“The Dream of Valentino” in Minnesota



The Dream of Valentino

by Dominick Argento

Fame is a dangerous dance.


  • Sat. 3/1/14 at 7:30pm
  • Thu. 3/6/14 at 7:30pm
  • Sat. 3/8/14 at 7:30pm
  • Sun. 3/9/14 at 2pm

A sultry young dancer is transformed from an unknown immigrant into a silent film sensation. Rudolph Valentino’s stardom blazes across the silver screen but is quickly consumed by the same forces that ignited it. Seduction and scandal swirl in Dominick Argento’s tango-tinged opera about an artist discovered and destroyed by Hollywood.

Sung in English with English captions projected above the stage.

A Minnesota Opera New Works Initiative Production.


Part I

Scene one – The Avalon Ballroom, Broadway, post-World War I

Rodolfo Valentino has just arrived from Italy, and has found employment as a dancer in a Broadway dance palace. He recoils when one of his partners makes a provocative and inappropriate move. Insulted, the woman calls for the police. Valentino is saved by June Mathis, who is there conducting research for an upcoming film.

Scene two – The parlor of June Mathis’ apartment, New York

Mathis provides food and wine as a grateful Valentino presents his abilities as an actor. He believes fate has brought them together, but the screenwriter has her doubts – could this attractive young man truly be a movie star?

Scene three – A studio screening room in Hollywood

The Mogul and his entourage are watching a Valentino B-movie. All agree the young Italian has screen appeal, particularly among the female sex. He is already signed with another film company, so they are content to wait and see how things develop.

Scene fourA garden in Alla Nazimova’s estate on Sunset Boulevard

Natacha Rambova and Jean Acker are discussing a possible film version of Camille with Alla Nazimova. The celebrated actress believes the project’s success hinges on casting the perfect Armand, the love interest. Valentino auditions for her and her guests. Later, he dances a tango with Acker while the rest look on admiringly. Nazimova is determined to get Valentino under contract so that she can guide and polish his career.

Scene five – Louella Parsons’ desk at the Hearst offices

Louella Parsons writes about the recent and hasty marriage between Jean Acker and Rodolph Valentino while the other reporters gossip about the wedding night. The Camille project has been delayed, but Mathis has written a new screenplay, Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, with a leading role for Valentino.

Scene six – The Mogul’s office at the film studio

The Mogul discusses Valentino’s recent box office success with Marvin Heeno. He is determined to get this hot new actor under contract and exploit his popularity with women.

Scene seven – At the film studio

Valentino poses for publicity shots in preparation for the movie The Sheik. Mathis is angered by the breaking of the Metro contract she negotiated. A lawyer informs her that the actor is under a personal contract with Nazimova and therefore unavailable to the Mogul. Meanwhile, Acker demands financial support as Nazimova asserts her right to influence all aspects of the film. As the chaos swirls around him, Valentino finds himself helpless to control his life.

Part II

Scene eight – A silent film stage

Rambova coaches Valentino through his newest film, Monsieur Beaucaire. The sensitive role is very much the opposite of the manly sheik, and Mathis objects. Heeno asks Valentino if he has secretly married Rambova, and the actor confirms that the rumor is true. Heeno and Mathis openly express their disappointment. The Mogul bursts in, complaining that the new film is trash. This effeminate new image, along with the gossip over Valentino’s sudden marriage, will ruin his career.

Scene nine – Valentino’s studio dressing room

As he removes his wig and makeup, Valentino studies his reflection in the mirror, trying to understand what he has become. Is it too late to recover his dreams?

Scene ten – The Mogul’s office

Monsieur Beaucaire is a flop. The Mogul and Heeno strategize how they can get Valentino back on track and out of Rambova and Nazimova’s control. With their lavish lifestyle, the two women are driving the actor to financial ruin. Mathis suggests getting a court injunction requiring that he will work for the Mogul exclusively.

Scene eleven – The backstage of a theater, Omaha

Deeply in debt and abandoned by Rambova, Valentino has been reduced to performing dance in a Midwest vaudeville theater. The Mogul has pursued him to Nebraska and tries to convince him to return to Hollywood. Valentino refuses, preferring to be his own man rather the property of a film studio. Upset by the meeting, he begins the tango rather unsteadily, eventually falling off the stage.

Scene twelve – Aboard the New York-bound S.S. Aquitania

Returning to America after a private visit to Italy, Valentino dreamily reviews his destroyed life in anguish and in pain. Newspapermen wait at the docks, eager for a story about “The Pink Power Puff,” an appellation given to him by the Chicago Tribune. Valentino collapses. Headlines report his ailing condition arising from a perforated ulcer.

Scene thirteen – Campbell’s Funeral Parlor, New York, 1926

Valentino has died at the age of 31 and is mourned by Mathis. She expresses remorse for her role in his rise to stardom and ponders what she could have done to save him. Through his legendary fame and premature death, Valentino has at least achieved immortality.


