Decadent and Sarcastic
A Zemlinsky-Puccini double bill in Turin,
reviewed by GIUSEPPE PENNISI
reviewed by GIUSEPPE PENNISI
Nearly four years ago, I reviewed quite extensively the concert production of the double bill Eine florentinische Tragödie by Alexander Zemlinsky and Gianni Schicchi by Giacomo Puccini as it was offered in Rome by the Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia (A top notch Formation, 21 April 2010). The two one-act operas have two things in common: they were composed almost at the same time and they both refer to Florence between the end of the Middle Ages and the dawn of the Renaissance. They are very different both dramatically and musically. Based on an (incomplete) Oscar Wilde play, Eine florentinische Tragödie is a decadent late romantic piece of music drama for an oversized orchestra and three singers with an imperviously taxing role for the baritone.
Gianni Schicchi is the third part of Puccini's Il Trittico. It was meant to be a light farce after the high blood and guts drama Il Tabarro and the tragic yet hopeful Suor Angelica. Even though there is as much slapstick as in a farce, the one act Gianni Schicchi is essentially a sarcastic look at life.
The discussion as to whether it's a good idea to combine them as a double bill can last forever, especially because the two operas require very different casts of singers. In Italy, such a double bill was presented at La Scala in 2005 but the success was mediocre, partly because the Arcimboldi Theater where it was played — at that time La Scala was undergoing major renovations — was much too large: a huge stage and a three thousand seat auditorium.
Turin's Teatro Regio, where I saw a new fully-staged production on 25 March 2014, is much smaller. The team did not propose a cardboard Middle Ages/Renaissance setting. The two operas were instead set in the nineteen twenties, during the post World War I period. Also the basic stage set was the same room, even though from the windows, the audience could see different views of Florence.
Thus, Eine florentinische Tragödie was lurid, not only decadent, and Gianni Schicchi cynical and skeptical, not only sarcastic. Together, they offered a vivid picture of German and Italian bourgeoisie in the years when Nazism and Fascism were preparing their plans to take over the two countries. Stage director Vittorio Borrelli, stage set designers Saverio Santoliquido and Claudia Boasso, costume designer Laura Viglione and lighting and video specialist Vladi Spigarolo all deserve full marks for this forceful idea.
Stefan Anton Reck was responsible for the musical direction. He handled Zemlinsky's difficult score extremely well: a symphonic continuum around a few thematic clusters and a vocal writing where declamation slides into arioso. Tommi Hakala was a forceful protagonist in a strenuous part; Zoran Todorovich, a tenor with a very good center range, and Angeles Blancas Gulin, a very skilled and quite sexy soprano, are his partners in a plot with an ambiguous 'happy ending', after adultery and homicide.
Puccini's opera has an easier score and requires a smaller orchestra but it also has a tricky polyphonic style.
Three voices excelled in the large cast: Carlo Lepore (the protagonist), Francesco Meli and Serena Gamberoni (the young lovers -- in real life, a happily married couple).
Copyright © 29 March 2014 Giuseppe Pennisi,