Two Women



Libretto by Marco Tutino and Fabio Ceresa
Adapted from a script by Luca Rossi
Based on the novel La Ciociara by Alberto Moravia
By arrangement with Studio Legale Cau Morandi Minutillo Turtur
Commissioned by San Francisco Opera and Teatro Regio di Torino

Copyright and publishing Casa Musicale Sonzogno, Milan
(represented in U.S.A. by Theodore Presser Company)


The cruelty of war, the loss of innocence and the intense love of a mother for her daughter make for moving drama in this world premiere—based on a novel that was adapted into a classic movie starring Sophia Loren. As the Allies invade Italy toward the end of World War II, a strong-willed widow and her 16-year-old daughter flee Rome for the nearby mountains in a vain attempt to find safety. Nicola Luisotti conducts the lushly expressive score by Italian composer Marco Tutino, whose work is “a joyful discovery...I hope we hear more of his music soon” (San Francisco Classical Voice). Francesca Zambello directs the outstanding cast, which is led by the “extraordinary” Anna Caterina Antonacci, known for her “intelligent and charismatic artistry” (The New York Times).

Pop-up Beer Garden
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Sung in Italian with English supertitles
Approximate running time: 2 hours, 40 minutes including one intermission

Pre-Opera Talks are free to ticketholders and take place in the Opera House in the Orchestra section, 55 minutes prior to curtain.

Co-production with Teatro Regio di Torino

Audio excerpts:
“Sogni Romani”/Chanyue Wang, tenor; Robert Mollicone, piano
“La Lupa: Maria’s aria”/Laura Cherici, Tuscan Orchestra; Bruno Bartoletti, conductor
“Vita’s aria”/Anna Caterina Antonacci, Orchestra of La Scala; Giuseppi Grazioli, conductor


Cesira Anna Caterina Antonacci
Rosetta Sarah Shafer
Michele Dimitri Pittas *
Giovanni Mark Delavan
John Buckley Edward Nelson
Pasquale Sciortino Joel Sorensen
Fedor von Bock Christian Van Horn
Maria, Sciortino's Mother Buffy Baggott
Italian Singer Pasquale Esposito *
A country woman, Lena Zanda Svede
An Old Woman Sally Mouzon
A Distant Voice Christopher Jackson
Moroccan Soldier Torlef Borsting

Production Credits

Music and Libretto Marco Tutino *
Libretto Fabio Ceresa *
Conductor Nicola Luisotti
Director Francesca Zambello
Set Designer Peter Davison
Costume Designer Jess Goldstein
Lighting Designer Mark McCullough
Projection Designer S. Katy Tucker
Chorus Director Ian Robertson
Fight Director Dave Maier

* San Francisco Opera Debut


Two Women Libretto

Scene I – Cesira’s Shop in the Trastevere District of Rome, near the end of 1943:

