During the First World War, Serge Diaghilev scoured numerous European music libraries in search of materials with which to renew the repertoire of the Ballets Russes. He envisioned a new form of ballet in which there were both dancers and singers. Diaghilev fell in love with the classical beauty of Italian Eighteenth-century operas, and noticed that both Cimarosa and Paisiello had spent several years in St. Petersburg as maestri di cappella at the court of the tsarina Catherine the Great. In addition to scores by Pergolesi, Gallo, and others, Diaghilev selected many compositions by Cimarosa and Paisiello annotating them with cuts, interpolations, etc., and marking some themes he recognized as Russian. Finally he gave the materials to composers he trusted to arrange the music. The outcome of Diaghilev’s efforts led to the production of Pergolesi (et al.)-Stravinsky Pulcinella (1920), Cimarosa-Respighi, Le Astuzie femminili (1920), and Paisiello-Respighi La Serva padrona (unperformed).
Based on the recent discovery of the lost orchestration that Ottorino Respighi made of Paisiello’s La Serva padrona (March 1920), my paper analyzes the creative process shared by the composer and the impresario which led to the creation of this opera-ballet. I then contextualize this work in relation to the others produced by Ballets Russes in 1920, an emblematic season which inaugurated a new repertory of modernist music for ballet based on pre-romantic models, now regarded as the turning point in musical modernism’s rediscovery of the past.
In this talk I investigate the collaboration between Serge Diaghilev, founder of The Ballets Russes, and the Italian composer Ottorino Respighi.
The speech was delivered at the Library of Congress on April 30th, 2015, as a part of the John W. Kluge Fellowship which I received during the 2014-2015 academical year.
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Dan Turello wrote this article on my research at The Library of Congress, during my Kluge Fellowship. He describes my quest to reconstruct the entire score of Paisiello’s La Serva Padrona, which Ottorino Respighi orchestrated for Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes in 1920, but was not staged and considered lost.
Short excerpt from the article by Dan Turello:
Sometimes a few missing pages can make it a challenge to reconstruct an entire work. This was exactly the case when current Kluge Fellow Elia Corazza discovered the autographed orchestration of La Serva Padrona, an 18th century opera written by Giovanni Paisiello and then adapted by Ottorino Respighi for Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes in 1920.
Corazza, a composer, conductor, and musicologist, with training in piano, composition and orchestral conducting, as well as a Ph.D. in musicology from the University of Bologna (Italy), became interested in La Serva Padrona as a part of his broader effort to rediscover some of Respighi’s lost works. Respighi became popular in Italy after the First World War, just as Fascism was taking hold in the country. During these years, Respighi transcribed various works of pre-romantic music created by Italian composers including Monteverdi, Paisiello, Cimarosa, and Rossini, that had long since been forgotten and seldom, if ever performed.
World premiere in Bologna of the intermezzi made by Diaghilev for the Ballets Russes. The musical reading of the young conductor Elia Corazza was outstanding.
Thanks to his enthusiasm on the project, to his work on every stage of the production, to his critical knowledge of the repertoire and to his demonstrated conducting talent, the young conductor premiered Paisiello-Respighi’s chamber opera giving an outstanding musical reading: the Orchestra of the Teatro Comunale was committed as ever before, with an urging narrative rhythm and the music put in evidence in its shining and energetic liveliness.
In 1920, impresario Sergei Diaghilev commissioned the Italian composer Ottorino Respighi to revise Giovanni Paisiello’s opera buffa, La Serva padrona, for his Ballets Russes. Respighi shortened Paisiello’s work, reorchestrated it, and even added choir in several places. Also he added a ballet finale at Diaghilev’s request, based on a selection of ballet music by Paisiello composed during his tenure at the court of Catherine II in St. Petersburg. A performance of this revised version of La Serva padrona, however, never materialised.
A few years ago, conductor, composer, and musicologist Dr. Elia Andrea Corazza undertook to realise Diaghilev’s vision. The resulting critical edition, which expands Respighi’s piano reduction into a full score for the first time, is now available from Schott music. Notes by Diaghilev in his own copies of Paisiello’s original score helped Corazza to reconstruct Respighi’s version of the opera. The world première will take place on 5 August 2014 in the court of the Piccoli Teatro del Baraccano in Bologna, conducted by Corazza in a production by Paolo Billi. The production can be seen two more times on 6 and 7 August.
Read the full article, forthcoming performances and the full score on Schott’s website.