Edouard Lalo: Fiesque (1868/2006)

Opera en trois actes. Running Time: 2 hours 10 minutes.

Of all of Lalo’s operas, this one was probably the hardest to come by since, unlike the later La jacquerie and Le roi d’Ys, it languished in obscurity until 2006, 140 after it was written, to be performed. There is a single recording, issued in 2011, of a 2006 broadcast with Roberto Alagna in the title role (probably the main draw to the work). Ironically, the score was actually published in the 19th century, (Lalo had it printed at his own expense in 1872) it just was never performed. It is based on the second published play by Friedrich Schiller, Fiesco, or A Genoese Conspiracy (the one between the two Verdi set as I masnadieri and Luisa Miller). The play is about the Fieschi rebellion and replacement of the Doria family from power in Genoa. A decade later, it is almost impossible to find a copy of the recording in the United States, as neither eBay nor Amazon.com (the American site, the UK site actually offers the mp3 for $13 but it is region restricted and appears to be cut by around 20 minutes) seems to realize it exists. (It is on Merchbar on sale as of writing for $37.99). However, I have my ways (House of Opera offers an MP3 download for $7.92 and CDs for $9.90+shipping, and the sound quality is excellent). Copies of the score, however, are readily available from Petrucci Music Library. The opera consists of 24 numbers, including the overture, although it appears that the performance has cuts, including much of the final scene. Although the entire opera is not available this time, I have included three videos of what I can post from the YouTube.

SETTING: Genoa, 1547. Fiesque (tenor) is plotting a civil war to overthrow the Doria family in Genoa, even though he appears to be engaging in a public affair with Julie Doria (mezzo-soprano) causing his wife Leonore (soprano) to believe that the affair is real and Julie is her husband’s mistress. Meanwhile, Julie’s brother Gianettino (bass) sends his servant Hassan (baritone, according to Schiller, he is a Moor from Tunis) to murder Fiesque, but fails and ends up being hired by the latter to spy on the Doria family, revealing a plot by Julie to have Leonore poisoned. Around a third of the opera takes place at a masked ball given by Fiesque in which all of these characters, and a few others, are introduced. Meanwhile, Fiesque’s old friend Verrina (baritone, and a constantly haunting figure) tests his loyalty to the cause of defeating the Doria with a painting of the death of Virginius (I don’t quite get this reference but go along with it). Fiesque has Julie detained for plotting to murder Leonore, using a fake romantic tryst as bait (a scene introduced by Julie singing a song about being a coquette, but also revealing her genuine love for Fiesque, which proves to be ruse on his part to confuse the Doria). Fiesque is victorious and the Doria are overthrown. Leonore is reunited with her apparently faithful husband, but Verrina, believing that Fiesque is too attached to the trappings of power, murders him, although according to Schiller, that was Verrina’s objective in any case if the revolt proved successful.


ACT 1: (49 minutes)

Scene 1: The House of Fiesque during an evening masked-ball.

0, 11: Amour, Amour, ton souvenir The Overture ** after an initial ta-ti-tum, is remarkably placid, even a little bit solemn in a Beethoven-esque/angsty way and is not expository of all of the musical material in the opera the way things are in Le roi d’Ys. Then, brassy fanfares and a bit more angst, then more placid, even a little holy. Although it can sound a bit labored, and it has none of the climatic explosiveness of Le roi d’Ys, in its own way six rather lovely minutes of music. The opera opens with a happy orchestral introduction and then Leonora comes on rather gloomy (get used to this) with her ladies going on about how she saw her husband with Julie Doria in public and thinks they are carrying on an affair (the chorus tries to dissuade her of such fears). This is starchy and sluggish, but Leonora strikes up an allegretto arioso which improves the situation *. Although she focuses a bit too much on the words “soyez maudit” she does finish well enough even if the chorus remains starchy throughout (some eight minutes).

16: Pas de bruit! An attractive conspiracy duet ** for Gianettino and Hassan as they plot out assassinating Fiesque. The triangle and the more upbeat tempo help the situation immensely even if it is brief.

19: Ou courez vous, princesse? An equally attractive recitative-duet for Julie and Fiesque **. The string ornaments are the main musical feature here.

Scene 2: The stage opens up to a grand hall where the masque continues.

25: Amis Dansons! Fiesque leads a six-part chorus (sopranos and tenors split) in a choral-dance number **. It gets broken up by Leonore, who brings back a lot of depression (Verrina is heard for the first time hear, backed up by the choir basses) as the number turns into a prayer for the deliverance of Genoa by the Almighty. This is followed by a very long recitative between Fiesque and Verrina going on about how seduced by pleasure and materialism Fiesque seems to have become.

35: Que me fait la politique! This gets broken up (thankfully) by a rather jovial party piece ** about politics and wealth by Fiesque (con Coro) while Verrina keeps warning him of bad things to come. Julie briefly gets in on things, then the chorus, and then everyone leaves except Fiesque and Hassan (the latter in the shadows, waiting to strike).

40, 44: Qui cherches-tu?/Seigneur parlez The failed assassination scene which turns into a new employment opportunity for Hassan has some good mickey-mousing from the orchestra *. Fiesque figures out relatively early on that Hassan has been sent to kill him, and that the Doria sent him. Hassan has a stop-go aria ** which forms the central musical element of the scene. A brief but furious bit of racing duetting brings the act to curtain.

