Arts, Culture & Media

Global Hit - Miracle in Milan

We end today's program in Rome with a performance of a new opera. It's unlike any opera you've ever heard unless you've already heard one with hardly any singing. Correspondent Megan Williams prepared today's Global Hit.

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Not the sounds you expect to hear at an opera rehearsal. But there's little about Miracolo a Milano - or Miracle in Milan - that meets expectations.

For one, the opera is an adaptation of a 1951 Italian movie classic of the same name. It tells the tale of a group of homeless people in post-war Milan who build a shantytown on the city outskirts. One of them is visited by an angel who gives him a magic dove that grants wishes. The homeless people discover oil, but before they can benefit from it, the dove is taken back and the rich businessman who owns the land, kicks them off to reap the profit.

Composer Giorgio Battistelli adapted Miracle in Milan for the stage. In his version there's an orchestra and off-stage choir, but the principal characters are "mute."

Batistelli: "Why a mute opera? Because the poor don't have a voice. Nobody listens to them. They're ugly, so no one wants to look at them. They're noisy, so they bother us. So I decided to have them not talk, since in reality no one listens to the poor."

But as Batistelli points out, "mute" doesn't mean silent. He introduces inarticulate, voiceless sound to convey the group's suffering and desperation.

The sounds include hand-rubbing, foot shuffling, murmurs, groans, and sighs. And the noise of improvised shelter being slapped together.

Batistelli says the noises in Miracle in Milan are a form of protest and a way for marginalized people to take up space in a world that ignores them.

Director Daniele Abbado sees the opera as a critique of Italy today.

Abbado: "It's so close to nowadays, the problems Italy has with immigrants."
He's referring to immigrants living in shacks along railway tracks and riverbanks. And the government's recent decision to fingerprint Roma people living in urban camps.

The opera, follows the storyline of the original movie, with one key difference. In the movie, there's a happy ending. As police cart the slum dwellers away to prison, the magic dove returns and grants them a wish for escape.

Abbado: "And the film has poetic end, they fly away. But nowadays reality we know the situation is absolutely dramatic. "
In the opera, Instead of flying off on street-sweeping brooms, the homeless shuffle off in search of their next temporary shelter.

Composer Giorgio Batistelli says he doesn't want to glorify suffering in his mute opera. And if fact, Miracle in Milan isn't totally devoid of singing. Nor is it depressing.

What makes it an enchanting work are the simply joys the characters experience -- like the warmth of a ray of sunlight. And love.

Giorgio Battistelli's next opera will veer off in a different direction. It's based on Al Gore's book An Inconvenient Truth.

It's scheduled to open next year at La Scala in Milan.

For The World, I'm Megan Williams in Rome.

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