Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy – Die Hochzeit des Camacho (“Camacho’s Wedding”), op. 10 (1824-7)
Comic opera in two acts after a libretto probably by Friedrich Voigt,
based on an episode from Miguel de Cervantes’ Don Quixote
(b. Hamburg, 3 February 1809; d. Leipzig, 4 November 1847)
If we take the testimony of Goethe at its word, Mendelssohn was the greatest child prodigy the world of music has ever known. Die Hochzeit des Camacho, begun when the boy-genius was fifteen years old and mounted three years later, was already his fifth essay in the genre and reveals a solid understanding of the latest operatic innovations of Weber and Spohr. The expertly crafted score abounds in leitmotifs, reminiscence motifs, timbral cross-references, and long-range tonal effects that betoken a theatrical talent of energy and imagination.
Surprisingly in view of the young Mendelssohn’s astonishing facility, Die Hochzeit des Camacho underwent a relatively long gestation. After receiving the libretto in early 1824, the boy set the first act between 11 June and 11 December and finished the overture on 12 February of the following year. By the time he completed Act 2, on 10 August 1825, his compositional skills and powers of self-criticism had grown to such an extent that he felt it necessary to thoroughly revise the first act.
Having finished the score, Mendelssohn submitted it to the theatrical management of the Berlin Court Opera for approval and suddenly found himself confronted with the intrigues, petty jealousies, and artistic half-measures that govern the world of the theater. Gasparo Spontini, the head of the Royal Opera, was not disposed to be impressed, finding the score lacking in “grand ideas.” Further delays were occasioned by the illness of the tenor, and by the time the work was finally premièred at the Berlin Schauspielhaus on 29 April 1827 Mendelssohn seems to have lost sympathy with a work of his childhood that was already two years old. The single performance was well-received by the audience, but the eighteen-year-old composer was too downhearted to stay to the end and allowed his friend, the actor Eduard Devrient, to receive the applause in his stead. A hostile review in Die Schnellpost added to his general displeasure, and he made no attempt to arrange a second performance. It was the only public performance of a Mendelssohn opera given during his lifetime. (The next staging of the work took place, surprisingly, at Boston, Mass., in 1885.)
Apparently the première of Camacho necessitated a number of further cuts and alterations with which Mendelssohn was not entirely in agreement, for when the work was published in vocal score as his op. 10 (by Laue, Berlin, in 1828) most of the passages had been restored. The published full score, edited by Julius Rietz, was based on the conductor’s score for the 1827 performance and thus disagrees in some instances with Mendelssohn’s own piano reduction. The first complete staging of Die Hochzeit des Camacho in its final version had to wait until 1987, when it was given at the Playhouse in Oxford.
The libretto was long thought to be the work of Mendelssohn’s lifelong friend Karl Klingemann until a closer reading of the correspondence revealed that it was probably written by the otherwise little known Friedrich Voigt. The spoken dialogue, though apparently lost in its final form, survives virtually intact in a working manuscript preserved in the Bodleian Library, Oxford.
The Plot: Quiteria is in love with Basilio, but her father Carrasco wants to marry her to Camacho, a rich neighbor. Lucinda and Vivaldo determine to help Basilio. Sancho Panza and his master, Don Quixote, arrive in search of the haunted cave of Montesinos, and are invited to Camacho’s lavish wedding feast. Meanwhile, Basilio hides in the forest while Vivaldo attempts to convince Carrasco that Basilio has inherited a fortune. Quiteria, on her way to join Basilio, meets Don Quixote and is terrified. When the angry Carrasco and Camacho go in search of the lovers, Basilio confronts them disguised as the ghost of Montesinos and Act 1 ends in general confusion. As part of Camacho’s wedding feast Vivaldo provides an entertainment, a barbed allegory designed to show the superiority of love to wealth; this is brought to an abrupt end by the crazy intervention of Don Quixote. Just as Quiteria, in despair, is about to sign the marriage contract, Basilio arrives; in accordance with Vivaldo’s plan he pretends to stab himself and is allowed to marry Quiteria so that he can die happy. But as soon as the marriage is solemnized he leaps to his feet. Camacho reluctantly accepts the situation and the wedding feast is allowed to proceed.
Bradford Robinson, 2005
Performance material: Breitkopf und Härtel, Wiesbaden