For many years I've been fascinated by this opera without having heard a note of it. The very story itself was so bizarre and perverse (I remember reading a synopsis in the Pan Book of Opera - a tome which has long disappeared from my shelves) I was fascinated. The music just had to be really outlandish.
However, quite recently I was able to find and download the original 1967 CBS recording which has been unavailable for years, and it is my pleasure to be able to feature it here in my new blog, as I might have pricked your curiosity by mentioning it in my Harry Crowl entry.
A note about the recording: there are two mp3 files, the first is 100% complete but I was only able to grab about 98.7% of the second mp3 file. Mea Culpa for this but there was no more available on offer.
Before I give you the links I wanted to give you some background information:
1) Review from TIME Magazine:
In a Gloomy Garden
A seminude courtesan tries to seduce a hunchback as his image mocks him from three mirrors. Fashionable men and women strip to nearly topless leotards and pantomime a sordid orgy. A bearded astrologer chants about immortality while peacocks scream. In a gloomy garden, a man embraces a sculptured minotaur, seeing in it the face of his brother. Statues spring to life in an eerie dance.
This is such stuff as bad dreams are made on; and in Argentine Composer Alberto Ginastera's new opera Bomarzo, it is appropriately woven into the gripping nightmare of a tortured spirit. Commissioned by the Washington Opera Society and given its world première last week at Washington's Lisner Auditorium, Bomarzo is based on a prizewinning novel by Buenos Aires Art Critic Manuel Mujica Lainez, who also wrote the libretto. In 15 taut, hallucinatory scenes that take place mostly in the mind of Pierfrancesco Orsini, Renaissance Duke of Bomarzo, it flashes back over the events of the Duke's "secret life, which like the hump on my back, encumbered my soul."
Sighs & Moans. Bomarzo is taunted by his brothers and father; he is sexually ambivalent and frustrated, ghost-ridden and obsessed with death. Suspecting that his wife has been unfaithful with his brother, he orders the brother killed. Then, having built a garden of grotesque stone sculptures symbolizing his inner traumas, he unwittingly drinks poison and dies in the gaping mouth of one of his statues; his only benediction is a kiss from an innocent shepherd boy who skips by.
Musically, this lugubrious narrative is etched in a jaggedly dissonant score that takes Composer Ginastera even farther out than the twelve-tone serialism of his 1964 opera Don Rodrigo. Ginastera stacks up thick instrumental clusters, punctuates them with short, stabbing chords, sometimes uses what he calls "clouds," in which orchestra and singers improvise rhythmically suspended, ever-shifting textures. At various points in the piece, the string players clatter their bows on their instruments, the brassmen blow air tonelessly through their mouthpieces, the woodwinds bend notes into piercing quartertones. A 24-voice chorus in the pit sometimes comments on the action or makes weird noises underlining a dramatic moment; during the orgy scene, it sighs, moans, and murmurs the word love in several languages simultaneously.
Metaphysical Anxiety. Under the firm baton of New York City Opera Director Julius Rudel, the singers projected their parts with clarity and polish while threading their way through Ming Cho Lee's surrealistic settings. Mexican Tenor Salvador Novoa eloquently voiced the pain and weakness of the Duke, and statuesque Joanna Simon, as the courtesan, sang her seduction aria in a lustrous mezzo-soprano.
Ginastera sees Bomarzo as "a man of our time," because he "struggles with sex, submits to violence, and is tormented by the metaphysical anxiety of death." The thesis might be more persuasive if Bomarzo were a less odd and cringing figure, and if the unremitting bleakness of his psychological life were set off against a more robust outward existence. But there can be no doubt that Ginastera has powerfully achieved his effects, combining orchestral wizardry and forceful vocal writing to carve out the contours of jarringly dramatic emotion. As Washington Opera Society President Hobart Spalding says, "The fellow is made to write operas."
2) And here is the music:
The Opera Society of Washington directed by Julius Rudel, 1967
(Studio recording: From CBS 32-31-0006 Stereo LPs - 1967)
Track listing -
01 - Act I, Prelude
02 - Act I, Scene 1 - The potion
03 - Act I, Interlude
04 - Act I, Scene 2 - Pier Francesco's childhood
05 - Act I, Scene 3 - The horoscope
06 - Act I, Interlude
07 - Act I, Scene 4 - Pantasilea
08 - Act I, Interlude
09 - Act I, Scene 5 - Death of Girolamo
10 - Act I, Scene 6 - Pier Francesco Orsini, Duke of Bomarzo
11 - Act I, Interlude
01 - Act II, Scene 7 - Fiesta in Bomarzo & Scene 8 - The portrait by Lorenzo Lott
02 - Act II, Scene 9 - Julia Farnese
03 - Act II, Interlude
04 - Act II, Scene 10 - The bridal chamber
05 - Act II, Scene 11 - The Dream
06 - Act II, Scene 12 - The minotaur
07 - Act II, Scene 13 - Maerbale
08 - Act II, Interlude
09 - Act II, Scene 14 - The alchemy
10 - Act II, Interlude
11 - Act II, Scene 15 - The park of the monsters