Collateral effects

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..Italian version………………….


Photo: Barbara Cavallaro

October 15.2012 – Collateral effects 37

Visual and acoustic perspective 2

The lay-out of italian opera house, with its visual inequality between royal box inhabitants (the unic depositary of the right perspective view of the action staged) and the other spectators (forced to see the performance in a way less or more distorted), certanly shows the essence of social disequality of feudal society, but in the same time, it containes a remarkable opportunity. That is the possibility of multiplicating in a vertiginous way the points of view and the points of listening, the possibility of enlarging the relations between the spectator and the acoustical objects in a surrounding way. Essence of operatic gendre is the compresence of sound and visual world; the dialectic between the visual and acoustic perspective, the methodologies exchanges and conceptuals premises also on the metaphorical ground, and applicable to the relations between stage and audience. That is to say the multiplication of acoustic sources, and their location, the exaltation of the space as the place of infinite possibilities.
The opera performance is an exemplary synthesis of the stratified activity, of the sensorial mixture over which the perception is based. In Nineteenth Century, the central perspective of the set replaces the acrobatic feats of bifocal perspective, the spatial illusions of baroque set design, brand of Bibiena family. In the Italy Nineteenth Century first half, the stage hostes a system of backclothes, little backclothes, little curtains, wings alternating like sliding pictures from the flies to the stage and vice versa. Quick at sight changes take place following the bipolarism of “scena corta” (short set) and “scena lunga” (large set), based on the depth of field variation.
The central perspective construction is underlined when it is adopted the naturalistic point of view and the poetic of fourth-wall in the last decades of Nineteenth Century. The set imitates the room walls, it underlines in a tauthological way the stage perimeter, while the painting of the wing pretends architecturals or naturals elements on the bidimensional surface of the canvas. Set elements, like wings, fixed on the stage with wooden frames and fastened to the flies by ropes impossible to move on at sight, are used nearby the painted backdrops. The variation of depth of field, secured by the alternance between short set and large set in each act, is replaced now by the immobility of the unique set, a box containing pictures, images and sounds, delimited on three sides, sometimes also in the ceiling.

September 10.2012 – Collateral effects 34

Visual and acoustic perspective

The vision and listening centrality – assigned ad personam, or rather, to the unique person who the composer must be addressed, the ideal spectator, that is the absolute sovereign – is a characteristic of operatic theatre from his birth in the XVII Century. This centrality represents a challenge in the Nineteenth Century, a provocation of the opera’s composers following a new historical age, in order to debate the space-acoustical relations between stage and audience.
The meaning of “perspective” points to the construction on a bi-dimensional surface of one, or more images, differently oriented and placed at different distances, corresponding to their direct vision, thanks to geometrical techniques.
The perspective intuition is possible when the picture becomes a “window” through which we think to look at the space constructed with a perceptible immediate impression, with the help of a geometrical construction.1
The perspective with a central focus is based on a fundamental hypothesis: a view with a still, fixed eye. But, if the illusory idea of an exact perspective construction is abstracted from the structure of psycho-physiological space, is clear that the perspective picture offered to spectators of an operatic theatre contradicts these characteristics.
First of all because the object observed is three-dimensional. The depth, the length and the highness of the stage substitutes the bi-dimensional surface of the painted canvas. In second instance, because the unique, ideal point of view, peculiar of the observer of a painting, becomes an exclusive use, in the praxis of operatic theatre, assured only to the spectators sitting in the Royal tribune, as an extension of their divine-rights benefits.
The theatrical and operatic performance in the court society is an earthly ritual where the spectators see them one another, the sovereign and the characters on the stage. They discover the mechanisms of the show, and in the same time they are aware of the play. The sovereign, from his side, sees and listens from the best place, which allows him the complete identification in the hero, either gods or ancient kings. So, the sovereign is the unique to see and listen, and perceives the fictive world of operatic action “as” a real one..

June 09. 2012 – Collateral effects 33

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.


May 22. 2012 – Collateral effects 32

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.

Until the third decade of Nineteenth Century, the set captions of operatic librettos describe backgrounds in a concise way, in comparison of spazialized interjections realised by bands, voices or single instruments on stage. In this age, even if the acoustic spazialization use is constant, it is still not so diffuse the full score long, as we can instead notice in the last years of the XIX Century. In these last two decades, the widening of visual horizons corresponds to a widespread multiplication of acoustic spazialization created with voices and instruments (bands and/ or small orchestra).

Bands and little orchestras on stage become, at acoustic level, members of a dialogue between background and foreground, between inside and outside, indicating the permeation, the penetrability degree of the spaces staged towards the external world.

When relations between places-where-the-action-is-set and the operists sound choices are considered, it appears with evidence that they are characterised by a dialectic connection between inside and outside, foreground and background, notwithstanding in statistic the most numerous places where the action is staged are the close ones.

To continue


May 11. 2012 – Collateral effects 31

Backgrounds and foregrounds II

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.
In La Traviata, Paris where Violetta is living, is never shown beyond the windows; we can only and directly find the allusions to “the crowded waste” (“il popoloso deserto che appellano Parigi”) inside the characters dialogues. Set’s captions pay a meticulous attention to furniture’s details in foreground; beyond the realistic description, they are connected to time’s concept. To the time’s flight. In Violetta’s first and second acts living-rooms, the libretto describes a mirror and a clock, a baroque Vanitas quotation.

Atto primo (…)a sinistra un caminetto con sopra uno specchio.

Atto secondo: sc 1 casa di campagna presso Parigi. Salotto terreno. Nel fondo in faccia agli spettatori è un camino, sopra il quale uno specchio e un orologio, fra due porte chiuse da cristalli che mettono ad un giardino.

Germont senior, like Time (or if it is more agreeable Death) incarnation, during his duetto with Violetta (II Act), he admonishes the last with an explicit memento mori

GERMONT: Un dì, quando le veneri/ il tempo avrà fugate,/fia presto il tedio a sorgere…/che sarà allor?…pensate…/per voi non avran balsamo i più soavi affetti;/poiché dal ciel non furono/ tai nodi benedetti1
In this same scene (I set of II Act), the garden, as in Dumas jr. play La dame aux camélias, stays beyond the glass-door of the living room. The natural dimension, even in her most domestic image, precisely the garden one, is unattainable for courtesan Violetta, genuine “greenhouse flower”. Cultivated product, up-market first fruit on sale to luxury customers; object of desire and in the same time, she is a victim of torture in reason of middle class too small hearts and wallets.

To continue

1 Verdi, Traviata, A II SC


April 22. 2012 – Collateral effects 30

Backgrounds and foregrounds I

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.

The backgrounds seen beyond the architectural structures take a strong symbolic significant, thanks to the “frame” which isolates the landscape’s details. The world can be observed by the highness of a window, in a distant way, with an objective detachment, or sometimes in a way even inaccessible. Or it can be very near, beyond a gate or a porch.

In exterior sets the foreground buildings can close the view, or reveal natural elements; in interiors the city or the natural landscape can appear beyond windows and doors. But, when they are observed from a high position in a royal palace they can suggest and reveal the dominant place of the sovran towards his subjects-inhabitants.

The dialogue between the grounds shows to spectator the world many dimensions, the coexistence, the dialectic complementarity between the “nearby” and the “faraway”.

to continue


April 06. 2012 – Collateral effects 29

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.

They are forced to be in an increasing staticity, dried out by domestic vampires, by psychological pressures of partners more and more persecutory, or by persecutors aspiring to become partners.

The deference to unity of place, peculiar of classicist poetics, instead of being only an unconditional adhesion to aristotelic thinking, expresses a lecture of the world typical of italian and french Ancien Régime courts. A very different choice in comparison to spanish (siglo de oro) and english (Shakespearean) theatrical context, of that same age.

