An Operatic Treatment of the Life of a Judge Murdered by the Mafia

06/05/2017

Nicola Sani – Falcone: Il tempo sospeso del volo: Soloists, Members of the Staatskapelle Berlin and the Orchestral Academy of the Staatskapelle Berlin / David Robert Coleman (conductor). Schillertheater: Werkstatt, Berlin, 4.5.2017. (MB)

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Nicola Sani’s Falcone: Il tempo sospeso del volo (c) Gianmarco Bresadola

Cast:

Giovanni Falcone – Andreas Macco
Judge, Chief Witness A.O. – Martin Gerke
Mafia Boss, Politician A.O. – Milcho Borovinov
Innocent Citizen, Great Writer A.O. – Udo Samel
Spectator, Colleague, Friend – Klaus Christian Schreiber
Vocal Quartet – Caroline Seibt, Isabelle Rejall, Friederike Harmsen, Nadia Steinhardt

Production:

Benjamin Korn (director)
Annika Haller (designs)
Sébastien Alazet (sound)
Georgi Krüger (lighting)
Benjamin Wäntig (dramaturgy)

A witty follow up to the Falkon of Die Frau ohne Schatten, recently performed in Claus Guth’s staging at the Staatsoper? No, this chamber opera by composer Nicola Santi and librettist Franco Ripa di Meana is very much rooted in ‘real life’, in this case, the story of the Sicilian prosecuting magistrate and judge, Giovanni Falcone, murdered in 1992 by the Mafia; as such, it is anything but a satyr play. In twenty-six scenes ‘and a finale’ (here marked, in Mahlerian fashion, ‘Abschied’, on the screens that showed titles for the offstage vocal quartet, but not for the characters onstage), we travel, at swift, almost ultra-filmic pace, through a hero’s life that is neither hagiographic in the common, if somewhat erring sense, nor ironic alla Strauss. There is a documentary quality to the action; we learn quite a bit, or presume we do, flitting between Palermo and Rome, an aeroplane set emerging out of the wall from time to time in Benjamin Korn’s spare, resourceful staging, those flight scenes more inward, Falcone’s writing in and reading from his diary lightly suggestive of what we might consider a metatheatrical standpoint. The brief intrusion of a television clip from the celebrated Maxi trial both underlines that quality and lightly questions it, the ‘real thing’ being clearly different from staged interpretation and reimagination. Likewise the bizarre, yet memorable, sudden appearance of real disco music – cheesy Italian pop, I cannot say more than that – in a scene in which Falcone, lonely even though in company, dances to the visual accompaniment of flashing lights.

That contrasts, of course, with Sani’s score: what seemed to me a skilful, if not, at least on a first hearing, especially individual blend of instrumental ensemble and electronics, performed with great conviction, insofar as I could tell, by players from the Staatskapelle Berlin, its academy, sound engineer Sébastien Alazet, and conductor David Robert Coleman. There are passages in which the music seems to ‘express’ something akin to what we see on stage, motivations behind it, reflections upon it, and so forth, others when greater autonomy is apparent; for the most part, however, it seems very much part and parcel of an approach that might be considered more ‘multimedia’ than traditionally operatic. The characters – of which only Falcone himself really stands out, other performers taking on a number of essentially situational roles – sing, speak, and do something more or less Sprechstimme-like: not all of them, for two (here, Udo Samel and Klaus Christian Schreiber) only spoke, actors seemingly quite at home in a world of musical drama. There is a real sense of company, of collaboration, formed around the excellent Andrea Macco in the title role. But it is perhaps the interventions from the equally excellent female vocal quartet, not entirely distant from the music of Nono (if Intolleranza, perhaps, rather than his later operas), that caught my ear more often in a more strictly vocal-cum-musical sense. Perhaps, though, the contrast, is the point; it certainly helps to make things a little less straightforward than they otherwise might be. I could not help but wonder whether the decision to eliminate female characters entirely from the stage action had been wise, but one should always be wary of criticising someone for not having written an entirely different work.

Il tempo sospeso del volo – perhaps a hint of both Nono and Dallapiccola – seems to have been the work’s actual title when premiered. Perhaps the catchier, less abstract Falcone – a touch of the television mini-series? – was held to make more sense for a foreign audience. Whatever the truth to such idle speculation, the work was given in German translation (by Korn, Serena Malcangi, and dramaturge, Benjamin Wäntig), in the small workshop theatre next door to the Staatsoper’s temporary home, the Schillertheater, and seemed to work pretty well in that new form, even if I could not help but wondering how it might have sounded in Italian. If I sound as though I am hesitant on a more critical level, that would be a fair observation. I was pleased to have seen and heard the piece, but was not quite sure what to make of it. That, I think, would require greater acquaintance. There are many worse things, though, one could say about a work of art than that. In any case, not every work is for the ages; that need not mean that it has nothing to say to us at a particular time. The Berlin State Opera’s offerings of new music in this ‘Werkstatt’ theatre are only to be commended, broadening our knowledge of a musico-dramatic scene of which we might otherwise know little or nothing.

Mark Berry

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