Cesira: Anna Caterina Antonacci
Rosetta, Cesira's daughter: Sarah Shafer
Michele, a young intellectual: Dimitri Pittas *
Giovanni: Mark Delavan
Composer: Marco Tutino *
Libretto: Marco Tutino and Fabio Ceres *
Conductor: Nicola Luisotti
Director: Francesca Zambello
First I want to get something off my chest. When you put ciociara into Google translate, it comes back two women. Now if you know any Italian at all, you know that two women is due donne. Ciociara means a woman from Ciociaria, an area of Italy somewhere east of Rome. Non e importante.
The opera La Ciociara by Marco Tutino makes every effort to keep this as Italian as possible. He is assisted in this effort by the entire technical crew. Films of Italy in WWII flash on the screen between scenes to provide us with a realistic context. The main set of a bombed out building could be in any old Italian town, but successfully suggests Sant' Eufemia, a town in the region of Italy where the heroine Cesira is from. She returns there when the invasion of Rome begins.
The uniforms of the various military groups--fascisti, Nazi, Moroccan, American and possibly English--look realistic. Bombs explode. This is an opera that will probably not survive any modernizing attempts since it is so firmly tied to a time and place.
There is also a definite effort to suggest Italian music, specifically Puccini, in the sound of the orchestra. We find ourselves in a post romantic world, with perhaps more complex orchestration than Puccini, perhaps a bit of Strauss in the sound. [On a second hearing I hear only vaguely modern movie music until about 3/4 of the way through when it definitely sounds like Puccini.]
This opera is firmly in the opera as tone poem school. The orchestra plays through every scene change and creates a sense of a giant, atmospheric work of serious drama. Luisotti conducts this marvelous tone poem masterfully. It is very beautiful.
The most successful in the cast at suggesting a real Italian is Anna Catarina Antonacci, the only real Italian in the cast, at least I assume. I think she has a beautiful figure which is only revealed on occasion. Dimitri Pittas was very successful at creating a sympathetic hero.
But opera isn't like a movie soundtrack where the music heightens the story playing out before us. In opera the emotion comes from the characters who are presented both theatrically and vocally. We need for the action to pause at critical points to allow the characters to reveal their inner lives through singing. This is what leaves us so full of emotion when their fates are finally played out before us. This is the heart and soul of opera and the reason why so few contemporary operas succeed in the long term. Who is this person to him or her self and why should we care about them? Singing is not merely a feature of the opera--it is the opera.
The story begins with bombing in Rome and extends until the successful allied invasion with all the accompanying violence of war. I have only seen the dress rehearsal and cannot comment fully on the singing. I will see a performance later in the week.
P.S. I have difficulty understanding the modern idea that opera is supposed to be like real life and portray historical events. This opera is too literally historical.
In the real opera performance Antonacci increased her intensity toward the end of the opera, creating a beautiful tension. I didn't mind seeing it twice.
I have to comment on the standard criticism which has accompanied this opera. People are complaining that they don't hear anything new. New music must always sound new. This is a very destructive idea. If you listen to music of the past, one generation is only slightly different from the one before it. Music moves forward in complexity for a while and then suddenly moves to simple. More valid would be to discuss the music as revealed by itself. With regard to this particular opera, only part of it successfully survived a second hearing.