Will Crutchfield, conductor Orchestra of St. Luke's Bel Canto at Caramoor
Saturday July 16 All Day
Aureliano Andrew Owens, tenor Zenobia Georgia Jarman, soprano Arsace Tamara Mumford, mezzo-soprano
Will Crutchfield, conductor
Orchestra of St. Luke’s
As two warring armies brace for battle over this exquisite city in present-day central Syria, Aureliano in Palmira explores the contentious love triangle of an invading Roman emperor (tenor Andrew Owens), a bold Palmyran queen (soprano Georgia Jarman), and her ally, the dashing Prince of Persia (mezzo-soprano Tamara Mumford). Queen Zenobia and Prince Arsace seek victory, but in defeat, find love; Aureliano seeks love, but in victory, learns statesmanship. Acclaimed as “Best Rediscovered Work” at last year’s International Opera Awards, this long-forgotten jewel takes the Bel Canto at Caramoor stage in its first-ever American performance.
After encountering many obstacles in its first production (La Scala, 1813-14), Aureliano was all but abandoned, with its stunning libretto and sweeping overture – later repurposed for The Barber of Seville – virtually scattered to the wind. Over the course of a year, Caramoor’s Director of Opera, Will Crutchfield, worked with the Rossini Foundation and its Editorial Coordinator Daniele Carnini to assemble its disparate parts and rediscover the extraordinary opera Rossini wrote – never heard in its original form between the Scala performances and the triumphant 2014 revival at the Rossini Opera Festival in Pesaro. And now, as the world turns its eyes to war-torn Syria, this sublime score has garnered new meaning: in a tribute to the respected archaeologist Khaled al-Asaad, slain in Palmira in 2015, Italy’s prime minister Matteo Renzi honored the fallen hero with an excerpt from Crutchfield’s recording of Aureliano.
“I have not forgotten that great day of victory;” Queen Zenobia cries, “that day will come again.”
A host of daytime pre-opera events, delicious picnics, tours of the historic Rosen House, and more make for an unforgettable day at Caramoor.
Catch the Caramoor Coach to and from Manhattan (single-ride and round-trip available), take the train (Metro-North Katonah Station, Harlem Line), or take a scenic drive and enjoy free parking – it’s easy to get here.
Daniele Carnini, Editorial Coordinator of the Rossini Foundation, and Aureliano editor Will Crutchfield discuss how they spent a year deducing what Rossini’s lost original manuscript must have said.
4:00pm The Road to Rossini
The years between Mozart’s last operas (1791) and Rossini’s emergence around 1812 are unknown territory for most operagoers, but Italy was buzzing with activity at the time. Here is a tasting menu of the ingredients from which Tancredi, L’Italiana, Aureliano, Barbiere, and Rossini’s other tasty dishes were prepared.
5:00pm The Last Castrato
Giovanni Battista Velluti (1780-1861), the last castrato superstar in opera and the original Arscae in Aureliano, was reduced to a caricature by historians. But his musical style was enormously influential on the work of Rossini and beyond. Will Crutchfield leads Caramoor’s Bel Canto Young Artists in a survey.
Daniele Carnini introduces the American premiere of Rossini’s Aureliano in Palmira.
Intermission Reception and Post-Performance Cast Party for All Membership Levels.
Andrew Owens, tenor Aureliano
Winner of the Zarzuela prize at the 2015 Francisco Viñas International Singing Competition, American tenor Andrew Owens has quickly built a reputation as one of the most promising singers of his generation, exhibiting a beautiful Italianate timbre, soaring top notes, and effortless agility.
