Prometheus's Possible Places

photographer Luigi Nono
written by Giorgio Mastinu

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In the period from 1976 to 1984, Luigi Nono was engaged in composing his third and last opera Prometeo. Tragedia dell’ ascolto which premiered in Venice in September 1984. While finishing the libretto, musical score (including development of the ‘live electronics’ technique), costumes and choreography at the same time, which was Nono’s usual method of operation from his very beginnings on stage (Intolleranza 1960), he lived between his family home in Venice and a room in the Die Halde hotel in Schauinsland in the Black Forest. His Venice study (exposed to the south-western sun), illuminated by means of large windows with a view of the lagoon, was furnished in the following manner: a huge desk, shelves with books, collections of recording tapes and gramophone records. The room in the Die Halde, where Nono stayed for several weeks at different periods between 1983 and 1984, had a view of meadows and a forest, of landscape that reflected the changes of all four seasons, as well as the idea of nature that permeated the entire work. These influences assumed the form of his ‘domestic landscape’ which necessarily consisted of different images. The complex iconographic ‘apparatus’, not always liable to deciphering and mysterious in many of its aspects, was being realized in time in the shape of a meta project directed towards discovery of new expressive possibilities. Forms, spaces, architectures and texts are materialized, assimilated, interiorized, transformed; they pass through stages of endless explorations devoted to the development of the structure of Prometheo in ‘Isolas’: from their spatial composition, study of colour, to the movement of soloists and sound in space. Recalling spaces of St Mark’s Basilica and the old Venetian music tradition, the subject of Nono’s youthful research, is also a poetic and formal constant in his entire opus. As the result of a large number of influences (from classical architecture to Venetian painting of the 16th and 17th centuries or to simple pictures of family life) and research, without concrete starting points, the San Lorenzo Church in Venice imposed itself and was offered to the composer as the ideal space for the realization and performance of his project. For the premiere, Renzo Piano designed his famous ‘ark-lute’ thus creating a new performance space within the found situation. Nono himself carefully recorded the fragile balance of that path. He took hundreds of photographs, which are preserved in both studies, and these are the only and last testimony of the path travelled. Also, they provide valuable information about relationships, as much as they evoke me­mories, often implicit and concealed, of the creation of this, his last master piece. Nono’s photographs clearly illustrate the relationship between the inner and outer, natural and artificial (just as in numerous preparatory notes and drafts that re­ferred to photographs of classical Egyptian and Greek architecture), do­cumenting the close relations between fragments of this personal iconographic and poetic mosaic in a continuous dialogue.