Conductor: Marko Hribernik
Director: Janez Burger
Marij Kogoj (1892 – 1956), born in Trieste, was one of the rare true representatives of Slovenian music avant-garde and expressionism. He began composing when he was 15, and was at first self-taught. Between 1914 and 1917 he studied counterpoint with Franz Schreker in Vienna, during this time he also attended at least one semester of classes on instrumentation held by Arnold Schoenberg. Just after the World War I he returned to Ljubljana, where he worked as music critic, and vocal coach
(accompanist) at the Opera of Ljubljana. Kogoj’s music language is a unique blend of elements of the late romanticism period, as well as atonal and free-tonal idioms. In his late creative period he mostly employed neoclassical techniques. The highlight of his oeuvre represents the opera Black Masks, which had its world premiere on May 7th 1929. Many of his songs and works on music theory were left unfinished. Every year an international music festival Kogoj’s Days (Kogojevi dnevi) is being
organized in honor to the composer’s memory.
Black Masks is the only Kogoj’s opera – some other music stage works remained unfinished due to early progress of mental illness. The libretto and the plot are based on a symbolic and allegoric play Black Masks by Leonid Andreyev. The protagonist, Lorenzo, duke of Spadaro, has ordered to prepare a masquerade ball in his grand castle, although he was not aware of the coming of the uninvited black masks, which were attracted to the light. After the series of dreadful encounters with masked guests, whether invited or not, Lorenzo becomes more and more troubled and mentally deranged. After the invocation of the Devil himself, he realizes his sullen past, him not being a descendant of the late Duke di Spadaro, but rather of a stable-boy and the duke’s wife. After the duel between Lorenzo and his counterpart, Lorenzo dies. The story continues with the funeral, and the resumed masquerade ball with now mentally devastated Lorenzo who does not recognize even his wife Francesca.
In this co-production of Opera and Ballet SNG Maribor, SNG Opera and ballet Ljubljana and Maribor 2012 − European Capital of Culture, we will witness the fourth production of Black Masks, and the first production of revised version of the score by Slovenian conductor Uroš Lajovic. Special thanks for the new integral version of the complete music score go to copyist Gal Hartman, who was working on Kogoj’s original score and manuscript for more than two decades. Stage direction of the opera will be led by Janez Burger, a remarkable Slovenian film director, while the scene and the costumes were designed by artistic collective NUMEN and Alan Hranitelj, respectively. Stage movement designer is Edward Clug, lighting designer is Pascal Mérat.
Act I, Scene I
Everything is being prepared for the masquerade ball in a magnificent mansion. Duke Lorenzo di Spadaro, his wife Francesca and their subjects are eagerly anticipating the distinguished guests. Cristoforo informs the duke that they will soon run out of quality wine. Lorenzo tells Petruccio, the steward, to illuminate the road and lower the drawbridge so the guests could come in castle. When the musicians join in, Lorenzo greets the newcomers, offering them hospitality. He is admiring the masks, and guessing who is behind them, but does not recognize anyone. When he sees a red (heart-shaped) mask, with a serpent enfolding it, Lorenzo guesses that this could be lady Emilia, but the masks says it represents his heart. Lorenzo rejects that his heart was full of snakes. Another mask shows him the spider, and asks if perhaps this is his heart. Duke denies again, replying that his heart is filled with love. The spider invites him to hunt in the castle tower, but the duke casts the monster off. Suddenly, the new masks with remarkable facial make-up enter, among them are the dead, cripples and degenerates. The enthusiastic host wants to find out who had created such masks – they replied the creator was the Death herself. Guests begin to complain that the hall is too dark and cold, and Lorenzo in vain calls Petruccio and Cristoforo, who have disappeared without a trace. A mask, resembling Cristoforo, informs the duke that the wine has become thick and red as blood, and lethal as poison. However, as the duke does not believe this, he tries the wine himself. After the first sips he realizes with surprise that the wine has really been spoiled. The new masks, which come from the darkness, arrive into the hall, and Lorenzo greets them. The other guests are discussing that the duke was very reckless to light the castle so brightly. Ecco, the jester, wants to expose the masked guests, but he rather provokes laughter due to unsuccessful attempts. He offends the long gray mask, which strikes him on the ground, but the jester withdraws to his shelter. The grotesque music starts. Lorenzo wants to stop it, but the leader of musicians tries to convince him that they are playing only what they have been requested to play. The seven old hags announce the arrival of the Queen in the embrace of