Faccio’s Amleto: Interview with Anthony Barrese

Performed at the Bregenz Festival in July of 2016 more than 150 years after its first performance at the Teatro Carlo Felice in Genova, Franco Faccio’s Amleto was brought to light by the American composer and conductor Anthony Barrese who edited the critical edition. Winner of numerous prizes for his compositions, Anthony Barrese has conducted important productions in America and Europe (Turandot, Ascoli Piceno, 2008 and l’Opéra de Massy, 2009). Today we met with him to talk about Franco Faccio’s Amleto, an opera which, gone from the repertoire after a fiasco during its la Scala reprise in 1871, has returned to the stage, thanks to his critical edition.
Dear Maestro Barrese, you have confirmed that you began working on the critical edition of Faccio’s Amleto in 2003. Can you recount what was the occasion, if it exists, that pushed you to occupy yourself with this score that was almost completely forgotten?
I don’t remember what the exact occasion was, but I remember that I was reading a book about Verdi, and there was a page dedicated to Boito and his first libretto (not his first Shakespearean libretto, but his first libretto ever). It was a Hamlet for his dear friend Franco Faccio. Hamlet is a tragedy that has always fascinated me, and thus I was immediately interested.
Surely you met with many difficulties in tracking down the autograph of the score. Can you tell us how it came into your possession?
At the beginning I wasn’t interested in tracking down the autograph. I only wanted a piano vocal score. I contacted my Milanese conductor friend, Vito lo Re, who went to the Milan Conservatory Library and found some excerpts published by Ricordi over a century ago. He sent me these excerpts and told me that he wasn’t able to find a complete piano vocal score. In fact, there wasn’t an extant printed piano vocal score or a printed full score. Then I contacted my friend Cori Ellison who was working at the New York City Opera, and she put me in touch with Philip Gossett, the principal editor of the Verdi and Rossini critical editions. He introduced me to Gabriele Dotto and Maria Pia Ferraris at Ricordi, and they sent me a microfilm of the autograph. All of this took place over the course of a year.
Once in possession of the autograph, how long did it take you to transcribe the score?
It took me six months to transcribe all the notes and to make a first hand-written sketch of the autograph. After that it took me about four months to put all of that into a computer program. Creating the piano vocal reduction took me six more months to write out, and then engrave into a computer program. Immediately after that I dedicated myself to making corrections of both my errors and Faccio’s.
What problems did you have in transcribing out the critical edition?
The many problems were the fault of the microfilm quality, places where the score seemed rather faded. At times I couldn’t see all five lines of the staff. At the beginning I even had difficulty deciphering the handwriting of text. Fortunately I procured a printed libretto that helped me.
Can you tell us how you were able to get the opera performed and what emotions you felt at the first performance?
I tried for more than ten years to get a company interested in doing this opera, but nobody was interested. Being named Artistic Director of Opera Southwest in Albuquerque in 2010 was the occasion that I needed. There it was our usual practice to present one opera that was known and loved and another opera less well-known. In 2012 we did Rossini’s Otello and had a great success. After that production we decided to do Amleto. The emotions that I felt at the first performance are difficult to describe. I thought of musical and stage work that had occupied us for months… everything seemed a dream. I realized what was happening only after hearing the first orchestral chords on the opening night. An enormous emotion flooded over me and I felt my whole being cry: “This is actually happening… what a miracle!”
After the first production in Albuquerque in 2014, the opera was produced in Wilmington (Delaware), and at the Bregenz Festival with success. In your opinion is the opera reaffirmed in the repertoire and will it be possible to see it again in Italy? Is there a project to that end?
The Bregenz performance was the first time I was able to watch the opera live. In Albuquerque and Wilmington I was in the pit, distracted by many things, unable to completely enjoy the drama. What struck me with the Bregenz performance was the perfect union between music and dramatic text. A big part of the merit should be attributed to the extraordinary libretto of Boito, but, almost from the beginning, it seems evident that Faccio was trying to create something new from a musical point of view. I am convinced of the fact that it is an opera that can enter the repertoire, but we will see what happens now. There are surely attempts to bring it to Italy, but for now I cannot say any more on that.
He who transcribes enters into contact with the musical universe of the composer, insofar as he must pay attention to the score’s details. In your opinion what are its strengths?
The strengths are his ties to the world of Italian Opera and the quality of orchestration. Like I said, Faccio tried to do something new, but at the end he showed himself to be an Italian composer rooted in the tradition of Italian melodrama. He couldn’t not be extremely Italian. He was Italian in the way of instinctively feeling the musical drama. As an orchestra conductor and student of German music he had a very refined sense of the orchestra; this is evident above all in the La Scala version in 1871.
And its weaknesses?
At the beginning of the opera, I think that Faccio tried to flaunt an excess of newness; therefore, the first scene comes off as a little too complicated. He himself realized this and suggested many cuts, big and small. At the first production in Albuquerque we didn’t do any of the big cuts, but after the production, we had to admit that it would’ve been better to have done them. In Delaware we decided to make almost all of the available cuts for the first scene, and the result was a much more concentrated drama.
Was there a true innovation, as the Scapigliati wished for?
First I have to say that there are many differences between the Genova version (1865) and the La Scala version (1871). The Genova version was much more experimental from a dramatic point of view. Faccio eschewed the temptation to write in a truly melodic vein. But after Genova the majority of critics said that the score lacked melody. So when he re-wrote the piece for La Scala he added a much stronger sense of melody. He obtained a more traditional result, that was more suitable to a musical drama. In the score one often sees the use of a declamatory vocal line, above all in the part of Amleto, while writing of more intense lyricism distinguishes Ofelia’s part.
What type of vocalism can be inferred from the score?
As I said before, in the first Genova version the vocalism is more declamatory. But Amleto never sings in a virtuoso style with tons of notes at an incredible speed. His sense of virtuosity is in the force of his melodic line. Faccio created a type of proto-verismo with this role.
From a formal point of view the so-called “usual form,” introduced by Abramo Basevi to describe the structure of 18th century melodrama, seems abolished, but the opera presents a construction of closed numbers whose organization doesn’t follow traditional formulas. Is my interpretation correct?
For the most part the closed numbers follow traditional formulas. But there are notable exceptions. For example the finale of the second act, in the first part is very similar to a normal concertato finale for an Italian opera. It reminds me of the finale for Macbeth, where the baritone sings first, then his wife, and then everybody. But then, after all of the characters have expressed their emotions, Faccio breaks the structure and begins anew; Amleto then accuses the king with a certain passive-aggressiveness and the entire court appears taken aback. Then there is a little conversation between Amleto and his friends, and the finale concludes with Amleto alone on the stage, laughing. The orchestra is given a whirling descending figure that anticipates the ending of Leoncavallo’s Pagliacci. This is just one example among many.
The score is strewn with symphonic excerpts, but is this enough to affirm that it has a symphonic structure in a Wagnerian sense?
I would say that it has a Wagnerian symphonic structure, if one considers the point of view of an Italian composer. It is important to remember that the first Wagner opera performed in Italy was Lohengrin in 1871. Faccio had the opportunity to listen to Lohengrin in Germany, but this opera doesn’t represent the Wagnerism of the Ring or Tristan. For the most part, the Italians understood Wagner not through familiarity with his music, but with his writings about music, which are often incomprehensible even for us today. The choice to write eight symphonic preludes and a great Funeral March certainly could not have happened without the influence of Wagner. As with every aspect of the opera, Faccio has transformed this influence and Italianized it.

Our thanks to Anthony Barrese for his availability.