The beautiful shopkeeper Cesira, a widow, is dealing with customers. Giovanni, a food wholesaler, enters and makes a pass at her. She refuses and asks him to help her flee Rome.
         As air-raid sirens sound, Giovanni kisses her. She yields to him as bombs fall. When the all-clear sounds, Cesira assures Giovanni that what happened means nothing. As Cesira’s daughter, Rosetta, comes up from the cellar, Giovanni agrees that he will take them as far as the village of Fondi in the Ciociaria region the next day. Cesira promises her frightened daughter that they will soon be safe in the mountains.
Scene II – The Mountain Village of Sant’Eufemia.
Tired and dusty, Cesira and Rosetta begin to bathe in a fountain, observed by Michele, a young pacifist. They discover Michele and Cesira tells him that she and her daughter are seeking accommodations. Cesira coarsely negotiates for shelter with the displaced peasants. When airplanes bomb the village below, Rosetta kneels to pray and the evacuees join her.
Scene III – The Mountain, winter, three months later
An American soldier, John Buckley, appears begging for help and the villagers refuse, remembering the Germans’ edict: anyone who helps the enemy will be shot. Surprisingly Cesira joins Michele in helping the soldier. Buckley is taken with Rosetta and says their family reminds him of his, which amuses Cesira and Michele. Left alone, they kiss.
            Giovanni, now a member of the Fascist party, arrives at the village and encounters Rosetta, who tells Giovanni about Michele and how they saved the American. They see Michele and Cesira kissing in an embrace. Giovanni becomes furious and accuses Cesira of treason. Suddenly they hear the signal that the Nazis are coming. Cesira tells Michele and Rosetta to flee. Giovanni furiously vows to track Cesira to hell. Noticing Michele’s abandoned knapsack, he opens it to find a letter from Buckley.
Scene I. Fondi, a lawyer’s house.
Cesira, Rosetta, and Michele seek refuge at the house of the lawyer Sciortino, a friend of Michele’s father. But a German officer—alerted by Giovanni—is waiting for them and produces Buckley’s letter, proving he was harbored. Giovanni enters with Michele’s rucksack as proof of his aid to the enemy. Soldiers take Michele away, but he promises Cesira and Rosetta that he will return.
            Giovanni tries to persuade Cesira to return to Rome with him, but she refuses. Sciortino rushes in with news from the radio: the Allied advance has begun at Anzio. Giovanni departs saying “I’ll save myself, and God save us all.” Cesira and Rosetta begin the trek back to Sant’Eufemia.
Scene II. A church at Sant’Eufemia.
Cesira and Rosetta arrive at the now devastated village and rest in the churchyard, as Michele appears in handcuffs and is left with Giovanni.
            Cesira and Rosetta are discovered by a group of menacing Moroccan soldiers, part of the French army who landed with the Allies. They drag Rosetta screaming into the ruined church. Giovanni cunningly offers to let Michele escape if he gives Cesira up, but Michele defies him and dreamily recalls their first kiss. Giovanni furiously orders him to be silent, but Michele goes on about his love and Giovanni shoots off a burst of gun fire; Michele falls dead.
            Rosetta and Cesira stagger out of the church, their dresses torn and Rosetta’s legs are streaked with blood. Cesira does her best to comfort the girl, but Rosetta is expressionless.
Scene III. Sant’Eufemia
The square quickly fills with dancing as evaucees proclaim the war is over. Cesira tries to intervene between a man dancing with Rosetta. An American jeep arrives with some soldiers and Giovanni. Giovanni begins to dance with Rosetta, who ignores her mother’s protests. Rosetta and a boy disappear together into the dark.
            When Giovanni tells her Michele is dead, Cesira furiously denounces him as a Fascist and the people turn on him. Desperate to prove his loyalty to the Americans, Giovanni produces Buckley’s letter and claims to have saved him. At that moment Buckley appears, declaring that Michele and Cesira were his saviors. Giovanni fiercly defends his actions, but the crowd attacks. Cesira asks Buckley to arrest Giovanni; soldiers lead him away.
            Rosetta shrugs off her mother, deriding unrealistic dreamers like Michele. Upon learning that he is dead, Rosetta falls to her knees, broken. 
            At that moment, as if in a vision,a group of laughing children bursts onto the scene. A boy falls and hurts his knee. In the vision, Michele appears, and kindly leads the boy off. Caught up in the vision, Cesira attempts to follow but stops short. Tenderly she tells her daughter that they are blooms amid nothingness, and Rosetta throws herself into her mother’s arms.

Anna Caterina Antonacci: An Important Presence on the Opera Stage

David J. Baker

Sopranos often hesitate to perform a part closely identified with a legend like Callas, Sutherland or Nilsson. But what about a role that is forever associated with Sophia Loren? What opera singer can follow in those special footsteps?
            The answer is Anna Caterina Antonacci, an Italian diva of striking beauty, vocal sensitivity, and dramatic presence, a true singing actor who is unique on today’s opera stage.
            In Two Women, a new opera by Marco Tutino, is based on the 1958 Alberto Moravia novel La Ciociara that was the basis of the 1960 Vittorio de Sica/Loren film. San Francisco has a rare opportunity to see this unusually gifted singing actress in a role that virtually no one else could fill.
            “She is the kind of singer, said Maestro Riccardo Muti recently, “that when she walks onstage, you realize there is an important presence. When I decided to do Gluck’s Armide, immediately I thought of Antonacci. In fact I don’t remember if I chose Antonacci and then the opera, or the opera and then Antonacci.”
            Conductor Yannick Nézet-Séguin, who has performed and recorded with her, said: “I love many singers. But she’s one I also admire, especially for her integrity. She’s not someone who will adapt to certain roles because she has to. She listens to her own feeling and to the music.”
            Antonacci’s repertoire is as unusual as her vocal and dramatic skills, encompassing Bizet and Monteverdi, Handel and Berlioz, Rossini and Poulenc. Besides the leading role in Two Women, she appears in San Francisco Opera this season as Cassandre in Berlioz’s Les Troyens, a work rarely heard today, especially with a cast of this caliber (including Susan Graham and Bryan Hymel)
            In a conversation soon before San Francisco Opera’s Summer season, the dynamic Antonacci spoke about the role of Cesira in Two Women and other milestones in her remarkable career.


