Crazy for opera

Teatro DonizettiThis year has been an autumn of opera for me after years of not attending any show. I timidly started with a performance at the theatre, which I liked so much that I immediately made plans to go to the next show while regretting missing the two previous ones by Donizetti.

I have tried with other theatres in Lombardy, but I was not logistically easy and I dropped the idea. Then, at a local cinema they started showing a cycle of opera and ballet recordings, which, without retaining the quality and sparking the emotions of a live performance, have been nevertheless excellent films.

When I was buying a ticket for La Bohème I heard a lady in the queue enquire about La serenata al vento, due to be on stage in Bergamo as a world premiere. The opera had in fact won a competition at the Teatro alla Scala in the 1930’s, but never came to be performed because the composer was Jewish. In 1938 the Fascist racial laws came into force banning public activities to members of that community.

A project carried out by Italian institutions and an Israeli foundation recovered the scores from the oblivion they had fallen for the last 70 years and finally put the opera on stage, in accordance to the musician’s final wish to play his music.

The date of the performance sounded an auspicious one: 1 December. The vicissitudes of the piece were also intriguing, but high as my expectations were, I had deluded myself. The only music that I liked in this opera was the one played as a prelude, a  piano sonata by the same author, and possibly the serenade itself. The rest was not melodic enough to appeal to my ear and the volume of the orchestra music so loud that it overpowered the singing. I was put off by the bizarre scenery too, but its oddness could have been forgiven if everything else had been just passable.

When I went to watch my first opera a month ago, I was sitting behind two aficionado theatre-goers. At the first interval the lady got up incensed at the way the opera was being maimed. She protested the singers had not enough voice and were not expressing enough sentiment. In fact, my ear was not fine enough to have detected any fault, and I was a bit wary of such outspoken comments coming from two people who only talked in dialect. I reckoned the quality of the performance could not be judged by the loudness of the singers’ voices, if that was the problem, and I suspected the lady just wanted to show knowing her stuff.

Teatro DonizettiI thought better of her when I later overheard she had been going to the opera since she was 14 and had named her two children after two opera characters. Really she must have been a connoisseur! At the end of that show she translated her already locally-known thoughts into loud boos for the rest of the hall to know. I felt embarrassed for her unforgiving attitude, but it is a fact that gallery spectators have no pity.

At last night’s show the composer’s son and descendants were present. Now, when the Serenata ended I wondered how that lady would have reacted. May she have thrown tomatoes on the stage? I just applauded listlessly and thought the composer’s family were there and must have been proud that their relative’s opera had finally seen the light and been put on stage. But I could not stop myself from thinking within myself that humanity had not gained much from this protracted unearthing work.