Matching Wits with Oscar Wilde

Diana Castelnuovo-Tedesco / News /

Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco nurtured a lifelong love of the wit of Oscar Wilde. In 1962, he wrote The Importance of Being Earnest as a chamber opera for eight voices,  two pianos, and percussion, with libretti by the composer in both English as well as Italian. On Sunday, 29 July and Wednesday, 1 August, the Italian adaptation,  L’Importanza di Esser Franco, will have its first performances  in more than 30 years at the Luglio Musicale Trapanese in Sicily as part of a week-long Castelnuovo-Tedesco Festival.  A second production is planned in Italy for Fall 2018.

The English version was presented in March 2017 by Boston’s Odyssey Opera , to great acclaim. The opera, in which Mario amused himself by weaving in musical quotations at opportune moments from Don Giovanni, The Barber of Seville, and Die Walküre,  among others, will be published soon by Edizioni Curci. 

Oscar Wilde’s works were part of the composer’s life from an early age. In his autobiography, Una Vita di Musica, Castelnuovo-Tedesco recounts that Wilde’s collection of fairy tales A House of Pomegranates was one of the first books he read in English as a boy in Florence. Much later, while working in Hollywood at Metro Goldwyn Mayer, he wrote The Birthday of the Infanta (1941). This  ballet-suite was never included in a film and was executed only once, in concert form, by The New Orleans Symphony in 1947. He also wrote (uncredited) much of the soundtrack to the MGM film adaptation of The Picture of Dorian Gray in 1945.