Teatro Bonci, Cesena 2021 Review: Il Viaggio di G.Mastorna

Matteo D’Amico Brings Federico Fellini’s Unmade Film Successfully To Life

By Alan Neilson
(Photo: Zani-Casadio)

If there was an Oscar for the best screenplay not to have been made into a film, then Federico Fellini’s “Il Viaggio di G.Mastorna” would surely have been a strong candidate for the 1965 award, and possibly for other years as well, for it was a project he returned to frequently. He even got as far as building the set at a site on the outskirts of Rome, in which the fuselage of plane lies entangled in a network of pylons, among a cityscape dominated by the façade Cologne Cathedral. The attempt was abandoned at an astronomical cost only days before filming was due to commence. The closest Fellini came to any form of realization was with a comic book version published in 1992, but even this was brought to an abrupt halt after he decided not to continue with parts two and three.

The screenplay relates the tale of a famous cellist called G. Mastorna, a man who is dead, but doesn’t know it. Instead, he believes he has been through a successful emergency plane landing. However, he quickly finds himself wandering through what is a nightmare landscape, meeting bizarre characters, who like himself have died. However, it is on seeing his friend Venturini, who died 40 years earlier, that he starts to realize what has happened, and that he is transitioning into the afterlife, an afterlife which is uncomfortably similar to the world he left behind.

In a series of dreamlike episodes, Mastorna is exposed to events and people from his past, as well as other characters, from whom he must learn, so as to discover which way lies paradise. It is, in effect, a 20th century version of purgatory, a tale in which Dante’s ghost walks figuratively across the set. In the final scene, Mastorna walks alone up a mountain path and into a void, having freed himself from “preconceived ideas, from the nostalgia of sensations, and from the blackmail of sentiment.”

D’Amico’s Imaginative Reconstruction

With Fellini’s death in 1993, however, “Il Viaggio di G.Mastorna” appeared destined to become one of the great may-have-beens of Italian and world cinema. Yet, such is its hold over artists and creators in many fields, it has become the subject of experimental reconstructions, the latest of which is an opera with music and libretto by Matteo D’Amico.

D’Amico took the original script, along with extra material from Fellini’s other writings, and refashioned it to fit with his musical ideas. The resulting libretto is divided into a prologue and 14 clearly defined episodes, set in a variety of distinct locations, including a hotel, a nightclub, a cemetery and a train station, among others. Together they detail Mastorna’s journey, in which he learns to accept what has happened, and so transition from a state of ignorance to one of understanding. D’Amico also added a new character, the Narrator, in the guise of Federico Fellini, who introduces scenes and fills in missing details and events, clarifying what would have otherwise been a difficult-to-follow narrative. Not all of D’Amico’s characters sing their parts, and there is a significant amount of dialogue, most notably for the Narrator.

His score is a fast-changing rollercoaster, which moves imaginatively and energetically, and successfully captures the dramatic flow and moods of the text. Sometimes, it can be dark and disconcerting, containing a spiky rhythmic quality with sharp changes in direction, reflecting the pervading sense of anxiety or disorientation. On other occasions, it can exhibit a warm luminosity, as in the final scene in which Mastorna has found contentment. The choice of instruments imbue his soundscape with sharp and nuanced colorful contrasts, which promote the mood of the scenes and characters. Despite the episodic structure of the text, D’Amico score possesses an overarching coherence; like Mastorna’s spiritual and physical journey, the listener is taken on a challenging musical journey of their own, one in which they are also offered resolution in its final calming passages.

The Musical Director Jacopo Rivani elicited a convincing performance from the Orchestra Arcangelo Corelli, in what was a lively, sensitive and dramatically nuanced presentation, in which he also gave the necessary attention to the needs of the singers.

Malosti’s Faithful Representation

Director Valter Malosti produced a faithful representation, in which he stuck closely to the libretto’s text, with each scene individually constructed to emphasize its individual characteristics and dramatic significance. The scenographer Davide Amadei made extensive use of images, designed by Sergio Metalli, projected onto a backdrop as well as onto transparent front screen, which were often so realistic that they often appeared to be physical props. There were also cartoon images, alluding to Fellini’s 1992 comic book. Use was also made of physical props when necessary. The lighting, designed by Cesare Accetta, accentuated the work’s dystopian dreamscape in which the stage bathed in a dark light, with spots used to highlight the action, which successfully created a heavy, opaque ambience.

The costumes, also designed by Amadei, helped enormously in identifying the many characters which inhabited Mastorna’s world, with each character, where possible, dressed to conform to its accepted stereotype: the air hostess in a smart blue suit, a policewoman in her uniform and so on.

