Hidden treasures - Franz von Suppé - Boccaccio (1879) - "Florenz hat schöne Frauen"




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Published on Jan 10, 2010

Painting: "A view of Florence" by Thomas Cole.

History (based on materials from http://allmusic.com/): Early in 1878, Friedrich Zell and Richard Genee approached Franz von Suppe with a book based, very loosely, on the Florentine author Giovanni Boccaccio. Suppe, already wealthy from the success of Fatinitza, composed the score in just a few weeks. The first performance of the new operetta took place on the 1st of February, 1879, at the Carltheater in Vienna. The operetta's success was both immediate and long-lasting; it was staged throughout Europe and the United States within a few years.

Narrative: No doubt the title of "Boccaccio" piqued the interest of many, and it is almost certain many of these people were disappointed, as the operetta has little to do with the author's life, and only a few isolated moments are drawn from his writings: in early Renaissance Florence, the erotic novellas of the poet Boccaccio cause a stir, and the locals are divided into the female fans of his scandalous tales and their jealous husbands. A plot is hatched by the husbands to chase Boccaccio (soprano/tenor/baritone/mezzo-soprano - all these voices have sung the part at one time or another) from the city and have him locked up. But Boccaccio has other plans, including one to win the hand of the Duke's daughter, Fiametta (soprano), which he finally succeeds in doing after finding favor with the Duke. The plot unusually uses several scenes of "Day Seven" from Boccaccio's "Decameron": the duel between Boccaccio and Leonetto (section six), the magic olive tree scene (section nine), the finale of the second act (section two).

Music: Among the many fine things "Boccaccio" holds, the third act duet between the title-hero and his beloved, Fiametta, is certainly one of the most charming encounters between two lovers that I had ever heard. Before we pass onto to a short evaluation of the music itself, one should note that in the presented recording except the soprano role of the title hero (to be precise, the role was written for a tenor and premiered by a soprano) is transposed for baritone. Though this was not how the author intended the piece to be heard, I find a strong male voice (especially a fine one as Prey undoubtedly is) to be quite congenial to the duet. Structurally, the piece seems straightforward, contrasting two almost identical couplets, set to a different text. Each couplet is, however, further divided into two clearly differentiated parts. We (or, rather, the soloists) begin with an extended exposition, set at first to a wonderfully witty running string bass line before overflowing midway into a highly romantic cantabile. Each character enjoys, moreover, a full, practically uninterrupted entrance (save for a few lines for Boccaccio during the soprano's entrance). The music may seem rather unsubstantial at first, Suppe, however, skillfully elaborates the accompaniment with numerous orchestral phrases that ideally complement the vocal line: thus, Boccaccio's initial statement incorporates brief wind phrases (0:17), longing horns (0:25), the gentle flute (0:44) all of which help underline the scenes sentimental nature in a most charming way. Fiametta's arioso is slightly more subdued with the robust sound of the horns giving way to a perfectly understated combination of harp and flute. After this long opening, we pass onto the duet proper, heralded by the appearance of broad strings which now carry the instantly appealing melody, further stated by Fiametta, while Boccaccio, beginning in sighs of enchantment which replicate the bass line, adds his voice at the ends of each phrase. This section is resolved by a most humorous "tra-la-la-le-ra" exchange between the lovers which brings the ideas of both parts into a lovely coda. The next couplet, this time sung in Italian, as Fiametta asks Boccaccio to do, continues all the notions that have already appeared in the beginning, though this time the first section turns into a full musical dialogue with the lovers reinforcing their union. All in all, a most sincere love duet of rare freshness and lacking completely in any kind of artifice.

Recording: The 1974 EMI recording is an ideal performance of perfect German charm and clarity, with Willi Boskovsky bringing a featherlight touch to the orchestration, brought alive by the members of the Muenchner Rundfunkorchester. Hermann Prey and Anneliese Rothernberger, leading an enchanting cast, seem congenial to the duet, delighting the listener with a most beautiful reading of the duet.

Hope you'll enjoy :).

  • Category

  • Song

    • Boccaccio (Melodienfolge): Florenz hat schöne Frauen (Prey, Rothenberger)
  • Artist

    • Hermann Prey/Heinz Hoppe/Hans Günther Grimm /Anneliese Rothenberger/Chor des Theaters am Gärtnerplatz, München/Cornelius Eberhardt/Symphonie-Orchester Graunke/Carl Michalski
  • Album

    • Icon: Hermann Prey
  • Licensed to YouTube by

    • WMG (on behalf of EMI Classics)


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