Noilly Prattle: tragedia lirica, serata indimenticabile

Saturday, September 13, 2014

tragedia lirica, serata indimenticabile

Musica a Palazzo (Promo video)

     Sometimes, when you least expect it, something extraordinary happens.

       That was the case with a performance of Verdi's Rigoletto, the court jester to a 16th Century Duke of Mantua, staged in an old palazzo in Venice. Like most of Verdi's operas, Rigoletto is a tragedy in the Greek sense of the word—the hunchbacked protagonist has a fatal flaw (an acid tongue) that leads inexorably to a tragic end. It's a story of blowback—malediction and revenge ... and some beautiful music that makes the tragedy, if not acceptable, at least bearable.

       But why was this performance something unexpectedly delightful?

Palazzo Barbariga Minoto - square of light in background
       We learned about something called “Musica a Palazzo” while searching for music options in Venice on the Internet while we are here. My first thought was that it was some kind of tourist trap putting on inferior music in powdered wigs as you can often find in Vienna. We searched out the venue one day, the Palazzo Barbarigo Minoto, and found that it was in an obscure alley with no indication that there was anything going on there. Since we were already there, I decided to walk the short distance down the alley and, luckily, bumped into a man coming out of a door who acknowledged that this was, in fact, the venue for “Musica a Palazzo” when I asked him.

entrance hall
       We decided to give it a try and discovered that getting tickets could be a rather complex affair. There are a couple of ways to get tickets. One is simply to use a ticketing agency and pay 78 Euro for a one-off ticket by credit card—the easy route. The other is to fill out a membership application for 70 Euro (you can either download one and print it out, or you can fill one out at the box office before the performance), and pay in cash. We downloaded and filled out the application at home and saved time at the box office. The astonishing thing, we discovered, is that a membership of 70 Euro allows you to attend other performances at no extra cost.

audience members awaiting the start of the performance
       The opera, cut to fit the venue, is staged in three rooms of the palazzo with the small (around 50 people) audience sitting right in the room with the 4-piece ensemble and the singers. It is a unique experience of being not just at the opera, but, in a sense, in it. The audience members can be used to fill in for the large number of chorus and extras that you would normally find in a conventional opera house. So, that, for example, the baritone in the title role, sang directly to a man in the audience as if he were a character (Marullo) in the opera.

Rigoletto - the baritone
       The word that echoes in my mind as I recall the experience of being “in the opera” is “intense”. The relatively small size (it is a palazzo, after all) of each room and the intimacy of close proximity to the performers forces you to feel the emotion and passion at an almost intolerably close range—like being caught in a crossfire I imagine. The ensemble (piano and three strings) were superb in adapting what is an orchestral score that left nothing lacking in the lyricism and drama of Verdi's music. And, the baritone (whose name I don't know, they don't publish the names of the cast) was one of the best Rigoletto interpreters I've heard—a superb actor wed to a rich warm-toned yet powerful voice, versatile in its range from mockery to pity and pleading and, ultimately, despair at the murder of his own daughter. A thoroughly moving and shattering performance by a true yet unsung artist.

       There is a short intermission at which guests are encouraged to sample the wine (at no extra cost) and enjoy the evening view of the Grand Canal from the windows. You can see the Peggy Guggenheim Collection across the canal and, if you lean out a bit, you can see the floodlit Santa Maria de la Salute church on your left.

bass and soprano

cast doing their bows - soprano, baritone,
mezo-soprano, tenor (behind)

at Musica a Palazzo

       If you like good music and drama, you won't go wrong to give Musica a Palazzo a visit and you will experience something different from the classic opera house. Since we have a membership we plan to attend the rest of the shows in the repertoire, all for the price of 70 Euros. Going to see Verdi's La traviata today. It's one of the best deals in Venice.

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