Dallapiccola Twin Bill in New York
Under the rubric "Persecution and Hope: Masterworks of Conscience," music director Leon Botstein and the American Symphony Orchestra presented a concert performance of Luigi Dallapiccola's two one-act operas, Volo di Notte (1939), loosely based on the novel by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, and Il prigioniero (1948). Libretti to both operas were by the composer. An excellent group of soloists, dramatically complemented by the Concert Chorale of New York, drew loud and vociferous applause from an appreciative audience in Avery Fisher Hall (February 20, 2009).
Both operas conveyed Dallapiccola's preoccupation with liberty. In his insightful program note, Leon Botstein writes: "The imagination, drama, and the searing gaze on the human struggle for freedom and individual autonomy of these operas offer audiences true joy through a genuinely moving and serious experience."
Irony is an essential component of both works. There is something eerie about the knowledge that the author of The Little Prince had written a novel about a fateful crash in the early days of postal aviation, only to take off in an airplane, some 20 years later, never to be seen again. And the unctuous jailer in Il prigioniero who gives the prisoner false hope by calling him "fratello" (brother), only to reveal himself at the opera's conclusion as the Grand Inquisitor is a chilling and Kafkaesque dramatic stroke in its fatal irony.
In his New York Times review, Anthony Tommasini writes that "following the example of Alban Berg, Dallapiccola combined serialism with elements of tonality to give his scores an elusive harmonic allure. And you cannot be an Italian composer, it would seem, without acquiring a feeling for Italianate lyricism, which Dallapiccola had in abundance.... Given his avowed interest in 20th-century opera, James Levine should bring this Dallapiccola double bill to the Metropolitan Opera."