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La Donna di Genio Volubile: A project, a show, a DVD


Opinion article by António Durães, professor at the P.PORTO School of Music and Performing Arts

The history of this opera - which ESMAE produced and presented at the Teatro Nacional São João (National Theatre) and which the Polytechnic of Porto fixed on DVD through the publisher Polifonia - is repeated in the continuity of the many narratives with which time was filled in the glorious evenings of the 9th century, if the stories came from the fist of Beaumarchais, Goldoni, Marivaux, Da Ponte, or even from Giovanni Bertati, the librettist, one of the many with whom Marcos Portugal worked.

Marcos Portugal (1762-1830), a contemporary of Mozart and Beethoven, is one of the most important Portuguese composers and one of the composers whose works are most internationalized. Not even that fact prevents his remains from waiting in the Church of Santa Isabel, in Campo de Ourique, Lisbon, for the promised transfer to the National Pantheon, which is the reason why they crossed the Atlantic. What was a bureaucratic wait, a pause in the process, has turned into a definitive run aground. It is okay that said church is interesting and now topped by a Zen sky by Michael Biberstein, who planned a work for the ceiling, done posthumously [Note: the Swiss-American artist passed away in 2013], which is now the sky of Marcos Portugal.

This La Donna di Genio Volubile was composed and premiered at the Teatro San Moisè (theatre) in Venice on October 5, 1796. La Donna then toured some, many, of the most important theatres in music-loving Europe.

The Portuguese premiere took place in Lisbon, at the Teatro São Carlos (Theatre), on November 23, 1799. On November 19, 1805, seven years after the world premiere, the opera was performed in Porto, at the Real Teatro de São João(Royal Theater), and dedicated by soprano Carolina Grifoni, prima donna of the lyrical company of São João, to Viscountess de Balsemão, D. Maria Rosa Brandão Alvo Godinho Perestrelo Pereira de Azevedo.

But before, in 1804, La Donna dragged its volubility in the Teatro Italiano (Theatre) in Paris, programmed - it is said - by the same important figure who had the old theater rebuilt and opened it again, a few years earlier, with another opera by Marcos Portugal. This unlikely programmer was called Napoleon Bonaparte. And that may be one of the reasons why the remains of Marcos Portugal are still waiting for the warmth of the Pantheon. The other reason may well be the fact that he is the author of the first Brazilian anthem [Note: as early as 1822, the year of Brazil's independence], a kind of grito do Ipiranga (cry of Ipiranga) from the musical.

Ephemerality is the essential mark of the theatrical act that consecrates an unrepeatable moment, of which only brief (or long) lint remains in the memory of those who were its witnesses. Fixing that memory in a DVD record resolves a significant part of this fault, which results from the nature of the theatrical act as it is. A conflict that the registry does not appease but circumvents. The video record, at a time when memory shatters easily, keeps that memory and allows us to return to it with the ease of time travel. A trip only possible thanks to new technologies that, unfortunately, are already old, such as the speed at which we move, if not in time, at least in the awareness of its voracity.

The object is there, visible (and audible) ready to overcome time and the holy ephemerality of the show.