Anna Caterina Antonacci (photo by B. Ealovega)

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What prompted you to take the leading role in this opera based on Moravia’s Two Women? Did Tutino write it with you in mind?
Yes, Marco Tutino composed this opera knowing that I would be the interpreter. I had already performed an opera by Marco, ten years ago at La Scala—Vita, based on the play Wit, by Margaret Edson, which won the Pulitzer Prize in 1999. In this case too, there was a cult film, this time directed by Mike Nichols with Emma Thompson. Vita was one of the most intense and extraordinary experiences of my career. I look forward to a similar cathartic experience with Two Women.
Does a new work like this require unusual preparation?
Everyone in Italy, at least through my generation, has seen La Ciociara (Two Women), the De Sica film, at least three times. We know it by heart. In this role, Loren reached the summit of her art and of her extraordinary beauty. And I have also read the Alberto Moravia’s novel.
For every new character that I prepare to play, I read, I see films and go to the theater as much as possible, to have my memory full of all these references that connect me with the story, the text, the various interpretations. Then, often during rehearsals, I have the feeling that this preexisting substructure has disappeared and that everything I am doing comes entirely out of the work with the director and my colleagues. But in the end, in some way or other, everything reemerges and flows together.
Do you find Loren’s performance helpful—or a hindrance to you?
Most definitely, it’s a help to me—and a great inspiration.
Is there a special challenge in portraying a violent, depressing drama and a character who is raped by invading soldiers?
This happens to be a historically true story. Moravia speaks of “Italy raped by the war,” and he refers to the atrocities committed by the Moroccan troops allied with the France who disembarked in Italy after 1943, who were given freedom to pillage and to commit countless rapes. Entire villages were defenseless victims of these barbarities, with the cynical permission of the French. It’s a story truly repugnant and tragic, one that has never been discussed enough. I don’t find it at all depressing to depict or to recall these actions which really occurred against innocent people.
While studying Two Women, I realized that it will be a completely atypical opera, very close to the cinematic genre, with long orchestral commentaries and superimposed scenes almost as fade-ins and fade-outs. It’s a real challenge for Francesca [Zambello], our director. Yet, even without knowing yet how the staging will look, I already know that I will love her ideas, both visual and conceptual. I have worked with Francesca, first at the start of both our careers—in Rome, in Cimarosa’s Orazi e Curazi—and then more recently in London, in Carmen. She is a great director. I can’t imagine anyone who commands greater skill and a greater range of talents to guide us on this adventure.
Tutino’s musical and vocal style has been compared to Puccini, Mascagni and other verismo composers, a manner not especially common in your repertoire to date.
The musical style of this opera seems to me a verist, or realist, style in the way it adheres closely to the dramatic text, every note corresponding to a syllable. And that means it’s not all that far from the sung recitative of a Monteverdi opera; there are no actual arias in the classic sense, but ariosi, between song and recitative. Here, moreover, every character has his or her own leitmotive, and is introduced by a musical theme. Most important, Marco writes so well for the voice, and never “forces.”
San Francisco is fortunate to see you in two operas this season. What makes Cassandre, in Berlioz’s Les Troyens, a favorite role of yours?
With Cassandre it was love at first sight. I had the good fortune to be invited by John Eliot Gardiner to sing the role in Paris in 2003, and ever since then it’s been my favorite role. Cassandre is special because she sees what other people don’t, she has the courage that they lack, she suffers and is harassed by everyone, and she is alone because no one can understand her.
Her family, the man she loves, all her people are about to be destroyed, and she mourns everything that has been, that could have been, and will be no more. She is touching for her fragility and powerlessness in the face of events that she cannot forestall, and then at the end she is capable of inspiring all the Trojan women to kill themselves, with a cold force almost like a religious martyr or a kamikaze.
Have you changed your approach to the role since you first performed it?
Not substantially, I would say. The differences have been due more to the various visions of the directors with whom I’ve worked.
The first time, in Paris, the director was Yannis Kokkos, and with him Cassandre was a luminous figure, mournful and tormented, but fragile, private, and timid, like an autistic person or an epileptic treated with pity by everyone. In the staging by David McVicar, on the other hand, everything is darker and more dramatic and Cassandre is a disturbing, obsessive character with a demented gaze and unnatural gestures, who shows all the shattered violence of her horrible visions.
You have sung with important conductors such as Riccardo Muti, John Eliot Gardiner, and others. Can you describe some highlights from those collaborations?
My experience with Muti was definitely exalting, but also quite intimidating for me. He has an overpowering and magnetic personality. I would have given my soul to have been equal to his expectations, but—ahimé—I certainly was not, because of my technical limitations and experience and also from a solid inferiority complex that has stayed with me for such a long time! He has the ability to create orchestral atmospheres of such sublimity that I feared I might ruin everything with my performance.
Gardiner is a fascinating musician, a conductor full of inventiveness, curiosity and an enthusiasm that transports all interpreters, inspiring them to transcend their own limits for the sake of the final success of the work itself. He is responsible for my passion for French music, particularly Berlioz, and it was he who first offered me the role of Cassandre. He has a command of this repertoire, including minor and obscure works, that is unparalleled today. We also share a love for Monteverdi and the Italian Baroque. We worked together quite a bit, including in the marvelous Carmen at the Opéra Comique in Paris and by now I consider him in fact a friend.
Antonacci (Carmen) and Jonas Kaufmann (Don Jose) at Covent Garden, 2007
photo by Catherone Ashmore / Royal Opera, Covent Garden

