Italian notes on an evasive straw hat

Nino Rota’s opera, «Il Cappello di Paglia di Firenze,» (The Florentian Straw Hat) opens at the National Opera’s Olympia Theater tonight in an impressive production with stage direction by Yiannis Iordanidis and musical direction by Miltos Logiadis, and featuring the local opera company’s leading singers and its incumbent choir. One of Rota’s early operas, written in 1955, this is a charming and lighthearted production whose goal is simply entertainment, which unfolds as the rather mischievous horse of lead character Fadinard – who is just days away from marrying Elena, the daughter of farmer Nonancourt – eats the straw hat off the head of Anaide, a married woman having an illicit rendezvous with her lover, Emilio, in the woods. Emilio and Anaide follow Fadinard back home and plead for his assistance in replacing the hat before Anaide’s husband, a man known for his jealousy, discovers her infidelity. The three heroes are thus drawn into a crazy adventure in search of a hat resembling the one eaten by the horse, and which, it turns out, is made of a very special, hard-to-find type of straw. Nino Rota Rota was born in Milan in 1911 into a family of musicians. Influenced by his grandfather, Giovanni Rinaldi, who encouraged him to discover his own musical skill, he began composing at the tender age of eight. He moved to Rome as a child and attended the Santa Cecilia Conservatory, expanding his understanding of music theory. By the age of 11, Rota had composed his first oratorio, «L’infanza di San Giovanni Battista,» which was performed in Milan and Paris as early as 1923 and gained him the reputation of a child prodigy. After composing «Il Principe Procaro,» a lyric comedy influenced by the stories of Hans Christian Andersen, Rota won a scholarship to the Curtis Institute of Philadelphia in America where he studied from 1930-1932 and then returned to Italy where he got a degree in literature from the University of Milan. Through the turbulent 1940s, Rota continued to compose lighthearted works that combined the new and rapidly evolving influences of modern music with his classical teachings. It was also during the late 1940s, that Rota became increasingly involved in writing music for the theater, ventures that brought him his first great collaboration with friend and filmmaker Federico Fellini. Rota and Fellini worked together for over 29 years – one composing music and the other scenes – for great films such as «8 1/2,» «La Dolce Vita,» «Juliet of the Spirits,» «The White Sheik» and «Amarcord.» Rota also worked with, among others, film director Francis Ford Coppola, penning the music for the acclaimed «Godfather I» and «Godfather II.» Rota died in 1979, having composed 11 operas, three symphonies, three masses, four ballets, over 80 film scores and many great oratorio and chamber/piano music pieces. Nino Rota’s «Il Cappello di Paglia di Firenze,» is on tonight, tomorrow, and February 1, 2, 6 and 7 at the Olympia Theater, 59-61 Academias, tel 010.361.1516.

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