The many sides of Puccini

A new multimedia performance by Jewish composer Ricardo Joseph Moretti aims to show the Italian opera legend in a more intimate light.

Puccini 88 248 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Puccini 88 248
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Meet Giaccomo. His wife thinks he's having an affair with their maid. But he's actually having an affair with the maid's cousin. In the end, the maid is driven to suicide. What sounds like the plot of an opera is, in fact, a chapter in the life of 19th-century Italian opera composer Giaccomo Puccini, best known for such operas as La Bohème and Madama Butterfly. This tumultuous period of Puccini's life was captured in the recent film Puccini and the Girl, featuring Italian Jewish composer and conductor Ricardo Joseph Moretti as Puccini. Inspired by his experiences shooting the film and in honor of Puccini's 150th birthday, Moretti put together "The Puccini Experience," a unique multimedia performance that is coming to Israel. Moretti's goal is to present a candid portrait of Puccini, shedding light on both his personal and musical life. "I think Puccini's melodies give an extraordinary message aiming at people's hearts. As far as I am concerned, I hope I can show his human and intimate side as well," Moretti says. The Puccini Experience combines music, video, dialogue and dance. In fact, it's similar to something you might see in a Puccini opera. "One of Puccini's most obvious qualities lies in him being not just a great composer, but also a man involved in the theater," Moretti says. During the performance, Moretti discusses such subjects as Puccini's diverse musical influences - from ragtime to Debussy to ethnic music - plus the women in the composer's life. The principal women in Puccini's life will be portrayed by video images of three dancers, accompanied by live performances of Moretti's own Puccini-inspired compositions. "There's a small, intimate group of musicians. Each instrument acts as a commentary on what's going on," says Christoph Langheim, the violist of the ensemble. The Puccini Experience also includes the short film One Day with Puccini, a behind-the-scenes look into the making of Puccini and the Girl, plus highlights from some of Puccini's operas. In addition, audiences will get a glimpse of recently discovered footage of the composer himself, including clips of him playing piano. Throughout his career, Moretti, who is Orthodox, has returned to Puccini time and time again, whether composing music inspired by Puccini, portraying him in film, or researching and lecturing on him. But Moretti never gets tired of revisiting Puccini. "Every time I work on his scores, I notice details I had not seen before. Perhaps experience makes them more and more visible. It is the same process as studying the Torah; every time you study a parasha [weekly Torah portion] again, new details emerge which you had not considered before," Moretti says. Moretti's religious background has played a significant role in his career as a composer. On July 10 in Petah-Tikva, Langheim and his Israeli-born wife, Hagif Halaf, will perform a concert of Jewish pieces composed by Moretti. "Some pieces have a very sad expression, which could be appropriate for Yom Hazikaron or Yom Hashoah. And some are very Hassidic - they're dancing, electrifying pieces. There's also a very strong influence from [Moretti's] activity as a film composer, from Italian music, and from Sephardic music. There's sometimes even pop. It's a nice mix. In general, it's a very personal style," Langheim said. Moretti agrees that his music is very personal; he says that the Jewish influences in his music are a more unconscious expression of his background. "I think each of my compositions is always the result of who I am intimately. If clear traces of the so-called 'Jewish' way to make music can be found in my works, it is usually the listener who notices these influences. As far as I am concerned, my music comes from what my heart tries to convey to the listener. If this is done in a typical Jewish style, I am very happy," Moretti says. The Puccini Experience will be performed three times: on July 12, 8:30 p.m., at the Gerard Behar Center in Jerusalem (call (02) 623-7000 for tickets); on July 13, 8:30 p.m., at Heichal Hatarbut in Petah Tikva (tickets at (03) 912-5222); and on July 23, 8:30 p.m., at Beit-Gabriel in the Jordan Valley (tickets at (04) 675-1175). The Duo Halaf-Langheim will perform Moretti's Jewish pieces at the Abraham Shapira House in Petah Tikva on July 10 at 11 a.m. (call (03) 912-5222 for tickets).