Opera Scotland

Oracolo L'oracolo; The Oracle

Music

Franco Leoni (born Milan, 24 October 1864; died London, 8 February 1949)

Text

Camillo Zanoni.

Source

Story The Cat and the Cherub (1896) by Chester Bailey Fernald.

 

Premieres

First Performance: London (Covent Garden), 3 July 1905.

First Performance in Scotland: Glasgow (New Athenaeum Theatre), 1999.

 

Background

L'oracolo is an enjoyable melodrama in one act, of no greatt subtlety, composed for the experienced baritone Antonio Scotti, who created the role of the villain Cim-Fen. It rnjoyed a reasonable success at its London premiere, but was never taken up by other British companies. Scotti also sang the part at the New York Met in 1915, after which he toured it round the USA in a company under Leoni's management. After Scotti's retirement, the work disappeared from the repertoire.

A few recent revivals followed the production of an excellent recording conducted by Richard Bonynge in 1975. This provided a late new role for the great baritone Tito Gobbi. The cast also included Joan Sutherland, Ryland Davies, Richard Van Allan and Clifford Grant.

 

Characters

Uin-Sci (Win-Shee), a learned doctor (bass)

Cim-Fen (Chim-Fen), proprietor of a tavern and opium den (baritone)

Hu-Tsin, a rich merchant (bass)

Ah-Joe (Ah-Yoeh), niece of Hu-Tsin (soprano)

Uin-San-Lui, Uin-Sci's son (tenor)

Hua-Qui, nurse to Hu-Ci, infatuated with Cim-Fen (mezzo-soprano)

Hu-Ci (Hu-Chee), Hu-Tsin's son, a child (silent)

A fortune-teller (tenor)

 

Plot Summary

The action takes place over a twenty-four hour period in San Francisco's Chinatown in the early 20th century. It is the morning of the celebration of Chinese New Year.

The principal characters are Hu-Tsin, a rich merchant, his niece Ah-Joe, the doctor Win-Shee and his son Win-San-Lui, who loves Ah-Joe. The villain who brings about the day's events is Chim-Fen, proprietor of two businesses, a tavern with an opium den below. He is jealous of his neighbour Hu-Tsin's success and plans to wreak havoc with his family by discrediting San-Lui while also gaining the niece for himself.

As dawn breaks, a cock crows and the city begins to come to life. Chim-Fen despises the drunks and junkies who provide his livelihood. He persuades Hua-Qui, a nurse employed by Hu-Tsin, to steal a fan belonging to Ah-Joe, so he can start his plotting. He has a brief encounter with the doctor Win-Shee, who is on his way to the temple and clearly does not respect Chim-Fen. After their departure, San-Lui appears, and serenades Ah-Joe, who is quickly won over.

In broad daylight, the streets become busy. Hu-Tsin comes out, making his way to Win-Shee's house. He is intercepted by Chim-Fen, who wishes him a Happy New Year, before proposing himself as a husband for Ah-Joe. This is overheard by an appalled Hua-Qui. Hu-Tsin angrily rejects the proposal and enters Win-Shee's house. A fortune-teller appears - the new moon is reputed to be a time of good fortune. However his predictions for Chim-Fen are not good. The nurse, her young charge and Ah-Joe enter from Hu-Tsin's house, while Hu-Tsin, Win-Shee and San-Lui come from the Win home. The omens for the group seem mixed - great joy, combined with dreadful sorrow.

As the Procession of the Dragon approaches, Hu Tsin orders Hua Qui to be very careful in looking after the boy Hu-Chee. However she becomes absorbed in watching the procession, allowing Chim-Fen to abduct the child and hide him in the cellar opium den. When Hu-Tsin returns a panicky search for the boy is launched. Chim-Fen offers his services in the search, but demands Ah-Joe as his reward. Hu-Tsin agrees, but when San-Lui also comes to provide help, Hu-Tsin immediately agrees to his marriage with Ah-Joe as well.

Left alone together, San-Lui confesses to Ah-Joe that he is afraid his life may be in danger. Hua-Qui tells him Chim-Fen is not to be trusted. San-Lui realises how this is to be interpreted and tells Chim-Fen that he is going to search his premises. The two men start to fight and disappear down the steps into the cellar. San-Lui eventually reappears, exhausted, and triumphantly carrying the little boy. But before he can alert Hu-Tsin's household to the discovery, Chim-Fen creeps up behind him and splits his skull with a hatchet. He then lifts a manhole cover, pushing the child down into the sewer, replacing the cover and retreating down an alley.

Ah-Joe comes out and finds her lover, soaked in blood. As a crowd gathers, including a horrified Hu-Tsin, San-Lui dies and Ah-Joe loses her reason. Chim-Fen emerges from the alley, pretending to be horrified at the turn of events.

As night falls, the insane Ah-Joe is wandering the streets in search of her lover. Hu-Tsin is in despair at the loss of his son and Win-Shee sends him back to his house while the doctor tries to work out who is guilty. In the silence that ensues he hears muffled cries from the sewer and is able to release Hu-Chee and push him through Hu-Tsin's front door, where the child is greeted with joy. The identity of the culprit is now clear to him.

Win-Shee calls for Chim-Fen, who appears, drunk, but still claiming to search for the killer. They sit alone in conversation, with Win-Shee declaring he himself has not long to live but now is certain of the murderer's identity and will avenge his son's death. Ah-Joe continues to cry eerily in the distance. Chim-Fen realises the game is up and draws a knife to stab Win-Shee. But the doctor is prepared for this and Chim-Fen is instead clubbed over the head and receives a hatchet blow in the neck. Win-Shee finishes him off by strangling him with his own pigtail. As the old man walks slowly away, dawn breaks once again and a cock begins to crow.

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