Aida in Paris at the Théâtre Italien, 1876

April 3, 2017
Mimi Tashiro
Aida manuscript detail

At the December 7, 2015 auction at Sotheby’s London, the Stanford Libraries acquired a manuscript copy of Giuseppe Verdi’s opera Aida, used for the performances at the Théâtre Italien in Paris in 1876. The manuscript, which will be housed in the Department of Special Collections, was the focus of a seminar, Music 310: Aida in Paris (and Beyond) taught by Professor Heather Hadlock of the Music Department in Fall 2016. Seminar participants were Kelly Christensen, Kirstin Haag, Michael Kinney, Tyler Mitchell, Ben Ory and David Wilson.

Professor Hadlock provided these notes on the findings of the seminar.

This is a manuscript full score, in four volumes, of Giuseppe Verdi’s Aida. It was supplied to the Théâtre Italien by Verdi’s publishing house, Ricordi, for the Paris premiere of Aida in April – June 1876. Aida was very successful during its 1876 run at the Théâtre Italien, and was revived two years later in 1878 with hopes – sadly unfulfilled - that it would turn around the impresario Escudier’s failing company. Two years after that, in 1880, the Paris Opéra mounted a new and expanded production in French translation, also conducted by Verdi, which has tended to overshadow the 1876 Paris premiere in the musicological literature. While Aida had been staged in many European and even American cities before it reached Paris, this appears to be the earliest extant copy of the full score. The score of the 1871 Cairo premiere was destroyed in a fire, and to my knowledge the scores from productions conducted by Verdi in Milan, Naples, and Parma are not available.  The 1876 production at the Théâtre Italien is therefore an essential link to the opera’s original form as presented in Cairo and Milan.

Teresa Stolz as AidaThis 1876 Paris score is also the only known score from a performance conducted by Verdi with three of the singers he had chosen to create the roles in the European premiere (Milan, 1871). The production featured the original Aida (Teresa Stoltz), Amneris (Maria Waldmann), and Amonasro (Francesco Pandolfini). The Radames was a new tenor, Angelo Masini. The score contains markings in various hands for articulation, phrasing, and dynamics throughout. More expert eyes may be able to discern traces of Verdi’s own conducting in these markings.  As Kirstin Haag discovered in her study of French newspaper coverage of this performance, the 1876 premiere of Aida was a highly anticipated event, due to Verdi’s celebrity and to the recent success of his Requiem’s Paris premierein June 1874. Indeed the Aida premiere at the Théâtre Italien was paired with a revival of the Requiem, featuring the same four soloists. Paris critics and audiences seem to have felt a sense of ownership of both these works. The Requiem had been composed in Paris (summer 1873), and, as Kelly Christensen showed in her study of Auguste Mariette Bey’s involvement, Aida originated in French Egyptology, with the archaeologist and museum designer Mariette Bey responsible for its scenario, story, and historical mise-en-scène. Christensen drew interesting connections between the ancient Egyptian exhibit that Mariette created for the 1867 Paris World’s Fair, and the theatrical portrayal of ancient Egypt in Aida a few years later.

Given that the 1876 Paris score is a manuscript copied by the publishing house, our first question was whether it would be identical to other sources of the same period. We compared it with the closest available source, another manuscript full score from Ricordi associated with a Bologna production on January 2, 1879. We also compared it to the 1880 Paris Opéra MS full score (in French translation).  We identified three scenes where the 1876 Paris score differs from these two: Aida’s Act I solo scene “Ritorna vincitor,” the Consecration Scene at the end of Act I, and the duet between Aida and her father Amonasro in Act III.