Andrew Owens’ 2015-2016 season begins with his company and role debut with Florida Grand Opera as Count Almaviva in Il barbiere di Siviglia, a role he will reprise later in the season for his company debut with North Carolina Opera under the baton of Timothy Myers. He will make his company and role debut with Seattle Opera as the Earl of Leicester in a new production of Maria Stuarda directed by Kevin Newbury and conducted by Carlo Montanaro. Mr. Owens also joins Dayton Opera in conjunction with the Dayton Philharmonic for a double bill performance, pairing the world premiere of The Book Collector, composed by Stella Sung with a libretto by Ernest Hilbert, with Orff’s Carmina Burana. Highlights of Mr. Owens’ orchestral engagements this season include his debut with the Bamberg Symphony Orchestra in Germany for performances of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9.
In the 2014-2015 season, Mr. Owens returned to the Theater an der Wien main stage as Chevalier Léon in Milhaud’s La mere coupable. He also debuted at Theater Magdeburg as Tamino in Die Zauberflöte and Camille de Rosillion in Die lustige Witwe. The operatic season concluded with his professional lead debut in the US as Don Ramiro in La Cenerentola with Opera Saratoga and with Greensboro Opera. On the concert stage, Mr. Owens appeared as the tenor soloist in The Genius of Mozart at the National Concert Hall, Dublin with the RTÉ Symphony Orchestra.
Mr. Owens is a recent graduate of the Junges Ensemble at the Theater an der Wien, where he performed Rodolfo in La bohème, Edoardo Milfort in La cambiale di matrimonio, Venditore di canzonette in Il Trittico, Der Pfeifer des Grafen in Mathis der Maler, Gérard in Le comte Ory, Erster Gefangener in Fidelio, Uldino in Attila, Don Ramiro in La Cenerentola, Tito in La clemenza di Tito (Kammeroper), Scitalce in Vinci’s Semiramide, Gastone in La Traviata, and Barbarigo in I due Foscari opposite Plácido Domingo. In concert at the Theater an der Wien, he appeared as Giove in Le nozze di Teti e di Peleo, a rarely performed cantata by Rossini, opposite Lawrence Brownlee, as well as performed the tenor solos in Bach’s Mass in B minor at the Hofburgkapelle.
At the Bayerische Staatsoper as part of the Opernstudio, Mr. Owens appeared as Wilhelm in Les contes d’Hoffmann, Sigurd in Sigurd der Drachentöter, and Mücke/Hahn/Specht in Das schlaue Füchslein. He has covered Ferrando in Così fan tutte at Salzburg Festival; Arturo in Lucia di Lammermoor, Leon in Pasatieri’s Signor Deluso and Pluto in Orpheus in the Underworld at Central City Opera. He has also appeared as Borsa in Rigoletto at Virginia Opera. Role studies include Tebaldo in I Capuleti e i Montecchi, Elvino in La sonnambula, Tonio in La fille du Régiment, Almaviva in Il barbiere di Siviglia, Pêcheur in Guillaume Tell, Lindoro in L’italiana in Algeri, Ein Sänger in Der Rosenkavalier, Fenton in Falstaff, and Cassio in Otello.
Concert and symphonic engagements of past seasons include the tenor soloist in Schumann’s Szenen aus Goethes Faust with the Cleveland Orchestra, Lukas in Haydn’s Die Jahreszeiten, and First Japanese Envoy in Le Rossignol at the Salzburg Festival, as well as appearances in a Rossini gala concert at the Munich Opera Festival. He has also performed Don Ottavio in a concert version of Don Giovanni with the Annapolis Chamber Orchestra, Puccini’s Messa di Gloria with The Annapolis Chorale, as well as appearances with the Greensboro Symphony and Greensboro Oratorio Society. He made his New York City recital debut with the New York Festival of Song in a program entitled Spanish Gold: Songs of the Iberian Peninsula at Merkin Hall.
Mr. Owens has had the opportunity to collaborate with some of the world’s most prestigious conductors and directors including James Conlon, Nikolaus Harnoncourt, Bertrand de Billy, Franz Welser-Möst, Ari Pelto, Martin André, Christopher Larkin, George Manahan, Sian Edwards, Moshé Leiser, Patrice Caurier, Peter Konwitschny, Richard Jones, Keith Warner, David Bösch, and Riccardo Frizza.
