CLAUDIO ABBADO, MASSIMO CACCIARI, LUIGI NONO, RENZO PIANO, EMILIO VEDOVA
Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac presents Prometheus, A tragedy about Listening, an exhibition retracing one of the most important artistic collaborations of the latter part of the 20th century.
Prometeo, Tragedia dell’ascolto [Prometheus, a tragedy about listening] is an opera composed by Luigi Nono, with a libretto by philosopher Massimo Cacciari based on a selection of texts referencing the myth of Prometheus. It premiered on September 25, 1984 in the secularized Church of San Lorenzo in Venice under the conduction of Claudio Abbado. Renzo Piano designed the wooden structure built in the church and Emilio Vedova participated in the elaboration of the light installations. The exhibition includes ephemera, letters, scores, archive material and models, which give precious insight into the making of the project and underline its collaborative aspect.
Prometeo is radically different from any other opera performance in that it is challenges preconceived assumptions of what music “ought” to be. Nono started to work on Prometeo in the mid-1970s, amidst ideological struggles and failed revolutions around the world. A pioneer of experimental electronic music, he conceived his piece as a pure experience of sound in accordance with his concept known as spazio sentito [space heard]. The completion of the project ten years later reflects the artistic effervescence of Venice in the 1980s.
In a short note to architect Renzo Piano dated December 6, 1983, he wrote: “No opera/ no director/ no set designer/ no traditional characters/ but/ dramaturgy-tragedy with mobile sounds that/ read discover/ empty fill up space.” Based on those indications, Renzo Piano designed a wooden auditorium that would stand for a musical space within the church. The expertise of a violinmaker combined with shipbuilding construction techniques made the creation of this large soundbox possible. The project revolutionized the concept of a traditional concert hall, as the audience (up to 400 people) was planned to be sitting at the centre, while musicians were to stand around at various heights. Live electronics were designed at the German radio SWR’s Heinrich-Strobel-Stiftung experimental studio, as was the acoustic infrastructure for “the Structure”. The orchestra had to move during the performance, walking on stairs and along walkways as if on a ship deck, while Claudio Abbado conducted with the help of a monitor. In a radically new form, it recalls the musical tradition of 16th and 17th century Venice, where several groups of singers were positioned in specific places of a church to create striking sound effects.
The stage design was considerably reduced over the creative process: no stage, no characters, no costumes, no set. The drawings presented in the exhibition show the few elements originally planned by Emilio Vedova, yet never realized. Vedova’s intervention ended up being the elaboration of light installations that would accompany soundwaves and enhance the overall experience. His project for Prometeo recalls the immersive installation he produced for Expo 67 in Montreal, where he positioned coloured glass slabs before projectors to create beams of light that would bisect the space. Visually bare, Prometeo is also deprived from any type of classical narration. Loosely based on Aeschylus’ Prometheus Bound, Cacciari’s libretto mixes texts by Rainer Maria Rilke, Friedrich Nietzsche, Walter Benjamin, amongst others.
Prometeo was performed in 1985 at La Scala, Milan, in a revised version and was introduced to the French public in 1987 during the Festival d’Automne. It is today considered as one of the major musical achievements of the 20th century.
This exhibition has been made possible thanks to generous loans from Fondazione Archivio Luigi Nono, Fondazione Renzo Piano, Fondazione Emilio e Annabianaca Vedova.
Luigi Nono (b. Venice, 1924 – 1990)
Luigi Nono was a leading Italian composer of electronic and serial music.
Nono began his musical studies in 1941 at the Venice Conservatory. He came to public attention in 1950 with his work Variazioni Canoniche, orchestral variations on a 12-tone theme of Arnold Schoenberg, whose daughter Nuria he married in 1955. He continued to explore avant-garde techniques and lectured widely in Europe and the United States about his research in acoustics.
