The last collaboration of Federico Fellini and composer Nino Rota was this 1979 television feature, Prova d'orchestra. As such, the production values are sometimes comically bad. The actors who play the musicians and conductor are mostly at odds with the soundtrack in their faked performing gestures (during his melancholy solo, the tuba player takes breaths repeatedly during the uninterrupted sound). In general, the sound is clumsily sequenced with the images, making even the dialogue seem dubbed. That being said, the sense of humor and dramatic candor of this movie are well worth the effort of watching it. We watch a tumultuous rehearsal by a Roman orchestra in the beautiful confines of a medieval oratory. In a meta-fictional self-reference, the rehearsal is being followed by an Italian television crew, who record brief interviews with many of the musicians. (One of the musicians even references Fellini's film 8½.)
Prova d'orchestra (Orchestra rehearsal, 1979), directed by Federico Fellini (DVD release, 1998)
Musicians are people like anyone else. Like many workplaces, the orchestra causes considerable stress on its members. The stereotypes and petty rivalries of the instruments are played out in Fellini's script with charm and wit (all flutists are not loopy from having exhaled so much wind, Mrs. Ionarts insists), but most of the antagonism that powers the story is between the unionized and politically fractious orchestra and the totalitarian conductor, played by Balduin Baas. When he tries to dominate the orchestra with abusive language, they stage an all-out revolt, complete with Futurist-style anti-cultural rhetoric. In a gesture that every conductor should keep in mind with humility, the musicians knock down the conductor's podium and replace him with a large wooden model of a metronome. The irony of their hatred is that the musicians spend much of their break speaking with reverence of conductors they have worked with in the past, having loved especially those who were the most demanding and vicious.
Whatever forces are at work undermining the harmony of the orchestra, they ultimately crash into the oratory and do real damage. While this tragedy at first appears to unify the musicians once again under the conductor, Fellini immediately undercuts that tidy ending with a final savage twist of the knife. While not a masterpiece, Orchestra Rehearsal remains a worthy and bitingly ironic view of the modern crisis of classical music.
March issue of Words without Borders
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