Casanova Confined

A music theatre piece for baritone and tape

Libretto: Margaret Morgan
Music: Andrew Ford


Casanova in 1788. Engraving by Johan Berka.

Casanova in 1788. Engraving by Johan Berka.

"Casanova Confined was commissioned by the Barossa Festival from Margaret Morgan (text) and Andrew Ford (score) as a vehicle for the prodigious dramatic and vocal talents of Lyndon Terracini. In both the writing and the design, the work is in the front rank of contemporary music theatre. It deals with the imprisonment (on spurious charges of spying, probably motivated by cuckolded husbands) and the escape of Giovanni Giacomo Casanova from the lead-lined roof gaol of the Doge's Palace in Venice in 1755.

"The text has Casanova philosophising about the bonds and differences between men and beasts, reliving his conquests ('A thigh: I part it from its mate... Your sigh is my welcome, Your moan my rapture...'), practising his skills in numerology to predict the most auspicious moments for his flight. The music is Terracini only, both in solo lines and taped assemblages of pitches and suggestive vocalise. Ford has written an extended recitative, setting the libretto with Britten-like sensibility and finding infinite variety in progressions and patterns of mainly single notes.

"... A coup de théatre in all respects, and dramatically and musically the most outstanding event for me of the 1995 Barossa Music Festival, and one of my best ever."

- The Sydney Review

"... it's a tour de force, and one for regular revival, I'd say."

 - The Australian

"Just as remarkable as Terracini's magnetism is the ingenuity of Ford's score, which owes much to the innate rhythmic flow of the unaffected text created by Morgan from Casanova's memoirs... This piece has everything a contemporary music theatre piece should have - a fabulous but credible story, a strictly modern and superbly crafted score with not a single superfluous word or note, or noise of any kind, and a performer of outstanding excellence."

- Adelaide Advertiser


Giovanni Giacomo Casanova, self-styled Chevalier de Seingault, was born in Venice in 1725 into a family of actors. Perhaps this explains his own ability to perform: although a man of humble origins, Casanova lived as a nobleman, with a nobleman's tastes. He undertook a range of careers, at various times working as a lawyer, librarian, librettist, spy, gambler, violinist, and the administrator of the French lottery, from which he made a fortune. He was also a charlatan, duping many at Court with his numerology and Cabbalism, advising ladies on their love lives and health... for profit.

To gull a fool is an exploit
Worthy of a man of wit.
I am a man of wit:
And there are many fools.
I despise the tribe of fools.

Of course, Casanova was also a legendary lover, and this made him the enemy of many powerful men. To be cuckolded by Casanova was not a rare experience in Italy and France. In 1755, he was denounced by a spy of the Venetian Inquisition and imprisoned on charges of "impiety, imposture and licentiousness". As an enemy of the State, he was incarcerated in the Doge's Palace, in the prison beneath its lead roof. No one had ever escaped from the Leads, with its high security. Until Casanova.

The kiss of fleas
is all I have.
No caresses: I am food.
At night, the rats come,
Rivals for my company.
They confiscate my bread.
Such are my friends, 
Under the Leads.

Convinced that he was to be confined for life, rather than the five years of his actual sentence, Casanova determined to escape. But in order to do this, he found himself submitting to the forces of fate that until now he had so cynically employed to fool others. To regain his freedom, he had to reject his scepticism of the power of destiny and renounce the free will and rationality he held sacred.

He consulted Ariosto's epic poem, Orlando Furioso, one of the few books he was allowed in prison. He used numerology to find the phrase that would predict his escape. He drew the numbers 9, 7 and 1. Turning to canto 9, stanza 7, line 1, he found the line: "fra il fin d'ottobre, ei il capo di novembre": "between the end of October and the beginning of November". At the stroke of midnight, on 31 October 1776, he escaped, with the assistance of a fellow prisoner, Father Balbi. His first minutes of freedom were on All Saints' Day.

Have you seen the moon?
Is it risen?

Shortly after he fled to Paris, Casanova published a pamphlet recounting his unique escape. As a result, he became famous, a favourite of the French Court and he continued his life of amorous sport, intellectual exploration and charlatanism, until his death in 1798. Towards the end of his life, he wrote his extensive memoirs. Many have challenged their veracity and their self-aggrandising nature, but they remain a fascinating study of a man determined to live his life revelling in pleasure and complete fulfilment.

In November 1992, Lyndon Terracini approached Andrew Ford to write for him a music theatre piece. Andrew was keen to provide Lyndon with a solo work, which would exploit not only Lyndon's voice, but also his dramatic talents. Lyndon baulked at the thought of an extended unaccompanied work and it was he who suggested a tape. Andrew agreed to it, on condition that the tape consist only of a "Terracini Festival Chorus". When he asked me to write the libretto, Andrew suggested that the protagonist be an historical figure, given that without the input of other characters, excessive exposition might be needed to contextualise him. We agreed that it was important that the audience bring some knowledge of the character. Andrew's initial suggestions included, to his present embarrassment, John Lennon and Trotsky. We rapidly agreed that they were not appropriate, and I set to contemplating a subject. I had been reading an anthology of writings about Venice. Included was an excerpt from Casanova's memoirs, detailing his escape from the Leads. It was perfect. Everyone knew of Casanova. And what a marvellous image: the world's great lover, imprisoned, denied his sexuality. Some weeks later, Andrew and Lyndon approached the Barossa Festival, which agreed to commission the work. Later, Sydney Metropolitan Opera joined the team.

Initially, I thought that the text would relate to Casanova's testosterone levels, that being all I really knew of him. As I immersed myself in his memoirs, however, I realised that the common view of Casanova maligned him. Here was a man who thought deeply, contemplating the philosophies of the day. His memoirs revealed a dry sense of humour. They exposed an alluring combination of perspicacity about the human condition and an overwhelming love of all sensual pleasures. Casanova was clearly a proud, arrogant man, but one able to admit his weaknesses with wry humility. Above all, he was a rationalist, strongly influenced by Voltaire and Rousseau. He was a man of the Enlightenment. I began to like him.

Three instincts we share
With the kingdom of beasts.
We must nourish ourselves, procreate and avenge.
Desire, hunger and hatred bind us all.
But in man, these are tempered
By the soul, the minister of our passions.
Man is but beast
Unless mind controls the matter.

I learned that superstitious beliefs were endemic during the eighteenth century, which struck me as a curious phenomenon given the impact of the scientific Enlightenment. Then I drew the comparison with our own times. In these days of technology and the exponential growth of scientific knowledge, we are deluged with the New Age, crystals, faith healing, astrology and other superstitions. Now, as then, the established church is in decline. The chasm between the rational and the irrational is vast. Perhaps the refuge of superstition is symptomatic of an alienation from rational knowledge. A backlash against logic.

In the prelude to his escape from the Leads, Casanova himself personified this dichotomy. A man who has exploited the superstitions of his time, who is wedded to his belief in free will, is disempowered to the extent that he has no choice but to confront the idea of destiny and to throw himself at the mercy of fate. This became the spine of Casanova Confined.

The action, then, takes place during the half hour preceding the moment of escape. Midnight. All Saint's Day.

Fra il fin d'ottobre ei il capo di novembre.


The Cellblock Theatre, Darlinghurst, Sydney, 1995

Barossa International Music Festival, Barossa Valley, South Australia, 1995. 

Directed by John Wregg for the the Sydney Metropolitan Opera in Sydney with Lyndon Terracini as Casanova.