And your colleagues have included Jonas Kaufmann. How was that experience?
We worked together in Carmen at Covent Garden in 2007, conducted by Pappano and staged by Francesca. In that kind of framework, it was pure joy to go to work every day, and extremely difficult to have to go on to something else when it ended.
Concerning your career, would you say that you have tended to do things in your own personal way?
Probably my career has been atypical, but I can’t say it was always as a result of my own choices. When I started out, I presented myself as a Rossini soprano in the Colbran repertoire—a gifted soprano (1785–1845) who influenced her husband Gioachino Rossini on a number of his creations, the title roles of Armida; Zelmira; Ermione; Elizabeth, Queen of England—and as a Mozart soprano, singing Fiordiligi (Così fan tutte) and Donna Elvira (Don Giovanni). But I was immediately offered rare and obscure roles in the Baroque and nineteenth-century repertoire. And that peculiarity has not changed—in two years I’ll sing Britten’s Gloriana! I accepted offers that interested me, but on my own it wouldn’t have occurred to me to learn those roles. I’ve been truly fortunate.

You are rare in opera in that you seem unafraid of the camera. If you had not been a singer, would you have wanted a career in film?

Even though film is one of my great passions, I don’t know if I would have wanted to work in that medium. It certainly has its advantages. In two months, movie stars earn what we would earn in two lifetimes. They become world famous and admired, and basically all they have to worry about each day is staying beautiful.

The singer’s life is a lot less fun, and the life of a stage actor is downright grim. That’s why I love and admire them so much, these prose actors, who put on their own makeup in dreary dressing rooms, and rehearse every day, repeat the same play month after month, learn thousands of lines of text by heart. They’ve studied for years to project their voice and make it powerful, incisive, smooth, flexible and to be able to use it even when they’re tired. Every evening, they have to create the magic again, to convince and move an audience. And their power is totally ephemeral, it vanishes when the theater empties out.

The final lines of Cyrano de Bergerac, before his death, seem to me to define the work of an actor:
“The battle’s not for glory or for gain,

No, far nobler yet – it’s fought in vain.”

