Luigi Dallapiccola (1904-75) was the leader of the Italian musical avantgarde and had enormous influence on people like Nono and Berio. The Colón, wrongly, hasn´t seen fit not to offer us operas from the latter, but it has given us three of Dallapiccola: "Volo di notte" in 1959 and 1969, "Il prigioniero" in 1954 and 2000, and "Job" in 1964. Now we were presented with the double-bill of "Volo di notte" and "Il prigioniero" in three non-subscription performances. Excellent idea, although with more performances it should have been included in the subscription cycle, which only had seven titles.
"Volo di notte" is based on the Saint-Exupéry nouvelle "Vol de nuit", about the nocturnal flights of the pioneer Aéropostale based at an airport near our city; both he and Jean Mermoz were among the pilots that did those dangerous flights of the early 1930s, so the fiction is partly autobiographical. The libretto of this 1940 opera is by the composer and is centered on the opposition of Rivière, a man dedicated to his ideal of imposing nocturnal postal flights at a time when the post was essential in communications, and Madame Fabien, whose love for her husband pilot is paramount.
The pilot Pellerin comes from the Andes and tells of a great storm; Robineau, in charge of operations, is scolded by Rivière: no sentiments can be on the way of their task; and the Wireless operator tells us the messages, including the final anguished minutes of Fabien, who perishes when his plane is thrown by a cyclone into the Atlantic. And the choir reacts emotionally to events whilst Rivière remains adamant.
The music has twelve-tone elements but is expressive and strong; the orchestra is huge and alternates between chamber passages and others of tremendous tension and high decibels. I was much impressed by the dramatic projection and splendid voice of soprano Daniela Tabernig. Víctor Torres gave Rivière the adequate coldness but at times was swamped by the orchestra. Both tenor Carlos Ullán as Pellerin and bass Carlos Esquivel as Robineau did very well; Sergio Spina was too shouty as the Wireless operator but communicated the stress of the situation. Carolina Gómes showed fine timbre and line as the Internal Voice.
The Orchestra responded convincingly to Christian Baldini´s clear understanding of the complex music. The young Argentine conductor showed again his affinity with Twentieth Century idioms. And the choral work was powerful under the guidance of Miguel Martínez.
Initially the production seemed acceptable. The stage design of Luigi Scoglio is based on a three-storey tower at the right (the wireless in the third floor), a nondescript mass at the left, and joining both, a huge division between the chorus and the protagonists. Correct costumes by Ana Ramos Aguayo, inventive lighting by Bogumil Palewica and uncredited projections of planes and the sea.
But in the final minutes things start to fall apart in Michal Znaniecki´s production, for he absurdly mixes with the action the Madres de Plaza de Mayo, and during the interval the stage isn´t renovated. Fact is, there´s no relationship between "Volo di notte" and "Il prigioniero", a stark tale by Villiers de l´Isle-Adam, "The torture by hope", adapted by the composer. The prisoner is tortured by the Inquisition at the time of Philip II of Spain; he is given hope by the jailer, who turns out to be the Grand Inquisitor in the final minutes: the prisoner will be burned.
A completely uncalled-for choreography for dancers and acrobats by Diana Theocharidis runs counter to Dallapiccola´s own indications for the Mother´s monologue at the beginning: "a black curtain; only her white face, strongly lighted, becomes visible to the audience". The laterals remain as in "Volo di notte" but the center is occupied by a big cube that changes position in different scenes: in it is the jail.
After many other tergiversations, in the final minutes the Prisoner is supposed to embrace a cedar, for he believes he is free; from it emerge the arms of the Inquisitor; but not here, the Inquisitor is in the lateral tower with the same artifacts of the previous opera...
The intense music was admirably expressed and acted by baritone Leonardo Estévez and mezzo Adriana Mastrángelo, and tenor Fernando Chalabe was in fine form as Jailer/Inquisitor. Again Baldini was in full command and choir and orchestra responded in kind.