Veranstaltungen & Kritiken
By Charles Jernigan / photos by Rupert Larl
As one of its operatic offerings this year, the Innsbrucker Festwochen der Alten Musik brought Pietro Antonio Cesti's 1665 opera Le nozze in sogno back to life. The production of this opera was the dream of Alan Curtis, an American baroque musician and musicologist long associated with the Innsbruck Festival, who died at 80 in his long time home of Florence on 15 July, 2015. Curtis had worked towards and planned the 2016 production, and he was honored not only as a guiding light of the Festival, but by a boat, built by the prop department for the production, and holding the 13 member Ensemble Innsbruck Barock; the boat was named the "Alan."
The boat was appropriate because the story takes place in Livorno, a bustling port city, and two of the characters are merchants in the business of trade, Pancrazio and Teodoro. The simple set, moved indoors from the courtyard of the Theological Faculty of the University of Innsbruck because of inclement weather, reflected that. There were crates and boxes piled on top of each other. Some of these opened to reveal two small rooms--a bedroom for the romantic antics of Lucinda and Flammiro and a sitting room for the tearful protests of Emilia, upset because her lover Lelio (Lucinda's brother) has dumped her.
Lelio (Bradley Smith, on the left), Lucinda (Arianna Vendittelli) and Flammiro (Rodrigo Sosa Dal Pozzo, on the right), dressed as a woman
The story is complex, but contains multiple elements of late Renaissance comedy, both the popular commedia dell'arte and the intellectuals' commedia erudita, which was based on the ancient Roman models of Plautus and Terence. As the opera opens, Flammiro enters dressed as a woman from Teodoro's house where he has just acted in a comedy. Lelio sees him, doesn't recognize him, and falls in love with him, believing him to be a woman--the beauteous Celia. Flammiro leads him on as a means to getting him to agree to lodge him with Lelio's sister Lucinda--whom Flammiro loves. Meanwhile Teodoro wants to marry off his niece/ward Emilia to old Pancrazio. So there is a double plot: the duping of Lelio so that Lucinda and Flammiro can be together and the duping of the old men so that Emilia won't have to marry one of them. In the end, the lovesick Lelio is undeceived and agrees to marry his old flame, Emilia.
The title, Le nozze in sogno (Marriage in a Dream) refers only to the last part of the opera when the old men, including Pancrazio's servant Fronzo are given a magic potion in their wine which puts them into a dream state where they witness all manner of strange things and in a daze agree to the young people getting married.
Emilia (Yulia Sokolik) with Teodoro (Jeffrey Francis)
The librettist, Pietro Susini (1629-70), worked in the Florentine court of Cardinal Leopoldo de'Medici, a brother of the ruler of the city state. An intelligent and erudite man, he translated dramas from the Spanish Golden Age and produced plays and opera librettos himself. Some of the characters in the opera are based on the character types of commedia (Lelio is a typical foolish innamorata [lover] while clever Flammiro is like one of the zanni [servants]. The plot theme of cross-dressing was certainly known in the commedia erudita, while the theme of events in a dream comes directly from Spanish Golden Age drama, particularly Calderón de la Barca's famous play La vida es sueno (Life is a Dream). Indeed, towards the end of the opera several of the characters philosophize on this theme, especially in a duet between Filandra, Emilia's Nurse and Scorbio, Flammiro's servant : "Di quel di ch'è più lieto/vien tosto la sera; /è folle chi spera/ dolcezza infinita/in ore si corte./Un sogno è la vita,/un sonno è la morte" ("The evening soon follows the happiest day; it is madness to hope for infinite happiness when time is so short. Life is a dream, death is a sleep.") In a sense the marriage in a drug-induced dream is a parody of this popular trope of the early Baroque period. There is even a parody of the "stone guest" trope, familiar to opera lovers from Don Giovanni, when two statues come alive in the dreamscape. Susini was probably familiar with the original Don Juan play, Tirso de Molina's El burlador de Sevilla (The Trickster of Seville) and certainly with a commedia dell'arte version of the story, L'ateista fulminato (The Athiest Struck Down). Thus the libretto combines aspects of commedia with erudite elements from a pan-European theater stretching from ancient Rome to Susini's contemporary Spain.
