OPERA NEWS - Two Women (La Ciociara)
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In Review > North America

Two Women (La Ciociara)

SAN FRANCISCO
San Francisco Opera
6/13/15

In Review SFO Two Women hdl 915
Shafer and Antonacci in Two Women at SFO
Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

IN INTERVIEWS leading up to San Francisco Opera’s world premiere of Two Women (La Ciociara), composer Marco Tutino described the opera as a work of neo-verismo. Tutino’s orchestral writing includes moments that attest to the composer’s admiration for the raw power of the great verismo works. But his opera, a coproduction of San Francisco Opera and Teatro Regio di Torino, emerged in its first performance, on June 13 at the War Memorial Opera House, as a predominantly bland assemblage of musical themes and dramaturgical devices; the lack of big, distinctive arias characteristic of Tutino’s Italian predecessors consistently undercut the composer’s stated mission.

The opera is based on the 1958 novel La Ciociara, by Alberto Moravia, which was also the inspiration for Vittorio De Sica’s 1960 film, Two Women, starring Sophia Loren. Tutino, who adapted the libretto with Fabio Ceresa from a script by Luca Rossi, centers on the character of Cesira, a World War II widow living in Rome with her teenage daughter, Rosetta. After Cesira is raped by Giovanni, a dealer in black-market goods, she and Rosetta flee the city for the mountain village of her youth. There she encounters townspeople suffering their own wartime privations and is befriended by the bookish pacifist Michele, who becomes her lover. Giovanni, who is collaborating with the Nazis, pursues her there, and a second rape occurs when Cesira and Rosetta fall into the hands of marauding Moroccan troops.  Rosetta, hardened by the assault, breaks with her mother, but the death of Michele signals a reconciliation — and the presumption of healing — for mother and daughter.

Tutino’s score is most deficient in defining character through music. His central characters are beleaguered but manage to reveal little of their inner lives. The orchestral writing summons turbulence in swelling orchestral waves and jolting percussion, but the “big moments” one might expect seldom arrive; just when it seems the composer is about to introduce an aria — or even a theme expressing specific emotions — he abandons his new musical idea after a few bars and hurries on to the next episode. The opera’s love story remains a tepid affair, expressed in a flower song sung by Michele. A duet for Cesira and Rosetta, which would seem the natural culmination of their shared trauma, never materializes. The result is a work that surprisingly lacks dramatic depth. The unfocused libretto serves to distance the characters further from the narrative, resisting coherence at nearly every opportunity.

Director Francesca Zambello strove for clarity, often overstating her case.  Peter J. Davison’s sets, atmospherically lit by Mark McCullough, with black-and-white film clips (projections by S. Katy Tucker) and period costumes by Jess Goldstein, effectively evoked Fascist Italy, but the tone of Zambello’s staging was occasionally jarring. An air raid collapsed the wall of Cesira’s shop midway through the initial rape — a rather farcical visual for the brutal act that sets the opera in motion. An uneasy mix of humor and menace also surfaced in Act II’s scene in the parlor of the Nazi collaborator Pasquale Sciortino, with German field marshal Fedor von Bock presiding over Michele’s arrest, as Sciortino’s mother, serving lunch, bustled through the scene like a domestic Sacristan.

SFO music director Nicola Luisotti, a Tutino champion who was instrumental in bringing the composer to San Francisco, conducted with unremitting fervor. The well-prepared chorus sounded unified, particularly in an Act I prayer for peace. The principal cast made a noble attempt to animate the largely one-dimensional characters. As Cesira, soprano Anna Caterina Antonacci sang with strength, unforced glamour and even projection throughout her range. Sarah Shafer deployed a large, refulgent soprano to often-radiant effect as Rosetta. Tenor Dmitri Pittas, in his company debut, introduced a warm lyric instrument in the role of Michele. Mark Delavan snarled convincingly as Giovanni, making the character a swinish, low-rent Scarpia, minus motivation and nuance. Christian Van Horn’s forceful Von Bock, Zanda Švēde’s piteous Lena, and Eddie Nelson’s attractive Buckley made small but essential contributions to the story. Pasquale Esposito, crooning as the Italian Singer, seemed to summon the ebullient hopes of the postwar generation. —Georgia Rowe 

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