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    Festival d’Automne à Paris
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Portrait Luigi Nono

Luigi Nono

Prometeo, tragedia dell’ascolto


    • Philharmonie de Paris - Grande salle Pierre Boulez
      December 7

    Luigi Nono’s Prometeo is an auditory feast for the senses.
    A culmination of sounds and myths – an imaginary catalogue of gods and titans – this work is a stage for our memory, the names of its heroes and the maps we have drawn: strident bursts of layered music hanging in the air, gaping silences, and the struggle between the two.

    Nono strips bare the Promethean myth according to Aeschylus, removing all narrative. On occasion, the text reduced to a mere line on the score, like a muted voice felt only by the musicians themselves. There is nothing to see in Prometeo: traditionally speaking it is not an opera, despite the breadth and strength of required voices, instruments and electronics. It is in sound alone, its ebbs and flows, that the performance finds purpose: “a tragedy of listening”.

    Nono started work on Prometeo in the mid-1970’s, amidst ideological struggles and failed revolutions around the world, to be completed nearly ten years later. It less divided into scenes as is it is islands and stasimon (choral interludes in Greek tragedy); a sea journey through an archipelago with a limitless number of possible routes to take. Each island the Titan Prometheus visits comes with a theme: his gifts; the prophecies delivered to Io, loved by Zeus who transformed her into a heifer to avoid Hera’s jealousy; the works and days, no longer god and wandering in the desert; laws and norms; the angel…

    Promoteo thus gradually becomes the exegesis of a myth, in which the name of he who defied Mont Olympus takes on other figures of European culture. Prometheus is still Prometheus, but is also Ulysses, and Achilles, and Moses.

    Texts collected by Massimo Cacciari
    Walter Benjamin, Aeschylus, Euripides, Goethe, Herodotus, Hesiod, Friedrich Hölderlin, Pindar, Arnold Schoenberg, Sophocles

    Susanna Andersson, Christina Daletska, soprano
    Els Janssens, Noa Frenkel, contraltos
    Markus Francke, tenor
    Caroline Chaniolleau, Matthias Jung, speakers
    Ensemble Recherche // Schola Heidelberg − Walter Nussbaum, choir master
    SWR Sinfonieorchester Freiburg/Baden-Baden // Ingo Metzmacher, Matilda Hofman, conductors
    SWR Experimentalstudio from the Fondation Heinrich Strobel
    Michael Acker, Reinhold Braig, Joachim Haas, sound technicians
    André Richard, stage/venue design and head sound technician

    Jointly produced by the Philharmonie de Paris, and the Festival d’Automne à Paris
    In collaboration with the Holland Festival Amsterdam and the Festival de Zurich/Tonhalle
    Supported by the Fondation Ernst von Siemens pour la Musique, the Fondation Orange, and Mécénat Musical Société Générale


    Prometeo, tragedia dell'ascolto(a listening tragedy) is the final opus and summit of the portrait devoted to the Venice-born composer Luigi Nono (1924-1990) programmed by the Festival d’Automne à Paris over two years, 2014 and 2015. The masterpiece is being presented for the third time in France; each time it has been for the Festival d’Automne à Paris, first with the French premiere in 1987 at the Théâtre de Chaillot, then in 2000 at the Cité de la musique, and this year it will be performed at the Philharmonie de Paris where the architectural design of the auditorium will provide the attention required for the changes in listening brought about by Prometeo in the 1980s, and will be the perfect setting for the performance by instrumentalists, choir, soloists and live electronics.

