Filippo Perocco - Aquagranda
La Fenice, Venice - 2016
Marco Angius, Damiano Michieletto, Andrea Mastroni, Mirko Guadagnini, Giulia Bolcato, Silvia Regazzo, Vincenzo Nizzardo, William Corrò, Marcello Nardis
Culturebox - 10 November 2016
Aquagranda was commissioned by La Fenice to commemorate the 50th anniversary of a significant event; the flooding of Venice on the 4th November 1966, when storms and high tide lifted the water two metres above sea level, inundating St Mark's Square and threatening the city's important historical buildings, but it also affected the lives of many ordinary Venetians. Despite its very modern musical language and the fact that it has a libretto co-written by the author of the source novel it is based on, Filippo Perocco's Aquagranda however never seems to find a character of its own beyond the remit of its commission.
Aquagranda looks at the events of November 1966 through the eyes of Fortunato and his son Ernesto. 25 year old Ernesto is unwilling to become Venetian fisherman like his father, and is preparing to leave the little island of Pellestrina for a life in Germany when the flooding occurs. Finding himself deeply affected by the event, Ernesto recognises the feelings he has for La Serenissima and stays to help rebuild the city. There are other figures who appear, and you could say that the waters of Venice play a major role in the work, but essentially that's about as far as any real storyline goes in the opera.
Rather than a conventional drama then, Aquagranda, through Perocco's score and through Damiano Michieletto's stage production for its performance in Venice, is more of an impressionistic commemoration of the 1966 flood. The first third of the work doesn't really have much more to it than Fortunato and another fisherman debating in repeated fragmentary back-and forth phrases just how bad things are going to be. They look at the menacing skies, the full moon, the high tide and watch its irregular rise and fall. Eventually, they are faced with the irrefutable evidence of the mounting level of water and forced to consider its impact.
If there is little of any narrative drive in either the music or the exchanges between the characters, there is at least a vivid impression of the nature of the coming storm in the music and the staging. A chorus placed to either side of the stage chants words and provides rhythm for the atmospheric drone-like score with live electronic elements, the orchestra ensemble conducted by Marco Angius. Avoiding any typical depiction of Venice - no domes or gondolas - production designer Paolo Fantin sets a glass wall of water behind the main figures. The water rises and swirls within its frame, while dancers move behind it, all soon to spill over onto the front of the stage.
The middle part of the opera is then drenched with the water that has built up as the walls which have protected the city for centuries are destroyed in a single day. Father and son, their family and friends are suddenly faced with the impact on their little isola of Pellestrina and consider how much greater a disaster such a deluge must be for the palaces, churches, domes, marble, gondolas and the celebrations in the great city of Venice. The mood is darker, the stage is drenched in water, the singers and dancers move through it all in a state of mourning, lamenting the disaster.
If the first part of Aquagranda relates the coming of the waters and the second part deals with the event itself, it's the third part that lets the overall narrative or structure of the work down. Instead of ending on a note of warning or reminder of the ever present danger that climate change presents to the lagoon city, the opera chooses to end on a celebratory note that doesn't ring true immediately after the disaster. The walls have been reconstructed and life goes on, seemingly with little reflection on what has occurred. Instead of being a work that might continue to have meaning and significance for the future of Venice, it's a conclusion that just presents the event as a wrapped up 50 year old piece of history. Musically, Aquagranda captures a sense of that event reasonably well within the remit of the commission, but Perocco never reveals any ambition to invest the work with any greater sense of purpose.
Links: La Fenice, Culturebox