Novoson’s CD reissue of Ataúlfo Argenta’s recording of El maestro Campanone has been reviewed here by Ian Brown. It focuses attention afresh on one of the most curious works of the zarzuela repertory – an adaptation of an Italian (and very Italianate) opera amidst a repertory noted particularly for its essentially Spanish character.
Modern zarzuela reference books generally represent El maestro Campanone as a reworking by Vicente Lleó (1870-1922) of the opera La prova d’un’opera seria¹ (‘The Rehearsal of an Opera Seria’) by Giuseppe Mazza. Lleó is, of course, well known to us for La corte de faraón (1910), with which he was to achieve his most enduring fame. We know that his revision of the Mazza score was first performed at the Teatro Cómico in Madrid just over four years earlier – on 13 October 1905. But what do we know of the original composer Giuseppe Mazza and his opera? And how did Lleó come to turn this operatic score into an enduring zarzuela?
The first of these questions I asked particularly when, as an Editorial Advisor to The New Grove Dictionary of Opera, I was involved with the selection of subjects for inclusion. Mazza seemed a candidate; but he had no entry in the 20-volume New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, and information on him was not readily to be found. In the event, the American musicologist and Italian opera specialist William Ashbrook contributed an entry, to which I added information about the curious survival of La prova d’un’opera seria through Lleó’s adaptation.
As Ashbrook tells us, Mazza was born in Lucca on 3 March 1806. He was thus younger than Rossini by some fourteen years, younger than Donizetti by eight and Bellini by four, and he was seven years older than Verdi. It was in Lucca that Mazza had his initial music lessons and, after further study in Bologna with Stanislao Mattei, teacher of Rossini and Donizetti, it was there that his first opera, Amor la vince tutto, ossia la vigilante delusa, was produced in 1836. Its reception was favourable enough to produce further operatic commissions from Florence and Naples in the following two years.
Thereafter Mazza’s composing career progressed unevenly, and increasingly he was noted primarily as an operatic conductor. He composed further operas for Rome, Treviso and Milan in the mid-1830s, before a further gap until Leocadia for Venice in 1843 and then La prova d’un’opera seria in Fiume (today’s Rijeka) in 1845. He ended up as maestro di capella and organist at the church of San Antonio Taumaturgo in Trieste, with further operas in the 1850s achieving limited success. His style had, after all, become outdated with the rise of Verdi. Mazza died in Trieste on 20 June 1885, aged 79.
As for the second of the two questions I posed – how Lleó came to turn Mazza’s score into an enduring zarzuela – it was my assumption that he had chanced upon the operatic score and considered it suitable for adaptation. Christopher Webber seems to have made a similar assumption in The Zarzuela Companion (2002) when he described the work as a one-act adaptation of Mazza’s opera that “Lleó skillfully translated, reorchestrated and condensed”. It seems likewise to have been the assumption of Vicente Galbis López in his article on Lleó in volume 2 of the Diccionario de la Zarzuela (2003). Galbis López writes of Lleó’s “interesante adaptación de la ópera italiana” in which he “redujo la opera a diez números que se tradujeron al castellano”.
In fact the story of the conversion of Mazza’s opera into Lleó’s zarzuela is far more convoluted – and far more interesting. To trace it fully we need to go back not just to Mazza’s day but to the eighteenth century, when the satirising of musical and theatrical performance featured, for instance, in Mozart’s Der Schauspieldirektor (1786), Salieri’s Prima la musica poi le parole (1786), Cimarosa’s Il maestro di capella (c1790) and Mayr’s Che originali! (1798). In this field of musical satire there then followed the original version of the work that specifically concerns us here – La prova d’un’opera seria. It had a score not yet by Giuseppe Mazza but by Francesco Gnecco (c1769-1810), and Marvin Tartak writes thus of its genesis in his entry on Gnecco in The New Grove Dictionary of Opera:-
His most famous opera, La prova d’un opera seria, had a backstage plot; though not the first of this genre, it was the best. Originally in one act with a libretto by Giulio Artusi (1803, Venice), and entitled La prima prova dell’opera Gli Orazi ed I Curiazi, it was later changed into a two-act work with Gnecco’s own libretto (1805, Milan) and was performed until 1860 throughout Europe, with the most famous singers. The plot of the two-act version concerns a rehearsal, not of Cimarosa’s Gli Orazi ed I Curiazi, but of a non-existent opera seria, Ettore in Trabizonda, characterized by all the excesses of a style overripe for parody. A number of irrelevant but funny backstage problems add spice to the action: a lesson in instrumentation, a chorus full of mistakes, a soprano mispronouncing her words and so on. To create some tension at the end of the first act Gnecco introduced a picnic in the country for the cast; a storm comes up and the soprano and tenor lovers quarrel. The music is in the best tradition of Paisiello and Cimarosa.
