A Double Revival
Respighi's 'Sunken Bell' in Cagliari
reviewed by GIUSEPPE PENNISI
reviewed by GIUSEPPE PENNISI
I saw a double revival on 1 April 2016, in the capital of Sardinia. First of all, the revival of the Teatro Lirico, after nearly ten years of decadence; now, under a new management and a new artistic direction, the theatre features a comparatively short opera season (but important co-productions such as with the Parisian Théâtre du Châtelet, the Deutsche Opera am Reihm and the Tokyo Ballet) as well as an attractive concert program. In a comparatively small town (some one hundred and fifty thousand residents), the opera season has seven subscription series — a good achievement for a theatre with an audience capacity of one thousand five hundred. The second revival was one of the ten operas of Ottorino Respighi (born Bologna 1879, died Rome 1836), La Campana Sommersa ('The Sunken Bell'), quite successful in Germany, New York, Buenos Aires, Rome, Milan, Bologna and elsewhere in the nineteen thirties, but thereafter forgotten until a major rediscovery, in a concert version, at the Radio France Festival in Montpellier in 2002.
There are two main determinants for its disappearance. On the one hand, its requirements: a Mahler-size orchestra, two choruses, fifteen principals, dancers and mimes, a costly undertaking to bet on for a nearly unknown opera. On the other, superficially, it may be read as a 'fairy opera' — a type of music theatre soon gone out of fashion, especially in Italy. In addition, La Campana Sommersa demands very elaborate stage sets and quite impervious singing by the two protagonists.
At a less superficial reading, the complex plot is a parable of the pagan world of the German woods trying to stop the advancement of Christian Faith. The bell built for a new Church is sunk by the Faun and the old Divinity Ondino. The bell maker, Enrico, falls into depression but the beautiful Rautendeilein, an otherworldly creature, consoles him and they fall in love. Enrico forgets his family and his village people (the Parish Priest, the Barber, the School Teacher) until his wife, Magda, commits suicide and the bell tolls, from the depths of the lake, a funeral sound. Enrico escapes from Rautendeilein who falls in the arms of Ondino. Enrico dies after a final short encounter with Rautendeilein.
A peculiarity of the writing, is that, in the otherworld, music is on a pentatonic scale, whilst the Christian human world follows the operatic style of the time: declamation, center register and all, including a touch of Puccini. Then, following the post-Wagnerian approach, singing is on a symphonic carpet.
The stage direction (by Pierfrancesco Maestrni) is quite traditional, even the use of computerized projections (by Jean Guillermo Nova) adds a magic atmosphere, especially in the woodland scene. The costumes (Marco Nateri) are quite attractive.
The musical success hinges mostly on the three principals and the conductor, Donato Renzetti, who keeps the balance very well between pit and stage, and provides all the right tints called for by a fairy tale, albeit a tragic parable.
Romanian soprano Valentina Farcas (Rautendeilein) raises easily from declamation to the heights of coloratura. Angelo Villari (Enrico) is a strong generous tenor with a huge volume. Thomas Gazheli (Ondino) is a well rounded baritone, quite accustomed to Wagnerian roles.
The audience was enthralled and applauded for ten minutes.
Copyright © 4 April 2016 Giuseppe Pennisi,