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La grande magia

Scenes from the extended present. By Manfred Trojahn based on the play by Eduardo de Filippo Libretto by Christian Martin Fuchs

Synopsis

»Now you belong to me. We are now man and wife. I love you. Let us finally be happy.« As he speaks these words, Calogero cradles a sarcophagus. Inside should »intrinsically« be his wife Marta. Her body has embarked on an odyssey following a magic trick – according to magician Otto Marvuglia. Because he has fallen on hard times. Instead of the designated fifteen minutes, Marta vanishes through the fake bottom of the magician’s box for years. His sophisticated artistry helps her to savour the magic of illicit adventures. Since necessity is known to be the mother of invention, Marvuglia adds the relativity of time into the equation, stating that it will simply stop during Marta’s absence. But how long can such a magical theory defy reality? For Calogero, more than seven years. Seven years in which he seeks to suspend all that which is part of the illusion to the magician’s trick. He breathes only for himself and for Marta in the sarcophagus. Time for meditation, time to extract irrational promises of beauty from life, love and partnership. When Marta finally returns, he is torn between his worldly wife and the imagined one in the sarcophagus. Calogero chooses the latter: the pure love for a dead ideal bringing a life without pain – but also one without fulfilment.
After »Limes from Sicily« (2003), Manfred Trojahn, collabroating with librettist Christian Martin Fuchs, focused his attention again on a Filippo work.

«Of course, everything has changed a great deal. Years ago, when I was so connected with Eduardo’s piece that I was sure it would one day be an opera piece for me, it was still not clear to me which path the narration would take when working with librettist Christian Martin Fuchs. You start to fall in love with the characters – and whenever we start to love, we start to change.
This opera deals with – in the broadest sense – the failure of an attempt to change. Calogero was not able to make a good bourgeois wife out of singer Marta, whom he had ‹married away› from the theatre. Her longing for the stage and for a free, self-determined individuality breaks free at the very first possible moment. She grows from it whilst he uses the situation to escape into neurosis. His inability to accept life drives him to create a parallel existence. His ersatz world becomes the reality and by the end we suspect that he, too, is aware of this and yet unwilling to stop the charade. So we observe the alienation of our time as filtered through the eyes of an Italian societal comedy. And as this touches all of us, including the authors who have no more the knowledge than we do, we view the figures with ‹compassionate irony› because after all, we are one of them.
One opera in which this ‹ compassionate irony› played an early role is ‹Ariadne on Naxos›. The macro focus on the figures, which Strauss achieved by paring down the orchestra, became the model as well as the occasion to highlight a small orchestra with greatest transparency. Eduardo’s piece is a comedy. In opera, comedies nearly always metamorphose and let their melancholy loom larger than is true with plays. The music may also have that same effect; it civilises emotions and lets us get closer. I’m still in the grip of these emotions and their civilising forces today …» (Manfred Trojahn)

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