Saturday, January 31, 2009

"Morosina" - Errico Petrella

On January 19, 2009, I attended a program of “Non Solo Verdi”, in which some scenes from Errico Petrella’s (1813-1877) opera “Morosina” were performed. This concert was part of a research program run by Professor Jehoash Hirshberg (Department of Musicology, Hebrew University of Jerusalem) with Sonya Mazar heading the team of research scholars that include Na’ama Ramot, Rimona Cohen-Paul and Alma Stern. The project focuses on operas composed between 1860 and 1870 and “Morosina” is the 11th opera to be presented to the public in this series; indeed, this was its first performance in 160 years.

Italy became a nation October 26, 1860, and Italy’s resurgence as a single, unified nation, the dream of poets and intellectuals, had become reality. Opera played a very prominent part in national life in Italy. Researchers in the Hebrew University project have noted that, between 1860 and 1870 alone, 230 new operas were written and produced, many of them successful.

Born in Palermo, Errico Petrella was a highly successful and popular opera composer of the Neapolitan School, composing opera buffa as well as serious opera. “Jone”, produced at La Scala in 1858, is generally considered his best opera. Verdi is known to have been scornful of Petrella’s compositional and dramatic crudities, liked, nevertheless, by the flamboyant Italian audiences.

The libretto for “Morosina” was written by Domenico Bolognese and the opera was premiered January 5, 1860, with internationally-known Italian soprano Balbina Steffenone singing the role of Morosina. And to the performance of the HU opera project: with a picturesque old map of Venice as the background, the plot begins to unfold; the year is 1555 in Venice. Scenes from the opera are performed in costume, with Professor Hirshberg filling in details of the plot in between scenes. And a real operatic plot it is: one of mistaken identity, family rivalry, intrigues, the love of two women for the same man, Morosina’s noblility of spirit and, of course, the tragic outcome of it all - death.

Most of the singers taking part were from the former Soviet Union. Alba, (daughter of Orseole, head of the “Council of Ten”) was played by mezzo-soprano Julia Plakhina; she was convincing and expressive, communicating well with the audience. The first duet took place between Alba and her friend Amelia (Anja Bachrach). Morosina was played by Tatiana Odinkova; her voice is powerful and dramatic and she is generous in her use of vibrato. Yaniv Sananes’ powerful and beautiful tenor voice delighted the audience; he played the part of Galieno. Orseole was played by Andre Trifonov. Trifonov has a commanding voice and fine stage presence. The music was melodic, gregarious and as dramatic as the plot. Directing from the piano, Sonya Mazar was present in every word and gesture taking place on stage, her piano introductions setting each scene and her compassion, her sense of timing and use of the element of surprise providing a fine basis for the performance.

The program ended with pieces from operas of Giuseppe Verdi (1813-1901). Anja Bachrach gave an empathic rendering of Desdemona’s “Ave Maria” from “Otello” (1887). In her intimate performance of it, she made use of delicate contrasts and fine phrasing.

The libretto to Verdi’s “La forza del destino” was written by Francesco Maria Piave; the opera was first performed in 1862. In her prayer “Pace, pace mio Dio” (Peace, o mighty Father, give me peace) in the final act, Leonora prays that she might find peace in death. Tatiana Odinkova’s performance of the aria was emotional and gripping, her timbre a nice mix of chest- and head voice. Collaboration between her and the pianist made for a dramatic and convincing performance.

The noon concert ended with a scene from Verdi’s “Macbeth”. Based on Shakespeare’s “Macbeth”, the libretto also by Piave, the opera was premiered in 1847 in Florence. Julia Plakhina and Andrei Trifonov, as Lady Macbeth and Macbeth, spirited the audience into one of the most dramatic, demonic and psychological moments of opera, where both instrumental writing and vocal lines inspire horror in the audience. Plakhina and Trifonov were outstanding in their intense, obsessive and distraught portrayal of hunger for power, their performance making use of body language and facial expressions.

The small concert hall was packed to capacity with people interested to hear “Morosina”, fine operatic singing and to take an hour to revel in the extravagancies and emotions of Romantic opera. Leaving the Humanities Building of the Hebrew University on Mt. Scopus, it was time to return to reality. Jerusalem was bathed in sunlight.

“Non Solo Verdi”
Excerpts from Verdi operas
“Morosina” – Errico Petrella
Morosina-Tatiana Odinkova
Orseole-Andrei Trifinov
Alba-Julia Plakhina
Galieno-Yaniv Sananes
Emilia-Anja Bachrach
Sonya Mazar-piano
Costumes-Francoise Coriat
Humanities Building-The Hebrew University of Jerusalem
January 19, 2009

1 comment:

parisi luci spencer said...

Fascinating. My mom's ancestor was a relation to Petrella.
giselle parisi luci spencer