The choice of bringing an oratorio to the main stage of an opera festival – even a rarely staged oratorio to an opera festival specialising in rarities – could seem a bit of an anticlimax. But Haydn’s great work La Creazione (Die Schöpfung), here in an Italian translation by Dario Del Corno, provides plenty of musical pathos, regardless of its stage form, and so fits just right into this year's programme of the Festival della Valle d’Itria. The style is a mixture of the Baroque oratorio and the Classical 18th-century style. To simplify to the extreme, think Handel’s choruses and Mozart’s arias. This is not to say this work doesn’t achieve a high degree of originality and “modernity”; quite the opposite in fact, especially in its traits of tone poem.

La Creazione
© Clarissa Lapolla

Director Fabio Ceresa applies to Haydn's work what we can call his usual “Baroque divertissement” treatment, here, however, with mixed success. On Tiziano Santi's very bare stage with abstract props, the three archangels in geometrically stylised Baroque costumes (by Gianluca Falaschi and Gianmaria Sposito) alternate with a group of dancers from Fattoria Vittadini. In a parallelism between divine and artistic creation, to each of the six biblical days the director associates one of the liberal arts. Whether one agrees with this concept or not, the result was to distract rather than enhance the enjoyment of the music. If, to the excessive movement on stage (by choreographer Mattia Agatiello), we add the multiple touches of irony scattered throughout the staging (like the rock dance during one of the choruses in praise of God), the effect was one of deviation from the intention of the music, which is the communication of a sacred sense of wonder in the presence of nature’s beauty.

La Creazione
© Clarissa Lapolla

While the first two acts suffer from this, in the third act, revolving around Adam and Eve rejoicing in each other’s company in the Garden of Eden, we have a sudden re-establishment of the balance between score and staging and are finally allowed to focus on the music. Even with the director’s “heretic” interpretation of this religious work, where Adam and Eve are equated to any gay couple and the Catholic god to any other god, who eventually reveals himself as just a common human being, the pace of the action is such that it doesn’t interfere with the flow of the narration, nor the real ethos of the work.

La Creazione
© Clarissa Lapolla

The young cast was excellent and the performances all very strong. Soprano Rosalia Cid, tenor Vassily Solodkyy and baritone Alessio Arduini were the archangels, while baritone Jan Antem and soprano Sabrina Sanza, both students at the Accademia del Belcanto “Rodolfo Celletti”, were Adam and Eve. The Coro Ghislieri was surprisingly incisive, sounding full and satisfying even in its limited numbers. The chorus is a main character of the show, doing justice to the remarkable chorus numbers present in this oratorio. Keeping soloists and chorus in a fine balance with the Orchestra del Teatro Petruzzelli di Bari was conductor Fabio Luisi, also musical director of the festival. 

Overall, the show’s appeal relied heavily on the impeccable musical and vocal execution rather than its (particular) staging, reminding us that opera directors should serve the music, and not the other way around.  

****1