Alessandro Solbiati's 'Il Suono Giallo',
enjoyed by GIUSEPPE PENNISI
It is not generally known that painter Wassily Kandisky (1866-1944) was also the author of 'color-dramas', conceived as Gesamkunstwerk, a 'total work of art' where words, music, singing, ballet and mime all converged to a single message or theme. Il Suono Giallo ('Der Gelbe Klang') was written in German in 1909 in Berlin and published in 1912 but was never staged during Kandisky's lifetime; a much awaited Munich production in 1914 was cancelled due to the outbreak of World War I. Only in the nineteen seventies was it finally performed, mostly in United States experimental theatres (the Guggenheim Museum and Marymount Manhattan Theatre). Then it was staged in Paris at the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées and has since been staged at the Altes Opera, Frankfurt am Main, the Theatre im National in Bern, and at the NIA Centre, Manchester. Different musical scores were used, as the original score (by Thomas de Hartmann) had been lost. The American productions used music by Gunther Schuller; the French productions, various pieces by Anton Webern; the Russian and Swiss productions an especially commissioned score by Alfred Schnittke. The other 'color-tone-dramas' by Kandisky, titled The Green Sound, Black and White and Violet, were not even published and most records about them are lost. They were part of a larger trend of that period which addressed color theory in works which blended multiple art forms and media. Scriabin's Prometeus (1910) is among the best known of such works; they utilized lighting techniques and other innovations to extend the normal range of artistic expression. Kandinsky had published an essay on his own theory on color and creative arts in general.
This introduction is essential to understand why the Teatro Comunale di Bologna commissioned Il Suono Giallo ('The Yellow Sound') from composer Alessandro Solbiati. Some four years ago, I reviewed his previous opera Leggenda based on a section of Dostoyevsky's Karamazov Brothers (The Great Inquisitor, 28 September 2011). Solbiati worked very closely with stage director Franco Ripa di Meana because Kandisky's text is not a libretto. There is no plot but a visionary interpretation of the process of artistic creation. Luckily, Solbiati and Ripa di Meana found, almost by chance, a notebook of Kandisky's explaining the most cryptic aspects of the text.