In common with most of his operas and some of his other large scale vocal works, Raff was his own librettist for this, his fifth opera, Benedetto Marcello or Kunst & Liebe (Art & Love) WoO.46 which he described as a Lyric Opera in three acts. He wrote the text in 1875 in Wiesbaden and completed its composition in 1878 in Frankfurt. It was his penultimate opera - the last "The jealous ones" was to follow in 1882. His first "King Alfred" and the third "Dame Kobold" had been performed - the latter with some success - but by now Raff, after a series of disappointments and frustrations, seems to have become resigned to seeing no more performances of his operas. Nonetheless, with a determination and application so typical of him, he continued to compose them "for my own amusement". None was ever performed.
Interested as he was in the music of the 18th. century, Raff had previously encountered the historical Benedetto Marcello and wrote piano accompaniments to four of Marcello's Cello Sonatas in 1875. With its small cast and a story of frustrated love, this work - almost a chamber opera - is more reminiscent of Rossini or Donizetti than German high romanticism. The style of musical writing is in keeping with the subject matter - melodious, sunny and light of touch. It lasts about two hours in performance. "Benedetto Marcello" was premiered on 4 October 2002 in a concert performance at Metzingen near Stuttgart in Germany [review].
Benedetto Marcello, musician and poet, member of the Council of the Forty in Venice, 40 years old. Baritone.
Johann Adolf Hasse, musician and kapellmeister from Begedorf near Hamburg, 28 years old. Tenor.
Faustina Bordoni, singing pupil of Marcello, 27 years old. Soprano.
Rosana Scalfi, One of Marcello's pleasant young fisherwomen, also his singing pupil, 20 years old. Mezzo-soprano.
Choir of off-stage male voices
Venice in 1727
The reception room in Marcello's house. Rosana has an appointment with Marcello and sings whilst she waits. Since the next pupil, Faustina, has already appeared, she knows that her own lesson will probably be cancelled. Faustina, who has already progressed further in her lessons asks Rosana to sing something which this simple girl likes the best. The hidden meaning of ornamentation is still obscure to Rosana, and Faustina demonstrates her superiority with an augmented version of the same song. Rather condescendingly, she encourages Rosana not to give up studying, so that she also can learn the high art and do justice to the requests of the composers and critics.
Marcello appears and and says that todays lessons shall be replaced with auditions from both the pupils before the composer Hasse, so that he can tailor-make roles for them in a new opera. Hasse comes into the room and, after an exchange of pleasantries, the audition begins with Rosana. Her song laments, her hidden and unheeded love for Marcello. During her song, Marcello and Hasse regard the feelings sung of by Rosana as convincing play acting; only Faustina recognises that the sensations in Rosana's song are real. Faustina's test-song is brilliant, full of happiness and it excites all those present. It especially impresses Hasse who is not only interested in the singer but also in Faustina herself. However, at first he cannot say so. Marcello and Rosana remove themselves and so give Hasse the opportunity shortly to proclaim his admiration of Faustina. The two who are left behind arrange to meet for the evening: Faustina should accompany Hasse to a party. On returning, Marcello invites them to eat and then sings in praise of his art, in which the rest happily join.
A boudoir in Faustina's apartment on the Grand Canal. Faustina, making an effort to concentrate whilst preparing, admits to herself that she has fallen in love with Hasse. He is late arriving and skilfully makes her abandon her caution to entice from her a fiery confession of love. The pair climb arm in arm into a gondola and leave for the planned party.
Scene change to which the Notturno movement of the "Italian" Suite WoO.35 is played.
Outside Faustina's apartment, seen from the small canal. From the church of Santa Maria Delle Salute is heard a male chorus singing an Ave Maria. Marcello appears masked and sings a serenade of love for Faustina. During it, the gondola approaches carrying Faustina and Hasse, who are on their way back from the party. Marcello hides in the dark and then waylays Hasse, as he returns from Faustina's apartment on his way home again. After a short battle of words, the adversaries draw their swords. Throughout the fight, which is interrupted by Faustina's prayer, Hasse retains the upper hand, and in the end he spares the life of the already disarmed Marcello.
The reception room in Marcello's house. Rosana is astonished at the hubbub. On the piano she finds a song by Marcello rewritten to express his pain over his love for Faustina, which has been ignored. Rosana is dismayed about it because it is apparant that she means nothing to the master. Marcello arrives and announces to Rosana that he is leaving Venice to take up a position as Providatore in Brescia. She, however, should remain in Venice and should continue her studies. Rosana persuades Marcello to take her in any case. Only by force could he prevent her from accompanying him. Stirred, Marcello recognises the dedication of Rosana and sees the lucky prospect of a new development in their relationship. Faustina and Hasse arrive to report that Hasse will return to Germany, taking Faustina with him as his wife. Feeling that everyone has now found their predestined fate after all, the reconciled couples take their leave of each other.
[Abriged translation. Originally published in German in the newsletter of the Joachim Raff Society]
Audio excerpt from Marco Polo 8.22319