So, it underlines a concept of staticness, mirror of a world turning around the absolute king, fixed star around whom rotates the whole social universe. The in-bound artistotelism in verist operas reflects the livid retreat of an age so violent at politic and social level, where nationalism and imperialism lead to explosion of the First World War.


March 26. 2012 – Collateral effects 28

The stone host Aristotele II

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.

In Linda di Chamounix characters move from Alps to Paris (and return), and in Verdi’s repertoire the world exploration takes articulate and complex shapes, with long-range travels. In La Forza del destino, for example, the action starts in Spain (Sevilla, then it moves in Hornachuelos little village), then in centre of Italy (nearby Velletri), and at the end it still finishes in Spain. I Lombardi alla Prima Crociata’s libretto shows milanese location (S. Ambrogio square) and the middle-eastern one, with Josafat’s Valley and Jerusalem. We can find in some Franchetti’s and Puccini’s operas (respectively: Cristoforo Colombo and Manon Lescaut) a similar preference for international, and intercontinental travels. This characters mobility outlines the individual relations towards the world in a different way in comparison with the past.

To continue…


March 9. 2012 – Collateral effects 27

The stone host Aristotele

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.

Among the signs reaviling different degrees in adhesion towards aristothelic rules we can point out the iterations of a same place in different points of the plot; or the use of different rooms inside the same building. Or, still, the multeplicity of framing (above, from underneath, from right or left) towards a same place described in libretto’s captions. All solutions that far from making poor and static the action, give the idea of points of view multeplicity, of their rotation. Solution underlining a critical, polydimensional vision of the reality. The utilization of recurring places in the same plot is not only a tribute to aristotelic unity of place or a trick imposed by impresarios with little budget avaliable in set design production. It stresses the point of view changement, all long the set sequence; it underscore the obsessive recurrence of places with key-function in the plot.

Rossini, Verdi, Mercadante use librettos where the description of places are centred on “rotation” and reversal. So the limits, the chains imposed by the aristotelism of neoclassical theories became a way for giving the audience the possibility of an analitical view of stage reality. Buildings and natural landscapes can be desribed in their multiplicity and complexity.

To continue…

Here you can find an interview with Sonia Arienta – RAI Radio3 Suite on September 5. 2011

Here you can find an interview with Sonia Arienta – RSI Radio Televizione Svizzera – Ridotto dell’opera


January 23. 2012 – Collateral effects 26

Historic and terrestrial coordinates III

In regard to the sets placed abroad, Great Britain, land of political and religious conflicts between Catholics and Protestants, is an important landmark in the operas of Thirties and Forties of the XIX century. When Mazzini’s and Gioberti’s writings promise improbable perspectives of national freedom achieved by pope or by god faith. Spain identified with the country of religious fanaticism, was employed in a continuos line from Donizetti’s Dom Sébastien roy du Portugal to Verdi’s Don Carlos, Franchetti’s Cristoforo Colombo until Dallapiccola’s Il Prigioniero, by that time, late in XX century.

XVIII century curiosity towards Middle-Eastern culture is recognisable in Rossini’s operas both composed before Congress of Wien (l’Italiana in Algeri il Turco in Italia, Ciro in Babilonia, Aureliano in Palmira) and after it (Armida, Moise, Semiramide, Ricciardo e Zoraide). Surely his interest and curiosity stop with Greece war (1821), with the death of Anna Erisso in Maometto II (1820, then Siège de Corinthe – 1826).

Verdi employs Middle-Eastern especially in operas where biblical places are images apt to fortify cultural identity, before 1848 revolution (Nabucco, I Lombardi alla Prima Crociata); or to underline conflicts created in the age of european imperialism, at the end of XIX century (Aida).

If in XVIII century eastern landscape represented a pattern of beautiful nature, a remote country reach of seduction, sensual and intellectual, at the end of XIX century it becomes an object exposed to the hedonistic contemplation (Mascagni’s Iris) or to the denunciation of colonialism (Puccini’s Madama Butterfly). America is instead a country little used for operas locations, notwithstanding we can find examples in Donizetti (Il furioso all’isola Santo Domingo), Verdi (Un Ballo in maschera), Franchetti (Cristoforo Colombo) and Gomez (Il Guarany), Puccini (Manon Lescaut, La fanciulla del West) .


January 10.2012 – Collateral effects 25

Historic and terrestrial coordinates II

In XIX century first years, the italian peninsula counted up five important cities: Milan, Naples, Venice, Bologna, Florence and an urban texture made with more little ones. Tuscany, Lombardy, Venetian region, and Piedmont had a system of trading towns and administrative centres serving the surrounding lands. Close relations between country and urban areas originate the first industrial wave in Piedmont and Lombardy subalpine strips. In these zones, connective tissue between two realities, the urban and the rural one, is very thick. It is not contemplate a rigid distinction, but relations of mutual exchange.

In XIX century italian opera repertoire, urban locations attract the preferences among musicians and librettists, last trace of Enlightenment culture. In fact, cities are the place where had formed and grown bourgeoisie; whereas country is connected with Ancien Régime context.

In Rossini’s 1815 subsequent works, six operas out of fourteen, are placed in urban context (Il Barbiere di Siviglia, Elisabetta Regina d’Inghilterra, Otello, Bianca e Falliero, Maometto II, Semiramide); three in both country and city (Guillaum Tell, La Donna del lago, Mosé in Egitto, Moise et Pharaon); five in the country (Cenerentola, Gazza Ladra, Armida, Matilde di Shabran, Le Comte Ory). Cities, instead, are almost absent in Bellini’s production. Except in Bianca e Fernando (the action take place in Agrigento) and Capuleti e Montecchi (the location is Verona)

In Donizetti’s and Verdi’s operas we can find especially plots where the action has developed between country and city (“mixed” pattern), or only placed in town. The first employ librettos with urban ground (L’Ajo nell’imbarazzo, Lucrezia Borgia, Roberto Devereux, Maria di Rohan, Les Martyrs, Don Pasquale ) in six out of sixteens works here considerated; six in “mixed” patterns (Maria Stuarda, Fille du Régiment, La Favourite, Linda di Chamounix, Dom Sébastien); last five in interurban lands (L’Elisir d’amore, Il Furioso all’Isola di Santo Domingo, Gemma di Vergy, Lucia di Lammermoor, Anna Bolena). Urban structure and its claustrophobic closing is fit to host plots revolved around psychological, relational problems in family and couple contexts. In Verdi’s operas, four out of seventeen are placed in cities (Rigoletto, Ballo in Maschera, Aida, Simone Boccanegra), seven in mixed pattern (Nabucco, I Lombardi alla Prima Crociata, Ernani, Traviata, Vespri Siciliani, Don Carlos, Forza del Destino), six in country (Luisa Miller, Macbeth, Otello, Falstaff, Attila, Trovatore).

The situation does not change in operists working between second half of XIX and first years of XX century. Eight operas out of twenty-six belong to urban context (Marchetti’s Ruy Blas, Ponchielli’s Gioconda, Puccini’s Bohème, Butterfly, Tosca, Mascagni’s Isabeau, Cilea’s Adriana Lecouvreur, Wolf-Ferrari’s Quatro Rusteghi), ten to mixed pattern (Boito’s Mefistofele, Gomez’ Guarany, Puccini’s Manon Lescaut, Mascagni’s Iris, Giordano’s Andrea Chenier, Fedora, Mme Sans Gene, Franchetti’s Cristoforo Colombo, Pizzetti’s Fedra, Alfano’s Risurrezione), eight to rural one (Zandonai’s Francesca da Rimini, Puccini’s Fanciulla del West, Faccio’s Amleto, Bottesini’s Ero e Leandro, Mascagni’s Cavalleria rusticana, L’amico Fritz, Catalani’s Wally, Leoncavallo’s Pagliacci).


