Review: World Premiere of Marco Tutino’s ‘Two Women (La Ciociara)’ at SF Opera (***)

by Charles Kruger
Rating: ***
(For an explanation of TheatreStorm’s rating scale, click here.)

Mother Cesira (Anna Caterina Antonacci) and daughter Rosetta (Sarah Shafer) suffer the ravages of war in "Two Women." Photo Credit: Cory Weaver.
Mother Cesira (Anna Caterina Antonacci) and daughter Rosetta (Sarah Shafer) suffer the ravages of war in “Two Women.” Photo Credit: Cory Weaver.
This reviewer is a voting associate member of the San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle (SFBATCC)
This reviewer is a voting associate member of the San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle (SFBATCC)

Composer Marco Tutino is known in Italy as a “neo-romanticist” and an admirer of “opera verismo” or realism in opera. Think the operatic equivalent of Cinéma verité or 19th century realism in the theatre. The problem is that what was realistic and down to earth a century ago may well seem cliched and melodramatic today. Puccini was once in the vanguard, but to compose in the style of Puccini today is to seem old fashioned, overwrought, and, well, pretty hammy.

And that is both the problem and the pleasure of ‘Two Women.’ Although clearly we are intended to take it very seriously as a deep and profound drama about war, the old fashioned score, that is almost slavishly imitative of “Tosca” and other Puccini masterworks, undermines that intent.

Still, if one accepts the highly questionable premise that this style remains appropriate for the material, the production has its pleasures. The score may be derivative, but it is rousing and has the pleasures of familiarity. Conductor Nicola Luisotti has treated this music with respect, as have the fine musicians of the SF Opera orchestra. If at times this score sounds not only like Puccini, but also a mid century movie score ala Max Steiner, well, that can be quite fun. But the themes of war time tragedies, culminating in a horrific rape, demand something more sophisticated. The effect of old fashioned melodramatic music undermines the seriousness of these themes.

Bass-baritone Mark Delavan is the melodramatic villain Giovanni in "Two Women." Photo Credit: Cory Weaver.
Bass-baritone Mark Delavan is the melodramatic villain Giovanni in “Two Women.” Photo Credit: Cory Weaver.

The production does boast a remarkably realistic, almost cinematic set, by designers Peter J. Davison (set) and S. Katy Tucker (projections), intelligently fluid staging by director Francesca Zambello, and finely acted performances by a willing cast, especially Sarah Shafer as the young Rosetta, who delivers the opera’s best scene as she undergoes a striking personality change after experiencing a gang rape. Another treat in this production is the beautiful, soaring vocalization of Dimitri Pittas as her romantic interest, Michele. The incorpororation of some folk tunes (especially as performed by the charming Pasquale Esposito) are also a pleasure.

But, all of these fine production values are undermined by the essentially melodramatic indulgence of the piece as a whole. The Scarpia-like villain, Giovanni, as sung and acted by Mark Delavan, is practically a moustache-twirling cartoon. Indeed, when Delavan took his bow at the curtain call, he mugged in just that style, encouraging the audience to hiss and boo.

In conclusion, “Two Women,” is competent and satisfying in several ways — especially orchestral performance and production design — but seems to be essentially a minor work.

“Two Women (La Ciociara)” plays at the War Memorial Opera House through June 30, 2015 (two more performances). For further information, click here.

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“Two Women (La Ciociara)” by Marco Tutino, libertto by Marco Tutino + Fabio Ceresa. World premiere prodction co-comissioned by San Francisco Opera and Teatro Regio di Torino. Director: Francesca Zambello. Conductor: Nicola Luisotti. Set Designer: Peter J. Davison. Costume Designer: Jess Goldstein. Lighting Designer: Mark McCullough. Projection D esigner: S. Katy Tucker. Chorus Director: Ian Robertson. Choreographer: Val Caniparoli. Fight Director: David Maier. 

A Countray Woman: Znada Ṧvẽde. An Old Woman: Sally ouzon. Cesira: Anna Caterina Antonacci. Giovanni: Mark Deevan. Rosetta, Cesira’s daughter: Sarah Shafer. Michele, a young intellectual: Dimitri Pittas. Lena, a young mother: Znada Ṧvẽde. A distant voice: Christopher Jackson. Jon Buckley, lieutenant of the U.S. Air Force: Edward Nelson. Fedor von Bock, field marshal of the Wehrmact: Christian Van Horn. Pasquale Sciortino: Joel Sorensen. Maria, Sciortino’s mother: Buffy Baggott. Moroccan soldiers: Chester Pidduck + Torlef Borsting + William O’Neill. Italian singer: Pasquale Esposito.

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