At the Piano


Ambrogiolo was premiered September 10-12 and 17-19 at the Thick House Theather, San Francsico as part of the Opera Collaboration DieciGiorni.

Ambrogiolo is inspired by a tale from Giuseppe Boccaccio's Decameron, the seminal book marking the transition from the late Middle ages to the Renaissance. The Decameron (literally the Ten Days) is composed of a hundred tales, told over a ten days period by ten fictional noble-men and -women, taking refuge from the Plague raging in Florence. Each day has a theme, and the tale I put in music is from day two: devoted to events which start badly but end up for the best.

Ambrogiolo, the ninth tale of day two, narrates a rather complex story: one of a husband (Barnabó) overconfident about his wife Zinevra's loyalty, of a treacherous man (Ambrogiolo) tricking him into believing that his wife is unfaithful, and the resulting tragedy of jealousy. The tale inspired Shakespeare's play Cymbeline, and it has such an array of characters, themes, and events that it could be tilted easily in different directions. I kept the story rather close to the original, but developed the characters further. Ambrogiolo is the unrepentant deceiver, and we see a little bit of his heart only when he encounters Zinevra. We come to know Barnabó as a limited man who does not understand the exceptional qualities of his wife; he can only brag about her. Zinevra is a feminist hero ahead her time: she can do anything, even become captain (in disguise) of a Sultan's guard. Her tragedy is that even that accomplishment is not enough to take her out of the social constraints that define her role.

Compositionally Ambrogiolo is characterized by a very sparse treatment of the orchestra, which is limited to percussion, strings and winds. There is a combination of standard orchestral support of the voices, sections in which the instruments take part in the dialogue as independent voices, and other sections in which the instruments act as soloists, but overall the attention is on the voices that often sing without players support in a very rarified atmosphere. Only in critical sections of the play the texture becomes very dense and aggressive. There is a good deal of Italian tradition in the treatment of the voice, combined with some very contemporary harmonies and use of dissonance.


Score (download)

Libretto (download)

Decameron Day II.9, Original Text in Italian (download)

Decameron Day II.9: English Translation (download)

at the piano