Mr. Owens is an award recipient from the Marilyn Horne Foundation, won 1st place and honors at the Mario Lanza Competition for Tenors in New York City and Philadelphia, respectively, and is the recipient of the Iris Henwood Richards Apprentice Artist Award at Central City Opera. He is a graduate of the Oberlin Conservatory of Music, where he appeared as Laurie in Little Women and the Maryland Opera Studio, where he sang Nemorino in L’Elisir d’Amore and as A Man with Old Luggage in Postcard from Morocco. Other programs include the Salzburg Festival Young Singers Project and Music Academy of the West Voice Program. Mr. Owens is a native of Bucks County, Pennsylvania and currently resides in Vienna.
Georgia Jarman, soprano Zenobia
Following a series of high-profile debuts throughout the United States and Europe, Georgia Jarman continues to impress in both the lyric coloratura and bel canto repertoire. Recent successes have included her highly acclaimed performances as Roxana in Kasper Holten’s new production of Krol Roger under Antonio Pappano, marking her Covent Garden debut, Gilda (Rigoletto) in her Santa Fe Festival debut and all four heroines in Richard Jones’ production of The Tales of Hoffmann for English National Opera.
A sought-after artist in bel canto repertoire, she has made numerous appearances at the Caramoor Music Festival under Will Crutchfield with the Orchestra of St. Luke’s including, most recently, her acclaimed role debut as Gilda (Rigoletto), as well as Amenaide (Tancredi) alongside Ewa Podles, Norina (Don Pasquale) and Amina (La sonnambula). Other bel canto roles include Marie (La fille du regiment) and Giulietta (I capuleti e i montecchi) for Florentine Opera, Mathilde (Guillaume Tell) at the Teatr Wielki in Warsaw and her first Lucia (Lucia di Lammermoor) for Atlanta Opera.
This season Georgia makes her debut as Marguerite (Faust) with the Macau International Music Festival as well as returning to the Caramoor Festival for performances as Zenobia in Rossini’s rarely performed Aureliano in Palmira. In concert Georgia makes her debut with the Dutch National Radio Philharmonic in Szymanowski’s Stabat Mater under Markus Stenz. Notable previous successes include Maria Stuarda for Washington Concert Opera, Manon at Malmö Opera, and the roles of Violetta (La traviata), Mimi (La bohème), Donna Elvira (Don Giovanni), Micaela (Carmen) and Nedda (Pagliacci) – which have led to invitations from Den Nye Opera, New Orleans Opera, Florida Grand Opera and Palm Beach Opera.
Building an increasing reputation in more contemporary repertoire, Georgia Jarman has recently added the role of Ellen Orford (Peter Grimes) for Grange Park Opera, as well as the exacting role of Madame Mao (Nixon in China) for Cincinnati Opera and Eurydice in Philip Glass’ Orphée for Portland Opera (recorded on the Orange Mountain Music label).
This season, mezzo-soprano Tamara Mumford returns to the Metropolitan Opera as Smeaton in Anna Bolena and reprises her role in Daniel Schnyder’s Yardbird with Gotham Chamber Opera at the famed Apollo Theater. She also appears on tour in the US and Europe with the Gustavo Dudamel and the Los Angeles Philharmonic in performances of Mahler Symphony No. 3, makes her debut with the Netherlands Radio Philharmonic in performances of John Adams’ The Gospel According to the Other Mary and returns to the Utah Symphony for performances of Mahler Symphony No. 8.
