'New Music' in Palermo

Ludovico Einaudi's opera 'Winter Journey'


The 'Settimane Internationali di Nuova Musica' in Palermo (1960-1968) are now part of the historical memory. For about a decade, the Sicilian capital leapt to the forefront of national and international cultural chronicles thanks to innovative initiatives at a time of particular experimental fervour that ran through the most diverse sectors of contemporary world culture, so it was not just about music. Already, in the late 1950s, Antonino Titone, Francesco Agnello and Paolo Emilio Carapezza were engaged in the identification of a new direction that would lead to the realization of the 'Weeks', in a Palermo that, since the post-war years, emerged within the island and Italian cultural landscape as a city traditionally open and attentive to new forms of art. Now there is a revival due to the commitment of Francesco Giambrone, Superintendant of Teatro Massimo, and Marcello Panni, artistic director of the Orchestra Sinfonica Siciliana (OSS).

For about two weeks, there is a 'new music festival' in Palermo: world premieres and avant-garde music of the last fifty years. At Teatro Politeama, the OSS proposes Le esequie della luna, a major work by Francesco Pennisi (1934-1960), who was a cousin of mine, as well as concerts with compositions by Marcello Filotei, Aldo Clementi, Franco Donatoni and György Ligeti. At Teatro Massimo there is the world premiere of Winter Journey, the first opera by Ludovico Einaudi (generally known as a virtuoso pianist and a composer of music scores). The libretto is by the Irish novelist Colm Tóibín, Roberto Andò is the dramaturg and stage director, Carlo Tenan is the conductor, sets and lighting are by Gianni Carluccio, costumes by Daniela Cernigliaro, video by Luca Scarzella, and sounds by Hubert Westkemper. The opera is co-produced with Teatro San Carlo in Naples where it will be shown next season. The festival, and especially Winter Journey, is attracting worldwide attention. On 4 October 2019, for example, The New York Times International ran a story on its front page. At the opening night, there were several music reviewers and opera managers from abroad.

A scene from 'Winter Journey' by Ludovico Einaudi. Photo © 2019 Rosellina Garbo
A scene from Winter Journey by Ludovico Einaudi. Photo © 2019 Rosellina Garbo

Regrettably, for personal reasons, I could not travel to Palermo, but I heard a broadcast of the opening night and Teatro Massimo provided me with the libretto. Winter Journey is the story of desperate migration from troubled war-torn countries to Europe, in all its indifference and rejection. The couple of migrants and their son meet hostility, a cold welcome or no welcome at all. The choir serves as a Greek chorus. A politician - a spoken role - intervenes intermittently with a refrain hostile to the migrants. It is a very simple but very topical plot. There is neither a happy nor a tragic ending, which is open to audience interpretation.

Rokia Traoré in 'Winter Journey' by Ludovico Einaudi. Photo © 2019 Rosellina Garbo
Rokia Traoré in Winter Journey by Ludovico Einaudi. Photo © 2019 Rosellina Garbo

A special feature of the opera is that the protagonists are not professional opera singers. They are well-known African artists. The man is Badara Seck from Senegal, the woman Rokia Traoré from Mali, and their son is sung by Leslie Nsiah Afriye, born in Ghana but now a resident of Palermo, and acted on stage by Mouhamadou Sazil. The score is engrossing with melodic European music blended with African traditional tunes. The opera is full of references to what Europe was and no longer is. A world that had more strength than now. The chorus recalls Europe during World War II and immediately after, when in cold winter days and nights, its citizens were migrating from one country to another in search for a better future. In short, an engrossing work that was acclaimed and ovationed on the night of its debut.

A scene from 'Winter Journey' by Ludovico Einaudi. Photo © 2019 Rosellina Garbo
A scene from Winter Journey by Ludovico Einaudi. Photo © 2019 Rosellina Garbo

At the Teatro Massimo there is a large program of contemporary music concerts coordinated by the composer Francesco La Licata.

Copyright © 10 October 2019 Giuseppe Pennisi,
Rome, Italy



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