Archive for the ‘Collateral effects’ Category

Foregrounds and backgrounds VII

From Klopstock to Goethe, from Stendhal, to George Sand, the lake represents a place reach in charm: maternal thumb, or entrance to kingdom of the dead (the Avernus lake of Romans). The Britons ancient legends among the Lancelot childhood contain the roots on which are construct both La donna del lago’s and La Straniera’s plots, respectively by Rossini and Bellini. Landscapes showing water images are recurrent in Rossini’s opera in the double shape of sea and fresh water.
Nearby to geographical correct and exact representation of Kathrine lake in La donna del lago, in others works we can see the water flowing vitality, its foaming in torrents and streams to change in a masse of energy, ready to overflow all that it founds long its way; a nature primitive strength, favourite in preromantical aesthetic of sublime and horrid. By a comical or parodistic point of view, this interpretation is employed by Rossini in Matilde di Shabran’s end, when Corradino, repented for turning Matilde out of the home, and having ordered to kill her, he threats the suicide in a torrent’s precipice.
Element of exuberant nature, together the vegetation, water becomes a cardinal image in Rossini’s Guillaume Tell. Realistical sign of Swiss landscape, it evokes the concept of connection, of link, of interconnetion: in the oath’s scene (II Act) is defined by the main character as the “chemin qui ne trahit pas”1. is the element warranting freedom. In Schachental torrent, Tell safes Leutholdo from the Austrians; nearby the Achsenberg the lake joins the inhabitants of its different sides and it is the place where the opera ends. This lake appears in two very important scenes. The first time is presented view by above and faraway, as a background in the Second Act, where is set the oath’s scene. The second time it appears in the last scene of the last act, and it gains the foreground, like a visual translation of the appropriation made by Suiss towards their land. Guillaume, thanks to his ability in shipping in the middle of the storm too (methaphorical significance is evident) impresses a resolutive issue at the events. He tames the elements with his experience in a familiar environment, with his respectful familiarity and trust in the Nature so he succeeds in killing the tyrant. Thus by the sides of the calmed down lake the opera ends.

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Backgrounds and foregrounds

Through the descriptions contained in set’s captions concerning the urban backgrounds, we can see the town concept suggested to spectators. Paris, as a great european metropolis, is one of the images which appears, with more insistence in the XIX Century Italian librettos. A town of perdition, above all for female characters, in Linda di Chamounix and in La Traviata, is evokated in the dialogues, but it never appears. We can find realistic datas from a geographical point of view in Donizetti’s Maria di Rohan first scene, where we can discerne the Louvre palace beyond the windows. In Umberto Giordano’s Mme Sans Gêne first act, the urban guerilla takes place in the street beyond the laundry’s windows. Cilea’s Adriana Lecourvreur second act reveals a bridge and the Seine in the background beyond the Grande Battelière cottage. Some town’s detailed descriptions are met in Umberto Giordano’s Andrea Chénier second act, where Feuillants terrace appears, with Hottot café, and the Péronnet Bridge. In Puccini’s Bohème we can see The Latin Quartier, and the d’Enfer barrier.
The elements appearing in the background, besides having a great importance for the action, are the most significative shapes for an age imagination. The water, for instance, in its different declinations represents one of the most considerable examples from this point of view. The sea is a familiar presence in Donizetti’s opera (Maria Stuarda, Dom Sebastien, Lucia di Lammermoor, Lucrezia Borgia, Furioso all’isola Santo Domingo); in Verdi’s production, (Vespri Siciliani, Simon Boccanegra, Otello) and in the one of the end of Nineteenth Century composers (Ponchielli, Puccini, Bottesini, Pizzetti). For Simone Boccanegra and Otello, this natural element is not a simple landscape frame, but a decisive place in characters’ identity construction. For the genoese Doge, the sea is an object of contemplation, a memory place. In the Grimaldi’s garden, it is the background for private meeting between Amelia and Gabriele, between the first and the Doge in the ricognition scene. In the third act, it appears beyond the city. In the room where the third scene takes place, Simone is istinctively searching for the contact with “his” sea, while is reflecting and believing while he is feeling the syntoms of the desease provocated by the poison, which he ignores to have drunk.