If I hadn’t been an opera singer, I’m sure I’d have aspired to be a stage actor.

Antonacci as Elle in Poulenc's La Voix Humaine at San Antonio Opera this spring
Greg Harrison / San Antonio Opera

What new roles do you hope to sing in the future? What about the other heroine of Les Troyens, Didon?

Didon is a magnificent part, and all the great singers preferred it to Cassandra, including Régine Crespin, one of my great role models, who found the role of Didon more “feminine.” But I would hate to abandon Cassandra, and it would seem a real betrayal. So I’ve kept fighting for this role. I’m not looking for new roles. I’m delighted, next season, to return to Fauré’s marvelous Pénélope and to Poulenc’s La Voix Humaine.

What are some of the interests and pastimes that make up your non-professional life?

I can’t really speak of “pastimes,” unfortunately, since I never have time to pass, and all the rushing and moving takes a lot out of me. When I can find a moment, I usually read, see a film or a play. Literature, poetry, cinema and theater have always been essential parts of my life, since my father introduced me to those passions. My father was speaking about art right until his last days, and I find that marvelous. I try to pass this interest on, as well as I can, to my fifteen-year-old son. He will start to study drama next year. In another life, I would hope to pursue gardening, biking, pastry making, and flamenco, all of which I was dying to attempt in this life—I just never had the time.

Antonacci made her San Francisco Opera debut in 1992 in the title role of Rossini's Ermione.
Larry Merkle


How does it feel to be returning to San Francisco?

It goes without saying that San Francisco is a stupendous city, with a stupendous opera house. This will be my third engagement here. The first harks back more than twenty years, in Rossini’s Ermione. The second was in 1998, a marvelous production of Norma alongside Carol Vaness, conducted by Patrick Summers. I’m especially eager to appear here for the third time in these two extraordinary operas and these magnificent casts.

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In Conversation with Marco Tutino

Marina Romani

Two Women, or La Ciociara, is a work that has touched generations of readers and spectators, as a 1958 novel by Alberto Moravia and a 1960 cinematic adaptation by Vittorio De Sica. The poignancy of Two Women resides in its protagonists: the resilient Cesira and her daughter Rosetta who, scarred by the atrocities of World War II, manage to find their way back to their humanity.

Marco Tutino, whose works have been performed in prestigious venues like Milan’s La Scala to the BBC Symphony, has given an operatic voice to the story of Cesira and Rosetta, creating a work characterized by a compelling rhythm and an attention to emotional nuances. In our conversation, the Italian composer acknowledges the close collaboration between all the artists involved in the making of the opera—Luca Rossi (script), Fabio Ceresa (co-writer of the libretto, with Tutino), Francesca Zambello (director), Nicola Luisotti and David Gockley, whom Tutino consider co-creators because of their unwavering support for this project.
“The beginning was explosive,” Tutino confesses. “From the very first scene, it was as if a river had started flowing. I had the impression of being not a composer but simply the vehicle for this river to burst forth and let the music happen, rise to the surface.”

Left to right: San Francisco Opera Music Director and conductor of Two Women Nicola Luisotti; Marco Tutino (composer); Two Women director Francesca Zambello; and San Francisco Opera General Director David Gockley
Photo by Scott Wall