A graduate of the Metropolitan Opera’s Lindemann Young Artist Development Program, Ms. Mumford made her debut there as Laura in Luisa Miller, and has since appeared in more than 140 performances with the company, some of which include Smeaton in the new production of Anna Bolena, and in productions of Rigoletto, Ariadne auf Naxos, Il Trittico, Parsifal, Idomeneo, Cavalleria Rusticana, Nixon in China, The Queen of Spades, the complete Ring Cycle, The Magic Flute, A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Wozzeck. Other recent opera engagements have included Karjia Sariaaho’s L’Amour de loin at the Festival d’opéra de Québec, Iolante at the Dallas Opera, the title role in the American premiere of Henze’s Phaedra, the title role in The Rape of Lucretia, and the world premiere of Daniel Schnyder’s Yardbird at Opera Philadelphia; the title role in Dido and Aeneas at the Glimmerglass Festival, Ottavia in L’incoronazione di Poppea at the Glyndebourne Opera Festival and the BBC Proms, Orsini in Lucrezia Borgia at the Caramoor Festival , Isabella in L’Italiana in Algeri at the Palm Beach Opera, the title role in The Rape of Lucretia, conducted by Lorin Maazel at the Castleton Festival; the title role in Carmen at the Crested Butte Music Festival, Principessa in Suor Angelica and Ciesca in Gianni Schicchi with the Orchestra Sinfonica Giuseppe Verdi di Milano in Italy; and the title role in La Cenerentola at Utah Festival Opera.
Also an active concert performer and recitalist, Ms Mumford appeared with Gustavo Dudamel and the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra in US and European tours of the world premiere of John Adam’s oratorio, The Gospel According to the Other Mary. She has also appeared with the New York Philharmonic, San Francisco Symphony, Dallas Symphony, Oregon Symphony, and Milwaukee Symphony orchestras, and at the Hollywood Bowl and the Ravinia, Tanglewood, Grand Teton, Vail, Tucson Desert Song, and La Jolla Summer Music festivals. Other recent concert appearances have included a concert with James Levine and the Met Chamber Orchestra in Zankel Hall, her Carnegie Hall debut in 2005 as part of the Richard Goode and friends concert series in Zankel Hall, and appearances in the Musicians from Marlboro’s summer festivals and US tours. In recital she has been presented in New York by both the Marilyn Horne Foundation and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and in Philadelphia by the Philadelphia Chamber Music Society.
Ms Mumford has appeared in the Metropolitan Opera’s Met: Live in HD series broadcasts of Anna Bolena, Das Rheingold, Gotterdämmerung, The Magic Flute, Nixon in China, Manon Lescaut, and Il Trittico. Ms. Mumford recently recorded Beethoven’s Cantata on the Death of Emperor Joseph II with Michael Tilson Thomas and the San Francisco Symphony (Avie), John Adams’ The Gospel According to the Other Mary with Gustavo Dudamel and the Los Angeles Philharmonic (Deutsche Grammophon), and was one of sixteen singers invited to work with Naxos Records and Yale University in a collaborative project to record the complete songs of Charles Ives.
A native of Sandy, Utah, Ms. Mumford holds a Bachelors of Music from Utah State University and has received awards from the Opera Index Competition, Palm Beach Opera Competition, Sullivan Foundation, Connecticut Opera Guild Competition, Joyce Dutka Foundation Competition and the MacAllister Awards.
About Aureliano in Palmira
Queen Zenobia, her lover Arsace, and the priests offer sacrifices in the Temple of Isis and pray for their deliverance from the approaching Roman army. General Oraspe enters to the strains of martial music and announces that Aureliano’s Roman army is at the gates of Palmyra. Arsace pledges his Persian troops to defend the city. After a dramatic battle scene on the plains outside the city, the Persians are defeated. The Roman soldiers celebrate their victory. Aureliano arrives and addresses Arsace, now a prisoner. He responds to the Emperor with dignity and affirms his love for Zenobia, saying that he is prepared to die for her.
Inside Palmyra’s walls, Zenobia has hidden the kingdom’s treasures in the vaults beneath the palace. She decides to make a last stand with her troops to save the city. She asks Aureliano for a truce so that she can speak with him and obtain the liberty of the prisoners, including Arsace. On Aureliano’s refusal to free the prisoners, she asks to at least see Arsace for a last time. Zenobia and Arsace weep over their fate. Aureliano enters and promises to free Arsace on condition that he abandons Zenobia. Arsace refuses and is sentenced to death. The Roman and Palmyran armies prepare for a last battle.
