Salvatore Sciarrino Returns to Myth in the Opera ‘Venere e Adone’

When baritone Evan Hughes agreed to sing the role of the boar in Salvatore Sciarino’s Venere et Adone, which premiered at the Hamburg State Opera on Saturday, he didn’t expect to be the star of the show. rice field.

In most of the operatic adaptations of the myth of Venus and Adonis, such as John Blow’s Venus and Adonis (1683) and Hans Werner Henze’s Venus and Adonis (1997), do the boar go silent? Eliminated. But in Venere and Adone, librettoed by Sciarino and Fabio Casadei Turoni, the boar, or monster, is not just a singing role, but the moral crux of the story.

In this version of the myth, monsters with five solo scenes don’t mean to harm Adonis. This creature hit by Cupid’s arrow immediately falls in love with the boy who is chasing him.

“I said yes to this project before I really understood that the monster was a sympathetic character,” Hughes said in an interview. “It’s only because of the outside world that he becomes violent.”

In an interview at his home in Città di Castello, Italy, he said: Sharrino, the 76-year-old said he considers the monster to be the most human character in “Venere e Adone”. At the beginning, the monster sings from a kind of existential dangling state, not knowing who he is or what he wants. Killing Adonis, who was hunting him, the monster thought he was caressing and kissing the most beautiful creature he had ever seen. Instead, he scars him to death.

“What life is to you is death to others,” said Sharrino. “It’s one of the keys to being in the world.”

“Venere e Adone” will be directed by Hamburg State Opera Music Director Kent Nagano and Artistic Director Georges Delnon. This is the first time for Nagano to conduct a Sharrino work, and although he has known Delnon for about 25 years, this is the first time for him to collaborate on a new opera.

The project began when Turroni, a 59-year-old writer and former tenor, approached Sciarino with a draft libretto based on the myth of Venus and Adonis by the Italian baroque poet Giambattista Marino.

Sciarino and Turoni began to meet frequently, often in bars near Bologna’s train station, to work out sentences together. (Drunken people can be a useful source of literary inspiration, according to Touroni, who also works as a bartender in Bologna.) They spent months tailoring it to their musical needs. The script for the final performance was extracted directly from the score.

“Venere e Adone” broadly follows the contours of mythology. Her love goddess Venus descended to earth to be with Adonis, infuriating her husband Maas. Adonis wants to prove to Venus that she is not only handsome but strong, and plans to go hunting for her. Venus discourages Adonis. Because of her irritability, he ignores her. In the fight, the boar pierces Adonis’ groin with her fangs.

In Ovid’s Metamorphoses, Adonis is turned into a flower by Venus as a memorial to her short-lived beauty. In Turoni and Sciarino’s version, both the beauty and the beast that kills him are transformed into this flower, becoming one with nature and with each other.

Venere und Adone is Sciarino’s fifteenth opera. His first work, Amore e Psyche, also had a mythological theme and was completed 50 years ago. In these works, Sciarino honed an unmistakable theatrical style with intimate, fragile, sparse, and clearly audible texts.

While some artists go through distinct periods, Sciarino has spent his career pursuing his own unique aesthetic. “We don’t really see radical departures or sudden explosions of experiments that have been going on for years,” Nagano said in a video interview. “Rather, I think this is about deepening and perhaps refining the language so that it is said in a more poetic way.”

“It’s impossible to be indifferent to a human voice,” Sharrino once said. Said brooklyn rail.

He added, “Using the voice means using two powers at the same time: words and music. Singing without words is as nonsense as building a wheelless car.” ”

Unlike operatic composers, whose orchestral music reflects both the conscious and unconscious emotions of their characters, Sciarino writes instrumental parts that evoke the environment. “Venere e Adone” has almost no accompanying music. Echoes echoing in secret, lonely bird calls, and windy breaths remind us of a bare earth.

“The music in this opera is very dry,” Sciarino said. “There is not much sound in this world, because it is an empty world.”

Vocals are also restrained on “Venere e Adone”. Singers glide down their voices to quickly fit the text into tune, or hold long, articulate notes to bloom short melismas.

Countertenor Randall Scotting, who plays Adonis, likened “Venere e Adone” to Emily Dickinson’s poem. “There’s a lot in it, but to understand it you have to think about it, interpret it, and take it in yourself,” he said.

Sciarino’s vocal style can be a challenge for the singer. Canadian mezzo-soprano Leila Clare, who played Venus, spent so much time walking around her house practicing her Italian tongue twisters that her two young daughters repeated snippets of the script. became.

“Once I started listening to Sciarino’s music, I realized it was a language I didn’t speak,” said baritone Hughes. “When I started working on this piece, I felt the same way I felt when I studied, sang, or learned a language I really didn’t understand.It was like trying to sing in Russian. ”

But Sciarino’s vocal style isn’t entirely unfamiliar. He is fascinated by Italian Renaissance and Baroque art and music. The walls of his house are covered with paintings, including a 17th-century depiction of Adonis and his mother Myrrh by an anonymous Venetian artist.

Sciarino himself was about to become a painter. His Renaissance and Baroque art influences will be evident in the premiere of his ‘Venere and Adne’. Dernon and his team hung a historical depiction of the myth of Venus and Adonis in the rehearsal space of the State Opera, adapting the painting’s stylized gestures for the stage. Set designer Varvara Timofeeva and costume designer Marie-Thérèse Jossen develop a sophisticated minimalist interplay of black, white, gray and blood red.

Dernon aims for the artificiality of baroque opera in his staging, rather than psychological realism. “You play it out in ways you don’t intend become character,” he said, “but I’m just trying to show character. “

“Venere e Adone” also contains music that sounds distinctly baroque. For Scotting, this is a rare blend of his early music and contemporary music. “There are ancient threads that tie everything together,” he said.

Sciarino also uses the Baroque metaphor of a choir narrating and commenting on the action. But while operas of the period often used choruses to superimpose a neat moral on the story, Sciarino deploys the vocal ensemble to a more obscure purpose. “Venere e Adone” ends with the question “Which will win, love or death?”

Here the monster is saved by cosmic forces. “It’s as if Sharrino is saying that the monsters will soon have their retribution, and that Adonis will be punished,” Dernon said.

Sharrino said the question was deliberately unreasonable and unanswerable. But he laughed and continued: “The truth is, love always wins. Or what we call love. That’s the power of words.”

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