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A very rich menu in Music and Vision 8 September

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A Very Rich Menu
GIUSEPPE PENNISI attends two first performances
at the Pergolesi Spontini Festival in Jesi

Sixteen years ago, the small town of Jesi (40,000 inhabitants) decided to celebrate Giovanni Battista Pergolesi and Gaspare Spontini (born in the nearby much smaller town of Maiolati) with an annual festival. Jesi has an significant cultural tradition with a good size opera house and a smaller theatre, an important museum and several historical buildings. Moreover, Friedrich II Hohenstaufen (who became King of Sicily and Holy Roman Emperor) was born in Jesi on 26 December 1194, when his mother, the Empress Costanza from Altavilla was travelling from Northern Italy to Sicily). Friedrich II Hohenstaufen is known as a protector of arts and artists. Jesi is very proud of being his birthplace and considers arts as its development engine. The small town has an opera season of some seven or eight titles per year, a symphonic season with some ten concerts, and about twenty plays.
The Pergolesi Spontini Festival seemed an impossible challenge when it started sixteen years ago. Pergolesi died very young and most of his works have never been performed in modern times. Yet, the festival produced all Pergolesi's work and made DVDs with a major international company. Spontini's imperial operas can hardly be staged as they require at least two hundred performers: many soloists, a huge orchestra, two choruses and a corps de ballet. Yet the festival was able to stage minor and unknown works by Spontini and to acquire scores that had been considered lost.
This year the festival, centered on Friedrich II Hohenstaufen and his time, runs from 1 to 25 September, with performances generally from Thursday to Sunday. In spite of financial stringency, the manager and the artistic team obtained support through crowdfunding from local businesses (some thirty sponsors) and collaboration from important religious institutions.
I spent three days in Jesi at the beginning of the operation since the festival took off with two world premieres.
The first performance is a world premiere unlikely to be replicated (either on CD or in concert form) — a theatrical open air feast in the major square with a libretto (by Franco Dragoni), singers, actors, a huge chorus, electronic music, mimes and acrobats to celebrate Empress Costanza's arrival in Jesi to give birth to Friedrich II. A very participative performance: some three thousand town people and tourists were involved. The score by Fabrizio Festa is quite interesting because it marries Gregorian music with electro acoustics.
Volo dell'Aquila by Fabrizio Festa and Franco Dragoni. Photo © 2016 Adriana Argalia
Volo dell'Aquila by Fabrizio Festa and Franco Dragoni.
Photo © 2016 Adriana Argalia. Click on the image for higher resolution
The second world premiere, coproduced with the Palermo Teatro Massimo (where it will be staged in November), is Die Sarazenin, a libretto written by Richard Wagner in 1840-41 after the composer had worked on Rienzi and was interested in huge historical dramas. The libretto was never set to music, to the best knowledge of Wagnerian specialists. It revolves around Manfredi, one of the many sons of Friedrich II and the court intrigues at the time of the Crusade.
The performance took place in the small theatre of Monte Carotto (150 seats including three rows of boxes) and was based on a brilliant idea: to reduce the plot to a Sicilian marionette show. The dramaturgy is by Gigi Borruso, the sets by Roberto Lo Sciuto, the interpreters (in addition to Borruso and Lo Sciuto, the pupari (Sicilian marionette players Salvo and Luciano Bumbello). At the piano Valentina Casesa played music by Wagner and Liszt in tune with the action. In short, a jewel of elegance and sophistication which deserved to be toured in Italy and abroad.
A scene from 'La Saracina'. Photo © 2016 Stefano Binci
A scene from 'La Saracina'.
Photo © 2016 Stefano Binci. Click on the image for higher resolution
There was another rare jewel in the courtyard of Montebellino Castle on 3 September. The Ensemble Micrologus from Assisi performed, on period instruments or on close imitation, songs of the Crusade times, mostly in langue d'Oc (the grandfather of the Provence language) or in ancient German. The first part included songs of the crusaders in the Holy Land. The second part love and spring songs back home. A rare delightful evening.
Ensemble Micrologus performing at Castelbellino
Ensemble Micrologus performing at Castelbellino. Click on the image for higher resolution
Over the next two weeks the festival will include a good deal of religious music from the time of Friedrich II, but also a rare opera by Respighi (Re Enzo, another son of Friedrich II), a pious drama with music by Pergolesi, the original Carmina Burana and their rewriting by Orff. Briefly, a very rich menu about a very little known period.
Copyright © 8 September 2016 Giuseppe Pennisi,
Rome, Italy
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