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Porrino: I Shardana

DVD Button Marrocu, Palomba, Ledda; Signorini, Villari, Ruggeri, Balzani, Mangione; Orchestra and Chorus of Fondazione Teatro Lirico di Cagliari, Bramall. Production: Livermore. Dynamic 37683, 114 mins., subtitled

Recordings Shardana Cover 1015

TEATRO LIRICO di Cagliari, where this world-premiere recording of Ennio Porrino’s 1949 I Shardana was filmed, was a most appropriate venue: Porrino was born in Cagliari, the capitol of Sardinia, and his opera is an imaginative resurrection of the island’s ancient culture. Taking as his inspiration the seven thousand megalithic nuraghes scattered across Sardinia, Porrino fashioned a mythic tale of the Bronze Age Nuragic people who built these mysterious stone structures, starting in the second millennium BCE.

While the subject material is original, Porrino’s libretto attempts Shakespearean gravitas but falls into operatic stereotypes. Torbeno, son of the Nuragic chief Gonnario, secretly runs off with his foreign lover, the Medea-like Bèrbera Jonia, whose people are enemies of the Nuragics. Torbeno leads the foreigners in an attack on his father’s warriors, but both he and Bèrbera Jonia are captured and put to death. Wallowing in guilt over the execution of his own son, Gonnario is visited by the ghosts
of the dead lovers, who comfort him. The opera ends with a choral hymn to the island, led by the bard Perdu.

Though his Italian contemporaries were turning to serialism and other postwar modernisms, Porrino sought to continue the Italian lyric tradition handed down from his teacher, Respighi. Puccini is an obvious influence on I Shardana — the choral numbers recall Turandot (the chorus even chants “il nome” at one point), and the two love duets between Torbeno and Bèrbera Jonia could have been taken from Tosca. However, Porrino does provide some Stravinskian primitivism in the form of a pagan dance
accompanied by pounding, primeval ostinatos. Inflections of Sardinian folk singing are musically interesting, but overall the score is derivative and sappy.

Director Davide Livermore incorporated everything he could to make the work more attractive, from bare-breasted, mud-covered dancers to a wild,
orgiastic scene complete with dry humping. Apart from these somewhat sleazy elements, there were some intelligent production decisions. Videos of blood-red seas by design company D-Wok add a cinematic quality; in one video, collapsed nuraghes are magically rebuilt, stone by stone, under a starry sky. Ancient Nuragic figurines of warriors and boats, enlarged to life-size, are fascinating additions to the craggy, rotating set by Giò Forma Production Design.

Conductor Anthony Bramall pushed the all-Italian cast into overly forced singing. The chorus sounds strained, and the soloists have to scream their parts over the orchestra. As a result, soprano Paoletta Marrocu, as Bèrbera Jonia, is consistently sharp in her duets with tenor Angelo Villari, as Torbeno, who doesn’t fare much better. Gabriele Mangione, as the bard Perdu, diplays a lovely tenor voice, but he isn’t flexible enough to maneuver the little Sardinian-inspired melismas that Porrino wrote into the part. He could take a lesson from guest folksinger Elena Ledda, who performs a hauntingly beautiful Sardinian lullaby as a welcome supplement to Porrino’s score. —Joe Cadagin

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