Malipiero’s vast output includes 17 symphonies, 8 string
quartets, a huge amount of orchestral music, many concertos as well
as 35 operas, most of which are still little-known nowadays. Malipiero’s
operas are rarely heard, let alone recorded, though they may be considered
as his most original achievements. His desire to free opera from superficial
verismo led him to make a drastic reassessment of the dramatic
concepts in his own stage works. He thus gave up the principle of narrative
continuity in favour of a free dramatic form which has often been referred
to as "panel structure". His first significant stage work
is the triptych L’Orfeide (first performed in 1925) of
which the central panel is the epoch-making Sette Canzoni
of 1918. (The other panels are La Morte delle Maschere
and Orfeo.) The basic idea of unconnected or unrelated
episodes which forms the very core of Sette Canzoni is
carried forward into other stage works such as Torneo Notturno
Several operas were composed during the fascist period:
La Favola del Figlio Cambiato (1932/3), Giulio Cesare
(1934/5) after Shakespeare and Malipiero’s only "traditional"
opera (and also the only one having an overtly political meaning), La
Vita è Sogno (1940/1) and I Capricci di Callot
(1942). It seems that Malipiero’s attitude during the fascist period
in Italy was rather ambiguous, as was the younger Petrassi’s. (Malipiero’s
and Petrassi’s attitude changed radically when the German troops settled
in Italy.) With the possible exception of Giulio Cesare,
the other operas of that period tended to avoid any direct allusions
to the political or social realities of the time. By reviving the use
of the masks of the Commedia dell’Arte, as in the prologue of
I Capricci di Callot, the composer conjures up an unreal,
artificial world with very little direct concern for, and much oblique
reference to, reality. (Masks often feature in Malipiero’s work, e.g.
La Morte delle Maschere or the piano suite Maschere
che pasano of 1918.) In I Capricci di Callot,
"the grotesque, the bizarre and the disturbing prevail" (Andreas
Meyer). Indeed the libretto by the composer may contain allusions that
were quite obvious for Malipiero’s contemporaries, much less so for
present-day listeners, though they may not be that relevant to our appreciation
of the work as music.
I Capricci di Callot, subtitled Commedia
en tre atti e prologo, is based on E.T.A. Hoffmann’s tale Prinzessin
Brambilla modelled on Callot’s etchings Balli di Sfessania
featuring grotesque figures of the Commedia dell’Arte. (Walter
Braunfels’ comic opera of the same title was premièred in Stuttgart
in 1909 and prompted Busoni to compose his own Brautwahl
based on another tale by Hoffmann.) Malipiero however admitted that
he considerably departed from Hoffmann’s capriccio while devising his
I Capricci is a typical Malipiero opera
in that its structure considerably differs from any traditional scheme.
It opens with a seven-minute long orchestral Introduzione followed
by a ten-minute long Prologo in the form of a pantomime in which
many characters of the Commedia dell’Arte are featured and which
does not seem to have any relevance to the rest of the play. It may
simply mean that the actual play is but a dream. The plot, if such there
really is, is fairly simple in outline though it includes a good deal
of ambiguities and avatars. Giacinta, a poor seamstress, dreams that
she is a princess whereas her lover Giglio, a mediocre actor, dreams
that he is the Prince (i.e. the part he always wanted to play but never
did). Both are caught up by their dreams and carried away from reality.
Giglio, as the Prince, must free the Princess. Giacinta, dismayed that
he might love another girl, leaves him. Act 2 opens with another long
orchestral introduction depicting the carnival taking place in the city.
Everyone wears a mask: Giacinta as the Princess, the Charlatan (in reality
he is the Prince), the Doctor (i.e. the old Beatrice). Beatrice tells
Giglio that Giacinta is in jail because of him, while the Charlatan
appeases him by showing him Giacinta at a window of the palace. Giglio
hurries to her but is stopped by the Poet who wants to read his last
drama especially written for him. Giglio falls asleep and the enraged
Poet summons the people to beat Giglio who is taken into the palace.
Act 3 is in two scenes separated by a long orchestral interlude Danza
funebre in morte di una bambola (a funeral march for whom? For what?
We are not really told). In the first scene, an old man reads the story
of Princess Militis (who is she really?) whereas Giglio slowly wakes
up, catches a glimpse of Giacinta who disappears again. After the interlude,
back in the dressmaker’s basement. Giacinta is still looking for the
Prince. Giglio reproaches her for her doubts about his faithfulness.
They are at long last reconciled and get married. The Poet and the Charlatan
reappear followed by Callot’s masks, and all join in a final ensemble
"Everyone has believed in the truth which this
story relates with borrowed words".
Malipiero has been blamed for writing a comedy completely
at odds with the realities of war in much the same way as Poulenc when
he composed his burlesque opera Les Mamelles de Tirésias
in 1944. But it is fairly evident that Malipiero’s masks were a way
to hint at the situation in Italy without running the risk of some official
reaction on the regime’s part. But, after all, the most important thing,
by which any opera succeeds or fails, is the music. That of I
Capricci di Callot is simply superb and shows Malipiero at his
best and at his most richly melodic. The score abounds with beautiful
arias (each main character has his/her moment of glory) and ensembles,
whereas the orchestra – a major protagonist, always present but never
drowning the voices – literally shines throughout. Malipiero’s lyricism
expresses itself generously, often in quite simple but telling terms
without ever falling into the trap of sentimentality. The whole score
of the opera is a real miracle.
I must confess that all the singers here are completely
unknown to me, but I have been – and still am – quite impressed by their
achievement. Martina Winter as Giacinta and Gro Bente Kjellevold as
the Old Beatrice steal the show, but each of the soloists is excellent
and the Kiel Philharmonic Orchestra in great form support them with
obvious enjoyment and prove themselves a very fine body of players.
Peter Marschik conducts a vital, committed reading of a score he obviously
loves. This is a live recording but you would never guess it given the
quality of the audience’s silence and the absence of any distracting
stage noises. A magnificent piece, excellent performance, very fine
recorded sound and outstanding production with generous and most informative
notes by Andreas Meyer and Tilman Schlömp.
At the start of the enthusiastic applause greeting
this performance, someone is heard shouting Bellissimo!. There
is really nothing to add to this. Warmly recommended. The finest operatic
recording I have recently heard.