Comala and Nina: Operatic Performance in the Age of Sensibility

This scholarly symposium, which takes place in Vadstena on 6 August, is organised by the research group Performing Premodernity on the occasion of the Vadstena Academy’s double-bill production of two little known Italian operas: Pietro Morandi’s Comala (Naples? 1780) and the one-act version of Giovanni Paisiello’s Nina o sia La pazza per amore (Naples 1789). The symposium centres on the issues of sentimental dramaturgy and vocal-dramatic performance practice in Italian opera in the decades up to the French Revolution. Comala and Nina can both be described as ‘avant-garde’ works in this regard. With a shared focus on the two works, a number of international scholars will explore the relationship between cultural and aesthetic theory, dramaturgy and audience involvement from the perspectives of different disciplines (comparative literature, theatre studies and musicology), examining such questions as: how can we describe and understand the aesthetic effect of these operas? How do the dramaturgical innovations affect performance practice? How are the artistic developments related to tendencies within the aesthetic, psychological and social theories of the Late Enlightenment? How may the operas throw light on the cultural climate of the 1770s and 80s?


Vadstena Klosterhotel, Saturday, 6 August 2016, 9:30-17:30, in the “Konvent” room. Free entrance.


9:30. Welcome.
9:45. Lucio Tufano: “Tears for Nina: Emotion and Compassion, from the Stage to the Audience”.
10:45. Tea and coffee.
11:00. Carola Bebermeier: ““Pazza per amore”: Connections between Madness and Sensibility in the Eighteenth Century and in Giovanni Paisiello’s Nina”.
12:00. Lunch
13:30. Howard Gaskill: “Why Ossian? Why Comala?”
14:30. Break.
14:45. Magnus Tessing Schneider: “Staging Obscurity: The Transformation of Ossian in Ranieri de’ Calzabigi’s Comala”.
15:45. Tea, coffee and cake.
16:15. Panel debate. Moderator: Mark Tatlow.
17:30. Conclusion.

For further details, please write to Magnus Tessing Schneider

Speakers and abstracts:

1. LUCIO TUFANO – PhD, musicologist, independent scholar, Naples (Italy)

Tears for Nina: Emotion and Compassion, from the Stage to the Audience

A recurrent feature in the reception of Giovanni Paisiello’s Nina o sia La pazza per amore (1789) is the strong empathic involvement of the audience. The masterpiece of the Italian composer seems to have the power to move male and (mainly) female listeners, producing reactions such as tears and emotionality. The paper will try to isolate and discuss the different elements that contribute to this effect (from the simplicity of the plot to the musical delineation of the different characters), in the light of the most recent acquisitions in the field of neuroscience.

2. CAROLA BEBERMEIER – PhD, research assistant, Musikwissenschaftliches Institut, Universität zu Köln (Germany)

“Pazza per amore”: Connections between Madness and Sensibility in the Eighteenth Century and in Giovanni Paisiello’s Nina

The eighteenth century was not only the century of reason, but also of a heightened subjectivity and individuality. Seemingly in opposition — but in fact closely related — to the Enlightenment, the ‘sensibility’ movement influenced the scientific and artistic innovations of the late eighteenth century. The emphasis on introspection and self-reflection led to an increasing interest in the inner life of the soul, which motivated research into mental conditions and diseases. This process ended in a wave of psychiatric reforms and in the improvement of the nurturing and medical care of the mentally ill. The paper will situate Paisiello’s opera Nina o sia La pazza per amore in this cultural context, and analyse the translation of Nina’s madness into music in her grand aria.

3. HOWARD GASKILL – PhD, Honorary Fellow, School of Literatures, Languages and Cultures, University of Edinburgh (UK)

Why Ossian? Why Comala?

The publication of James Macpherson’s Ossianic poetry in the 1760s proved to be a sensation of the first order, exerting an extraordinary (and by no means short-lived) impact all over Europe and beyond. This paper will look at some of the reasons for Ossian’s near-universal appeal, not the least of it being its intrinsic literary qualities. A purportedly ancient work, it served to promote innovation, particularly in Germany, the true home of Romanticism, but also in Italy where Melchiorre Cesarotti’s celebrated translation (1763) provided a shot in the arm for Italian poetic diction. However, Macpherson’s protean creation also appealed, in Italy as elsewhere, to those of a more conservative bent. Comala, the first of the shorter poems in the original English editions, came to be particularly popular in various incarnations, including the musical stage.

