Miller's Minute

2016 Season in Store!
What an exciting season is in store at OperaDelaware! I know that many of my friends from near and far have already made their plans to spend a weekend in Wilmington for our Spring Festival 2016. Pride of place will go to the east coast staged premiere of Franco Faccio's Amleto. Verdi's final masterpiece Falstaff will also be presented, and both will be performed at The Grand (Opera House) by a cast of some of the best singing actors we have ever presented. These two operas have more than Shakespeare in common, and the events leading to their composition is fascinating.

In 1986 when I met sound archivist Ward Marston, he had a 16" Thesaurus transcription disc of American soprano Mary Lewis in his vast collection. The Thesaurus recordings were made in NYC, with a small chamber ensemble composed of members of the NY Philharmonic, and were played on the radio at any time needed. Mary Lewis started out singing in church, became a star Ziegfeld girl, and went on to sing at the Met from 1926-1930. Her roles included Marguerite in Faust, Mimi in La boheme, and Giulietta in The Tales of Hoffmann. During that time, she also recorded for RCA Victor, and her recording of "Dixie" (above) is a true delight. She has always been one of my favorite singers. On this particular 16" disc, the first selection is "Sortita di Ofelia" (below). No other info. Great. No Google at the time, either. As clear as day, we could hear, "Principe Amleto" so we knew it was from an operatic Hamlet, but by whom?
Jump ahead 15 years. Ebay! I won a Mary Lewis concert program from Germany. And there it was, her opening selection: "Principe Amleto" (from Amleto)...Franco Faccio. Mystery solved. Ward and I knew Faccio was a conductor but had no idea he was also a composer. We assumed he had written an opera named Hamlet, and it got lost in the shuffle as he pursed his conducting career.

Jump ahead 13 more years as one day, out of the blue, Brendan Cooke just casually mentions that his friend Tony Barrese was reconstructing a lost opera, Amleto, by Franco Faccio, with a libretto by Arrigo Boito. I almost jumped out of my skin. So it really existed after all. For the first time in almost 30 years, I was able to follow the score as Mary Lewis sings Ofelia's entrance aria.

Since Faccio and Boito were life-long best friends who enjoyed working together, it was only natural that Boito should write the libretto for his friend's musical setting of the Shakespeare play. Both men were in their twenties and just starting their careers. After Amleto premiered was the time Faccio's career went in a different direction. He became, hands down, the greatest Italian conductor of the late 19th century. Verdi entrusted him with the first Italian performance of Aida, and the world premiere of Otello and we must remember that Verdi could have had his pick of any conductor on the planet for these honors. Boito went on to write his own great opera Mefistofele, but is remembered primarily as a librettist, especially his collaborations with Verdi on Otello and Falstaff.

Boito as a young man had worked with Verdi--he supplied him with the text for the Hymn to the Nations. For many reasons, Verdi distrusted him, and Boito, unlike Faccio, was never a part of Verdi's circle of friends. One night at dinner with Verdi and his publisher Ricordi, Faccio brought up the idea of Otello. The year was 1879. Faccio brought Boito to dinner the next evening, and three days after that Boito brought the outline of Otello to Verdi (although Verdi didn't know it, Ricordi, Faccio, and Boito were conspiring to end his "retirement" after Aida 7 years earlier!) Verdi liked the Otello outline, and told Boito to write the verse. We know the rest. By the time Otello was finished in November 1886, Boito was Verdi's well-loved collaborator and friend. Their collaboration on Falstaff produced one of the greatest operas ever written. And a comedy at that--no stabbings, no shootings, no suicides, no deaths of any kind!

It's an honor for OD to present the east coast staged premiere of Amleto. It's an historic event for OD to present two operas with librettos written by a true genius. It's a thrill for OD to present Verdi's final, and perhaps, greatest opera. The bottom line, however, is that bringing opera to LIFE is what this company does, and that is the biggest honor and thrill of all. The spectacle, the costumes, the great singing, the great acting, the phenomenal music, the timeless stories all merge into a live theater experience which, when experienced, continues to not only entertain us, but to also change our lives.

With all best wishes and greetings,

Jeffrey Miller
Music Director