AXEL OXENSTIERNA, Chancellor||Baritone||Giovanni Carlo Casanova|
|ERIK, his son||Tenor|
|GABRIELE [Magnus Gabriel de la Gardie], Cristina’s favourite and Maria’s lover||Tenor|
|CARLO GUSTAVO [Carl Gustav], later Carl X Gustav||Baritone|
|ARNOLDO [Arnold] MESSENIUS, Cristina’s secret enemies||Bass-baritone|
|JOHAN, his son||Tenor|
|Courtiers, officials, soldiers, conspirators, fishermen, noblewomen, common people|
SETTING: Stockholm, 1654
The tradition of court composer (like Hasse or Steffani) had not entirely died out by the mid-19th century; riding on the success of Cristina, regina di Svezia, the Italian composer Jacopo Foroni was appointed Kapellmeister to the court of Sweden, a position he held until his premature death from cholera.
Cristina is in the tradition of Donizetti’s Roberto Devereux: a queen falls in love, turns nasty when her favourite doesn’t return her affections, and abdicates. But – again like Donizetti’s treatment of Elizabeth I – the opera does a disservice to a powerful, intellectual woman.
Christina of Sweden (1628–29, r. 1632–54), “the Minerva of the North”, wanted to make Stockholm the intellectual centre of northern Europe. She sponsored artists, scientists, and philosophers (including Descartes, who died from pneumonia shortly after his arrival), established art collections, and founded universities, academies, and the world’s oldest newspaper still publishing. She herself spoke eight languages (including Arabic and Hebrew), and studied theology, mathematics, and alchemy, as well as ‘masculine’ pursuits like fencing, horse riding, and bear hunting.
When she abdicated in 1654, it was not because of a love affair. (Some speculate she was a lesbian, or even intersexual.) The likeliest reason is religion: she, the daughter of Gustavus Adolphus, the defender of Protestantism in the Thirty Years’ War, converted to Catholicism soon after her abdication; but she was already unpopular with the nobility, who considered her extravagant and arbitrary. (She had considered abdicating five years before, in 1649, when she decided not to marry.) She moved to Italy, where she founded Rome’s first opera house, and continued her patronage of the arts and sciences. She died in 1689, and is only one of three women buried in the Vatican Grottoes.
Cristina’s intellectual or religious leanings do not play a large part in the opera. (Unlike, say, Auber’s Gustave III, where Scribe is at great pains to establish the king as a connoisseur of the arts, and shows him rehearsing his own opera in the first scene.) Instead, Cristina is capricious and vengeful. She declares that her cousin, Maria Euphrosina, will marry the Chancellor’s son, Erik Oxenstierna, and is put out when Maria reveal that she loves the queen’s favourite, Gabriele de la Gardie. The queen exiles Gabriele. (De la Gardie was exiled to his estates, but why is unclear.) Gabriele joins a conspiracy to overthrow Cristina and put Maria’s brother, Carlo Gustavo, on the throne; he is sentenced to death with his associates. In the last act, Cristina spares his life, so he can marry Maria, and then abdicates in favour of Carlo.
Cristina was Foroni’s second opera. The son of a Veronese composer and conductor, he was brought up on Bach and Beethoven. His first opera, Margherita, a melodramma semiseria set in Switzerland, was a success when it premièred at Milan in 1848. (Wexford resurrected it in 2017.) But Foroni had to leave Italy after he was involved in the Five Days of Milan, a revolt against the Austrians in March 1848. (That revolt was successful – Marshal Radetzky was driven out of Milan – but the revolution itself was crushed throughout Italy when Carlo Alberto, king of Sardinia, was defeated at the Battle of Custoza in July.) Foroni’s patriotic / revolutionary hymns, Philip Gossett suggests, were banned and burnt by the Austrians. He worked as a conductor in France, Belgium, and Holland, before joining Vincenzo Galli’s opera troupe, touring Scandinavia. They presented the first Swedish performances of Bellini and Donizetti operas, and Verdi’s Attila, orchestrated by Foroni. Cristina’s libretto was written by the company’s bass, who sang the rôle of the Chancellor, Oxenstierna; its music was dedicated to the king, Oscar I, and the libretto to the queen mother.
Hans Christian Andersen (The Story of My Life) wrote: “It seemed to have rather grand harmonies than real melodies; the conspiracy act was the most effective; beautiful decorations and good costumes were not missing, and they had tried to make portrait-likenesses of Christiana and Oxenstjerna; the most peculiar thing of all was, however, to see in Christina’s Swedish capital, Christina herself as a character on the stage.”
The opera was such a success that Foroni was appointed director of the royal chapel that year – a position he held for nine years until his death at the age of 33, from cholera, in September 1858. He performed Beethoven symphonies, Mendelssohn’s Elijah, Meyerbeer, the first Wagner heard in Sweden (the Tannhäuser overture), and works from Italy and France.
Cristina itself was performed at Trieste in 1850: a moderate, but not lasting, success. It was resurrected at the Vadstena Summer Opera Festival in 2007, and was recorded by the Göteborg Opera in 2010. It was next staged at Wexford in 2013.
Anders Wiklund, editor of the critical edition of the score, considers that Foroni would have been a worthy rival to Verdi had he pursued his career in Italy. “Foroni has a firm grasp of the musical and dramatic expression in the opera. His music drives the action forward effectively, principally owing to his catchy melodic invention, in the spirit of Verdi. … Foroni’s instrumentation reveals the influence of a more central European orchestral sound than was usual in Italy at the time, with refined orchestral colours and far more counterpoint than we find in Italian orchestral music of the period.”
The overture is very grand and majestic; it incorporates a Swedish folktune, “Näckens polska”, and themes from the first two act finales and the conspiracy scene in Act II. Cristina is an opera dominated by impressive ensembles: the Introduzione; the staccato chorus, “Bella, dorata” in the Act I finale; and the powerful conspiracy, with its tumbling oboes and clarinets, which shows Foroni’s exposure to French grand opéra. Note also Gustavo’s aria “Nacqui alla vita” (Act II), and Cristina and Carlo’s duet, “Poiche l’avito gloria” (Act III).
I can imagine the opera working well on stage, pleasing an audience who want an alternative to Verdi, or something more advanced than bel canto.
Listen to: Liine Carlsson (Cristina), Daniel Johansson (Gabriele), Fredrik Zetterström (Carl Gustav), Kosma Ranuer (Axel Oxenstierna), Ann-Kristin Jones (Maria Euphrosina), Iwar Bergkwist (Erik), with the Göteborg Opera Orchestra and Chorus, conducted by Tobias Ringborg, Gothenburg, 2010; Sterling CDO1091.
- Hans Christian Andersen, The True Story of My Life, trans. Mary Howitt, 1847
- Philip Gossett, “Jacopo Foroni: an Italian maestro in Stockholm”, Donizetti Society Newsletter 109, February 2010
- Anders Wiklund, “Jacopo Foroni: A Queen Returns to the North”, Sterling, 2013.