Satyricon, Opera by B. Maderna
We tend to think of opera as a carefully planned out affair with fixed pieces, predetermined sequences, a classical orchestra, and a cohesive story. Satyricon by Italian experimental composer Bruno Maderna is none of those things, and yet it is every bit as complex, inventive, and entertaining as its conservative counterparts. The chamber opera takes viewers on a strange yet exciting journey, led by a motley crew of characters, each speaking a different language – or no language at all. Satyricon had its premiere during the Holland Festival in Scheveningen on 16 March 1973. Since then, a number of revivals have extended the work’s experimental character by inserting taped music in between scenes or additional dialogue to improve continuity – or to distort it further in typical Maderna fashion. Teatro Malibran in Venice now revives this outlandish gem.
The structure of Maderna’s modern opera Satyricon rests on sixteen loosely sketched scenes, the sequence of which is not set in stone. Their musical backing, relying heavily on a kind of collage technique, adds to the improvisational feel of the performance. Whether this was completely intentional or an artefact of the composer’s rapidly declining health at the time is unclear. Whatever the root cause, the result is a piece of musical theatre that defies easy classification, and yet it beckons audiences to look close and listen attentively from start to finish.
Satyricon finds its source text in the ancient Roman novel of the same name, allegedly written by Gaius Petronius. Its mixture of prose and verse, dramatic and comedic elements, and its distinct feature of erotic passages makes it a most intriguing piece of early literature that sheds light on common people’s everyday lives under Roman imperial rule. Maderna and his librettist Ian Strasfogel took events and characters and transported them into Satyricon the opera, creating four main characters of their own. The host Trimalchio, a tenor, leads the proceedings and also takes the additional role of Habinnas, a merchant; Trimalchio’s wife Fortunata, a mezzo soprano, and the soprano Criside bring in the female energy; and the basso Eumolpus provides the gravelly low-end of the serious bits. Teatro Malibran invites you on a special musical trip this season, courtesy of the unchained fantasy of Bruno Maderna.