Opera in one act. Running Time: 48 minutes (plus 20 minute appendix)
This is a brief review I worked on back in January 2021. I was not sure when to release it so I decided to set it out now.
Opera Rara has recently released a recording of the original version of the first Puccini opera. It is basically the same as the full two act version but with two major cuts, the aria for Anna in act one, and the gran scena and aria for Roberto in act two.
LOOK OUT FOR:
0: The prelude ** is the same starting out with the passive woodland tune, turning somewhat religious and then more happy woodland before turning again to the supernatural.
2: Evviva! Evviva! The bouncy viva chorus opening *. For an Italian opera opener it is still a rather interesting mix of both sides of the Alps.
10: Tu dell infanzia mia There is no aria for Anna in this version (a number which I personally consider the weakest in the opera, so no harm done from my perspective) and we are immediately into the first (and only) love duet *.
16: Angiol di Dio The climax of the first section of the opera is the Preghiera **. Roberto says good-bye, climatic symphony.
22: Abandonment The first part of the symphonic interlude ** in which Roberto betrays Anna with a siren from Mainz, she dies, becomes a blood-thirsty Vila etc. There is curiously no narrator here (which is fine).
27: La tregenda Distinctive, and the first sign that we have a master orchestrator in control ***. Again, a mixture of Italian and German influences, but ultimately able to carry the overall message of terror as the opera transitions.
34: Anima santa della figlia mia Guglielmo gets his rather good bass/baritone aria ** (Puccini never actually indicates which vocal range the role actually is).
41: Tu dell infanzia mia Anna, who is supposed to be a vengeful supernatural being now, gives us a painfully girlish rendering of her life story *. Roberto eventually comes in (with only three minutes left to the opera and little from the Willis up to now). The play-out is mostly completely different, half as long, and somewhat anti-climatic. If you know the extended version, there is little of it here apart from one orchestral climax, Roberto suddenly crying for mercy out of what seems like nowhere, Anna denying it, the cries of Hosanna from the Willis, and the addition of Guglielmo declaring that justice has been done as the final battery chords ring out. How the girls were able to do their dance of death to this is impossible to guess.
0: Se come voi piccina io fossi The okay aria from Anna * which is really the only additional music for her and somehow manages to make her more of a living creature.
10: Torna ai felici di Always the best number in the entire opera *** from Roberto, and the only one invoking adult emotions like terror/remorse/loss.
The problem with Le Willis (or Le Villi for that matter) is that it is a situation, not a plot, and in Le Willis the various components feel even less connected to each other than in the later two-act revision. It is a first-timer opera, and no one has ever claimed it was any better than that. The denouement is all but non-existent. This recording is performed very well, but feels more like highlights from Le Villi than a cohesive operatic whole. Granted, was Willis/Villi ever supposed to be a cohesive whole to begin with? The soprano on this recording, Ermonela Jaho, is probably the best I have ever heard in this role, while the tenor is rather annoyingly baritonal (this is Arsen Soghomonyan, who until 2017 was a baritone). I rather reject this bit of casting because non-tenorial males experience extensively more vocal fold development than actual tenors. Just because you can hit a high A doesn’t mean you should. At the same time, the soprano is condemned to even less character development than in the longer version. Ironically, the Guglielmo of Brian Mulligan is more interesting and has around ten minutes of music! Overall, this is really a bizarre gamma with a handful of truly alpha-level passages, albeit half of them instrumental and non-vocal. Tune in for the parts that get more than one star and ignore the rest, or better yet, go for the two-act version.
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