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Ginastera's Beatrix Cenci receives European premiere at Geneva Opera
(November 2000)
Alberto Ginastera's powerful and disturbing opera Beatrix Cenci received its long-awaited European premiere in September, launching Geneva Opera's 2000/01 season. The new production by Francisco Negrin was both enthusiastically received by audiences and critically acclaimed "for giving the work the best opportunity for a long future career on the international lyric stage" (Le Courier). The opera was conducted by Latin-American specialist Gisèle Ben-Dor, who has done much to champion Ginastera's music, including an acclaimed recent BMG disc of the complete ballets Estancia and Panambí.

The Argentinian-born composer was resident in Geneva when he composed his third and final opera to a libretto by William Shand and Alberto Girri, based on the controversial play Les Cenci by Antonin Artaud, one of the most representative examples of the 'Theatre of Cruelty'. Beatrix Cenci was commissioned for the opening of the Kennedy Center in Washington and premiered there in 1971 conducted by Julius Rudel. This was followed two years later by a staging at the New York City Opera, but the work has since had to wait close on thirty years to cross the Atlantic.

Beatrix Cenci, like Ginastera's two earlier stageworks Don Rodrigo and Bomarzo, is a reinterpretation of the traditional operatic preoccupations of love and death, yet viewed from a distinctly 20th century Freudian perspective. During the course of this compact and intense opera, running for 90 minutes without interval, the extreme situations of the characters take on a progressively surreal tone. Ginastera's orchestral mastery is to the fore, depicting the fevered Renaissance milieu of incest, rape, murder and, ultimately, execution, while his folk-inspired lyricism colours in the contrasted themes of love and compassion. Reviewers observed that while the opera's musical idiom - by turns atonal, aleatoric, and serial  - is very much of his era, Ginastera "imparts a particularly flamboyant lyricism to this language... The dramatic curve is inexorable, right up to the execution of the 'innocent' Beatrix Cenci, followed closely... by the brief soliloquy of the child Bernardo, who drowns in silence." (Le Monde)

Les Temps praised Ginastera's "lyrical generosity and rhythmic brilliance which displays his Latin-American origins... Of course there are also grand orchestral sonorities to punctuate the junctures of the dramatic flow, plus the choral apostrophes at the beginning and the end of the action, which are among the most powerful pages of the score." ABC Spain's online review described how "one could not believe the emotional impact that Ginastera develops out of a single chord, thereby displaying his masterly economy of musical materials."

"Ginastera explores the darker recesses of the human soul, where noble feelings are out of place... A particular interpretation is suggested by the staging, design and lighting of Francisco Negrin, Anthony Baker and Wolfgang Goebbel... Dominated by grey, pale, suspended lighting, the setting recalls the overlong reign of the Latin-American dictators and their sinister torture chambers. Inevitably, in this context the only living colour which has a rightful place is red. It is a blood-red rotating curtain that breaks up the greyness of the stage, separating for example the innocence of Beatrix from the bloody universe of her father... This is a work which can now take its place alongside the operatic classics of the twentieth century." Le Courier

"Despite the horror, blood and shame, this work is one of staggering beauty"
24 heures, Geneva


> Further information on Beatrix Cenci

Photo: the Geneva Opera production of Ginastera's Beatrix Cenci (Photo © Geneva Opera)

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