Manuel Mujica Láinez Robert Evett - Essay

Robert Evett

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[The Opera Society of Washington] climaxed a season distinguished by productions of virtually unknown Haydn and Massenet operas with the world premier of Bomarzo, a product of the Argentine composer Alberto Ginastera and the Argentine poet and novelist Manuel Mujica Lainez.

Both text and music reflect a number of strong influences which have been assimilated with varying degrees of success. (p. 28)

The principal characters themselves are drawn from history. The dukes of Bomarzo were members of the house of Orsini—which, during the high Renaissance, was in fairly constant competition with the Medici, the Farnese and the Borgia for the papacy. During a couple of centuries, the Orsini contributed their fair share of saints to the Roman canon, but these people do not figure in the opera. The "Bomarzo" of the title, Pier Francesco Orsini, succeeded to the dukedom against considerable odds…. The opera endows the duke with formidable sexual problems, exacerbated by his hideous personal appearance and his poisonous involvement with his grandmother. The acting out of his fantasies involves an encounter with a nude courtesan who figures in orgiastic ballets so uninhibited that, a few days before the premiere, some of the ballerinas refused to dance. In the end, the duke dies, poisoned by his own astrologer, at the base of a statue called "The Mouth of Hell."

In spite of the historical basis of the material, it must have taken a great deal of effort on the part of Sr. Mujica Lainez to convert it into acceptable adult theatre. His technique has been to divide the literary drama into a set of short episodes, presented like movie flashbacks, in which the events are seen from the point of view of the Duke, and the symbols are drawn from the sculptures of the Bomarzo estate. What emerges is a disagreeable interior journey, a series of fifteen humiliating defeats in fifteen scenes, in which symbol and metaphor combine to convey the kind of existential horror and nausea one finds in an opera like Berg's Wozzeck. Bomarzo becomes the libretto of an Italian opera by an author who has read Freud, studied the best operas since Pelléas, and presumably seen a lot of Swedish movies. (pp. 28-9)

Robert Evett, "'Bomarzo', Si, 'Rigoletto', No," in The New Republic, Vol. 156, No. 23, June 10, 1967, pp. 28-9.∗