Success for Teneke by Fabio Vacchi at La Scala

09.23.07
Robert Spano
Il gionale della musica

Celebrations at La Scala following the world premiere of Teneke, the new opera by Fabio Vacchi. Anyone accustomed to his music will feel at home here, although they might be surprised by the accentuated dramatization generated by the orchestra, the violent or dreamy sonorities, and by some difficulties of timbre. As the complex musical structure unfolds, of immediate impact are the large choral frescos, including that of the twelve landowners (Teneke is actually a choral opera), that do not work as an interlude or comment but as a fully-fledged azione teatrale; this is especially true of the two female roles. Nemrin (the absent fiancée of the protagonist) is loving and steadfastly lucid, with ethereal vocalism, while Zeyno is strong and determined as she tackles impervious vocal explosions; both parts are performed by first-class singers Rachel Harnish and Anna Smirnova. Some aspects of the composition are more hidden and emerge with a second listening of the opera. The use of parody, for instance, to illustrate a tragic situation (sometimes with a waltz tempo), the aggressive Friulian chant that creates a moment of rebellion among the peasants led by Zeyno, the instant acceptance of totally made up rather than cited popular themes, or the elegant Rossinian style concertato at the opening of the third act. Roberto Abbado's conducting underlined every instance with analytical precision and emotive drive; he was perfectly backed by an orchestra in top form for the evening. In all this complexity, Pomodoro's sets are both central and complementary, consisting of a mountain-sculpture with terracing for the rice fields that overflow all of a sudden to create an impressive and beautiful waterfall. A dark parallelepiped at the centre serves as a meeting point, the home and office of the prefect, and a deposit for the goods and chattels saved from the flooding. It is a pity that the theatre did not allow the artist to make the final plastic metamorphosis intended for the finale of the opera (exclusively symphonic and principally structured on rhythm), consisting of a maelstrom of mud that was supposed to swallow everything up (the sketch can be seen in the programme). Olmi's production stuck closely to the plot, creating peasant by-plays, sometimes with a little immobility of the choral masses that was actually determined by the slope and impassability of the side of the mountain. The final scene with the Kurd holding a machine gun was both surprising and provocative: given that nobody respects the law anymore, there is nothing left to do but take up arms. A great show overall that was warmly welcomed by the public. This bodes well given that is a relatively difficult contemporary opera.