Opera Scotland

Amico Fritz L'amico Fritz; Friend Fritz

Music

Pietro Mascagni (born Livorno, 7 December 1863; died Rome, 2 August 1945)

Text

Nicola Daspuro (using the pseudonym P Suardon).

Source

Novel L’ami Fritz (1864) by Emile Erckmann and Alexandre Chatrian.

 

Premières

First performance: Rome (Teatro Costanzi), 31 October 1891.

First UK performance: London (Covent Garden), 23 May 1892.

First performance in Scotland: Dundee (Her Majesty’s Theatre), 12 November 1892.

Scottish Opera première: Glasgow (Theatre Royal), 23 October 2016.

 

Background

It is difficult to imagine a greater contrast than that which exists between Cavalleria Rusticana and the work with which Mascagni followed it. L’ amico Fritz is a gentle pastoral romance with a hero who is wealthy, middle-aged, and a confirmed bachelor.  He eventually changes his mind as the result of a bet with his closest friend, the local rabbi. While it was impossible that any follow-up could ever repeat the overwhelming success of Cavalleria, this opera was initially successful, and continued to be performed through the composer’s lifetime. The title role was much enjoyed by lyric tenors including Tito Schipa. In Britain, the source work was little known – indeed the Erckmann-Chatrian duo were renowned here more for their highly contrasting piece, the stirring melodrama The Bells, which was a staple in the repertoire of Sir Henry Irving throughout his career. After its appearance at Covent Garden, the work was quickly translated into English by the successful songwriter Frederick Weatherly, and entered the Carl Rosa repertoire with a first performance in Dublin that August. It was toured in Scotland in the autumn, along with further performances of Cavalleria and the Scottish premieres of Otello and Bizet’s Djamileh. It does not seem to have been presented here since, and its only recent performances in Britain have been in London by Holland Park Opera.

One reason for its neglect may be an inevitable connection with subsequent history. When the story was written, Alsace was part of France. By the time the opera appeared it had been seized by Germany, though this would only last a few decades before reverting. The characters consist of verious Christians, a Jew, and a gypsy, all living in perfect harmony, though it is clear that the gypsy, at least, has encountered problems with the police. There is no hint of the troubles ahead, of which modern audiences are surely only too aware.

 

Main Characters

Suzel, a village girl (soprano)

Fritz Kobus, a wealthy landowner (tenor)

Beppe, a gipsy (mezzo-soprano)

David, a rabbi (baritone)

 

Plot Summary

The setting is a rural community in Alsace, where Fritz is one of the wealthiest men in the neighbourhood, and unmarried. His fortieth birthday approaches, and he is once again asked to provide a dowry for neighbours who are planning to marry. His friend David teases him about his continuing bachelor status and eventually bets that he will marry. Fritz offers his vineyard as the prize. Soon after, Fritz meets Suzel, the daughter of one of his tenant farmers, realizes that she is growing up and that he will no doubt soon be asked to provide yet another dowry. He gradually becomes attracted to her himself, particularly when he sees her picking cherries. It is only when David drops the news that her father intends to arrange a marriage for her that Fritz finally decides that he wants her himself. David gives his new vineyard to Suzel as a wedding present.

The Cast

Beppe
 a gipsy
Caterina
 Fritz's housekeeper
David
 a rabbi
Federico
 a friend of Fritz
Fritz Kobus
 a wealthy landowner
Hanezò
 a friend of Fritz
Suzel
 a village girl

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