Napoli milionaria: Lucca, 23rd February 2013

E-mail Print PDF

United we stand, http://img254.imageshack.us/img254/7167/napolimill3.jpgdivided we fall. This seems to be the motto that the three leading Tuscan regional opera companies, the Teatro Verdi of Pisa, the Teatro Goldoni of Livorno and the Teatro del Giglio of Lucca, have adopted by joining forces for some of their productions. The latest effort is a mise-en-scène of a real rarity, Napoli milionaria by Nino Rota, with Eduardo De Filippo's libretto based on his play (in English changed into Side Street Story). Lucca had this time the honour to host the première; Livorno and Pisa will follow shortly. De Filippo's original theatre drama was written at the end of the Second World War, in 1945; in 1950 the author transposed it to a movie, and Rota provided the sound track. Several years later, the composer used the score for a new transposition of the play, this time as an opera, which was presented at the Festival dei Due Mondi in Spoleto in 1977.

De Filippo was the motor behind the project: he was the one who decided to make an opera out of his play, and chose the composer. He even had a say in the choice of the cast. De Filippo lobbied to have Maria Callas in the leading role of Amalia. Out of politeness, Callas went so far as to read the score, but at the end, as widely expected, she declined. If Callas, her vocal problems aside, would have been a perfect dramatic solution, the next diva De Filippo tried to procure was a bizarre choice indeed: Birgit Nilsson, hardly the prototype of a Mediterranean hot-headed lower class woman. Surprisingly enough, Nilsson showed interest in the project, but her still busy schedule prevented her participation. Ultimately it was agreed to choose mostly young singers, and for the role of Amalia a soprano who was making her debut in opera was selected: Giovanna Casolla, a born and bred genuine Neapolitan, still going strong into her late 60s. Next to her, another young soprano was cast as her daughter, Mariella Devia: apparently Napoli milionaria brought good luck to both for vocal longevity.

In a move that caused many controversies, De Filippo made significant changes in the transposition from his play to the libretto. In the original play, a Neapolitan family tries to earn a living in the black market during the war. The first act is set in 1942; immediately thereafter the father Gennaro Jovine is drafted into the army. The women, left alone, have relationships with various men: one of them is an American soldier who gets Gennaro's daughter Maria Rosaria pregnant. His wife Amalia becomes the lover of Errico "Settebellizze", while their son Amedeo gets involved in criminal activities.

When Gennaro comes back home in 1945 he would like to tell his family about his conditions as a prisoner in a concentration camp, but has to learn about the latest events with growing despair. While he tries to come to terms with reality, the police break into his apartment and his son is shot, leaving Amalia mourning as the opera ends. The hopeless finale was written by De Filippo for the opera, and makes this work more pessimistic than the original play, in which Gennaro's wife did not really betray him and his son did not die.

http://img14.imageshack.us/img14/6133/napolimill1.jpg

The opera premiere, a mundane event attended by international high society, was broadcast live by TV networks around the world; while the audience bestowed a considerable success on it, the critics and the “intelligentsia” crucified it, perhaps on account of Rota's melodic way of writing basically tonal music, far from what was considered at the time the 'modern' canon. Rota was accused of being an anachronistic epigone of Puccini, Mascagni and Giordano: if it is true that Rota adopts and revises the model of Verismo in general, and more in particular the late Puccini of La fanciulla del West and Il tabarro, where the collectivity almost prevails on the individuality of the characters, his detractors failed (and in many cases intentionally) to highlight Rota’s masterful blending of Verismo with the suggestions of the American musical theatre of Menotti (who, after all, commissioned the work), Gershwin and Bernstein as well with the conversational style of Strauss and Janácek.

In any case, the vilification of the opera caused its complete disappearance from the radar. Even the Teatro San Carlo of Naples, who had competed with Spoleto for the honour of premiering it, quietly dropped it from its future seasons. Napoli milionaria had to wait thirty-three years to see the light again, when it was revived at the 2010 Festival della Valle d’Itria in Martina Franca, and not long after in Cagliari. This is only its the fourth revival.

If the Spoleto production was moneyed and opulent, producer Fabio Sparvoli and set and costume designer Alessandra Torella, operating on a tight budget, opted for a minimalist approach: a bed, a few chairs, a table, with only a screen serving as fancy wallpaper to point out the illusory and very temporary reversal of fortune of the Iovine family between acts I and II. The atmosphere of gloomy desolation and degradation, reminiscent of the Liliana Cavani’s film “La pelle” (“The Skin”), was highly effective.

