Sleuthing Singer Discovers Long Lost Aria by Cilea

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Cultists of the tenor voice all know and love an aria called “Il Lamento di Federico” for its heart-on-sleeve expressiveness. They may not know what Federico is lamenting about, but the aria typically elicits ovations on the rare occasions it is performed. It often appears in auditions, competitions or as an encore after a recital. Fewer people know that it comes from an 1897 opera called L’Arlesiana by Francesco Cilea (1866-1950), the Calabrian composer best known for his opera Adriana Lecouvreur (1902).

Here is “Il Lamento di Federico” sung by Giuseppe Filianoti in a version that is slightly different in its ending from the standard version in that the prolonged, emotional “Ahhhh” has been added. Apparently, it was part of the original 1897 performance in Milan with a promising young tenor named Enrico Caruso.

The source of the opera’s story is a novel by Alphonse Daudet (1840-1897) called L’Arlesienne, about a young Provençal shepherd who falls in love with a girl from Arles and, upon learning of her infidelity before their planned marriage, commits suicide. What is particular is that the title character never appears on stage but is referred to by the other characters, especially Federi (Federico in Italian). The leading female character is Vivetta, a good girl whom Federico’s parents want him to wed.

The novel was adapted as a play and premiered in 1872 with incidental music by Georges Bizet, who would later compose Carmen. Some of the 25 pieces Bizet wrote were orchestrated into two popular orchestral suites.

Recently, Filianoti discovered another aria for Federico, “Una Mattina,” (“One Morning”) that had been lost. He performed it for the first time on July 14 at a concert in Freiburg, Germany.

I contacted the Italian tenor to learn more:

"Everything began about a year ago when I decided to find some unpublished chamber music [i.e. concert songs] by Cilea for a recital in Kansas City,” Filianoti told me. “I went to House of Culture in Palmi, the Calabrian city where Cilea was born. His manuscripts and papers reside there because his widow had donated them after Cilea’s death.

“I analyzed various musical pieces by Cilea; one lyric I read was for ‘Alba Novella' (“New Dawn”), which I found particularly beautiful and refined. I decided to add it to my concert program. I began to study and sing it at the piano and, after a couple of minutes, realized that I had already read these words somewhere else."

Filianoti read in Italy's Il Secolo newspaper that L’Arlesiana contained another striking aria for Federico ("Una mattina m’apriron nella stanza" or "One morning they opened my window for me"). He also got his hands on a copy of a libretto to the original four-act version of the opera at the Naples Conservatory.

"Subsequent to this version, Cilea made cuts and additions for more than 40 years before arriving at the performing score and libretto we know today. I noticed, in the original libretto, words for a second aria for Federico in the third act. It was then that I realized that the words to the concert song by Cilea known as ‘Alba Novella’ (‘New Dawn’) were identical to those of this ‘new’ aria. I located the music Cilea had deleted from the score before 1897, which had been repurposed in a concert song.”

Filianoti was already scheduled to perform the role of Federico in a concert version of L’Arlesiana on July 14 in Freiburg. He contacted Mario Guido Scappucci, a well-regarded composer from Viterbo, to ask him to orchestrate this music in a way faithful to the rest of the opera. Then he contacted the firm of Sonzogno-Ostali, the original publisher of L’Arlesiana, and submitted this orchestrated aria to them. They immediately decided to publish it. The speed with which this happened meant that Filianoti could perform it two weeks ago in Germany as documented in the video you saw above.

He said, “So now I am filled with excitement and pride at being able to to contribute to the discovery of a little musical gem which sheds a little more precious light on an opera by my fellow Calabrian that has been unjustly forgotten.”

As it happens, there is a new production of L’Arlesiana scheduled to open on October 24 at the Wexford Festival in Ireland, which specializes in resurrecting operas of great value. Filianoti said this might be the first staging of the opera to contain the new aria but laments that he would not the one to perform it.