San Francisco Opera Music Director Nicola Luisotti sounds like a proud midwife, talking about this week’s world premiere of “Two Women” (“La Ciociara”) in the War Memorial Opera House.
“It involves Italian and American people in a very dramatic moment of our mutual history, leading up to the liberation of 1940s Italy from the Nazis and Fascists,” says the conductor, who recruited fellow Italian Marco Tutino to compose to the work (his 15th opera), and convinced S.F. Opera General Director David Gockley to commission it.
Luisotti says it has "powerful music that communicates directly with the audience,” while Gockley describes it as a work “in direct line in the great tradition of Italian opera” and “of the lush musical palette of Puccini, Leoncavallo and Mascagni.”
The first Italian work commissioned by Gockley (who has presented more than 40 new operas), “La Ciociara” also may be the first Italian opera for a major company in about a century, since New York’s Metropolitan Opera’s 1910 premiere of Puccini's "The Girl of the Golden West" (“La fanciulla del West”) and 1918 premiere of "Il Trittico" (“The Triptych”).
The opera, featuring a libretto by Tutino and Fabio Ceresa, is based on Alberto Moravia’s 1958 novel "Two Women" and perhaps better known 1960 film by Vittorio De Sica, which gave Sophia Loren her first big hit in the U.S. and an Oscar for best actress.
The libretto adds to the wartime story about a strong-willed widow Cesira (soprano Anna Caterina Antonacci) and her daughter Rosetta (soprano Sarah Shafer) struggling to survive amid Allied bombing and Moroccan troops from the French army pillaging and raping their way through villages while fighting Italians and Germans.
"You cannot have a tenor and soprano in love without a baritone as the villain," says Tutino, describing the added major character Giovanni (baritone Mark Delavan), who contrasts with the idealistic Michele (tenor Dimitri Pittas).
Stage director Francesca Zambello says the 70-year-old story still feels current, with women today imperiled in countless armed conflicts around the world: "History teaches us lessons, we just don't always listen," she says.
IF YOU GO
Two Women (La Ciociara)
Presented by San Francisco Opera
Where: War Memorial Opera House, 301 Van Ness Ave., S.F.
When: 7:30 p.m. June 13, June 19, June 23 and June 30; 2 p.m. June 28
Tickets: $32 to $370
Contact: (415) 864-3330, www.sfopera.com