a rather drunken stable-boy. The ugly mask explains to the bitter duke (who finds such liaison unfit) that the charming son was born unto the Queen and the servant. Lorenzo then complains to Ecco, but the latter is wounded and asks the duke for some mask to disguise himself. The duke is sad because the jester wants to leave him, but he eventually agrees – on condition that he seeks out for lady Francesca. Then, a beautiful mask, resembling Francesca, comes before Lorenzo who does not realize the mask is merely an image of his lies and conceit. Then the Duke sees an unknown creature, which illustrates his dark thoughts. The grotesque music gradually intensifies, and Lorenzo is dizzy and loses sense of reality. Masks are becoming more aggressive and are playing around with Lorenzo, who wants to escape and search for Francesca. The Duke decides to interrupt the music again, but suddenly a black mask, reminiscent of the nocturnal moth, causes confusion among other masks. Lorenzo announces Romualdo who will sing his song. During the singing, Lorenzo realizes this is not his song, because the singer mentioned Satan as the ruler of the world and Lorenzo’s soul. The masks are shrieking and kneeling down to Lorenzo as the Devil's liege, while terrifying screams announce the arrival of the uninvited...
Lorenzo is reading the documents in the mansion’s library, and thinking about his ambiguous and sullen past. He is wondering, whether all, what is written in the archives about his origin, is true. Who is then the true ruler of the world – the God or the Satan? Lorenzo questions the authenticity of his knighthood, pondering the idea if he could be the son of a stable-boy. He suddenly hears the steps and his counterpart rushes into the room. Both of them are convinced of deception of the other, thus they clash with swords. The real Lorenzo falls under the sword of the imposter, and the latter feels sorry for Lorenzo, since he has become a victim of a cruel masquerade joke.
Act II, Scene III
The dance hall of Lorenzo’s mansion is becoming increasingly dark. The uninvited black masks have become very much alive – they are gathering around the light, and harassing other masks. The latter are dissatisfied with the duke’s hospitality and call in the servants of the castle to raise the bridge to prevent further invasion of the unwanted guests. The old hags announce the arrival of the severely wounded Lorenzo, who is unaware of his condition. The duke explains his absence, stating that he saw a man who had assumed his voice and appearance. The masks warn Lorenzo, that he has blood on his shirt, but he indifferently replies this was not his blood. The guests want to know who killed the duke, but Lorenzo can not answer, so he directs them up to the tower, where allegedly the murdered corpse lies. The host once again invites the masks to dance. The hall is suddenly filled with black masks, and only Lorenzo admires the sparkling "duel” between the darkness and the light. When the duke sings a lullaby, the black masks listen with naïve curiosity. The guests who returned from the tower had found the body of the murdered duke. The masks demand of the wrongdoer to take off his mask and confess the murder. Lorenzo tries to convince them that he himself is Lorenzo di Spadaro, but his face has stiffened as if he was really wearing a mask. When he realizes this, he wants to remove the mask off, and calls for help his friend Cristoforo and his faithful wife Francesca, but in vain. Lorenzo is struck with panic and falls to the ground screaming, while the black masks infest the hall. The uninvited black masks are playing savage music, while the other guests are trying to escape.
In the coffin of the castle chapel lies the late duke di Spadaro. His counterpart is bidding him farewell, but unexpectedly encounters a court jester Ecco, who has been hiding in the castle tower ever since. The peasant woman pays homage to the duke, and forgiving him the death of her young daughter who was accidentally killed at the masquerade. The next is the farmer, whose son died in the duke’s service, but he denies his master forgiveness. During the choir singing Cristoforo comes to the deceased friend, promising him to find the killer. The counterpart of the deceased thanks Cristoforo for his loyalty, offering him two drops of blood from the deceased's heart. Ecco sees this, and asks if he gets nothing for his service, but the counterpart offers him even more in return for a kiss. Ecco is afraid to kiss the dead duke, admitting that he would rather see his master alive, so they could together pursue their spiritual journey. When the jester sees the approaching servants and drunken brutes, he runs away and hides. But since the servants Pietro, Mario and Manucci show no respect for their late master, they are sent away by the duke’s double. At last Francesca comes to mourn the death of his beloved husband. She declares her eternal love for Lorenzo and kisses him for the last time. The Lorenzo’s counterpart gives thanks to the deceased for his patience – now they are alone and doomed to eternity.
