Nino Rota was a composer and academic perhaps best known for his film music. He wrote the scores for all of Fellini’s films and for the first two Godfather movies. He also wrote several operas; most of them comic. Two of his one actors were performed and recorded at the 2017 Reate Festival.
La notte di un nevrastenico is very much a farce. A neurotic insomniac has rented three hotel rooms to make sure that there is no disturbance from next door but the concierge has let them anyway; one to the Commendatore, who is in town for the fair, and one to an amorous couple. The neurotic is disturbed firstly by the Commendatore dropping a shoe and secondly, surprise, by the amorous couple’s enthusiastic antics. In both cases he summons all the staff to complain about the noise. Eventually he produces a gun and the Commendatore and the couple pack up and leave. Just as the neurotic finally drops off the bell boy arrives with his morning coffee… It’s fast paced and most definitely a farce.
I due timidi is a bit more ambitious, though not in my view quite as good. Raimondo is in love with the piano student Mariucci but is too timid to declare it. She’s in love with him and ditto. He moves into the same pensione to be near her but as they stare longingly at each other out of their respective windows a shutter falls on his neck knocking him out. In his delirium he declares his love not to Mariuccia but to Mrs Guidotti, the no longer young proprietor of the pensione. Mariuccia swoons at the sight of the injured Raimondo and is treated by Dr. Sinisgalli who is secretly in love with her. All sorts of confusion ensues and repeatedly Raimondo and Mariuccia fail to clarify their true feelings. Two years later Rasimondo is running the guest house and Mrs. Sinisgalli has pretty much given up the piano with two kids to look after. This too has farcical elements but it’s also a bit sad and not as well paced. It also uses a narrator to push the action along which seems like a bit of a cheat. There’s a film connection here too. The librettist; Susa Cecchi d’Amico, was also responsible for the screenplays of a bunch of films including Il gattopardo.
Musically the two pieces are extremely well constructed. Rota knows how to use an orchestra. The music is entirely tonal (which must have taken some guts in the opera world of the 1950s and 60s), extremely colourful and well crafted. It’s through sung and nobody in the first piece really gets an aria. In I due timidi though he seems to be parodying grand opera at times and both Mariuccia and Mrs. Guidotti get big numbers. Rota uses quite a wide range of styles too, including dance music. The overall impression is that he’s a fine technician and quite inventive.
Both works are directed by Cesare Scarton and share a set. It’s a sort of ramshackle building backdrop with lots of doors and windows for people to do things half out of sight behind or to pop up in from time to time. The look is like a slightly abstracted Fellini film which is reinforced by the costumes which put us firmly in post war Italy. In I due timidi there’s also a lot of yelling across streets and smooching on street corners which again conjures up the world of La strada or the scruffier bits of La dolce vita. It’s also quite stagily acted which suits and again avoids too much of an attempt at “realism”.
The casts are made up of singers no-one outside Italy is likely to have seen much of but they are certainly adequate. I particularly liked Giorgio Celenza as the neurotic (he’s back in the second half as the narrator). He’s quite convincing as an utterly crazy character. Daniele Adriani is also excellent as the Commendatore and in the very different role of Raimondo. Sabrina Cortese also pulls off two sharply contrasting roles. She’s both the sultry and scantily clad She in the first part and the timid and demure, but very pretty, Mariuccia in the second. She makes the most of her big aria too. The Reate Festival orchestra seems very at home with the scores and Gabriele Bonolis in the pit supports the comic timing nicely while delivering the full colour of the music.
Max Derevlanko directed the video. It’s all quite compact so he isn’t presented with any real difficulties and he does a very adequate job. It doesn’t place huge demands on the video quality either. It’s available as Blu-ray but the DVD version I watched was perfectly adequate. The sound too (Dolby 5.1 and LPCM stereo) is very good. There are no extras but the booklet is very informative about Rota as well as providing a track listing and synopses. Subtitles are English, French, German, Italian, Japanese and Korean.
I don’t think either of these works are exactly masterpieces but they are interesting. Comic operas are not that common in the modern opera world. Nor are new works in Italian. Indeed, it sometimes seems that Italian opera died with Puccini. Here’s further proof that that’s not. quite true.