Eclectic and Attractive
Giorgio Battistelli's new opera for Expo Milano
impresses GIUSEPPE PENNISI
Expo Milano 2015 is the Universal Exhibition which Milan, Italy, is hosting from 1 May until 31 October 2015. Over this six-month period, Milan is a global showcase where more than 140 participating countries show the best of their technologies offering a concrete answer to a vital need: being able to guarantee healthy, safe and sufficient food for everyone whilst respecting the planet and its equilibrium. In addition to the exhibitor nations, the Expo also involves international organizations, and expects to welcome over twenty million visitors to its 1.1 million square metres of exhibition space.
La Scala, Milan's opera house, normally closes for a couple of months during the Summer but this year, thanks to the Expo, it is presenting a special program, inaugurated on 1 May with a striking new production of Puccini's Turandot. The program includes almost all the productions presented over the last few years and already reviewed here. By and large this is Italian fare, as expected. However, a new opera has been especially commissioned for the Expo, created by Italian composer Giorgio Battistelli, with the title CO2 — the carbon dioxide chemical formula . The libretto is by Ian Burton, based on Nobel Peace Prize winner Al Gore's essay An Inconvenient Truth. This is a ninety-minute one act opera on global warming, with a prologue, nine scenes and an epilogue. The text is in English, even though in the Kyoto Treaty negotiations scene, a variety of other languages (from Arabic to Russian) are heard. The stage direction is by Robert Carsen, the sets by Paul Steinberg, costumes by Petra Reinhardt, lighting by Peter van Praet, videos by Finn Ross and choreography by Marco Berriel. Although the opera is short, there are nineteen principals (and of course a chorus directed by Bruno Casoni). Some of the singers are well known, such as baritone Anthony Michaels-Moore as the protagonist, Dr David Adamson, dramatic mezzo Jennifer Johnston as Gaia, the mother earth, and countertenor David Dong Qyu Lee, as the snake tempting Eve. Quite a few of the others are young singers from La Scala Academy. I saw and heard the opera on 24 May 2015, at an afternoon performance priced especially to encourage youngsters and middle income people who cannot generally afford La Scala tickets.
In short, the opera begins with a lecture on climate warming by fictional physicist, Dr David Adamson, but is intertwined with the Bible (from Genesis to the Apocalypse), Hindu religion, episodes of overconsumption (airports and supermarkets) and recent tragedies (the South East Asian tsunami). The message is straightforward and very strongly felt by Giorgio Battistelli and his colleagues: Adam is given a choice between having 'knowledge' or 'wisdom' and opts for the former. Without wisdom, knowledge is the road to technical progress but also to disaster and to the very end of the globe.
The staging is quite elegant but not terribly elaborate: the nine short scenes are shown on an iPad or PC screen taking up the full stage area of La Scala, while Adamson delivers his lecture by providing examples. Clearly, this La Scala production of the opera is designed to travel to other theatres and to other countries. I trust it will be successful, especially in the United States and Germany, because the message is delivered with an eclectic and attractive musical score. There are traditional arioso, duets and choruses in a very well amalgamated merger of various styles of the last twenty years. It is highly engrossing at certain moments (eg the aria of the mother who lost her son in the tsunami scene). There are echoes of Britten in the Eden scene. The airport and supermarket scenes, mostly entrusted to the chorus, are highly dramatic.
The theater was full in every tier. The younger audience members, especially, for whom the opera was written, were enthusiastic.