Thus did the very real Gli orazi ed i curiazi of Cimarosa become the fictitious Ettore in Trabizonda of maestro Campanone in La prova d’un’opera seria. With Gnecco’s score the opera was first produced at the Teatro della Scala, Milan, on 16 August 1805, and the very best singers did indeed sing it for some fifty years thereafter. The role of the soprano Corilla was a favourite of Giuditta Pasta, Maria Malibran, Giulia Grisi and Pauline Viardot, while Giovanni Rubini sang the tenor role, and Antonio Tamburini and Luigi Lablache revelled in the comic antics of Campanone. Paris saw the work as early as 1806, and at the Théâtre du Palais-Royal in June 1835 enjoyed a native adaptation as a one-act opera buffa with new music by Auguste Pilati (1810-80).
So why did Giuseppe Mazza provide a new Italian setting of what was still very much a repertory work? As it happens, he described the circumstances in a letter written from Trieste on 31 July 1850 and published in L’Italia Musicale of 3 August 1850. He was, he stated, commissioned merely to modernise Gnecco’s score for Fiume in the spring of 1845, replacing what was deemed to be too far from current taste and re-orchestrating what remained. However, negotiations with the Ricordi publishing house on the rights to the old music became protracted, and for a production at Treviso in the spring of 1847 he created a score that was his own “from first to last note”. It was published that year – with the book curiously (and incorrectly?) credited to Gaetano Rossi (1774-1855).
Productions of Mazza’s version followed in Trieste, Gorizia, Vicenza, Verona and Turin during the 1847-48 Carnival season, and by 1850 it was being performed widely around Italy. It had also seen outside Italy – and most particularly in Spain. Barcelona first saw it at the Teatro Principal in 1849, and in 1851 the Italian buffo Agostino Rovere (1803-65) starred in productions at both the Teatro del Liceo in Barcelona and the Teatro Real in Madrid.
To follow the story from there we need to look at the activities in Spain of the Italian opera company of the Milanese opera impresario Giovanni Battista di Franco, alias Juan Bautista Di-Franco. As early as 1843 his eldest daughter Corinna (c1820-1904) was receiving rave notices in Otto Nicolai’s Il Templario in Granada. By 1846 she was performing Bellini’s Norma in Santander with her younger sister Clarice (1833?-19??) as Adalgisa and their baritone brother Achille (Aquiles) as Oroveso. Later the family representation in the company was strengthened further by the addition of Corinna’s tenor husband Manuel Soler (18??-1909) and a much younger sister, Carolina (1837-72).
At least as early as January 1851 the company performed Mazza’s La prova d’un’opera seria in Gerona with Corinna Di-Franco as the prima donna, Soler as the tenor and Aquiles Di-Franco as Campanone. After a season at the Teatro Principal (Teatro de la Santa Cruz) in Barcelona, Mazza’s opera again featured alongside the likes of Bellini’s Norma and I puritani, Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor and Linda di Chamounix and Verdi’s I due Foscari during seasons in Reus and Tarragona in 1851-52. By that time Aquiles Di-Franco had taken over from his father as director of the company, and by the 1853-54 season in Barcelona the company was readily embracing the new generation of zarzuelas with productions of Barbieri’s Jugar con fuego, Arrieta’s El dominó azul and El grumete and Gaztambide’s El valle de Andorra. Thereafter the siblings went their various ways, with Corinna and husband Manuel Soler soon becoming parents of Almerinda Soler Di-Franco (c1856-1930), creator of the title roles of Chapí’s La bruja and El rey que rabió. Clarice and Carolina were recruited by Gaztambide for the Teatro del Circo in Madrid, where both created roles in Barbieri’s Los diamantes de la corona. They enjoyed brief but noteworthy careers in zarzuela, with Carolina marrying librettist Luis de Olona (1823-63) in whose creations with Barbieri (Mis dos mujeres) and Gaztambide (Catalina) she starred.
