Turin `Ulisse' bored the ear, bedazzled the eye
Ulysses found himself in a sea of troubles recently when the late Luigi Dallapiccola's opera, ``Ulisse,'' opened here at the Teatro Regio. Shorn of ingratiating musical lines to sing, and burdened with a text that was both too long and too complicated to understand, Ulysses was cast ashore among some of the most controversial staging this rather liberal country has ever seen. Hindered by musical complexity ...Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
As revealed in this new production, which played through Dec. 21, Dallapiccola's musical score is highly structured throughout, both vocal lines and orchestral harmonies being based on the principles of 12-tone music. (While atonal music - that is, music without a tonal center or ``key'' - has been around for almost three-quarters of a century now, audiences in general and operagoers in particular have still not taken its style and technique to heart.)
One could argue that such writing seems effective and appropriate for moments of great conflict and turmoil, or scenes of the grotesque, but it hardly suggests the tranquil or amorous element. Thus, musically, the score of ``Ulisse'' is most effective during the scene in Hades, and the ultimate scene in which Ulysses confronts and kills Penelope's many suitors. It is least effective for solo arias (Calypso's ``Son soli, un'altra volta'' comes to mind), or in moments of passion (Circe's ``Ilmare'' is a good example). Vocal lines built out of tone rows tax the musicianship of soloists to the utmost, and leave the audience hungering for a memorable tune they can hum.
```Ulisse' is the sum of my life's work,'' Dallapiccola told reporters in 1968 just before the opera's premi`ere at the Deutsche Oper in Berlin. Indeed, the legend of this ruler of Ithaca held a fascination for the composer from his early youth.
Dallapiccola elected to write his own libretto for the opera. Although he based it on Homer's ``Odyssey,'' he included excerpts and ideas from both Dante and the late 19th-century Italian poet Giovanni Pascoli. He also included philosophical musings of such diverse authors as James Joyce and Thomas Mann.
But Dallapiccola tried to present too vast a panorama. The ``Odyssey'' is too great in scope and detail to reduce to the dimensions of one evening of opera.
Dallapiccola's text not only includes scenes from all 10 years of sailing, but it also begins with a prologue that takes place before the 10-year voyage (at that moment in the legend when Ulysses refuses Calypso's offer of eternal youth). Then, Dallapiccola appends an epilogue that takes place after Ulysses has returned home to Ithaca. In it the composer waxes philosophical and suggests that Ulysses is one of literature's great wandering figures, a solitary, lonely individual eternally in search. But in search of what? For peace, the composer suggests, who then depicts the aged hero finally discovering it in a sense of the divine.
To further complicate matters, the composer specifies that, in several cases, two roles are to be sung by the same soloist, his idea being that one acts as a foil for the other: Calypso for Penelope, for example, or Circe for Melanto. ... rescued by brilliant staging