Doge: M’ardon le tempia…un’atra/vampa sento/serpeggiar per le vene…Ah! ch’io respiri/l’aura beata del libero cielo!/oh refrigerio!…la marina brezza!…Il mare!… Il mare!…quale in rimirarlo/di glorie e di sublimi rapimenti/mi si affaccian ricordi! – Il mare!…il mare!…/perché in suo grembo non trovai la tomba?…

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Foregrounds and backgrounds V

In Rossini’s serious and semiserious repertoire, the “external world” enters in the characters places towards the framing imposed by vestibule’s arches and by French-windows in ground-floor rooms, delimiting woods (Matilde di Shabran), city’s pitoresque sides, or home’s secluded corners (Bianca e Falliero), streets and courts (Gazza Ladra). Beyond porches, halls, atriums, cloisters described by Felice Romani’s in Bellini’s operas librettos it appears a strong number of backgrounds: cities, (Agrigento in Bianca e Fernando),1 natural elements and building sides, (the drawbridge and the waterfall in Il Pirata,2), the lake and the cloistre in La Straniera,3 the private apartaments in Capuleti e Montecchi. They all underline the contrast between the nature and the human presence. In I Puritani, composed by Bellini with Carlo Pepoli as librettist, the attention payed towards the outside world is stressed in every scene, with the insistent presence of the windows, towards which the landascape can be seen and the outside sounds can be heard. For example: the Puritains preying, Arturo’s arrival, announced by chorus and by the band hided among the wings (II scene). In the two following sets, windows frame the camp and the fortifications (I and II act); in the last scene (III act), Elvira appears beyond the porche glass-window. In some librettos used by Donizetti too, doors and windows delimited the part of world to show: the inner gardens, city’s vew (London in Roberto Devereux)4, others buildings (Maria di Rohan,5 Gemma di Vergy), the road (Linda di Chamounix),6 wild places (Lucia di Lammermoor).
The interpretation and the reading of the world in italian XIX Century’s peninsula, is based also on the backgrounds descriptions in set captions of the operas, products of a cultural mass genre in that age. Thus, from some apparently incidental details we can understand the urban and rural landascape perception, the role awarded to water places (sea, lakes, rivers), or to vegetables world in that imaginary.

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Foregrounds and backgrounds

The action pressed in domestic walls perimeter without description of the landscape beyond the windows, is a characteristic which can be particularly discoverable in italian XIX Century “opera buffa”. At dramaturgic level, the interest toward the forestage “hinc et nunc” predominates, because there fights, debates, reconciliations inside the house’s and family’s borders are set. The landscape’s presence would shift and lead the spectator attention outside, a position in this case, incidental for the plot and the problems posed and proposed by it.
Still, at conceptual level, this choice makes jet more sensational the perception of acoustic stratification, of the “full” and “void” concerning singers and instrumentalists presences created in the full score. We can think to Rossini’s “crescendo”, by which the composer fills the set devoid of field of view depth, delimited by walls and ceiling, without outlets, so that the sound resonates and thunders. Thus the room saturates until to “explosion”.
Seville is out of view beside the windows of Bartolo’s house in Rossini’s Il Barbiere di Siviglia, in the set captions of La Cenerentola, landscape visible from the windows is omitted. The same situation is discoverable in Donizetti’s opera comica librettos.
Vice versa, in tragic repertoire, the details lack in backstage, underline a constrictive space, a cage-space. The claustrophobic world where the Ashton family live sealed, in Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor is opposed to wild, stürmisch dimension, used in the scene where Edgard acts (excepted the Finale II, when he becomes the disagreeable host in his enemies salon).
From Violetta’s living room and bedroom windows, just like in Flora Gallery’s, the description of landscape is excluded, Paris views are absent. The city is evoked only in the dialogues. Dying Violetta wants to see the day light and she orders Annina to open the windows (“Da’ accesso a un po’ di luce”), therefore her last life mouthfuls, with the Carnival sounds, invading her bedroom silence. Similarly, Philip II private room in Verdi’s Don Carlos received the rising light of the dawn, but does not offer suggestions concerning landscape. Arrigo Boito, in set captions of Verdi’s Otello IV act, “forgets” to describe windows in Desdemona’s bedroom.
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Backgrounds and foregrounds III

The attention paid towards the visual depth of field that can be found in operas set captions of composers working in Nineteenth Century last portion (like Puccini, Catalani, Mascagni, for example) can’t be considered like a simple and excessive desire of description, expressed by librettists (Giuseppe Illica in particularly). Nor it can be judged an act of pedantry imposed by documentary precision in order to describe or rather transcribe with words and ink on the paper the sets prepared for absolute première performance of each opera.
It instead reveals the composers interest towards all strategies enlarging the borders imposed by the architectural structure of theatre with upper-circle boxes (the opera house “all’italiana”), with the adoption of visual and acoustic depth of field opening.
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Backgrounds and foregrounds II, by Sonia Arienta

