Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Performances

The Met’s ‘Le Nozze di Figaro’ a happy marriage of ensemble singing and acting

The cast of supporting roles was especially strong in the company’s new production of Mozart’s matchless masterpiece

Syracuse Opera’s ‘Die Fledermaus’ bubbles over with fun, laughter and irresistible music

The company uncorks its 40th Anniversary season with a visually and musically satisfying production of Johann Strauss Jr.’s farcical operetta

Capriccio at Lyric Opera of Chicago

Although performances of Richard Strauss’s last opera Capriccio have increased in recent time, Lyric Opera of Chicago has not experienced the “Konversationsstück für Musik” during the past twenty odd years.

Anna Netrebko, now a dramatic soprano, shines in the Met’s dark and murky ‘Macbeth’

The former lyric soprano holds up well — and survives the intrusive close-up camerawork of the ‘Live in HD’ transmission

Arizona Opera Presents First Mariachi Opera

Houston Grand Opera commissioned Cruzar la Cara de la Luna from composer José “Pepe” Martínez, music director of Mariachi Vargas de Tecalitlán, who wrote the text together with Broadway and opera director Leonard Foglia. The work had its world premier in 2010. Since then, it has traveled to several cities including Paris, Chicago, and San Diego.

Plácido Domingo: I due Foscari, London

“Why should I go to hear Plácido Domingo” someone said when Verdi’s I due Foscari was announced by the Royal Opera House. There are very good reasons for doing so.

Philip Glass’s The Trial

Music Theatre Wales presented the world premiere of Philip Glass’s The Trial (Kafka) last night at the Linbury, Royal Opera House. Music Theatre Wales started doing Glass in 1989. Their production of Glass’s In the Penal Colony in 2010 was such a success that Glass conceived The Trial specially for the company.

Joyce DiDonato: Alcina, Barbican, London

To say that the English Concert’s performance of Handel’s Alcina at the Barbican on 10 October 2014 was hotly anticipated would be an understatement. Sold out for weeks, the performance capitalised on the draw of its two principals Joyce DiDonato and Alice Coote and generated the sort of buzz which the work did at its premiere.

A New Don Giovanni and Anniversary at Lyric Opera of Chicago

Lyric Opera of Chicago opened its sixtieth anniversary season with a new production of Mozart’s Don Giovanni directed by Artistic Director of the Goodman Theater, Robert Falls.

Grande messe des morts, LSO

It was a little over two years ago that I heard Sir Colin Davis conduct the Berlioz Requiem in St Paul’s Cathedral; it was the last time I heard — or indeed saw — him conduct his beloved and loving London Symphony Orchestra.

Guillaume Tell, Welsh National Opera

Part of their Liberty or Death season along with Rossini’s Mose in Egitto and Bizet’s Carmen, Welsh National Opera performed David Pountney’s new production of Rossini’s Guillaume Tell (seen 4 October 2014).

Mose in Egitto, Welsh National Opera

Welsh National Opera’s production of Rossini’s Mose in Egitto was the second of two Rossini operas (the other is Guillaume Tell) performed in tandem for their autumn tour.

L’incoronazione di Poppea, Barbican Hall

In Monteverdi’s first Venetian opera, Il Ritorno d’Ulisse (1641), Penelope’s patient devotion as she waits for the return of her beloved Ulysses culminates in the triumph of love and faithfulness; in contrast, in L’incoronazione di Poppea it is the eponymous Queen’s lust, passion and ambition that prevail.

Rameau’s Les Paladins, Wigmore Hall

After the triumphs of love, the surprises: Les Paladins, under their director Jérôme Correas, and soprano Sandrine Piau are following their tour of material from their 2011 CD, ‘Le Triomphe de L’amour’, with a new amatory arrangement.

Puccini : The Girl of the Golden West, ENO London

At the ENO, Puccini's La fanciulla del West becomes The Girl of the Golden West. Hearing this opera in English instead of Italian has its advantages, While we can still hear the exotic, Italianate Madama Butterfly fantasies in the orchestra, in English, we're closer to the original pot-boiler melodrama. Madama Biutterfly is premier cru: The Girl of the Golden West veers closer, at times, to hokum. The new ENO production gets round the implausibility of the plot by engaging with its natural innocence.

Anna Caterina Antonacci, Wigmore Hall, London

Presenting a well-structured and characterful programme, Italian soprano Anna Caterina Antonacci demonstrated her prowess in both soprano and mezzo repertoire in this Wigmore Hall recital, performing European works from the early years of the twentieth century. Assuredly accompanied by her regular pianist Donald Sulzen, Antonacci was self-composed and calm of manner, but also evinced a warmly engaging stage presence throughout.

