“Crispino e la Comare,” or “The Cobbler and the Fairy,” a comic opera in three acts with music composed by the brothers Luigi and Federico Ricci and text by Francesco Maria Piave was produced in Venice in 1850.
Crispino Tachetto, a cobbler. Fabrizio, a doctor. Mirabolino, a doctor and apothecary. Contino del Fioro, a Tuscan nobleman. Don Astrubale di Caparotta, a Sicilian miser. Bortilo, a mason. Anneta, Crispino’s wife. La Comare, a fairy.
Chorus of doctors of medicine, apothecaries, assistants and other shopmen, street criers and news venders, relatives and friends of Crispino.
The scene of the story is Venice of the Seventeenth Century. Crispino is a penniless cobbler and Anneta, his wife, tries to add to the support of the numerous family by singing ballads in the street. But nobody wants any cobbling done and songs are a drug on the market. The situation is truly desperate when old Don Astrubale becomes importunate about the rent and suggests to the horrified Crispino that the favors of the pretty wife might be an alternative. The unhappy fellow is about to end his troubles by drowning himself in a well, when out of its depths appears a fairy, who bids him do nothing rash. When she has heard his dreary recountal of adversities she gives him a bag of gold and tells him that she can bring his troubles to a termination by making him a renowned doctor. The fairy has evidently a sense of humor of her own, for when Crispino, who cannot even read, demurs, exclaiming, ” I’m a perfect idiot,” she returns, ” Thoud’st only resemble a hundred others in the same predicament.” She instructs him that when he has a patient he must be careful to look around to see that she is not present, invisible to all save him, for the patient will not recover unless she is absent. To conclude the first act, Crispino runs home to tell his wife, who can scarcely believe her ears. They find further that the thoughtful fairy has already provided a large placard and a complete professional wardrobe.
Before the second act is finished Crispino is launched successfully upon his career. The people scoff when they see his newly erected sign and the members of the medical fraternity laugh at his bad Latin, but when Bortilo, a mason, is brought in apparently dying from a fall, Crispino looks about him hastily and, not discovering the fairy, prescribes for the injured man so effectually that he recovers at once and Crispino’s fortunes are made. The people place him upon his cobbler’s bench and carry him aloft in triumph, while the medical fraternity are very evidently disgruntled.
Crispino is not, alas, one of the few who can bear prosperity gracefully. He builds a beautiful palace on the site of his old stall and here his wife dwells but not at all happily, for he is niggardly and ill-treats her. He is dissolute in life, haughty and supercilious to everybody and insolent even to his good fairy. Naturally, La Comare decides to punish him and, in the midst of an interview, she suddenly sinks with him through the earth to her subterranean abode where Truth and judgment, two cold and uncomfortable creatures, dwell. The fairy shows him numerous flames burning in crystal vases which are the registers of life. Crispino is alarmed to find that, while his wife’s burns high, his is nearly extinguished. La Comare tells him his time is nigh and, having assumed the grinning mask of death, has him make his will under her supervision. When he begs abjectly for one last hour with his wife and children, she shows him in a magic mirror a vision of them praying for his safety. Then the mirror grows dim and Crispino, who thinks he is dying, falls senseless. He wakes to find himself in his own armchair in the midst of family and friends, who assure him that he has been the victim of a bad dream. The dream, however, has had a beneficial effect and the curtain descends on Crispino protesting his reformation. The sub-plot, which concerns itself with the love affair of Contino del Fioro and the ward of Don Astrubale, the miser who wants to marry her in order to keep her bank account, is frequently omitted. It may be added that the opportune taking-off of this unpleasant person removes all obstacles to the lovers’ happiness.
Crispino has withstood the test of time better than any other of the many operas composed singly or in collaboration by the brothers Luigi and Federico Ricci.
The music is gay and sparkling and includes the following numbers : Contino’s romanza, “Beautiful e’en as an angel fair; ” Crispino’s melody, ” Once a cobbler poor and lonely; ” Anneta’s song, ” My pretty tales, my charms and songs, oh who will come and buy? ” the buffa aria of Dr. Fabrizio, “I’m a bit of a philosopher; ” the duet of Crispino and Anneta, “‘Tis well! I now can understand; ” Anneta’s song, ” I no longer am Anneta; ” her cake (Fretola) song, Pietro, darling, this cake so tempting; ” and her waltz song in the finale, ” There’s no joy that e’er hath equaled.”