Full of Irony
De Giosa's 'Don Checco',
heard by GIUSEPPE PENNISI
On 29 September 2014, in the lovely four-hundred-seat Teatrino di Corte at Naples' Royal Palace, I enjoyed a now nearly unknown comic opera: Don Checco by Nicola De Giosa. It was a major success from 1850 (with a premiere followed by ninety-eight performances) until 1880. But following nearly eighty different productions in Italy and abroad, including Cairo and Malta, there was a long silence. The current revival is a joint effort by San Carlo Theatre in Naples with the Festival della Valle d'Itria. As a rather low budget undertaking, it is expected to be picked up by other Italian theatres. Don Checco is considered the last example of the 'Neapolitan School', named after the conservatory where most composers studied, even if they originated from several regions of Southern and Central Italy. For the last five years, Riccardo Muti has revived Neapolitan School works at the Salzburg Whitsun Festival which have then travelled to a few European opera houses.
Even though several musicologists object to the very concept of a 'Neapolitan School' (see 'Lasting Magic', 26 June 2011), there are two elements common to several 'Neapolitan' composers (such as Cimarosa, Paisiello, Jommelli, Mercadante): the flair for opera comica, the grandfather of opera buffa, and a more sober line than that of the flowery baroque which dominated the musical scene in Venice and Rome. De Giosa is a late example of this school. Born in Bari, he was a well known conductor and musical director. He held important positions not only in Naples but also at La Fenice in Venice and at Teatro Colòn in Buenos Aires.
Don Checco has all the main elements of Neapolitan opera comica: a contested love affair between two youngsters, intrigues, disguises, and of course a happy ending. Although, as in many opera comica, Don Checco requires only six singers (able to act quite well), it calls for a large orchestration which is much more sophisticated — for example, the second part opens with a seven minute waltz. More significantly, it is so full of irony that it seems a take-off of traditional opera comica, the conventions of which are all expanded — made 'bigger and better', as the Americans would say. This is quite evident from the protagonist's long and hilarious cavatina (entrance aria).
Lorenzo Amato's stage direction reads Don Checco almost as a parody of the conventional opera comica. Fortunately, the singers are all very experienced actors and wear intentionally exaggerated costumes designed by Giusi Giustino. The plot moves swiftly, indeed it almost runs, in a single set by Nicola Rubertelli. Young conductor Francesco Lanzillotta is very skillful with a score which, although apparently simple, is actually full of tricks.
Carmen Romeu has a lyric soprano role perfectly suited to her, whilst only a few weeks ago she had been wrongly assigned to an 'amphibious soprano' part quite distant from her current vocal strengths (see 'Sorrows of Young Rossini', 9 September 2014). Her lover and husband-to-be was the lyric tenor Fabrizio Paesano, with perfect phrasing but a bit short in volume. The funny baritone and bass are the excellent Giulio Mastrototaro (the girl's father) and Bruno Taddia (the man for all seasons, Don Checco). Baritones Salvatore Grigoli and Vincenzo Nizzardo complete this young and effective cast.
Copyright © 5 October 2014 Giuseppe Pennisi,