Agostino Balderini

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Opera composer and revolutionary from the 1867 novel about the Italian revolutions of 1848, Vittoria, by George Meredith (1828–1909). Out of prison, he has been allowed to return to Italy and conspires with others, including the opera singer of the title, Vittoria Campa. He has composed the opera Camilla, based on a a French vaudeville, Camille, or the Husband Asserted, with a pro-revolutionary message, but veiled so that he was able to get it past the censors.

"Good. The opera is Camilla?"

She was answering with an affirmative, when Agostino broke in, —

"Camilla! And honour to whom honour is due! Let Caesar claim the writing of the libretto, if it be Caesar's! It has passed the censorship, signed Agostino Balderini — a disaffected person out of Piedmont, rendered tame and fangless by a rigorous imprisonment. The sources of the tale, ye grave Signori Tedeschi? The sources are partly to be traced to a neat little French vaudeville, very sparkling — Camille, or the Husband Asserted; and again to a certain Chronicle that may be mediaeval, may be modern, and is just, as the great Shakespeare would say, ' as you like it.'"

Agostino recited some mock verses, burlesquing the ordinary libretti, and provoked loud laughter from Carlo Ammiani, who was familiar enough with the run of their nonsense.

"Camilla is the bride of Camillo. I give to her all the brains, which is a modern idea, quite! He does all the mischief, which is possibly mediaeval. They have both an enemy, which is mediaeval and modern. None of them know exactly what they are about ; so there you have the modern, the mediaeval, and the antique, all in one. Finally, my friends, Camilla is something for you to digest at leisure. The censorship swallowed it at a gulp. Never was bait so handsomely taken! At present I have the joy of playing my fish. On the night of the fifteenth I land him. Camilla has a mother. Do you see? That mother is reported, is generally conceived, as dead. Do you see further? Camilla's first song treats of a dream she had of that mother. Our signorina shall not be troubled to favour you with a taste of it, or, by Bacchus and his Indian nymphs, I should speedily behold you jumping like peas in a pan, like trout on a bank! The earth would be hot under you, verily! As I was re- marking, or meant to be, Camilla and her husband disagree, having agreed to. 'Tis a plot to deceive Count Orso — aha? You are acquainted with Count Orso! He is Camilla's ante-nuptial guardian. Now you warm to it! In that condition I leave you. Perhaps my child here will give you a taste of her voice. The poetry does much upon reflection, but it has to ripen within you — a matter of time. Wed this voice to the poetry, and it finds passage 'twixt your ribs, as on the point of a driven blade. Do I cry the sweetness and the coolness of my melons? Not I! Try them."

The signorina put her hand out for the scroll he was unfolding, and cast her eyes along bars of music, while Agostino called a"Silenzio tutti!"She sang one verse, and stopped for breath.

Between her dismayed breathings she said to the chief:

"Believe me, signore, I can be trusted to sing when the time comes."

"Sing on, my blackbird — my viola!"said Agostino. "We all trust you. Look at Colonel Corte, and take him for Count Orso. Take me for pretty Camillo. Take Marco for Michiela; Giulio for Leonardo; Carlo for Cupid. Take the chief for the audience. Take him for a frivolous public. Ah, my Pippo!"(Agostino laughed aside to him)."Let us lead off with a lighter piece ; a trifle-tra-la-la! and then let the frisky piccolo be drowned in deep organ notes, as on some occasions in history the people overrun certain puling characters. But that, I confess, is an illustration altogether out of place, and I'll simply jot it down in my note-book."

Agostino had talked on to let her gain confidence. When he was silent she sang from memory. It was a song of flourishes: one of those be-flowered arias in which the notes flicker and leap like young flames. Others might have sung it ; and though it spoke favourably of her aptitude and musical education, and was of a quality to enrapture easy, merely critical audiences, it won no applause from these men. The effect produced by it was exhibited in the placid tolerance shown by the uplifting of Ugo Corte's eyebrows, which said,"Well, here's a voice, certainly."His subsequent look added,"Is this what we have come hither to hear?"

Vittoria saw the look."Am I on my trial before you?"she thought ; and the thought nerved her throat. She sang in strong and grave contralto tones, at first with shut eyes. The sense of hostility left her, and left her soul free, and she raised them. The song was of Camilla dying. She pardons the treacherous hand, commending her memory and the strength of her faith to her husband:

"Beloved, I am quickly out of sight:
I pray that you will love more than my dust.
Were death defeat, much weeping would he right;
'Tis victory when it leaves surviving trust.
You will not find me save when you forget
Earth's feebleness, and come to faith, my friend,
For all Humanity doth owe a debt
To all Humanity, until the end."

Agostino glanced at the chief to see whether his ear had caught note of his own language.

The melancholy severity of that song of death changed to a song of prophetic triumph. The signorina stood up. Camilla has thrown off the mask, and has sung the name "Italia!" At the recurrence of it the men rose likewise.

"Italia, Italia shall be free!"

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