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Work of the week – Luigi Dallapiccola: Il prigioniero

Although Luigi Dallapiccola’s one-act opera Il prigioniero (The Prisoner) was composed in 1949, the questions it raises about faith, love, hope and freedom are of enduring relevance. On 26 April, a production of the opera opens at Stuttgart Opera under the direction of Andrea Breth, performed by the Staatorchester Stuttgart and conductor Franck Ollu, and with set design by Martin Zehetgruber. The production was co-produced with Theatre La Monnaie / De Munt in Brussels and was premiered there in January this year.

Il prigioniero is set during the 16th century Spanish Inquisition, and tells the story of a political prisoner who, the night before his execution, feels a sense of hope when the guard addresses him as “Fratello” meaning “brother”. The guard then leaves the prisoner’s cell door open, allowing him to escape. However, the prisoner’s passage through the dungeon does not lead him to freedom, but instead into the arms of the Grand Inquisitor himself. The prisoner then understands that the illusion of freedom was his final torture before his execution.

Luigi Dallapiccola – Il prigioniero: Hope as last torture

Dallapiccola began work on his second opera Il prigioniero in 1944, in response to the fascism prevalent during the Second World War. The music for the opera is based on three twelve-tone series, associated with the words “prayer”, “hope” and “freedom” in turn, making him the first Italian composer to employ Schönberg’s twelve-tone technique. Dallapiccola also wrote the libretto for the opera using La torture par l’espérance (“Torture by Hope”) by the French author Philippe-Auguste Villiers de L’Isle Adam and La légende d’Ulenspiegel e Lamme Goedzak (“The Legend of Tyll Ulenspiegel and Lamm Goedzak”) by Charles de Coster as a base for the text. Il prigioniero is considered one of the most important Italian operas of the mid-20th century.

 “Hope, my brother, hope with total fervor,
hope while you suffer,
hope every hour of the day…
you must live for hope”
– The jailer, 2. scene

Further performances of the opera will follow on 29 April, 21 & 26 May, 9, 16 & 25 June in Stuttgart, following by a production at Semperoper Dresden from 30 June 2018.


photo: Köln Opera / Paul Leclaire