Just once at the Arena
4 April 2017
Angela Bosetto (25 articles)
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Just once at the Arena

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When the first time is also the only time: here are the operas that were only performed during a single season at the Arena, never to be seen again. Or at least not yet.

When one speaks of operas at the Arena, there are various categories: the unmissable (Aida, Carmen, Nabucco, Turandot, Tosca, Rigoletto), the evergreens (The Traviata, La bohème, Madama Butterfly, The Barber of Seville, Il trovatore), those that have overcome the stumbling block of 2000 (Romeo and Juliet, La Giocanda, La Forza del Destino, Un ballo in maschera, and the diptych Cavalleria rusticanaPagliacci) and those that, instead, seem to belong only to past opera season (titles such as Mefistofele, Norma, Otello, Andrea Chénier, Don Carlo and Lucia di Lammermoor – just to name a few – that have not appeared on the bill for several years).

However, there is another category, perhaps thought of less, but not for a lack of importance, namely those that appeared on the amphitheatre’s stage for only one summer without ever returning. From this category, the record belongs to Martha by Friedrich von Flotlow (only two performances in 1929, despite the presence of the star Benjamin Gigli) and to Fidelio by Ludwig van Beethoven (performed in concert on August 18, 1986), but the list is long and full of unexpected titles.

The first unique example was Il Figliuol Prodigo, an unacknowledged drama of biblical inspiration by Amilcare Ponchielli, which was given the task of being the first post-war opera in 1919. Thanks to the baton of Ettore Panizza, it experienced great success and its seventeen performances were a season high that only the “queen” Aida came close to challenging, in 2013, but with the help of two different casts. In 1921 Il Piccolo Marat by Pietro Mascagni had its turn with Hipólito Lázaro in the lead role, after having directed the debut at the Teatro Costanzi in Rome on May 2.

The famous Spanish tenor would be back in the Arena in 1929 with another opera by Mascagni, Isabel, but, despite the audience enjoying it, in both cases there was never another performance. Jules Massenet, from France, had the same destiny when performing in, firstly, Le Roi de Lahore in 1923, then Manon in 1951 (with Magda Olivero and Giuseppe di Stefano as the protagonists and directed by Francesco Molnari Pradelli). It did not go any better for Manon Lescaut by Giacomo Puccini, performed in 1970 by Olivero (Raina Kabaivanska as alternate), coupled with the young Plácido Domingo and directed by Nello Santi.

Other shows that only lasted one season are Mosè (1925) and Guglielmo Tell (1931) by Gioachino Rossini, Nerone by Arrigo Boito (1926), La Vestale by Gaspare Spontini (1927), L’Africaine (1932) and Les Huguenots (1933) by Giacomo Meyerbeer (with Beniamino Gigli and Giacomo Lauri Volpi respectively, as the protagonists), Loreley by Alfredo Catalani (1935), Giulietta e Romeo by Riccardo Zandonai (who directed in person in 1939), and Les Pêcheurs de Perles by Georges Bizet (1950), which was seen by, among others, Elizabeth Taylor, who attracted everyone’s attention while entering the Arena on the arm of her first husband, Conrad Hilton Jr.. The only world premiere presented in the amphitheatre in 1952, L’incantesimo by Italo Montemezzi, did not have much longevity either, having to compete with the triumphant return of Maria Callas in Gioconda and in The traviata. Similarly, in 1999, the operetta Die lustige Witwe, by Franz Lehár, would be especially remembered as the farewell of the late director and set designer Beni Montresor. Another historic event was the staging of L’elisir d’amore, directed by Tullio Serafin in 1936. For three unforgettable, and unrepeated, evenings it enchanted the audience thanks to two fantastic performers of Adina and Nemorino, called Margherita Carosio and Tito Schipa.

Even Giuseppe Verdi’s work experienced this issue, not once, but four times. In 1972 (the year of Ernani by Franco Corelli), 1973 (Simon Boccanegra with Pietro Cappuccilli), 1984 (I Lombardi alla prima crociata, with a cast consisting of Ezio Di Cesare, Ruggero Raimondi, Katia Ricciarelli and Veriano Luchetti), and finally in 1985 (Attila, who was played by both Bonaldo Gaiotti and Evgenij Nesterenko). In a sense he can be said to have shared the fate of the “rival” Richard Wagner, as Parsifal (1924), Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg (1931), Tannhäuser (1938) and Die Walküre (1950, whose director, Niels Wagner, was the great-grandson of the composer) did not pass beyond their first seasons at the Arena. The difference is that Lohengrin, which, having been performed four times, is the only of Wagner’s operas to have been performed during more than one opera season, has not been performed again since 1963, while Verdi’s work is still regularly performed at the Arena.

Will things change for any of these ever be performed again at the Arena? It is difficult to say, but considering that in 2011 the Arena Foundation introduced Roméo et Juliette by Charles Gounod (until now seen only once, in Italian, in 1977) as each seasons’ final performance until 2015 and that in 2012 they proposed performing Don Giovanni by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (then reselected in 2015), the future may hold some surprises for us.

Angela Bosetto

Top photo: 1929, Arena, Marta (Photo Arch.)

1933, Arena, Les Huguenots

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Angela Bosetto

Angela Bosetto

Angela Bosetto was born in Verona, she graduated in Literature at the University of Trento. She earned a master in Writing for Cinema in Gorizia and she published the essay “Seven Steps in terror. Edgar Allan Poe according to Roger Corman “(Perosini). A freelance journalist, she collaborates with the Rivista del Cinematografo and the newspaper L’Arena, dealing with literature, Cinema, history and opera.

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