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Cristina Mazzavillani Muti: "Young Singers Provide the Necessary Frailty and Innocence to the Staging of 'La Boheme"

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As the year 2015 is coming to an end, the Lithuanian National Opera and Ballet Theatre is preparing a very special treat to all those who will choose to spend the last evening of the old year at the theatre – on 31 December we shall unveil the premiere of Giacomo Puccini’s masterpiece “La Bohème”, a co-production with the Ravenna Festival (Italy). “La Bohème” brought together an international creative team, which consists of music director and conductor Robertas Šervenikas, conductors Julius Geniušas, Nicola Paszkowski (Italy), director and author of the production concept Cristina Mazzavillani Muti (Italy), lighting designer Vincent Longuemare (France), costume designer Alessandro Lai  (Italy), visual designer David Loom (Italy), video programmer Davide Broccoli (Italy), chorus master Česlovas Radžiūnas. The first performance of the new opera in LNOBT’s repertoire will introduce a colourful cast of talented singers, including Benedetta Torre, Maria Mudryak, Alessandro Scotto Di Luzio, Matias Tosi, Daniel Giulianini, Luca Dall' Amico, Giorgio Trucco, Graziano Dalla Valle and Ivan Merlo.

To help you get better acquainted with the extraordinarily touching and beautiful new production of “La Boheme” (with visual designs inspired by French symbolist painter Odilon Redon), we offer you to read musicologist Beata Baublinskienė’s interview with director Mrs. Cristina Mazzavillani Muti.

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Mrs. Muti, could you please describe your vision of “La Boheme”?

With this “Bohème” I am trying to get rid of the mannerism that has characterised the various stagings of the opera over the years, including the ""historic"" productions that seem so difficult to depart from. The “Bohème” I feel has nothing farcical or cute. Rather, it is imbued with irony, disenchantment, sometimes even ferocity and unforgivingness. It is as if the typical atmospheres of Symbolism were dragging us directly into the dark and claustrophobic atmospheres of Expressionism, foreboding the horror and disintegration soon to follow.

I feel that the boundaries of Realism and Decadence, which characterised Italy following the Country’s unification, are too narrow. Yet, “Bohème” has always been inscribed within these boundaries. I feel the opera’s horizon can be expanded to the whole of Europe, and to the artistic thrills and anxieties that pervaded it. This opera by Puccini is not the last ""whimper"" of a fading XIX century Romanticism, but a door opening onto the future, onto the XX century, leading to Prokofiev, Berg, Stravinsky and beyond, to musical theatre, to Gershwin, Cole Porter, and Bernstein... So, why not? Why not take a chance and get to the present? Why not weave Puccini’s melodies with rock, pop, gypsy jazz and folk? Great contemporary jazz interpreters are already well aware of this, and astound their audiences with a choice of themes from the great opera repertoire.

So why not try and compare these worlds, which have always been considered to be distant from one another? They might be found to reveal unsuspected similarities. After all, Puccini himself, with the depth and inexhaustible richness of his work, provided us with such an opportunity.\


Does it mean that in the production some elements of jazz, rock or pop melodies shall be used?

Oh no, not in this production...but I couldn’t help thinking about “Mimì é una civetta”! As you may know, this “Bohème” was presented for the first time in Ravenna as a part of the 2015 Autumn Trilogy dedicated to Giacomo Puccini, together with “Mimì é una civetta” (“Mimì is a flirt”) and the Puccini Recital. We created in 2012 the unique and ambitious formula of the “Autumn Trilogy” (characterised by the alternation of a different event every night for a week), and this year I decided to put two different approaches to Puccini’s masterpiece side by side - the “Bohème” we present in Vilnius, and “Mimì é una civetta”, my innovative and daring project to reinvent and transform “Bohème” through the work of young and versatile musician Alessandro Cosentino, who has merged different musical horizons from jazz to rock and pop while respecting Puccini’s original tones and textures, and the direction of Greg Ganakas, an acclaimed protagonist of the American musical theatre scene. This divertissement à la bohémienne is the proof of Puccini’s modernity and universal value – the proof that we can intertwine Puccini’s melodies to other and later musical genres, so that in Ravenna “La Bohème” has really become a door opening onto the 20th century and beyond.

Italian cast of this “La Bohème”consists of young singers. Why did you make such choice? Is it related in a way to Ravenna Festival’s mission or aims, maybe to some young singers programme?

I have always been very keen on supporting talented young people, offering them chances to prove themselves, and begin their career in that encouraging and inspiring setting represented by Ravenna Festival. Actually I like to think of my work as a director - from “I Capuleti e i Montecchi” and “La traviata” to “Il trovatore”, “Rigoletto”, “Falstaff”, “Macbeth”, “Otello” – as a “workshop” for young artists. I share this warm interest for the next generation of artists and musicians with my husband – Riccardo Muti founded in 2004 the Luigi Cherubini Youth Orchestra, which represents an important and prestigious bridge between the academic and the professional world for many young people. So it is our responsibility and privilege to support our youth in their efforts, because they are our future and our hope – the ones who will carry on our work...and we do learn from them as well, for they offer us different and challenging points of view that can keep our ideas and opinions from growing stale and tired. So you could say that working with young people is part of my, and our, mission!

Choosing young artists for the operatic genre means to give them access to a genre that it is usually considered old-fashioned – but it isn’t, really; actually I believe that the operatic world should not be regarded as some sort of artifact to be stored in a museum, but something very much alive...this is why I am very happy to work with these young and very talented singers, as well as to use the most advanced audio, light, and video technologies, collaboration with a highly qualified and experienced team (light designer Vincent Longuemare, video programmer Davide Broccoli, costume designer Alessandro Lai), this year enriched by young video artist David Loom. And you may not know that during the rehearsal of “La Bohème” we opened the door of our theatre to 17 young photographers for #BohemianFocus, a photography workshop that encouraged these youth to experience the opera through their cameras...you see, another way to encourage young people to discover this world and put their talents at its service. You can find their pictures on our site (www.ravennafestival.org). 

Soloists of the Italian cast are coeval with opera characters. In Vilnius, we have soloists that are more mature. One can suppose that depending on the interpretation the whole production may differ. Do you agree? If yes, how could these two interpretations be harmonized? How do you justify the second variant with Lithuanian soloists?

This is a very difficult question, since it’s partly impossible to foresee the implications of a different cast for this production... I am sure that the artists we will meet in Vilnius will couple their talent with their greater experience; at the same time I think our younger cast - closer in age to the characters of the opera – represents the original dramaturgy better, considering that this cast brings such frailty and innocence into the staging that it turns out to be an exceptional asset for the “truth” of the characters.

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