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