Opera 'Signor Goldoni' Surprises With English

Opera buffs expecting a traditional opera at the world premiere of Signor Goldoni were surprised with English. The opera marks the third centennial of the birth of one of Venice's favorite sons, Carlo Goldoni. The venerable Venice opera house La Fenice commissioned the work.

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ANDREA SEABROOK, host:

Okay. Back in the studio.

This year is the third centennial of the birth of Carlo Goldoni, a celebrated 18th-century Venetian playwright. To mark the event, the venerable Venice opera house La Fenice commissioned a brand-new opera in honor of one of the city's favorite sons.

NPR's Sylvia Poggioli attended the world premier and found that opera buffs expecting traditional Italian opera were in for a surprise.

SYLVIA POGGIOLI: "Signor Goldoni" is a comic opera in two acts by the composer Luca Mosca - and it's filled with mimes and magic.

(Soundbite of opera music)

POGGIOLI: As in most opera (unintelligible), the plotline, with its improbable duels and mistaken identities, requires a willing suspension of disbelief.

(Soundbite of opera music)

POGGIOLI: The setting is today. It's the last night of carnival. And the angel Rafael grants Goldoni a chance to come back to earth to revisit his native city. At a masked ball in a Venetian palazzo, Goldoni encounters revelers wearing masks.

There were even two of Shakespeare's Venetians "Othello" and "Desdemona," as well as two of Goldonis characters, Miran Dolina(ph), and the Comedia dell' Arte's most famous mask, Harlequino(ph). It's this harlequin who invites the guests to take part in an evening of dance and feasting.

(Soundbite of opera music)

Unidentified Man (As Actor): (As Harlequino) (Unintelligible)

POGGIOLI: Members of the audience with a keen ear were able to discern that the words were in English. The British, Jean Luigi(ph), who writes poetry in English says that, after all, Goldoni himself wrote many of his plays in French.

Mr. JEAN LUIGI (Poet): That time French was the common language, or the lingua franca in Europe. So now, English is the lingua franca of the world.

POGGIOLI: The composer Mosca says he did not want the words in his native Italian because he likes the sound of English and it's more suited to his music.

Mr. LUCA MOSCA (Composer, "Signor Goldoni"): (Through translator) I discovered a language that has very short words - one or two syllables - the opposite of Italian, which always had more syllables than I need. I don't write a lot of legato - smooth and gliding notes. English is better and it inspires me tremendously because I write staccato.

(Soundbite of opera music)

Unidentified Woman (Actor): (Singing) (unintelligible)

POGGIOLI: In this play within a play, musicians on stage played bayan accordions, (unintelligible), mandolins and guitars. The score ranges from faux Baroque to Middle Eastern (unintelligible) and pays homage to Stravinsky's "The Rake's Progress," which also had its world premiere here at La Fenice.

(Soundbite of opera music)

POGGIOLI: Like composers of centuries past, and unlike most of his contemporaries, Mosca had the opportunity to write knowing beforehand exactly who would sing these notes. One aria for a coloratura soprano was tailored to the voice of Canadian singer Barbara Hannigan.

(Soundbite of opera music)

Mr. BARBARA HANNIGAN (Actor): (As Character) (Singing) (unintelligible)

POGGIOLI: Playing the character Despina, borrowed from Mozart's "Cosi Fan Tutte," she demands a hot number that goes beyond one, two, three. And singing a long string numbers, Hannigan gave a bravura performance.

(Soundbite of opera music)

POGGIOLI: Despite their reputation as opera purists, the audience at La Fenice gave the performers, composer and librettist of "Signor Goldoni" a 10-minute standing ovation.

(Soundbite of applause)

POGGIOLI: Sylvia Poggioli, NPR News.

(Soundbite of applause)

SEABROOK: And finally today, these parting words for you from Shakespeare's "Macbeth."

I would applaud thee to the very echo that should applaud again. We hope to earn your applause as we make radio here. '

It is such a personal medium. Though lots of you are listening, it's also just me and you here.

It's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Andrea Seabrook.

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