Hitting the high notes in 2012

MUSIC IN THE AIR

Sheela Raman
December 15, 2011

Maggio Musicale Fiorentino's 2012 program reflects an exploratory spirit that is at the same time steeped in national pride. The upcoming season promises to satisfy stalwart fans of Italian repertoire as well as those eager for surprises.

 

A good part of the program celebrates the Italian masters. The year opens with Il Viaggio a Reims, an extremely demanding dramma giocoso by Gioachino Rossini that requires 14 vocal soloists. (Dramma giocoso is a type of opera common in the mid-eighteenth century, characterized by a grand scene in light humor at the end of each act.) Rossini wrote Il Viaggio a Reims for the coronation of King Charles X at Rheims in 1825, and since then, although it is considered one of Rossini's finest works, it has been performed infrequently; not only is the work notoriously difficult but the original manuscript was disassembled and lost after the original performance until 1970, when musicologists unearthed the pieces. In January's performance at Teatro Comunale, a rising young conductor, Daniele Rustoni, will preside over the vocal acrobatics. The set by Marco Gandini, evoking slightly fantastical realism, should suggest, with more than a touch of irony, a triumphant Europe.

 

In February and March, Giacomo Puccini's Tosca and then Gaetano Donizetti's Anna Bolena (a production of the Arena di Verona and the Teatro Verdi di Trieste) come to the stage. In May, the Italian rhythm will break for Der Rosenkavalier, the first of three original productions the Maggio will present in celebration of its 75th anniversary. In spite of (or perhaps because of) it being a middle-European classic, Johann Strauss' Der Rosenkavalier has not been performed in Florence since 1989. The audience should savor this opportunity to hear the magical combination of Strauss'  vital musical energy and librettist Hugo van Hofmmansthal's delicate wordplay directed by the a formidable team: conductor Zubin Mehta and German producer Eike Gramss.

The next piece in the anniversary series jumps ahead a century, showcasing the work of a contemporary composer, Silvia Colasanti, trained at the Academy of Santa Cecilia in Rome: a musical interpretation of Kafka's novel The Metamorphosis. The final production of the anniversary series backtracks to the early twentieth century for two works by Béla Bartók: The Miraculous Mandarin and Duke Bluebeard's Castle. Seiji Ozawa, a great proponent of twentieth-century repertoire who has appeared before at the Teatro Comunale, will conduct. The Miraculous Mandarin is a dark pantomime ballet, telling the story of a prostitute and the mandarin who visits her in a brothel only to discover that he was lured there so that two other men, waiting in the shadows, could steal his riches. Even after he is stabbed, he still advances towards the young woman, who cringes until he is dying. Only then does she finally embrace him. Because of the erotic tension, which the music highlights, the ballet was banned after its first performance 1926; later only the orchestral suite was usually performed. In May 2012, dancers will be included, and audiences will be able to appreciate the full power of Bartók's special, Hungarian-folk-infused modernism. (The ballet is being choreographed by Jo Kanamori, in collaboration with the Saito Kinen Festival.)

 

After this deep exploration into the darkest parts of the psyche, Maggio returns to the airiness of Italian opera, with the final runs of the season being Giuseppe Verdi's Traviata and Puccini's Turandot. It is perhaps appropriate to have a second Puccini work, Gianni Schicchi, in the program since he was, of course, Tuscan and his music is deeply entwined with this region. In Turandot, audiences will have the privilege of hearing the acclaimed American soprano Jennifer Wilson in the role of the cruel princess. Her big, rich voice promises to complement the role well.

 

In addition to the new opera house, varied treasures await us in the 2012 Maggio opera season, and we can rest assured that the performances will help us stay rooted in Florence while provoking and scandalizing us just a healthy little bit.

 

For season details and tickets, see www.maggiofiorentino.com.

 

 

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