Commissioned by Teatro La Scala in 1972, Al gran sole carico d’amore
had its premiere on April 4 1975 at Teatro Lirico in Milan. The orchestra and chorus of the theatre were conducted by Claudio Abbado. In occasion of the 40th anniversary of the world premiere we want to remember this event through an interview with Ms. Nuria Schoenberg Nono.
Al Gran sole carico d’amore is “un’azione scenica” (a scenic action) in 2 parts. The first production by La Scala was realized by a legendary artistic team, consisting of Luigi Nono, conductor Claudio Abbado, stage director Yuri Ljubimov (the founder and artistic director of the “Taganka” Theatre) and stage designer David Borowsky. How did this collaboration come about?
Nono was interested in the Russian theater of the early years after the Russian Revolution (Meierhol’d , Mayakovsky etc) and also in the plays directed by Judith Malina and Julian Beck with the Living Theater, who collaborated with him in 1966. He also admired Erwin Piscator greatly for his prewar stage direction in Berlin and collaborated with him in the 1965 performance of Peter Weiss’ Die Ermittlung.
Nono went to Moscow to visit the Taganka Theater in 1973, while he was planning the new work. He saw several performances there including Hamlet
which impressed him greatly. He returned with the project (music and text) and with his wife and two daughters. We stayed in a cabin where Soviet composers had their dacias. During the day, Nono explained his ideas to Ljubimov through the fantastic interpreter, Julia Dobrovolskaia. They were joined by Borovsky and some young dancers. They discussed their ideas. Nono had brought with him some recordings of his music and other composers came to listen to them in the evenings. It was a very pleasant atmosphere.
Later Ljubimov came to Venice to discuss his ideas for the staging of the “scenic action”, as Nono preferred to call his composition. This resulted in Nono composing some music to support the action which took place on the stage. Claudio Abbado also took part in the discussions during the rehearsals and there was a very collaborative situation in the Teatro Lirico.
Borovsky and Lyubimov brought an amazing model of the stage design to Milano. It has all the technical elements including lighting, mechanical parts and objects, in scale. The choir and the soloists are represented by paper cut-outs drawn by Borovsky, who also designed the costumes. The excellent stage hands, electricians and carpenters of La Scala were thus able to recreate the scenes in the Lirico theater. (We are fortunate to have this model on show in the Archive of the Luigi Nono Foundation, for all to see and admire.)
How did you experience the world premiere? There was a great expectation. What was the situation and atmosphere like?
The press was divided by political leanings. On the right, several newspapers wrote of plans by Nono to make a communist propaganda action in the Teatro La Scala, with red flags all around the theater. Of course this was not true: the premiere took place not in La Scala, but in the newly refurbished Lirico Theater, where it was possible to rehearse for weeks. They also complained that it was going to cost an exorbitant amount of money.
On the other hand, Nono, Lyubimov and Borovsky spent many evenings explaining the work to different cultural and working class groups. There were interesting discussions with union organizations, university students, etc. These took place after long hours of rehearsals in which Nono, Lyubimov, Abbado, the soloists and other performers worked to perfect the performance. But Nono wanted people to understand what he was trying to say and what the means were to that end.
The leftist papers supported his work, but mostly on the basis of the texts. There was practically no mention of the music. The rehearsals were closed to the public. Only a few close friends and family were allowed in (Maurizio Pollini, Luigi Pestalozza, Giacomo Manzoni). The superintendent of La Scala, Paolo Grassi, was very supportive.
Al gran sole carico d'amore was composed in the 1970s, a politically turbulent period. The text, based on works by Marx, Che Guevara, Fidel Castro, Lenin and others, reflects this. Another important aspect of this work is the role of women. What can you tell us about this?
The texts are based mostly on women who fought for the ideals they believed in and who perished, having given up their normal lives. In the texts that Nono chose, there is no fanfare, no cheap propaganda. Instead, he brings out the suffering, the doubts which these strong women had, the personal sacrifices they made. The great revolutionary men are presented in short quotes, comments on the historical moments and perhaps hopes for the future.
The main characters [protagonists] of the work are the women. The three sopranos, one mezzosoprano and one contralto were chosen with great care by Nono and Abbado. They are the ones who communicate the emotions and the strengths and weaknesses of these revolutionaries.
Their texts are taken from letters and writings by Tania Bunke, Louise Michel, Haydee Santamaria. Rimbaud’s poem which also gives the title to the Al gran sole carico d’amore
, is entitled Les Mains de Jeanne-Marie
. The whole first part is based on the play by Bertold Brecht: Die Tage der Kommune
, where the choir represents the communards, men and women, who after having taken over the government, were brutally Assassinated.
The text for the second part of the work is taken from Gorki’s Mother
a novel written by Maxim Gorky in 1906 about revolutionary factory workers. The work was translated into many languages, and was made into a number of films. Bertolt Brecht and his collaborators also based their 1932 play Die Mutter
on this novel. It tells the story of a poor woman whose son is killed while he goes on strike for decent wages in czarist Russia. She takes up the fight and is killed as well. Her solo part is one of the most moving scenes.
Some say this work is an oratorio or requiem rather than an opera. What do you think about this?
I think if he had wanted to write an oratorio he would not have insisted upon having a team of the greatest, most innovative director and stage designer in Europe for the first performance of his “azione scenica”.[scenic action]
After the world premiere, the German newspaper “Die Welt” said there is a “sensual, enchanting beauty” in the way that Luigi Nono uses voices. Would you say that there is a connection between Al gran sole carico d'amore and traditional Italian opera?
I am very happy that finally people are listening to Luigi Nono’s MUSIC and not only relating – positively or negatively – to the words! When his first compositions were performed in Germany people commented on his lyrical “italian” style and on the way he composed for the human voice. Later, his friends and his foes concentrated on “politics”. He was not at all happy about this. He often wished people would discover what he was doing as a composer of music, as a means of expressing his musical and his humanistic ideas.
From childhood on he heard Italian opera and certainly he was influenced by the particular use of the voice, but he was perhaps more interested in the polyphonic music of the 16th century and later also of the so-called Second Viennese School.
When Al gran sole carico d’amore
was performed at Salzburger Festspiele, I was pleased and somewhat surprised that many of the Festival concert-goers remarked that they had had an almost “religious experience” and that it was such beautiful music. Since the early 1990’s his music has been appreciated more and more by audiences in many different countries for its musical as well as its emotional and social qualities.
Photos: Staatsoper Berlin, Monika Rittershaus