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42° Festival della Valle d’Itria, scheduled from July 14 to August 5, 2016

  • Posted on 4 July 2016
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Euripides wrote about how the bow of Eros is two-faced: from one end it shoots arrows of joy and ecstasy, and from the other arrows of sorrow and loss. They confuse human beings, leading them from inebriation to the soul’s deepest abyss.

“The games and abyss of Eros” could be an apt title for the bill of the 42nd edition of the Festival della Valle d’Itria. Significantly, it is dedicated to Giovanni Paisiello(1740 – 1816), one of the most acclaimed names of the Apulian-Neapolitan school. 2016 marks the bicentenary of his death.

This Apulian genius was born in Taranto, and studied music in Naples. His life is one of the most visible examples of cultural cosmopolitanism: he collected many commissions, assignments and honours not only in the Kingdom of Naples, but also at the Vatican and some of the richest European courts, specially St Petersburg, the court of Catherine II, Paris, and Warsaw. The 2016 Festival opens with an important Paisillo repêchage: we have retrieved a brilliant commedia per musica, on a topic which will be well-known to aficionados and specialists thanks to the homonymous contemporaneous opera by Antonio Salieri: La grotta di Trofonio.

The opera is particularly rich in ensemble pieces. Paisiello emphasises theatrical mechanisms typical of the comic genre: a mob of bizarre characters, with different personalities, and coming from disparate backgrounds, is caught up in a complex web of contrasting interests. A whole palette of sentiments is at play: the characters are moved by seduction, jealousy, and competition within a superficially realistic and commonplace paradigm, which emphasises their ambitiousness, meanness, egotism, fragility, following the characteristics of social satire of the time.

Paisiello’s libretto is a reworked version of the highly enjoyable one by abbot Casti, and which Salieri had used for his own Grotta di Trofonio staged in Vienna’s Burgtheater in October 1785, anticipating the themes of Daponte’s Così fan tutte.

In December the same year, Paisiello presented his version of the opera at the Teatro dei Fiorentini in Naples. He adapted the original subject – though somewhat abstract and ‘geometrical’ – to a variety of rather more ‘Italian’ characters (amongst whom Gasparone is perhaps the most colourful, and speaks in Neapolitan dialect).

Also for these historical reasons, La grotta di Trofonio is a perfect example of Italian music taste at the end of the eighteenth century. Comic opera was a highly successful genre, and it was considered so also by composers who had already proved their abilities in dramatic and sacred compositions.

Martina Franca presents the first rendition of Paisiello’s opera in modern times, thanks to the revisions by expert musicologist Luisa Cosi, whose speciality is the Apulian music school and its recovery.

Scenes are by Dario Gessati, and costumes by Gianluca Falaschi (both back after their success in La donna serpente). The show is in the hands of Alfonso Antoniozzi: a versatile, dynamic artist with a twenty-year specialism in nineteenth-century comic opera. Over the past few years Antoniozzi has alternated his career as a singer to that as a director: he decided to give the opera a 1910s flavour, imagining the events of a group of tourists discovering Arcadian Greece, and coming from a world made of…paper.

Giuseppe Grazioli, elegant and eclectic musician, returns to Martina Franca to conduct this opera after his triumph in 2010 with Napoli milionaria.

For an ensembleopera with an irresistible theatrical rhythm, the cast must show off its most sparkling acting virtuosity, and guarantee the right balance between voice types and theatre “masks”. This work brings together stellar artists: among the shiniest talents of our day, some of whom are real favourites in Martina Franca. Our excellent bass Roberto Scandiuzzi features in the eponymous role after his success as main character in Le Braci. For the fourth year in a row we have Domenico Colaianni, star performer for a characterful role. Young Angela Nisialso returns to our stages, while Daniela Mazzucato and Giorgio Caoduro, young tenor Matteo Mezzaro and soprano Caterina Di Tonno, star in their debut and add their name to the operatic firmament.

As for last year’s Don Checco, this work is a collaboration with the Fondazione del Teatro di San Carlo di Napoli, to further emphasise the value of the partnership with one of the top cultural institutions of a true capital in the history of music in Europe. The co-production marks the highest achievement of a series of initiatives which see our Festival and the Teatro San Carlo united in the celebrations in honour of Paisiello, including an international conference, and an exhibition.