December 22. 2011 – Collateral effects 24

Historic and terrestrial coordinates

In an opera libretto space-time coordinates appear among the first indications, near by the names of the characters, and typify the plot, its historic and geographic locations. “Where” and “when” in the opera are the outcomes of an aware choice made by composer and librettist. Beyond of and notwithstanding the constraints of censor (in the age where it is active in an explicit way), the second (and third) hand origin of librettos, extracted from dramas and novels, and the antinaturalistic essence of a gender which uses stylisation as guarantee of a manner to create a “distance” effect in the audience.

In XIX century italian melodrama, the action set in our country are in a more little number compared with the one set abroad. A consequence of interest towards european literature products, at the origin of the plot, but, also the result of the cultural curiosity, of the desire in exploring what is “different”.

In a lot of examples given by first XIX century composers like Saverio Mercadante, Coccia, Ricci brothers, Pacini, Lauro Rossi we can see the action set in italian cities and villages. Vincenzo Bellini uses italian and European locations; Gioachino Rossini, Giuseppe Verdi, Gaetano Donizetti and Giacomo Puccini choice plot set in european and extraeuropean countries. But the differentiation in the choice of places among Rossini’s operas is the issue of Enlightenment cosmopolitanism. The world long-range exploration in many Verdi’s operas is not only the consequence applied by librettos, derived from foreign cultural products, rather underlines a geographical unrest, similar and parallel to the characters interior one.

Every place takes a specific function in the public imagination of a culture. In the set of the plot the choice of a Country or of a city has a metaphoric function in operatic repertoire, as in literature, as it already has been described and documented in literary criticism.


December 08. 2011 – Collateral effects 23

Filters and Catalysers

An opera-house, from the foyer to the stalls and the stage is a close texture of relations catalyser; a labyrintic play of mirrors between reality and fiction, between singers and audience, between audience and characters, characters and space, orchestra and voices, music and gestual expressiveness.

The connection between space and sound embraces different fields: acoustic and architecture, theory of perception and psychology of spaces, musical and visual interpretation (with direction, set, dress and light design). The world of the performance is something more than an inoffensive microcosm where are moving characters: thanks to the authors mediation it reflects their expectations and their lecture of the world, the organisation of real macrocosm inhabited by individuals.

In melodrama, the places where action is set, as libretto explains, convert theirselves in a space described by musical choices, in social places where characters interact during their stage life, described in their private and public relations. In acoustic landscapes individualized by musical events which make it identifiable.

The spaces-places of an opera, far from to be a box empty of meaning, ready to furnish or clean out to the taste of directors and set designers, is an impressive and unavoidable system of symbolic and metaphorical images, strictly and directly connected with text main contents. It reveals recurring images, topoi and exceptions peculiar of an author, of an age, of a culture. It is the place where characters social, economic, affective relations are created, thanks to which the opera fictional world, with its assault role in submission and circulation of ideas, translates and filters reality where composers and audience live.


November 22. 2011 – Collateral effects 22

The crown jewels

The plot of Rigoletto and La Traviata no longer belongs to the knowledge of italian citizen majority. But the fault is not so much imputable to an audience of little curiosity and culture, annihilated and passive by the bidimensionality of tv, computers, screens, deceiving the ears with stereophonic tridimensionalities and dazing the eyes with a carnival of images too much often devoid of contents.

The core of the problem stays, rather, in the collusions between media sectors, ministries of education and the most trash exigences of entertainment business majors. Then, in substance, it stays in the short-sightedness of cultural politics, managed with ignorance and bad faith, in particular towards music.

Not teaching citizens about the best products of their nation is an irresponsible, foolish and self-injuring act, as to forget and to lay crown jewels to the sticky embrace of dust and cobwebs in a dark side of a cellar. So, they risk to lay unused, until at least somebody gives them a suitable display and diffusion. Fortunately, operas, like diamonds, do not decay even they are forgotten for a long time.

However, the exclusion of opera from a widespread and crosswise knowledge, removes the opportunity for many persons to have cultural products able to stimulate and to involve them in intellectual and emotional level. It forbids the conscience of an important part of the human mind.

Melodrama, born and fed in the XVII century italian courts, in XVIII and especially in XIX century has been enjoyed in a transversal manner. In the second half of XX century we can see a turnaround, when the main institutions of the nation judged more suitable for their citizens to replace operas with soap-operas. That is to say, to replace a cultural product with the empty boxes and the rubbish bags of a low quality entertainment.


November 8. 2011 – Collateral effects 21


Opera has been for a long time contempted and valued a second place gender by a certain old current of musicologists, because of supposed incapacity, or lack of elegance, of taste and skilfulness in orchestration of its composers. Whereas, it was instead the short-sightedness of the academics too much academic, very theoretical and too little practical which neglected and ignored the performance’s needs, which judged librettos nonsensical blotters. As if the last ones should be used and considered like plays self-sufficient, or destined to silent reading like a novel, instead of be esteemed only in order to their unavoidable relation with the music composed for a theatrical performance.

On the other hand, the users exclusively patronising popular music judge opera, or classical music, something of particularly reactionary, old fashioned and boring, persuaded that the encouragement to the novelty and to the rebellion is a prerogative of their favourite gender.

In a curious way, these two categories of audience, the too much cultivated one and the ingenuous one have a similar behaviour. Both reject the complexity of musical architecture, rhythmical, melodic and harmonic choices in the operas. The first because of a sterile, idealistic concept of music, the second because of a lack of knowledge and critical analysis.

Further, both underestimate the importance of characters and their behaviours patterns, proposed to the audience contemporary with the composer, and to the current one.

They neglect or ignore the role of opera in building individual formation and national identity. Taunting librettos, and degrading opera scores simply banishes artistic products able to imprint the perception and the development of human judgement towards the reality. The extreme attitudes and behaviours of the characters inhabiting italian melodramas, moving in a borderline universe, are condemnations acts towards the social and political system; a solicitation to create a critical forma mentis in the audience. The opposite of an exploitation, a listening as mere aesthetic pleasure or light entertainment.


October 22. 2011 – Collateral effects 20

Characters and audience  – III

Although with different styles and point of view, many XIX century italian operas – especially Rossini’s, Donizetti’s, Bellini’s and Verdi’s ones – revolve around a problem, very important in particular to the society born from French Revolution: the criticism towards the principium auctoritatis. This one in order to the family field and the politic scene. In the first example the plots are based on tyrannical male characters (fathers, husbands, brothers), in the last one we have despotic kings or queens. Stories and characters represent a primary element revealing the choices and the reading of the world adopted by the composers, beyond all the declarations of their intent. They constitute the will to elude the politics of Restauration, notwithstanding the theatrical impresarios and the audience, were linked to a reactionary context, or surrounded by it.

But the rebellion of the characters towards the established order, whether familiar, or social and politic, their unfortunate destinies strike audience and capture their attention, first of all thanks to the empathy excited by music noted in the score. With her complexity, surprises and restrictions imposed by the codes of the genre.

In the last decades, the ignorance towards operatic theatre (and not only), pervasive and cultivated in mass-users by italian ruling class – in order to a comfortable management of others mind, fit to mould subjects-citizens of tele-selling Kingdom – efface the scars of that disturbing action realised by melodrama in XIX Century italian society.

Excluded from TV programme scheduled or relegated in the heart of the night, opera is rediscovered in such a particular conditions. For instance, it is used as an acoustic complement in touristic relaunch of historical monuments, in the context of superfluous big media events, addressed to millions of spectators, essentially alien from opera and its true content. Besides, it is adopted as a sound track in advertising spots of supposed luxury products; or even worse, it is exploited with indecent manipulation as a jingle of sure and strong emotional impact in meeting frequented by free-range racists collected in urban squares and open country.