Il barbiere di Siviglia, Royal Opera

Bold, bright and brash, Moshe Leiser and Patrice Caurier’s Il barbiere di Siviglia tells its story clearly in complementary primary colours.

Gluck and Bertoni at Bampton

Bampton Classical Opera’s 2014 double bill neatly balanced drollery and gravity. Rectifying the apparent prevailing indifference to the 300th centenary of Christoph Willibald Gluck birth, Bampton offered a sharp, witty production of the composer’s Il Parnaso confuso, pairing this ‘festa teatrale’ with Ferdinando Bertoni’s more sombre Orfeo.

Purcell: A Retrospective

Harry Christophers and The Sixteen Choir and Orchestra launched the Wigmore Hall’s two-year series, ‘Purcell: A Retrospective’, in splendid style. Flexibility, buoyancy and transparency were the watchwords.

Mahler: Symphony no.3 — Prom 73

It would be unfair, but one could summarise this concert with the words, ‘Senator, you’re no Leonard Bernstein.’

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Performances

A Cartoon of Italo Montemezzi
10 Nov 2012

The Resurrection of Italo Montemezzi’s Epic La Nave

Italo Montemezzi’s great “lost” epic opera, La Nave, was heard on 31 October for the first time since 1938, leaving an enthusiastic New York audience wondering why on earth it had been neglected for so long.

The Resurrection of Italo Montemezzi’s Epic La Nave

A review by David Chandler

Above: A Cartoon of Italo Montemezzi

 

Critics who wrote about La Nave in the past were given to playing on the title (La Nave = The Ship), and talked of launchings, sailings, dockings, calm seas, anxious sailors, and so forth. Extending that tradition, Hurricane Sandy almost left La Nave high and dry, for Teatro Grattacielo’s performance scheduled for Monday 29 October had to be cancelled on account of squalls, and only some heroic behind-the-scenes efforts allowed it to be put on two days later instead. It was not undamaged by the weather, for the chorus was slightly below strength and the Rose Theater full of empty seats reserved by those who sadly couldn’t make it. But those who could gave every sign of feeling very fortunate to be there.

Montemezzi (1875-1952) has gone down in operatic history as the ultimate “one work” composer, that work being L’Amore dei Tre Re (The Love of Three Kings) of 1913, an opera which enjoyed enormous international success and acclaim for about three decades after its premiere. As Alan Mallach found occasion to state in The Autumn of Italian Opera: From Verismo to Modernism, 1890-1915 (2007), “While even moderately serious opera buffs know of Mascagni’s L’amico Fritz and Iris or Leoncavallo’s Zazà, it is hard to imagine anyone but a true specialist who can name another Montemezzi opera, or proffer even the most minimal information that might illuminate who he was, and how this shadowy figure came to write this one notable opera.” Yet Montemezzi himself considered La Nave of 1918 to be his masterpiece, and his close friend Tullio Serafin, who conducted the premieres of both operas, agreed. Montemezzi wrote in 1931, “La Nave … is my major work. I insist: my major work. I shout it to the rooftops so that I may be heard.” It was a source of great frustration to him that he continued to be associated almost wholly with the earlier opera.

When La Nave was premiered at La Scala in 1918, the Italian critics had a number of reservations. They found Montemezzi’s choice of a play by Gabriele D’Annunzio, Italy’s most famous and notorious living writer, both unsuited to operatic treatment and (in many cases) not very well handled. And they found the music too heavily Germanic, too saturated with Wagner and Strauss — the First World War had, unsurprisingly, hardened attitudes to German music in Italy — and insufficiently tuneful. By 1938, when there was a very important revival of La Nave at the Teatro Reale dell’Opera in Rome, Mussolini’s showpiece opera house, the force of these criticisms had abated considerably, and the general attitude was surprise that such an obviously major opera had been neglected for so long. But in 1943 all the performance materials were destroyed by allied bombing, putting an end to the opera’s stage career. The manuscript full score survived, however, and from this new parts have been generated which allowed the historic revival of La Nave on 31 October. The opera is now generally available for hire again.