Dominick Argento


Dominick Argento
b York, Pennsylvania, October 27, 1927

Dominick Argento is considered to be America’s preeminent composer of lyric opera. At the Peabody Conservatory, where he earned his Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees, his teachers included Nicholas Nabokov, Henry Cowell and Hugo Weisgall. Argento received his Ph.D. from the Eastman School of Music, where he studied with Alan Hovhaness and Howard Hanson. Fulbright and Guggenheim Fellowships allowed him to study in Italy with Luigi Dallapiccola and to complete his first opera, Colonel Jonathan the Saint. Following his Fulbright, Argento became music director of Hilltop Opera in Baltimore, and taught theory and composition at the Eastman School. In 1958, he joined the faculty of the Department of Music at the University of Minnesota, where he taught until 1997. He now holds the rank of Professor Emeritus.

Although Argento’s instrumental works have received consistent praise, the great majority of his music is vocal, whether in operatic, choral or solo context. This emphasis on the human voice is a facet of the powerful dramatic impulse that drives nearly all of his music, both instrumental and vocal. Music critic Heidi Waleson has described Argento’s work as “richly melodic … [his] pieces are built with wit and passion, and always with the dramatic shape and color that make them theater. They speak to the heart.”

During his years at Eastman, Argento composed his opera, The Boor (1957), which has remained in the repertoire; John Rockwell of The New York Times, writing of a 1985 production, stated that “[it] taps deep currents of sentiment and passion.” Following his arrival in Minnesota, the composer accepted a number of commissions from significant organizations in his adopted state. Among these were the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, who commissioned his suite Royal Invitation (1964); and the Civic Orchestra of Minneapolis, who commissioned Variations for Orchestra [The Mask of Night] (1965). Argento’s close association with Sir Tyrone Guthrie and Douglas Campbell, directors of the Minnesota Theatre Company, led to his composing incidental music for several Guthrie productions, as well as a ballad opera, The Shoemaker’s Holiday (1967).

The 1970s and 1980s saw the composer working increasingly in the song cycle form, while still writing operas and orchestral music. Among his major song cycles are: Letters from Composers (1968); To Be Sung Upon the Water (1973); From the Diary of Virginia Woolf (1975); the choral I Hate and I Love (1982); The Andree Expedition (1983); and Casa Guidi (1983). His most recent song cycles, both premiered in 1996, are A Few Words About Chekhov (mezzo-soprano, baritone, and piano), given its premiere by Frederica von Stade, Håkan Hagegård and accompanist Martin Katz at the Ordway in Saint Paul; Walden Pond (mixed chorus, harp, and three cellos), commissioned and premiered by the Dale Warland Singers; and Miss Manners on Music, to texts by the noted advice columnist.

Since the early 1970s the composer’s operas, which have always found success in the United States, have been heard with increasing frequency abroad. Nearly all of them, beginning with Postcard from Morocco (1971), have had at least one European production. Among these are The Voyage of Edgar Allan Poe (1976), Miss Havisham’s Wedding Night (1981) and Casanova’s Homecoming (1984); Robert Jacobson of Opera News described the latter work as “a masterpiece.” The Aspern Papers was given its premiere by Dallas Opera in November 1988 to great acclaim, was telecast on the pbs series Great Performances and was again presented, to critical praise, by the Washington Opera in 1990. It since has been heard in Germany and in Sweden; June 1998 brought a performance at the Barbican Centre in London.

Dominick Argento has examined fame and the immigrant experience in his newest opera, The Dream of Valentino, set in the early days of Hollywood. Washington Opera gave the work its premiere under the baton of Christopher Keene in January 1994, followed by its co-commissioning company, Dallas Opera, in 1995. The production featured special multi-media sets by John Conklin and costumes by the couturier Valentino. Writing of the premiere, Peter G. Davis of New York magazine stated, “What a pleasure to encounter a real opera composer, one who has studied and learned from his predecessors, loves the form, understands its conventions, has mastered them and then lets his imagination take wing.” The Dream of Valentino received its European premiere in February 1999 in Kassel, Germany.

Among other honors and awards, Dominick Argento received the Pulitzer Prize for Music in 1975 for his song cycle From the Diary of Virginia Woolf. He was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 1979, and in 1997 was honored with the title of Composer Laureate to the Minnesota Orchestra, a lifetime appointment. In honor of his 85th birthday, the University of Maryland presented a special career retrospective that included Miss Havisham’s FirePostcard from Morocco and Miss Manners on Music, as well as other recitals and lectures. 

 – reproduced by kind permission of Boosey & Hawkes.

Cast & Creative Team

Music by Dominick Argento
Libretto by Charles Nolte

World premiere at The Kennedy Center, Washington D.C. January 15, 1994

Creative Team

Conductor Christoph Campestrini
Stage Director Eric Simonson
Senic Designer Erhard Rom
Projections Designer Peter Nigrini
Costume Designer Karin Kopischke
Lighting Designer Robert Wierzel


The Cast

Rudolph Valentino James Valenti
June Mathis, a screenwriter Brenda Harris
The Mogul, a film studio boss Alan Held
Alla Nazimova, a celebrated actress Eve Gigliotti
Marvin Heeno, the Mogul’s nephew John Robert Lindsey
Natcha Rambova, a Hollywood director and designer Victoria Vargas
Jean Acker, a young actress Angela Mortellaro
This entry was posted in Music, OPera and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.