Rediscovering Marinuzzi’s Palla de’ Mozzi

Rediscovering Marinuzzi’s Palla de’ Mozzi

The contemporary premiere of Palla de’ Mozzi, a melodrama in three acts by Gino Marinuzzi, proved a rousing success. It was staged nearly 80 years after the work’s last performance, on January 31 (with repeat performances through February 9) at the Cagliari Opera Theater. Conducted by Giuseppe Grazioli, directed by Giorgio Barberio Corsetti, with set design and video projections by Pierrick Sorin.

Palla de’ Mozzi, with book by Giovacchino Forzano, made its world premiere in 1932 at La Scala. Over the next ten years, performances would be staged in Italy and abroad, acclaimed by audiences and critics alike. The opera is considered an extraordinary example of the rebirth of Italian melodrama. The last performance to our knowledge was staged in 1942 at the Rome Opera Theater. 
Palla de’ Mozzi is set in the Renaissance. Its cast of fictional characters play out their roles within the historical context.

The plot
Tuscany in the times of the Medici. The castle of Montelabro, near Siena, is under siege by the Black Bands, led by the mercenary Palla de’Mozzi, a ruthless, bloodthirsty devotee of the company’s late founder Giovanni de’ Medici. His son, Signorello, is in love with the beautiful young heiress to the Montelabro fortune, Anna Bianca. At a crucial point during the siege, Signorello lets Anna’s father escape, thus helping him to avoid certain demise. For such treachery, Palla de’ Mozzi sentences his son to death. When his soldiers force him to free his son, Palla de’ Mozzi has no choice but to take his own life in order to save his honor.  

From the program for the performance at the Cagliari Opera Theater
[...] The score of Palla de’ Mozzi, which took Marinuzzi a decade to complete, meticulously attending to every detail, […] represents the culmination of Marinuzzi’s experience as a composer and conductor. This work appears to show how he achieved a dizzying level of compactness in terms of dramatic structure, as well as his own highly personal form of orchestration, which exploits extreme divisions of the strings (up to twenty-four real parts), and in the low-pitched regions, which generally are not perceived as distinct sounds, but as color, as if a kind of turbulence or bubbling-up effect, creating a very particular tension with regard to the listening experience. [...]
(Gianluigi Mattietti)

"Presenting the Cast" - Conceived and Created by Fabio Marcello, Priamo Tolu - Sound by Antonio Ferraro - The Cagliari Opera Theater Foundation

Excerpts from reviews:

[...] A story set within orchestral writing that is modern, dense, rich in colors and nuances. With great attention to the details of this complex score, maestro Giuseppe Grazioli brings Marinuzzi’s kaleidoscopic world back to life.[...]
(Maria Grazia Marilotti, ANSA Sardegna, February 2, 2020)

[...] Palla de’ Mozzi, a melodrama in three acts, with book by Giovacchino Forzano, hit the stage last night at the Cagliari Opera Theater, the first performance of the work in modern times,
 78 years after the last performance. Met with applause from the packed house, this opera is in line with 20th-century tastes, while it pays tribute, through a host of references and innuendos, to the rich musical heritage of centuries past.[...]

(Brescia Oggi, February 1, 2020)

[...] Numerous are the topical references to other melodramas, while the music seeks to combine 20th-century German influences with the grand tradition of Italian melodrama. In particular, Marinuzzi introduces long symphonic pieces before an empty stage, following Wagner’s example, while reproducing refined soundscapes worthy of Strauss. Each act concludes beautifully, as the music slowly fades into silence.[...]
(Alberto Mancini, Belcanto e dintorni, February 3, 2020)

[...] En general, Marinuzzi evita el énfasis, manteniendo una controlada nobleza de acentos dentro de un gusto ecléctico, abierto más a elementos italianosy franceses que a autores como Strauss o Wagner, de los que fue un gran intérprete... Suscitan interés algunos detalles: los momentos de superposición densay compleja de diferentes elementos o la búsqueda en ocasiones de una pátina arcaica, además, claro, de una sabiduría en cuanto a la escritura orquestal, que, sin embargo, no se corresponde con una abundancia de ideas demasiado persuasiva.[...]
(Paolo Petazzi, Scherzo, 4.2.2020)

(…) Marinuzzis Musik ist voller raffinierter Farben und verlangt ein umfangreiches Orchester. Es kommt immer wieder zu umfangreichen rein orchestralen Stellen, die sehr viel Atmosphäre verströmen. Die Behandlung der Gesangslinie ist in erster Linie deklamatorisch mit manchen schwierig zu singenden Höhenexplosionen, die an einen Verismo erinnern, den Marinuzzi eigentlich überwinden wollte, was in der an Ravel und Debussy, aber auch vor allem Richard Strauss erinnernden Orchesterhandlung deutlich wird. Fanfaren und Marschmusik beherrschen die militärischen Moment, während man sich für die lyrischen Momente, vor allem im großen Duett Signorello-Anna Bianca des 2. Akts eine dramaturgisch straffere Hand wünschen würde.(...)
(Eva Pleus, Der, 31.1 2020)

[...] The boldness of the harmony is offset by an ever-supreme art of orchestration, which opens and closes cloudlike. […] Ample and serene orchestral interludes are juxtaposed with a sort of bellicose symphony (at the onset of Act II) marked by expressionistic violence. […] The duet featuring star-crossed lovers Signorello and Anna Bianca, taking its cue from both Parsifal and Strauss, but which is indeed highly original (Signorello is in part a Parsifalesque figure, inasmuch as he is a redeemer who offers up his own blood), comes off as nothing short of miraculous. A passacaglia forms a bridge between Bach and Shostakovich, which also takes up the example set by Webern and foreshadows Dutilleux, neither of whom knew anything of Marinuzzi. The final C-major chords are among the brightest and best orchestrated in music. The score also reveals a boundless musical culture and is, something rarely heard in 20th-century music, as if a synthesis of the entire history of music.[...]
(Paolo Isotta, Libero, February 13, 2020)

Photo: Priamo Tolu