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Venice, Maria Egiziaca, a very rare title by Ottorino Respighi, is being staged at the Malibran Theatre
Pier Luigi Pizzi signs the new layout of the Teatro La Fenice, with Manlio Benzi on the podium
Organized by: La Fenice Theater Foundation

La Fenice Theater Foundation Presents

“ Opera and Ballet Season 2023 – 24 ”
And with Mary of Egypt, a very rare work by Ottorino Respighi, which continues the Foundation's 2023 -24 Season The Phoenix of Venice: the «mystery» in three episodes with a libretto by Claudio Guastalla, will be staged at Malibran Theater from 8 to 16 March 2024 in a new staging signed by Pier Luigi Lace, with the musical direction of Manlius Benzi.

Performed for the first time – in concert form – on March 16th 1932 at Carnegie Hall in New York under the direction of Tullio Serafin, the work of the Bolognese composer is inspired by the life of Saint Mary of Egypt, a sinner, then a nun and hermit, born in Alexandria in Egypt around the middle of the 4th century.

The Respighian title, which had been missing from Venice since 1956, now returns to the directorial reading of Pier Luigi Pizzi, who also designs sets and costumes; he climbs onto the podium Manlius Benzi, at the head of theOrchestra and Chorus of the Teatro La Fenice and a singing company featuring the protagonist Francesca Doctor in the eponymous role, supported by Vincenzo Costanzo, Simone Alberghini, Luigi Morassi, Ilaria Vanacore is William I ran.

Mary of Egypt, composed by Respighi in 1931 with a libretto by the Roman writer Claudio Guastalla (his usual collaborator, who also wrote the librettos for Belfagor, La campana sommersa, Lucrezia, La Fiamma) is an original reinterpretation of the saint's story, handed down variously and later merged into the hagiographic collection of the Vitae Patrum, dedicated to the hermits of Egypt; translated by the Pisan friar Domenico Cavalca around 1330 as 'Lives of the Holy Fathers' they enjoyed enormous success, which lasted until the mid-19th century.

«Maria is a prostitute, who did not spare herself in her young years, but who on the road to Damascus feels a divine call and wants to redeem herself – explains the director Pier Luigi Lace –. So he undertakes a journey to Jerusalem to take upon himself the sacrifice of Christ, faces its sacrificial and human consequences and finally dies in the odor of holiness. At the beginning Mary meets a pilgrim who wants to prevent her from boarding the ship because he considers her an unworthy sinner. However she manages to leave by seducing the sailors. This is his first existential phase linked to meat. Then she arrives in Jerusalem and in front of the temple she meets a leper, a poor man and a blind woman, like her in the act of redemption. Once again chased away by the pilgrim, she is instead guided by an angel on the path of repentance and penance. After years of solitude and abstinence in the desert, at the end of her life she finds a hermit monk who absolves her of sin and assists her in her transition. In just over an hour of music the protagonist goes from a state of brazen beauty to that of old age mercilessly worn out by forty years of fasting in the desert. The information we get from the booklet tells us that in her last appearance she is completely naked."

  1. «In the search for images that correspond to what the music suggests and that define the time and places of the action: Egypt, the Holy Land, the desert, – continues Pizzi – among the infinite images sedimented in the archive of my memory, the work of a surrealist painter who I frequented in Rome in the 1960s and whom I deeply appreciated came to light: Fabrizio Clerici. It is his pictorial universe that inspires me."

Divided into three episodes almost to echo the panels of a medieval triptych, Maria Egyptian fits into the context of the interest nurtured by Respighi towards ancient music, from Gregorian chant to Monteverdi, Vivaldi, Benedetto Marcello..., it is enough to remember titles such as the "Concerto in mixed mode", the "Doric Quartet", the "Ancient arias and dances for lute”. In the musical construction of the drama, the search for balance between traditional and avant-garde sounds is particularly relevant: the stylistic synthesis that characterizes the last phase of Respighi's lyrical and theatrical creativity finds, in Maria Egiziaca, a perfect balance between inspiration and form. Heterogeneous and distant musical worlds - baroque concepts, 20th century sounds and modal references dialogue with each other with absolute ease, merging into Respighi's original and personal expressive style.

«From a musical point of view it is an extremely succulent score – declared the director Manlio Benzi –. There are three panels, each of which has its own strong and specific musical tone, which is also dramaturgical. And without any solution of continuity the passages from one to the other are made up of two wonderful bridges of instrumental interlude. It is an eminently symphonic work, which uses an essentially chamber orchestra, extremely refined and symptomatic in its instrumental choices, which are never predictable: there are woodwinds, two clarinets, two horns, two trombones, a harpsichord... The instruments are chosen in a very careful, as the composer had absolutely clear ideas about the musical colors he wanted to use. Therefore in addition to the three acts, we encounter these two large instrumental interludes, which once again recall the symphonic nature of the work. The first peculiarity of this work by Respighi is the fantastic balance of the whole. This abundant hour of music is perfectly proportioned in the relationships between its parts. Just as the instrumental structure is equally refined and calligraphic."
Venice, Maria Egiziaca, a very rare title by Ottorino Respighi, is being staged at the Malibran Theatre

Other information of interest


Characters and performers
Maria Francesca Dotto
The pilgrim, Abbot Zosimus Simone Alberghini
The sailor, The leper Vincenzo Costanzo
A mate Michele Galbiati
Another companion, The Poor Man Luigi Morassi
The blind woman, The voice of the Angel Ilaria Vanacore
A voice from the sea William Corrò

Dancer Maria Novella Della Martina

Orchestra and Chorus of the Teatro La Fenice
director Manlio Benzi
choir master Alfonso Caiani

direction, sets and costumes Pier Luigi Pizzi
light designer Fabio Barettin


Maria Egyptian
Mystery in three episodes

libretto by Claudio Guastalla

Music by Ottorino Respighi


8 March 2024 at 7pm 'before'
performances 10 and 16 March at 3.30 pm
12 and 14 March at 7pm

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The direction is by Damiano Michieletto, on the podium the specialist Frédéric Chaslin

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