Salvatore Sciarrino: Luci mie traditrici on CD
Luci mie traditrice, Opera in due atti, premiered in 1998, sung in Italian (short prologue sung in French)
Music by Salvatore Sciarrino (1947- )
Libretto by Salvatore Sciarrino, after Il Tradimento per L'Onore, by Giacinto Andrea Cicognini, 1664, and an eulogy by Claude Le Jeune, 1608
Studio recording, done in Vienna, November 14 and 15, 2000
Conductor: Beat Furrer
Orchestra: Klangforum Wien
Annette Stricker, soprano - La Malaspina (The Countess)
Otto Katzamaier, bass-baritone - Il Malaspina (The Count)
Kai Wessel, countertenor - L'Ospite (guest)
Simon Jaunin, baritone - Servo (servant)
Kairos Music release, 2001, in one CD, DDD, running time 68:41
Libretto included, in original Italian (small part in French), and translations into French, English, and German + production pictures, essay, synopsis, a message from the composer, biography of the artists with their pictures, history of the orchestra, fragments of correspondence and witness account between the real-life characters
Salvatore Sciarrino is a contemporary composer of avant-garde opera and other musical genres, who lives in his native Italy in the Citta di Castella in Perugia, and teaches composition at the Florence conservatory. He is a prestigious composer who has held several faculty appointments in Palermo and Milan, and has received several prizes, with a catalog of more than 130 pieces (one of the most extensive body of works among contemporary composers). According to him, in addition to having been a disciple of Franco Evangelisti's, Stockhausen was a major influence on his music.
This is one of many of his avant-garde operas, played here by an ensemble of soloists specialized in contemporary music.
Sciarrino's music is very unique, especially his vocal writing, often using long extensions of the vowels and short bursts of the other syllables, completely altering the dynamics of the words, with added complex melismas. These techniques are not only intriguing, but also convey a very Italianate melodic sense. The orchestration and instrumental parts are vanishing and phantasmagorical, and evoke blowing winds, breathing, neighing horses, sounds of nature (birds, insects), and percussion. Silence occurs often, which then goes from this state of zero sounds to a multitude of microscopic sounds and whispers and soft noises that seem to reproduce the sonorous real-life universe that surrounds the characters.
The result in my opinion is *extremely* powerful. It starts with the exquisite, sensitive, and poetic libretto, which makes use of very short phrases, at times one-word sentences that parade in rapid succession, but still manage to perfectly convey the strong feelings that the characters of this opera are going through. Then, the music impacts on the work a very realistic sense of dread and doom, of emotional intensity and impending tragedy - affects like love, fear, jealousy, lust, horror are very well tone-painted.
The piece can be read and heard like a growing nightmare. It makes me think of Verdi's Otello, in its claustrophobic and inexorable progression to the shocking last scene. Of course, the musical structure of these two works couldn't be more different, but the atmosphere is quite similar. The musical style on the other hand reminded me of another piece I liked a lot recently, Itinerário do Sal by Portuguese contemporary composer Miguel Azguimes. While Azguime's opera is even more adventurous and makes abundant use of electronic music, these two pieces do share this ability to work with the sounds of a word and manipulate it to achieve expressive power.
Cicognini's text on which the composer based his libretto is about a real episode in the life of Renaissance composer Don Carlo Gesualdo, son of the Prince of Naples and heir to his father's court, who brutally murdered his wife Maria d'Avalos in 16th century Naples when he discovered that she had taken a lover, the Duke of Andria, Don Fabrizio Carafa. Don Carlo married his young and pretty cousin Maria in an arranged political marriage, and after fathering a son with her to secure to himself an heir, he turned to hunting and music and completely neglected his wife. Bored, she let herself be seduced by the Duke who was a guest in her home. Don Carlo learned about it from his uncle (not before the uncle also tried to seduce Maria and was rejected), staged a fake hunting trip, came back with three or four thugs, broke into his wife's quarters and surprised the two lovers in bed. The thugs brutally murdered the Duke under Maria's eyes using multiple weapons, and after he was reduced to a bloody pulp Don Carlo stabbed her to death. Given his noble birth and the fact that it was a "honor killing" Don Carlo didn't suffer any legal consequence of his action, but remained to his death haunted by what he had done and still in love with his dead wife.
Yes, the stuff for opera all right!
In the opera, the characters are simply called the Count and the Countess (Don Carlo and Maria in real life); instead of the uncle we get a servant who also loves the countess and out of jealousy denounces her to the cuckolded husband, and the Duke is simply called The Guest. The murder scene is toned down as opposed to what really happened - The Count brings his wife to the bedroom after the Duke has already been murdered and is laying on the bed under the bed covers; he pulls off the bed covers and shows her the dead body of her lover, then stabs her. There are no thugs and no scene with the brutal multi-weapon killing.
The libretto does not entirely convey the action. The verbal exchanges are more like snippets of raw emotions than real storytelling. One rather follows what goes on inside the minds of the characters. They talk to each other but it is the depiction of love and fear, etc., that comes through. Things are implied more than said. One needs the synopsis to follow what is going on, in the absence of visual media.
The opening scene - the prologue in French based on the eulogy mentioned above in the source material - is very poetic and sets the tone perfectly for what will happen, and is given an orchestral treatment that recurs later in modified form.
Singing by two of the three principals is truly excellent. This is extremely difficult vocal writing, requiring lots of agility, and Ms. Stricker and Mr. Katzameier do a spectacular job. Mr. Wessel on the other hand is not among the best countertenors I've heard. Mr. Jaunin has a small and simple role with no big vocal demands; basically his role calls for little more than a little declamation so it is harder to pass judgment on his voice.
Conductor and orchestra certainly perform this inventive score competently.
Those who are not familiar with or not fond of avant-garde opera may balk at this. I found it truly excellent, and highly recommended.