http://img46.imageshack.us/img46/4253/napolimill2.jpg

Sparvoli also had plenty of time to work with his large cast, all young singers belonging to the Progetto LTL Opera Studio, which had already contributed to Le nozze di Figaro that I reviewed in Pisa a few weeks ago. In roles requiring authentic singing actors, all of them owned the stage like consummate professionals, each of them with the right physique du rôle, while their vocal performances were of varying quality. Since the opera features seventeen roles, it is virtually impossible to review all of them, and I will limit myself to mentioning the lead roles as well as those supporting singers who managed to stand out. Among the latter ones, Alessandra Masini almost stole the show with her big Act II scene, where her character, Assunta, is a young woman who got married by proxy to a soldier who has not returned home, and asks if she is to be considered a married woman, a widow or a spinster, given the fact that her marriage was not consummated. She explodes in a long virtuoso scene of hysterical laughter wonderfully handled by Ms. Masini. Stefano Trizzino displayed a beautiful baritone as the American soldier Johnny, even though his English left much to be desired. His part is limited to a long duet with Maria Rosaria, where they sing in two different languages, and in a touching operatic reference the pregnant girl asks him why he keeps calling her “my little Butterfly”. Although she cannot understand him when he tells her that he has a wife and three children waiting for him in the U.S., Maria Rosaria, sung by Francesca Paola Geretto, a lyric soprano with a lovely voice, understands he will never come back to her. Tenor Saverio Pugliese sang the role of her brother Amedeo without particular distinction.

The three more substantial roles are those of Errico Settebellizze (tenor), Gennaro Iovine (baritone), the pater familias, and especially his wife, Amalia (soprano). While Gennaro is not vocally particularly demanding and often tends to the “parlato”,  Amalia and Errico’s singing would not be out of place in a typical Verismo opera, with abrupt ascents to the top alternating with soaring arched lines, and in the case of Amalia, frequent descents into mezzo-soprano territory.  Giampiero Cimino (Gennaro) managed to be appropriately funny in Act I, fully conveying his desolation and his estrangement, not unlike a Cassandra who keeps repeating prophecies while the others, in their chimerical and delusive happiness, do their best not to listen to him. Dario Di Vetri (Errico) showed a pleasant robust lyric tenor, with only some fixity at the very top. Valeria Sepe (Amalia), in a role which is an authentic tour de force, shone for the perfect rendition of her multi-faceted character, as well as a for a voice of significant volume and penetrative power, although not completely immune from asperities. Future performances in Lucca, Pisa and Livorno will star at least two additional singers for most of the lead roles.

Matteo Beltrami, a conductor in his mid 30s, led with firm hand the difficult score that calls for a large orchestra, successfully amalgamating the different styles of the opera and keeping a strong rein on the cast.

All things considered, although I personally consider Il cappello di paglia di Firenze a superior work, Napoli milionaria is an opera worthy reviving much more often, but only under the right circumstances, as it appeared to be the case in this current production.

4_stars

Nicola Lischi

Opera Britannia

Photographs © Lorenzo Breschi

 



Last Updated ( Monday, 25 February 2013 18:38 )  

Recent Reviews

Puccini: Tosca

Renée Fleming, our hostess with the mostest at the Metropolitan Opera’s latest cinema relay of Tosca a few weeks ago, urged us – as ever – to experience opera first-hand and to ‘come visit the Met’ or to support your local opera company. The Opera Britannia excursions budget wouldn’t get you as far as York, let alone New York, so my local company it was and performing the same opera too. Tosca is very much the safe, financial bolster to Welsh National Opera’s Tudor trilogy in its autumn season – a crowd-pleaser of a production excavated from 1992, but which seemed even older.


 

Humperdinck: Hänsel und Gretel

And so to Milton Keynes, pursued by a perishing wind fit to crack the famous concrete cows. The Milton Keynes Theatre, as a venue, is one of the jewels in the ATG crown, big enough to house almost any touring product, with spacious and well-designed auditorium and foyers. Unfortunately it is marooned in one of those soulless retail areas surrounded by a sea of mediocre chain outlets which offer the same tat or that which passes for food in a thousand other identical areas the world over. Whether it was position or the icy blasts which accounted for the poorly populated house is hard to say.


 

Mozart: The Magic Flute

For all the risk-taking in the operatic world, productions which are guaranteed bums-on-seats bankers are like Nibelung gold. To scrap not one but two such productions is a brave move for English National Opera this season. We shall see what Christopher Alden inflicts on Rigoletto in the spring, replacing Jonathan Miller’s famous Little Italy staging. Meanwhile, Nicholas Hytner’s much loved production of The Magic Flute has finally been laid to rest (after a few ‘absolutely your last chance to see’ revivals), replaced with this new one by Simon McBurney and Complicite.


 

Shostakovich: The Nose

Described at the time as “an anarchist’s hand grenade,” The Nosewas not well received and soon disappeared from view, although Malko, one of Shostakovich’s teachers at the Conservatoire, recognised the quality of the score. It was composed in 1927-28 and given a concert performance, against Shostakovich’s better judgment, in 1929: “The Nose loses all meaning if it is seen just as a musical composition. For the music springs only from the action...It is clear to me that a concert performance of The Nose will destroy it."