As for Aquiles, it was he who was responsible for the conversion of Mazza’s opera into a zarzuela. Thoroughly transformed from Italian opera singer to zarzuela artist, he evidently hankered after the opportunities that La prova d’un’opera seria had offered him. His travels as buffo baritone and impresario took in due course to Granada, where in September 1856 he launched a zarzuela adaptation under the title of Percances teatrales (‘Theatrical Mishaps’). Brother-in-law Manuel Soler had the tenor lead, with Ángela Moreno as the prima donna. The Gaceta Musical de Madrid correspondent professed not to know the identity of the author of the Castilian text but declared it “certainly bad”.
Be that as it may, the adaptation subsequently toured the Spanish provinces with Elisa Villó in the soprano role. Queen Isabella II evidently saw it when she was in Alicante in May 1858. By then, as Emilio Casares Rodicio tells us in the Diccionario de la Zarzuela, Aquiles Di-Franco was contracted to the company of the Teatro de la Zarzuela. That same month the Madrid press announced a forthcoming performance of Percances teatrales for Di-Franco’s benefit, though in the event it didn’t materialise. Instead Di-Franco seems to have occupied himself with a revision of the piece, which was to emerge under the title of Campanone.
To what extent the libretto was rewritten is unclear. Perhaps new dialogue was written around the existing lyrics. This is suggested by manuscript scores of the period in the SGAE archives that bear the partially crossed-out title Percances teatrales, o el maestro Campanone. At all events, the libretto of Campanone was published in Madrid, complete with the theatrical censor’s approval of 29 September 1858. Though authorship of Percances teatrales may have been anonymous, that of Campanone was certainly not. The title page reads, “Campanone, Zarzuela en tres actos, arreglo libre de la opera italiana La prova d’un opera seria, del maestro Giuseppe Mazza, por los Sres. Frontaura, Rivera y Di-Franco”.
The “free adaptation” of the Spanish book amounted essentially to framing the set numbers of Mazza’s through-composed score with newly written dialogue. The action is effectively unchanged from the 1805 opera, with the scene in the country becoming the zarzuela’s second act and the opera’s second act the zarzuela’s third. The names of some characters were changed, the tenor for instance becoming Alberto instead of Federico. However, those of Campanone and the two leading ladies were retained, albeit with the Italian “Corilla” becoming the Spanish “Corila”. The authors of the Spanish book, given credit alongside Di-Franco, were Carlos Frontaura y Vázquez (1834-1910) and Luis Rivera (1826-72), variously librettists of zarzuelas by Barbieri, Cepeda, Gaztambide, Inzenga and Oudrid, as well as Spanish adaptations of Auber’s La circassienne, Adam’s Giralda, Donizetti’s L’elisir d’amore and Offenbach’s La vie parisienne. However, they do not generally seem to have collaborated with each other. Might one of them have produced the 1856 Percances teatrales and the other the 1858 Campanone revision?
Despite publication in Madrid, the Campanone adaptation was premièred not there but at the Teatro de la Princesa in Valencia on 8 October 1858 – just nine days after the Madrid censor’s approval. The 1858 libretto lists the Valencia cast, headed by Di-Franco, sopranos Ángela Moreno (1824-??) and Teresa Santafé and tenor Francisco Cortabitarte (1828-c1882). Only after further performances in, for example, Zaragoza in 1859 (with Di-Franco, soprano Elisa Villó and tenor Juan Salces) and back in Valencia in 1860 (with soprano María Albini) was the work seen in Madrid – at the Teatro del Circo on 27 September 1860 with Di-Franco and Luisa Santamaría (1827-83) in the leading roles. An 1860 second edition of the libretto, to be found in the SGAE archives, lists the Teatro del Circo cast.
