Kulturkompasset | critics of culture events



di Pietro Mascagni

iris photo 1 Boi ph. Augusto Bizzi Livorno

Pisa, Italy

Teatro Verdi

2018 January 13th
Direttore, Daniele Agiman
Regia e luci, Iroki Hihara

Scene, Sumiko Masuda
Costumi, Tamao Asuka
Coreografie, Rina Ikoma

Orchestra Filarmonica Pucciniana

Coro Ars Lyrica

Maestro del coro, Marco Bargagna

Coro aggiunto per
Inno del sole (istruito da Luca Stornello)


Il Cieco, Fulvio Fonzi
Iris, Valentina Boi

Osaka, Samuele Simoncini
Kyoto, Keisuke Otani
Dhia/Una Guècha, Maria Salvini
Un Cenciaiolo/Un Merciaiolo, Didier Pieri
Due Cenciaioli, Tommaso Tomboloni, Marco Innamorati




Two years after Zanetto (1896) Pietro Mascagni, at the suggestion of Luigi Illica who aimed to comply with the growing european cultural and artistic craze for the Far East, composed his “symbolist opera” Iris whose the 120th anniversary of the premiere occurs this year.

This opera shows great musical wealth and sordid plot being chracterized by a strange almost morbid fascination. It describes in a not very theatrical way the misadventures until death by suicide of a naive Japanese beautiful young girl who is even kidnapped from the old blind father to be offered to customers in a brothel. The dying girl turns into a flower, the iris. The opera was premiered in Rome in 1898 conducted by the author himself, with celebrated singers of that time such as the Romanian soprano Hariclea Darclée and the Italian tenor Fernando De Lucia.

iris photo 3 ensemble 1st act ph. Augusto Bizzi Livorno

Unfortunately Iris isn’t very known or often staged in Italy, perhaps also underestimated, and together with Parisina is probably the most interesting among Mascagni’s works. About the sometimes ridiculed libretto we must say that it should be considered in the literary events of the time, we have also to admit that was written in an almost D’Annunzio-style language by Luigi Illica, and purified from the language and the almost obsessive and long captions (some pages have accompanying captions whose length is greater than the text to be put in music…) appears at its core interesting and modern.

Nothing is farther than Verism, the libretto even with all its flaws is approaching a Twentieth-century theater. There aren’t characters in their psychological evolution but almost Pirandellian hard “masks” and an absolutely mysterious antirealistic and empty of any action third Act, in which appear the personifications of the three “Egoisms” that conditioned the life of the dying Iris, the young’s who got infatuated with her, the pimp’s and the greedy father’s one. As it is very curious to open and close the opera with the Inno del sole (Sun hymn), and Iris also addresses the Sun during the opera, in an almost philosophical more oriental than western nature pantheism. In addition we have to say that this opera kicked off the trend of Orientalism in music, which will also have as a follower Giacomo Puccini with Madama Butterfly.

iris photo 4 Fonzi Boi ph. Augusto Bizzi Livorno

But if we look over some pages a bit exterior and charcterized by even too captivating melodies, we find an interesting and refined musical writing, a lush orchestra also rich in oriental instruments and seductions. Famous pages in this opera, and as such well known exspecially by Italian melomaniacs, are the Inno del sole, Iris’ aria Un dì ero piccina, Ior’s Serenade, the Duet among soprano and tenor, the beautiful ragmen scene when they find the dying Iris in last Act.

The conductor Daniele Agiman seems to know well the score but not its traps, unfortunately not showing too much vitality but even too much slow pacing especially at some moments when Mascagni’s musical vein seems a bit drowsy. He shows good coordination with the stage, being definitely too fragmentary and uninteresting above all in the first Act (perhaps the weakest of the whole opera). However the performance went on growing from the first to the third act by merit of everyone, conductor and singers. The Choir Ars Lyrica and the Orchestra Filarmonica Pucciniana collaborate with Maestro Agiman but we would have expected something more mostly from the orchestra.

In the vocal cast two young interesting Italian voices – probably to follow in the next years – stood out, soprano Valentina Boi and tenor Samuele Simoncini, who have not spared themselves and were the strong point of the entire production.

Mrs Boi sports an interesting voice of a typically Italian soprano, beautiful, bright, rich with overtones, fresh and youthful, strong interpretative personality that allows her to circumvent easily the vocal traps of her role. Moreover is credible on stage, has a remarkable fluidity in the emission and vocally finds appropriate accents even in more dramatic moments.

iris photo 5 ensemble final scene ph. Augusto Bizzi LIvorno

The tenor Samuele Simoncini shows a firm voice and an interesting volume, a good timbre and a singing line that is sufficiently homogeneous so to allow him to complete the opera with security and with the right accents required by his character.

The baritone Keisuke Otani as Kyoto did not leave very positive signs of himself, however he outlined scenically his character rather well.

The Cieco was the excellent Fulvio Fonzi, a beautiful soft voice of an authentic bass, who sings with great ownership and authority.

Pretty well all the minor characters, among which stands out the beautiful vocality and the irreproachable way of singing of tenor Didier Pieri in the two little roles of Merciaiolo and Cenciaiolo, almost a specialist in these small important roles.

The Japanese director Iroki Hihara just shows a rather didactic staging of the story and without intellectual superstructures, approximately he offers us an Iris as more or less we expect. Good is the visual impact, with scenes by Sumiko Masuda, costumes by Tamao Asuka and the well-kept light designing by the director himself. The singers’ acting is good even if perhaps too stereotypical for a fundamentally “symbolist” opera like this one. Few moving elements constitute the scene, with on the background backdrops inspired by Hokusai and Léon Bakst on which the colorful oriental costumes stand out. The choreographic inserts by Rina Ikoma are rather suitable.

The very large audience was very warm in enthusiastic applause for everyone.

Fabio Bardelli

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