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Archive for June 22nd, 2011

Balzac’s second visit to Italy was taken under a severe cloud of financial strain. In the early months of 1837 he owed more than 53,000 francs owing to the failure of the Chronique de Paris. He was threatened with legal proceedings and he had to use aliases in order to duck the process servers. He was ill also. But a female admirer came to his rescue. Insead of going to Russia and spend two years there, he went instead to the south. Armed with several letters of introduction he reached Milan on 19 Feb. He visited La Scala and was lionized in the press. The change must have worked wonders with him but his visit to Venice didn’t augur well. Here he was not well received in the press on complaints that he didn’t seek out the local talents or praise the Venetian art life. However having discharged tasks undertaken on behalf of Guidoboni-Viscontis he returned home. Result of his brief sojourn was in two works Gambara and Massimilla Doni. In these two works he worked on a a familiar theme: any work of art risks being lost or misunderstood due to undisciplined fervor of the artist. His passion for art must be directed dispassionately as if the purpose is on the podium as the conductor. His right hand and left must fulfil their roles as one. In Gambara the composer fails because of his music is incomprehensible. For the work to be convincing Balzac had to know the musical terms and his ignorance of musical technicalities were corrected with the help of Jakob Strunz, a composer.
Massimilla Doni was written in 1837 but not published till 1839.The theme once again the same: excess of passion can kill a work of art . By the same token it can put a damper to male virility. The male lover ‘fails’ with his mistress but may prove potent with a prostitute for whom he cares nothing. Excess of imagination can exhaust a man’s strength so the opera singer who cannot put a distance will fail in performance.
This novella is Balzac’s best and most daring and works in two levels. Between the Prince and Massimila, Emiliano knows it will end in disaster if he seeks to possess her; Genovese the tenor cannot sing at his best if Clara is not on the stage.The duchess noted for chaste love is ready to outperform Clara in bed in order to save her lover. This rather ‘odious’ theme may have been unconsciously derived from Stendhal’s Armance.
Another crucial fact is in the power of music on an occupied nation. Italy at the time was under the iron heel of Austria and whose liberty has been made a short shrift of. The scions of noble houses were reduced to accept a ducat, a mere pittance for their loss in their landed goods. Symbolic value of Rossini’s Moses cannot be lost on the reader. The opera is dealt extensively in order to give a context for the national dilemma. It is mirrored in lovers state of mind as well. Just as characters in the Opera are star crossed and strike a parallel with the private dilemma of the Duchess and the Prince. How the core of the book is delineated and preserved through these multilayered narrative,- and given life in the way the author juxtaposes them! All these imbibed by Balzac who only needed a few hours among the then Venetian society!
(ack: Prometheus: The Life of Balzac-A. Maurois)

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