Battistelli’s new opera at La Scala: Interview
The theme of Giorgio Battistelli’s new opera, CO2 – commissioned by the Teatro alla Scala and on stage from May 16 to 29 in Milan – is climate change. With a libretto in English written by Ian Burton and stage direction by Robert Carsen, the opera promises to be the most important event in La Scala’s EXPO season. The house orchestra and chorus will be conducted by Cornelius Meister.
Here we interview the composer.
CO2 (the chemical formula for carbon dioxide) confronts the most hotly debated issue in recent years: the survival of the planet. Can you tell us how the idea came to you to write an opera on a theme so crucial for humanity?
The idea for the opera came to me after reading Al Gore’s book An inconvenient truth. The book struck me because it deals with problems that concern the whole of humanity and not just a single country or continent. While I was reading the book, I received an invitation from Stephane Lissner to write an opera for La Scala. When we met for the first time, I proposed this subject and he enthusiastically supported the idea. Later, as time went by, I decided to abandon Al Gore’s text but not the subject of climate and so Ian Burton wrote an original libretto.
The opera is divided into nine scenes with a prologue and an epilogue. How many characters are there and what is the story?
It’s an opera with a symbolic narrative line. It starts from Shiva’s dance and ends with the Kyoto Convention on global warming. It includes a scene in which Adam and Eve meet and one of the tsunami. There’s a scene set in a chaotic airport with passengers waiting to depart and another inside a supermarket concerning the globalisation of food production. In a key moment, Gaia, the earth, appears and warns man that he is lacerating her from within and that if he destroys her, he will also be destroyed.
Do you think that CO2 will be able to help in any way to stir the conscience of governments, or of ordinary people, to safeguard our planet? Doesn’t each of us, in our own small way, bear some responsibility?
My hope is that through a work of music theatre - through an artistic and musical viewpoint - it is possible to touch the consciences of people and to look at this very serious problem from an aesthetic, rather than scientific, angle.
With CO2 you once again collaborate with the writer and playwright Ian Burton and with the director Robert Carsen, with whom you worked on the opera Richard III, produced in 2005 at the Vlaamse Opera in Antwerp. Can you tell us how you worked as a team?
With Carsen and Burton there was an excellent artistic empathy right from the start. We worked to develop certain key dramaturgic features of the text, creating a synchronicity between the musical score and the visual aspects that emerge from it.
After CO2 what projects are you going to work on?
After CO2 I have a very strong desire to continue writing operas.
Giorgio Battistelli: work list
Battistelli CO 2 Playbill
Photo: (c) Edward Brtuynsky. Courtesy Nicholas Metivier Gallery, Toronto / Flowers, London