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STAGING CELEBRATED; VIVALDI VINDICATED

A RECENT OPERATIC happening celebrates a 40-year-old production. Another rectifies a 282-year-old injustice. Here are tidbits on these two gleaned from several sources.

The Zeffirelli La Bohème 40th. In “Enduring Classic,” Opera News, January 2022, Fred Cohn observes, “Director/designer Franco Zeffirelli’s Metropolitan Opera production of La Bohème bowed on December 14, 1981, and has gone on to become the most durable staging in the company’s history, consistently maintaining its status as a guaranteed box-office draw and crowd pleaser.”

This classic staging has already been a topic here at SimanaitisSays. As cited there, “It creates the proper settings for the story as originally described in the libretto; it offers a thrilling visual experience; it is designed for an optimal movement of the singers; and in the second act, it allows an unbelievable amount of people on stage without any encumbrance.”

Zeffirelli’s classic staging of La Bohème, Act II, the Café Momus. This and the following image from the Metropolitan Opera.

Theatrical Magic. Cohn describes how “Zeffirelli employed clever theatrical legerdemain to create his effects. He enhanced the sense of perspective in the huge Act II sets by using, at the back of the scenery, supers who were under five feet tall.”

Replacing Zeffirelli’s magic has periodically been discussed. Cohn writes, “But during a 2010 panel discussion, Peter Gelb announced, to applause, that he had no intention of jettisoning the Met’s beloved Bohème. Eleven years have passed since then, but Zeffirelli’s Bohème is clearly here to stay.”

Vivaldi’s Tale. Il Farnace is an opera written by Antonio Vivaldi premiered in 1727. It’s based on the tale of Pharnaces II of Pontus, c. 97–47 B.C., a monarch of Persian and Greek ancestry. 

Antonio Lucio Vivaldi, 1678–1741, Italian Baroque composer, virtuoso violinist, teacher, impresario, and Roman Catholic priest. A probable portrait, c. 1723, from Wikipedia.

Il Farnace Nixed by Cardinal Ruffo. “According to historians,” reports nbcnews.com, “when Cardinal Tommaso Ruffo banned Vivaldi from Ferrara, it effectively meant the cancellation of the scheduled 1739 Carnival production of his Il Farnace, which had already enjoyed success in Italy and beyond. Ruffo’s reason? Vivaldi, an ordained Catholic priest, had stopped celebrating Mass and was said to be in a relationship with one of his singers, Anna Giro.”

Che scandalo!

Well, not actually. NBC News reports, “In reality, Vivaldi didn’t celebrate Mass because he had long suffered from respiratory problems, and his relationship with Giro was like that of any composer with his lead singer….”

A Disaster for Vivaldi; a Benefit for Opera History. Vivaldi had paid for the Ferrara production ahead of time, and thus suffered a financial disaster that affected the rest of his life.

On the other hand, when Cardinal Ruffo prohibited Vivaldi from stepping foot in Ferrara, the composer initially tried producing the opera from afar: He wrote stage directions  as well as expressive and interpretative notations that normally would have been delivered in person.

Reversing the Cardinal’s Ruling, 282 Years LaterNBC News reports, “Ferrara Archbishop Giancarlo Perego is attending the opening Thursday of Vivaldi’s Il Farnace at the city’s public theater, a decision hailed by the theater’s artistic director as a ‘marvelous gesture’ that helps heal the past and highlight one of Vivaldi’s lesser-known works.”

Singers perform Vivaldi’s Il Farnace in Ferrara, Italy, on December 29, 2021. Image by Marco Caselli Nirmal/Fondazione Teatro Comunale de Ferrara via AP from NBC News.

The opera’s conductor Federico Maria Sardelli said, “We have this treasure, this score, which is a mirror of Vivaldi’s process. He wrote incredible things that no Baroque composer ever wrote in a score because they would say it in person. We have the fortune of having the voice of Vivaldi written down on this score.” 

Bravo, Vivaldi. Basta, Ruffo. ds

© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2022

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