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What are the themes that you wanted to bring to light most powerfully in your elaboration of Two Women?
The opera revolves around the figure of Cesira and her relationship with her daughter. For us, that was the heart of the story: two women forced to abandon Rome during World War II, ending up as refugees in a small town in the countryside. We also tried to emphasize the oppression of the two women by Giovanni—an uneducated, arrogant man obsessed with the idea of possession. The three positive characters—Cesira, Rosetta, and Michele—start out in a relatively calm situation, and it is Giovanni’s actions that lead to much of the violence that they will experience.
Can you expand on the centrality of Giovanni’s role, compared to the novel and the film?
Giovanni has a bigger role in our opera. He incarnates the archetypal villain: he has no ethics or morals; he’s possessive of women; he has a thirst for money and has no qualms taking advantage of people for personal gain. All this was typical of many Italians during the war: after the fall of Mussolini, many ex-fascists were quick to forget their ties to the regime and jump on the bandwagon. Giovanni embodies all of this.
Complex dynamics and feelings are central to this opera— motherly love, abusive relationships. At the same time, monumental historic events are taking place: the end of World War II. How is the shadow of the war present in the opera?
The war is always in the background, and it manifests itself in many ways: there’s the bombing of Rome and of the village of Fondi, as well as the rescue of an American soldier after his plane crashes. He’s a minor character but he’s instrumental to the plot, helping Cesira and Rosetta against Giovanni. Through him, we wanted to emphasize the importance of the American intervention at the end of the War: without the Allies, Italy’s fate would have been disastrous.
What aspects of this story do you think will touch and inspire contemporary audiences?
I believe that Cesira’s journey is crucial. She grows with the audience. At the beginning of the opera, she is a popolana, a woman of the people, who’s busy with her own interests, sometimes selfishly. And she certainly isn’t an emancipated woman at the start: she was married to an older man, probably an arranged marriage, and she’s had a hard life. As the story goes on, we follow her path to self-knowledge, and her acquisition of stronger social values.
What experiences lead to her growth? What changes in her, and how can audience members recognize themselves in Cesira?
Her growth takes place through tragic experiences, but also through her resilience and will to survive and learn amid her struggles. For instance, the encounter with Michele has a strong influence on her: he is an intellectual, and she’s instantly curious about him.
Also, she realizes that she needs to get rid of Giovanni, who keeps harassing her. She starts reflecting on her life, on what values matter to her. The Cesira of the first scene is a very different woman than the one at the end of the opera. The aria that she sings in the final scene is the song of someone who is tired of suffering—both as a victim of war and as a woman. I believe this is a touching and contemporary theme, and I hope the audience will empathize with and be moved by her story.
How did you approach the most upsetting and violent scenes—such as the one portraying the sexual violence on Cesira and Rosetta?
We spent a lot of time developing that scene, together with Luca [Rossi] and Fabio [Ceresa]. We decided to approach the violence by showing two tragedies that unfold simultaneously but are distant in space: the death of Michele, shot by Giovanni, and the rape of Cesira and Rosetta. From the point of view of the composition, this was very challenging, because I had to make sure that the music for the two events intertwined in a harmonious and meaningful way. It’s the climax of the whole opera, both for the complexity of the scene and for the feelings expressed through the words of Cesira, Rosetta, and Michele.
This scene is crucial not only because of the tragic events, but also because it represents a turning point for Rosetta. Can you talk more about how her character evolves in the opera?
Rosetta is a religious and innocent sixteen-year-old girl. We played up her fresh and youthful character: she knows nothing about life, which means she can also be naïve and immature. She’s very unaware—until she experiences evil on her own body. In that moment, she’s forced to grow, but it is a growth that is too sudden, too painful. After this traumatic experience, she becomes arrogant and somewhat mean. She almost loses herself.
After the tragedies that the characters experience, is there a catharsis for the two women and for the audience?
Yes. Despite all the evil that is present in this opera, there is a happy ending. Michele’s death is a trigger for the two women to start anew. Suffering for another person— someone they both had loved—restores the two women to their humanity. Mother and daughter embrace, they start communicating again, and they utter words of hope. Michele’s death can’t be undone, but the two women find the will to rebuild their lives— like all those people touched, but not broken, by the war. We understand that Cesira and Rosetta have found themselves again, and that they will have a future.

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Conductor's Note

Nicola Luisotti as told to Marina Romani


I am enthusiastic about composer Marco Tutino’s creation. This opera was born out of a conversation we had years ago, one evening in my house in Tuscany. I asked Marco, “You know which opera is missing today? La Ciociara (Two Women)!” Operatic elements were present already both in the novel and film. And why? Because of the presence of a heroine, Cesira, that comes from the people. Famous characters don’t need to have their stories told—history tells their stories. A popolana, a woman from the people, doesn’t have the same privilege. Cesira’s story is incredibly touching, but it would not have ended up on the front pages of the newspapers, because it was nothing compared to the bombed cities and concentrations camps of World War II. Yet, on stage, with the right music, the humblest stories become eternal. Cesira’s story becomes about us, about deeply understanding the personal suffering experienced during the war.

