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Cefalo e Procri in Venice

Krenek’s Opera at the Biennale again after 83 Years


On 29 September 2017, Ernst Krenek’s opera Cefalo e Procri can be experienced on the stage for the first time since its premiere. As a commission from the International Music Festival of the Venice Biennale, it was first performed on 15 September 1934 in Teatro Goldoni under the direction of Hermann Scherchen. The inspiration for the project came from composer Alfredo Casella, who was a cooperation partner of the Biennale as well as an expert in and promoter of the newest music. Casella got to know and appreciate Krenek’s string quartets already in the 1920s, and, in connection with his activities for the Società Italiana Musica Contemporanea (SIMC), described Krenek, alongside Strawinsky, Schoenberg, Webern, Milhaud, and Bartók, as “one of the greatest names of contemporary music.” It was also Cassela who, with the program of the Music Biennale, brought the international avant-garde to Venice – thus Krenek found himself in good company.

In the libretto by Rinaldo Küfferle, there is – in addition to several changes owing to the dramatization and consolidation – a “happy end” that is certainly surprising for those who know Ovid’s original. In the prologue, Aurora and Diana make a bet as to which of them will win Cephalus for herself. In the first scene, Aurora attempts to seduce Cephalus. When he remains steadfast, she sows the seeds of doubt about Procris’s fidelity, which Cephalus, in turn, puts to the test – with results that are unsatisfying for him. The couple separates. Cephalus is at a loss and sets out in search of the sphinx in the hope that it may be able to explain what happened. In the second scene, Procris prays to Diana to put an end to her life and, with that, to her anguish. Diana has pity and tells her that Cephalus is currently under the influence of Aurora, and that she should not take it personally. Diana gives Procris her spear and the dog Laelapus as a conciliatory gift for Cephalus. Cephalus enters and tells of Oedipus and the sphinx, who in this story does not throw herself to her death, but continues to carry out her nefarious deeds. Procris gives Cephalus Diana’s gift, and he sics the dog on the fugitive sphinx, but the dog is turned to stone by her glance. In the third scene, Cephalus himself sets out to hunt the sphinx, hurls the spear, which barely misses Procris, rebounds off a tree, but is caught by Diana before it can strike Cephalus. The concluding dispute between Aurora and Diana about the winner of the bet is arbitrated by Kronos: “You are both defeated in this quarrel, since thinking and feeling dominate simultaneously and in equal parts over men and time. Only in moderation alone is salvation.”

The critics’ opinions about the work were divided, yet the musical rendition under Scherchen found unanimous praise. In his memoirs, Krenek remembered Cefalo as a short and inconsequential excursion into Italian opera. And, in fact, Cefalo e Procri has never again been performed since then.

Premiere on 29 September 2017, 7:00 pm, Teatro Malibran, Venice

(subsequent performances: 1 October, 3:30 pm; 3 and 5 October, 7:00 pm; 7 October, 3:30 pm)

Tickets: 35.00 to 143.00 EUR

Musical direction: Tito Ceccherini

Stage direction: Valentino Villa

Cefalo: Leonardo Cortellazzi
Crono: William Corrò
Procri: Silvia Frigato
Aurora: Cristina Baggio
Diana: Francesca Ascioti

Further information