I mori di Valenza — Ponchielli’s Unfinished Opera

Donizetti never finished his Le duc d’albe,
Meyerbeer his Africaine, Schubert his last symphony, Halevy his
Noe, and Ponchielli his Mori di Valenza. Ponchielli’s
failure to finish this project is a great shame. He worked on it around
1874-75, shortly before the first version of La gioconda, when he
was at the height of his powers. The opera had to wait almost 40 years, until
before the start of the First World War until Arturo Cadore, a great admirer
of the composer’s, set out to finish the job. Fortunately, he was able
to do so using essentially Ponchielli’s style to compose the missing
fourth act, and to orchestrate the rest of the score.

It was finally performed at the Palais Garnier in Monte Carlo on March 17,
1914 with Lydia Lipkowska as ElËma, Jacqueline Royer as Carmine, a very young
Giovanni Martinelli as Fernando, George Baklanoff as Delascar, and Roberto
Marvini as the king. It was given in the Milan Arena that July, and finally
in Cremona during the ensuing Carnival season. It was seriously considered
for the 1958 season in Cremona, but the city authorities decided against

Bongiovanni has previously performed a tremendous service to opera lovers
by releasing live performances of less well known operas performed in Italy,
including many unusual works by composers like Cimarosa, Donizetti, Giordano,
Mercadante, Ponchielli, Rossini, and many others. But this recording seems to
be different. Rather than being an actual performance at a theater, the
booklet mentions a recording in the auditorium in Castelfidardo, and the Sala
Maffei in Cremona during January 2007. Let us hope that this will be the
first of many such recordings, and that, if no live performances are
forthcoming, works like Ponchielli’s Figliuol Prodigo,
Mercadante’s I Normanni a Parigi and I briganti as
well as Pacini’s Arabi nelle Gallie, Bondelmonte and
Lorenzino de’Medici will get the same treatment.

The action of the opera takes place in Madrid and Valencia in the early
17th century, at a time when a large contingent of Moors was still living
openly in Spain, and allowed to practice their religion.

Act I takes place in Valencia: As the opera starts, Delascar, head of the
Moors , is reading a note that his son has been imprisoned, and sentenced to
death. ElËma, his beautiful daughter tells her father that she could save her
brother, if only she could speak to the king. ElËma reminds Delascar that she
had met King Phillip five years earlier, when he was a guest at
Delascar’s home. She had been picking flowers, giving him one as he
passed. The king was evidently very taken with her. He kissed the flower,
telling her that should she ever need a favor, it was her’s for the
asking. He even wrote this on a scrap of paper and gave it to her. ElËma
relates the story to her father, but he is doubtful, reminding her that the
king is a servant of Rome. Just then, trumpets announce the arrival of an old
Spanish knight, Giovanni d’Aguilar, who is a friend of
Delascar’s. D’Aguilar, his daughter, Carmine, and her bethrothed,
Fernando d’Alabayda, are all on their way to Madrid. Delascar asks
D’Aguilar to take ElËma with him to Madrid and introduce her to the
King. Of course, D’Aguilar agrees.

During the finale of the first act, Fernando, who had not yet met ElËma
admires her beauty and momentarily forgets about Carmine, while Carmine and
ElËma become friendly. All the principals leave for Madrid except

Act II is in two scenes. The first takes place at the D’Aguilar
palace. ElËma admits to Carmine that she is in love when Fernando enters. He
tells them that ElËma is thought to be the courtesan of the king, but assures
ElËma that he does not believe this to be true, and that he will defend her
at all costs. From Fernando’s behavior, Carmine senses that he no
longer loves her, but loves ElËma instead.

The scene changes to the gardens of the Buen Ritiro in Madrid. After the
chorus comments on what they perceive to be the king’s new mistress
(ElËma, of course), Fernando, alone, expresses guilt feelings about now
loving ElËma instead of Carmine. Just then, ElËma and the king enter. The
king asks Fernando about Carmine, but he just bows and leaves. ElËma asks the
king to intercede in favor of the moors, when the latter names his price: a
word of love from her, which she refuses, saying that she fears the resulting
scorn. The Duke of Lerma enters, telling the king that Fernando has dared to
draw his sword in the royal palace. The latter asks for an explanation, and
Fernando tells him that a lady’s honor was outraged, pointing to ElËma.
The king approves Fernando’s action, asks ElËma for her arm and reminds
the courtiers that it is he who reigns.