Palmyra has now been conquered by the Romans. Aureliano enters Zenobia’s palace and offers his love to her, which she refuses. Meanwhile Oraspe frees Arsace who then flees to the hills by the Euphrates River where he is sheltered by a group of shepherds. Arsace’s soldiers join him and tell him that Zenobia has been taken prisoner. Arsace sets off to free her and launch a new attack against the Romans with the Palmyran troops.
In the palace, Aureliano proposes to Zenobia that they reign together over Palmyra. Once again Zenobia refuses. Later that night, Arsace and Zenobia meet again in the moonlight and embrace. When they are discovered by the Roman troops, they ask to die. Although he secretly admires their courage and devotion to each other, Aureliano decrees that they will end their days in separate cells. Publia, the daughter of a Roman general and secretly in love with Arsace, begs Aureliano to take pity on him.
The final scene takes place in a large chamber of Zenobia’s palace. The leaders and priests of the defeated Palmyrans are gathered in supplication before Aureliano. Oraspe, Arsace and Zenobia are led into the chamber in chains. Aureliano has a change of heart and frees Zenobia and Arsace to reign together over Palmyra provided they both swear fealty to the Roman Empire. This they do, and praise Aureliano for his generous heart. The chorus sings joyfully, “May the day dawn serene and shining for suffering Asia.”
Even devoted Rossinians know the stories told about Aureliano in Palmira better than they know the opera itself. It comes into the chronicles in two ways: as the occasion for the composer’s celebrated encounter with the last castrato in operatic history, and as a classic example of Rossini’s inclination to borrow from his own works, since the overture and a pair of melodies would soon be known to the whole world through their recycling into The Barber of Seville. Everyone who has read even casually about Rossini has come across the story of Giovanni Battista Velluti ornamenting Aureliano so lavishly that the composer was unable to recognize his own music, and has probably also read that Count Almaviva’s morning serenade and Rosina’s playful self-portrait began life, respectively, as a choral prayer and a prince’s martial cabaletta. In all these accounts – in fact, in all known books about Rossini or bel canto – the opera that opened La Scala’s 1814 Carnival season remains firmly in the background, and it is taken for granted that Aureliano in Palmira was, in the first place, a failure, and in the second, an out-of-date essay in 18th-century-style opera seria.
In 2014 the Rossini Opera Festival in Pesaro mounted its first production of the opera, in conjunction – as always – with the Fondazione Rossini and the publisher Ricordi, who are gradually completing a complete modern edition of the composer’s works. I participated in a double role, as conductor of the production and editor of the score. None of us knew what to expect, except surprise: The “Rossini renaissance” has taught us all to question received wisdom. We could hardly have guessed, though, that we would end up performing music unheard since 1814, and discovering a fully-developed masterpiece. By the time Aureliano won first place in the category “best rediscovered work” at the 2015 International Opera Awards, it was no longer a surprise. Yes, the opera flopped, relatively speaking, at La Scala two centuries ago – but it turns out, as we will see, that this had little or nothing to do with the work itself.
Anyone who expects the atmosphere of Metastasio in Aureliano will have surprises from start to finish; the libretto may seem old-fashioned on the surface of its plot, but the verses of the young Romani are fresh, direct and personal, and the music belongs clearly in the Romantic line that leads Rossini from Tancredi through La donna del Lago to Guillaume Tell. It has richer and more varied choral writing than any other among his youthful works; long-breathed melodies abound; the orchestration is filled with hints of new color. But all of this makes its full impact only when one can experience the score in the form Rossini prepared for Milan; the rest of the world never got a chance to rank Aureliano properly, because it limped forward in a much-simplified version after the misfortunes of the premiere.
