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ClassicsOnline Home » MERCADANTE, S.: Don Chisciotte alle nozze di Gamaccio (Guagliardo, Colaianni, Catrani, Mirabelli, Ever, Mastrototaro, Fogliani)
A contemporary of Rossini and Donizetti, Saverio Mercadante was one of Italy’s most productive 19th-century operatic composers. Don Chisciotte alle nozze di Gamaccio was written during the composer’s stay in Spain, and is based on a chapter of Cervante’s Don Quixote in which the hero prevents the forced marriage of a poor farm girl to the wealthy Camacho. Magnificently entertaining and dramatically innovative, Don Chisciotte combines fashionable Neapolitan style with Spanish folk music elements in an unforgettable melodramma giocoso. It is heard on this recording in its first modern performance.
Saverio Mercadante (1795–1870)
Don Chisciotte alle nozze di Gamaccio
Melodramma giocoso in one act
Libretto by Stefano Ferrero, after an episode in
Don Quijote, by Miguel Cervantes
Don Chisciotte – Ugo Guagliardo, Bass
Sancio Pansa – Domenico Colaianni, Buffo
Chiteria – Laura Catrani, Soprano
Gamaccio – Ricardo Mirabelli, Tenor
Basilio – Hans Ever Mogollon, Tenor
Bernardo – Giulio Mastrototaro, Baritone
Cristina – Marisa Bove, Soprano
Don Diego – Filippo Polinelli, Bass
San Pietro a Majella Chorus, Naples (Chorus master: Elsa Evangelista)
Czech Chamber Soloists, Brno (Leader: Ivan Matyáš)
Harpsichord: Fausto Di Benedetto
Recorded live at the Kursaal, Bad Wildbad, Germany, 17, 18 and 21 July 2007 for the XIXth ROSSINI IN WILDBAD Festival
(Artistic director: Jochen Schönleber)
A Co-production with Deutschlandradio Kultur
Saverio Mercadante (1795–1870) was one of Italyʼs most productive composers of the nineteenth century. Instrumental and church music stand alongside 57 operas in his output. From 1808 to 1816 he studied violin and composition at the Conservatorio di San Sebastiano in Naples and, like Vincenzo Bellini, was a pupil of Niccoló Zingarelli. In 1819 he made his début as a composer at the Teatro San Carlo with the opera Lʼapoteosi di Ercole and in 1821 in Milan gained European fame with Elisa e Claudio. From 1823 to 1825 he was Rossiniʼs successor as the house composer at the Teatro San Carlo in Naples and from 1826 to 1831 he worked as a composer and conductor in the Iberian peninsula. From 1833 to 1840 he held the office of maestro di cappella at Novara Cathedral in Italy. He owed a stay in Paris in 1835/36 to his knowledge of French grand opera, whose principal elements he adapted for the conditions of Italian theatrical practice in his “reform operas”, above all in Il giuramento (Milan 1837) and Il bravo (Milan 1839). Long before Verdi Mercadante transformed pure bel canto opera into real music drama. In 1840 he succeeded his teacher Zingarelli as director of the Naples Conservatory and in 1843 was appointed chief conductor at the Teatro San Carlo. With the onset of blindness in 1862 his public activities ceased but he remained active as a composer and teacher right up to the end, when he taught composition by dictating new works to his pupils.
From the eighteenth century onwards it was not unusual for Neapolitan composers (such as Cimarosa and Paisiello) to work outside Italy, and Mercadante too spent part of his career abroad. Conditions between Spain and Portugal were very different: while in Portugal Italian opera was firmly established as high culture, in Spain, which had its own important singing and theatrical traditions, it was only rarely practised and in 1797 was even completely forbidden. So Mercadanteʼs engagement in Madrid in 1826 signalled a successful new beginning for the cultivation of Italian opera in Spanish territory.
In view of the difficult working conditions—at that time Madrid did not even have its own opera house—it is no surprise that even as early as 1827 Mercadante decided on the far better endowed and more prestigious post of chief conductor at the Teatro São Carlos in Lisbon. Presumably he had prepared himself for a longer stay in Portugal, but Dom Miguelʼs coup dʼétat and the subsequent closure of the opera house forced Mercadante and his singing company to relocate to the Spanish city of Cádiz at the beginning of 1829. What was at first thought to be just a guest engagement led to the companyʼs being hired on a permanent basis, resulting in the lasting cultivation of Italian opera in Cádiz. The marriage of the Spanish king Francisco VII to a princess from Naples led to Mercadanteʼs being invited once again to be the opera director in Madrid for the 1830/1 season. At the beginning of 1830 a one-act melodramma giocoso, Don Chisciotte alle nozze di Gamaccio, was given its première in the main theatre as a farewell gift to Cádiz, a city in which, according to his letters, Mercadante had felt at ease and whose operatic activity he followed from Italy in the following years.