4. MAGNUS TESSING SCHNEIDER – PhD, postdoctoral fellow, Performing Premodernity (Denmark/Sweden)

Staging Obscurity: The Transformation of Ossian in Ranieri de’ Calzabigi’s Comala

One of the most radical theatre makers of his century, Calzabigi is primarily known for his collaboration with Christoph Willibald Gluck. In 1774, he turned from the Greek and Roman classics to Ossian, however, converting the ‘dramatic poem’ Comala into an opera libretto, which was set to music in 1780 by Pietro Morandi, in strict accordance with the principles of the Gluck-Calzabigi reform. Unlike many contemporaries, the poet seems to have regarded the Ossianic Comala as essentially a closet drama, unfit for theatrical representation, seeing it as necessary to rethink the work fundamentally to make it stageworthy while preserving what he called the “sublime but savage” quality of Ossian’s poetry. The latter is reflected in a manifest sense of non-communication and psychological obscurity, which was hardly compatible with the operatic conventions of the time.

11th June 2016 in Lectures, Symposia

Performing Premodernity @ Vadstena-Akademien

Performing Premodernity is delighted to announce their major forthcoming collaboration with the Vadstena Academy: an opera double-bill under the title of ”Kär och galen”.

Comala, based on one of the dark and brooding Ossian poems by James Macpherson, takes place in the mists of 3rd century Scotland, while Nina, a “sentimental comedy”, takes us to an 18th century park in Southern Italy.

NINA (eller den af kärlek svagsinta) (1789)
Composer – Giovanni Paisiello (1740-1816)
Librettists – Giuseppe Carpani (1751-1825) and Giovanni Battista Lorenzi (1721-1807)
Swedish translation (1792) – Carl Stenborg (given at Svenska Comiska Theatren uti Stockholm).

COMALA (1780)
Composer – Pietro Morandi (1745-1815)
Librettist – Ranieri de’ Calzabigi (1714-95)

Musical director – Mark Tatlow (PP member)
Stage director – Deda Cristina Colonna (PP associate)
Set and costume designer – Ann-Margret Fyregård
Lighting designer – Anna Wemmert
Academic consultant – Magnus Tessing Schneider (PP member)

Saara Annikki Rauvala – sopran
Hanna Fritzson – sopran
Elisabet Einarsdóttir – sopran
Sigrid Vetleseter Bøe – sopran
Jens Palmqvist – tenor
Gustav Ågren – tenor
Hannes Öberg – baryton
Nils Gustén – bas

Amie Foon, Ole Kristian Hoseth, Ebba Lejonclou, Josefine Mindus, Caroline Ottocan, David Risberg, Victor Ternvall, Magnus Tjelle, and Linnéa Wickander.

“Kär och galen” will be performed in the Bröllopssal in Vadstena Castle.
Première: 22 July.
Further performances: 25, 26, 28, 29, 31 July and 1, 4, 5, 7, 8, 10 August.
“Kär och galen” will be performed in Swedish and Italian with surtitles in English.

TICKETS will be on sale from 1 April.

27th February 2016 in People, Performances, Projects

IFTR annual conference to be held in Stockholm 13-17 June 2016

The members of Performing Premodernity will be taking part in the 2016 annual conference of the International Federation of Theatre Research which will be held in Stockholm.

The conference “Presenting the Theatrical Past. Interplays of Artefacts, Discourses and Practices” addresses questions concerning our relationship to theatre history, i.e. the relation between present and past. How and why do we deal with history? What do we do with history? To what extent is historical research an exploration of our present?

IFTR logoDeparting from the 250th anniversary of the Drottningholm Court Theatre, IFTR 2016 focuses on critical perspectives on theatre history. The theatre of the past is accessible to us via historical objects, theoretical discourses and archive materials. But we can also experience it through performance practices that keep traditions alive or engage in re-enactments of theatre events and representations.

Critical investigation of historiographical issues in the field of Theatre Studies touches upon the interplay between theatrical artefacts, practices and discourses. In our view such historical artefacts in relation to theatre can be theatre sites/venues, historical objects (props, scenery, costumes), historical materials and documents, historical locations for re-enactments, etc. Practices comprise performances such as theatre, drama, dance, opera, performance, installation art, laboratory experiments, educational curricula etc. The notion of discourse relates to historical ideas as well as contemporary theories, questions of ‘historically informed productions’ (HIP) and historiographical concepts, reconstructions of past performances etc.

