I’ve often wondered what happened to Italian opera after Puccini because nothing much has ever come my way. That is until today when I got my hands on a DVD of Pizzetti’s 1958 piece, Assassinio nella Cattedrale which is closely based on the Eliot play. Murder in the Cathedral is, when one thinks about it and how Eliot uses the chorus, a really good basis for an opera libretto. The libretto sticks pretty close to the play and Pizzetti provides a tense, dramatic score which brings out the underlying fear and tension in the Eliot. Just occasionally, and very effectively, he becomes more openly lyrical, as in Becket’s acceptance of his impending martyrdom, but mostly it’s pretty high energy. That said, Pizzetti seems to be quite a conservative composer and the music is essentially tonal and easy to grasp. One curiosity I noted is that in the lead up to Becket’s death he interweaves the men’s chorus singing the Dies Irae with the forebodings of the women’s chorus and the setting of the Dies Irae he uses is the same as in Bergman’s Seventh Seal which came out the year before.
The DVD is an interesting affair. It’s mainly a filming of a 2007 stage performance in the St. Nicholas Basilica in Bari but it has numerous short scenes cut into it (visuals only); the Kent shore, Thomas’ chamber, the knights arriving at the cathedral, etc. Usually I hate this kind of thing but here I think it makes sense because, to be frank, its all a bit static and the view of the cathedral audience must have been pretty poor as most of the action takes place in front of the altar and the orchestra is between the audience and the “stage”. In the end, the combination of Daniele D’Onoforio’s stage direction and Tiziano Mancini’s video direction makes for a very satisfying experience on DVD.
Ruggero Raimondi as Becket dominates the piece. He’s just magnificent as an actor and a singer. There’s likely noone you’ve ever heard of in the supporting cast but they are all, at the least, very good and Paoletta Marrocu as the First Women is much better than very good. She really captures the essence of Eliot’s writing for the women. There’s a huge element of chorus in this piece and the Coro ATER supplemented by the children of the Bari Children’s Conservatory are excellent, as is the Orchestra Sinfonica della Provincia di Bari. Piergiorgio Morandi does a fine job of keeping everything together in the tricky acoustic of the Basilica.
The DVD is technically very good. The DTS 5.1 sound captures the cathedral acoustic in a very vivid and atmospheric way and the picture looks as though it was filmed in high definition. It’s about as good as DVD gets at any event. There are English, French, German, Italian and Spanish subtitles and LPCM stereo as an option besides the DTS sound. There is no bonus material and the documentation was missing from my library copy so I can’t comment on that.