It is important in our time to write stories and music to which everybody can feel connected. I consider this to be an invitation to all artists: “Write the present while looking at the past to navigate the future,” as Verdi said. For example, Marco’s music is rhythmically and harmonically complex, but at the same time, it is connected to bel canto. In his score, there are harmonic explosions in which you recognize yourself and say, “This is the music that belongs to me and speaks to what I am feeling!” When Cesira sings a lullaby to her daughter after they are raped, she sings a song of how profoundly she feels the tragedy of their situation, and how much her daughter needs to sleep, and to forget—even just for half an hour.

There is incredible enthusiasm for Two Women at the Opera House. All the musicians and the creative team are excited about the music. I have been studying it and working on it, but finally I see it materialized. And I am not only satisfied—I am extremely proud.

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Director's Note

Francesca Zambello


As a director, it is curiosity that pulls you into a project like this. I thought a lot about what does one do to survive? That’s the main question that Two Women asks.

With that in mind I was drawn to explore this question with the artists involved in the project. Having the opportunity to work with my dear friend Anna Caterina Antonacci was a huge pull for me—we made our Rome debuts together. she is the consummate artist and professional. And working with Nicola was something that I have wanted to do for a while now. But it all starts with the music, and so I wanted to see how Marco, the composer, was going to create this sound world. As a fan of the “Golden Age of Italian Cinema” with directors like Fellini, De Sica, and Visconti who gave us neorealism I believe Marco has come up with the musical equivalent of neorealism: neoversimo, like the works of Leoncavallo and Puccini, but with a more contemporary soundscape.

When I go back to the initial question, I find this story has such great resonance for us as a modern American audience: themes of war, class, and the primal relationship between a mother and a daughter. I think the audience will be taken by the music and the drama. And even though it is in another time, another place, and another language, it is such an engaging story with powerful characters, that I think the audience will be able to carry it home.

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Rape: Weapon of War

courtesy of the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights

The story of Two Women includes the horrific story of the Marocchinate (“those given the Moroccan treatment,” i.e., “women raped by Moroccans”), a term applied to women who were victims of the mass rape and killings committed during World War II after the Battle of Monte Cassino in Italy. These were committed mainly by the Moroccan Goumiers, colonial troops of the French Expeditionary Corps, commanded by General Alphonse Juin. Acccording to some sources, more than 7,000 women, ranging in age from 11 to 86, suffered from violence, when village after village came under control of the Goumiers. Civilian men who tried to protect their wives and daughters were also murdered—sources estimate that the number of men killed was approximately 800. The Italian website,, chronicles this tragic event.

Is rape really a matter for the United Nations? The U.N. Security Council has answered that question with a resounding yes by voting unanimously for a resolution describing rape as a tactic of war and a threat to international security. But perhaps the more important question is: Will the resolution give teeth to efforts to stem sexual violence against women in conflict situations?

In the resolution, passed in 2008, the Security Council noted that “women and girls are particularly targeted by the use of sexual violence, including as a tactic of war to humiliate, dominate, instil fear in, disperse and/or forcibly relocate civilian members of a community or ethnic group.” The resolution demanded the “immediate and complete cessation by all parties to armed conflict of all acts of sexual violence against civilians.”

While women’s rights groups and others working to end sexual violence are under no illusions that the resolution is a panacea, most agree that it is a much-needed step in the right direction. They believe that by noting that “rape and other forms of sexual violence can constitute war crimes, crimes against humanity or a constitutive act with respect to genocide,” the resolution strikes a blow at the culture of impunity that surrounds sexual violence in conflict zones and allows rapists to walk without fear of punishment.