The background is an objective element, big screen where the time of the (hi)Story flows, while the foreground focalises the attention towards details, where the individual acts. The background receives the time flux; the foreground describes the instant’s particular aspect, the plot’s development. Backclothes descriptions take allegorical characteristics, they delineate an objective “commentary”, the world nearby the individual intimate, private dimension. In Guillaume Tell first scene, the title role’s home is setted in foreground, nearby the torrent and other village’s houses; in the last scene it appears faraway, enveloped by flames, sign of extreme help’s request transmitted by Gemmy to Swiss countrymen. This house’s recession toward the foreground is a sort of warning concerning the renunciation of individual good in favour of the common one: the sacrifice of Tell’s home permits to free the Country from the tyrant’s arrogance.
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Backgrounds and foregrounds I, by Sonia Arienta

In opera’s exterior scenes the landscape can include different categories of images, connected to urban or natural space; they also can show or not a wide-ranging view. In interiors scenes, the glimpse over the world is trimmed by doors, windows, arcades, gates which select panorama’s elements if they are included. In locations outlined by set captions, the degree of permeability between background and foreground, shaped by a number much or less elevated of architectural barriers, fix the opening or closure degree of the field of vision and the extension of exchange between the individual and the world. In fact visual backgrounds usually disappear from set captions when the operist desires a claustrophobical atmosphere.
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The stone host Aristotele III

In the last part of Nineteenth Century, the mobility of characters (over the spaces) streamlines in many italian operas. For the composers, the international or intercontinental vicissitudes, braved by Leonora and Alvaro in Verdi’s La Forza del Destino or by Manon Lescaut and his cavalier in the homonymous Puccini’s opera, loose interest in a progressive way. Verist poetics in a one side, and the employment of pièces bien faites in the other side, make the action more delimited in the use of spaces. So, the action takes place just in one city (for examples Paris, in Cilea’s Adriana Lecouvreur or Puccini’s Bohème, Rome in Puccini’s Tosca), or in a little zone (the wood in Puccini’s La Fanciulla del West), or in a single location (the royal palace in Mascagni’s Isabeau and Puccini’s Turandot). At this regard, Mascagni’s Cavalleria Rusticana, is an evident example: the scene is just one. The village square is the only place shown all the unique act long. In a similar way, in Leoncavallo’s Pagliacci the characters still move in one scene, notwithstanding the structure of the opera is developed in two acts
Certainly, in the reduction of set’s changes is implicit a lack of budget in production. But in the same time, this choice reveals a cultural trend, a change. The attention, in fact, is shifted to the relations of characters, prisoners of own obsessions, crystallised, indifferent in world exploration, or incapable, inadequate to cultivate relations with reality in active way.

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The stone host Aristotele II, by Sonia Arienta

The royal palace in Rossini’s Elisabetta regina d’Inghilterra (1815) is a microcosm containing rooms with different functions: institutional (the trone room), private (queen’s apartments), punitive (hall nearby a prison, prison). The choice of places and their description reflect a world completely under the souvrain’s control, from which nature and the city landscape are excluded. The libretto captions of Giovanni Schmidt omit architectonic or natural backgrounds. In some examples, unity of place is employed by composer in an elastic way (Semiramide); or completely denied in other ones (Donna del Lago, Guglielmo Tell o Armida).
In fact, if in Semiramide the Babylonian royal palace is the most important place in the action, with the most numerous scenes, explored at 360 degrees, from terraces to grave’s basements, on the contrary in La Donna del Lago, we can find wild spaces, subjects houses and the royal palace. In Donizetti’s operatic production we can see a progressive and clear desertion from unity of place use. In Anna Bolena the action starts inside the Westminster palace, but then it moves in the Tower of London. Royal palaces and subjects houses, or other royal properties turn over in Roberto Devereux and Maria Stuarda. In Dom Sébastien Roi du Portugal, the protagonist has a journey from Lisbon to Africa and return.

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The stone host Aristotele, by Sonia Arienta

The aristotelic concept of unity of place, grounding of classical and neoclassical theatre theories, becomes one of the favorit targets in Romantic and late Romantic age. In this regard how is italian opera composers and librettists behaviour along the whole Nineteenth Century? What pathes eachone of them follows in their production? Beyond aesthetical and poetic acceptance, what do the authors’ choises, reveal? what kind of lecture towards the world and reality do they give? In fact, is important to remember that operists’ products and critics’ theories, not only in musical context, always express historic and cultural contexts…
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Here you can find an interview with Sonia Arienta – RAI Radio3 Suite on September 5. 2011 (ITALIAN VERSION)
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Here you can find an interview with Sonia Arienta – RSI Radio Televizione Svizzera – Ridotto dell’opera (ITALIAN VERSION)
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