Act III takes place in the throne room of the royal palace. Carmine,
alone, muses about the recent happenings, and realizes that ElËma did not
want to steal Fernando’s love from her. ElËma enters, Carmine tells her
that she will be her friend in joy and sorrow, and then leaves. Alone, ElËma
states that she will go away, but that she wants Carmine to marry Fernando
tomorrow. Fernando enters and tells ElËma that he will leave Spain forever
the next day. Asked about Carmine, he says that she will forget him. ElËma
replies that Carmine will die if he leaves, and begs him for mercy. Fernando
states his love for ElËma who inadvertently admits that she loves him in
return. He is now happy, but she orders him to marry Carmine tomorrow, which
Fernando agrees to do. A crowd is heard screaming and yelling, as they chase
an old Moorish man. Fernando runs out with his sword to save him — it
is Delascar.

The King, alone, enters with a paper in his hand. It is the edict which
would expel the moors that the Duke of Lerma and his followers want him to
sign. He says to himself that only ElËma could save her people by becoming
the queen of his heart. The Duke of Lerma announces Carmine. Knowing her to
be Elema’s friend, the king expresses hope. When he realizes her
entreaties have nothing to do with Elema, he becomes furious and signs the
document, then announces this to Lerma and the courtiers. Delascar tries to
object, but the king tells him it is too late — the decree has been
signed. The king also has Fernando thrown into prison for daring to threaten
his person.

In Act IV, the moors have returned to Valencia where they plan to board
ships for Morocco. They are bitterly lamenting the need to leave Spain, which
had been their home for seven centuries, while Delascar expresses his outrage
about his daughter’s readiness to sacrifice their honor. He tells the
chorus that he plans to join them in exile. They leave, ElËma enters with
Carmine, telling her that she will soon be married to Fernando. The latter is
brought in by the king, who frees him, and tells him to marry Carmine.
Leaving, the king tells ElËma that she will obtain from him all that she
wished. Left alone, ElËma expresses her misery at Fernando’s choosing
Carmine (forgetting that she had ordered him to),and starts to pray. Her
father, entering, tells her that the king has signed a pardon for Delascar,
and asks her to what she owes this favor. She replies: “to my prayers,
to your daughter’s tears”. He tells her that she prayed for him
in vain, that it is his duty to share the fate of his brothers, and hers to
follow him. He seems willing to forgive her for the shame she has caused him,
but, when she continues to refuse, because love keeps her there, he curses
her and stabs her with his dagger. The king and the others enter, as ElËma
dies sweetly in Fernando’s arms..

I mori diValenza is the fourth of Ponchielli’s neglected
other operas to become available on CD. I Lituani, originally issued
on LP in 1979 had been the first of these. This was followed by a long
drought, with no further Ponchielli operas showing up in stores until the
21st century, when there was a revival of Marion Delorme in
Montpellier, France, which was issued on the Accord label. More recently,
I promessi Sposi was given as a concert in Sondalo, Italy, and
released by Bongiovanni , followed by I Mori di Valenza on the same
label in 2007. I am confident that more of Ponchielli’s works will turn
up in the coming years.

Musically, I mori di Valenza has many similarities to La
, but is not quite on the level as the better known work,
although that might have been a bit too much to expect. La gioconda
is one of the great masterpieces of Italian opera, and has long been a staple
of the standard repertory, with the exception of Northern Europe and France.
Perhaps, the most striking similarities are between the two soprano roles,
both heroines have the same self-sacrificing nature, and both being killed at
the end by the baritone.

The two principal roles in Mori di Valenza are ElËma with three
arias and Delascar with two. They also have two major duets. They are
interpreted by Natalia Margarit and Maurizio Zanchetti respectively. Both are
fine singers, although neither has as yet attained stardom and both took part
in the previously mentioned concert of I Promessi Sposi in Sondalo.
Margarit has also recorded a solo CD of arias from mostly unfamiliar works on
the Bongiovanni label, while Zanchetti recorded a complete Chatterton by
Leoncavallo for the same firm. The other roles are all taken by other
promising young singers.

This recording can be highly recommended to all lovers of Italian opera,
but especially those who enjoy Ponchielli and La gioconda.

Tom Kaufman

image_description=Amilcare Ponchielli: I mori di Valenza
product_title=Amilcare Ponchielli: I mori di Valenza
product_by=Natalia Margarit, Maurizio Zanchetti, Luigi Frattola, Caterina Novak, Alessandro Arena, Orchestra Filarmonica Ucraina Di Donetsk, Coro Ponchielli-Vertova Di Cremona, Silvano Frontalini.
product_id=Bongiovanni GB 2419/20-2 [2CDs]