Rossini’s Maometto II is one of those pieces that has a somewhat complex performance history. The recent David Alden production seen at Santa Fe and the COC was a carefully reconstructed edition of the original Naples production of 1820 which was considered musically radical at the time. Two years later, for Venice, Rossini produced a new version with cuts, new music and borrowings from other works. He also changed the ending to a happy one. The net effect is a far more conventional bel canto opera. That Venice version forms the basis of the only video recording in the catalogue, recorded at La Fenice in 2005.
I don’t usually associate Arnold Schoenberg with comedy but he did write a one act comic opera Von Heute auf Morgen which premiered in 1929. It was an attempt to cash in on the vogue for satirical operas on modern themes characterised by Brecht and Weill and , if a bit slight and lacking Brechtian punch, it works well enough. A bourgeios husband and wife have returned from an evening out where they have met an iold friend of the wife who has become something of a femme fatale. There’s also a singer, inevitably a tenor, involved. The husband is rabbiting on rather gormlessly about the charms of the “other woman” so his wife decides to teach him a lesson. She apes the manners of a “modern woman”, neglects their child, plans assignations etc. There’s a long phone conversation inwhich the “friend” and the singer invite them back to the bar. By now the husband is beginning to realise what he stands to lose. The wife realises she has won. The other couple show up and there’s a “modern” vs. “traditional” quartet after which the “moderns” leave in disgust and the husband and wife revort to bourgeois domesticity.
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.
If I have a beef with Britten’s Death in Venice it’s that it’s a bit cerebral and bloodless, at least as it has come down in the Aldeburgh-Glyndebourne-ENO performing tradition. I think it’s fair to say that in its bloodlessness it mirrors the Thomas Mann novella (and indeed a lot of Mann’s other writing) but, for me, it’s a challenge to engage with the piece and, especially, with Gustav von Aschenbach. So, it was with surprise and growing pleasure that I watched Pier Luigi Pizzi’s production for, appropriately enough, Venice’s La Fenice. His take is bold and seems to centre less on Aschenbach’s relationshsip with the Polish boy, Tadziu, and more on the conflict between Dionysian and Apollonian ways of thinking and doing and I think it’s clear that Pizzi is a Dionysian.