October 11. 2011 – Collateral effects 19

Characters and audience  – II

In an opera construction, the importance of the choice of the subject, of characters is an unavoidable element in understanding the message and the world vision proposed by the composer to his audience. But in too many examples, it takes second place in the thoughts, either by “simple” spectators, or specialists. Notwithstanding the different reasons. Melodic lines, harmonic and rhythmic structures, orchestration, beyond the considerations of poetics and aesthetic values, are functional to performance a story, a “sung” tale. With effects and consequences that the last one has at emotional and intellectual level for audience. All essential elements to invite spectators to make themselves questions not only about the opera, the poetic and aesthetic preferences of composer, but about his lecture of the world. Especially in order to the contemporary interpretation of repertoire melodramas it is always necessary to consider the coexistence of two levels: the reactions searched and obtained by composer towards audience contemporary to him; the ones shown to the nowadays audience.

Searching the modalities to hand down in a respectful way an artistic product of the past, it’s possible to ask oneself how and what a XIX century spectator feels at the end of a performance of Ernani or Il Trovatore, and how and what a XXIst century one feels. What kind of messages were perceived as the most important ones, one hundred and half years ago and what are still live today.

Opera in Nineteen century Italy plays a role as similar as the french and english popular novels of democratic and social tendency, addressed to a mass of readers, with different status. Expression of intellectuals living in a historic period dissociated between reactionary impulses of restauration and urges towards a society able to accomplish cardinal concepts of French Revolution, “liberté, egalité, fraternité”, annulled by the Congress of Vienna politics.

To be continued…


September 23. 2011 – Collateral effects 18

Characters and audience  – I

Plot and characters behaviours choices, pointed out by te music of operists endowed of a critical mind, open neverendig cues about the effects towards the contemporary and the past audience, fundamental to understand relations between artistic productions and their utilizations. If listening Ernani, Il Trovatore, or La Forza del Destino, makes impossible to cultivate sloth, or to feel servants, the Il Barbiere di Siviglia happy end is doubly satisfying because the Conte di Almaviva and Rosina engagement is flanked by the old, very mean Dr. Bartolo humiliation, caused by the lost of his ward’s dowry. In Don Pasquale, Norina and Ernesto triumph over the old uncle tortured and derided, but as a matter of fact, they seem to be avoided of generous gestures. Ernesto is a-good-for-nothing, Norina shows herself more as interfering than in loved girl. The punishment of the obese protagonist in Verdi’s Falstaff executed by the merry wives bunch of Windsor provokes a regret and trouble in the spectator, prompted until this moment to see the old Sir with mercy and pity, if not with benevolence.

The choice to set at the centre of action main characters not always innocents, or even with unpleasant and disturbing behaviours, is a solution adopted by Verdi in many others operas (especially in Attila, I Lombardi alla Prima Crociata, Macbeth, Rigoletto, Vespri Siciliani). This is a strategy favouring with the public the use of a complex point of view in order to the relations with difficult characters and with the reality itself. So, in Attila, o in Macbeth the respective title-rôles are tyrants cultivating cruelty and distruction. But the skillfulness of the operist rests in the capability of assigning to them a high degree of humanity. The public is called to think about relations between victimes and oppressors, about the extremly vague borders between this two cathegories, about the extreme easiness with it is possible to reverse the parts when predominates the revenge perspective.

Macbeth, knocked down by his onnipotence delirium becomes a criminal, Attila, is a fierce predator, but in the respectives opera’s end, when we know they are going to be lost, or when we see them dying, Verdi “compels” with musical choices to feel a sense of piety and sorrow for their fate. Almost even to feel hostility for those who kill them…

To be continued…


September 8. 2011 – Collateral effects 17


In the order of cultural politics concerning theatre and, especially the operatic one, it seems interesting to ask ourselves what are the choices taken by the institutions at national and local level. What are the ideas, the concepts, the peculiar leading lines of certain historic age and a certain political contexts. What kind of consequences they involve in a long period perspective. What kind of interferences, impulses, obstacles, supports, difficulties spring out between cultural operators and institutions. What may indicate the negligence and the general indifference shown towards vital sector for the intellectual development of a Country and in the individual ones. In the social relations, in the evolution and in the improvement of every citizen. It should be suitable that everyone thinks about the offers of cultural products available in the area and in the Country where he lives.What kind of quality has the standard city’s theatre(s) offer, and the most important of the country. What is every cultural operator and manager personal contribution expressed in the program theatre, season after season. What kind of behaviour have mass media towards musical divulgation and diffusion. What kind of response has audience and why.

It is of fundamental importance to give to everybody, to spur and to extend as much as it is possible the knowledge of listening elementary simple codes whith whom every person can become an active listener. Is it really so difficult to excite teenagers towards opera’s heroes adventures and tragedies? It is really so élitist enjoing classical and contemporary music? The listening of popular music does not imply the automatic insensitiveness towards operas, piano and orchestra concerts, or elettroacoustic compositions. Our brain and our ears are more open and elastic as it be expected.


July 22. 2011 – Collateral effects 16


In a time where are well appreciated, experimented contaminations and interweavings among different languages, genres, styles, between “high” and “low”, among, visual arts, sounds, words, operatic theatre can be judged a precursory and innovative cultural product. It is a genre based on the coexistence and the interrelation among the arts and the dissimilar competencies. Therefore, why is it too much often considered a remote and old-fashioned genre in the common perception? What does make it so and why? Nearby what kind of audience, and with what kind of judgement? Certainly, cooperate to create such a perception the absence or the superficial/careless space reserved towards opera theatre in the italian media. Not only television, addressed to a very heterogeneous audience, but the most important newspapers too, read by a more select public.

The lack of trust in this musical genre, the little space accorded to it on the main newspapers of our country, in their cultural pages, in special supplements, is too much clear, when we just browse trough them. Space set aside to classical and operatic music is much more reduced, save for extraordinary events, like the opening season of very important theatre, often published more as curiosity and society gossips sources than a chance of discussion and going into the matter. Rather, we can find articles and interviews dedicated to music of consumption, commercial successes and mere entertainement products, because they attract the readers, the newspaper is better sold, and this make happy advertisers.

But private business, commercial and market exigences not always coincide nor facilitate people awareness and judgement skilfullness that can be found or created in well trained and cultivated brains, when culture is used in a diffusive manner. An over attention to private business over guarantee private incomes but not people conciousness.


July 08. 2011 – Collateral effects 15


Knowledge and aware utilisation of an opera by the most high number of spectators must be considered a very important goal in cultural politic organisation of a State, like Italy, exactly because this musical genre had a primary role in the building of national identity. Above all, before the same construction of italian state.

As of right, the interest towards operatic theatre should take part in the main cares of ministers of our Republic, at least as all the other most important productive resources of the Country and generally of “made in Italy”. As well as miles of painted canvas, thousands square metres of frescos and painting on wood; many tons of big and little ancient roman stones, etruscan potsherds, Renaissance art style bricks, baroque cornices, books published in the sixteenth century, incunabula and illuminated codexes buried in ours country cellars. Or avalanched in opencast archaeological excavations.

But, we must ask what will be the consequences of operatic and classical music systematic exclusion from young people life, of long negligence towards an audience with critical minds, of cultural budgets cuts.

Do theatres remain empty boxes, very well fitted to be transformed, i.e, in multi-storey car parks (please take note of this suggestion)?

Certanly, the commons, in such occurance, will can squared suffering accounts thanks of receipts gained from the entrance tickets to such monumental buildings. Moreover, among the other benefits, it should be observed an architectural riconversion worthy of attractiveness for a mass of visitors from every side of the world.

Infact, Chinese, German, Indian, American people and some British citizens should have the chance to see a priceless view: La Scala or the San Carlo theatre stuffed of more or less ecological smart and saloon-cars. So, they will can hear to sing engines instead of human being, and will breath a healthy petrol scent, instead of stage dust decidedly demodé, as allergies and asthma principal cause. Futurismo’s members and their fellows would have sure appreciated all this…and probably Huns and their leader too (see Verdi’s Attila First Scene and the joyous celebration of Aquileia destruction).

We must not forget, further, that we can obtain a strong energy spare. Aware and manqués spectators, melomaniacs, all they could comforted with DVD sight in personal computer size…without exit from home, without facing with live performances and the real world. In the cosy warm of mental space more and more little and comfortably asphyctic.


