Le baruffe, meaning ‘the brawls’, is a contemporary opera composed by Giorgio Battistelli, loosely based on Carlo Goldoni‘s comedy Brawling in Chioggia and commissioned by Teatro La Fenice of Venice for its 2021-22 season.
With a libretto written by Battistelli and director Damiano Michieletto, the opera’s plot revolves around brawls among fishermen’s families in the small lagoon village of Chioggia in Italy. The fights are triggered by a piece of pumpkin gifted to an already engaged girl to arouse the jealousy of another. Gossip and jealousy arise, leading to brawls that reveal a poor and foolish humanity acting out of rage and instinct.
Scenography Today has spoken to set designer Paolo Fantin to learn more about the staging.
“The show starts with an empty stage,” says Paolo Fantin, “as I wanted to work on this restlessness that is in Battistelli’s music from the very beginning, the restlessness moving the brawl when it breaks out.”
Machines of restlessness
In the libretto, “there is also talk about a strange atmosphere given by the sirocco, the famous [Mediterranean] wind usually bringing great disasters. Trying to combine the meteorological instability with, above all, the instability of these poor fishermen who fight for a piece of pumpkin, I created a space through machines, and I called them ‘machines of restlessness.'”
“The first machine that I wanted to show the public is the theatre,” says Fantin. “The public enters and sits in front of the bare theatre with all its machinery. The second machine is precisely the wind machine, the ‘sirocco machine’ represented by the big fans. They follow along with the characters’ restlessness in the story, progressing from idle moments to a swirling spinning, as to be a meteorological echo but above all an emotional one.”
“And then we have a so-called fog machine. I imagined a very dark, lagoon atmosphere, with humidity getting right into the characters’ bones. Video projections flood the space with a constant and always moving fog.”
This “smoke” agitates another machine, the wooden planks walls. “I liked wood because it is a raw material, and I wanted the story to be as rough as the story’s fishermen are,” says Fantin. “I wanted material in its primordial state and I created walls in continuous movement and inspired by the wooden fishermen’s wharves deteriorated by salty water.”
The moving walls configure an ever-changing space, recalling Venice where the alleys are wider or narrower and constantly vary as one walks, “they tell a labyrinth of emotions to some extent.” In the show, the walls are then stripped off of the boards by the choir singers and remain naked as skeletons.
The brawl scenes are a series of large choreographies in which the singers agitate the detached planks and create compositions representing anger. “Today, I like to call them images of “composed anger,” says Fantin.
The walls are thrown down and hung upside down until the storm, as the brawl that mounts twice, does not dissolve and pass. As it passes, the fans go up and another machine intervenes, a large cinema projector lighting up the whole theatre. “It is the machine of light, the machine of the sun after the storm.”
The whole show long, a pumpkin slice lays on the proscenium. “It is like a magic pumpkin. It unleashes the disaster; everyone wants it; it is an aphrodisiac. As the final effect, we let a huge one fall from the flyloft down to the stage crushed into pieces. It is funny and even disturbing,” Fantin says, “that the pumpkin still exists even when everyone has eaten it. We think it is over, but in reality, it comes back with a twist.”
“Ultimately,” Fantin concludes, “we use very gaunt elements, among these the worn-out 1700s costumes contrasting with the modern features. All on a very strong, impactful musical line—including the harsh sound of the hitting planks—to let the opera be experienced in a very intense and direct way.”