Opera and the Music Biennale in Venice

by Rino Alessi

Opera and the Music Biennale in Venice, two icons of Italian excellence in musical beauty, share a long history. Indeed, the 1950s saw two classics of great international theater –  “The Rake’s Progress” by Stravinsky and “The Turn of the Screw” by Britten – première at the Fenice during what is officially called International Festival of Contemporary Music.

While this longstanding relationship seemed to be disregarded in the past few years, edition number fifty-seven – titled “Altra voce Altro spazio” (“Another voice Another space”) – seemed to turn things around.

Ivan Fedele – appointed director of the festival in 2012, to be in charge until 2015 – explains: “The program of the 2013 Music Biennale was marked by the return of operatic productions. We worked towards this goal with Scandicci’s Teatro Studio Krypton as co-producer, and with the collaboration of Maggio Formazione and the Florence Conservatory. Three alumni of the latter, indeed, were selected to sing in the two one-act plays performed at the Piccolo Arsenale, which were entrusted to two young authors, Vittorio Montalti (1980) and Raffaele Grimaldi (1984). Montalti and Grimaldi were asked to create works about grotesque and surreal subjects, and Giancarlo Cauteruccio was in charge of the mise-en-scène”.

The titles of these works are quite current: Montalti’s is “L’arte e la maniera di affrontare il proprio capo per chiedergli un aumento” (“The art and way to confront one’s boss to ask him for a raise”), with text by Giuliano Compagno, based on Perec’s work; Grimaldi’s is “La Macchina” (“The machine”), with text by Diego Giordano.

All in all, this year’s Music Biennale seemed to favor the creativity of younger generations by pairing them with opera – a genre usually far from their world.


We are happy to report that the experiment was successful, as it drew a crowd that filled the theater, laughing and applauding even during the performance, with such enthusiasm that is rare these days. The works were well received by the critics as well, and have also been performed at Bergamo’s Donizetti Theater.

Another relationship was rekindled this year: the one with the Fenice’s orchestra, during the inaugural concert dedicated to composer Sofia Gubajdulina, recipient of the Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement, and to Lutoslawski’s Third Symphony.

The Fenice and its orchestra were also involved in the co-production of “Aspern” by Salvatore Sciarrino, back in theater after a long absence started in 1978, with the noteworthy conduction by Marco Angius at the Malibran opera house. The Singspiel, somewhere between singing and acting, was based on the Henry James novella “The Aspern Papers”; the schematic libretto by Sciarrino and Marini released only a small part of the potential of such a powerful text, relying on the students of the IUAV and on the wonderful talent and charm of singer Zuzana Markova to bring the show to life.

Luciano Berio’s work was celebrated with a wonderful concert at the Teatro alle Tese, which included “Altra voce” for flute (Michele Marasco) and contralto-mezzosoprano (with the talented Monica Bacelli, whose voice is astounding with or without amplification, able to span from Monteverdi to Berio and from Mozart to Debussy, always striking the right style) and “Ofanim”, which in Hebrew means “wheels” or “ways” – thirty minutes based on fragments of the Bible, with an amazing performance by the Orchestra della Toscana conducted by Danilo Grassi and by the young talents of Maîtrise de Radio France, one of the Biennale’s partners.

Another interesting project launched by Fedele is “Biennale College”, aimed at giving young authors the opportunity to work in the field and to create a “pocket opera” – which could be performed between acts of a longer play, much like the 1700s’ intermezzi.

The program branches out into sectors that relate to different themes; for each one, a team of two or three people (a musician, a librettista, and a director-set designer) will be invited to the festival with a tutor selected by the organization. During the following phase, Biennale will select the projects that will be set up professionally.

Fedele’s main goal is to highlight different genres and to prove wrong the “common idea that contemporary music is all the same”. The festival has already achieved its first results in this: last year the Music Biennale recorded a 60% increase in public – a trend confirmed by this year’s success –, motivating the decision to make the 2014 program branch out into appendixes planned before and after the main core of the event.

December 16, 2013

Opera and the Music Biennale in Venice

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