Americans on Italo Montemezzi: Henry E. Krehbiel, Philip Hal, William J. Henderson, Lawrence Gilman, Deems Taylor, Olin Downes, Herbert F. Peyser, Harold C. Schonberg

By Zychowicz, James | ARSC Journal, Spring 2015 | Go to article overview

Americans on Italo Montemezzi: Henry E. Krehbiel, Philip Hal, William J. Henderson, Lawrence Gilman, Deems Taylor, Olin Downes, Herbert F. Peyser, Harold C. Schonberg


Zychowicz, James, ARSC Journal


Americans on Italo Montemezzi: Henry E. Krehbiel, Philip Hal, William J. Henderson, Lawrence Gilman, Deems Taylor, Olin Downes, Herbert F. Peyser, Harold C. Schonberg. Ed. by David Chandler. Norwich [UK]: Durrant Publishing, 2014. ISBN 978-1-905946-8

At the beginning of the 21st century Italo Montemezzi (1875-1952) is best known for his opera, L'amore dei tre re (1913), a work that was popular in the U.S. during the first half of the twentieth century, but which has been performed less frequently in recent decades. Montemezzi's reputation was solid for a number of years, but by the mid-twentieth century, his status had declined. The reasons for this are difficult to assess, as was evident in the prominent 2006 concert performance of L'amore dei tre re by the Opera Orchestra of New York, since the echoes of Richard Wagner, Claude Debussy and Richard Strauss in this and other operas by Montemezzi should draw attention to his music. Montemezzi's legacy includes nine operas: Bianca (1901); Giovanni Gallurese (1905); Hellera (1909); San Pantaleone (1910); L'amore dei tre re (1913); La nave (1918); La notte di Zoraima (1931); Lincantesimo (1943); and La Principessa Lontana (unfinished). The works were popular in the composer's lifetime, and reflect some aspects of late-nineteenth and early twentieth century romanticism at the time when Verismo and various styles of modernism were introducing new modes of musical expression to opera. Such modernism would be part of Montemezzi's appeal in the early twentieth century, and David Chandler's Americans on Italo Montemezzi is a documentary history of the composer's operas in performance in the U.S. as found in approximately 50 reviews and essays written between 1914 and 1962.

In his extended introduction Chandler explores Montemezzi's reception, which focuses logically on perceptions of L'amore dei tre re. Chandler's comments about critical acclaim for that opera open the door for more detailed investigations of Montemezzi's place in the operatic culture of the twentieth century especially in the U.S. The work has a place of honor in the inaugural year of the Chicago Opera Association, which benefited from the efforts of Mary Garden, who was part of that company's 1920 premiere of L'amore dei tre re. (The latter occurred two years after the successful performance of the work with the Ravinia Opera Company in 1918.) The regular performances in Chicago of L'amore dei tre re through 1932 point to the popularity of the score, which was performed often in that city and elsewhere in the U.S. through the middle of the century. Chandler presents a rich selection of reviews of performances in New York, Boston, and elsewhere.

Yet Montemezzi's other works were also performed in the U.S., with his second opera La nave (1918), which had its North American premiere in Chicago in 1919, as well as Giovanni Gallurese, La notte di Zoraima, and L'incantesimo. For these Chandler offers representative criticism from the American press to demonstrate the ways in which these works were perceived in their time. The comparisons invariably make reference to L'amore dei tre re, which was Montemezzi's masterpiece for generations of American audiences.

For some unexplained reasons, the important American critic Virgil Thomson's collected reviews do not include any performance of Montemezzi's work, except for a reference to Montemezzi's affinities with French opera, specifically the music of Bizet. That perspective stands apart from the frequent comparisons of Montemezzi with Wagner, not only through the late romantic musical style but the medieval settings that are part of many libretti. Even so, not all Montemezzi's operas were universally appreciated, and Lawrence Gilman's comments about La notte di Zoraima suggest high expectations from the composer:

What one hoped for and expected from Montemezzi, after his long silence, was evidence of a deepened and more adaptive talent, a power of expression individualized, enriched, matured. …

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