Now, I am not a betting man, but I would be glad to wager fifty to one that few if any of you know what Stiffelio is. Am I right? If you do know, then you are an opera aficionado, perhaps an Italian by birth or have a voice scholarship to Julliard or the San Francisco School of Music.
Yes, Stiffelio is a three-act opera by Giuseppe Verdi from an Italian libretto by Francesco Paive. The same Verdi who is more familiar for La Traviata, Rigoletto, Il Trovatore, Nabucco, Aida, Ernani, Macbeth and…then there’s Luisa Miller, which apparently bombed in Naples and set the stage for composing this little known, infrequently produced non-masterpiece Stiffelio. The piece was a step away from the usual opera of the day…a story about a protestant minister with an adulterous wife, and Verdi faced opposition from censors and the general public. The main character, Stiffelio, was eventually listed as a sectarian” and not as a minister, and the final scene which Verdi originally wanted to be in a church with the main character forgiving his wife using words from the New Testament, was eliminated! From the outset, the text was diluted to appease the authorities and several of the musical arias and recitatives were deleted. Over the next 150 years the opera has been changed and often produced as a concert version as was done by the Chelsea Opera Group as recently as June 2014.
This afternoon driving from the Hospital to the beach where I am sitting and writing, I heard snippets from the opera Stiffelio on the radio and was very impressed and moved by what I heard. While I know from experience that beautiful music alone does not guarantee a beautiful production, it has stimulated me to listen to the whole recording and maybe when I see an advertisement for its production locally I will make the effort to attend. Unfortunately, the last time I went to an opera because I loved one of its musical offerings was the production disaster by Massenet called Thais, so well-known for the mellifluous intermezzo meditation. All too often the combination of music and libretto do not successfully meld into a unified whole, as I discovered with Leonard Bernstein’s musical, Candide, with fantastic musical and operatic performances but a failure on Broadway because of a weak libretto. (Voltaire was turning over in his grave!) But I guess all operas can’t “glitter and be gay”!
Oh well, with all their musical genius, Verdi and Bernstein can be excused for a few failed mediocre eccentricities. In the words of Archie Bunker, to his wife Edith: “Stiffelio should have been stifled!”