Passage from Anger
Andrea Molino's Qui non c'è perché
impresses GIUSEPPE PENNISI
impresses GIUSEPPE PENNISI
Bologna's Teatro Comunale was built just about two-hundred-and-fifty years ago by the Bibiena Brothers — two very well known baroque architects. (Read Fighting for Freedom, 30 May 2013.) This baroque setting was a perfect fit for the world premiere of a new multimedia opera commissioned by the Bologna opera house and co-produced by opera houses in Antwerp, Ghent and Rotterdam. Apparently, the opera Qui non c'è perché ('There is no why here') by Andrea Molino, on a libretto by Giorgio van Straten, has nothing to do with the themes normally treated by poets and musicians in the baroque period. However, like baroque musical theatre, it deals with eternal subjects about right and wrong, good and evil, even though it handles them through very up-to-date topical features. Also, it involves rather elaborate stage machinery and entailed a lot of improvising until the final format was set.
The premiere was on 24 April 2014; I saw and heard the opera at a preview on 22 April. The work needs some explaining. The title Qui non c'è perché is from an episode of a book by Primo Levi, an Auschwitz survivor. He was very thirsty and tried to reach a piece of ice from the window of the barrack, but a German guard brutally took it from Levi's hand and threw it away. 'Warum?' ('Why?'), Levi said in German. The answer was 'Hier ist kein Warum' ('There is no "why" here'). A clear example of evil done by men to other men. In the book, Levi's comment is 'Ma noi siamo quì' ('But we are here!'), meaning that human beings can be stronger than evil.
This episode is in the background of the opera. There is no concentration camp on the stage. Neither is there a plot. There are, though, seven musical numbers in a very tense ninety-minute single act without intermission. In a way, there are longtime operatic conventions: eg the fifth musical number is centered on a mezzo 'madness aria' like in eighteenth century opera. There is a great use of melologue, blending music and spoken words.
Qui non c'è perché is the third part of a trilogy. The first (Credo) deals with inter-ethnical and inter-religious marriages. The second (Winners) deals with winning and losing in the globalization process. Qui non c'è perché deals with social exclusion and alienation of youngsters in a Europe severed by unemployment and poverty; new walls are being built between those who have and those who have not. Molino is in his late forties; a previous trilogy of his dealt with environmental disasters such as the Bhopal and the Three Mile Island incidents. Thus, his works contain very strong ethical and even religious content.
The text of the seven musical numbers is dense with moral quotations from Levi, Arendt, Shakespeare, Einstein and Sereny. Rather than developing an action, the musical numbers trace an evolution starting with anguish and desperation and ending with mutual responsibility to one another. The passage from anger to civil conscientiousness is through an improvised basketball game where the youngsters grasp the feeling of team work and cooperation around a wall that they themselves have built. Thus, the conclusion is hopeful, even though there is no happy ending in the conventional meaning.
The musical structure is quite complex. In the pit there is a conventional large (eighty strong) symphony orchestra. On stage, there are two quite vast percussion ensembles. Also, two sax players are, at times, on each side of the stage and, at times, in the auditorium. Molino himself is the conductor. The orchestra in the pit provides a symphonic tapestry to the percussionists and the sax players. The tapestry shows the influence of Ligeti and Messiaen (and to some extent Stockhausen). The percussion ensembles play pure seventies rock (with a lot of rhythm) and the saxes play, of course, jazz (with a lot of melancholy). This 'contamination' of styles is another connection with baroque music.
There are only two soloists — vocalist David Moss in the role of himself as narrator, and mezzo Anna Linardou. A dozen youngsters from the David Moss Institute for Living Voice sing, dance and act. Each performer uses his or her own language. Wouter van Looy (stage director) gives quite an effective dramaturgy to a text where there is no action. The stage set by Ief Spincemaille is a multimedia screen with videos by Kurt d'Haeseleer. In this setting, we travel between interviews with students in Bologna's old town, walls separating social classes, collages of pictures and pure abstract paintings.
The outcome is fascinating and was thoroughly enjoyed by the preview audience. It is likely to be a shock to part of the upper middle class subscribers to Teatro Comunale's opera season, but in spite of this, the 24 April opening night went quite well.Copyright © 29 April 2014 Giuseppe Pennisi