Reconstructing a Masterpiece
by Anthony Barrese, OSW Artistic Director
I first became aware of an Italian Hamlet opera with a Boito libretto during my first season on the music staff of Sarasota Opera in the winter/spring of 2002. In 2003 I got in touch Gabriel Dotto, a musicologist living in Milan who had formerly worked with the Italian publishing house Ricordi. I had heard that many of the archives were destroyed during the war, and I wasn’t sure whether Ricordi would still have the autograph from Amleto. He replied: “As luck (and some rather heroic effort on the part of Ricordi management sixty years ago) would have it, no autographs of the historical archive were destroyed in the war, as the collection was secretly taken to a safe location.” (Though the “production copies” of scores, hire libraries, etc. were lost during the bombings).
Since Ricordi was at that time moving into a new home at the Biblioteca Brera in the heart of Milan, he sent my letter off to Maria Pia Ferraris, the head archivist of the newly opened Ricordi Archives. It turned out that Ricordi did have a microfilm of the autograph, and when it arrived I began the painstaking task of transcribing the manuscript. At the same time, my wife found a copy (again a microfilm) of Boito’s libretto at the Performing Arts Library in New York. The libretto was especially important since Faccio’s handwriting was difficult to decipher, and the quality of the autograph manuscript was poor. Acclaimed American musicologist and Verdi expert Phillip Gossett was incredibly generous in helping me figure out the handwriting idiosyncrasies in the score.
During the summer of 2005, while in Milan teaching a class on the Italian Futurist movement in music, I met in person with Maria Pia Ferraris, who allowed me to peruse the original manuscript as well as the only piano vocal score in existence: an autograph manuscript of Faccio’s own arrangement. That summer I spent hours looking at both autograph manuscripts, and returned to the United States to incorporate all of the new information into the scores I was creating. Since completing the full score and piano score, I conducted the American premiere of Ofelia’s Marcia Funebre with the Dallas Opera Orchestra in 2007. Opera Southwest’s production will represent the final stage in bringing this important and unjustly forgotten work back to life.