La ville morte
Human blindness and obsession.
Opera by Nadia Boulanger (1887–1979) and Raoul Pugno (1852–1914).
Libretto by Gabriele D'Annunzio. Orchestration by Mauro Bonifacio.
Performed as a concert. Sung in French with Swedish and English surtitles.
The French composer and teacher Nadia Boulanger was one of the most prominent and influential composers of the 1900s. Her list of students is impressive, including Igor Stravinsky, Benjamin Britten, Francis Poulenc, Aaron Copeland, Quincy Jones, Daniel Barenboim, Astor Piazzolla, Philip Glass … the list goes on.
It’s been said that Boulanger deliberately took a step back as a composer to let her younger sister Lili Boulanger take centre stage. But prior to that, in 1909 she had finished her only opera, called ”La ville morte” – not to be confused with Korngold’s opera of the same name (albeit in German), Die Tote Stadt. The first public performance of La ville morte took place in Italy in 2006 – nearly 100 years after its inception. The Göteborg Opera’s concertante performance will be the second ever performance of this work.
”La ville morte” is a tragic tale packed with symbolism, decadence and a weakness for antiquity. It takes place among the ruins of Agamemnon's palace in ancient Mycenae, where archaeologists are searching for royal tombs. One of the archaeologists is Léonard, who has arrived at the site accompanied by his sister Hebé, his good friend Alexandre and the friend’s blind wife, Anne. It presents a complex chain of events containing obsession, forbidden desire and irrationality, where Anna, in tune with currents of time, senses an inner reality with a clarity lacking in those can see.
The music in ”La ville morte” is impressionistic, with a colourful orchestral palette and rich moods reminiscent of Debussy and Ravel. It was written in the same year and Richard Strauss’ opera Elektra, which portrays the murder of King Agamemnon, whose grave the archaeologists are searching to find in Boulanger’s opera. It was written during a period where there was increasing fascination with the subconscious mind and where symbolism and perversion influenced the arts.