In succeeding years the zarzuela was sufficiently successful that it even achieved the distinction of a theatrical sequel, Después del Campanone, with music by Luis Salarich, in 1868. Productions of Campanone itself continued not only through the nineteenth century but into the twentieth. The Spanish press records performances in 1904 with the soprano Carlota Millanes (1865-1924) at the Teatro de Buen Retiro in Madrid in July and in Havana, Cuba later in the year. It was doubtless the first of these productions that most immediately inspired the adaptation as El maestro Campanone for the Teatro Cómico the following year, featuring Antonia Arrieta, Juanita Manso, Juan Robles and Felipe Agulló. That it was then just 100 years after the first performances of Gnecco’s La prova d’un’opera seria was presumably pure coincidence.
Under its new title of El maestro Campanone the work’s subject became more explicit. It may be noted, though, that the SGAE’s manuscripts suggest that this was already the alternative title of the 1850s zarzuela adaptation as Percances teatrales. For the 1905 arrangement Vicente Lleó would have provided new performing material with reduced orchestration. He would also have adapted the original tenor role as a trouser role for Juanita Manso, whilst retaining the explicit option in the performing material for theatres to use a tenor alternative. The major aspect of the adaptation was of course to reduce the original three short acts to one act and two scenes, omitting the scene in the country and various episodes of the final scene. As a result it conformed to the género chico format of the time, though precedents for such a reduction already existed – for example in the adaptation of Gnecco’s score for Luigi Lablache at the King’s Theatre in the Haymarket, London, in 1831 and the French-language adaptation for Paris in 1835.
Whatever changes were made in 1905, the work remained explicitly that of composer Giuseppe Mazza and original adapters Di-Franco, Frontaura and Rivera. The Argenta recording can readily be followed with the 1858 libretto, the five musical numbers of the first act of Di-Franco’s adaptation being presented intact, as well as, with cuts, most of its final act. Only in the penultimate number, where Campanone rehearses the orchestra before it embarks on an orchestral sinfonía, does the recording positively diverge from the 1858 libretto. That orchestral passage is not in the original scores, and one must assume it is an original creation of Lleó.
Meanwhile on Italian stages La prova d’un’opera seria had fallen out of the regular repertory in both Gnecco’s and Mazza’s settings. When it has subsequently been revived as an operatic rarity it has been in Gnecco’s setting, though the CD issue of a revival with Leyla Gencer at the Teatro La Fenice in Venice in 1983 shows it to have been more the 1803 Prima prova than the 1805 work that was so popular in the first half of the nineteenth century. Mazza’s operatic setting has disappeared completely from Italian stages, and only through its zarzuela adaptation is Mazza’s music seemingly heard at all.
It is undoubtedly through its 1905 adaptation that the zarzuela achieved renewed vitality, remaining familiar to this day through not only Argenta’s LP recording but also 78 rpm recordings by the likes of Mercedes Capsir, Marcos Redondo, Emilio Sagi Barba and Luisa Vela. Yet it remains perceptibly the work of Mazza and his 1850s Spanish adapters. El Imparcial reported of the 1905 adaptation’s first night that its authors “modestly maintained their anonymity”. There is no mention of Lleó in the 1905 libretto, and subsequent press references to El maestro Campanone routinely credit the score just to Mazza. That Lleó’s name is nowadays so closely linked to the work would surely have astonished him. He deserves his due, of course, but the extent of his latter-day association with it seems to be another of those Percances teatrales and a relatively recent phenomenon resulting from a musicological desire to classify works under Spanish composers and an ignorance of the full circumstances. Lleó’s involvement was indeed just one step in a long history. Under whichever title, Percances teatrales, Campanone or El maestro Campanone is a zarzuela not of 1905 but of the 1850s, but with an Italian score dating from the 1840s and a development that altogether stretches back for over 200 years.
© Andrew Lamb 2010
¹ The Gnecco and Mazza operas are also commonly found referred to as either La prova di un’opera seria or (as in two quotations here) La prova d’un opera seria (without the second apostrophe).
Warmest thanks to Ignacio Jassa Haro and Enrique Mejías for their help with Spanish sources.
The 1850 volume of L’Italia Musicale can be found on line in Google Books, as can the libretti of the 1830s London reduction of Gnecco’s opera (with English-language translation), the 1835 French-language adaptation, the 1851 Teatro del Liceo production of Mazza’s La prova d’un’opera seria and the 1858 Campanone. Spanish newspapers can be searched on line here.