Creating Romanticism within pre-Romantic forms
The characterizations are distinctly drawn. Aureliano, the tenor protagonist, has the musical qualities of confidence and leadership that befit a story in which Roman power is never in question, and in which the conflict comes only from wisdom and judgment in its exercise. Aureliano is never tormented by the choices before him, and even when he is inclined to rigor against his opponents, he does not foam with rage, but rather shows (both in the verses and the musical setting) his ability to admire a worthy foe. Thus his choice of clemency at the old-style “happy ending” does not arrive unprepared. Zenobia, the warrior queen, is a role of proud declamation and forceful virtuosity, except when she is drawn into the orbit of her lover Arsace (Velluti’s part), which has another color altogether, tender, lyrical and filled with pathos. Though Arsace too is born to the role of the warrior and ruler, the story of the opera brings him twice to defeat in battle; Rossini and Romani both respond by depicting a soul drawn towards love and to the simple life of the common folk. His role culminates in a gran scena of unforgettable poignancy as he accepts his duty to return to the field however hopeless the cause.
The emotional climax of the score is the re-encounter of the two lovers, defeated in battle and uncertain of their fate, who join their voices not in lament but in a kind of transcendent ecstasy, a hymn to the “sweet night and friendly shadows” that surround them and to the moment of union that compensates all past and future suffering. The melody is a broad nocturne in G major that already within its first four bars has visited both G minor and E minor. The protagonists are imparting the lesson that would be replicated insistently throughout opera’s Romantic century: that the drive to love and to be loved supersedes all others. But what is understood as a given in later works must here be learned, as befits a drama from the first dawn of Romanticism. Arsace and Zenobia begin the opera envisioning victory as the highest goal; deprived of it, they discover another, and the radiant sensuality of Rossini’s writing affirms their transformation.
Failure, as suggested above, is relative. Pompeo Cambiasi, in his chronology of La Scala through 1906, ranked the successes of each production in terms that could be translated as “terrible, bad, mediocre, good, very good, and best.” He assitned to Aureliano the outcome “buono” – good. It reached fourteen performances, the last of them on 18 January, before being replaced by Nicolini’s Quinto Fabio. This ran for 22 evenings and was likewise ranked “buono” by Cambiasi, but it did not forestall the often-cited summary of the season, “Quinto Fabio, terzo fiasco” (Fabius the Fifth, flop the third).
Aureliano’s immediate future suggests that Cambiasi got this about right. It never reached the biggest houses (San Carlo, La Fenice, the Kärntnertor in Vienna), and never returned to La Scala. But it had a lively circulation elsewhere, with about 90 productions documented up to the beginning of the 1830s, when the successes of Donizetti and Bellini compelled a winnowing of Rossini’s operas to preserve only the most-appreciated among them. Several of Rossini’s favorite contraltos adopted the role of Arsace, some of them in multiple productions. Among the important singers to pass through its three main roles were Giuditta Pasta, Domenico Donzelli, Giuseppina Ronzi de Begnis, Adelaide Malanotte, Benedetta Rosmonda Pisaroni, Carolina Bassi, Antonio Gordigiani, Eliodoro Bianchi and Domenico Reina. Pasta also sang duets from Aureliano in concert performances with Velluti himself, and had one of them inserted into Zingarelli’s Giulietta e Romeo for her later interpretations of that score.
In fact the idea of Aureliano as a failure seems to have been strongest in the minds of two participants, Rossini and Velluti – and that was enough to doom it to secondary status. The composer never supervised any revival of the opera, and lost no time in re-using portions of its music. The singer, who habitually carried the roles written for his voice to multiple theaters, rejected not only Aureliano but its author; though nearly two decades of theatrical activity remained to him, he never assumed a role in any other Rossini opera – the only celebrated singer of the era to boycott its most celebrated composer. Perhaps the strained circumstances of the opera’s birth led both men to undervalue it. Reading the score today, one sees an absolutely worthy successor to Tancredi and a bridge to the great Neapolitan serious operas. Both Rossini and Romani were young artists destined to transform the lyirc theater; in Aureliano we see them, in effect, creating Romantic content within pre-Romantic forms. Soon would come the new forms – the novel choices of subject, the varieties of musical structure – adapted to the new expressive impulses, but the impulses speak with complete clarity, force and beauty in the work they created for Milan.
