Composers: La Donna Serpente
Performers: Teatro Regio Torino/Noseda
Catalogue Number: Naxos 2110631 (DVD), also Blu-ray
The approachable Alfredo Casella (1883-1947) was of the Italian post-verismo generation that included moderately successful opera composers like Respighi and Malipiero. Casella, however, was not a fan, despising Puccini and Wagner alike. La Donna Serpente was his only venture into the genre, and despite some attractive music, reveals an operatic novice as far as dramatic matters are concerned.
Based on a Gozzi play – the same source material that Wagner used for Die Feen – the story tells how King Altidòr is tested by his wife, the fairy Miranda. Mastering his emotions when she throws their children into a fire (hmm…) he finally curses her for supposedly betraying the kingdom, at which point she is condemned to become a serpent for 200 years. Suffice it to say, it all comes good in the end, but a story that Busoni or Puccini would have boiled down to 90 minutes, in Casella’s hands stretches for an interminable two-and-a-half hours.
This 2016 Turin staging, urgently conducted by Gianandrea Noseda and generally well sung, feels its length. There’s plenty of delightful music, much of it in a series of poorly choreographed interludes (Riccardo Olivier must shoulder part of the blame). The main culprit is Arturo Cirillo’s mostly meaningless production coupled with a cast who on the whole cannot act, robbing the tragedy of pathos or sparkle in its contrasting commedia hijinks. My advice? Wait for the CD.