Carlo Rizzi Returns to the Lyric Opera of Chicago in Verdi's NABUCCO

Carlo Rizzi is ready to enter an exciting period of work in the New Year. The conductor's 2015/16 season continues in January with a return to the Lyric Opera of Chicago for Matthew Ozawa's new production of Verdi's Nabucco. He heads to Milan the following month to begin rehearsals for Teatro alla Scala's eagerly awaited staging of Umberto Giordano's La cena delle beffe, an opera not seen at La Scala for eight decades. Rizzi's rich schedule also includes the world premiere of Iain Bell's In Parenthesis and the double-bill of Cavalleria rusticana and Pagliacci, staged to celebrate the 70th birthday of Welsh National Opera (WNO).

In Parenthesis, commissioned by the Nicholas John Trust with 14-18 NOW, stands as a major landmark in WNO's 70th anniversary season. It will be brought to life under the guidance of Carlo Rizzi, the company's new Conductor Laureate, opening with the first of three performances at the Wales Millennium Centre in Cardiff on 13 May 2016 before transferring to Birmingham Hippodrome (11 June) and the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden (29 June & 1 July). Iain Bell's new work, based on the eponymous epic poem by Welsh poet and painter David Jones, commemorates the centenary of the Battle of the Somme and deals with the senseless slaughter of British troops on its first day, 1 July 1916.

Carlo Rizzi speaks of his excitement at working on a new opera with its composer and with director David Pountney. "Very often with a new work, musical and dramatic ideas evolve during rehearsals," he comments. "This is exactly what happened when the operas of Verdi and Puccini were first presented. Although I have performed nearly one hundred different operas, I have never conducted the premiere of a full-scale new opera before. I look forward to being involved in the process of creating In Parenthesis and working on its evolution in rehearsal."

Jones's poem, described by T.S Eliot as 'a work of genius' following its publication in 1937, charts the experiences of a fictional soldier, Private John Ball, as he and his comrades make their way from training in England to France and on to the killing fields of the Somme. Ball and his fellow Royal Welch Fusiliers are ordered to attack the heavily defended German positions at Mametz Wood and suffer severe casualties during the operation. Jones's potent use of military slang and profoundly disturbing reflections on the hell of battle were informed by his own experience of service as an infantryman in the trenches of France and Flanders. In Parenthesis raises questions about life's meaning and projects hope for rebirth and regeneration out of death and destruction.

Carlo Rizzi's appointment as WNO's Conductor Laureate, announced last September, acknowledges his invaluable contribution to the company as its Music Director from 1992 to 2001 and again from 2004 to 2007. It also reflects the success of his recent appearances as guest conductor, including critically acclaimed performances of Rossini's Guillaume Tell (2014) and Bellini's I puritani (2015). "I am so happy about this WNO title," he says. "I like to think that in every performance we give together there is something of the work we have done over so many years. One of the reasons for the success of our Puritani, I believe, was because of my long relationship with the WNO Orchestra and Chorus. We know each other so well and, because of all the work we have done together, share a deep understanding."

Welsh National Opera's first full season opened with Cavalleria rusticana in April 1946. Carlo Rizzi will celebrate the company's 70th birthday at the Wales Millennium Centre on 26 May with Mascagni's work and its traditional companion piece, Leoncavallo's Pagliacci. The anniversary double-bill continues with three further performances in Cardiff (29 May; 1 & 4 June) and two at Birmingham Hippodrome (9 & 11 June).

The verismo passion and intensity of 'Cav and Pag' are also central to La cena delle beffe. Umberto Giordano's opera was first performed at La Scala in December 1924 under the baton of Arturo Toscanini. The work proved a popular success and was soon staged in over 40 cities, reaching New York's Metropolitan Opera in 1926. It gradually disappeared from the international repertoire and has only rarely been staged in recent decades. La Scala's general manager and artistic director, Alexander Pereira, who revived La cena delle beffe during his time as director of Zurich Opera, invited the Italian film director Mario Martone to produce the work at its original home for the first time since the 1930s. The strong La Scala cast is led by Marco Berti, Nicola Alaimo and Kristin Lewis. Carlo Rizzi conducts the production's opening night on 3 April and seven subsequent performances on 6, 10, 20, 23, 28 Apriland 4 & 7 May.

"Some composers, like Mascagni and Leoncavallo, are chiefly known for just one opera," Rizzi observes. "Audiences today know Giordano for Andrea Chénier and perhaps for Fedora, but during his lifetime he was also acclaimed for his last full-length opera, La cena delle beffe." He adds that the conventional English translation of the opera's title, 'The Supper of Jests', falls short of capturing the malevolence at the core of its plot. "The word 'beffe' refers more in this case to humiliating pranks or tricks," he notes. Giordano's work, set in Florence at the time of Lorenzo the Magnificent, is based on Sem Benelli's eponymous play of 1909.

