Via M. Dionigi, Rome, Nov. 18—
ROME HAS GIVEN US an amazing variety of music this last week, and it's time to think about it. Monday last — can it really only be eight days ago? — we went out to the Parco della Musica, a complex of concert and rehearsal halls, a fine bookstore dedicated to the arts, and cafés — to hear a concert of Gagaku, of all things. A touring group from Japan performed three items from the traditional repertory and a piece by Toru Takemitsu written for the traditional ensemble.
Two of the pieces involved dance, one for a solo male dancer, one a duet — if a work involving two men, side by side in indescribably complex and beautiful costume, performing identical choreography, can in fact be thought of as a duet.
The music was delicious and strange, veering from unison ensemble to various solo instruments, a continuously lyrical, pungent, keening sound, now quiet, now suddenly full-throated, played by reeds, flutes, plucked strings, and percussion.
The performers knelt on the raised platform, all dressed in formal yellow gowns, very gravely walking in and out with their instruments, meditating some moments before beginning each piece. The concert lasted only a little over an hour; the hall was sold out; the crowd was appreciative and extremely excited afterward.
TWO DAYS LATER we were at the Rome Opera Theater, in the center of town, a fine small opera house with seven ranks of galleries, to hear Der Rosenkavalier in a co-production with Tolosa. Sung in German, a language I don't know at all, but intelligently supertitled in Italian, Hoffmansthal's book was expressive enough; and Strauss's music was beautifully played by the orchestra and sung by the cast (barring wide vibrato in the first few minutes of each of the three sopranos).
I don't know any of the cast — it's years since I kept up at all with opera, and in any case I'm sure these were mostly young singers near the beginnings of their careers. The Feldmarschallin and the Rosenkavalier were really quite wonderful; Sophie was fresh and lyrical; Ochs a bit exaggerated, of course.
Since it was a traveling production the set was fairly minimal: the tedious jokes of the third-act opening were therefore minimized; fine with me. This production was more about age and youth, or perhaps I should say experience and youth, than it was about the clash of court and country.
Perhaps because the Bellini show was still in mind, this Rosenkavalier seemed unusually philosophical, ultimately both moral and aware: every Moment dissolves into Continuity, true enough; but it's also true this involves Loss. A beautiful, resigned, realistic view of transience; an appropriate subject for this Eternal City.
A FEW DAYS LATER we moved from the sublime to, well, it wasn't ridiculous, to pure entertainment with a revue in the Auditorium on the Conciliazione, Good Morning Mr. Gershwin. A dozen dancers moved through solos, duets, small ensembles, and full production numbers involving tap, break dancing, hip-hop, comedy pantomime, and jazz dancing, all to (alas pre-recorded) music by Gershwin.
Behind them a screen filled the huge width of the stage with video projections of the same dancers, sometimes mirroring the choreography on stage, sometimes serving as pure décor, often nude but prettily, not provocatively. The numbers were often but not exclusively comic: one routine involving a sturdy woman eating an éclair might have come straight out of 1920s vaudeville.
Toward the end, though, the act turned serious, recapitulating the social history of the "Negro" in the U.S. The projections became documentary; the choreography expressing, without ever simply depicting, the emotional quandary of this huge subset of the American population as it was so stupidly and wrongly marginalized.
Our president-elect was never mentioned or depicted, thankfully: the production was set long before the historic election of two weeks ago. But the evening ended on a note of celebration: the worst of those injustices are far behind us, a Dark Ages of our own time. Again, the house was full; again, fully appreciative — jubilant, in fact.
LAST NIGHT WE HEARD an orchestral concert: two Third Symphonies, one by Schubert, one by Bruckner; again at the Conciliazione which is now, since we've moved into a hotel in the Prati, our neighborhood hall.
It's a dry, bright hall, and the Orchestra Sinfonica di Roma is a young, brash orchestra, and while last night's conductor, Lior Shambadal, was neither young nor brash himself he did nothing to tame his brass and timpani players; the resulting interpretations weren't memorable.
The Schubert was more ponderous than it should have been and the Bruckner was unbearably slow much of the time, as if Bruckner's vast architecture was being examined with a magnifying glass. But what a delight to hear these two composers coupled on a program, and to hear and watch their music being played live! Next week they play the "Unfinished" and two Mahler song-cycles, and perhaps we'll be there again.