Music with Ease > 19th Century Italian Opera > Lodoletta - Mascagni
An Opera by Pietro Mascagni
Opera in three acts, by Mascagni. Words by Gioacchino Forzano, after Ouidas novel, Two Little Wooden Shoes. Produced, Rome, April 30, 1917. Metropolitan Opera House, New York, January 12, 1918, with Farrar (later in the season, Florence Easton) as Lodoletta, Caruso (Flammen), Amato (Gianetto), and Didur (Antonio).
A MAD WOMAN
A letter carrier, and old violinist.
Time: Second Empire.
Place: A Dutch village.
Lodoletta, a young girl, who lives in a little Dutch village, is a foundling, who has been brought up by old Antonio. He discovered her as an infant in a basket of flowers at the lakeside. When she has grown up to be sixteen, she is eager for a pair of red wooden shoes, but Antonio cannot afford to buy them. Flammen, a painter from Paris, offers him a gold piece for a roadside Madonna he owns. Antonio takes it, and with it buys the shoes for Lodeletta. Soon afterwards the old man is killed by a fall from a tree. Lodoletta is left alone in the world.
Flammen, who has conceived a deep affection for her, persuades her to be his model. This makes the villagers regard her with suspicion. She begs him to go. He returns to Paris, only to find that absence makes him fonder of the girl than ever. He returns to the village. Lodoletta has disappeared. His efforts to find her fail. On New Years his friends gather at his villa to celebrate, and make him forget his love affair in gayety. The celebration is at its height, when Lodeletta, who, in her turn, has been searching for Flammen, reaches the garden. She has wandered far and is almost exhausted, but has found Flammens house at last. She thinks he is expecting her, because the villa is so brilliantly illuminated. But, when she looks through the window upon the gay scene, she falls, cold, exhausted, and disillusioned, in the snow just as midnight sounds. Flammens party of friends depart, singing merrily. As he turns back toward the house he discovers a pair of little red wooden shoes. They are sadly worn. But he recognizes them. He looks for Lodeoletta, only to find her frozen to death in the snow.
It may be that "Lodoletta"s success at its production in Rome was genuine. Whatever acclaim it has received at the Metropolitan Opera House is due to the fine cast with which it has been presented. There is little spontaneity in the score. A spirit of youthfulness is supposed to pervade the first act, but the composers efforts are so apparent that the result is childish rather than youthful. Moreover, as Henry T. Finck writes in the N.Y. Evening Post, "Lodoletta" seems to have revived some of the dramatic inconsistencies of the old-fashioned kind of Italian opera. For instance, in the last act, the scene is laid outside Flammens villa in Paris on New Years eve -- it is zero weather to all appearances, although there is an intermittent snowstorm -- but Flammen and Franz, and later all his guests, come out without wraps, and stay for quite awhile. Later Lodoletta, well wrapped (though in rags), appears, and is quickly frozen to death.
The scene of the first act is laid in the village in April. Lodolettas cottage is seen and the shrine with the picture of the Madonna. It is in order to copy or obtain this that Flammen comes from Paris. In the background is the tree which Antonio climbs and from which, while he is plucking blossom-laden branches for the spring festival, he falls and is killed -- a great relief, the character is so dull. There is much running in and out, and singing by boys and girls in this act. The music allotted to them is pretty without being extraordinarily fetching. An interchange of phrases between Flammen and Lodoletta offers opportunity for high notes to the tenor, but there is small dramatic significance in the music.
In the second act the stage setting is the same, except that the season is autumn. There is a song for Lodoletta, and, as in Act I, episodes for her and the children, who exclaim delightedly, when they see the picture Flammen has been painting, "E Lodoletta viva, e bella" (See! Lodoletta. And so pretty!). But there is little progress made in this act. Much of it has the effect of repetition.
In the third act one sees the exterior of Flammens villa, and through the open gates of the courtyard Paris in the midst of New Years gayety. The merriment within the villa is suggested by music and silhouetted figures against the windows. Some of the guests dash out, throw confetti, and indulge in other pranks, which, intended to be bright and lively, only seem silly. As in the previous acts, the sustained measures for Lodoletta and for Flammen, while intended to be dramatic, lack that quality -- one which cannot be dispensed with in opera. "The spectacle of Flammen, in full evening dress and without a hat, singing on his doorstep in a snowstorm, would tickle the funny bone of any but an operatic audience," writes Grenville Vernon in the N.Y. Tribune.