Umberto Giordano – Mala Vita

Opera in three acts.

Libretto by Nicola Daspuro, based on the play O Voto by Salvatore di Giacomo.

First performed at the Teatro Argentina in Rome on 21 February 1892.  Revised and watered down as Il Voto, it was then first given at the Teatro Lirico in Milan on 10 November 1897.

 

Act 1

Naples, about 1810.

Vito Amante is a dyer.  A crowd of people has gathered outside his shop: something has obviously happened.  A hairdresser, Nunzia, tells everyone that Vito has had another attack – he is suffering from consumption.  A shopkeeper, Marco, comments that it is a punishment from God and suggests that Amalia, Vito’s lover, will be better off without him.  As friends bring Vito outside, the crowd falls silent.  Vito, coughing blood into a handkerchief, tries to make the best of his situation, but then says that he wishes he could die.  Nunzia suggests that he try praying, and reluctantly Vito agrees.

 

In an impassioned prayer, he begs forgiveness – he says that although the good Lord knows that he does not believe, he still does not want to be abandoned.  As the crowd support his plea, he says that if he can be healed, he will marry a fallen woman, thus, according to Neapolitan belief, freeing the woman from her sin and himself from his disease.  Amalia arrives in time to hear this promise and is shocked.  The crowd congratulates Vito on his vow and melts away.  Amalia challenges him to explain what he has done, but he just tells her to leave him alone and goes into his shop.  She leaves, saying darkly that they will see one another again.

 

Amalia’s husband, a coachman named Annetiello, now arrives, slightly the worse for drink.  He sees Marco and asks him about Vito’s vow.  Marco confirms what has happened, but Annetiello is scathing in his mockery of Vito.  Despite Marco’s snide comments, it is clear that Annetiello does not know about the affair between Vito and his wife.  Passing workers comment on how well Annetiello looks and he replies that the festival of Piedigrotta is in a few days time, and that on the second day of the festival, there will be the usual opportunities to dance, to sing, and to meet girls.  He leads the workers into an inn.

 

Vito emerges from his shop and starts a conversation with Marco.  A flower lands at his feet.  Vito picks it up curiously, and Marco comments that it is obvious what kind of a house it came from and tells Vito to take no notice of it.  Marco leaves, and Vito looks around.  A girl comes out of a house (known to be a brothel, hence Marco’s comment) and starts to fill a water bottle at the well.  Vito asks her if it was her who threw the flower, and then says that he is thirsty.  She lets him drink from the bottle and then tries to leave.  Vito says that she is safe with him, and asks her name.  ‘Cristina’ she replies.  Again, she tries to leave, but Vito takes her hand and tells her that she is beautiful.  He asks her about her life and then asks if she has ever thought that some man would ever come and rescue her, and love her.  Cristina says that she has dreamed this dream many times, and Vito announces that he is that man, he will rescue her.  Cristina is overjoyed – at last her prayers have been answered.  But her joy is ruined when Annetiello comes out of the inn and recognises her.  Even drunker now, he mocks Vito, asking him if his prayer has reached heaven yet.  Annetiello tries to stroke Cristina’s face, calling her ‘Cristinella’, and when Vito pushes him away, Annetiello realises what has happened between them.  Cristina is overjoyed and when Vito repeats his promise to save her, Annetiello and the crowd comment that he will indeed marry his poor Cristina.

 

Act 2

In her house, Amalia is sitting sewing, obviously fretting about Vito.  Nunzia arrives and asks if she can come in.  Amalia welcomes her and asks if the rumour is true that Vito is going to get married.  Reluctantly, Nunzia admits that it certainly looks that way and Amalia responds by saying that she wants to meet Cristina.  Annetiello’s voice is heard outside and Nunzia is concerned that she and Amalia might be overheard – Amalia makes her promise to bring Cristina.  Nunzia leaves and Amalia muses on her own precarious position.

 

Nunzia returns with Cristina and Amalia asks her outright if she is going to marry Vito.  Cristina confirms it, and Amalia tells her darkly that her happiness might be short-lived, and then admits her own passion for Vito.  Cristina is unmoved.  She explains that Vito is her only hope of salvation, and points out that while Amalia has a home and a family, she herself has nothing but Vito.  Amalia pleads with her, offers her money, anything … and then grabs a knife.  Cristina is resolute in the face of the threat and Nunzia manages to keep them apart.  Cristina leaves, telling Amalia that she will not forget this conversation.  Nunzia begs Amalia to calm down and then leaves.

 

Vito now arrives and coldly tells Amalia to leave Cristina alone.  Amalia tries to remind Vito of their former love, but he will not listen.  But as a storm builds up outside, Amalia throws herself at him and he gives in.  As lightning flashes, Cristina, outside in the street sees them embrace, and then Amalia triumphantly closes the shutters.

Act 3

Back outside Vito’s shop, the street is decked out for the festival of Piedigrotta.  Vito and a crowd of men are playing morra, a rowdy finger-guessing game.  Vito launches into a love song and the women sing that they will be at Piedigrotta, ready to sing and dance and fall in love, and dance a tarantella to demonstrate their mood.

 

A group of men, women and children arrive, led by Annetiello and obviously on their way to Piedigrotta.  Annetiello sings a rousing song and leads everyone off to Piedigrotta, except for Vito.  Cristina comes by and Vito rejects her brusquely.  Cristina asks him if he still loves her – he tells her that she must know all about love, looking pointedly at the brothel.  Cristina breaks down and Vito tells her that her plight still stirs him, but that he cannot break his old bonds.  Cristina realises that she has lost him.  Amalia arrives, very elegantly dressed.  She asks why Cristina is there and tells Vito to hurry up, she has ordered a carriage for them.  Cristina pleads with Vito not to abandon her but to remember his vow to redeem her.  Vito again tells her that her tears are ripping him apart, but that he cannot change his ways.  He leaves with Amalia.

 

Alone, Cristina pours out her grief in a bitter prayer: God knows how much she was suffering, and how she longed to be rescued from her bad life, but obviously he has now abandoned her.  She rushes towards the brothel, bangs on the door, and falls in a faint.

 

–ooOoo—

 

Other Opera Story articles can be found on

 

  • Umberto Giordano’s life and his operas

  • The background to the writing of Mala Vita

  • The life and writings of Salvatore di Giacomo

  • The life and librettos of Nicola Daspuro

  • The difference between di Giacomo’s original play and the two versions of the opera

  • The reaction to the opera when it first appeared

  • The stories and backgrounds of Giordano’s other operas

  • Games in operas

  • Roses in operas

 

  • and many other aspects of Giordano’s operas.

 

© Roger Witts 2009

 

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