Saturday, August 22
Opera-goers today often lament the rise of intrusive stage directors who feel the need to reinterpret a composer’s work in startling and often deliberately provocative ways. One recent staging of Wagner’s “Lohengrin” at the Bayreuth Festival, for example, featured the chorus dressed up as laboratory rats.
But contemporary directors would have to go pretty far to top a ballet staging that took place at the Venice Festival on today’s date in 1961.
In this case, music by the Italian Baroque composer Alessandro Scarlatti was specially arranged into a short ballet score for which sets, story, and choreography were provided by two leading avant-garde artists of the day: the surrealist Spanish painter Salvador Dali and the Belgian choreography Maurice Bejart, with an important contribution by La Maison Guerlain, a pricey French perfume manufacturer.
And when we said French perfume played an important role in the staging, we meant it—since big barrels of the stuff were placed on stage to mask the odor of a rotting cattle carcass that was a feature of Bejart’s scenario.
To paraphrase the late Walter Cronkite, “And that’s the way it was—and smelled—August 22, 1961.”
Music Played in Today's Program
Alessandro Scarlatti (arr. Confalonieri) Gala ballet Complesso Strumentale Italiano; Giulio Confalonieri, cond. London LP (out-of-print)
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