Benelli's libretto trains the psychological spotlight on the bitter feud between two courtiers, Giannetto Malaspini and Neri Chiaramantesi, over their love for Neri's mistress, Ginevra. Neri is tricked by Giannetto into accepting a foolhardy challenge, by which he agrees to visit the city's roughest district dressed in a suit of white armour. Giannetto spreads word that Neri has clearly lost his mind. After Neri discovers that his rival has spent the night with Ginevra, he swears to take revenge but is arrested and held in the Medici palace on grounds of insanity. A doctor, backed by Giannetto, orders that Neri's 'madness' may be cured if he submits to the mockery of those he has wronged in the past. One of these, Lisabetta, still in love with Neri, suggests that he should feign idiocy in order to regain his freedom as a harmless fool. Giannetto is at first shocked by Neri's apparent mental collapse; angered when his plea for forgiveness is ignored, however, he openly vows to make love to Ginevra again that evening. The plot turns after Giannetto convinces Neri's brother that Ginevra has fallen in love with him. Neri, freed by the Medici guards, bursts into Ginevra's room and stabs her and the man he believes to be Giannetto. When he discovers that he has murdered his own brother, he realises that Giannetto's final 'joke' has backfired and falls into a state of true madness.

"There is no chorus in La cena delle beffe," observes Carlo Rizzi. "Giordano draws attention to the main cast by using themes associated with each of the opera's central characters. And so the work grows out of the interaction between the personalities involved. It is almost as if the real time onstage is the time of the action. Giordano's music is perfectly shaped to express the drama, which means there are no big passages of descriptive or reflective writing. Instead of love arias, we hear what one might call hate arias! Le cena delle beffe is not a typical melodrama; it is a dark and disturbing drama with a tragic ending. I am unsure when it was last done at La Scala but it has certainly not been staged there since the early 1930s. This production will be quite an event and I am looking forward to exploring the piece with such a fine director and cast."

Twitter: @CarloRizziMusic

Performance dates

Saturday 23, Wednesday 27 January & Saturday 6, Tuesday 9, Friday 12 February 2016, 7.30pm
Lyric Opera of Chicago


Carlo Rizzi conductor | Željko Lu?i? Nabucco | Tatiana Serjan Abigaille | Dmitry Belosselskiy Zaccaria | Elizabeth DeShong Ferena | Sergey Skorokhodov Ismaele | Stefan Szkafarovsky High Priest | Laura Wilde Anna |Jesse Donner Abdallo

Verdi Nabucco

Sunday 3, Wednesday 6, Wednesday 20, Saturday 23, Thursday 28 April & Wednesday 4, Saturday 7 May 2016, 8pm
Sunday 10 April, 3pm


Carlo Rizzi conductor | Marco Berti Giannetto Malespini | Nicola Alaimo Neri Chiaramantesi | Leonardo Caimi Gabriello Chiaramantesi | Kristin Lewis Ginevra | Jessica Nuccio Lisabetta | Frano Lufi Fazio | Bruno De Simone Ill Dottore | Edoardo Milletti Un Cantore | Chiara Tirotta Laldomine | Federica Lombardi Fiammetta | Chiara Isotton Cintia

Giordano La cena delle beffe

Friday 13, Saturday 21 May & Friday 3 June 2016
Wales Millennium Centre, 7.15pm

Friday 10 June 2016 - Birmingham Hippodrome, 7.15pm

Wednesday 29 June & Friday 1 July 2016 - Royal Opera House, 7.30pm


Carlo Rizzi conductor | Andrew Bidlack Private Ball | Peter Coleman-Wright Bard of Britannia/HQ Officer | Alexandra Deshorties Bard of Germania/Alice the Barmaid/The Queen of the Woods | George Humphreys Lieutenant Jenkins | Lewis Marcus Farnsworth Lance Corporal | Mark Le Brocq Sergeant Snell | Donald Maxwell Dai Great Coat | Graham Clark The Marne Sergeant | Welsh National Opera

Iain Bell In Parenthesis (world premiere)

Thursday 26 May & Wednesday 1, Saturday 4 June 2016, 7.15pm
Sunday 29 May 2016, 4pm
Wales Millennium Centre

Thursday 9 & Saturday 11 June 2016, 7.15pm
Birmingham Hippodrome

Carlo Rizzi conductor | Gwyn Hughes Jones Turiddu | David Kempster Alfio | Camilla Roberts Santuzza | Anne-Marie Owens Mamma Lucia | Rebecca Afonwy-Jones Lola | Welsh National Opera

Mascagni Cavalleria Rusticana

Carlo Rizzi conductor | Gwyn Hughes Jones Canio | David Kempster Tonio | TBA Nedda | TBA Silvio | Welsh National Opera

Leoncavallo Pagliacci

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