This weekend, Wexford Festival Opera’s acclaimed production of Saverio Mercadante’s Il bravo (The Assassin) will be livestreamed here on RTÉ Culture, live from Wexford - find out more here.
Jonathan Brandani, the Italian conductor of Il bravo, takes us on the journey of the challenges of finding the score of this rarely performed opera...
I strongly believe that Il bravo by Mercadante is truly a remarkable masterwork and I am excited to have the honour and pleasure of conducting this amazing opera at Wexford Festival Opera.
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It is really impossible to summarize and describe in a few lines the huge amount of work that had to be done during the past months to ensure that this brilliant score could be performed and brought to life again! But it was far from an easy journey, as it became apparent early that we would have to go on a treasure hunt to find the full orchestral score!
Il bravo was premiered at La Scala, Milan, in 1839, and after the first run it enjoyed a series of performances at other major opera houses both in Italy and in Europe. At some point, though, it fell pretty much into oblivion well until the second half of the 20th century. When we started to look for the full orchestra score and the parts for Il bravo, we soon realized that neither a full score nor the orchestral parts were available to us.Even the publisher Ricordi, which had printed the piano vocal score in 1851 (the only available printed source until today), had no orchestral material whatsoever for Il bravo.
Listen to excerpts from Il Bravo:
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But we didn’t despair! We knew that the only two available recordings of Il bravo were made in 1977 and 1990, respectively, at the Opera di Roma and at the Festival della Valle d’Itria, Martinafranca. This gave us confidence that the orchestral parts and full score might be found by contacting the institutions involved in those two recordings. After days of searching in the archives of both institutions, we were told that unfortunately no parts were to be found anywhere.
It is really impossible to summarize and describe in a few lines the huge amount of work that had to be done during the past months to ensure that this brilliant score could be performed and brought to life again!
Without hope of finding the orchestral parts, we tried at least to find a copy of the full score by personally asking the conductors who had recorded the opera a few decades ago. Even this search was fruitless; one of the two conductor said that he had a copy of Il bravo - until his wife trashed most of his personal library of scores after their divorce!
At this point we had no other choice than to create our own edition based on the manuscript of the full score prepared by the publisher Ricordi in 1840, of which we had a digitalized version. But those old handwritten scores require a very careful examination and an incredible amount of work to be deciphered correctly.
Thus, Wexford Festival Opera embarked in a very huge undertaking, and after more than 9 months of hard work, we managed to have a very accurate and reliable full score and parts for this opera. Most of the work has been done by musicologist Eleonora di Cintio and myself; I have to admit that considering the huge task in front of us and the very limited time available, we spent many sleepless nights! But we fought hard because we felt that Il bravo was a truly remarkable opera and that the high musical quality of the score was really worth it.
The music shows Mercadante’s ability to balance great melodies in the vocal lines with a very sophisticated treatment of the orchestra. Mercadante makes a very refined use of the orchestra and its instruments, and - like a skilled painter - with just a few brushstrokes - he manages to depict the specific color, the dramatic overtones, the tinta of a particular scene.
In Il bravo Mercadante reaches heights of expression and sophistication that otherwise you would only find in Verdi - but many years after Il bravo!
Watch Il bravo live on RTÉ Culture from 8pm on Saturday, October 21 - more details here.