The libretto of Don Chisciotte alle nozze di Gamaccio was provided by one of the theatreʼs house singers, Stefano Ferrero, and he sang the title-rôle of Don Quixote at the first performance. The work was based on the twentieth chapter of Miguel de Cervantesʼs Don Quixote, in which Don Quixote prevents the poor farm girl Quiteria from being forced to marry the wealthy Camacho instead of her poor lover Basilio. Within Cervantesʼs novel this simple story serves as a parable on the reprehensible power of money, the corruptibility of men and the (apparently) unworldly idealism of Don Quixote. In the opera Ferrero and Mercadante develop this quite serious background of the story, while paying more attention to the potential of the storyʼs individual characters than to its situation comedy. Tellingly the opera is called a melodramma giocoso rather than a farsa.
The opera comprises an overture, which later achieved currency as a purely instrumental piece known as Sinfonia caratteristica spagnuola, followed by six scenes containing eight musical numbers:
Introduction: Chorus and Cavatina (Sancho) [Buffo]
Cavatina (Quiteria) [Soprano]
Scene and Duet (Quiteria, Basilio) [Soprano, Tenor]
Chorus and Cavatina (Don Quixote) [Bass]
Chorus and Aria (Camacho) [Tenor]
Duet (Don Quixote, Sancho) [Bass, Buffo]
Duet (Basilio, Sancho) [Tenor, Buffo]
Finale: Chorus, Pezzo concertato [a 8], Rondo finale
Taking into consideration the limited familiarity of the Spanish public with Italian opera, for the most part Mercadante avoided complex musical forms and depended entirely on the possibility, stemming from Neapolitan tradition, of characterisation through the varying elements of the prevailing singing styles. Sanchoʼs entrance aria [CD 1 ] for instance is a parlando part in the best Neapolitan buffo tradition while on the other hand the following cavatina sung by Quiteria [CD 1 ] and the duet between Quiteria and Basilio [CD 1 ] clearly have their roots in opera seria. The unusual feature of the opera and Mercadanteʼs own brainchild, however, is not the sequence of serious and lighter numbers, but the amalgamation of both spheres in the same number. So in Don Quixoteʼs entrance aria [CD 1 ], in which Don Quixote is lost in thoughts of memories of Dulcinea without being aware of the ridicule and laughter which surrounds him, Mercadante succeeds in illustrating audibly the tragicomic element of this character. The duet between Don Quixote and Sancho [CD 2 ] represents a similar master-stroke, in which Sancho—half squire, half orderly—must deploy all the Neapolitan arts of parlando to soothe Don Quixote after his angry outburst. That Don Quixote nonetheless is no fool is shown in the following duet (Sancho-Basilio) [CD 2 ]: Sancho takes Don Quixoteʼs cloak and sword and cherishes the illusion of omnipotence that he himself is a knight. Basilio, who mistakes Sancho for Don Quixote, asks him for help. Sancho reveals himself while he advises Basilio simply to forget about Quiteria. When Basilio threatens him as a result, he reveals himself to be Sancho. This is also represented musically at the start of the duet: Sancho tries to imitate Don Quixoteʼs singing style but at the end he lapses once more into his customary parlando, whereas at the beginning Basilio, feigning obsequiousness, changes from parlando into the heroic mode of opera seria and thereby reveals his true nature.
Naturally a Rossinian crescendo in an opera of this period cannot fail; the Pezzo concertato for eight solo voices a cappella in the Finale [CD 2 ] originates from the Neapolitan tradition which is intended to represent the performance capability of the assembled ensemble as a whole in Cádiz. What is worthy of further mention is the prominent rôle given to the chorus, which here has the function of a dramatis persona. The most noticeable feature of the opera is its use of Spanish folklore, which is referred to specifically in the libretto of the first performance: Habiendo tomado á su cargo el Maestro Mercadante el aplicar la música á esta composicion de carácter espanol, creyó conveniente servirse de varios motivos de las mejores canciones de la nación, para hacer todavia mas caracteristica su obra (With his intention to set a Spanish subject, it seemed appropriate to maestro Mercadante to use motifs from the most beautiful Spanish songs in order to make his work more characteristic.)
Indeed under Don Quixoteʼs entrance is the instruction in the score Tempo di mancieca and it uses elements of the seguidilla manchega. The introduction to the Finale is marked tempo di bolero and Quiteriaʼs cavatina and closing rondo are modelled exactly on the bolero Cuanta veces mis ojas, which was published in 1812.
