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Anne Ku at Ilp in May 2001
Anne Ku writes about her travels, conversations, thoughts, events, music, and anything else that is interesting enough to fill a web page. She has written and produced two chamber operas, premiered in Utrecht, Netherlands. See her publication list for more.
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Ricciotti Ensemble premieres Pinocchio in Love


Most of us are familiar with the story of Pinocchio, the wooden puppet whose nose grew longer whenever he lied. His blue guardian fairy promised to grant him a wish if he proved himself to be a good soul. After saving the old woodcutter from drowning, Pinocchio wished himself to be a real human being.

What happens after that? Nobody knows. On 17th July 2010, Pinocchio would be 127 years old --- a human being and very, very old. It's the subject of a new opera.

What drew me to see the premiere of this new opera was several fold.

  1. A new opera based on a new story about a fictional character
  2. Ricciotti Ensemble commissioned Dutch composer Guus Janssen to compose an opera for their 40th anniversary
  3. Convenient location, a short (5 minute) cycle ride from my home.
  4. Outdoor event: “Festival de Parade” in central Utrecht

The title “Pinocchio in Love” may be slightly misleading to tell of the old human Pinocchio who reminisces the younger wooden Pinocchio. What is omnipresent throughout the story is the blue fairy whom Pinocchio loves. The libretto, hence titled “BLUE” subtitled “A Pinocchio in Reverse” is written by Friso Haverkamp whose operas Fausts Licht Bethaniënklooster, 2006), Noach (De Nederlandse Opera, 1994 and 1999), HIERº (De Nederlandse Opera, 2000) and QUOTH (concert performance, 1999), were all set to music by Guus Janssen. Together with stage director Miranda Lakerveld, the team has worked together several times before.

Pinocchio in Love Ricciotti Ensemble
Roberto Bacchilega (old man Pinocchio), conductor Gijs Kramers, Ricciotti Ensemble. Photo: Hans Hijmering

As operas are the most expensive of all live performance productions, it seems uneconomic to produce an opera in one location for just one performance. Outdoor performances are prone to adverse weather conditions and acoustical challenges. The acoustics inside a tent cannot be superior to that of a fixed concert hall. These are precisely the difficulties that face touring opera companies and theatre groups.

The Ricciotti Ensemble takes pride in setting up quickly and performing everywhere as a touring ensemble. Sometimes called “street musicians,” the 40 young musicians (up to age 30) are enthusiastic and talented messengers of music that can be performed anywhere --- elderly homes, schools, streets, prisons, and even refugee camps. “Pinocchio in Love” is a street opera, with minimal and mobile props with the musicians as active participants (rather than as a pit orchestra).

On 17th July 2010, the large tent at the Festival de Parade in Utrecht was quickly populated to a full house. [Note: this 2-week festival takes place every summer in the four largest cities in the Netherlands: Amsterdam, the Hague, Rotterdam, and Utrecht.] The audience sat on benches in a concentric semi-circle to the empty stage. The musicians walked or skipped into the tent, following each other until they filled the stage. They communicated with each other through their instruments, some chatty, some melancholic, some witty. It was refreshing to see that the musicians were an integral part of the opera, not in the pit or off-stage but very much on stage and part of the show. The costumes of Pi-Kwadraat helped to unify conductor Gijs Kramers and the ensemble members with the soloists.

The story is told through narration in Dutch by Italian actor Roberto Bacchilega as the old human Pinocchio and sung by the counter tenor Harm Huson as the Little Man and German mezzo soprano Antje Lohse as BLUE (the blue fairy). Spanish actor Javier Murugarren does not speak but plays the dancer and puppeteer of Pini (the young Pinocchio). Through simple props, it’s not difficult to work out the plot in this one hour, one act opera.

Pinocchio in Love Ricciotti Ensemble
Javier Murugarren, Antje Lohse, and Harm Huson in Pinocchio in Love. Photo: Hans Hijmering

It’s not the first time that a new opera written by Dutch librettist and Dutch composer uses more than one language. In a multi-lingual society such as the Netherlands where a typical Dutch person speaks at least three languages, it's not uncommon to go to theatre or opera and hear dialogue in several languages. At this premiere, I heard Dutch spoken by the Italian actor (and presumably it will be in Italian when the ensemble takes the opera on tour in Sicily.) The countertenor and mezzo soprano sang in English but sometimes Italian too.

Judging from the reactions around me, I was not the only one having trouble hearing and understanding the narration and recitatives. After the premiere, I spoke to the Guus Janssen who confirmed that it was supposed to be amplified with surtitles displayed for all to see. These two elements were cut out for reasons of budget and practicality. For a new opera to be understood and appreciated, voice amplification was essential to project the main characters above the tutti of a 40-member ensemble on the same stage in an acoustically suboptimal surrounding (i.e. a tent which does not block out outdoor noise.)

To experience this new opera, however, I would recommend that you approach it holistically --- focus your attention not just on the actors and singers but also the ensemble. Here is an opera written specifically for a 40-member ensemble, the members of which remind us that life is fun and should be enjoyed as often as possible. The opera with its puppetry could easily entertain a younger audience, too.

Future play dates for “Pinocchio in Love”:
• Thur 22 July 21.30 Slottuintheater, Slotlaan 1, Zeist
• Fri 23 July 21.30 Sonsbeekpark, Zijpendaalseweg 24a, Arnhem
• Sat 24 July 21.30 Belgenmonument, Belgenlaan 9, Amersfoort
• Sun 25 July 21.30 Amsterdam Westergasterrein
• Tour of Sicily from 19 through 27 October 2010

Besides Pinocchio, the Ricciotti Ensemble will also give 30 concerts (of other programmes) between 13th and 25th July in the Netherlands and 19 – 27 October in Sicily. All concerts are free to the public.

20 July 2010

Related links:
Ricciotti Ensemble
Official website
Opera for first timers
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