While the occasional scene was staged in a fairly basic way with the singers and actors alone on the stage supported by a simple image, other scenes were very inventive and cleverly presented. In Scene four, Mastorna finds himself at the station looking for a train to take him to Florence. On the back of the stage was an ugly large dark image of a number of three-story trains, gushing smoke, which dwarfed Mastorna who stands below, looking up at them, brilliantly highlighting his and the audience’s sense of dislocation. In Scene seven, he meets an ex-lover in what proved to be an aesthetically pleasing and thought-provoking staging. The ex-lover in a black seductive negligé lies on a red covered couch in the centre of the stage, highlighted by a strong light, whilst to one side stands an angel, bathed in a blue light with a sword in her hand.

The success of the staging can be judged by the fact that as Mastorna moved from one scene to the next it really did give the impression of a man undertaking a journey into a familiar, yet unknown world.

Grassi’s Star Turn & Four Singers Take on 16 Roles

In what was a dramatically well-crafted and convincing performance, baritone Luca Grassi impressed in the role of Mastorna. Both his singing and acting were finely attuned to the emotional nuances of his character in which his initial bewilderment and dislocation were successfully transformed into a realization that he was dead, before finally embracing a calm acceptance.

He possesses a strong, secure voice with a pallet of warm colors which he used intelligently to craft the vocal line, imbuing it with a restless anxiety and unease at the beginning, which eventually gave way to a more open, free-flowing quality towards the end.  It is also a voice with depth, agility and expressivity, which he was able to show off to good effect in his aria “Non è possibile! Non è possibile che morte sia questo.”

The Hostess who acted as Mastorna’s guide throughout journey was played by soprano Yulia Tkachenko. She produced an engaging and insightful reading. Her voice has a distinct steely timbre that enabled her to sing with the authority you may expect from a teacher; it complemented Grassi’s warmer toned baritone, which was pleasingly on display in the final duet, in which she encourages Mastorna to continue on his path alone.

The other members of the cast were asked to perform numerous roles, including acting as the small chorus.

Vittoria Magnarello made an excellent impression with a series of well-sung performances as the Policewoman, the Nurse, Jole, a Family Relative and as the Assistant to the Make-Up Artist. She possesses a light, versatile, clear soprano, with an attractive, secure upper register which exhibits a clean crystalline purity, which she used skillfully to develop her characters.

However, mezzo-soprano Eleonora Lué produced an inconsistent performance. While she acted out the role of the Ex-Lover convincingly, her singing was less successful, as she never quite managed to impose her personality on the melody; moreover her vibrato was little too pronounced for some tastes, although her coloring of the vocal line appealed. As the Mother, however, she sang with far greater confidence, projected her voice more forcefully and brought greater depth to her vocal characterization.

Tenor Aslan Halil Ufuk produced a lively and enthusiastic performances in the roles of the Make-up Artist, the Station Official, the Gravedigger, the Young Drunk and as a Family Relative. He engaged thoughtfully with each part, and was particularly convincing as a Young Drunk. He possesses a voice with a pleasing timbre, and is attentive to vocal characterization. On occasions, however, he did not project his voice with sufficient strength.

Bass Ken Watanabe produced a series of neatly detailed portraits in the roles of the Doorman, the Colonel and the Guy, although his portrayal of the Father was sung with less surety. His voice has an appealing rounded sound, and he displayed agility and skill in developing his characterization in which he inflected the vocal line with well-placed dynamic emotional accents.

In an affirmation that Mastorna is now inhabiting the afterlife, the small chorus sings three direct quotations of verses taken from Dante’s “Inferno,” which created an interesting and pleasing harmonic tapestry, in what was a fine performance.

Apart from the singers there were a number of spoken parts, the main one being the director Malosti as the Narrator Federico Fellini, who was positioned on the left hand side of the orchestra pit. It is a substantial role requiring him to be active in every scene. Presenting the text with a pleasing lyrical quality, his commentary was excellent throughout, in which he sensitively intoned and moulded his voice to animate his character, and enhance the dramatic effect.

Overall, “Il Viaggio di G. Mastorna” proved to be an interesting and thought-provoking  representation of Fellini’s screenplay, which not only brought his unmade film to life, but did so in a way which was visually imaginative, and fully engaged with its underlying ideas relating to the afterlife, conjuring up a vision of a modern day version of Dante’s purgatory.

Although the performance took place at Teatro Bonci in Cesena, the production was by Ravenna’s Teatro Tradizione Dante Alighieri, which given the city’s connection with Dante was quite appropriate.


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