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Gian Francesco MALIPIERO (1882 – 1973)
I Capricci di Callot (1942)
Martina Winter (soprano), Giacinta; Markus Müller (tenor), Giglio; Gro Bente Kjellevold (mezzo-soprano), la Vecchia Beatrice; Bernd Valentin (baritone), il Principe; Burkhard Ulrich (tenor), il Poeta; Jörg Sabrowski (baritone), una Maschera; Thomas Schmid-Kapfenburg (piano); Kiel Philharmonic Orchestra;
Peter Marschik
Recorded (live): Opernhaus Kiel, May 1999
CPO 999 830-2 [56:36 + 36:36]


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Malipiero’s vast output includes 17 symphonies, 8 string quartets, a huge amount of orchestral music, many concertos as well as 35 operas, most of which are still little-known nowadays. Malipiero’s operas are rarely heard, let alone recorded, though they may be considered as his most original achievements. His desire to free opera from superficial verismo led him to make a drastic reassessment of the dramatic concepts in his own stage works. He thus gave up the principle of narrative continuity in favour of a free dramatic form which has often been referred to as "panel structure". His first significant stage work is the triptych L’Orfeide (first performed in 1925) of which the central panel is the epoch-making Sette Canzoni of 1918. (The other panels are La Morte delle Maschere and Orfeo.) The basic idea of unconnected or unrelated episodes which forms the very core of Sette Canzoni is carried forward into other stage works such as Torneo Notturno of 1929.

Several operas were composed during the fascist period: La Favola del Figlio Cambiato (1932/3), Giulio Cesare (1934/5) after Shakespeare and Malipiero’s only "traditional" opera (and also the only one having an overtly political meaning), La Vita è Sogno (1940/1) and I Capricci di Callot (1942). It seems that Malipiero’s attitude during the fascist period in Italy was rather ambiguous, as was the younger Petrassi’s. (Malipiero’s and Petrassi’s attitude changed radically when the German troops settled in Italy.) With the possible exception of Giulio Cesare, the other operas of that period tended to avoid any direct allusions to the political or social realities of the time. By reviving the use of the masks of the Commedia dell’Arte, as in the prologue of I Capricci di Callot, the composer conjures up an unreal, artificial world with very little direct concern for, and much oblique reference to, reality. (Masks often feature in Malipiero’s work, e.g. La Morte delle Maschere or the piano suite Maschere che pasano of 1918.) In I Capricci di Callot, "the grotesque, the bizarre and the disturbing prevail" (Andreas Meyer). Indeed the libretto by the composer may contain allusions that were quite obvious for Malipiero’s contemporaries, much less so for present-day listeners, though they may not be that relevant to our appreciation of the work as music.

I Capricci di Callot, subtitled Commedia en tre atti e prologo, is based on E.T.A. Hoffmann’s tale Prinzessin Brambilla modelled on Callot’s etchings Balli di Sfessania featuring grotesque figures of the Commedia dell’Arte. (Walter Braunfels’ comic opera of the same title was premièred in Stuttgart in 1909 and prompted Busoni to compose his own Brautwahl based on another tale by Hoffmann.) Malipiero however admitted that he considerably departed from Hoffmann’s capriccio while devising his own libretto.

I Capricci is a typical Malipiero opera in that its structure considerably differs from any traditional scheme. It opens with a seven-minute long orchestral Introduzione followed by a ten-minute long Prologo in the form of a pantomime in which many characters of the Commedia dell’Arte are featured and which does not seem to have any relevance to the rest of the play. It may simply mean that the actual play is but a dream. The plot, if such there really is, is fairly simple in outline though it includes a good deal of ambiguities and avatars. Giacinta, a poor seamstress, dreams that she is a princess whereas her lover Giglio, a mediocre actor, dreams that he is the Prince (i.e. the part he always wanted to play but never did). Both are caught up by their dreams and carried away from reality. Giglio, as the Prince, must free the Princess. Giacinta, dismayed that he might love another girl, leaves him. Act 2 opens with another long orchestral introduction depicting the carnival taking place in the city. Everyone wears a mask: Giacinta as the Princess, the Charlatan (in reality he is the Prince), the Doctor (i.e. the old Beatrice). Beatrice tells Giglio that Giacinta is in jail because of him, while the Charlatan appeases him by showing him Giacinta at a window of the palace. Giglio hurries to her but is stopped by the Poet who wants to read his last drama especially written for him. Giglio falls asleep and the enraged Poet summons the people to beat Giglio who is taken into the palace. Act 3 is in two scenes separated by a long orchestral interlude Danza funebre in morte di una bambola (a funeral march for whom? For what? We are not really told). In the first scene, an old man reads the story of Princess Militis (who is she really?) whereas Giglio slowly wakes up, catches a glimpse of Giacinta who disappears again. After the interlude, back in the dressmaker’s basement. Giacinta is still looking for the Prince. Giglio reproaches her for her doubts about his faithfulness. They are at long last reconciled and get married. The Poet and the Charlatan reappear followed by Callot’s masks, and all join in a final ensemble :

"Everyone has believed in the truth which this story relates with borrowed words".

Malipiero has been blamed for writing a comedy completely at odds with the realities of war in much the same way as Poulenc when he composed his burlesque opera Les Mamelles de Tirésias in 1944. But it is fairly evident that Malipiero’s masks were a way to hint at the situation in Italy without running the risk of some official reaction on the regime’s part. But, after all, the most important thing, by which any opera succeeds or fails, is the music. That of I Capricci di Callot is simply superb and shows Malipiero at his best and at his most richly melodic. The score abounds with beautiful arias (each main character has his/her moment of glory) and ensembles, whereas the orchestra – a major protagonist, always present but never drowning the voices – literally shines throughout. Malipiero’s lyricism expresses itself generously, often in quite simple but telling terms without ever falling into the trap of sentimentality. The whole score of the opera is a real miracle.

I must confess that all the singers here are completely unknown to me, but I have been – and still am – quite impressed by their achievement. Martina Winter as Giacinta and Gro Bente Kjellevold as the Old Beatrice steal the show, but each of the soloists is excellent and the Kiel Philharmonic Orchestra in great form support them with obvious enjoyment and prove themselves a very fine body of players. Peter Marschik conducts a vital, committed reading of a score he obviously loves. This is a live recording but you would never guess it given the quality of the audience’s silence and the absence of any distracting stage noises. A magnificent piece, excellent performance, very fine recorded sound and outstanding production with generous and most informative notes by Andreas Meyer and Tilman Schlömp.

At the start of the enthusiastic applause greeting this performance, someone is heard shouting Bellissimo!. There is really nothing to add to this. Warmly recommended. The finest operatic recording I have recently heard.

Hubert Culot


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