Academy of Music
Manager / Director:
1 March 2019
The old operas and soloists in Maretzek’s theater are not paying off so far. Maretzek is therefore in a rush to stage new operas. Don Buccefalo by Cagnani may be the first one.
“…‘Don Bucefalo,’ which has many elements of popularity in the gaiety of its music, its amusing scenes and its effective tableaux.”
“After having brought out a goodly variety of the standard old favorites this season, last night Mr. Maretzek favored us with a new opera, which is of just the right quality to be relished in these days when Ristori and Janauschek have given us a surfeit of tragedy. ‘Don Bucefalo,’ the work produced last evening, belongs to the same class of comic operas as ‘The Carnival of Venice,’ which was so much enjoyed last season. Its plot is slight, and its construction not remarkably skilful [sic], but there is enough of the burlesque to sustain the interest in the performance throughout. Fortunately almost all of the acting falls to the title character, which, in the hands of Ronconi, becomes full of admirably sustained humor. As the impressario [sic] in search of new and fresh voices for the opera, his adventures are amusing in the extreme. No artist now on the stage is able more entirely to throw himself into the character he assumes than Ronconi, and in each of the many parts he has taken here he has developed new phases of his humor, which is so easy and natural as to seem altogether impromptu. We presume, in fact, that the composer would hardly recognize his Don Bucefalo, as enriched by the finishing touches given it by our great buffo, who always makes us smile even while ‘the judicious grieve’ at occasional decents below traditional proprieties.
While Ronconi was the main and central figure of the opera, the support given was good. Signora Peralta never acts, but she discharged the small requirements of the part of Rosa with success, while the vocal work assigned her was, much of it, of that florid style which seems altogether easy for her, and she had a good deal of it to do. Signor Baragli at first appeared to some disadvantage as the Count, the fact being that the melody assigned him was of that unfinished and indeterminate description which would confuse any singer. In the second and third acts he sang with unusual fervor, clearness of tone, and effectiveness.
Madame Testa and Signor Orlandini took their parts creditably. The septets and choruses at the close of the acts were particularly good in their way—full of joy and animation, and given with much vigor and heartiness. The most comical scene of the opera was the triumphal march of the choristers in the last act, in which the serious earnestness of the master of ceremonies, Ronconi, was an irresistible provocation to laughter.
The music of ‘Don Bucefalo’ is well adapted to the design of the composition. It is a succession of light musical conceits and oddities, prettily strung together, and by no means devoid of sweet and tender melody. It should be as popular as ‘The Carnival’ was last season.”
The opera was a big success, partly due to its light, melodious and pleasant music, and also because of Ronconi’s extremely comical performance in the leading role.
“The production, for the first time in this country, of CAGNONI’S opera buffa, ‘Don Bucefalo,’ imparted more than ordinary interest to the fourteenth subscription night of the present series. All the habitual frequenters of the opera were present, and the Academy was otherwise filled with a distinguished and handsome audience. The performance was a remarkably good one, although the work performed cannot be classed as an entirely inspiring labor. The motive of ‘Don Bucefalo’ appears to be the ridicule of the vanity of amateur singers, and the prominent members of the score are devoted to a burlesque of voices and instruments. As all CAGNONI’S predecessors have striven to show how much pleasure might be derived from a harmonious arrangement of sounds, that composer’s ambition would seem to have been to exhibit how much downright fun was to be extracted from a confusion of musical notes. The result is lyrical farce, in which melody is the text and theme of all the fun. The best effect which might have been produced by a clever working out of this idea, is lost for want of a contrast personage, in the story and among the characters. Don Bucefalo, who is represented as a composer and agent among a village full of vain peasants, is himself nothing else than an amateur, and in scenes where the pictured distraction of a nice ear at the vile village chorus might have afforded most amusement, his own extravagant ways rather pall, by over-feeding, the humor of the situation. So much for the main idea; the love story which is worked out in addition is feeble and scarcely interesting. However, such as it is, here it is: The best voice that Don Bucefalo finds among the villagers, to whom the audience is introduced, belongs to Rosa, the belle of the place, who, supposing herself a soldier’s widow, entertains a flirtation with a couple of lovers—Count Belprato, handsome and rich, and Don Marco, old and gouty. Her husband, however, comes to life at an early stage of the play, and after packing off his rivals, proceeds to suppress the musical mania which has possessed his wife and all the village, to the ruin of Don Bucefalo’s hopes. This slender tale is illustrated by music quite as fragile; music, in fact, which appears to be altogether secondary to the situation. The composer does not seem, indeed, to have been able to master the humor suggested by the librettist, and especially in the incident of a mock orchestral rehearsal, in the third act, falls below anticipation. The climaxes of the opera are weak also, and the unsatisfactory character of the culminating ensemble