Duration: Full evening with 2 intervals
Libretto: Vanda Monaco Westerstahl
My mother once promised to me
The premiere production of Fortunato, in the spring of 1993, was a great popular success for Norrlands Opera, the Swedish company who commissioned it. The show enjoyed a sold-out run of twenty-one performances and was extensively discussed in newspapers, magazines, and on TV and radio.
There are eleven roles, which can be taken by seven singers: Coloratura soprano; mezzo; counter tenor; tenor; 2 baritones and a bass. The scoring is for 2 fls (=picc, =alto fl), 2 obs (2nd=cor ang, oboe d'amore, slide whistle), clar in Bb, ten sax, 2 bsns, 2hns, 2 tpts, 2 tbns, tuba, 3 perc, harp, 2 synths, strings.
The Libretto, by Vanda Westerstahl, is based on a late mediaeval novel, which appeared in many versions throughout Europe in the 16th and 17th centuries. The story concerns the sentimental education of a young man who leaves his oppressive parents, full of dreams of joining wild and bloody Viking raids.
In Act One, whose subtitle is "mornings", the Prologue introduces us to the sensual whore Mariella; fiercely independent lover of Voland (the Devil?) who promises to watch over Fortunato on his travels. The First Scene shows him leaving home. The stern father and clinging, over-intense mother will appear again in many guises throughout the piece. In the Second Scene our would-be hero recounts the painful experiences he has undergone on his journey so far. He then meets some Knights, who challenge him to a fight. Mariella rescues him in the nick of time and takes him off to Voland. The Devil is now happily ensconced as court jester at the Court of Count Gustav, a mighty prince and the Third Scene begins with his laddish drinking antics of his friends while he and Mariella are making passionate love on Gustav's throne. He is having problems because he's worried about "Little Fortunato" who has enjoyed a meteoric rise at court. A church procession passes by led by Gustav . From this his sword bearing favourite is plucked and forced to witness the Knights bawdy antics. These are interrupted by the entrance of Wise Thomas, Gustav's chief adviser, who begins a long-term feud with Voland over his free-spirited attitude. The finale builds up a great ensemble as Fortunato is knighted by Gustav and appointed protector to his fiancee - arousing frustration and amazement in the company.
The Second Act (entitled "nights") has an enchanted, dreamlike quality to all its events. In another Prologue, Fortunato alone reveals that his personal life and his sexuality as a contradictory minefield compared to his brilliant career.
The Beautiful Birgitta, Gustav's betrothed, is obsessed with her young knight and summons him to entertain he in the castle garden. Her clumsy attempts at seduction fail and she accuses Fortunato of attempted rape and demands that Gustav castrate the miscreant. Our hero is suddenly an outlaw and must flee in disguise with Voland. Scene Two shows the two begging, with Voland posing as a blind man. At last Mariella surprises them and she and Voland proceed to take Fortunato into a magical "Labyrinth" Here he defeats a magic bear and tastes its blood, whereupon he is given a red purse "full of laughter". Scene Three finds the trio still on the run; running a kind of bar or tavern full of low life. Two actors, Sbricci and Halvdan, come to call and the former makes a devastating impression on Fortunato who is inveigled into taking part in a play based on one of the sagas. In this romp, Sbricci and Fortunato must appear in drag and, at the climax, are scattered amongst the audience. At this moment Wise Thomas bursts in with some soldiers; determined to break up this illegal dramatic representation and to arrest Voland for promoting it. In the ensuing scuffle, Voland fatally wounds a soldier. As Thomas marches his prisoner out, he turns to the "pretty girl" (Fortunato!) and asks if "she" knows the murderer, or indeed another outlaw called "Fortunato". The whole crowd turns bitterly on him when the soldiers have left: "Traitor! You make our day black!
In Act Three (twilights) sees Fortunato thrust through extreme experiences of death, temptation and resurrection which set the seal on his journey into adulthood. In Scene One, Sbricci announces that Thomas's moralising campaign has led to social division and persecution. Voland's exemplary execution is announced by the arrival of a large procession, but Thomas's speech is soon interrupted by a furious Halvdan, who is run through by Thomas's men. The sight of Voland's hanging figure affects all the company and Thomas is led off a broken man: "The skies have been brought low...." In Scene Two Fortunato escapes his grief by answering the siren call of the beautiful Woman on the Mountain, a kind of Valkyrie figure. Meanwhile, back down in the valley, Voland is being resurrected by the magic of Mariella and a group of witches. As his voice mingles with that of The Woman on The Mountain, Fortunato withdraws below again, leaving her to weep in frustration... Scene Three, moving towards the opera's climax, sees our hero overjoyed to find Voland alive and well. He is now delighted to be in the company of the motley crew of beggars and outlaws he once persecuted. He accepts their verbal and physical taunts, humbly. Fortunato is now a man. He is no longer afraid to confront others and be himself. The opera ends with a chorus that affirms life and smiles at "the sweet song of the dead..."
MP3 audio extract (1'41"):