The servants are lighting up the castle hall for the guest reception of now mentally deranged duke. The jester Ecco shares a secret with Petruccio and Cristoforo that he became Lorenzo’s "spirit of fire” by following his master’s orders, but no one is taking him seriously. Francesca asks people at court and gathered servants to spare the deranged duke, while Ecco manages to escape, in order to fulfil the duke’s command. The duke appears and addresses his friend Cristoforo, although he does not really recognize him, nor Petruccio the steward, or even his wife Francesca. As lady Francesca is greatly upset by this, the duke decides to reassure her with music. Romualdo sings a song of happiness and love of the young duke, but Lorenzo stops him as he wants to sing. Duke then confesses in ecstasy his allegiance to the true master of the world – the Satan. The light behind the windows grows stronger and the panic strikes the room. Lorenzo announces the arrival of the ruler of heaven and earth, and demands of the guests to kneel down. The burnt Ecco rushes in to the hall, followed by a group of servants who want to catch him, as he has set the mansion on fire. Lorenzo protects the blind Ecco, with whom he then waits for the coming of the Almighty. Francesca begs his husband to save himself for the sake of their unborn child – even Cristoforo is willing to save him from the flames – but in vain. Francesca and Cristoforo finally escape from the burning mansion, only Ecco and Lorenzo are lost in flames, waiting for their Creator and ultimate liberation.
CastLorenzo di Spadaro, duke - Jože Vidic
Ecco, jester - Dušan Topolovec, Andrej Debevec
Donna Francesca, Beautiful mask - Andreja Zakonjšek Krt, Martina Zadro
Signor Cristoforo - Valentin Pivovarov, Saša Čano
Petruccio, steward - Sebastjan Čelofiga, Peter Martinčič
Romualdo, singer - Martin Sušnik , Dejan Maksimiljan Vrbančič
Lorenzo's double - Jaki Jurgec, Darko Vidic
First lady, Leonora - Valentina Čuden, Norina Radovan
Second lady, Emilija - Amanda Stojović
Mario - Ivan Andres Arnšek, Marko Mandir
Carlo, first servant - Rok Bavčar
Manucci, second servant - Alfonz Kodrič
Third servant - Marko Mandir
Pietro - Klemen Gorenšek
Filippo - Peter Skušek
Heart, Peasant woman - Marina Ledinek
Red mask, Mouth - Dada Kladenik
New mask - Mojca Potrč
Peasant - Gregor Mlakar
Spider (Red mask) - Emil Baronik
Very beautiful mask (Lie) - Terezija Potočnik
Mask from the arcade - Robert Mraček
Sir Silvio - Danilo Vračko
Ugly mask - Nevenka Kiseljak
Stable-boy, Sir, Voice from somewhere - Bojan Hinteregger
Principal Black mask - Miha Mikluš
The Long Grey - Sytze Jan Luske
Opera in two acts and five scenes
Music Marij Kogoj
Libretto Josip Vidmar, Marij Kogoj
Edition of the music score Uroš Lajovic
Copyist Gal Hartman
Based on the play The Black Masks by Leonid Andreyev
Conductor Uroš Lajovic
Stage Director Janez Burger
Set Designers Numen, Ivana Radenović
Costume Designer Alan Hranitelj
Lighting Designer Pascal Mérat
Chorus-mistress Daniela Candillari
Stage Movement Edward Clug
Assistant to Conductor Marko Hribernik
Assistant to Stage Director Tanja Lužar
The opera is sung in Slovenian, and is approximately three hours, with one intermission after the first act.