Elvio Giudici – Opera. History, Theatre, Direction, 17th, 18th and 19th centuries

Published by Il Saggiatore, 2016-17

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Essentials, Must Haves, unforgettables, fundamentals: four adjectives are not enough to describe all the five volumes of the monumental and cyclopic work of Elvio Giudici, published by Saggiatore (il Giornale della Musica)

Seventeenth-century opera was for centuries synonymous with pompous performances with singers weighed down by lace, wigs, farthingales and cloaks, which prevented them from moving naturally and made them look like old dolls, with their arms thrust forward and their hands pressed against their hearts or reaching for the heavens. The art of acting was sacrificed on the ancient altar of what would actually matter in the opera, the voice: the arias could reach extreme heights of virtuosity, but the essence of the opera was lost. Then came directors such as Peter Sellars, Willy Decker, Richard Jones, Robert Carsen and David McVicar and they persuaded even the most reluctant audiences that opera – and particularly Baroque opera – is first and foremost theatre, with its cynical plots for power, its contradictory and ambiguous affairs, held together by the dominant cypher of irony.

And the 18th century, the century of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, a century of court balls and revolutions, is a formidable lens through which to observe personal relations, private and public power games, loves and hates. Yesterday like today. Once the powdered wigs, the gallantries and the Anglo-Viennese elegance that paralysed the opera up until the Eighties had been stashed away in the attic, even Mozart could come back to life. Peter Sellars demonstrated it in his New York production of Don Giovanni, uncovering all the violence that lies beneath this masterpiece and, indeed, mankind. Damiano Michieletto’s Nozze di Figaro also demonstrated it to us: the Countess, after graciously answering the Count, who begs her forgiveness for failing yet again, smiles to herself with infinite, desperate, heartrending sweetness as she understands that that supreme good that is love perhaps does not exist.

Finally, the 19th century: Elvio Giudici’s monumental history of opera and of its performances recounts the power of the works that, although written two centuries ago, are still very much alive. Each opera is reviewed one by one and the narration concentrates on the beating heart – the production and interpretation of the performances. It is the close complicity between the director and the conductor that creates the masterpiece and it is when the gesture on stage evokes the music and vice versa that the opera acquires its most profound artistic and human sense. With untiring passion and critical inspiration, Giudici urges the “impresarios” to abandon – and the audience to demand that they be abandoned – the more or less lavish costumes, the more or less spectacular scenes, the more or less oceanic mass parades, to concentrate on the acting and on the relationships between the characters. And present on these pages are all the great directors, conductors and singers who, since the post-war period have ferried 19th-century opera to ever new horizons, which each time light up feelings of enthusiasm and bitter differences, proof of an unstoppable vitality. And thanks to productions such as Carmen by Emma Dante and Barenboim, Tcherniakov and Noseda’s Prince Igor, the Barber of Seville of Leiser & Caurier with Pappano, Norma of Michieletti and Antonini – with a Magnani-style neorealist Bartoli – the miracle of the opera continues to be renewed.

Elvio Giudici after graduating in Biology at Università degli Studi di Milano, he started working as a researcher and professor in the same university. Her subsequent carrier was divided between working as a professor and being a musical critic. In fact, Giudici wrote as a contributor for many magazines such as Musica, Classic Voice, L’opera and Il Giorno. Following the path of Rodolfo Celletti, an important Italian critic, Giudici is the author of “L’Opera” (“The Opera”) in CD and Video formats but, unlike his predecessor, he curated every edition. In 2012 Giudici published his second book “Il Teatro di Verdi in scena” (“Verdi’s Thetare on air”) available also in DVD where he analysed approximately 180 video. Elvio Giudici wrote also about the history of the opera among the centuries: between the years 2016 and 2018 he published four essays dedicated to the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries followed by a the one about the 20th century. Giudici is currently a contributor of the online magazine Operaclick.