Page:A Dictionary of Music and Musicians vol 4.djvu/262

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246

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��Well, I'll give you a lift out of your trouble. Did you not engage Rossi to do II Proscritto for me? I have not yet written one blessed note of it, and I will give it back to you.

'The very thing! clever fellow! good idea!

'Thus we arrived at the theatre; M. Merelli forthwith sends for M. Bassi, poet, stage-mana- ger, buttafuori and librarian, and bids him find a copy of II Proscritto. The copy was found, but together with it M. Merelli takes up another manuscript and lays it before me

'Look, says he, here is Solera's libretto that we were speaking of! such a beautiful subject ; and to refuse it I Take it, just take it, and read it over.

'What on earth shall I do with it? ... No, no, I am in no humour to read librettos.

' My gracious ! ... It won't kill you ; read it, and then bring it back to me again. And he gives me the manuscript. It was written on large sheets in big letters, as was the custom in those days. I rolled it up, and went away.

'While walking home I felt rather queer; there was something that I could not well ex- plain about me. I was burdened with a sense of sadness, and felt a great inclination to cry. I got into my room, and pulling the manuscript out of my pocket and throwing it angrily on the writing-table, I stood for a moment motionless before it. The book as I threw it down, opened, my eyes fell on the page, and I read the line

Va, pensiero, sull' all derate.

I read on, and was touched by the stanzas, inas- much as they were almost a paraphrase of the Bible, the reading of which was the comfort of my solitary life.

' I read one page, then another ; then, decided as I was to keep my promise not to write any more, I did violence to my feelings, shut up the book, went to bed, and put out the candle. I tried to sleep, but Nabucco was running a mad career through my brain, and sleep would not come. I got up, and read the libretto again not once, but two or three times, so that in the morning I could have said it off by heart. Yet my resolution was not shaken, and in the afternoon I went to the theatre to return the manuscript to Merelli.'

' Isn't it beautiful ? says he. ' More than beautiful, wonderful. ' Well, set it to music. ' Not in the least ; I won't. ' Set it to music, set it to music. ' And so saying he gets off his chair, thrusts the libretto into my coat pocket, takes me by the shoulders, shoves me out of his room, slams the door in my face, and locks himself in. I looked rather blank, but not knowing what to do went home with Nabucco in my pocket. One day a line, the next day another line, a note, a bar, a melody ... at last I found that by imperceptible degrees the opera was done !

' It was then the autumn of 1841, and calling to mind Merelli's promise, I went straight to him to announce that Nabucco was ready for performance, and that he might bring it out in

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the coming season of Carnevale Quaresima (Car- nival before Lent).

' Merelli emphatically declared that he would stick to his word ; but at the same time he called my attention to the fact that it was im- possible to bring out the opera during the Qua- resima, because the repertoire was all settled, and no less than three new operas by known composers already on the list ; to give, together with them, a fourth, by a man who was almost a debutant was a dangerous business for every- body, especially for me ; it would therefore be safer to put off my opera till Easter, when he had no engagements whatever, and was willing to give me the best artists that could be found for love or money. This, however, I peremptorily refused : either during the Carne- val or never ; and with good reason ; for I knew very well that during the spring it was utterly impossible to have two such good artists as Strep- poni and Ronconi, on whom, knowing they were engaged for the Carneval season, I had mainly built my hopes of success.

' Merelli, though anxious to please me, was not on the wrong side of the question ; to run four new operas in one season was, to say the least, rather risky; but I also had good artistic reasons to set against his. The issue was, that after a long succession of Yes, No, Perhaps, and Very likely, one fine morning I saw the posters on the walls and Nabucco not there.

' I was young and easily roused, and I wrote a nasty letter to M. Merelli, wherein I freely expressed my feelings. No sooner was the letter gone than I felt something like remorse, and besides, a certain fear lest my rashness had spoiled the whole business.

' Merelli sent for me, and on my entering his office he says in an angry tone : Is this the way you write to your friends ? . . . Yet you are right ; I'll give Nabucco ; but you must remem- ber, that because of the outlay on the other operas, I absolutely cannot afford new scenes or new costumes for you, and we must be content to make a shift with what we have in stock.

' I was determined to see the opera performed, and therefore agreed to what he said, and new posters were printed, on which Nabucco appeared with the rest.

'I remember a droll thing happening about that time : in the third act Solera had written a love-duet between Fenena and Ismaele. I did not like it, as it seemed to me not only in- effective, but a blur on the religious grandiosity that was the main feature of the drama. One morning Solera came to see me, and I took occasion to make the remark. He stoutly dis- puted my view, not so much perhaps because he thought I was wrong, as because he did not care to do the thing again. We talked the matter over and over and used many arguments. Neither of us would give way. He asked me what I thought could be put in place of the duet, and I suggested a prophecy for Zaccaria : he thought the idea not so bad, and after several buts and ifs said he would think over it and

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