Aida is famous for its conservative formal design, featuring traditional forms of aria, duet, and ensemble that were rather old-fashioned by 1871.  Inconsistencies between the early scores suggest that the fluid and continuous form of “Ritorna vincitor” did not readily fit the clearly articulated structures of “number opera.”  In our 1876 score, “Ritorna vincitor” is headed “No. 2 Scena e Romanza Atto 1mo Aida”.  This designation doesn’t match the through-composed music, which lacks the declamatory or textural contrast one would expect between a recitative “scena” and a lyric movement.  Furthermore, a “Romanza” is typically a closed one-movement form with recurring material, and that doesn’t accurately describe any section of “Ritorna vincitor.”  [For an example of a Romanza, see Radames’ “Celesta Aida”.] The 1880 Paris Opéra score has “No. 2 Scène et Air,” a slightly looser designation than “Romance” would be, though still suggesting a recit + lyric movement.  The Bologna 1879 score calls this section simply (and more accurately) “Scena Aida.” Interestingly, the 1880 Paris score labels “Ritorna vincitor” both “No.2 Scène et Air” and “No. 5,” which suggests indecisiveness about the structure of the first part of Act I. 

In the Paris 1876, Bologna 1879, and Paris Opéra 1880 scores, “Ritorna vincitor” is marked gathering no. 12, and is copied in a different hand on 16-stave paper rather than the 24-stave paper of the other gatherings.  This suggests that “Ritorna vincitor” in all three scores may have been copied at a different time from the rest of the music.

The 1876 Paris orchestration for “Ritorna vincitor” is slightly different from the other two scores, as it indicates clarinetti rather than the clarini in Bologna 1879 and Paris 1880. It also calls for ophicleide in the fortissimo outburst “Ah! sventurato!” (3 bars before rehearsal B), rather than the cimbasso used elsewhere in the score. It’s not clear why the ophicleide was indicated for this specific moment in “Ritorna vincitor.” In the Consecration Scene at the end of Act I, the 1876 Paris score again indicates clarinetti instead of the clarini found in Bologna 1879 and Paris Opéra 1880.  I wonder if the designation of “clarinetti” and ophicleide might connect the 1876 Paris score to the score prepared for the Cairo premiere (1871). That score is lost, but the list of instruments and players reproduced in the dossier Le Genesi dell’ Aida includes two “clarinetti” and an ophicleide. Comparison with the autograph might shed light on this question.

Verdi conducts Aida in Paris, 1880The 1876 Paris score of the Consecration Scene contains two significant performance instructions that appear in Verdi’s autograph but not in other early scores. One is a note (signed “G. Verdi”) stating that the artist who plays the role of Aida should sing the line of the unseen High Priestess (“N.B. si prega l’artista che eseguira la parte d’Aida a voler cantare queste prime strofe della Gran Sacerdotessa”). The presence of this note in the 1876 Paris score seems to place this source closer to the autograph than the 1879 Bologna score, which doesn’t include the note.  The other is an indication that the Chorus of Priestesses and two or three Harps should be “Nell’ interno del Tempio,” i.e., off-stage. This also appears to be unique to the 1876 Paris score. Musicologist David Lawton, in a 1986 study of early sources for Aida, notes that although the autograph and the Disposizione Scenica both refer to the off-stage chorus of priestesses with harps, and the prima donna singing the High Priestess line from off-stage, “none of the other scores I have seen reproduces this instruction, so crucial to Verdi’s conception for the dramatic and musical pacing between the two scenes.”  In the 1879 Bologna score, the phrase “Interno del Tempio de Vulcano” [“Interior of the Temple of Vulcan”] appears as a general description of the setting rather than an instruction for the placement of the harps and female chorus. “Intérieure du Temple” similarly appears in the 1880 Paris Opéra score as a general description. 

Finally, in the Act III Duet between Aida and Amonasro, there is a discrepancy of text: Amonasro says “Radamés qui verrà tosto” (Radames will be here shortly) rather than “Radamés so che qui attendi” (I know that you are waiting for Radames), which is the form of the line Verdi quotes in a letter of January 1872 and that appears in Ghislanzoni’s published libretto of 1873. This discrepancy appears minor, but the line “Radamés so che qui attendi” has been cited repeatedly in discussions of Verdian drama as evidence of Amonasro’s psychological acuity and skill in manipulating his daughter: Amonasro has discovered a secret, and Aida’s surprise and alarm gives him an advantage which he presses relentlessly. We don’t know why the dramatically weaker version of this line appears here.

A further step for contextualizing this 1876 Paris score would be to compare it with the autograph and with a manuscript copy associated with a Dresden performance later in 1876 (with German singers, and not under Verdi’s supervision).