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Archive for August 14th, 2014

by Sam Juliano

Italian director Luchino Visconti began his career in the theater, directing works of Tennessee Williams and Arthur Miller in his home country, before moving on to film and opera.  As to the latter form he achieved a well-earned reputation as one of the greatest opera directors of his time, and worked closely with “La Divina” Maria Callas in La Vestale, just after completing his fourth film Senso (1954), a work of exceeding operatic scope, and melodramatic essence.  Like a number of the greatest operas, Senso was a disaster upon its release.  It was critically savaged in Italy as a betrayal of neorealism, and stateside it was mutilated, dubbed into English, and re-titled as the lurid The Wanton Countess.  It took Italian film aficionado Martin Scorsese and the Criterion collection to gloriously return to film to visual splendor with a terrific 2011 restoration for DVD and blu-ray.

It can be persuasively argued that Senso has an operatic structure, offering up doomed lovers, posturing soldiers, clandestine nocturnal meetings, brazen adultery and extravagant demise.  Appropriately enough, the very first scene of Senso takes place in an opera house – the historic Teatro La Fenice in Venice, which stands today still as a major operatic venue, as it was back when the film was made and even when the story was set, nearly hundred years before that in 1866.  The opera being staged is one of the great classics, Verdi’s Il Trovatore, and the rousing aria “Di quella pira” is being negotiated by the work’s main male protagonist, Manrico, who in effect is urging a call to arms to his compatriots who are fighting against Austrian occupiers in a bid for Italian Risorgimento (reunification).  At the close of the aria, gallery revolutionaries drop leaflets that are colored like the Italian flag to the orchestra section, inhabited mostly by Austrian officers. (more…)

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