Finally, the reappearance of the overture’s music in both acts casts that well-known piece in a new light, its first movement pensive and pastoral, its allegro expressive of preparations for impending battle and the poignancy of farewells as warriors leave for the field. Of course, as two centuries of success in Il barbiere demonstrate, it is possible to fill the same music with more than one expressive connotation. Still, Rossini’s procedure in Aureliano bespeaks a conscious and persuasive search for integration, one that is coherent with the ambition of the score as a whole.
Towards an edition
The central difficulty in arriving at an edition of Aureliano in Palmira is the absence of Rossini’s autograph manuscript. We do not know what happened to it or how long it remained in the composer’s possession, though we assume that he took it with him when he left Milan on 9 January 1814 midway through the opera’s run of performances. We also do not know whether any of the copies that survive were made directly from the lost autograph or from an intermediate copy. Nearly thirty manuscript copies survive in whole or in part, and what was immediately striking in the first survey of them is that one small group, all clearly derived from a single common ancestor, contained fourteen musical passages (ranging in length from five to 48 bars) that are missing, both from the piano score Ricordi published in the 1850s and from all other manuscript copies. This group also contains an entire piece, one of the opera’s best, that is absent from the Ricordi score and from many other manuscript sources – though not all of them. This is the Duetto No. 4 between Aureliano and Arsace – and even here, the version that has been previously known lacks five passages that are present in the longer score. Part of Aureliano’s bad luck is that nobody chanced upon a score from this group in any previous attempt to revive the piece.
Though many questions remain, we can confirm beyond any reasonable doubt that these longer copies represent the score put into rehearsal by Rossini for the premiere of the opera. What is less clear is the process through which this score was reduced to the one that has previously been known. Were the cuts, or some of them, Rossini’s own? When and why were they made? There cannot be a single answer, because the modifications were clearly made at different times. We can sequence some of them ahead of others, but in most cases, we do not know whether they were made for the first performance, for subsequent Scala performances while Rossini was still present and involved, for later ones after his departure, or still later, in preparation for a subsequent production of the opera. What we can do, though, is trace the possible or probable reasons for the cuts.
Some of them may simply have been occasioned by a simple desire to shorten the work. I do not know enough of the Scala operas of the period to judge whether the original Aureliano might have seemed disproportionately long. It may well have been disproportionately taxing for the soloists, as the main burdens fall on only three principal roles. A probable contributing cause, though, was a change of cast: the title part had been planned for Giovanni David, then 23 years old and in the first phase of a great career that would include five important Rossini premieres and would endure to embrace early creations of Bellini, Donizetti and Pacini. An attack of smallpox took him out of the cast, and after a first alternative didn’t work out, the Mantuan tenor Luigi Mari (“un salame,” according to an unflattering account of the opera by the recuperating David himself) was pressed into service.
Everybody who works in opera knows, and dreads, the occasions in which a principal role must be rehearsed with a singer who is only beginning to learn it. The preparations are dominated by simply getting the singer through the part without disaster and other priorities are set aside. It seems likeliest to me that Mari’s problems – whether in singing the role or simply in learning it on short notice – must have accounted for the most damaging cut: the decision, clearly at the last moment, to delete the Duetto Arsace-Aureliano. Arsace loses some of his most expressive and beautiful phrases, and an important dramatic confrontation. “Pensa che festi a Roma” is a precursor of the “dissimilar” duet style that was so important to Donizetti’s and especially Verdi’s development, in which the two interlocutors do not simply exchange statements of the same musical material but instead propose contrasting ideas within the same tempo and meter. In two crucial moments, Aureliano threatens in bursts of aggressive bravura, and twice Arsace responds in cantabile phrases of yearning Romantic simplicity and poignant chromatic harmony.
