Although the source is Alexandre Dumas, William Shakespeare's ghost is hidden behind every note: thwarted loves, King Lear, Hamlet, the comedians, madness, suicides for love...
Opera in three acts
Libretto by Antonio Ghislanzoni
Music by Alfredo Catalani
First performance 27 February 1886, Teatro alla Scala, Milan.
Sung in Italian with English surtitles
The orchestra will be reduced to accommodate the COVID-19 safety requirements.
arranged by Andreas Luca Beraldo (*1988)
published by Cecilia Music Concept, Cologne
Have you ever wondered what happened, operatically speaking, to Alexandre Dumas fils, the author of La Dame aux Camélias immortalised in Verdi’s La traviata? It might seem surprising that the writer hardly featured on the operatic stage again, but in fact, his obscure drama Les Danicheff resurfaced (albeit in a roundabout fashion) as the source for Alfredo Catalani’s fourth opera, Edmea (1886).
As a young composer, Catalani (1854–1893) was clearly eyeing up Verdi’s prowess and having approached Verdi’s librettist Arrigo Boito (himself a composer too) unsuccessfully, he turned to Antonio Ghislanzoni, still basking in the glow some 15 years earlier of Aida.
What Ghislanzoni gave him, however, was a ready-made libretto that for reasons unknown had never been set but had been written a few years earlier for the composer Salvatore Auteri-Manzocchi.
Turning Les Danicheff into Edmea involved radical shifts of time and place, but the story as eventually set by Catalani tells of a young woman driven mad by love – Edmea had been forced by her adoptive father, a Count, to marry against her will when she was in love with Oberto, son of her aristocratic guardian.
An ultimate happy end does not preclude a mad scene for Edmea, one of the most successful parts of the opera, which seems to have been designed by Ghislanzoni with an eye on the then-recent success of Ambroise Thomas’s Hamlet.
Edmea enjoyed some success at its premiere at La Scala in 1886. When it was repeated later the same year in a revised version in Turin, the conductor was the 20-year-old Arturo Toscanini. This marked the start of a friendship between the composer and conductor, who even named his daughter after the heroine of Catalani’s next and final opera, La Wally, and who continued to champion his music after the composer’s tragically early death.
Although Edmea was quickly overshadowed by the popularity of La Wally, its lively dramatic style and a score full of bold and colourful numbers – Catalani’s skills as an orchestrator were considerable – make it an opera worth rediscovering.
Edmea is an orphan in love with Count Oberto, whose father disapproves.
In Oberto’s absence Edmea is forced to marry the servant Ulmo, who is also in love with her, but with the loss of Oberto, Edmea is driven mad and tries to kill herself by jumping into the river.
She wanders the countryside with Ulmo who continues to love her and pretends to be her brother.
They join up with a band of jesters and with them return to the castle where Oberto has been mourning his loss.
On recognising Edmea, Oberto’s declarations of love help her to regain her reason.
Ulmo makes the ultimate sacrifice, shooting himself, so that Oberto and Edmea are finally able to celebrate their marriage.