Teatro Grattacielo put on concert performances, which have the benefit of focussing attention firmly on the music, though in this case the ballet sequence in the second “Episode” was enacted by the I Giullari di Piazza Dancers, which brought some curious visual diversion half way through. How well La Nave would stand up dramatically today it is hard to say: it is a strange story concerned with the foundation, or rather the promise of the foundation, of Venice as a great maritime power; the plot is permeated with Italian nationalism, and contains a good deal of obscure motivation. But the music is magnificent from start to finish, and the opera certainly deserves to be staged, so the full grandeur of Montemezzi’s conception can be appreciated. Almost all the critics of the opera in the past agreed, whatever their other objections, that Montemezzi’s orchestration and treatment of the choir were extraordinarily impressive, and the New York performance showed they were right. The orchestration, clearly akin to that of L’Amore dei Tre Re, is Wagnerian, yet the Wagnerianism is refracted through an Italian sensibility, with a gripping nobility, sweeping, cinematic quality, lyrical voluptuousness, and restless play of instrumental textures. The sheer lushness of the score was beautifully brought out by Israel Gursky’s passionate conducting of the Teatro Grattacielo orchestra, and his timing seemed to me faultless — he let the music breathe, but also drove it along with irresistible momentum. The opera was shorter than I had expected, the Prologue and three “Episodes” adding up to a little over two and a quarter hours of music. Perhaps Montemezzi had learned from Mascagni the danger of making epic operas too long.

The complete assimilation of the chorus into the structure of the opera was Montemezzi’s major technical advance in La Nave. Apart from a lengthy section in the first “Episode,” where the epic tone of the work is relaxed, the chorus, representing the early Venetians, is almost constantly involved in the unfolding story, shaping as well as responding to events. Matteo Incagliati (reviewing it in 1938) was right to categorize La Nave as a “choral opera” and to see it as akin to Boris Godunov. Montemezzi, like Mussorgsky, believed that he could distil the longing, lyrical essence of his people in music, and the Teatro Grattacielo chorus did full justice to his inspiration, singing with resounding force that never turned harsh or descended into mere noise.

By far the biggest role in the opera is that of Basiliola, an alluring, cruel, capricious and vengeful woman whom D’Annunzio originally imagined as touched by madness and into whom he poured all his great love and hatred of women. It is an incredibly demanding role, and Tiffany Abban told me afterwards that it was the most difficult thing she had ever done: “as difficult as the title role in Aida, but much more unrelenting.” Yet she made it look and sound, if not easy, at least comfortable, and gave an assured, commanding performance with a thrilling voice which seemed capable of anything. Her Basiliola was more gentle and sympathetic then I had imagined the character sounding, and perhaps that was, in part at least, because the nature of a concert performance tends to limit the full expression of character — this Basiliola did not need to kill people on stage! But clearly Montemezzi’s musical portrayal of the character allows some freedom of interpretation, and for anyone directing a stage performance one of the big questions would be how sympathetically Basiliola should come across.

The next biggest role, again by a wide margin, is Marco Gratico, the tenor. Robert Brubaker sung with exhilarating power, and made Marco sound thoroughly heroic — whether the character should sound quite that heroic is another interpretative issue a staged production would need to consider, for Marco, who is incited by Basiliola to kill his brother, is a seriously flawed hero. From a purely musical point of view, however, much could be said for Brubaker’s decision to simply concentrate on bringing out the soaring beauty of Montemezzi’s vocal writing. Most of the other solo roles are comparatively small, though by no means easy, and were generally very ably filled, Ashraf Sewailam, who sung the part of Orso Faledro, Basiliola’s blinded father, and Kurt Dougherty, taking three of the minor roles, being particularly outstanding. The only disappointment was Joseph Flaxman as Traba, the monk, a character who appears to sternly denounce Basiliola’s immoral goings on in the first “Episode.” He is a vital character in the opera, for he is the only one who holds Basiliola’s behaviour up to something like objective examination, and he reveals her infidelity to Marco. Yet Flaxman sang sweetly, with no hint of moral outrage. Here, perhaps, the limitations of a concert performance were most acutely felt.

Altogether Teatro Grattacielo made a triumphant case for an opera that must, in any historical or artistic point of view, count as one of the major Italian operas of the 1910s. All credit to them for their ambitiousness and ability to instil enthusiasm in supporters and performers that makes such projects possible. If there were a prize for the operatic revival of the year La Nave would be a strong contender. Let’s hope that other companies will now take it up.

David Chandler

David Chandler has edited a book of Essays on the Montemezzi-D’Annunzio “Nave” (Durrant Publishing, 2012).


Cast and Production:

Basiliola: Tiffany Abban; Marco Gratico: Robert Brubaker; Sergio Gratico: Daniel Ihn-Kyu Lee; OrsoFaledro: Ashraf Sewailam; The Monk Traba: Joseph Flaxman; The Stonecutter Gauro / The Miller / The Survivor: Kurt Dougherty. The Teatro Grattacielo orchestra and men’s chorus with the Dessoff Symphonic Choir. Conductor: Israel Gursky. Production Director: Duane D. Printz. Rose Theater, Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Frederick P. Rose Hall, New York, 31 October 2012.

Send to a friend

Send a link to this article to a friend with an optional message.

Friend's Email Address: (required)

Your Email Address: (required)

Message (optional):