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Noah’s Flood, 2050

Teatro Donizetti
11/17/2023 -  & November 25, December 3, 2023
Gaetano Donizetti: Il diluvio universale
Nahuel Di Pierro (Noè), Enea Scala (Cadmo), Giuliana Gianfaldoni (Sela), Nicolò Donini (Jafet), Maria Elena Pepi (Ada), Davide Zaccherini (Sem), Eduardo Martínez (Cam), Sabrina Gárdez (Tesbite), Erica Artina (Asfene), Sophie Burns (Abra), Wangmao Wang (Artoo)
Coro dell’Accademia Teatro alla Scala, Salvo Sgrò (chorus master), Orchestra Donizetti Opera, Riccardo Frizza (conductor)
MASBEDO (stage directors), 2050+ (sets), Sabino Civilleri & Manuela Lo Sicco (stage movements), Cinzia Mascheroni (costumes), Fiammetta Baldiserri (lighting), Mariano Furlani (visual dramaturgy)

(© Donizetti Opera)

In 1822, the impresario Barjaba summoned Donizetti to Naples in the hope of finding a successor to Rossini, who had abandoned the Teatro San Carlo (TSC) for greener pastures after numerous hits. His first output for the TSC, Alfredo il Grande (1823), which is also programmed for this year’s Donizetti Opera Festival, was a dismal flop. But the composer persisted with several subsequent works, including Elvida (1826), Gabriella di Vergy (1826), Il paria (1829), Elisabetta al castello di Kenilworth (1829) and I pazzi per progetto (1830), with varying degrees of success.

In 1830, he was commissioned by the TSC to write an azione tragico‑sacra, a sacred stage work, for Lent, in the vein of Rossini’s Mosè in Egitto (1818). There is much in common between the two works, namely the telling of a biblical story with an amorous side plot added for good measure. Indeed, the memorable ensemble piece “Dio tremendo, onnipossente” is uncomfortably reminiscent of Mosè in Egitto’s “Dal tuo stellato soglio.”

Like Rossini’s work, Il diluvio universale has a balanced cast dominated by a quartet of lead voices. The protagonists are Noah (or Noè); Cadmo, head of the Satraps of Sennàar who opposes Noah and leads a life of pleasure and indulgence; Sela, his wife, torn between her love for her husband and her belief in Noah’s God; and lastly Ada, Sela’s friend, who secretly desires Cadmo.

All four leads were brilliantly cast and faithfully served the music. Heading the cast was heartthrob Enea Scala, whose good looks and magnetism guaranteed the audience’s rapt attention. If that weren’t enough, he has a voice that matches his appearance. He roused the audience during his Act I aria “Ah perfida, a me spergiura,” where he expresses his rage on hearing Ada’s mendacious allegations of his wife’s infidelity with Jafet, Noah’s son. The aria in tempo di Walzer is as good as any of Donizetti’s best tenor arias.

Giulia Gianfaldoni, as Cadmo’s wife, is an excellent actor in addition to having a lovely high soprano Lirico. Given the conflictive choice she must make, she’s the most complex character of the opera. She glitters in its most tuneful aria, “Mentre il core abandonava.” The aria ends in a cabaletta “Perché nell’alma, in questo loco, provo una calma,” echoing Donizetti’s best. Sounding akin to amorous rapture, it’s in fact an expression of piety.

Argentinian bass Nahuel Di Pierro was Noè, the role written for the great Luigi Lablache (1794‑1858). Di Pierro brought the required gravitas for the role, with his powerful basso and imposing stage presence. His Act I invocation “In quell’arca rispettate” set the tone for an authoritarian patriarch. But in his Act I duet with Sela, “Quel che del ciel su i cardini,” he also showed Noè’s humanity and compassion.

As are two other soloists in the cast, Maria Elena Pepi, who portrays Ada, Sela’s perfidious friend and confidante who schemes to steal Cadmo, is in real life a student at Bottega Donizetti, a program for promising young singers. She was positively astounding with her warm mezzo and polished technique. She moves well onstage but perhaps overdid the sexy seductress routine, a forgivable excess. Remember the name, this young woman is going places.

This performance was a resounding success, as measured by the public’s enthusiastic applause. This was in vast contrast to what awaited the stage directors Nicolò Massazza and Jacopo Bedogni and their team. They were vehemently booed, perhaps deservedly. Throughout the performances, loud voices interjected “vergogna” (shame) and even obscenities. The reason was most likely the excessively grotesque images projected on video.

The opera is set in the near future, as the set designing outfit indicates 2050+. This terrifyingly close date indicates a radical political commitment as stated in the climate change pamphlets handed out by the young people outside the theatre. Videos of floods, volcanic eruptions, droughts and other natural calamities were warranted, but there were too many of them, distracting from the action, with the singers at times struggling for attention. More disturbing were the images of “still life” à la Caravaggio and Rubens, with more gratuitous imagery of festering decay, involving flies, worms and other vermin. One understands the ephemeral nature of Cadmo’s hedonism, but images of gutted fish and piglets, putrefaction and congealed blood are too disturbing for a night at the opera, thank you very much!

Given the excellence of the singers and the score’s high quality, this was indeed a missed opportunity. When will one get the chance to again experience this rare opera? For most people over a certain age, the answer is likely never, and that’s indeed a shame.

Ossama el Naggar



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