Don Chisciotte alle nozze di Gamaccio represents a successful synthesis of Rossiniʼs innovations with Neapolitan tradition in the development of Mercadanteʼs personal style. It already echoes the psychological and sensitive character development of his later “reform operas” and makes one curious about his Falstaff opera of 1834. In its use of Spanish folklore it outdoes even I due Figaro (Madrid 1826) in which Mercadante had first played with these possibilities. Don Chisciotte alle nozze di Gamaccio represents the prototype model of a decidedly “Spanish” opera, a concept which, however, would not be fully realised until a hundred years later with Manuel de Falla, who hailed from Cádiz. Don Chisciotte alle nozze di Gamaccio was a great success at its first performance in Cádiz. A further performance was arranged for Madrid in 1841. Finally, in 1869, the work was given in a Spanish translation at the Teatro de la Zarzuela in Madrid. On that occasion it was censured because, in spite of the inherent qualities of the music, it was felt that the piece had not succeeded in bringing to the stage the essential qualities of Cervantesʼs immortal masterpiece. The present recording from Bad Wildbad represents the first modern performance and ought, in these more internationally than nationally characteristic times, to be subject to a more reasoned evaluation.The edition used here is based on Mercadanteʼs autograph score which the composer brought with him to Italy in 1831 and which, along with the rest of Mercadanteʼs estate, was purchased by the Italian state in 1895 and is housed today in the conservatory in Naples.
© 2012 Michael Wittmann
English translation by David Stevens
 Overture. The effective overture, based on Spanish motives, was known later as the concert piece Sinfonia caratteristica spagnuola.
 No 1. Introduction: Chorus. Preparations for the wedding of the wealthy Camacho are taking place in front of Don Diegoʼs house.
 Cavatina and  Stretta. Sancho Panza, the knightʼs squire, announces the arrival of Don Quixote.
 Recitative. He complains about his bad treatment by the farmers.
 No 2. Cavatina. In Bernardoʼs house his daughter Quiteria bemoans her fate; on her fatherʼs orders she has been forced to marry Camacho instead of her lover Basilio.
 No 3. Scena and  Duet. Basilio appears and confronts Quiteria. She asks him to leave her alone.
 Recitative. Bernardo discusses the forthcoming marriage with Camacho. In advance he demands, in vain, a kiss from Quiteria. Bernardo advises his daughter to forget about Basilio. Don Diego informs his wife Cristina of the arrival of his friend Don Quixote whom they want to invite to Camachoʼs wedding.
 No 4. Chorus and Cavatina. The farmers greet Don Quixote (chorus), who has arrived on his horse Rocinante.
 Cavatina. Don Quixote pines for the love of his youth, Dulcinea, and is mocked by the farmers for it. Sancho asks in vain that the people should at least appear to show Don Quixote some respect.
 Recitative. Don Diego introduces Cristina to Don Quixote who declares himself to be the champion of all true lovers.
 Chorus and Aria. On the village square the farmers comment on the strange arrival of Don Quixote. Camacho arrives and finds out about Don Quixoteʼs invitation to his wedding. Quickly he gives some lessons in knightly behaviour. Basilio determines to do everything possible to prevent the marriage of Quiteria to Camacho.
 Recitative. Basilio swears that Camacho shall never marry his Quiteria.
 No 6. Duet. In Don Diegoʼs house Sancho has made every effort to pacify Don Quixote, who is in a rage over an alleged disrespectful remark made by Sancho about Dulcinea.
 Recitative. Cristina invites Camacho in. Sancho confirms to Camacho that Don Quixote has arrived. Don Diego is afraid of trouble with Basilio.
 No 7. Duet. In front of Don Diegoʼs house Sancho tells of his dream of becoming a knight. Basilio, who confuses him for Don Quixote, asks him for help in declaring his love. Sancho reveals his true identity and advises Basilio to forget about Quiteria. Basilio threatens him and Sancho sheepishly begs for mercy.
 No 8. Chorus and Finale. All the wedding guests come together in a great crowd and wish the bridal pair a long life.
 Basilio appears and feigns his own suicide. After a moment of shock (Concertato) and “in extremis” he asks for the hand of Quiteria. Her father agrees. Scarcely has the marriage ceremony been completed than the suicide is revealed as a bluff. Camacho challenges Basilio to a duel, but Don Quixote saves the situation by explaining that in love and war every tactic is allowed and that Camacho should get himself another woman. Overjoyed, Quiteria sings of her union with Basilio (Rondo finale).
© 2012 Michael Wittmann
English translation by David Stevens
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