Arrigo Boito’s “meant-to-be” Opera: “Il Re Orso” coming to the Opera Comique in 2011

Quite possibly one of the most under-estimated and misconstrued artists of all time, poet, philosopher, and composer Arrigo Boito remains an enigma.  Known most widely for having composed the libretti for Verdi’s Otello and Falstaff, opera-goers are not as familiar with Boito’s own attempts at opera, Mefistofele and the troublesome Nerone. Although these last two works are at least known (and actually masterpieces), some of Boito’s other poetic works were clearly written in the form of opera libretti, therefore suggesting that those works might have been set to music.  Boito’s “secretive” manner of communicating and creating artistic works is another story altogether, however one work that belongs to this category is his grotesque and almost offensive poem, Il Re Orso (The King Bear).

Re Orso is an allegorical poem (for a throrough analysis of what it means and how it relates to operatic tradition of the 19th Century, you’ll have to check out my dissertation).  Essentially, Boito uses a specific language to communicate his philosophy and to manifest a type of poetry that was uncommon in the 19th Century.  Upon completing the poem, he sent it to Victor Hugo who responded with a letter of praise and encouragement.  Boito also sent the poem to Verdi (for other more personal reasons that relate to my research).

In the 1980s, Re Orso was set to music for the first time and was recorded.  The following is the recording with music by Margot Galante Garrone.

Although the recording captures what are aspects of “Scapigliatura” style, it is difficult to know what Boito might have done with the opera had he composed it himself.  I call it an opera, controversially, because it is only considered a poem.  During my research, I found evidence that suggests Re Orso is a libretto, meant to be set to music.  Excitingly, a new production of this work will be presented in 2010.

The Festival RE ORSO is set to occur at the Opera Comique in Paris in June 2010.  For any Boito fans, this event is a must. Here is some information on the event:

AVOLA PER MUSICA de Marco Stroppa
Livret de Luca Fontana d’après Arrigo Boito. Création mondiale à l’Opéra Comique le 9 juin 2011
Susanna Mälkki
Richard Brunel
Ensemble InterContemporain

Dans l’œuvre littéraire du compositeur et librettiste Arrigo Boito figure un poème épique âpre et mystérieux, Re Orso, publié en 1865. Ce texte écrit en vers lyriques d’un extrême raffinement musical raconte la légende d’un roi effroyable, Ours, qui régnait sur la Crète avant l’an 1000, dans les temps les plus sombres de notre ère. Mêlant le caractère légendaire de l’ancien roi des animaux au mythe du Minotaure, Boito bâtit une nouvelle figure de maudit plongé dans le crime et la démesure, et attendant son châtiment. Compositeur, chercheur et pédagogue à l’Ircam, Marco Stroppa se saisit de ce texte et élabore sa première œuvre de théâtre musical en forme de danse macabre.

Direction musicale, Susanna Mälkki
Mise en scène, Richard Brunel

Re Orso, Brian Asawa
Le Vers, Monica Bacelli
La Sécrétaire, Le Serpent, Marisol Montalvo
Papiol, Le Trouvère, Alexander Kravets
Réalisation informatique musicale IRCAM, Gilbert Nouno, Arshia Cont

Ensemble InterContemporain

Commande : Opéra Comique, Théâtre Royal de la Monnaie, Ircam-Centre Pompidou, Ensemble InterContemporain, Françoise et Jean-Philippe Billarant
Production : Opéra Comique
Coproduction : Théâtre de la Monnaie, Ircam, EIC
Avec le soutien du Fonds de Création Lyrique.

Spectacle en italien surtitré
Introduction à l’œuvre 30 min avant chaque représentation

9, 11, 14 ET 15 JUIN 2011 – 20H

Festival Re Orso (Opera Comique) June 2011

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3 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. I’ve always been interested in Boito. At one time, I think, Prof. Ashcroft was writing a biography. I don’t think it was published. Do you know of any, preferably English but possibly Italian, biographies of Boito?

    • Dear Mr. Genden,
      Boito is a fascinating man and his methods and ideas are even more fascinating. Unfortunately, there are very few biographies in English. Hopefully, I can change that in the near future. For now, if you read in Italian, you might want to read Piero Nardi’s “Vita di Arrigo Boito.” You might also learn more about Boito in the translated “Verdi-Boito Correspondance” by Conati. Hope this helps. All the best.

  2. The Opera-Comique world premiere is now available for streaming on the Radio France site:

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