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The love for fantastic absurdity at the BSO

The Boston Symphony Orchestra concerts Oct. 3-8 include Serge Prokofiev’s Suite from “The Love for Three Oranges.” Premiered in 1921, Prokofiev’s opera wraps absurdist meta-commentary around an already-fantastic fairy tale: Proponents of comedy and tragedy argue about the progress of the plot and even intervene to promote their chosen agenda. The opera’s burlesques echo the original source material’s motivation: an 18th-century Venetian literary feud.

When Carlo Gozzi (1720-1806) wrote “L’amore delle tre melarance,” his first play, he was an experienced man of letters. Born into an aristocratic family whose fortunes were squandered by Gozzi’s father, the young Gozzi developed an addiction to books, a compulsion that eventually gained him entry into Venice’s literary circles. But Gozzi’s talents leaned mostly to satire and parody, skills that would prove handy as Venetian tastes changed — not, according to Gozzi and his compatriots, for the better.


The bugbears of the conservative Accademia de’ Granelleschi (of which Gozzi was a proud member) were playwrights Carlo Goldoni and Pietro Chiari. Goldoni’s specialty was character-driven slice-of-life comedies, while Chiari wrote florid, sentimental tales of morality in the then-prevalent French fashion. They were hardly allies; Gozzi nevertheless lumped them together as enemies of his favored commedia dell’arte, the older, improvised comedic style. At the feud’s height, Chiari challenged the Accademia to a put-up-or-shut-up stage work; Gozzi melded an old Italian folktale, commedia dell’arte conventions, and savage parodies of Goldoni and Chiari
(reimagined as the characters Fata Morgana and Chielo) into “L’amore delle tre melarance,” which would become the first of his “Fiabe,” or fairy tales.

The “Fiabe” were so successful that Goldoni, in bitterness, left Venice for Paris, accusing Gozzi of having “rice in his mouth and poison in his chest.” In his entertainingly arrogant memoirs, Gozzi offered a poker-faced denial of malice aforethought. “I have no wish to make enemies,” Gozzi wrote. “Yet we cannot prevent drops of ink from falling sometimes from the pen and making blots upon our papers.”


The Boston Symphony Orchestra, conductor Stéphane Denève, and cellist Yo-Yo Ma perform Prokofiev, Shostakovich, and Strauss, Oct. 3-8 at Symphony Hall. 888-266-1200; www.bso.org

Matthew Guerrieri can be reached at matthewguerrieri@gmail.com.