Warner has reissued Luigi Nono's INTOLLERANZA (Intolerance) 1960 as part of its Teldec Opera Collection. Recorded in Stuttgart in March 1993, the original 1999 disc has long been unavailable. It is a departure from standard opera in at least two respects. First, at only 54'35 it is only the length of the first act of a standard opera. Second, Nono did not call it an opera, but rather "aziona scenica," no doubt to distance his work from the expectations of the regular opera crowd.
This is a militant political work, in uncompromising serialist language. Said Nono: "Intolleranza 1960 is the awakening of human awareness in a man who has rebelled against the demands of necessity -- he is an emigrant miner -- and is searching for a reason and a 'human' basis for life." The libretto uses texts from Brecht, Sartre, Paul Eluard, Mayaskovsky, Algerian nationalist Henri Alleg, and others. The Emigrant, a Woman, and an Algerian are the principal characters. They protest their conditions in the mine, leave, are interrogated and tortured, confined in a concentration camp, and are finally drowned in a flood. The final chorus quotes Brecht's "To Those Born Later":
You, who will emerge from the flood in which we have been drowned, remember ... when the time finally comes for all men to help each other, think of us with kindness.
Significantly, the earlier chorus of Algerians and migrants quotes Mayakovsky's 1917 poem "Our March":
Beat the tattoo of revolt in the streets! Hold your chain of proud heads high! Like a second Flood, we will wash clean the cities of the world!
Alfred Andersch translated the libretto into German. This live recording features the Staatsorchester Stuttgart and Chor der Staatsoper Stuttgart led by conductor Bernhard Kontarsky and chorus master Ulrich Eistert. David Rampy sings the tenor part of the Emigrant. The reissued disc includes a 16-page booklet with a plot synopsis and selected quotes, but not the complete libretto.
I respect Nono's intentions and integrity in writing this and other politically engaged works. He was intensely critical of his fellow "Darmstadt School" composers (including Boulez, Stockhausen, Berio, and others) for their lack of engagement, and he was not hypocritical in his stance.
However, while this is a worthwhile piece and well worth hearing, it is basically a work of agit-prop (a Marxist-Leninist term for agitation and propaganda) and is rather two-dimensional. It is not comparable to the finest works of Hanns Eisler with Bertolt Brecht. We can certainly use more art that is engaged with the injustice of the world, and I find Nono to be an inspiring figure in that regard, but this is not his strongest work.
For a fantastic "azione scenica" (stage action), similar to "Intolleranza" but much better, listen to Nono's Al gran sole carico d'amore, composed from 1972-1974 (see my review).
See my list NONO: A LISTENER'S GUIDE for more recommendations and reviews of the works of one of the finest composers of the late 20th century.