Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco’s 1962 chamber opera The Importance of Being Earnest is now available from Edizioni Curci and ready for the stage! This pure divertissement based on Oscar’s Wilde’s celebrated play is scored for the unusual ensemble of eight voices, two pianos, and percussion, with a libretto by the composer. Both the voice and piano reduction and the full score are available from the publisher.
This opera boasts numerous distinctive features. The instrumentation is unique, and it artfully weaves together thematic material of both cultured and popular origins – whose sources the composer indicates in the score – in unexpected and often humorous ways. Whether a fragment or a full citation, each element is established as a leading motif along with Castelnuovo-Tedesco’s own themes in a continuous game of cross-references in which the satire of the Wilde’s play is conveyed through a witty mashup of musical ‘samples’ from different authors and contexts, all united by the same (re)creative intent. In this way, the composer’s divertissement becomes the listener’s.
The piano reduction of the work was edited by Professor Giovanni Del Vecchio, who also authored the introductory text, which analyzes the source materials cited by Castelnuovo-Tedesco and their use throughout the work.
Castelnuovo-Tedesco’s final work for the stage, The Importance of Being Earnest is his only opera for which, to date, no commentary or mention by the composer has emerged. In his introduction to the published score, Angelo Gilardino speculates that the composer, after finishing two highly dramatic works, The Merchant of Venice (1956) and Saùl (1958-60), “would have wanted to turn to the more lighthearted, and, if you will, more frivolous genre of comedy, for his own pure and very personal enjoyment”. In keeping with Castelnuovo-Tedesco’s affinity for subtle irony, the composer uses this famous Victorian comedy of manners as a springboard for his own musical humor. The opera was conceived in two languages, English and Italian, with libretti by the composer in both languages. The Italian version, L’importanza di esser franco, is also published by Edizioni Curci.
The composer had a life-long passion for the work of Oscar Wilde. 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, which was directed by Albert Lewin, in 1945.