GIUSEPPE PENNISI assesses three works
at a contemporary music festival in Rome
at a contemporary music festival in Rome
Rome is one of the main centers of contemporary music in Italy. The Italian capital equals Berlin in terms of hours actually performed each year (see A Tremendous Success, 20 February 2014). Even though Teatro dell'Opera, under new management, has included a contemporary opera during its last 'seasons', most contemporary music created and performed in Rome is experimental and for relatively small ensembles.
Under the leadership of Teatro dell'Opera, and especially of its artistic director for contemporary music, composer Giorgio Battistelli, all the main musical institutions in Rome, with the support of foreign institutions such as the Academy of France and the Goethe Institute, held a very compact festival of contemporary musical theatre from 27 May until 9 June 2016, featuring ten different works in eleven days. Six different theatres were involved — Teatro Argentina, Teatro Studio Borgna of the Auditorium Parco della Musica, Teatro India, Teatro Nazionale, Teatro di Villa Torlonia and Villa Medici. The works presented were: Schwarz auf Weiss ('Black on White') by Heiner Goebbels, La Passion selon Sade by Sylvano Bussotti, Vie de Famille by Jean Pierre Drouet, Empty moves Part I, II & III by Angelin Preljocaj and John Cage, Blank Out by Michel van der Aa, Miroirs/Ravel by Francesco Prode, Inevitable, Music #5 by Sébastien Roux, Il Suono e il Gesto by Ars Ludi Ensemble, Jean Pierre Drouet One Man Show and Proserpina by Wolfang Rihm. I think it is useful to report the full program to give M&V readers the sense of the breadth and depth of the Fast Forward Festival (FFF).
This review covers three of the works presented: the inaugural evening, a very well known avant-garde opera of the mid-nineteen sixties, and a new opera especially commissioned for the festival.
The festival was inaugurated at Teatro Argentina on 27 May 2016 with Schwarz und Weiss ('Black on White') by Heiner Goebbels, who conducted the Ensemble Modern from Frankfurt and directed the eighty minute work. There is no plot as such, but quite a lot of action because the eighteen members of the Ensemble Modern act while playing with their own instruments. Stage sets and lighting (Jean Kalman) and costumes (Jasmin Andreae) are quite important. The work, premiered in 1996 but still alive and vibrant after twenty years, has quite strong dramaturgy and is what in Caribbean music jargon can be called a wedding and funeral dance. It is a farewell to the German writer and poet Heiner Müller (1929-1996); his taped voice reads the spoken passages, texts of Edgar Allan Poe, Thomas S Eliot and Maurice Blanchot. Among the eighteen soloists, the brass, woodwind and percussion have prominence, but there is also the sweetness of the Japanese koto. Pure sound fits pure movement in rapid scenes made only with lighting. Even tough, the rhythm is obsessive, the key theme is a reflection on the passage from the human adventure to the after-world. The audience, mostly young, was enthusiastic.
La Passion selon Sade by Sylvano Bussotti is an important piece of Italian avant-garde of the nineteen sixties — a one hour chamber opera which was premiered in Palermo in 1966 and travelled quite extensively to Milan, Paris, London and New York. At the time, the personality of the Marquis de Sade and his works had a moment of popularity; many still remember the Marat/Sade play by Peter Weiss and the movie by Peter Brook. Then, the Marquis de Sade was not seen as a pornographer and deviant, but as libertarian in a repressive world. The conductor was Marcello Panni, who had conducted the opera in Palermo fifty years ago and then in Paris and New York. The plot is broadly based on the novel Justine et Juliette. Justine represents vice, Juliette virtue. An actress and a mezzo interpret the two women, while the other characters are mimes or dancers. However, the 'finale' represents the victory of music over passion.
The lighting by Silvia Crocchianti and Marco Alba also plays an important part in this work. The stage sets were by Giada Abiendi, the costumes by Anna Maria Ruocco and the stage direction by Luca Bargagna.
It is a rather peculiar music drama. Whilst the acting is detailed by the composer, the score leaves a lot of room for improvisation. Marcello Panni and the interpreters do not attempt to 'modernize' the opera but leave its fifty-year-old avant-garde flavor — just as the audience wanted.
Last, but not least, Proserpina by Wolfang Rihm. This is an absolute masterpiece of contemporary musical theatre. Its debut was at the Rokokotheater, Schwetzingen in May 2009 as part of a well-known German festival. It is based on a Goethe monodrama (thus, a theater action written to be read not performed). There is only one character, and a small chorus of sopranos and altos. The orchestration is for a small ensemble in the pit and a trio on stage. The work is a tour de force for the soprano, positively awash in lyricism: for at least half of its fifty-minute length, limpid, flowing Straussian melody. At the two Rome performances, the protagonist was Mojca Erdmann who had premiered the role in Schwetzingen and sang it all over Germany and Austria. Very few sopranos could sustain such an impervious part. Mojca Erdmann is also an excellent actress. In the intelligent stage sets by Carles Berga and with the costumes of Clay Apenouvon, she, a few mines and the chorus were a perfect fit to Rihm's music.
The opera differs from Goethe's monodrama, inspired also by his sister's hard life and death. It is not, as in Goethe's writing, the spiritual anguish of a lost world. Proserpina is an apologue about the discovery of death by a young woman who believes she is eternal as she's the daughter of a god and a goddess. However, it is also about rediscovery — every artist has to redefine himself and what touches an audience. On 7 June 2016, Proserpina enthralled the Rome audience, which responded with nearly fifteen minutes of ovation.
Copyright © 12 June 2016 Giuseppe Pennisi,