Pietro Antonio Cesti (1623-69) was equally brilliant and cosmopolitan. As a Franciscan friar based in Florence, he was both a singer and a composer, sometimes singing in his own work. He was strongly influenced when a Venetian troupe visited his city and performed the new style Venetian opera, works like Cavalli's Giasone, which combined serious and comic elements. Cesti began to compose in this style too, and not only in his Florence. He was at the Hapsburg court in both Innsbruck and Vienna. From 1652 to 1657 he was Kammerkapellmeister and Musikdirektor in the private chapel of Grand Duke Ferdinand Karl, the son of Leopold V and Claudia de'Medici. There he produced several operas, including his best known one, L'Orontea in 1656. He brought some of these back to Florence, furthering the development of the new style and composing new works before he died in 1669.
Two statues come alive under the influence of a magic potion (ensemble, in the boat: the Baroque Ensemble Innsbruck)
The manuscript score of Le nozze in sogno has been known for some time; it is in the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris, and it was known that Susini was the author of the text. The composer, however, was not known, or there was no way to be certain that it was Cesti. A Preface to the libretto tells us the name of the opera and that it was produced by the "Accademia de' Signori Infocati" in 1665. This "Academy" was one of several arts-producing groups in Florence and other Italian cities sponsored by the nobility. They owned or leased theaters and saw to the production of plays and operas. It is known that Cesti and Susini worked for this particular Academy in 1665. Recently a previously unknown journal of the Infocati was found with the entry for Wednesday, 6 May , when "a comedy was offered with the title 'Le nozze in sogno', a work of Pietro Susini, set to music by Abbé Cesti...." Thus the composer's authorship was confirmed.
The Innsbruck offering on 21 August (also 19 and 22 August) was the end result of much scholarly research by Alan Curtis, Alessandro Bares, Nicola Michelassi, and Salomé Vuelta Garcia, the latter two from the University of Florence. As a musical performance, it was reasonably good, especially the excellent Innsbruck Baroque Ensemble under Musical Director Enrico Onofri. One would expect a simple set for outdoor performance (moved inside), and Davide Amadei's set was just that; the costumes were also by him, and they were an eclectic mix of movie pirate, Bavarian hofbräuhaus waitress (Filandra), school girl (Emilia), punk and La cage aux folles (Flammiro as Celia). They certainly were not late Renaissance Florentine or early baroque--or modern for that matter.
The "sogno"-potion: Fronzo (Ludwig Obst), Pancratio (Rocco Cavalluzzi) and Teodoro (Jeffrey Francis) in baby carriages dressed as babies (in the background: shadowy figures as part of the dream)
Just as the costumes verged on amateur silliness, the stage direction (by Alessio Pizzech) took no particular direction--certainly not the carefully choreographed slapstick of commedia or the cynical, but more restrained bawdiness of erudite comedy writers like Cardinal Bibbiena or Machiavelli. Instead we got characters jumping up and down with glee or crying like babies. The duped old men came in at the end in big baby carriages. It was sort of funny but sort of juvenile too. There was a lot of sex comedy between Flammiro and Lucinda, but it was more of the legs and arms entangled variety than the well-placed leer. Juvenile, in other words.
The singers were mostly young and have promising careers. There were two counter-tenors, two sopranos, a tenor, and a man playing the Nurse Filandra (Francisco Fernandez-Rueda), who wore a bee hive wig for no particular reason. To my mind, the best singers were Yulia Sokolik and Arianna Vendittelli. Counter-tenor Rodrigo Sosa Dal Pozzo was also quite good. It is not entirely fair to judge the singers or the music in hearing an unknown work for the first time, but I thought that much of the music was lovely, particularly the ensemble work and the occasional sections when the orchestra played alone. There was also a lot of monodic recitative and the "arias" tended to be short. A good pair of scissors would help. I understand wanting to do a work complete for an historical revival, but there is a lot that could be cut. Or perhaps better direction would have made the long passages of recitative more interesting.
As it was, the program (and the web site) advised that the work would last two and one-half hours including an intermission. In practice it lasted three hours and fifteen minutes. I have never seen such a miscalculation on the performing length of a piece. Perhaps they had intended to offer a judicially cut performance and then decided against it. Time to think again.
Le nozze in sogno was interesting, the production well meaning, and certainly its creators (Susini and Cesti) are very interesting figures in the history of early baroque literature and music, but as a theater piece the work needed more thought-through direction that this year's Festival gave it.
Set and Costume Design
Teodoro, Ser Mosè
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