The second opera on the bill, staged in the Palazzo Ducale on the 30th July 2016, is the first ever performance of Francesca da Rimini,unpublished opera by Saverio Mercadante.

It is clearly one of the most ambitious projects in the history of the Festival della Valle d’Itria, as it combines a work by one of the top Italian composers of the 19th century, a legendary theme, and two characters who have become cultural archetypes in the Western world: Paolo and Francesca, the ill-fated lovers Dante eternalised in the fifth Canto of his Divina Commedia.

Saverio Mercadante, from Altamura, moved to Naples and then to Vienna, Paris, and Madrid, to consolidate his fame. He wrote Francesca da Rimini for the Spanish court. It is an ambitious work, with a libretto by Felice Romani. He put all his energies into it, but the opera was never staged – for reasons on which history has yet to shed light. The holograph score is dated 1831, and there are two copies of it (one in Bologna and one in the Spanish capital). It is perfectly complete and accomplished, and it shows great attention to writing and detail. The content of the autograph annotations is very valuable. Mercadante’s music choices in this opera are worthy of a work destined to excite the enthusiasm of the time.

It is therefore a much-awaited, historically important debut, which calls for prestige: this new, unknown opera, Francesca da Rimini – a work of great depth with pages of highly inspired music, comes to the stages of Martina Franca conducted by the music director of the Festival, Fabio Luisi, matched with the elegance of one of the greatest maestros of Italian theatre: Pierluigi Pizzi, returning to Martina Franca twenty years after the memorable success of his Grande-duchesse de Gérolstein; his are the direction, scenes, and costumes.

Pizzi’s reading of the opera will not fail to surprise. It is built on the driest minimalism: the protagonists move on a bare stage, shaken only by the chiaroscuro effects of an enormous black sail reminiscent of the “bufera infernal, che mai non resta”. The prestigious choreography is by Gheorghe Iancu.

The cast is international, and places its highest bets on three young talents: Leonor Bonilla (Francesca) from Spain, Aya Wakyzono (Paolo) from Japan, Mert Süngü (Lanciotto) from Turkey, all brought together to measure their talent against tough vocalities and entirely new roles.

A world premiere of this breadth cannot be performed without a brand new critical edition, which is in fact curated by Elisabetta Pasquini for Ut Orpheus.

Now at its sixth year, the Accademia del Belcanto is entirely in the hands of Fabio Luisi. Its focus on belcanto continues productively, as does its emphasis on so-called ‘Baroque’ style and technique. The main innovation this year is the space dedicated to our artists of the “Rodolfo Celletti” academy: over and above their performance the yearly seventeenth-century work entrusted to the expert hands of Antonio Greco and staged in the evocative Chiostro di San Domenico, a few of our young talents will challenge their skills with one of the masterpieces of belcanto, in semi-staged form in the Palazzo Ducale. This endeavour only goes to show that our youths from the Accademia are more than capable to express an accomplished vocal and interpretative maturity.

So our students of the Accademia Celletti this year will perform in two works: after La lotta d’Ercole con Acheloo,so enthralling for both audience and critics in 2014, for the seventeenth-century repertoire we have chosen another by Agostino Steffani: his second single-act piece. He is a brilliant author, whose excellence is the subject of much musicological rediscovery. Cinthia Alireti is the young Brazilian musicologist who curated the edition of the Lotta;this year her work is on Baccanali. It has never been performed in modern times, and it promises new musical mirabilia.

Direction is by Cecilia Ligorio, who already showed her talent in her version of the Barbiere di Siviglia, a real whirlwind of rhythm and originality. The specific characteristics of the Chiostro di San Domenico guarantee the perfect space for her talent. For Steffani’s work, she aims for a poetic, lucid and visionary reading of the classically-inspired libretto. Alessia Colosso and Manuel Pedretti are behind scenes and costumes respectively, for a staging which decorates the cloister with suggestive natural elements.

As regards ‘standard repertoire’ opera, we have chosen Così fan tutte: Mozart and Da Ponte’s masterpiece is perfectly centred on the theme of this year’s Festival. It offers our young artists an extraordinary occasion to measure their skills against the highest potential of music theatre. Beyond the prestige of the title itself, a further boost to the work is given by Fabio Luisi. He has chosen to make his debut with this title in Martina Franca, together with our young performers. They are called to engage in an all-encompassing work, a real theatre workshop, with director Juliette Deschamps for the semi-staged form of the opera.

