- William Ashbrook
Tragedia in four acts by Arrigo Boito to his own libretto; Milan, Teatro alla Scala, 1 May 1924.
Nerone occupied Boito for some 60 years and was originally conceived in five acts, ending with Nero playing the role of Orestes on stage as Rome burns around him. It was shortened at Giulio Ricordi’s suggestion. The music is rich but episodic, contrasting the diatonicism of the Christian episodes with the strange harmonies and orchestral colour associated with both Nero and Simon the Paraclete. Boito makes considerable use of recurring themes. The score was put in performing shape after Boito’s death by Vincenzo Tommasini and Antonio Smareglia, working under Toscanini’s direction.
Nero (tenor) appears, haunted by mysterious voices accusing him of matricide. With him is Simon Mago [Simon Magus] (baritone), a priest of a mysterious cult, who promises to rid Nero of his obsession that he is pursued by the Erinyes. Bearing an urn containing his mother’s ashes, Nero hopes to placate her spirit by burying them, and thinks of himself as a new Orestes (aria, ‘Queste ad un lido fatal’). Asteria (soprano), in the form of an Erinys, seeks to pursue Nero, not from vengeance but for love. Simon detains her. To the Christian tombs comes Rubria (mezzo-soprano), who kneels and says the Lord’s Prayer. Asteria is strangely moved by this, but suddenly she dashes off in pursuit of another god. Fanuèl (baritone), a Christian apostle, enters; Rubria wishes to confess a sin to him but she is interrupted by Simon and leaves. Simon tells Fanuèl of his vision of the Christians triumphing over decadent imperial Rome, and then offers to buy some of this power. Fanuèl curses Simon, and the two declare their enmity. Nero returns with Tigellino [Tigellinus] (bass), who seeks to calm Nero’s fears and tells him that he will enter Rome in triumph. The populace hail him as an Apollo....