by Steven Pisano
In the early 1960s, memories of Fascism and Nazism were still fresh in the collective memory of Europe. In Italy, the hateful, xenophobic government of Benito Mussolini had left deep scars on the nation, and the composer Luigi Nono, in a commission from the Venice Biennale, tried to confront these memories by writing his first opera, Intolleranza (Intolerance), dedicated to his father-in-law, Arnold Schoenberg. Last Thursday, the American Symphony Orchestra and Bard Festival Chorale, under the direction of music director Leon Botstein, revived Intolleranza at Carnegie Hall.
In the story, a migrant yearns to return to his homeland from where he has been working in a mine. Along the way, he encounters social protests in the streets, he is wrongfully arrested by the police, and he is thrown in prison and tortured. His desire to simply return home transforms into a zealous passion to fight for a better world, against bureaucracy and governments and social hate. He escapes prison, and along with a woman companion, finally makes his way to the river that borders his homeland, but the river swells over its banks and swallows everything - including the migrant and his companion.
It is a story with many resonant ties to our modern world, where millions of refugees have fled from war across Europe, and where in our own country we still are firmly under the sway of the fears engendered by the attacks on September 11, from which were about as far as World War II was for Nono in 1961 when he composed Intolleranza.