Love, disloyalty and crimes of passion
On Thursday, February 19, 2015, two operas were staged at the magnificent Salle Garnier in the Opera of Monte-Carlo, pairing the lesser-known A Florentine Tragedy by Alexander von Zemlinsky with the famous Pagliacci by Ruggero Leoncavallo. It was a wise combination because both pieces deal with love, disloyalty and passionate crime.
A Florentine Tragedy by Alexander von Zemlinsky
A Florentine Tragedy is a fragment of a never-completed play by Oscar Wilde. Austrian composer, conductor and teacher Alexander von Zemlinsky wrote the opera based on a German translation of the play, which premiered in 1917, weaving elements of bitter humor and tension into his score that is richly textured like the beautiful tissues sold by the merchant. Ruby Sabounghi was in charge of recreating the perfect decor for the merchant’s shop while Nathalie Berard-Benoin conceived the appropriate costumes of the 1920’s.
The plot set in the 1920s in Florence and evolves around Simone (Baritone Bass Carsten Wittmoser from Germany), a wealthy 16th century Florentine merchant who finds his wife Bianca (Soprano Barbara Haveman form the Netherlands) with Guido Bardi, Prince of Florence (Tenor Zoran Todorovich from Serbia). After faking hospitality, Simone challenges the Prince to a duel and ends up strangling him. Paradoxically, his terrible crime awakens the affection of his wife, and the two reconcile, a true tragedy!
Pagliacci by Ruggero Leoncavallo
This is a new production of Pagliacci (The Clowns), an Italian opera in a prologue and two acts, with music and libretto by Ruggero Leoncavallo, the only of his operas that is widely staged. It premiered in Milan on May 1892, conducted by Arturo Toscanini when he was only 25 years old. This story of love and jealousy takes place in Calabria, Italia during the 1860’s. It premiered in Monte-Carlo on February 4, 1904 and was performed again on January 21, 1996. This time around the lively decor was confided to Rudy Sabounghi, the costumes to Chilean Jorge Jara, and Laurent Castaingt created the perfect ambiance with the lights.
Pagliacci is a story within a story, a set within a set, where the drama on a mimic stage suddenly becomes real life, so that the tragedy of the play becomes real life misfortune of one or more of the characters. There is an evil clown, a jealous clown and a disloyal clown. Leoncavallo, in a letter to his publisher, stated that during his childhood a jealous player killed his wife after a performance, that his father was the judge at the criminal’s trial, which so impressed him that led him to adapt the episode for his opera. It has all the characteristics of a modern-day soap opera that includes family life, sexual dramas, marriage breakdown and extramarital affairs.
Before the opera begins, Tonio (Leo Nucci), the evil clown, tells the audience that a clown is also a man, feeling sorrow and pity just like a man.
The first act is set in the latter half of the 19th century, in Calabria, Italy, the small theatrical road company whose manager is Canio (Marcelo Alvarez), arrived in the village. Canio’s wife is the main actress of the company, Nedda (Maria Jose Siri). She stopped loving her husband due to his jealousy, and courts another man, Silvio (Zhengzhong Zhou) who invites her to elope together. A member of the company, Tonio, overhears them, and informs Canio, who comes to face Silvio who had already run away. Canio is infuriated and asks his wife to give the name of her lover but she refuses. In the meantime, it was time to perform. In the dressing room, Canio wears his stage costume to play the clown. He cries alone while putting the white powder on his face..
In the second act all the villagers gather to watch the company’s performance. The story is similar to Canio’s reality. The woman, who is played by Nedda, meets her lover while her husband (played by Canio), is absent, but her husband comes home unexpected. Canio was out of his senses. The audience is excited by their realistic acting. Finally, Canio stabs Nedda to death with a knife with the audience screaming in horror. Before her death, Nedda cried, “Help me, Silvio!”, he appears in the audience, then attempts to run away, but Canio catches up with him and kills him too. The opera comes to an end when Canio recites the famous phrase, “The comedy has ended.”
An incredible cast of opera singers
This new production of Pagliacci had an incredible cast of international opera singers. Starting with famous Italian operatic baritone Leo Nucci (Tonio/Taddeo), an operatic master from the 60’s, who at 72 years old continues to be in incredible vocal form and received an ovation from the Monegasque public; Argentine lyric tenor Marcelo Alvarez (Canio/Pagliaccio); beautiful and exuberant Uruguayan soprano Maria Jose Siri (Nedda/Colombina); young Chinese baritone Zhenghong Zhou (Silvio); and last but not least Italian Tenor Enrico Casari (Peppe/Harlequin). They were ccompanied by the Coral of the Academy of Music Rainier III and the Chorus of the Opera of Monte-Carlo directed by Stefano Visconti, with music by the Philharmonic Orchestra of Monte-Carlo directed by well-known Israeli Pinchas Steinberg principal conductor of the Budapest Philharmonic Orchestra. All the opera singers have formidable voices and sang with true passion, igniting the Salle Garnier with the public bursting into applause and shouting “Bravo” repeatedly!
Marcelo Alvarez singing Vesti la Giubba, Pagliacci
Additional performances in the Opera of Monte-Carlo:
- Sunday, February 22 at 15:00hs
- Wednesday, February 25 at 20:00hs
- Saturday, February 28 at 20:00hs
For information: www.opera.mc