Quando la ciociara si marita
A chi tocca lo spago e a chi la ciocia.
(When a girl from Ciociaria is married,
Some get the strings, and some the sandal.)
—Alberto Moravia, La ciociara (Two Women)
San Francisco Opera recently held the world premiere of Two Women, a new opera composed by Marco Tutino, based on the 1957 novel La Ciociara by Alberto Moravia, better known in the U.S. as a 1960 Vittorio De Sica film starring Sophia Loren. I had never seen the film, but I had read some of the original novel by the time we saw the opera last week so I was somewhat familiar with the basic plot. However, it turned out that the libretto took a number of liberties with said novel, which was a little distracting for me. (I highly recommend Moravia’s work by the way—he also wrote Il conformista, adapted by Bernardo Bertolucci in 1970.)
Plot in 101 words or less: Italy 1943–1944. Bombs are getting teenage Rosetta down so her mother Cesira, shopkeeper and black marketer extraordinaire, decides to hightail it to the countryside. There, the two women strip down to bathe in the center of town (of course) and—totally coincidentally I’m sure—befriend local intellectual Michele, who later helps them rescue an American soldier. This will soon bite them in the culo because Fascists are bad. Also, Germans are bad. And Moroccans. Moroccans are very, very bad. But not Americans. No, Americans eventually save the day—too bad it’s a day late and a dollar short for Michele.
While I enjoyed this opera more than most critics seemed too, that was probably because the music is more accessible than many modern operas. In fact, at times, it seemed more like a film score for the 1960 classic than an opera, especially with the use of pop songs like “La strada nel bosco” (which I love, but still). This impression was reinforced by the many projections throughout. I thought they were a bit much at times, but I suppose it was very helpful to have the background and history if you didn’t know it.
All in all, I thought the opera captured the spirit of the novel, if not the exact plot. I had just seen Anna Caterina Antonacci in Les Troyens, but Cesira was a very different role and I thought she was just as effective. I’m not sure I would have even realized it was the same person. I particularly liked the song she sang to her daughter after the rape. Sarah Shafer, who played Rosetta, had a lovely tone to her voice, as did Dimitri Pittas (in his SFO debut) who played Michele. Mark Delavan was a bit over the top as Giovanni, but I suppose that’s what the role called for. In short, while I’m not sure I would seek it out again, I’m happy to have seen it.
Finally, in other opera news, a shoutout to San Francisco Opera for the wonderful dinner at Alta CA and the box seats (with champagne at intermission) that La Maratonista and I won as part of the SFO Selfie contest last fall. In addition to being La Maratonista’s birthday, seeing Le nozze di Figaro was extra special because it was the very first opera we saw with our first subscription back in the fall of 2010 and I was happy to revisit it.