Conference website here

27th February 2016 in Conferences

Rousseau’s Pygmalion in Český Krumlov and Stockholm 

Performing Premodernity’s production of Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s melodrama Pygmalion premièred on 15 June 2015 in the Baroque theatre in Český Krumlov. The successful performance was a result of the joint efforts of the wonderful actors João Luís Paixão as Pygmalion and Laila Neuman as Galathée, their acting coach Jed Wentz, the orchestra Musica Florea, the great assistance and hospitality of the Český Krumlov Castle Theatre (special thanks to Dr Pavel Slavko and Dr Helena Kazárová) and a group of researchers from Performing Premodernity (Mark Tatlow as musical director, Maria Gullstam as dramaturge, Magnus Tessing Schneider as consultant dramaturge, and Petra Dotlačilová as costume consultant).

A couple of months later, on 25 August 2015, Pygmalion was performed in the beautiful hall of The House of Nobility (Riddarhuset) in Stockholm during ‘Rousseau and the Theatre: Political-Aesthetic Ideals and Practices’, an international conference organised by Performing Premodernity. This time, Pygmalion was performed with a string quartet: Alion Luthmers Teyssier (violin), Jesenka Balic Zunic (violin), Louisa Tatlow (viola) and Mime Yamahiro Brinkmann (violoncello). Particular thanks are due to Lena Dahlström and Britt-Louise Jörnlöv from Drottningholms Slottsteater and Dr Helena Kazárová from Český Krumlov, for generously providing the costumes; Christer Nilsson and Nils-Hugo Stockhaus, for their enthusiastic construction of Galathée’s pavilion; those who kindly made available the statues; and finally, Henrik von Vegesack and his colleagues at Riddarhuset, for enabling the performance to take place in this unique historical setting.

Exactly a year after the Český Krumlov première, on 15 June 2016, a further performance of Pygmalion will take place in Riddarhuset as part of the 2016 IFTR conference. Are you interested in attending the performance? Send an email to Maria Gullstam

Read the full programme for Performing Premodernity’s Pygmalion here, with Rousseau’s text in French and English (translation by Maria Gullstam, Felicity Baker and Magnus Tessing Schneider).

25th February 2016 in Conferences, People, Performances

October workshop at Drottningholm

In October 2015 Performing Premodernity invited opera researcher Professor Sergio Durante (Università degli Studi di Padova) and two opera singers, João Luís Paixão and Laila Cathleen Neuman, to take part in a workshop dedicated to the exploration of various aspects of eighteenth-century theatrical performance. The workshop, which took place both at Stockholm’s University College of Opera and at the Drottningholm Court Theatre, and happened in a collaboration with the Italian Cultural Institute, was focused partly on issues of musical-dramatic interpretation and performance practice, and partly on the relationship between the historical space and the voices and bodies of the performers.

João Paixão and Laila Neuman on the stage at Drottningholm

In the rehearsal room, Sergio Durante and Magnus Tessing Schneider each semi-staged a version of Don Giovanni’s and Zerlina’s duet “Là ci darem la mano” from Mozart’s Don Giovanni, which conformed to their differing conceptions of the title character. Durante’s version centred on the class difference between the two characters, and was based on the premise that Don Giovanni is a manipulator who deceives Zerlina. Schneider’s version was based on the premise that Don Giovanni is a non-conformist egalitarian who invites Zerlina to break with social conventions. This version used the much-debated, allegedly authentic, metronome numbers recorded in 1839 by the Prague composer Johann Wenzel Tomaschek. The aim was to explore the ways in which dramatic subtext may affect the musical expression, and how the musical tempo may affect the dramatic expression, as well as the way these differences affect the relationship between the audience and the performed characters. The two versions were then performed before the remainder of the research group and the Drottningholm tourist guides who served as test audience, and on 21 October they were performed as part of a larger concert program at the Italian Cultural Institute.

Another experiment, which took place at Drottningholm, focused on the use of the stage. The researchers tried out various way of blocking the scene between Susanna and Count Almaviva in Act Three of Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro. After having blocked the scene in a relatively ‘modern’ way, we blocked it in a more ‘baroque’ way, placing the performers in a semi- circle, facing the audience. One insight to emerge from this experiment is that the character standing in the central visual axis inevitably acquired greater scenic authority, or over-status. As the status relationship between the Count and Susanna changes during the scene, the two actors were alternately placed in the central axis, which gave a dynamism to the scene, which was felt lacking when the performers remained in in immovable positions. It was felt that the communication of the fluid and complex status relationships in Mozart’s operas might originally have depended on a blocking involving awareness of the use of the central axis.

On 21 October Sergio Durante gave a guest lecture at the Department of Culture and Aesthetics, Stockholm University, with the title: “Putting Periodization to Use: Reflections in General, and on ‘Baroque’ in Particular”.

1st November 2015 in Workshops

Older posts