June 22nd, 2011 – Collateral effects 14

Means of defence and traumas II

Did you ever think that when we refer to operatic theatre in Italy our mind immediately runs straight on to two types of approach? The melomaniac one and the “indifferent” one. The last includes he who feels oneself ignorant, inadequate in this field thanks to one’s own choice or to an imposition due to a cultural lack produced by a deficit in national cultural politics. Behind the indifference of such a potential audience it’s often easy to find an awe towards the score pages. Towards all that belongs to the misterious world made of staves and notes. Full score too often is felt as a cage where the spectator fears of to be caught in, just in reason of the incapability of reading it, victim of the musical illiteracy imposed and decreeted from above. Towards operatic music it has been open a campaign of methodical displacement and disinformation.

The complementary opposition between melomaniacs and indifferent points out a first similar trait. Or if you prefer it shows two sides of the same medal. In any case, the two categories are faraway to enjoy an artistic product of their own culture in an aware manner.

Melomaniacs and indifferent ignore the real revolutionary strength of a repertory of operas which is fundamentals for the construction of their own national identity.

They forget, leave out, and are incapable of recognise the destabilising contents used by operas composers in the XIX Century, an oppressive historic age, where the bourgeoisie after French Revolution has crystallised in a strict conservative position. We forget too often, first of all in the school training, that opera in the XIX century italian culture played the same role filled by novel in France and Great Britain. It was the first communication mass genre.


June 8th, 2011 – Collateral effects 13

Means of defence and traumas I

It would be suitable to ask oneself what kind of perception towards operatic theatre has he who doesn’t know it and feels it alien and strange, or decidly boring or unnecessary. Unprofitable like every product extimeed inable of moving a large fluxus of money. Useless like one of these “good things of bad taste” inherited from a great-hunt, which its possession it would be better to made without. Or, strange and impenetrable as the hieroglyphics of an ancient Egyptian obelisk. A product remote in the time, particularly used by a limitate number of monomaniac iniziates, devoted to cultural archaeology and palaeontology and observed in the best of the chances with a benevolent smile of pity. In force of this fact they are judged carriers of a rare desease, not infectious, but obstinated in cultivating old and eccentric practices.

In addition, it would be as much advantageous to meditate why the attempts of dialogue with persons scarcely favourable to operatic theatre (or to classical music) achieve a list of automatic excuses and defences among the most significative considerations and the first reactions. At this regard, at the top of the hit, people refer to their ignorance and incompetence in score reading, the lack of specific competences allowing to approach the operatic product, both perceived as almost insurmountable obstacles. But it is sure and clear that is not indispensable to read a score or to analyse a full score for being able to understand operas.

So, before asking if this attitude hides mental and intellectual laziness, or suspicion towards the unknown, towards all the possible unknown worlds, perhaps it is better to enquire if they are simply a defensive barricade. Or not rather a feeling of cultural inadequacy, and inferiority provoked in a more or less sneaky, deceitful way, in a more or less conscious way by the last thirty years cultural system. Obviously, musical competencies are not a damage, but an opera or a lied give excellent possibility of comprehension even more than instrumental works to anybody who is able to read and hear what is proposed by composer and librettist.


May 22nd, 2011 – Collateral effects 12

Anaesthesia II

The top of spectacularity in Aida and Don Carlos is set in two places: respectively in the Tebe’s entrance (Finale II), in the Valladolid’s big square (Finale III). Both of them coincide with the middle of the opera dramatic-musical sequence, and both are public open places, crowded with presences. Whether the “triumph” scene, or the “Autodafé” one constitute an impressive, theatrical epiphany of the power, fit to describe the apparatus and the machines used by the last one, in order to express its arrogance. Musical horror vacui of these pages, graphically supported by the density of notes, staves for voices and instruments in the full score and the display of magnificence express with theatrical tools a critic towards the power. They are so different from the complacency for redudancy, from a wanton show of sounds. They rather stress autocelebration of power and its rhetoric which Verdi criticizes and points out it, thanks to awareness with he utilizes grand-opéra’s patterns.

Far to flatter audience with a barren spectacularity, the attention, in Verdi’s purposes, is turned to characters and to their social, political, cultural, emotional conflicts (relation between slave and master, the domination of a race over another, collusions and fights between politic and religion, loneliness and effects of “reason of State”, the search of consent and so on).

On the contemporary stage, we can see, instead, a dangerous and deceitful change on a conceptual level. So, in the special offer of the last minute theatrical exotism which usually afflicts Aida, the display of ancient Egyptian columns, pillars and fans, sedan-chairs, golden and turqoise dresses becomes a stalking-horse for spectators of indoor and outdoor, winter and summer operatic performances. So, we can look at Aida’s performance (not the composer original planning) built for an “easy-going” audience (that is to say: an audience devoid of critical means), partaking to an exotic Disneyan adventure, to a touristical alternative of a Nilus cruise.

So stage productions of repertoire operas continue to use olography for changing and altering the real meaning of them, obviously with updating, with miracolous and cinematographic effects. Such a packaging and restyling projects requested and approved by a lot of opera-houses managements, especially towards verdian grand-opéras, mistake the theatrical show used by composer in order to criticize the power, for a real purpose of magnificence, ending in itself. They show, indeed, an act of intellectual dishonesty and bad conscience, more than an interpretative incapability.


May 8th, 2011 – Collateral effects 11


In an ill cultural system, audience anaesthesia becomes the unconscious or conscious “mission” towards embarrassing operas or even towards a genre (melodrama in this example). They are both “guilty”, infact, for encouraging questions and stimulating thoughts. In such a situation we can recognise, then, some choices involving set design and direction. So, this kinds of stage productions tame awkward contents with an involutional way, where also the space appears poor in value and meaning. Such a “destiny” we can especially see in work like La Traviata, often characterised by a glittered and silky packaging, or Aida, afflicted by stage productions obeying to an exoticism made of peacock’s feathers and Egyptology of papier-mâché. So, for instance, in the first example, we can see a generous number of stage productions where the two feasts in Violetta’s home and in Flora’s palace are used as a cue for a pleasant, high society sets, fit to nurse acritical and passive spectators.

Consequently, from a high society-prostitute’s home Violetta’s flat becomes a princely mansion, attended by high society ladies and gentlemen. In this way the real reason of conflict leading to the tragedy is sterilized and eases the meanness of Germont sr, coming from Provence to Paris expressly to forbids his son to keep a relationship with a “immoral” woman. In a similar way, Flora luxury gaming club metamorphoses in a stlylish house, visited by lord and ladies, rather then to appear in its authentic shape of a kitsch and ambigous night-club. With such a misunderstanding the wanted coarsness of chorus of Gypsy Girl and Matadores (“Noi siamo zingarelle”, “Di Madrid noi siam mattadori”) searched by Verdi, is instead taken for an inability, for a roughness of the composer “tout court”. In these scenes, the furniture’s warehouse Louis Philippe style, usually obstructing the stage – compatible with the theatre’s budget – smuggles a tautological action of bourgeois interior-design as a philological reconstruction, misleading audience and disguising the opera’s meaning. Spectators are compelled to forget that Violetta like the other ladies moving in this opera are kept women available for rich gentlemen and blue-blooded sirs. The social accuse slides away, the cruelty of the story is softened and La traviata becomes a luxury packaging empty of sense.


April 22nd, 2011 – Collateral effects 10

Linus’ blanket

From a visual point of view, set design is the most important attraction for the average audience in a stage production. So, we can see different manners of misappropriation towards “embarrassing” operas and genre (melodrama), when cultural politics point to anaesthetize them.

