We went to see the opera Mirandolina on January 15 in Bologna. The libretto is adapted from a comedy by Goldoni, and the music is by Czech composer Boluslav Martinu. Since the Teatro Communale is being renovated (for the next 3-4 years), the opera was presented in another venue, a 10-minute walk for us instead of 2 minutes! Unfortunately, the Teatro Manzoni does not have a pit, so the singers had to negotiate a narrow stage area in front of the the orchestra. Martinu's rather beefy orchestra and fulsome orchestration meant that the excellent singers were often overpowered.
You might assume that a libretto drawn from a successful playwright like Goldoni would be a safe bet for a composer. In this case, the libretto is weak, and it sinks the opera. The title character is a woman innkeeper who is in love with another member of her class, Fabrizio; he happens to work for her. A pair of male aristocrats are in love with Mirandolina (or simply lust after her). She encourages and discourages them, trying to make Fabrizio jealous and (maybe) propose to her(?) The trouble with this is threefold: a) there really is nothing to keep Fabrizio and Mirandolina apart, b) the Mirandolina model of woman is a sexist construction and is vastly outdated, and c) there is not enough stage action - it isn't a farce, so everyone stands around doing silly, distracting things which aren't related to the spine of the story. Also, advice to opera composers: don't start the opera with a scene in which two characters talk about a third character for 10 minutes, then have the main character wander onstage for no discernible reason.
The music was lively and sometimes funny, and the musical performance was very good. I especially enjoyed an orchestral set-piece which formed a prelude to the third act. It's a bit odd to have a kind of overture in the middle, but it was fun.
Last night we went to see Pelleas and Melisande in Modena, at the Pavarotti-Freni theater, a real opera house with a pit, which meant that the voices always stood out clearly. The singers were again excellent, though we didn't like the vocal habits of the Melisande very much. It hadn't occurred to me before last night that Melisande is pregnant throughout the later scenes, and I'm glad that the staging showed that. The acting, costumes, and sets were appropriately atmospheric, though every major character wore a white wig, even Pelleas! We didn't like the wigs. There was also a scene of gratuitous nudity during an orchestral interlude after the first scene. We think we understand why they did it, but the nudity was completely unnecessary to the plot point.
Carping aside, it was wonderful to see this most singular and original opera. It really is moving at the end when, in his grief, Arkel sums up the life and character of Melisande. In fact, in this production, Arkel seems to be the moral/spiritual foundation of the dark world, while Pelleas at times seems to be breaking free into daylight. And Debussy's music just can't be beat. I had forgotten how much fast music there is; it is not all languid languishing in the gloom. It's a great opera.