Notes and Editorial Reviews
The most internationally acclaimed opera composer of Brazil, hailed by Verdi as a “real musical genius”, Antonio Gomes is today all but forgotten outside his native country (where the brilliant overture to Il Guarany is regarded as a national artistic treasure). The opera itself is known largely from books and from a recording by Caruso and Destinn of the love duet at the end of Act 1. After the enthusiastic reception in Rio of a couple of his operas, Gomes, who came from a family of modest musicians, was awarded a grant enabling him to study in Milan. There he wrote Il Guarany, which was produced at La Scala in 1870 with huge success.
The story is set in sixteenth-century Brazil and deals with the love of Cecilia, daughter of the Portuguese nobleman Don Antonio, and the ‘noble savage’ Pery, chieftain of the Indian tribe of Guarany (who eventually accepts baptism). They are threatened both by the hostility of the cannibal Aimore tribe and by Spanish adventurers led by Gonzales, who has designs on the silver mine owned by Antonio and on Cecilia. The opera ends spectacularly a la Meyerbeer when Antonio, to save his daughter, blows up his castle with himself and his enemies in it. The work is categorized as an ‘opera-ballet’, but, at least in this performance, there is no music for dancing.
So Italianized was Gomes that except for a very few bars there is no real local colour: indeed Cecilia’s first aria, rich in coloratura, is a polacca! Overall the music, for Indians and whites alike, is purely Italian, similar to middle-period Verdi, but the atmospheric orchestration is far more adventurous and inventive – one example being the sinister opening to Act 2. Highlights other than the duet mentioned are Pery’s aria at the start of Act 2, a jaunty adventurer’s song by Gonzales, Cecilia’s Act 2 soliloquy (which however leads to a rather conventional ballad with quasi-guitar accompaniment), and the duet scene for the lovers in the savages’ camp. The stars of this performance, given before an excited but discriminating audience, are Domingo himself in the title-role – ardent and committed (though, as elsewhere, he will not alter the intensity of his projection for asides), Villarroel on the most brilliantly stunning form I have heard her, and the capable and intelligent Alvarez; too many of the others are afflicted with tiresome wobbles. Both chorus and orchestra are excellent, and John Neschling (who I think has not come our way before) invests the whole with a real dramatic sense. Those who like full-blooded romantic opera should not miss this.
-- Lionel Salter, Gramophone [5/1996]