BRISCULA the MAGICIAN Opera in two acts
Bel Cantanti Opera - Katerina Souvorova, director
The setting is Bibione Spiaggia, a sea side town east of Venice, during the Ferragosto celebration in summer of 1929.
The action centers around a small hotel run by Soffronia and Michele Veronesi. Guests at the hotel include an Austrian family, headed by Edward Buchleiter. Edward is deeply troubled by displays of Italian nationalism in the town. The Austrian family is planning to cut their trip short but Michele persuades them to stay to see the famous magician, Briscula, who is coming to town that evening. Michele is deeply resentful of the fascist state that Italy was becoming under Mussolini. Michele had been injured in World War 1 while fighting the Austrians at the battle of Asiago, about one hundred miles northwest of town. But he bears no ill will toward his Austrian visitors. To the contrary, Michele recognizes that Edward shares his hope for a reconciled Europe, how things had been before the war when “people dressed up to go to the theatre”. Briscula’s performance would appear to offer an entertaining diversion that everyone could enjoy. As it turns out, Briscula is a fascist who targets individuals in the audience for mockery and humiliation. His final victim is Claudio, a sensitive young man who had been working as a waiter at the hotel. Claudio loves the flirtatious Silvestra but she rejects him in favor of the more overtly masculine Giovanni. Briscula mocks Claudio’s love for Silvestra, suggesting to his audience that Claudio is much too sensitive a boy for a woman like Silvestra. Humiliated in front of everyone, Claudio attacks Briscula, but Briscula is defended by a group of Mussolini supporters in the audience. Personal humiliation soon turns into political confrontation.
Thomas Mann published Mario und der Zauberer in 1929, the same year that he won the Nobel Prize in literature. The story is believed to be based on a trip that Mann and his family took in 1926, where they found that the Italy they had expected was in the process of being transformed into the fascist state under Mussolini. The climax of the story is a performance by the magician, Cipolla, who has the power to control his audience by rudeness and intimidation. His last victim is a young man, Mario, whom Cipolla hypnotizes into kissing him. The humiliated Mario shoots Cipolla dead, after which, the novella ends quickly.
At least three operas have been based on Mann’s Mario and the Magician. Inspired by Mann’s idea is the libretto for this new opera, Briscula, the Magician. The setting is also Italy under Mussolini but the story line is different. In this libretto, the magician, Briscula prevails. This change stresses a different aspect of history. In Mann’s story, the shooting of Cipolla can be viewed as retribution for his terrible actions. Some commentators have seen the killing of Cipolla as foretelling the murder of Mussolini in 1945. But the history is more complicated. Departing from Italy in 1926, the family in Mann’s story could have believed that they were leaving the evil of fascism behind them. We know better. With Hitler's rise to power in 1933, Mann and his family were forced to leave Germany. They settled in California, but moved again in 1952 in the wake of Joe McCarthy. Mann died in Switzerland in 1955.
Briscula the Magician was commissioned by
Samuel and Sarah Wacksmans Enkel
Prof Mark Dreisonstok,
Maryland Theatre Guide March 7, 2020…
“Briscula the Magician” is magical indeed.. The story is loosely based on a short story, “Mario and the Magician” (“Mario und der Zauberer”), by Thomas Mann. The music is a decidedly modern mélange — “serious music” in an atonal vein, but also with an occasional syncopated rhythm, reflecting the Jazz Age during which the story takes place..., this operatic version of “Mario and the Magician” is far more accessible than the short story upon which it is based.. The work itself is uniquely modernistic, perhaps even Brechtian, as Black Shirts sit amongst the audience and then walk onto the stage. Musically, the work has elements which are both different from and similar to classical opera. This work is also a rare accessible entry point to Thomas Mann, one of the most influential men of letters of the twentieth century. Finally, the work’s warning of would-be dictators and despots who use showmanship to gain public confidence and eventually all-consuming power is as universal as it is ever timely.
CLAUDIO - Michael Butler
GIOVANNI - Justin Harrison
SYLVESTRA -Leah Brzyski
GEORGIO - Daniel Edwards
MAN from the city - John Scherch
WOMAN from the city-
EDWARD BUCHLEITER - Christian Simmons
SOFFRONIA VERONESI -
MICHELE VERONESI - Matthew Lulofs
CECELIA / MOTHER - Melissa Chavez
PIANIST - Carlos Rodriguez
Maria and Vika
BRISCULA, the Magician -
Stage Director - Jennifer Blades
Stage Designer - Ksenia Litvak
The libretto to Briscula, by Bob Misbin, is available from AMAZON as a Kindle ebook.