THE OTHER SIDE – PART TWO
There is no need to introduce Leo Nucci. Opera fans around the world are familiar with his fame, his exceptionally long career, his endless list of roles and the stages where he performed. Nevertheless, we suspect that not everyone knows his “side” or “second” job as a director. A job he is doing more and more often, since, as he himself says in an interview we will repeatedly quote (too bad the original is in Italian, but we hope at least some of our readers will be able to fully enjoy it), several opera houses are inviting him to stage performances “the audience like”.
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The baritone started this new experience as part of a larger project sponsored by the Teatro Municipale di Piacenza, called Progetto Opera Laboratorio, especially designed to discover and promote young singers. Nucci, who was and still is the project’s main teacher, took upon himself the mise en scene (as he – correctly! – likes to call the director’s job) from the start, in 2013, with Luisa Miller, and since then he has been doing it again every year, always making use of the technical support of experienced professional directors.
The list of his stagings – momentarily interrupted by Covid but bound to resume again soon – is beginning to look quite impressive. From 2013 to 2020, he staged, in different houses, after Luisa Miller, L’Elisir d’Amore, L’Amico Fritz, Simon Boccanegra, La Traviata, Un Ballo in Maschera, La Bohème and in 2020, before the general lockdown, he was scheduled to stage Puccini’s Gianni Schicchi at the Verona Arena, where he was also to sing the title role. Next year, his La Bohème will travel to Marseille. As anyone can see, we are not talking about a “green” or improvised director.
A simple approach
Our focus, within Nucci’s vast range of productions, is on Un Ballo in Maschera, since it is the opera he was staging at the time of the interview mentioned above, though we would like also to touch on his general “philosophy” in staging operas. It is a rather simple approach, but, in our opinion, the only correct one: starting from the music, of course, but at the same time from the libretto. It might seem overly obvious, but we must not forget that starting from the libretto does not merely mean reading it.
Glossing over the libretto
Most directors do so (even though, nowadays, some give the impression of having only glossed over the libretto…). Leo Nucci, on the other hand, explains in the interview that his research is much more in-depth. Indeed, he studies Verdi’s biography, Verdi’s letters during the composition of the opera, and therefore the “making”, almost day by day, of the final draft. And, last but not least, he also keeps track of the captions in the libretto, often meticulously so, and always useful to understand the authors’ intentions.
As we know all too well, nowadays many producers could not care less about the author’s intentions and instructions. They tend to “invent” a story of their own, and too bad if the singers act in a totally different, “updated” context and say one thing while doing something completely different.
In this Ballo, Nucci stages the “American” version, taking place in Boston, advancing the time of the action just before the War of Independence and – among other details – purposely ignoring what nowadays is considered politically correct, putting on stage not just a black Ulrica (often censored…), but also black valets and maids, as it was perfectly normal both in the XVII and XVIII centuries. The result is that kind of “atmosphere” which gives the audience the feeling of truly watching – and living – the story developing in the correct time and place.
We may not agree with some of his choices, such as showing a slave being whipped and or hanged in the orrido campo, or to underline a sort of ambiguous relationship between Riccardo and Oscar (belied, in our opinion, by the unleashed passion Riccardo shows for Amelia in the duet…), but these are just details. What is really important, as mentioned, is the approach to the staging of any opera.
As Leo Nucci himself says in the interview: “The director must respect the music and the dramaturgie, since the music has been written keeping in mind the dramaturgie. I choose to try and stage what, according to my studies, I believe Verdi wanted. My productions will always be done with respect to the author, who knows better.”
Well, we must confess we especially like this phrasing. “The author knows better”. It would be a blessing if more producers kept that in mind when they set to work.
Click HERE for the interview with Leo Nucci.