    The first step along the path to Prometeo was taken in the mid-1970s. On April 4, 1975, Claudio Abbado was conducting at La Scala in Milan; it was the world premiere of Al gran sole carico d’amore (In the Full Sun Laden with Love), an “azione scenica” by Luigi Nono, staged by Yuri Lyubimov, the distinguished director and founder of the Taganka Theater in Moscow. The work was massive in its ambitions, both for the musicians required and for the background sources, depicting episodes from the Paris Commune, the 1905 Russian Revolution, protests and repression in post-1945 Italy, and with figures from guerilla movements in Latin America and Asia – all movements that ultimately were doomed to failure. Luigi Nono had read Marx and other Communist thinkers, but here he had turned his back on any spirit of gloating triumph and had accepted decline and fall as part of the experience of politics. Some of his characters have no presence beyond a verdict being handed down; and many scenes show fighters having to contend with imprisonment, or torture, or worse: Communards face the firing squad on orders from the leader of the government, Adolphe Thiers, there is the Turin massacre of workers, women held in camps in South Vietnam, and so it goes on. The opus concludes with the murder of a mother figure. Only one Utopia remains, sung in tenuous tones, in the faintest of voices, weakness already apparent.
    Soon after the premiere performance of Al gran sole, at a time of crisis and radical challenging of models from the past, Luigi Nono began contemplating a work on Prometheus. There, bound to the rock by Zeus for having revealed the secrets of the gods (fire, astronomy, numbers, navigation and hope which transcends the obsessive fear of death), the Titan god Prometheus is another tale of the fall.
    At the time, Luigi Nono was in close, almost daily contact with the philosopher and politician Massimo Cacciari, and was reading authors he had previously spurned for ideological reasons; the works included Greek tragedies such as Prometheus Bound by Aeschylus on which Prometeo is based. There was also Hölderlin, conjuring up an ideal view of ancient Greece, with poems for the string quartet Fragmente-Stille, an Diotima (Fragments-Silence, to Diotima, 1979-1980) and verses recurring in sections of Prometeo. Nietzsche with the theme of wandering and the figure of the Wanderer became a source of fascination. And there was Walter Benjamin (Cacciari being one of the leading Benjamin scholars); so Nono saw Benjamin as a figure walking tirelessly in search of new areas, stimulated by new ideas from Marxist dialectics and Jewish theology, and also as an eminent expert on the theory of baroque drama – Trauerspiel, literally mourning played as theater, quite distinct from classical Greek tragedy.
    Over a number of years, different versions of the libretto were produced; some pages were sent from the Lower House of Parliament where Massimo Cacciari held a seat from 1976 to 1983 as a member of the Italian Communist Party; (he was also a member of the Parliamentary Committee for Industry). Gradually a multilingual montage developed, with Prometheus as a figure in a constant, restless quest, citing many literary and philosophical references. The format was somewhere between a log book and a fresco. Echoing what Walter Benjamin called a “weak Messianic force,” Prometeo urges us never to consider forces defeated in the past as also being defeated in the future. Redemption from the past stands as a response to the revolutionary martyrs of Al gran sole. And while Prometheus bound is attacked by an eagle pecking out his liver, Prometheus also delivers us from the realms of mythology.

    The plan for Prometeo was soon expanded to include the painter and friend Emilio Vedova, and the architect Renzo Piano. Nono and Vedova studied color and vibrations of color as a parallel to sound waves. Just as the tragedy of Aeschylus contains a collection of adjectives related to light, so Nono, together with Vedova, imagined ways of projecting color, before abandoning the idea shortly before the premiere performance, believing that the demands made on the eyes might distract the audience from the task of listening. There was to be no stage, but simply an area, a space, a “macchina da sonàr” in times past. Renzo Piano designed a wooden arch for the church of San Lorenzo in Venice where Prometeo had its world premiere, a church with a great history of music, particularly in the late 18th century. The arch, together with the grey stone Palladian-style altar, divided the church in two; the arch was part lute, part violin, part hull of an unfinished vessel on the building site where instrumentalists, choir and soloists were positioned at different horizontal points and vertical levels, while the audience was seated within the two naves, the church nave and the nave designed by Renzo Piano. Here Luigi Nono was harking back to the masters of the Venetian Renaissance, making the physical space an integral part of the composition. He then had to develop new thoughts on sound, studying infinitesimal rustlings left suspended on the verge of silence. This he did at the Heinrich-Strobel Studio in Freiburg (Germany) on the edge of the Black Forest, starting in 1980 and experimenting repeatedly with performers and friends. The conductor chosen for the world premiere of Prometeo was Claudio Abbado, and the performance was given in the Church of San Lorenzo on September 29, 1984.

    Prometeo has now been performed 70 times around the world, and each site has been unique, with its own architecture and acoustics, with scope for the work to adapt and change through live electronics led by André Richard. Ingo Metzmacher, who conducted and recorded Prometeo in Salzburg in 1993, will be conducting the performance to be given at the Philharmonie de Paris.

    Laurent Feneyrou