Gerbič's Unperformed Opera »Midsummer Night«

  • Jože Sivec

Abstract

Although it is unknown when Pran Gerbič began to plot his opera Midsummer Night (Kres), it must have been at the latest in 1893, the year from which the first data in this connection have survived. As one can learn from the score, it was finished on April 5, 1896. The libretto was written by Gerbič himself. There is no evidence in the sources, however, whether it was based on some literary work; so, it appears, that the fabula was a result of Gerbič's free imagination. Unfortunately, the composer had neither literary abilities nor an adequate feeling for the stage and was thus unable to write a text which would guarantee an integral operatic work of art. The libretto is undramatic, it contains very little action and has no real culminating point; consequently, the opera is to a considerable degree uneven as regards its quality and therefore cannot be ranked as a musically homogeneous theatrical piece. Nevertheless, it must be pointed out that the composer's musical inventiveness has for the most part covered up the inexpressiveness of the text, with the result that many a page of the score is strongly inspired and beautiful. The vocal solos, ensembles and a number of choruses can indisputably be placed among the successful passages of the opera, thanks to the composer's affinity to lyrical moods. Especially in the duets of Zorka and Barba in the first act and of Zorka and Cilja in the second, is the composer's melodical inventiveness and expressiveness so strong that one might claim that, at these points, Gerbič does not lag behind some of his important contemporaries in the European musical world. On the whole it is important that it is precisely the arias and duets in which the composer succeeded in outlining most vividly his characters – so that they come alive through the music rather than through the text. Much weaker are the recitatives, or rather ariosos, which – sometimes due to the inexpressiveness of the vocal part and the orchestral accompaniment – are all too monotonous and stereotyped. Here it appears to he especially fatal that Gerbič lacked strength when dealing with dramatically decisive passages, the main reason for which must be sought in the meagreness of the libretto. Which again does not mean that the opera has no musically convincing arioso passages, some of which can even boast of a rather broad harmonic palette. Although Gerbič gave preference to the human voice, the importance of the orchestral accompaniment should not be overlooked. The role of the latter is to be emphasized especially in connection with instrumental introductions, intermezzos and epilogues, and, last but not least, in the use of recurrent motifs and motivic reminiscences. This gives clear proof of Gerbič's efforts to intensify his work psychologically. However, Gerbič did not make use of the principle of transforming leitmotifs symphonically, a principle so typical of late romanticism. This simpler and older manner of exploiting recurring motifs is nevertheless interesting enough, as it reveals Gerbič's concept of the opera as an expressive means, enabling the composer to unite individual parts both as regards the contents and the form, into a more organic whole. This seems to be even more important, in view of the fact that Gerbič, in spite of giving up the division of a score into rounded-off »numbers«, did not quite succeed in achieving a sustained musical continuity. Arias, ensembles and choruses end in clearly emphasized cadenzas and very seldom proceed directly, for which reason they are easy to perform as individual items. Characteristic of Midsummer Night are also the composer's efforts to achieve a Slovene musical expression. A number of choruses and some solo passages sound genuinely Slovene, although Gerbič only now and then makes use of folk tunes. Much stronger than the Slovene is a kind of a generally Slav expressiveness, repeatedly coming closest to its Czech variety. In spite of that one could hardly speak of explicit influences of Dvorak and Smetana and even less of any imitation of the great masters. Of course, in Gerbič's score there is much that cannot be categorized within the national. This shows that different stylistic elements exist in a work which moves within early and high Romanticism and only slightly touches the late phase of the latter. Having not been well casted into a whole, a certain stylistic heterogeniousness inevitably persists. Apparently, a theatrical performance of Gerbič's Midsummer Night, especially in its original form, would be of no profit, for the deficiencies of the libretto would all too much come to the fore. Unfortuanely, dramaturgically bad as the work is, one cannot imagine a succesful revision. However, as it contains much valuable music, it is a pity to leave the score in dusty archives. All necessary cuts undertaken, perhapse the best solution would be that of a radio concert performance. Inspite of all its deficiencies Midsummer Night does occupy quite an important position in the rather modest Slovene operatic literature of the late 19th century. Together with Ipavec's The Noblemen of Teharje (Teharski plemiči) and Foerster's The Nightingale of Gorenjsko (Gorenjski slavček) it reprtesents quite a successful realization of efforts in achieving Slovene operatic expressiveness and, at the same time, a clear move away from the cosmopolitan or rather Italian oriented Gerbič's contemporary V. Parma. Much more important is the fact that Midsummer Night represents the first attempt to introduce recurring »meaningful« motifs and freer formal concepts into Slovene opera. Here lies the evolutionary role of Gerbič's work, as it indicates features which were ten years later fully and successfully realized by Risto Savin.

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Published
1975-12-01
How to Cite
SivecJ. (1975). Gerbič’s Unperformed Opera »Midsummer Night«. Musicological Annual, 11(1), 54-73. https://doi.org/10.4312/mz.11.1.54-73
Section
Articles