Marino Faliero – criticism


Tragedia lirica in 3 acts

By Gaetano Donizetti

Libretto : Giovanni Emanuele Bidera, after Casimir Delavigne’s Marino Faliero

First performed : Théâtre Italien, Paris, 12 March 1835

For my review, see here.

For the dossier, see here.

Revue des Deux Mondes – 1835 – tome 1


We know what musical attempts have been made during the five months which have elapsed since the administration of the Italian Theater, and what constant success has sustained them.  It now seems as if this administration had the right to rest and to await, while singing its old tunes, the end of a season so magnificent and laborious.  But no, it was said that we should witness the full development of the new school, and this word was accomplished this time with a religious exactitude.  Rossini was to succeed Bellini and Donizetti, the only ones who ventured happily on this Italian road so fatal to so many young men.  The sun was to shine, surrounded by its most radiant satellites.  After Sémiramis, Otello, La Gazza, we were promised the Puritani and Faliero, simple reflections, I confess, but reflections still ardent and bright enough to enlighten our cold and weak souls, and make them tremble.  Of two scores, only one had appeared, the M. Bellini’s Puritani, for I am not speaking here of the unfortunate attempt made in the first days with regard to the opera of Ernani.  Donizetti’s work therefore remained to us.  And vainly the season advanced, in vain the meadows began to green, and all the sounds of spring to awaken in the grass; Donizetti was there with his score that he brought us from Naples.  Immediately Julie Grisi, Rubini, Lablache, Tamburini, these indefatigable artists, who were always ready to sing like birds on their nests, set to work again, so that at the end of a month we heard the most charming opera that had ever been written for us, and that the Théâtre Italien, dying to be soon reborn happily, throws us, like the swan, a fresh and melancholy farewell song.

Donizetti’s opera, so ardently desired, at length appeared. At the rehearsal of the day before, the Théâtre Italien, the only place where this flower of politeness and good taste has been preserved, which once grew among us, the Théâtre Italien opened its doors to the elegant public that frequented it.  At midday, a hundred carriages emblazoned with brilliant coats of arms were stationed on the Place Favart, as if it were a ball given for the benefit of the former employees of the civil list, or a representation of Don Giovanni for the re-entry of Ms. Malibran; for the Théâtre Italien makes no mystery of its works.  And what interest would it have in screening them from the public, since, on the day of the performance, his music has no need of garments of purple and gold, fleurdelised horses, and wanton saturnalia, where profane hands touch august simulacra, but quite simply a chosen orchestra and incomparable singers as only it can have. Moreover, the administration of the Théâtre Italien has the good sense not to believe itself infallible, and to consult its public on the works it gives.  It is usually at these rehearsals, before an assembly of elegant women and young men, that the maestro’s talent is discussed, and that his work fails or succeeds.  And this is why this mode of admission, fatal to the theater accustomed to give works that are puerile and musically unimportant, is favorable to those who, from the beginning, have engaged in a perfectly opposite path.  Now, if this habit of inviting subscribers to general rehearsals was, above all, an act of politeness, I would willingly take it for a skillful trickery of the directors; for it is evident that yesterday’s performance contributed miraculously to the noble success of Faliero.

One knows our views about Donizetti; already we have had the opportunity to write about Anna Bolena, a delicious composition, the most serene that has been hatched on earth, since the star of Rossini retired from the firmament.  Donizetti is a man of marvelous talent; his inspiration is always clear and limpid, his orchestra harmonious without affectation, correct without scholastic pedantry; he has, in our opinion, only one fault, that of writing with an unexampled facility.  Certainly the opera he has just given is not lacking in a certain elevation; the melody is ingenious and often expressive, the style serious and sustained, and of such real merit, that one regrets that he has not spent more time writing it; for then he would have been more severe in the choice of his melodies, and would doubtless have abstained from certain formulas so often repeated, and which a man of his standing should no longer employ to-day.  Once and for all, it is necessary to agree on the words: to write easily is not to be fruitful, for fertility resides, not in the number of works, but in their sole value.  Dante, in fifty-seven years, wrote the Divine Comedy, and none so far has seriously accused this head of sterility.  Paisiello and Cimarosa pass generally enough for fertile men, because one wrote Nina and the duo of the Olympiade, the other the Matrimonio segreto, for the thirty operas which each composed during his life will no longer be discussed. The score of Marino Faliero belongs entirely to the school of Rossini, and Donizetti has taken no care to defend himself.  He does not come here with the pretension of having invented new systems, discovered new sources of harmony; he did not cross space on the wings of Mozart or Beethoven, seeking some sound spheres: he simply spent his youth in Italy, and sang under the sky where God had made him born.  Thus, from the first measures, the soul recovers its sweetest affections, and abandons itself to the voluptuous undulations of these charming rhythms, confident and certain that sudden tempests will not throw it at once upon the unknown shores.  In fact, these are the formulas which Rossini ordinarily employs; but the idea that they envelop is happy and new. Donizetti borrows his powerful and strong mold from the author of Sémiramis, but the metal he spreads there is pure and often drawn from the depths of his soul.  So far Donizetti has found means of preserving his individuality, and of not absorbing himself completely in the great model which he had under his eyes; and that is why, alone in this myriad of musicians born under the steps of Rossini, he is called master, and will retain this title for a long time.  In truth, such a frankness, when it is met with in an artist of this talent, is worthy to be praised today especially as men without missions invade our rooms and are proclaimed creators, because they have furnished a few Italian songs of heavy and heavy instrumentation, and covered beautiful flying archangels with their leaden screws.  Men of genius do not grow in a night like mushrooms; God is more avaricious, and sends them down here only at certain distances.  It would be a profound grief for humanity if, during these intervals which sometimes last centuries, she could no longer hear the harmonious concert of those voices that sigh, recalling the past, or ascending towards heaven, announce the future to new generations.  Being the Matrimonio segreto and Sémiramis needed Agnese, Camilla, Griselda, precious rings of the sound chain that binds these two masterpieces.  The Straniera, Anna Bolena, Faliero, inevitably found their place between Guillaume Tell and the score of the artist who must one day succeed the great master of our time.  Not everyone is called Raphael, Mozart, or Rossini; below the sphere where these three luminous names glide, still grow beautiful flowers of glory that let themselves be plucked, provided that one is Léopold Robert or Donizetti.

