Bard of sex and Eros kinky

The sudden death of Italian opera has always intrigued me.  Works, by Italians or to Italian libretti, dominated opera houses, at least in the English speaking world, for centuries.  The Metropolitan Opera even commissioned new work in Italian (Puccini’s La Fanciulla del West, 1910).  But after Turandot (1924) new works in Italian pretty much dried up.  I can’t think of a single one that could be considered a repertory staple and even more recherché pieces like Pizzetti’s Assassinio nella Cattedrale are few and far between.  Indeed, since WW2 at least, the dominant language for new operas has been English with German some way behind and the odd work in French or something more obscure.  So, I was intrigued to get my hands on a recording of Luca Mosca’s 2007 work Signor Goldoni; a commission for Venice’s La Fenice inspired by the 18th century Venetian playwright and librettist Carlo Osvaldo Goldoni.  What’s really surprising is that the libretto (perhaps we should say “book”) by Italian writer Gianluigi Melaga, is in English!  Apparently librettist and composer consider that English is better adapted to the kind of word play they were aiming for than Italian.

1.rafaelIt’s a very odd work.  Goldoni and his rival, Baffo, are conducted by the angel Rafael (apparently iconic in Venice) from the Elysian fields to the Venetian carnival where they meet Arlecchino and Mirandolina, Despina, Desdemona and Othello (who eventually turns out to be Shakespeare himself).  Naturally there is jealousy and violence including a plot where Despina disguises herself as Desdemona for a tryst with Baffo simultaneously alluding to Il Nozze di Figaro and Much Ado About Nothing.  In fact one would need a bingo card to track all the Shakespeare references in the libretto.  All this is rattled off mostly in bizarre rhyming couplets many of which would embarass Jeremy Sams.

2.conductorMusically it’s all over the place.  Each character has his or her own style ranging from the almost unsingable part of Rafael, which constantly switches between high soprano and tenor range to emphasise the gender fluidity of angels, to the bluff, straightforward baritone Othello.  The orchestral writing is equally eclectic sounding like a sort of “Darmstadt’s Greatest Hits” mixed with a bit of minimalism.  In any event it’s very “continental” with none of the move towards accessibility that characterises most contemporary writing in North America.

3.desdemonaIt’s all very busy and played with great verve and energy by all concerned.  Alda Caiello is superb as Rafael and there are lively contributions Cristina Zavalloni as Mirandolina and Barbara Hannigan as Despina.  Michael Bennett athletically navigates the dreadful rhymes given to Arlecchino.  The orchestra and chorus are fine and conductor Andrea Molino seems convinced by the score.  The production, by Davide Livermore, is energetic and colourful which seems about right.

4.girlsVideo direction is by Davide Mancini and it’s pretty straightforward except for an odd practice of cutting to the conductor, admittedly wearing a rather fetching waistcoat, during the action.  The picture quality is very good and the Dolby surround side excellent.  There are English, French, Italian, German and Spanish subtitles.  The booklet contains a short essay and a synopsis.

5.othelloI’m really not sure what I think of this piece.  I suspect it needs to be watched more than once but I can’t see that happening any time soon.  A curiosity rather than a masterpiece?

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3 thoughts on “Bard of sex and Eros kinky

  1. Pingback: Contemporary opera on DVD | operaramblings

  2. Pingback: When the going gets weird | operaramblings

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