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Girolamo Deraco: FacebookingGirolamo Deraco: FacebookingReview of Poulenc’s The human voice and Girolamo Deraco's opera Facebooking. On the last day of the Miskolc Opera Festival 2015 we could watch these works performed together. The performance of Facebooking was the premiere of this work.

Playing both pieces on the same evening (afternoon, to be more precise) was not an accidental combination. It was done by the concept of Girolamo Deraco, the composer of Facebooking: the plot of his new opera is the continuation of the story of The human voice.

The action of the latter - Poulenc’s already classic opera - takes place in the 1920’s. The libretto written after Jean Cocteau’s play is the result of the collaboration between the composer and French soprano Denise Duval (the main role of the opera was written specifically for Duval - and of course it was her, who sang at the premiere in 1959). The only character in the story is Elle, who is having a desperate conversation on the phone with her lover, who - possibly - left her. Telephone was still a relatively new invention then, and the conversation is often disrupted. At the conclusion of the drama the woman tells her lover, that she has the telephone cord wrapped around her neck, and then their conversation stops for good; the curtain falls, leaving the conclusion somewhat vague. 

Poulenc: The human voicePoulenc: The human voiceHowever, in Girolamo Deraco’s opera the protagonist of Poulenc’s work only went to sleep, and she wakes up in her bed today, in the 21st century. As a contrast to the tragic atmosphere of The human voice, this time we can see a comedy (or rather, a tragicomedy). Now the happy, little bit naive girl - Gianna Poulanka - is not communicating by phone, but on Facebook, using a tablet. (The name of the lady is an Italianate version of Jean Cocteau’s first name, and the family name refers to Poulenc.) She communicates with a naive enthusiasm with a certain Mr. Pinkerton (!), but their relationship does not go beyond the reality of the virtual world: at the end of the opera the woman can only kiss the tablet…

The name Girolamo Deraco probably sounds familiar to the visitors of the Miskolc Opera Festival. The young Italian composer attracted attention at the Festival two years ago, when his eight-second - yes, 8-second - opera Taci!, written for a soprano voice and a symphonic orchestra, was premiered within the framework of the Opera Composer Competition. It was also authenticated as a world record (’the shortest opera ever’). The following year he was already a member of the jury of the Opera Composer Competition, when another of his work was also presented: an instrumental piece called Indaco (Indigo). If anyone thinks that Girolamo Deraco’s main purpose is provocation, they are wrong. All his works mentioned, including Facebooking, proved to me that the Italian composer is not only smart and imaginative, but also writes excellent music. Strange as it may sound, it is true for Taci!, as well, not to mention Indaco, which is a well-considered instrumental work written with great professional skills. It is also ’music theatre’, as the composer calls the production. (In last year’s Festival Journal you can write an interview and a review about Indaco and music theatre, while in this year’s Festival Journal another interview with the composer.)

Facebooking is a skillfully composed, melodic little opera being light in tone. Although it is more than 8 seconds, I would not call it long: the duration is less than 20 minutes. (By the way, according to the composer he does have compositions of one and a half hour, but he does not like long works. He believes it takes too much time to write them, they may not be performed in the end, what’s more, they are boring for the audience…)

Girolamo Deraco: FacebookingGirolamo Deraco: FacebookingGirolamo Deraco likes innovations: in the case of Facebooking it means technical novelties in the first place. During the performance the audience can also watch the message exchanges of the protagonist lady: her Facebook profile picture and the messages there - as well as smilies and ’likes’ - are projected on the curtain in front of the stage. It provides an opportunity for several amusing scenes: for example, the composer himself is also sending messages on Facebook to the protagonist. (The creators plan, that later the production will become interactive, so the audience will also be able to send messages; it has not been realised yet.) The photo of Mr. Pinkerton shows Puccini, a picture from the video of a Madonna-song also appears on her newsfeed for a moment (many things happen on Facebook, maybe too many), and once the singer comes forward before the curtain and takes a ’selfie’ about herself, with the audience behind her also in it.

It is not only the page of Facebook that is projected onto the curtain, but we often see the woman herself from different angles on large-sized, live footages (several cameras are continuously recording her). These latter projections are also used during The human voice. Apart from the curtain and the projections the only thing we can see is a canopy bed in the middle of the stage.  

The composer believes it is important to perform both operas on the same evening. But, because Facebooking is quite short, to avoid an imbalance between the two works, The human voice was performed with several cuts, that is to say, it was shortened. It is understandable, but it somewhat reduced the musical value of the performance. Furthermore, the orchestration of Facebooking has not been done yet, so we heard it with a piano accompaniment. This is a problem for two reasons: first, it is difficult for us to get a real picture about the music of Facebooking, we do not know, how it would sound with an orchestra. Secondly, it makes the performance a bit monotonous (though never dull), as we can only listen to a piano and one single female voice all along.

Girolamo Deraco: FacebookingGirolamo Deraco: FacebookingThe protagonist - who was Maria Elena Romanazzi this day - has a very difficult task. It is already difficult if she sings The human voice alone: she is alone on the stage during the whole opera and sings continuously, which is a true test for the soprano undertaking it. But this time she even has to sing another role after Poulenc’s opera (which is a real feat, even if we heard a shortened version of The human voice, and Facebooking is a short opera). Besides the necessary voice quality, playing the two roles requires good acting skills, too. Maria Elena Romanazzi posseses all these qualities. The soprano, who mainly excels in modern operas, sang with sophisticated shades and colours. She interpretated the two (or rather, the one) characters with the necessary dramatic sense in The human voice, and playfully, amusingly in Facebooking (only a few high notes in The human voice were vocally a bit insecure).

Though she stayed in the background, I also have to mention the pianist, Raffaella Ronchi, who has done an excellent job in both operas.

Girolamo Deraco has come up with something new again, we saw exciting and fine performances, in terms of musical and theatrical experience, too. According to the composer, now he is working on a ’space opera’, which is not ready yet. Perhaps we can also see this production in Hungary in the near future.


Balázs Csák


21 June, 2015, Miskolc National Theatre, Hall Theatre

Francis Poulenc:


Tragédie lyrique in one act


Elle - Maria Elena Romanazzi


Girolamo Deraco:


Opera in one act

World premiere


Gianna Poulanka - Maria Elena Romanazzi


Piano: Raffaella Ronchi

Director: Nino Cannatà


A joint project of Bartók Plus Opera Feszival and URTIcanti Contemporary Music Festival (Bari, Italy)



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