Moreover, the deletion creates a most awkward scene in which the heroic contralto, imprisoned by his Roman foe, is summoned on stage only to sing a few lines of recitative and slink away again in chains. Arsace without the Duetto has no musical presence between the Introduzione and the Finale Primo, which must be the cause of the surprising accounts of Velluti in the part. Again David: “Signor Velluti cut the figure of a secondary role”; an anonymous journalist said the castrato “made no more impression than the last of the maidens in the train of Zenobia.” Velluti was accustomed to triumphs; one can imagine why he was out of sorts, and perhaps understand a little better his subsequent disinclination for Rossini’s music.
Several other cuts reduced the coherence and musical interest of the opera. The first part of Zenobia’s aria and Arsace’s response to the shepherds in Act Two were reduced to perfunctory ariosi without development or recapitulation. Arsace’s soliloquy “Perché mai le luci aprimmo” lost its beautiful turn from G major to B-flat and much of its reprise. Three important cabalettas were cut to a single statement each; if we had never found the long-version scores, we might imagine that the young composer was still deciding whether a cabaletta should have one statement or two. Meanwhile, the process of abbreviation was less than fastidious. At the original conclusion of Zenobia’s grand recitative, she threatens Aureliano by reminding him of the victory she won over Roman forces at a certain battlefield of Tima: not the most important information, perhaps, but when she then commences her aria “Là pugnai; la sorte arrise / a Palmira, al braccio mio,” “There I fought, and there Fate smiled / on Palmyra and on my sword-arm,” the loss of the recitative leaves one to ask “There you fought? Pardon, ma’am, where was ‘there’?”
None of the abbreviations shows any sign of compositional re-thinking – there no new transitions, no retouching of orchestration, no insertion of fresh ideas. In short, the cuts seem like what I believe they were: emergency measures to shorten a work that had been found either too long or too difficult to prepare under stressed conditions. We have no idea whether Rossini approved, or even knew about, any but two that can be located early in the process. Under the circumstances, it seems better to retain music that he might have omitted than to omit music he might have retained.
Questions of performance practice
The Aureliano manuscripts throw interesting light on the question that divides them most distinctly into two groups, that of abbreviation. But they also contain fascinating information for students of vocal performance practice, because many of them are supplemented by extensive vocal ornamentation – either added as alternative lines by the main copyist of the score, or entered later by intervening hands. These additions affect all three of the main roles, and we have made selective use of them in preparing the variations for the Caramoor performance. But the most extensive and interesting examples concern the role of Arsace. Several scores (including the one chosen as our principal source) document an adjustment of his tessitura towards a contralto range. Still more interesting are two manuscripts of the Gran scena that report what seem to be the variations of Velluti himself – the very ornaments that, according to Stendhal’s well-known anecdote, are supposed to have irritated Rossini so much that he decided in Milan to write all ornamentation directly into his future scores.
Here we encounter a final surprise: far from despising the ornaments, Rossini seems to have liked them well enough to borrow ideas from Velluti. The full details are featured in our afternoon program “The Last Castrato,” but one aspect will be clearly audible to the Aureliano audience, and deserves a word of explanation. It is well known that when Rossini re-used the cabaletta of Arsace (“Non lasciarmi in tal momento”) as Rosina’s “Io sono docile,” he did so with additional melodic ornamentation. What has not been known is that this additional ornamentation corresponds almost exactly to that preserved in the manuscripts associated with Velluti! (There are other patterns and details in Velluti’s variations that find distinct echoes in La cenerentola and Elisabetta, regina d’Inghilterra as well.) So it seems, however much the two musicians might have avoided one another after their frustrating encounter at La Scala, that some little portion of the castrato’s contribution to Aureliano in Palmira was destined to achieve immortality as well. Both the composer and his interpreter deserve the re-evaluation of the work that brought them together, and we may hope that the presentation of the complete score, two centuries late, will give posterity a chance to see it in a new light.