ACT 2: (45 minutes)

Scene 1: A marketplace in Genoa, early morning. (15 minutes)

0: The entr’acte ** is well orchestrated and constructed, depicting both the sunrise and the foreboding. It has a duration of around 5 minutes.

5, 10: Comment, diable/Oui, vengeons-nous! Hassan stirs up the Genoese men to revolt *. He is eventually aided by a wrathful Verrina ** and the people (women and men alike) go off to take arms against the Doria (notice that much of this fury ends up in Le roi d’Ys).

Scene 2: A chamber in Fiesque’s palace.

17: Cette nuit quel étrange Fiesque recounts his dream from the previous night: a combination of his wedding day to Leonore (complete with Cathedral bells) followed by his crowning as Doge of Genoa. The musical climax of the score, and probably the best crafted number being the tenor tour-de-force ***. (Although it is obviously in the middle of the act, this was where the first intermission was placed during the first performance of the opera in 2006). Ironically, it is also the mid-way point in the score. The video below includes the end of act two scene one and the aria.

25: J’avais rêvé Leonore comes on apologetically fearing that her husband no longer loves her. She is devastated, but Fiesque tells her not to despair in a lovely duet ***. There is at least on passage cut here, entirely from Fiesque. The three-stars are for the rather glorious ending, the rest is really two-star level because of all of the mournfulness from Leonore.

31: Grace a moi! Grace a moi! Hassan gets a short arioso * in which he reveals the plot by Julie Doria to have Leonore poisoned out of her jealousy for Fiesque.

34, 38: Place ici ce tableau/Il ne dormait pas Verrina arrives with the painting of Virginius to gage Fiesque’s reaction to it to see if he is ready to start the revolt against the Doria. Apparently he passes. Overall ** for the entire scene although there are no specific highlights until Verrina exclaims that the time has come for revolution and we are off into the stretta finale and the final gallop ***!

ACT 3: (38 minutes)

Scene 1: A vault in Fiesque’s palace.

0: The entr’acte ** is another very good composition followed by a recitative for Borgonino (the painter of the Virginius portrait).

3: Amis de Lavagna An a cappella sotto voce chorus of conspirators (followed by a more rousing orchestrally accompanied section once Fiesque arrives ***.

6: Eloignons ces presages Leonore comes on, forlorn as usual, and sings a number ** which will eventually end up as Blanche’s act one aria in La jacquerie.

12: Mon plaisir a moi Julie comes on with a page (who soon disappears) and sings about how much she enjoys being a coquette (this could be grotesque depending on the mezzo singing the number). Also, that she really is in love with Fiesque. Musically, it is attractive *.

17: Ah de ma tendresse A brief, but attractive, duet between Fiesque and Julie ensues (mostly a reprise of their act one material) ** as Leonore hides in the shadows, probably sobbing.

19, 22: Fiesque, pardonne-moi/Fiesque m’est rendu Julie asks Fiesque to forgive her for doubting his love of her in a rather beautiful passage **, just before he reveals that he has never loved her (only Leonore) and that he knows that she (Julie) has plotted to poison his wife. Julie feels betrayed by this and swears revenge, although she is obviously in the wrong here. A lovely trio ensues **. Fiesque orders his soldiers to take Julie into custody and runs off with his wife.

Scene 2: The port of Genoa.

24: Gloire a Fiesque! Fiesque! (The entr’acte, which introduces the battle and choral triumph of Fiesque over the Doria ***, has been cut, along with a recitative for Hassan and an opening chorus, and prologued by the recitative Borginino and Verrina for some reason). This is followed by a very brief section between Leonore and Fiesque (to their love music from act two).

30: Fiesque au nom du passe The finale * mostly consists of yet another conversation between Fiesque and Verrina (and a lot of orchestral jolts) ending in the older man pushing the younger into the sea (where the weight of his Doge’s robes causes him to sink and drown). After some choral cries, Verrina declares “Long live the Fatherland” and the opera ends with a single chord. Curtain.


The good and the bad. The bad first, as aways. The characterizations are nebulous. There are leitmotifs (Leonore, for example, is always forlorn and gloomy (and generally boring as a result), Fiesque is always triumphant, Julie always flighty, Verrina always dark and scary), but apart from some flashes of magic from the orchestra, there aren’t any vibrant melodies to satisfy the listener. What is more, the hero is a weakling playboy political opportunist who gets what he deserves (death) since his motivations are confusing to everyone (himself, his wife (who thinks he is having an affair until the final act), his accomplice co-conspirator who ends up murdering him because of how flakey he is, even the audience is confused by his motives). There are also rather a lot of walk-on characters. Gianettino Doria is seemingly the villain at first and then disappears, forever. End of story.

The good: the orchestration is masterful and the score shows strong tendencies towards through-composition. It is divided into 24 numbers, and there are pauses for applause built in, but there are also quick finishes and the the music can easily flow from one number to the next. The best numbers are Fiesque’s act two aria and duet with Leonore (the best numbers that do not rely on the orchestra and fast tempos to succeed), along with the act stretta and a couple of choral sequences in act three.

I wished the final scene wasn’t cut up so much (I think three numbers were dropped or truncated) so I had a through exposure to the entire score, but, it is doubtful that another recording will come up in the future. The ballet, which is not in the original score but which I think was recorded by CPO a few years ago, is also cut.

A beta.

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