In 1835 a war over operas – then in short supply – engulfed Europe. All parties involved were molto furioso. At its centre was Neapolitan librettist Francesco Florimo. He had contracted with fellow student chum at the Naples Conservatory and up and coming composer, Vincenzo Bellini, to write a libretto for his opera I Capuleti e i Montecchi. Without a dose of Florimo the opera would wither and die.
In the mid 19th century, there was a clamour for new operas to counter the contagion of Mozart’s Covid fan tutte which had gone viral in 1790. By the early 1830s two well-researched but hastily composed antidotes competed for attention, Gaetano Donizetti’s L’elisir d’Amore and Bellini’s I Capuleti. Both relied on one essential ingredient in short supply, a libretto from Florimo.
Bellini claimed he had a contract with Florimo. Florimo’s riposte was that, as Bellini hadn’t even written I Capuleti yet, his agreement to supply the libretto was on a “best efforts” basis only.
A peripheral figure, Piccola Sturze, muscled in on the bruhaha, threatening to publish full contract details in the Gazzetta privilegiata di Escozia, the house rag du jour of opera fans across Europe.
Bellini harrumphed that Florimo was not a good man, he had his little ways. Sometimes he wouldn’t reply to letters for days and days and days. Eventually, their friendship and collaboration would be repaired.
German opera houses claimed limited trial previews had shown adverse side effects in opera goers over 65, so refused to stage either opera, saying they would wait until Wagner came along with a pure German antidote instead.
Bien pensants across the continent shook their heads despairingly and said this would never have happened if their proposal for an Opera Union, driving towards ever closer harmony, with power to approve and distribute libretti, had been accepted. It would, of course, have to be based on Habsburg principles – unelected. Art predicting history.