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Anti-Fascist operas by the Italian modernist Luigi Nono (1924-1990) appear trendier than ever. Nono’s Intolleranza 1960, a plea against Mussolinian leadership that features protests, arrests, torture, and a concentration camp, was performed last March by the American Symphony Orchestra, following a 2010 staging at the Hanover State Opera. Nono’s Prometheus (Prometeo; 1981-1984), a series of cantatas often presented in staged versions, was featured at the Holland Festival in June 2014 and the Lucerne Festival in September 2016.

The appeal of what the English music historian Harriet Boyd-Bennett called Nono’s ‘sonic hubbub’ is elucidated in this long overdue collection of the composer’s writings and interviews. A comparable French edition of this material appeared back in 1993, which indicates how belated, albeit still timely, its insights are for opera lovers undeterred by avant garde sounds.

Nostalgia for the Future confirms that Nono’s most radical belief may have been that opera can be a ‘theatre of ideas’. He was inspired by his contemporary Luigi Dallapiccola, who wrote ‘music truly imbued with a sense of architecture,’ according to Nono, and Arnold Schoenberg’s ‘artfully expressed violence that transcended purely aesthetic enjoyment in order to deepen the knowledge of reality (or of a symbolic moment) and therefore reflection and struggle.’ He appeared aware that his works opposing Fascism would not date, insofar as ‘new human situations are urgently calling for expression’. In this staunch battle, allies were essential; none was more influential than the conductor/ composer Bruno Maderna, praised here for his ‘bull-like musical and human power’. Otherwise, Nono sometimes relied on operatic hysteria, as he recounted in a 1965 letter about a Boston production of Intolleranza: ‘A beastly thing here – I asked for a change, they gave me assurance and then nothing. Forced to ask for it and scream several times, till yes.’

BENJAMIN IVRY Read the full review on Agora Classica

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