Re Teodoro in Venezia

Financial Times 23 July 1992

EVER since Hans Werner Henze founded the Montepulciano Cantiere Internazionale d'Arte in 1976, he has been fighting strenuously to keep people from calling it a festival.

It is an uphill battle, not least because cantiere resists translation, though the awkward work-site comes closest. Henze is right. In Montepulciano there exists a special, fruitful relationship between town and Cantiere. The audience has little of the glitter of, say, Spoleto. Although there are sponsors (BMW notably), there are no signs of commercialisation. The youth of the performers, the presence of students, establishes a campus, summer-school atmosphere.

And yet, the townspeople and visitors who continue to call this a Festival are right, too, if by festival is meant special place and time for special cultural events.

This year's opening work was Paisiello's Re Teodoro in Venezia in a version devised by Henze himself, scored for a small orchestra made up of students from the Royal Northern College of Music and a group of young Germans mostly from Munich.

Paisiello's comic opera is a work of great charm, and Henze's revision retains all of the comedy, enhances Paisiello's affecting vocal writing, and adds a good deal of fun on its own.

Henze has allowed himself total freedom, in particular, with the recitatives, in which the piano plays a preeminent role. The director Lorenzo Mariani worked closely with Henze, so music and production were ideally blended.

At the Burgtheater in Vienna, Paisiello must have had a superlative cast for the premiere of Re Teodoro; true to its tradition, Montepulciano used young and virtually unknown singers, but what they lacked in vocal expertise they made up for in verve. Actually,the soprano Patrizia Ciofi, who has only recently made her debut, is a genuine find: the voice is agile and true, but not icy. She also possesses a confident stage presence.

The mezzo-soprano, Paola Roman, got up as Marilyn Monroe (or as Madonna got up as MM), acted with bravado, but her singing was unexciting. The same could be said of Piero Guarnera, the Teodoro, though he made something positive of his part. Despite occasionally unintelligible enunciation, Alessando Svab, as Taddeo, the buffo innkeeper, displayed an appealing voice and a welcome sense of humour.

The young conductor Giuseppe Mega, a Montepulciano regular, kept stage and pit together, and his little orchestra played with great style. Mariani's final gag - a shower of fake money - had the older members of the audience applauding heartily while the children scrambled around collecting the banknotes.

For Henze and the performers it may have been a work-site, but for everyone else it was a festa.

Article: "Henze's Montepulciano" By William Weaver


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