Reassuring” stage productions which “protect” especially the italian Nineteenth century masterpieces from modernity contamination apparently repeat the primary functions of a wrapping (the protective one precisely). As a matter of fact, they alter the message reception. They embalm the former artistic productions in a case, where even the most destabilising specimen preserves the danger of a tropical arachnid slept behind a terrarium glass. To make Opera a museum piece of, or to banalize it with apparently “modern” stage production, it moves away audience, especially joung people, already penalised by educational programming that cuts away a musical teaching. In addition, because ingenuous spectators identify the message of the stage production with composer intentions and thoughts. In the operas of repertory, being the authors absent, the visual audience attention shifts from the last ones to the director and the set designer, with a confusion of roles and responsibilities, disadvantageous for the text and its meanings, if they are distorted in a savage or in a wanton way.

The first purchase of an item is prompted by the visual call-back of the packaging toward the user. The buyer is attracted first of all by it,

which is able to stimulate the most istinctive processes of his visual perception; only in a second step, he is conquered by quality.

From one side, the search of a supposed greater consensus in the audience, identified by somes artistic managers as a conservative and old fashioned one, originates routine stage productions. (Now, passivity and predictability are primary premises of the behaviour of the “perfect” buyer). That is to say that these spectators are judged passive and uncritical as an immutable fact…!!!!

From another side the rejuvenation of packaging can be used with success towards products in decline in order to up date them. In this case, the restyling gives in apparence a glamourous glaze to an object perceived and known, after all, as an old stuff. So this contribution is simply an unreal innovation, it is directed to an uncalled-for “idea”, without a deep substantiation in the text and its metaphorical images.


April 08th, 2011 – Collateral effects 09

Stage productions and packaging

Nothing is casual in the world of commercial products, every process has specific rules imposing precise plannings and organization in merchandising. It is essential that goods, in addition to protection assured by wrapping, must be presented in the best possible shape, in order to manage trade challenges and to attract the attention of a prospective buyer. So packaging becomes a medium fit for sales (and profits) increasing, winning competitors, tempting customers driving them to purchase, regardless of theirs real needs.

Actually, in operatic theatre, we can remark manipulations and acts of latent censure achieved by choices concerning the performance “packaging” (direction, set and costume designing), necessary to tame operas with “embarassing” content. This happens in different manners:

a) emphatizing the performance by set design and costumes as an exclusive, limited edition, or, instead, as a simply kitsch product, to distract audience’s attention by the real text meaning. In this case, the stage production acts as a security envelope where a “unaffordable” product is isolated, admired at a distance. Or it presents a seductive packaging which keeps in reality a throwaway item, this is infact the logic of “big event” projects, the logic of the electrical food mincer adopted by market rules.

b) re-styling opera. In other words the stage becomes the place of a facilitated, simplistic edition of a product felt strange, aulic, “old”, an item nearby expiration date, needing a forced up-dating which renders it inviting.

Very valuable or very frail goods are packed with care, sometimes even excessive; but extravagant, overdone wrapping can hides expired items. According to the specific target of the opera house, many operatic stage productions fluctuate between two polarities: a top quality merchandising made in Italy, packaged for customers who buy status symbol products; or bad taste touristical souvenirs of a musical genre veiled by time. They both betray the text, because they are unable to understand its meaning, its codes, its metaphores linked with the choice of the spaces and the scene sets made by composers and librettists.


March 22nd, 2011 – Collateral effects 08

Space in operatic theatre

Space and sound are strictly tied in operatic theatre, so much as to be a constitutive element of this musical genre. On the other hand, they translate in visual and acoustic way two universal categories of thinking: space and time.

They make be “visible” to audience the space-time flow of the existence, materialised on the stage, according to historical and cultural exigences.

In Opera, considerations linked with space-time binomial touch very numerous domains, as it’s easy to guess, they open various areas of research and meditations, so stimulating not only for specialists.

Such a matter put who considers it to face with a giant commode, a monumental cupboard, with a lot of drawers, double-bottoms, door, little doors, secret corners. Especially if are utilised as working tools ideas borrowed from philosophy, sociology, anthropology, psychoanalysis, perception’s theory, literary criticism, further from music history, and architecture.

In an ocean of possibility, like this, we can think about sets’s chosen for the action in melodrama and, especially, about the repertoire’s ones, in order to observe and understand which images are recurrent or forgotten and why. Nothing is fortuitous, nor capricious in production of very important operatic composers and librettists, masters of own communications and expressions resources.

The stage is the place where social, economic, affective relations of characters develop and show themselves, through which fictional world of Opera translates and filters reality. Performance’s world is much more than a frozen microcosm inhabited by characters. It reveals authors reality’s vision, their cultural context, a macrocosm’s structure lived by persons.

Spaceacoustic co-ordinates deducible from full scores and librettos make a space-environment that, far to be an empty box of meaning, ready furnished to taste of director and stage designer, it receives instead the symbolic and metaphoric world, described by the text and by action’s need imagined by authors.


March 08th, 2011 – Collateral effects 07


In the last Thirthy years, specialists (musicologists, musicians, singers, conductors, directors) and the most well-informed spectators know that Rossini’s Renaissance contributed in a very substantial way to restore worth and rights of this composer in the international scene. Among various and coarse meaning alterations that troubled his operistic production since the middle of nineteenth century, are not only full score’s manipulations and cuts, or stlyles of singing not philological.

The understimate of Rossini’s choices about the subject of his operas induced and sometime yet induce to retain this composer in the middle of his operatic career indifferent and alienated from his contemporary society, and from real world. Inable to discerns between writing music for La Donna del Lago, Guillaume Tell and the washing list. A similar opinion involved Donizetti too.

But, in order to understand their true critical contribute towards society, notwithstanding principles declarations, it would be sufficient to considerate the soubject choiced by these composers for their operas, the characters traits, and space and setting use. Infact, operas, are the real and true expression of a composer mind and intentions, fitted for the audience.

So, we would like drawing attention towards the use of the space and the choice of action’s set, descripted in librettos and full scores, because it reveals to spectators very important clues about the authors’ way of reading and conceiving reality (and not only).


February 22nd, 2011 – Collateral effects 06

Elementary principles of Psychology

Textual, interpretative, performative manipulations of operas which give a critical lecture of the society, utilized over the years, require a particular attention because such misrepresentations as often as not contaminate performances and opera’s interpretations nowadays too.

Suffice it to think for example to Mozart Don Giovanni and to the effects of Hoffmann’s romantic point of view, dated Nineteenth century about this opera. His short story Don Juan (included in Contes Fantastiques ) still expands its influence today. In Hoffmann thinking Donna Anna is desperately in love with the libertine protagonist and so nurses deadly feeling of guilt after her father’s death.

This (mis)interpretation, as we reminded a little while ago (see our remarks of the 8th January last) involved since 1834 all Don Giovanni performances (in french) during the Nineteenth century at parisian Théâtre de l’Opéra. Cultural misappropriations by one age towards another inlays the original texts, as in this example, where romantic lucubrations not only alter an Enlightenment product; but produce also other effects, sometimes more disturbing.

So, the Twentieth and Twenty first Century generations of musicologists and directors (male, obviously), influenced in an aware or in unconscious manner by Hoffmann interpretation about Don Juan, believe in a secret, forbidden erotic pleasure felt by Donna Anna, when she is abused by the unknown man, in the middle of the night. In justification of such a thesis they show, as (rebuttable) evidence, full score’s harmonic and melodic choices employed by Mozart in “Era già alquanto avanzata la notte” (A I, Sc. XIII), when Donna Anna tells to Don Ottavio the sexual assault suffered in the night.

But mozartian world is not the same for Marquis de Sade one ! With this regard, it’s sufficient to think of seductive airs in Don Giovanni and to whom characters are assigned. Never to the libertine, in fact he is devoid of air fit to charming audience. Seducer doesn’t seduce the spectators ears. Rather, they are invited to maintain an objective and lucid view of the facts. An important difference in comparison with Queens of the Night’s very beautiful airs in Zauberflüte.

