MENDELSSOHN'S CAMACHO'S WEDDING
Radio New Zealand Concert network
Sunday 23rd of September 2007 at 3 pm
This one had me stumped. My usual sources failed me. Nothing in the Metropera archives; no libretto at Karadar; Denis Forman ignores it because it did not have three recordings; I was simply going to tell you all to listen carefully to what the announcer says on the day.
Fortunately John Ward of the Gramophone Room radio station has a copy of this recording, and Daphne Kyne (artistic advisor and archivist of The Gramophone Room) has provided a synopsis for us. To this I have prefixed the information provided by the RNZConcert website.
My own contribution is to say that I now realize that the story for this opera comes from the great picaresque novel Don Quichote, by Cervantes (Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, 1547-1616), Part 2, 19-22. A little further on, chapters 25-27, is the tale of Master Peter's puppet show, which Manuel de Falla used for a miniature opera in 1923, and I have had a recording of it for forty years. I bought a copy of the novel for $5 a few years ago, and I keep it handy in case an occasion should arise for me to dip it into it. I have just grasped this opportunity of reading those designated chapters (and the intervening ones about his descent into a cave). Master Peter's puppets are slaughtered by the crazy misapprehending knight, and he has to make reparation. In the case of Camacho's wedding, our hero takes the side of the underdog, Basil(io), the poor boy who lived next-door to the bride Quiteria; they were childhood sweethearts, but her father arranged a marriage with rich Camacho. This Romeo manages a fake-death ruse that succeeds. I can hear the whistling of Pedro the Fisherman in the background, too.
I have been fascinated by the book since childhood, when I played with cutout figures of the characters off the sides of boxes containing Crispies (over)toasted wheat flakes. As we were devoted devourers of Weetbix, I had difficulty persuading our parents to buy the rival product. Luckily I found a few unused cartons outside alocal Balmain warehouse, to boost my collection. I cannot describe the feelings of excitement and achievement these memories evoke. In those days, after World War 2, Sanitarium was offering cards to put in an album, to make an encyclopedia of New Zealand. How could they possibly think that Australians were going to get excited about this neighbouring but remote land of the long white cloud? Well, I fell for it, and here I am, happily marooned on one of its islands, like Ben Gunn or Robinson Crusoe. I must say, though, that the perennial cloud is mostly grey and very leaky. At the heart of the name Aotearoa is a tear (in the skies) or a tear (in the eyes), amid interjections of discomfort. (Work that one out, with no assistance from English unphonetic spelling.)
Including Man of La Mancha, there are about 40 operas on the knight of the doleful countenance. At the top of the list of composers we must put Massenet, but also mention Paisiello, Salieri, Mercadante, and Donizetti; and not forgetting Richard Strauss's marvellous tone poem, with windmills and sheep on the sonic landscape.
In the Mendelssohn opera (lasting less than two hours, I notice) the title does not match with Mozart's Marriage of Figaro (where the hero is safely wed to his betrothed Susanna), but rather with Gilbert and Sullivan's Patience, subtitled Bunthorne's Bride, in which everyone but Bunthorne finds a partner in the end.
FELIX MENDELSSOHN-BARTHOLDY (1809-1847)
The Wedding of Camacho, an opera in two acts
Quiteria......................... Rosmarie Hofman
Lucinda......................... Andrea Ulbrich
Basilio........................... Scot Weir
Vivaldo......................... Huw Rhys-Evans
Camacho...................... Nico van der Meel
Carrasco....................... Waldemar Wild
Sancho Panza................ Urban Malberg
Don Quixote................. Ulrik Cold
Aachen Youth Chorus, Modus Novus Chorus, Anima Eterna/Jos van Immerseel
(Channel Classics CCS 5593)
Introduction, from RNZC website
Mendelssohn is often regarded as the greatest musical child prodigy after Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. It is believed he made his first public concert appearance at the age of nine and wrote 12 string symphonies between the ages of 12 and 14.
At the age of 16 he wrote his String Octet in E Flat, the first work which showed the full power of his genius. 1827 saw the premiere of his opera The Wedding of Camacho, based on an episode in Don Quixote.
The conductor of today’s performance of The Wedding of Camacho, Jos van Immerseel, says the letter Mendelssohn sent to his librettist in January 1824 bears witness to his precocious knowledge of the principles of writing for the theatre.
“One can hardly believe the author of this letter was only 15 years old. If we are sceptical at first, then we are dumbfounded when we look at the score. The neglect with which this work has been treated and its resulting unfamiliarity are typical mistakes of the kind sometimes made by history: Camacho may well be the most brilliant opera ever written by a youthful composer.
“It is an opera to see with your eyes closed,” Immerseel says.
Notes by Daphne Kyne
Mendelssohn-Bartholdy Felix Jakob Ludwig Die Hochzeit des Camacho (Camacho’s Wedding)
Libretto (possibly) Friedrich Voigt after an episode in Don Quixote by Cervantes. First Performed in Berlin in 1827
Completed in a few weeks after his octet, Mendelssohn thoroughly revised the original score, and even made alterations after the first performance. He was only 16 years old and appears to have been persuaded to make these alterations, which he later regretted. The harmonic and melodic language seems to indicate, the composer was trying to find a style closer to Weber and Spohr - there are long sections of uninterrupted music, building up to multi-partite scenes. The score also contains significant use of motifs, and resourceful ensemble and chorus writing. The instrumentation shows Mendelssohn at his best, but the opera lacks dramatic momentum.
Quiteria and Basilio are in love but her father wants her to marry the rich Camacho.
He announces a lavish wedding inviting Don Quixote and Sancho Panza who are
searching for a haunted cave. Basilio is terrified by Don Quixote, and later causes
general confusion by disguising himself as a ghost.
Don Quixote interrupts the wedding, Basilio arrives just as Quiteria is signing the
marriage contract. He pretends to stab himself and is allowed to marry Quiteria
so he can die happily, but miraculously returns to full health !