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KING FOR A DAY—OR, IN FACT,  ON AND OFF FOR YEARS

HERE ARE TIDBITS about how one thing can lead to another… and another…. and another.

So there I was, listening at 6:30 a.m. to classical KUSC’s Jennifer Miller comment on Giuseppe Verdi’s “King for a Day: Overture” (Fabio Luisi/Philharmonic Zurich). Hmm… an interesting piece. I must look into this.

Giuseppe Fortunino Francesco Verdi, 1813–1901, Italian opera composer extraordinaire. Portrait by Giovanni Boldini, 1886.

A Failed Comedy. Verdi’s melodramma giocoso opera Un Giorno di Regno, ossia il Finto Stanislao was written in 1840 and a fat lot of good it did him. Wikipedia notes that after his success the year before with his first opera Oberto, the 26-year-old Verdi was commissioned to compose a comedy. He and librettist Felice Romani based A One-Day Reign, or The Pretend Stanislaus on an 1808 play Le Faux Stanislas written by Frenchman Alexandre-Vincent Pineux Deval.

A melodramma giocoso opera is intended to have playful twists, but indeed Verdi’s life at the time had personal tragedy: Two daughters had died young, and his wife Margherita perished from encephalitis at the age of 26.

His giocoso opera turned tragico as well. When Un Giorno premiered at La Scala, Verdi heard the audience’s disapproval from the orchestra pit. At first, he vowed to abandon opera altogether. Later, he changed this to eschewing comic operas. He did so until Falstaff, his last opera composed in 1893.  

Un Giorni’s Plot. French officer Cavaliere di Belfiore is impersonating Polish King Stanislaus, who’s on the lam during one of his country’s periods of political unrest. In his faux royal role, Belfiore is knee-deep in romantic entanglements, one involving the Marchesa del Poggio (who’s hot for him as Belfiore, not knowing of his masquerade). Various nephews, daughters, and other members of court complicate his impersonation. There are deals of marrying off one or the other, and even a challenge to a duel. 

By the end of Act II (which apparently came too late for La Scala opera goers), Belfiore gives kingly proclamation to one of the weddings, and the rest is resolved (the giocoso bit) by King Stanisław releasing him from the impersonation role. Belfiore expresses his love for the Marchesa. All ends happily with the prospect of two weddings.

The Real Stanisław Leszczyński. Deval’s play and Verdi’s opera found their inspiration in historical events concerning Polish monarch King Stanisław Leszczyński. 

Stanisław Leszczyński,1677–1766, King of Poland, Grand Duke of Lithuania, Duke of Lorraine, Count of the Holy Roman Empire. Portrait by Jean-Baptiste van Loo, 1727–1728. 

Things were complicated indeed in 18th-century Europe. France and Russia were at odds; they had their first encounter in 1733–1735 in the War of Polish Succession. Seven more wars were to follow, including Napoleon’s ill-fated 1812 invasion of Russia and not ending until the Crimean War of 1854–1856. 

First Reign. King Stanisław’s first reign was from July 12, 1704 to July 8, 1709. During this time, he cemented relationships with Charles XII of Sweden, which led to the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth helping Sweden against Russia’s Peter the Great. King Stanisław even induced Cossack commander Ivan Mazepa to desert the tsar. Mazepa is to reappear refashioned Mazeppa in the works of Lord Byron, Alexander Pushkiin, Victor Hugo, Franz Liszt, and Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky.

Stanisław’s Royal Banner.

However, Polish sentiments turned against Stanisław, and in 1709 he swapped the Polish crown for the little principality of the Palatine Zweibrücken, in what is now northeast Germany, and later fled to Alsace, what is now in northeast France. Wikipedia notes, “In 1725, he had the satisfaction of seeing his daughter Maria become queen consort of Louis XV of France.”

Second Reign. “Stanisław’s son-in-law,” Wikipedia continues, “supported his claims to the Polish throne after the death of August II the Strong in 1733, which led to the War of the Polish Succession. On 11 September 1733, Stanisław himself arrived at Warsaw, having traveled night and day through central Europe disguised as a coachman. On the following day, despite many protests, Stanisław was duly elected King of Poland for the second time.”

In 1735, Stanisław escaped the Russian siege of Danzig in the disguise of a peasant.

Note the proclivity for disguise.

Being a king was hardly giocoso. Nor was Verdi’s second opera. ds 

© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2021

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