Verdi’s opinion of his rarely heard eighth opera, Alzira, late in life was hardly high describing it as: “proprio brutta” – downright ugly!
He appears not to have been exactly enamoured with it before its premiere in 1845, writing a few days before it first saw the light of day: “if it were to fail, that wouldn’t upset me unduly.”
Wonder what he had for breakfast on the two days he uttered and earlier wrote these words!
It really isn’t that bad. Rough and ready, yes; but so was his even more rarely (than Alzira) encountered original 1847 version of Macbeth which, in the final analysis, is in many ways superior to his later regularly performed 1865 version.
But, to stay with Alzira and a few words penned by perhaps the leading authority on Verdi’s operas, the late Julian Budden, who published a three-volume set on them, along with other Verdi tomes.
Having been present at a once-in-a-blue-moon staging of Alzira at the Rome Opera in February 1967 he said it “proved that the score is genuinely alive,” adding that it is “not downright bad” and, with pertinence, “no Verdi opera is totally negligible.”
Certainly not insignificant in Alzira is the opera’s wholly original and novel overture and most of its ensembles, the pick of which has to be the big sextet with chorus towards the end of act one.
There is some fairly demanding, tessitura-testing music for the three principal singers playing Alzira (soprano), Zamoro (tenor), who has a splendid scene and aria in the opera’s prologue, and Gusmano (baritone).
The love duet in scene two of act one is thoroughly engaging; however, Budden is not overly impressed with it saying Verdi “preferred to press swiftly ahead, sustaining a dramatic momentum which the text does not imply.”
So what’s all about, you may ask?
Well, it’s a far-fetched tale about Incas and Conquistadors over a prologue and two acts ostensibly set in Peru in the 16th century with a libretto by Salvatore Cammarano adapted from a play by Voltaire, Alzire, ou les Américains.
Alzira, daughter of a Peruvian tribe leader, Ataliba, is love with Zamoro, another Peruvian tribe leader. We first meet them housed as captives in the palace of the Spanish governor, initially Alvaro who hands the job over to his son, Gusmano.
He is smitten with Alzira who rejects his love until it comes to saving Zamoro’s life when she relents. Zamoro, who saved Alvaro’s life at the beginning of the opera and gets a pretty rough ride at the hands of Gusmano throughout the proceedings.
Gusmano gets an unwelcome surprise at the dénouement, though!
Voltaire anoraks will not like what Cammarano did to the great man’s play in his first libretto for a “highly delighted” Verdi. Julian Budden sums it up perfectly.
“Religion and politics, the two raisons d’être of the drama, are scarcely mentioned; and the confrontation of different creeds, different civilisations and different worlds becomes merely another variant of the eternal triangle.”
In its first major UK staging, Verdi’s Alzira can be seen at Buxton Opera House as part of this year’s Buxton International Festival when it is sung in its original Italian with English side-titles.
Performances are on 7th July, 10th July, 13th July, 16th July, 18th July and 20th July, starting at 7.15pm.
Tickets range from £20 to £78 – box office 01298 72190.
*Festival preview: ‘Ancient Greeks and Incas at Buxton 2018′