Last year’s warm welcome to the Barbiere di Siviglia encouraged us to follow the path of the Opera in masseria series. The formula involves staging an opera – carefully adapted in its instrumentation and dramaturgy – in a context which enhances the natural beauties of the Valle d’Itria.

This year we propose a little jewel of comic opera: Paisiello’s Don Chisciotte della Mancia. Young director Davide Garattini’s vision is an original, surprising setting in a tavern. The subject is dedicated to another illustrious anniversary: that of the fourth centenary of the death of Cervantes (1547-1616).

For the 42nd Festival della Valle d’Itria we could not of course forget the two concerts which our audience always appreciates: the Belcanto concert at the Palazzo Ducale – conducted by vibrant young Sesto Quatrini. On this occasion we will celebrate the winner of this year’s Premio Celletti 2016, with a programme made up of lesser-known belcanto works (by Mercadante, Pacini, Rossini), meaningfully combined to Mozart (another possible hidden fil rouge in this edition). The bill also offers the highly popular Concerto per lo Spirito, in the Basilica di San Martino: this is also dedicated to Paisiello, and entrusted to the expert hands of Ettore Papadia.

Over the past few years, our Festival has shown a keen interest towards 20th century and contemporary music and composers. We have also commissioned brand new works and operas (last year we opened up with Marco Tutino’s Le braci).

This year the series Novecento e oltre, set in the intimate atmosphere of the Chiostro di San Domenico, boasts two prestigious events: ahomage to Henze and Boulez, and an evening of 20th century chamber opera, emblematically called “Giochi di Eros”, featuring a diptych in English: Samuel Barber’sHand of bridge, the shortest opera ever written (it lasts less than ten minutes), and William Walton’s gemThe Bear, based on Chekov. The two operas are in semi-staged form, with a small instrumental ensemble.

The Fuori orario… series offers our yearly events scattered all over the city at various times throughout the day and night. There are Sunday noon sacred music concerts (All’ora sesta) and secular music concerts – tasty ones, with the Concerto del sorbetto in the Chiostro di San Domenico (livened up by refreshing sorbets, courtesy of the historical Bar Tripoli); and evocative, mystical ones of Canta la notte… with their magical settings and atmospheres. For our night-time concerts we have a religious choral concert, and a music-theatre surprise with a delightful piano anthology based on the theme of Paolo e Francesca. The two eternal characters acquire voice and body amongst the audiences in the Chiostro di San Domenico.

We must not forget of course the events dedicated to our youngest artists: our Festival Juniorinvolves dozens of children, who have the chance to come closer to the world of 20th century music and scores. The initiative is a must of the Festival, with its laudable educational purposes. The children are trained during the winter months, with the precious help of the Fondazione Paolo Grassi directed by Gennaro Carrieri teamed with the hard work of passionate, scrupulous teachers, and the inspired leadership of Angela Lacarbonara. This year our young musicians explore the creativity of Erik Satie.

As per tradition, the Symphonic Concert closes the Festival. It is conducted by young Greek Karina Canellakis. The programme is captivating, with Tchaikovsky’s Francesca da Rimini, and Dvorák’s ever-popular “New World Symphony”. The Orchestra Internazionale d’Italia is the protagonist of this event.

Other music bodies collaborating with our Festival this year are the Philharmonic Choir of Cluj-Napoca directed by Cornel Groza, the orchestra ICO della Magna Grecia of Taranto, and the ensemble Cremona Antiqua.

As ever, our Festival is full of new ideas, new proposals, new occasions. It is our “sanctuary” within the national cultural panorama, and beyond.

For over 40 years we have been the tenacious, brave expression of the faith in the extraordinary potential which music, theatre, and culture can bring to local economy and spirit. We feel we are more and more an open laboratory for ideas and talents, for all those who choose and place their best bets on an arduous, difficult path. To them, and to all those who contribute to our endeavours each year behind the scenes, go the deepest thanks of their artistic director.

Milan, 25th May 2016

Alberto Triola

Artistic director