Indeed, the resolution stresses the need for “the exclusion of sexual violence crimes from amnesty provisions in the context of conflict resolution processes,” calls upon member states to comply with their obligations to prosecute those responsible for such crimes, and emphasizes “the importance of ending impunity for such acts.”
Ultimately, however, the effectiveness of U.N. Resolution 1820 (2008) in reducing sexual violence and bringing its perpetrators to justice will have to be gauged in places such as the Democratic Republic of Congo (D.R.C.)—arguably the epicenter of sexual violence against women today—as well as Liberia and the Darfur region of Sudan.
Local health centers in the D.R.C.’s South Kivu province estimate that 40 women are raped in the region every day. In Liberia, which is slowly recovering after a thirteen-year civil war, a government survey in ten counties in 2005–2006 showed that 92 percent of the 1,600 women interviewed had experienced sexual violence, including rape. These numbers probably err on the low side because women fear the retaliation and social ignominy that reporting a rape could bring. In Darfur, says the N.G.O. Human Rights Watch, women and girls live under the constant threat of rape by Sudanese Government soldiers, members of the Government-backed Janjaweed militia, rebels and ex-rebels.
Warring groups use rape as a weapon because it destroys communities totally, says Major-General Patrick Cammaert, former commander of U.N. peacekeeping forces in the eastern Congo. “You destroy communities. You punish the men, and you punish the women, doing it in front of the men.” Adds Cammaert: “It has probably become more dangerous to be a woman than a soldier in armed conflict.”

Rape has been a dishonorable camp follower of war for as long as armies have marched into battle. In the 20th century, perceptions of rape in war have moved from something that is inevitable when men are deprived of female companionship for prolonged periods to an actual tactic in conflict. The lasting psychological harm that rape inflicts on its victims has also been recognized: Rape is always torture, says Manfred Nowak, U.N. special rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

Croatian author Slavenka Drakulic, who has written extensively about war crimes in the Balkan conflicts of the 1990s, and whose latest book is on the war crimes trials in The Hague, says the Security Council resolution is historic. “Finally, sexual violence is recognized as a weapon, and can be punished,” she says, adding: “We know now, as we knew even before the passage of this resolution, that rape is a kind of slow murder.”

Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein assumed his functions as United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights on September 1, 2014, following the General Assembly’s approval on June 16, 2014 of his appointment by the United Nations Secretary-General. He is the seventh individual to lead the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and the first Asian, Muslim, and Arab to do so.

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"The opening night crowd whooped and hollered until the curtain came down!"

  –The Washington Post
"The new production by director Francesca Zambello emerged as a stunning piece of convincing theater!"

"Soprano Anna Caterina Antonacci's Cesira was a dynamo of emotional and vocal majesty, singing with full-throated urgency."

  –San Francisco Chronicle
"As Rosetta, Sarah Shafer's performance was marked by gleaming, powerful vocalism and a probing dramatic intelligence."

  –San Francisco Chronicle
"Michele was winningly sung by Dimitri Pittas in smooth, full, ringing voice."

  –The Classical Review
"As the bad guy Giovanni, Mark Delavan was in terrific voice."

  –San Francisco Examiner
“Music Director Nicola Luisotti leads the score with unfailing passion.”

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"Anna Caterina Antonacci is sensational, with poignant stage presence and generous vocalism." –San Jose Mercury News

Anna Caterina Antonacci's "final aria 'Flaming Flower' is enough to melt the hardest heart."


"Dimitri Pittas did his ardent best, singing lyrically as the idealistic Michele." –Financial Times "Dimitri Pittas was thoroughly engaging."


"The fierce, robust baritone Mark Delavan infused Cesira's evil nemisis, Giovanni, with a small but credible measure of humanity."

–Classical Voice America

“Nicola Luisotti displays his mastery of the verismo style to deliver a musically impassioned performance.”

–San Francisco Chronicle

"Sarah Shafer delivers Rosetta in the purest and most affecting of lyric sopranos." 

  –Financial Times


  • Sat 06/13/15 7:30pm

  • Fri 06/19/15 7:30pm *

  • Tue 06/23/15 7:30pm

  • Sun 06/28/15 2:00pm *

  • Tue 06/30/15 7:30pm *

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*OperaVision, HD video projection screens featured in the Balcony level for this performance, is made possible by the Koret/Taube Media Suite.


This production is made possible by the Phyllis C. Wattis Fund for New Productions. Company Sponsors John A. and Cynthia Fry Gunn are proud to support the commission of Two Women. The world premiere is made possible, in part, by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and by a generous anonymous grant. Nicola Luisotti’s appearance made possible by Jan Shrem and Maria Manetti Shrem, Chairs, Amici di Nicola of Camerata. Ms. Antonacci's appearance is made possible by a gift to the Great Singers Fund by Joan and David Traitel.

Cast, program, prices and schedule are subject to change.