appears to have been appreciated by Mr. MARETZEK, for he has introduced, as a finale to the opera, MAURICE STRAKOSCH’S waltz aria, composed for ADELINA PATTI, and which Senora PERALTA, to whom it falls, expressed and assisted with such a wealth of ornamentation as to bring down the curtain upon the only genuine outburst of applause heard during the performance. The leading airs sound more like melodious recitatives than properly constructed melodies, although the ‘Sei Rosa Felice’ and ‘Oh! Se Potessi,’ with which Rosa is introduced, sang with less than her usual interest by Senora PERALTA, are certainly almost brilliant. The Count’s love song, ‘Come questo core,’ begins almost dirge-like, yet it warms into something resembling an expression of sentiment, and is supplied with the requisite number of andantino sighs. His duet with Rosa in the last act, ‘Il mio duol,’ however, is admirably tender and lover-like. Both were delivered by Sig. BARAGLI as he has rarely delivered anything. A more piquant and sprightly Agatha than Mme. TESTA could not be wished, nor more pointed singing be desired than the single solo vouchsafed to her part, ‘Il mio destino.’ Agatha is but a side character in the story,--one of the ambitious village girls; but as Mme. TESTA represents it, the opera could illy spare her. The small part of Don Marco is given with a true artist’s judgment by Sig. ORLANDINI; and in the amusing piece of ‘rehearsed’ vocalism, that superb singer narrowly escaped an encore. All the work of the opera, however, centres in Don Bucefalo, and of course Sig. RONCONI disappointed no one as far as his personal efforts were concerned. RONCONI is a veritable operatic Proteus. Every character (we were almost going to say, too, every music) seems to suit him. He was as bustling and full of vigorous life in the part of the conceited musician as we have already known him. RONCONI, indeed, has rarely been heard or seen in anything with such entirely humorous effect as the finale of act first, where each ambitious singer tries the capacity of his and her voice to the maestro’s despair, in the brief scene of the composer while his ‘muse’ is upon him, in the second act; in the entirely comical band rehearsal of the closing scene, he is also excessively entertaining. Sig. TESTA, in the insignificant duty of the missing husband, instead of sinking to the level of his part, like a true artist, lifted it to his own. The opera depends greatly upon a good chorus, and it is grateful to have to say that the manner in which the whole of the choral music was sung at the Academy was a credit to the singers and to their manager. The orchestra, too, has happily directed by Mr. CARL BERGMAN, and was faultless—even in its imitations of discord—from beginning to end. The entire performance indeed passed off well, and what fault there is to be found with ‘Don Bucefalo’ is certainly not to be laid at the door of anybody engaged in its representation, if we except Senora PERALTA, who was undoubtedly too cold and reserved in a part that demands the greatest vivacity. There was a recall at the end of the first act, the only act which possessed a culmination calculated to arouse an audience sufficiently to bestow such an honor.”
“Most of our readers are familiar with Le Maître de la Chapelle, Paer’s delightful opera. The first act was performed on our stage last year. The subject of Cagnoni’s opera [Don Bucefalo], played Friday evening at the Academy, is very similar to Paer’s work. It’s about a composer who wants to raise himself up at the temple of glory, who searches for prima donnas, and to whom more or less bizarre adventures occur. It’s useless to analyze this trifle, into which the lyricist didn’t know how to put either real inspiration or a pleasing predicament. Italian librettists aren’t stingy with these flat canvases, to which the skill of the musician and the singers can only lend some liveliness. There is a saber in this naïve sketch; a sword that a soldier brandishes at every turn, toward and against everyone. Alas! This saber has nothing in common with the Sabre de mon Père. It glitters falsely and absolutely lacks mirth.
Cagnoni tried to re-animate this dullness with the sounds of his music. He succeeded sometimes, notably in the third act. Nevertheless, [there was] very little invention and originality, more formula than inspiration, and a debatable and uncertain knowledge of orchestration.
The joy of the evening was Ronconi, very pleasing from one end of the piece to the other. Mmes Peralta and Natali-Testa were charming. Mme Fleury didn’t count. M. Orlandini displayed a good voice, and M. Testa appeared fastened to the famous saber, which he wielded nevertheless with ability, gracefulness and elegance.
In brief, it was an indifferent success. Last year, Cagnoni’s opera, such as it is, was performed a lot in Paris: there’s no reason why it wouldn’t be here. But it won’t have the vogue of Crispino e la Comare.”
(…) “This opera is the work of a beginner in which the flaws exceed the merits. The plot is quite funny, the music, however, is mostly poor. It lacks the sparkling, melodic originality, the spirit that makes Offenbach’s music attractive and entertaining despite its flatness. The opera will have difficulty staying in the repertory, although the performers, namely Ronconi and Peralta, were excellent.”
“Nothing particular new has been brought out at the Italian Opera yet, except an Opera Buffa, by a young composer named Cagnoni, called Don Bucefalo. It promises to become a decided favorite. But the standard favorites have been superbly rendered, and some new artists are winning their way to a high place in public favor. The excellent impression made by Signora Peralta, as she appeared just at the close of last season, has been well sustained.”