I attended the first performance in 1967 of Argentine composer Alberto
Ginastera's opera Bomarzo with the Opera Society of Washington conducted
by Julius Rudel with an International cast including Joanna Simon as a
Courtesan in a see-through costume.
This performance prompted Newsweek Magazine to write: "The unabashed
sexuality of the "topless opera" was almost too much for some of the cast
in Washington last week. The world primiere presented by the ambitious
Opera Society of Washington, used seduction, homosexuality and adultery
as common currency and climaxed in a spectacular orgy in which dancers
tore at each other's skimpy body stockings in frenzied licentiousness.
Four affronted dancers resigned from the etotic production, provoking
choreographer Jack Cole to say, "I can only conclude they come from strange
households". "You can't be square about this opera", said conductor Julius
Rudel, who during the orgy had to persuade the chorus, composed mostly of
young women, to create "the sounds of the bedroom" by sighing the word
"love" in nearly every language. "Naturally they were self-conscious,"
said Rudel. "They are all nice girls from good families, and they were not
brought up to display elementary passions." "But elementary passion is what
this opera is all about."
This was the era Broadway went full-frontal and a cellist performed
topless. Opera had the descretion, at least, of body stockings.
On a more subtle note, what about the the passionate and pulsating duet
of Dido and Aeneas "Night of boundless ecstasy and rapture!", at the end
of Act Four of Berlioz "Les Troyens"? Has there ever been anything quite
so seductively sensuous in all of music?
Back to Bomarzo. This is a wonderful work. Exciting music and great
theater and drama. To my knowledge, it has never been revived. The
Columbia LP recording of the original world premiere mentioned above
has long been a sought after collectors item.
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