So, the Nineteenth Century products of Hoffmann’s Don Juan interpretations, involving Donna Anna-Don Giovanni relations, instead of respect and fidelity to typical elements of libertinism and Enlightenment of the mozartian opera, they show a male chauvinist point of view towards human relations, with sadistic ideas, masculine dreams of control and power over feminine body. Any woman, in full possession of her mental faculties, like Donna Anna is, does not enjoy sexual assaults in the dark by unknown, neither is aroused by them. Did Mozart betrayed an elementary principle of theatrical (and real) psychology in support of a perverse projection? We do not think so…!


February 8th, 2011 – Collateral effects 05

A dying out species?

In Italy, Opera and music in general are expelled from high school teaching, except in experimental institutes or in classes with amateurs-teachers inclined to diffuse among pupils informations about them. Yet, in Nineteenth century Italy national culture the importance of operatic theatre should have attracted a strong attention by the part of Education Secretary, since the State foundation. Instead, music and opera, in particular, were ignored in educational programming, as if “Promessi sposi” by Alessandro Manzoni, La Traviata by Giuseppe Verdi or Guillaume Tell by Gioachino Rossini had different rights or different credits for a young mind education, born and living in italian peninsula.

Melodrama was for a long time esteemed a Second-class, popular product, its music was considered vulgar, trashy in comparison with the instrumental music, its librettos were judged illegible and slight. The Nineteenth Century opera, in effect, a complex corpus of works, a miracle of equilibrium, a mix of different personalities, was examined and observed like a disiectae membrae strange body. In such a distort point of view, opera appears built as watertight compartments. So music becomes independent from performance and theatrical praxis, closed in an abstracted, intangible world, libretto’s words in regard of full score appear blameworthy, dockage.

However ministerial committees’ distrust towards lyrical theatre in the times, didn’t damage opera diffusion. Al least until the fabulous Sixties, young people discovered melodrama thanks to parents, friends, or personal interests, with a direct contact, in a familiar practice. But, as opera in Italy becomes a “niche” product, a high culture product, lacks pervasive initiations. So now, it is perceived as an élite entertainment, a performance for initiates, or a boring, old-fashioned one, fit for an aged audience. It would be interesting to muse about all this, until it’s possible…


January 22nd, 2011 – Collateral effects 04

From a mass genre to a niche product

Opera is the most important mass genre in Nineteenth Century Italy, the most interesting cultural event for the inhabitants of the peninsula, also for these of the most remote corners. On the social level it is enjoyed by a heterogeneous audience. In public imagination construction, its role is similar to english and french novels of the same age. It acquires, in short, a first-rate part in the formation of spectators opinions and taste; it reflects the peculiar behaviours of the times and meanwhile influences them.

With the advent of cinema, from the first decades of the Twentieth Century, these privileges ceased, so opera metamorphoses itself from a mass genre to a niche product. In the last twenty years, in particular, attention to melodrama is progressively decreased. Operatic performances involved a little part of potential users. Though, this is not implies that this state corresponds to an awareness from the part of the audience.

Beyond the changes in contemporary society, and obvious transformations in audience preferences, such a similar disaffection is not simply imputable to the replacement of melodrama by numerous entertainment’s genres most popular in our times.

It seems better the outcome of disinterest addressed to opera in the last twenty years by italian cultural politics. In fact, abroad this musical genre is enjoyed by very different category of spectators, with a lot of young ones too, sure younger than italian audience. So, it’s reasonable advancing a question : does such a state presume sloppiness, ignorance or bad faith from the institutions? Probably all the three together…


January 8th, 2011 – Collateral effects 03

Don Giovanni misappropriations

Travelling around the Nineteenth Century European theatres, Mozart-Da Ponte’s Don Giovanni – an artistic product on the border line between Ancien Régime and modernity – shows how a lyrical opera can be adulterate in its primary meaning. Da Ponte’s libretto and Mozart’s full score manipulations reveal some contradictory ways of cultural appropriation. The status of masterpiece recognized a priori to that work by the Nineteenth Century international community, because of its belonging to the Mozart catalogue, does not protect the same against compulsory adaptations. Enlightenment, in fact, little by little, is censured or repressed by bourgeoisie during its castling in conservative positions, since the Vienna Congress days. In this connection France, Great Britain, Italy with their different governments and social organisations, give three patterns of behaviour about the import of an artistic product.
The distortions of text replace the original message with a new one: the one approved by the cultural and governmental institutions of each nation. So that, Don Giovanni is filtered by latent “manipulators”. In this process of compulsory misrepresentations, theatre managers, translators, arrangers, impresarios, directors act on the traits and functions of characters with a less or more invasive manner. First of all, the protagonist, who in this opera is a spokesman of a liberty in fieri. Of freedom from religious and moral nets, near to a radical and revolutionary change. In fact, from a point of view peculiar to Enlightenment, he criticises three institutions, basis of the social order: couple and class relationships, relationships with death and religion.
Don Giovanni, an artistic product imported to London from the continent, like every consumer goods, satisfies very different targets, with performances fitted for different social classes. So that the King Theatre (later called Her Majesty’s Theatre) and the Covent Garden (after 1843??) performances in original language are international luxury products for the exclusive use of a polite society. The Covent Garden and the Drury Lane English and German translations appear a spiritual elevation way for the middle class. Pantomimes, burlettas, extravaganzas are a parody of fine items suitable to working class, staged at the Surrey Theatre and at similar place, with strong nationalistic traits.
Since the Napoleonic period, the parisian Académie Impériale de Musique, well known as Opéra, a theatre appointed by government, has been staging operas with strong symbolical traits on a political level, as a medium for ideological messages. Its repertory is directly controlled by governmental superintendence. For the audience benefit and national identity sake, performances in foreign languages are banished, so Don Giovanni is staged in his Italian version only in 1934, conducted by Bruno Walter. Frederick Kalkbrenner, a famous pianist and composer, makes 1805 first arrangement with Mr Thuring, a general brigadier, helped in text versification by monsieur Ballot, employed with the Versailles library. This version is one of the consequences of the Napoleonic Wars: the Sambre and Meuse armies, in fact, “discover” and carry home this Mozart work. References to actuality, in this opera arrangement, are unequivocal. The defence, the aid and support of the Nation, and the threats to the foreign great powers are also entrusted to the theatre medium. Yet, the most important parisian edition of that Century is dated 1834, and is the outcome of a very heterogeneous team. A very renowned and dreadful, fearful foreign operas arranger and translator: Henry Castil-Blaze; his son Blaze de Bury poet and essayst; Emile Deschamps writer and translator, friend of romantic school important members, as well as a Berlioz collaborator. The libretto, coming from a Castil Blaze Sr. previous version dated 1821, created for Odéon Theatre, with massive borrowings from Molière Don Juan, is now updated with romantic shapes. So, Don Juan, short story included in E.T. H. Hoffmann Contes Fantastiques becomes the reference point for the new translation of Don Giovanni’s libretto. On the other hand, this short story appeared in 1829 on Louis Véron Révue des deux mondes, the same Véron manager of Opéra theatre in 1834.
Alterations of Mozart opera are very numerous.
The two acts original structure changes in a five parted new one, that is a grand-opéra form, in translators opinion, especially in Deshamps one, an “easier and better proportionate” partition than the Da Ponte version. Orchestra is enlarged to one hundred and twenty elements; mandolin Deh vieni alla finestra accompaniment is replaced by six violins; orchestra supports all recitatives; every act gains an entr’act (the first starts with Jupiter first movement, second with Sinfonia K 543, the third and the fourth with orchestral version respectively of “Dalla sua pace”, and “Soave sia il vento”). At the end of the Second Act (corresponding to Mozart Finale I), in the middle of scene number eight there is an “integration” of three new pieces: a recitative (“Don Juan de Maures de Grenades”) acted by a new character: “le Chevalier Maure”; a new chorus hymning to Don Juan glory (“Gloire à toi! Gloire suprême”); the inevitable divertissiment (music composed by Coraly).
The last act begins with a new scene: Don Juan tells to Leporello about a premonitory dream where he had seen Anna condemned to damnation and frightful images of skeletons, ghosts, and Commander Statue revenge thirsty. The opera Finale becomes a Faustian allegory with damned processions, white dressing virgins, dead men packed in shrouds and reading cabalistic books. But Donna Anna apparition, differently from the Gretchen one, takes place among damned ranks (music played in this occasion is Dies Irae from Mozart Requiem and “O voto tremendo” from Idomeneo re di Creta). Masses and scenographic movements compose a tableau fit for Meyerbeer Robert le diable.
All these alterations, in effects, are a little thing if compared with the change imposed by translators to Donna Anna and Don Giovanni relations. Following Hoffmann, they make Donna Anna eaten up with remorse towards her father, his memory betrayed, because she is in love with Don Giovanni. But this passion drives her to suicide, as an extreme sacrifice and expiation for her moral transgression. She is a fate prisoner, convinced to have fallen in to temptation and in evil, both identified with instincts, so she resigns herself to death and damnation. Therefore, Don Ottavio Recitative “ Calmatevi idol mio!”, Anna recitative and Aria “Crudele? ah no e Non mi dir bell’idol mio” and Ottavio “Si segua il suo passoshow not only musical arrangements, but a more radical meaning change. The whole sequence becomes a “gran scena”, a topos of romantic opera, and includes now a recitative, where it appears in an enequivocal way Anna’s suicide purposes and her resignation to be a sacrifical victim. Anna’s imminent death is a cathartic ritual, a compromise apt to preserve her young bride image from transgressive, unconventional thoughts, the fearful fallen-woman ones, ready to satisfy her erotic urges.
The enduring success of 1834 Don Giovanni’s edition (testified by numerous performances over the years) is assured by Louis Véron promoter of the whole project, as Opéra manager. He adopts marketing strategies to sell Don Giovanni, purged of his original traits; he mixes conservative, nationalistic positions with renewal exigences, and obtains a performance suitable to an audience of moderate politic view. This new version must draw the interest of the spectators charming by romantic products, now judged less “dangerous” for established order than Victor Hugo dramas Hernani and Le Roi s’amuse. So Hoffmann Conte fantastique inspired by Mozart becomes a new literary pattern to apply to Da Ponte’s libretto in order to updating it! Nationalism and cultural misappropriation join together, France after Restauration incertitude reverts herself to be a leader among the European powers. From this point of view, Paris theatres acquire a prestigious task: to consecrate foreign most important artists, and Mozart is one of them. However, a such glorification is imposed in a compulsory way and obviously not controlled by composer.
A total indifference and sometimes an evident hostility towards Mozart opera in italic preunity States and in unified Italy appear unequivocally, both in rarity of Don Giovanni’s performances in the most important theatres of capital cities and in contradictory alliance between censure and audience taste.
In the Nineteenth Century Italy, Don Giovanni represents two dangers: it is an Austrian product and an Enlightenment masterpiece. It threatens Italian melody pleasantness and good taste; prevents Risorgimento passions, and especially troubles censures of the Savoy House, of Reign of Naples and papal until Italian Unity. Patriotic defence of Italian musical products against foreign competitors, especially the Austrian enemy, pushes audience to distance themselves from Mozart. Restauration governments support this disposition with the aim to anaesthetize Don Giovanni’s contents and values, and remove it from italic cultural panorama.

