True Love, Mock Despair

Nino Rota’s Two Shy Lovers: Comedy at the Kammeroper

Phill Suh

Korean tenor Phill Suh interpreting the timid lover Raimondo in Nino Rota‘s I due Timidi at the Kammeroper | Photo: Christian Husar

For most mid-century émigré composers, writing for Hollywood made them wealthy but was close to the kiss of death for their careers as “serious” musicians.

Italian Nino Rota (1911 – 1979) never gave the problem too much thought.

“Certain critics wrinkle their noses when they have to report about Nino Rota, the creator of symphonies and operas, and label me instead a want-to-be soundtrack writer,” the composer once said in an interview. “However, that does not get me into a dilemma, because be it film music or other music: I pursue both with the same diligence”

The proof lies in the score for Rota’s one-act  radio opera I due timidi (The Two Shy Lovers) currently at the Kammeroper, which will run a revival over the summer as part of the Wiener Opernsommer. This is a charming production, both in terms of music and the actual staging of this Austrian premiere.

The creator of such marvelous scores for films like Federico Fellini’s  La dolce vita (1960) has surpassed himself in the Shy Lovers, a work in which his mastery as a serious composer for the operatic stage is enriched with his fine sense of comedy.

The story is quickly told: Raimondo has moved in to a run-down boarding establishment next to his beloved Mariuccia, who plays the piano. But both are too timid to admit the love to each other.

However, in a Shakespearian balcony scene, Raimondo declares his love but something hits his head, and he faints. This causes much confusion, and in the end both lovers in their delirium confess their love to the wrong people, whom they then marry because they cannot bring themselves to  overcome their shyness.

The superb realization of Raimondo was performed by the Korean Tenor Phill Suh, with a wonderful repertoire of facial expressions and gestures, reminiscent of Commedia del’ Arte.  He enters the stage through the auditorium, well dressed in a suite with a bunch of narcissus, he stops under the window of his beloved, rehearsing his position in which to declare his love. We instantly recognize his despair and pain with each one of them. In the end, he rushed off-stage full of embarrassment as instead of Mariuccia, sung by the Armenian Soprano Lusine Azaryan, her mother appears on the balcony.

Nino Rota’s references to grand Italian operas, in particular to Giacomo Puccini, are woven throughout the music, but the realization of the balcony scene is possibly the most vivid example.

The upper level of Mariuccia moves out slowly thus creating a balcony, which Raimondo addresses on his knees with passion. The light was dimmed and the spots focused on the two singers. Their hands reached out for the opposite, full of romantic gestures.

Musically, the duet was filled with the high passion of Puccini’s La Bohème, the great love scene of Act I.  However, the workman repairing Raimondo’s room dropped his tools accidentally and the great romantic scene finds a comic but dramatically satisfying ending. Now, the confusion really starts.

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