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The Transformation of Hate into Love

Teatro Regio
01/21/2020 -  & January 23, 25, 26, 28, 2020
Erich Wolfgang Korngold: Violanta, Opus 8
Annemarie Kremer (Violanta), Michael Kupfer-Radecky (Simone Trovai), Norman Reinhardt (Alfonso), Peter Sonn (Giovanni Bracca), Soula Parassidis (Bice), Anna Maria Chiuri (Barbara), Joan Folqué (Matteo), Cristiano Olivieri (First soldier), Gabriel Alexander Wernick (Second soldier), Eugenia Braynova (First maid), Claudia De Pian (Second maid)
Chorus of Teatro Regio Torino, Andrea Secchi (chorus master), Orchestra of Teatro Regio Torino, Pinchas Steinberg (conductor)
Pier Luigi Pizzi (stage director, sets and costumes), Andrea Anfossi (lights)

(© Edoardo Piva/Teatro Regio Torino)

Written by the seventeen-year-old Erich Wolfgang Korngold, this short opera is truly a remarkable work. Premiered in 1916, it is also the ripe fruit of a declining Austro-Hungarian Empire two years prior to its demise. Vienna, even more than Paris, was the intellectual centre of Europe, and enjoyed an unmatched effervescence in music, literature, painting, philosophy and psychology.

This seventy-five minute work, performed in one act, recounts the story of Violanta, a fifteenth century Venetian noblewoman, determined to avenge her younger sister Nerina’s suicide following her seduction by the young Prince of Naples. Married to the dour Captain Simone Trovai, commander of the army of the Venetian Republic, she manages to convince her husband to be her accomplice using threats and manipulation.

As with most consuming passions, here the obsession ultimately consumes the obsessed. This end is desired, yet dreaded, for once achieved, there will be nothing left for the obsessed protagonist. Once the prince is in her chambers, Violanta reveals her identity and her intentions. Instead of resisting or even protesting, the Prince reveals his yearning for death and his unhappiness and ennui with his life of debauchery. Vengeance turns into compassion and hate turns into love. The Prince entreats Violanta to live for once in the moment. Violanta, the conservative wife of a dour military man and the dutiful sister of a seduced young girl, is perturbed. When Simone enters the room to murder the Prince, Violanta beseeches him to let him go, for she loves him. The infuriated Simone attempts to strike the Prince. Violanta interposes herself and is fatally stabbed in the process.

Although sharing similarities to Italian verismo, such as exacerbated passion and violence, this work is more refined. The boisterous opening music of festivities contrasts sharply with the divine final twenty minutes between Violanta and her sister’s seducer. There is some similarity with Die tote Stadt’s Marietta’s Song “Glück, das mir verlieb” in the rich melodic music of this extended duet. Both exude passion imbued with nostalgia, a sort of Viennese Schlag (cream). The cast for this production was impeccable, this goes for the three lead singers as well as the minor characters. Special mention is due for Anna Maria Chirui as Violanta’s nurse, Barbara. Her mezzo voice is warm and rich and contrasted well with Annemarie Kremer’s soprano. She was also a convincingly devoted nurse, a mother figure, that expressed warmth and love to a noblewoman living a dreary life and afflicted with the tragic loss of her sister. Tenor Peter Sonn as Giovanni Bracca, painter and friend of Simone Trovai, was a dashing bon vivant, exulting in the pleasures of Venice’s Carnival. His exuberance was convincing and pleasantly in sharp contrast to Simone Trovai’s rigidity. His bright tenor is appealing and one wished he had more to sing.

Baritone Michael Kupfer-Radecky as Captain Simone Trovai perfectly portrayed a tortured husband and a rigid man, incapable of spontaneity. He managed through his deportment and vocal authority to convey an authoritarian yet fragile character. Tenor Norman Reinhardt was perfectly cast for the role of the debauched prince. He emanates natural magnetism and charm that can convince one of Violanta’s volte-face. His lyric tenor is bright but slightly nasal. One would have wished for more squillo in his voice. His phrasing was admirable, especially the melting phrase “Reine Lieb, die ich suchte ein Leben lang... In Deinem Armen ist Leben und Tod”. Annemarie Kremer was an ideal Violanta, endowed with a powerful and beautiful instrument. Her voice is at ease in the many passages with high tessitura. Her diction is impeccable and she is able to poignantly put the emphasis where it should be. When telling her husband how she was able to approach and ensnare Alfonso, she phrases “Ich ging, ihn aufzuspüren wie den Luchs” (I tracked him down like a lynx) like a beast talking about stalking its prey. This was made even more evident by her sinewy body movements. Her transformation from avenging angel to vanquished victim of love was so well expressed by the change in her voice. A more metallic voice transformed to a warmer more fragile lyric voice once she realized she could no longer murder the prince and that she has always desired him.

Pinchas Steinberg’s musical direction was exemplary, especially in the opening scene and the scene preceding the arrival of the prince in Violanta’s chambers which both conveyed a foreboding sense of tragedy and doom. The final scene, the extended Violanta-Alfonso duet, was conducted with passion, and at several moments it felt positively Straussian, resembling the Ariadne-Bacchus duet in Ariadne auf Naxos.

Stage director Pier Luigi Pizzi chose to transpose the action to the early twentieth century with Arts Déco sets and costumes. This choice, close to the time of the work’s premiere, was most effective. The sparsely decorated house of Simone Trovai was overwhelmingly red, conveying the bottled-up passions of the characters. Violanta’s beautiful soirée dress was evocative of a glamorous silent-movie star. Gondolas were shuttling guests to the Trovai house through a huge round window. More than the original fifteenth century setting, this transposition seemed more appropriate, as it evoked the tragic atmosphere culminating in the upheaval of Europe following WWI. With Die tote Stadt given its belated premiere at La Scala last year and Teatro Regio’s production of the rarely performed Violanta, one hopes this could be the start of the popularization of Korngold’s operas beyond Austria and Germany.

Ossama el Naggar



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