While Milan and Florence, linked in different way to the Hapsburg, have the greatest number of Don Giovanni’s performances in Italy, Rome even if it had welcomed this opera for the first time in this country, (1811), banishes it after the failure of Napoleonic empire, until the Porta Pia breach (1870). Though after this fact the work was staged only twice in the last quarter of Nineteenth Century. Naples, realm of music, ends its hospitality to Mozart masterpiece in the middle of the Thirties, as in the majority of the other theatres in the italic States. Don Giovanni disappears from the playbills for twenty years (1835-1855), the core of Risorgimento. This hostility is not appeased when the Nation reaches its Unity. At that time, in fact, delicate acoustic volume of Mozart opera gets lost among booming sound of veristic works.

In Italy, towards Don Giovanni, explicit censorial interventions predominate, sometimes aggravated by substitutions of original airs with new ones composed by other musicians, or chosen in Mozart repertory, in order to change the meaning of morally “inconvenient” scenes. So that, the text is submitted to touches-up and alterations, without “creative” interpolations used in France and Great Britain. Therefore, in the Nineteenth Century italian theatres, there are above all cuts imposed by censure, or by performance traditions. The Vienna edition (with Finale fugato) enters this country just in the two last decades of the Century, but with a cold reception.

This short excursus[1] of Don Giovanni’s European travel detects some elements concerning the performance and the reception of a “disturbing” opera. A sample reminding the influences determined by political, moral, cultural reasons in the choices of they who are directly (translators, arrangers) or indirectly (impresarios, managers, artistic directors) responsible for the text’s alterations.

[1] For more detailed information on this subject cfr Sonia Arienta: Don Giovanni. Le manipolazioni di un’opera nell’Europa della Restaurazione. Ricordi-LIM, Milano 2005


December 22nd, 2010 – Collateral effects 02


Before buying food products or clothes read labels is anyway recommended. Ingredients or tissue’s composition beware buyer about items quality. Why not to be so scrupulous in considering cultural products ingredients? After all they involve very close up to our body, brain in the case in point, organ fairly important for living creatures in the general and humans in particular.

In operatic context, our considerations core, we judge essential for audience to know and consider cultural production mechanisms, foundations and their consequences.

Spectators before choosing theatre to attend must be aware of decisions and selections preceding performances, an ocean of possibility to enter in. With regard to this fact we wish to draw the user (and the experts) attention to the part of theirs controlling and determining, today and yesterday, employments, choices, roles, responsibilities in operatic theatres.

We refer, first of all, to the theatre leadership (superintendent, artistic director, musical director), artistic staff in charge of staging (director, set designer, costume designer); social and cultural élites lyrical production primary users. Their work and influences scrupulous examination, in fact, reveals latent or patent censure’s eventual acts, manipulations fit to fiddle embarrassing texts meaning in order to tame them.

We can change or check these mechanisms gaining awareness. Cultural operators, artistic staffs, performers intellectual ethic gifted, audience with critical ability, active toward performances and operatic products, they are all decidedly disagreeable to authoritarian and conservative government.


December 8th, 2010 – Collateral effects 01

There are different censure’s typologies. The most unequivocal and intrusives ones, namely prohibitions and bans imposed by national governments and institutions over the centuries and still existing nowadays at different latitudes, there are not the most wicked ones. Not at all. As they are patent, they allow specialists (authors, musicians, composers, writers, artists) and audience to protect themself, to react, to find creative solutions circumventing them. In consequence, authors with highest critical conscience and artistic skilfulness exert themselfs to create something of interesting in spite censure’s vetos. In this regard, we can mention different strategies employed by composers and librettists in Nineteen Italian Opera, in order to get round laws and bans promulgated by Home Secretaries and police’s offices. Among reactionary governments of Italian ancient little States none of them conceived to close theaters, evaluated (in a wrong way) simply places of entertainment. They “just” did librettos and story line obsessive check. Notwithstanding all these difficulties, composers and librettists created works fit to challenge the most reactionary and conservative part of their audience.

Apparently in contemporary Italy censure does not exist. In reality is exactly the contrary: instead of damaging single works, it paralyses entire sectors, with scientific method and meticolous planning. The ame is to forbid, or to limit citizens’ critical minds development: so european financial crisis becomes a pretext to giustify university, school, theatres, cinemas, museums budget cuts. It’s time to defend this important wealth. So, it seems appropriate starting reflections about cultural politics immediate and future effects, concerning especially operatic world, and their collateral effects. Which antibodies species it would be suitable to develop in order to face emergences…


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