 

News

ENO goes widescreen

After resisting the prevailing tide for opera houses beaming their wares to a worldwide cinema audience, English National Opera has seen the light. From 2014, selected productions will be screened at 300 cinemas around the UK and beyond, starting with its revival of David Alden’s production of Peter Grimes, starring Stuart Skelton. A new production, by Terry Gilliam, of Berlioz’s Benvenuto Cellini will also be relayed. Gilliam’s earlier Berlioz adventure, The Damnation of Faust, was broadcast on television.


 

 

Poetry Corner

Biography: Mary Robertson is an Emeritus Professor in Neuropsychiatry at University College London and visiting Professor at St George’s Hospital Medical School, London. Aside from being an opera devotee, Mary is a published poet and photographer.

(New poems added: 04/08/2010)

more >>

 

 


News updates

Subscribe to Opera Britannia to receive all the latest news and latest reviews

Signup >>

Around the Houses

Dmitri Platanias will sing the title role when the Royal Opera revives its new production of Nabucco. Mariusz Kwiecien will be joined by Saimir Pirgu in Steffen Aarfing's production of Szymanowski's King Roger at Covent Garden in 2015. The Royal Opera will stage Andrea Chenier in 2014/15 with Jonas Kaufmann, Eva-Maria Westbroek and Željko Lucic.

Anna Netrebko is due to sing the role of Lady Macbeth for a single performance at the Bavarian State Opera in June 2014.

Maria Agresta will sing Lucrezia in Verdi's I due Foscari in the 2014-15 season at Covent Garden. Placido Domingo does the Doge double, adding the baritone role of Francesca Foscari to his Simon Boccanegra.

Corinne Winters, fresh from her triumph as Violetta in ENO's production of La traviata, is to return to the Coliseum next season as Teresa in Berlioz's Benvenuto CelliniMichael Spyres sings the title role in a production which sees the return ofTerry Gilliam to the director's seat, after his Damnation of Faust debut.

. Read More>>

"Around the Houses" concentrates on providing the latest news on future plans for opera companies around the globe, artists schedules, cancellations and interesting snippets of information. We will try and avoid unsubstantiated gossip wherever possible, but all of our sources will remain completely confidential.  If you would like to advise us about potential news for this section, then please feel free to email us at info@opera-britannia.com.

Coming Soon

Reviews to be published shortly:



 


 


CD Reviews

Vivaldi: Catone in Utica (Naive)

Althoughhttp://img197.imageshack.us/img197/8908/gkdw.JPG he claimed to have composed around ninety operas, there cannot be many left in the archives of the Biblioteca Nazionale in Turin for Naïve to record in its ongoing Vivaldi Edition if you discount pasticcios, reworkings and incomplete works. Their latest offering, the fourteenth opera in the series, falls into the latter category, for only Acts II and III of Catone in Utica have survived. The opera was written to celebrate the culmination of his third and final season at Verona’s Teatro dell’Accademia Filarmonica – a profitable success for the composer. Premiered in 1737, it is unknown whether Act I was even written by Vivaldi himself, or whether music by other composers was employed.

Read more>>


Recital Reviews

Anne Sofie von Otter: Alumni Series

Milton Court, 23rd November 2013

When this http://img14.imageshack.us/img14/7950/npze.jpgrecital was first drawn to my attention, such is my regard for the Swedish mezzo that I immediately withdrew from reviewing Albert Herring some two hundred yards down the road in the Barbican, and enthusiastically opted for what I thought was an evening of French chansons and mélodies. What a prospect! Anne Sofie von Otter let loose on Chausson and Debussy, Fauré and Poulenc, perhaps some Gounod and Bizet, with maybe a little Délibes and/or Satie by way of let-your-hair-down encore material. All with her long-term musical accompanist Bengt Forsberg summoning up the necessary style. Rapture guaranteed, for which I arrived fully prepared.

Read more>>


DVD Reviews

Donizetti: Lucrezia Borgia (EuroArts)

Scholars now http://img543.imageshack.us/img543/5228/vu6o.jpgcast doubt on Lucrezia Borgia’s credentials as mass poisoner, but Donizetti’s operatic treatment on her historical character would have us believe she spiked drinks with cantarella and laced dishes with deadly nightshade like nobody’s business. Lucrezia, here on her fourth marriage (in reality, her third) to Alfonso d’Este, Duke of Ferrara, is reunited with Gennaro, her long-lost son. Unfortunately, she withholds this vital information from him and from her husband, who suspects her of conducting an affair. It’s as free an interpretation as the lusty television series The Borgias, which never got as far as this in Lucrezia’s marital history, but none the worse for that.

Read more>>


Copyright 09 Opera Britannia
facebook twitter