An avowed Communist, Nono often produced works of political substance and collaborated with other politically engaged artists. His opera Intolleranza 1960, which premiered in Venice in 1961, marks his first collaboration with Emilio Vedova. The performance was stormed by neofascists, causing a riot with the communists. Other politically inspired works include the dramatic cantata Sul ponte di Hiroshima (1962; “On the Bridge of Hiroshima”) and Canto per il Vietnam (1973; “A Song for Vietnam”).
Claudio Abbado (b. Milan, 1933 – 2014)
One of a long line of Milanese musicians, Claudio Abbado is considered one of the greatest conductors of the 20th century.
Abbado studied piano, composition, and conducting at the Milan conservatory and graduated with a degree in piano in 1955. The following year, he studied conducting at the Vienna Academy of Music. He first conducted at La Scala in Milan in 1960, where he was named music director in 1968. He held this position until 1986, when he became music director of the Vienna State Opera.
Abbado was actively interested in politics. During his time at la Scala, he organized a concert to oppose the Italian Fascist Party prior to an election. he also organized special concerts for workers, students, and others who would not normally hear classical music. He was equally committed to encouraging young musicians. In 1978, he founded and began serving as musical director of the European Union Youth Orchestra.
Abbado is not only remembered for his effortless mastery but also for his interest in contemporary music and his addition of avant-garde composers such as Luigi Dallapiccola and Luigi Nono to the repertory.
Massimo Cacciari (b. Venice, 1944)
Massimo Cacciari is one of the most important contemporary intellectual figures of contemporary Italy. Cacciari graduated in philosophy from the University of Padua (1967), where he also received his doctorate. In 1985, he became professor of Aesthetics at the Architecture Institute of Venice and in 2002, he founded the Department of Philosophy at the University of Vita-Salute San Raffaele in Milan. Cacciari has directed several of the most important philosophical and cultural reviews in Italy and published essays inspired by authors like Friedrich Nietzsche, Martin Heidegger and Ludwig Wittgenstein.In his work philosophical and theoretical questions intersect with aesthetic but also political positions.
After a brief affiliation with Potere Operaio, a radical left-wing worker’s party, Cacciari joined the Italian Communist Party and was elected Deputy in 1976. He left the party in 1984 and was elected Mayor of Venice in 1993, a position he held until 2000.
Renzo Piano (b. Genoa, 1937)
Renzo Piano is regarded as one of the most iconoclastic architects of his generation.
Reknown for his distinct high-tech aesthetic and ceaseless exploration of structural complexity, Piano graduated from the Politecnico in Milan in 1964. He started working with a variety of architects, including his father, until he established a partnership with Richard Rogers from 1970 to 1977. Together they designed what was to be a career-defining project for both of them, the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris. Since then, Renzo designed numerous cultural institutions around the world, always taking greater account of the structure’s context. The structure he designed for Nono’s opera Prometeo was made of laminated wood and steel. The large horizontal, vertical and curved beams of laminated wood supported the entire system as a structure closed on itself. A secondary steel structure held the yards and supported the infill walls. Metal supports made it possible to raise the parterre, leaving a space below for the foyer and getting the stage closer to the church vault in order to improve acoustics. The structure was disassembled and reassembled for another performance in the depots of the Ansaldo plant in Milan.
Emilio Vedova (b. Venice, 1919 – 2006)
Emilio Vedova is regarded as one of the most influential Italian artists of the second half of the 20th century. He pushed painting into new territories with his visceral and gestural works that engage the viewer and redefine the space they inhabit. His expressive strokes and smears of paint convey a raw and violent reaction to the political reality of the post-war period. In 1948, Vedova made his debut at the Venice Biennale, the first of many appearances in this event. In 1952, an entire room was devoted to his work and he was awarded the Grand Prize for Painting in 1960. From 1961 onwards, the artist created Plurimi, a series that consisted of freestanding, hinged sculpture-paintings made of wood and metal. He experimented with diverse medias including metal and glass, which engaged with light and space. Designing sets and costumes for the opera Intolleranza in 1960, he established a fruitful cooperation with composer Luigi Nono. 24 years later, he would design a highly original light setting for Nono’s opera Prometeo.all images © the gallery and the artist(s)