I repeat, Faliero is the work of a man of unquestionable talent; the instrumentation is made with care, always clear and limpid, and of such transparency that one sees the melody rolling at the bottom.  The songs are not lacking in grace, nor distinction, nor vehemence, as the situation requires.  Yet one would seek in vain in Faliero for those melancholy phrases, for those motives so ravishing with freshness and naivety, that Donizetti sowed with so much profusion in Anna Bolena, and I believe that it is the subject with which we must take issue, even more than the musician.  In general, heroic poems seem to me little adapted to musical art, which can only find dry inspirations.  Music lives of love like the flowers of dew; it must have Juliette on the balcony, Desdemona singing about the willow. I Puritani was born of patriotic exaltation; Agathe’s great scene in Freyschutz was born of the exaltation of love: by the arias which they give, judge now which is the best of these exaltations.

The second act is undoubtedly the best of the work.  Ivanoff’s song, at the beginning, is of a happy melody, and bears the imprint of that sadness which the lagoons of Venice exhale like a vapor.  Next comes Rubini’s cavatine, a charming composition whose andante delights you with a simple and touching and widely developed phrase on the cellos, and whose end delights you by its lively cabaletta, one of Donizetti’s most original.  Until now we had regarded the execution of Niobe’s cavatina as such a marvel, that it seemed to us impossible for Rubini himself ever to go beyond the limits he had laid down.  The aria in Faliero gave him the opportunity of rising still higher, and from now on we shall abstain from any prevision for this astonishing man, for it would be madness to attempt to calculate the flight of such a prodigious organ.  Rubini said the andante with a deep feeling and adorable melancholy then, when all his tears had flowed, his hatred awoke, his anger burst out.  Then he is tall, impetuous, terrible.  This really is Faliero’s nephew, insulted in the honor of the Doge’s wife.  It was thus that this blood, still warm under the skin of an old man, was to boil in a heart of twenty years.  We knew that Rubini was today the greatest tragedian of our time, as he is the most divine singer; At the performance of Faliero, the public confirmed our judgment in the most striking manner.  Rubini’s expression is always natural and profound.  He does not make any gesture; his eyes do not roll in their orbit, his hands do not twist in frightful convulsions, and yet he does what no one else can do: he moves and delights, and the applause bursts in you long before your hands pass it on to him.  Fernando is wounded to death, and comes to expire, as in the French play, under his uncle’s eyes.  Only here, in place of M. Delavigne’s emphatic declamations, Donizetti has placed a simple and grandiose song, which Lablache seizes, and which he throws into the hall with all the power of his magnificent voice.

The third act belongs entirely to Giulia Grisi. The aria Helena sings after the condemnation of her husband, is happily invented, and Donizetti has forsaken his ordinary formulas.  This andante, with a sorrowful and plaintive expression, entwined between two rapid and vehement phrases, is highly effective.  Ms Grisi sings it with a deep feeling, an admirable dramatic expression, and this voice, which she mastered with so much art in the first act, during her duet with Rubini, gives all its vibrations to it, and moves you as much as she delighted you.  During the whole of the last scene she has kept herself at the height of her most beautiful inspirations; it must be said that Lablache marvellously assisted her.  After the fall of the curtain , all the voices of the hall called for Donizetti, and when he appeared, rang with bursts of applause, in which all the lodges took part, for this time they were deserved.