Friday, 26 July 2013

La Sagra

Our second Redentore arrives, but we still don't know anyone with a boat, so we limit ourselves to a quick stroll around that Zattere late afternoon; which is enough to confirm that getting there early enough to get a decent spot and remain there for the next eight hours would be a little too much like hard work.

Still, there are other things going on. There's yet another significant musical anniversary this year, namely the centenary of the first performance of Stravinsky's ballet The Rite of Spring.

Stravinsky loved Venice. The Rake's Progress was premiered at La Fenice; the Canticum Sacrum at St Mark's; and Threni at the Scuola Grande di San Rocco. And yet, strangely, he never properly lived here. He died in New York in 1971, but his body was flown to Venice to be interred on the cemetery island of San Michele, following his funeral at the church of Santi Giovanni e Paolo (for which the Vatican had granted permission). He lies now next to his wife, Vera, and his great fried Sergei Diaghilev, in the Orthodox section of the cemetery.

One of the more frustrating things about The Rite of Spring (or, La Sagra della Primavera, to give it its Italian title) is that it seems to be so bloody difficult to actually see a performance of it. I've heard it given as a concert performance any number of times, but I've never been lucky enough to see a staged production.

Even in the centenary year, there seems to be no prospect of an actual production anywhere nearby. The best alternative seems to be a semi-staged version, using a piano reduction of the score, at the cloisters of San Salvador.

The concert begins with a mixture of traditional Russian songs, and some short vocal pieces by Stravinsky; and then we're into the main event. Stravinsky's own version of La Sagra, for two pianos.

It might not the same as being at an actual performance, but it works remarkably well. It doesn't have the sheer visceral force as the fully orchestrated version, but it's not for want of trying from the performers : during the more violent moments one of the keyboards rocks alarmingly on its stand as the pianist pounds on it with his fists. Then, for the final Dance of the Virgin a ballerina dances to Nijinsky's original choreography.
It's a thrilling experience. It looks, and sounds utterly modern. It feels like it could have been written yesterday.  After the Rite, neither music nor dance would ever be quite the same again. Small wonder if caused an actual riot at the premiere, but we're not that sort of audience and just make our way, ever so slightly stunned, into the night.

Home for dinner, and then to watch the fireworks from the altana. A slightly different Redentore, but a good one.

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