Bicycle Thieves based on the film by Vittorio De Sica and the novel by Luigi Bartolini
Music by Paola Prestini
Libretto by Royce Vavrek
Produced by the Croatian National Theatre in Zagreb| Co-produced by the Théâtre National de l’Opéra-Comique
“Bicycle Thieves” is regarded as a classic of international cinema, a work that is regularly celebrated as one of the best stories ever committed to celluloid. The work remains as vital and resonant as it did over half a century ago as it deals with the cycle of poverty, and the desperation of a father to provide for his family. While the story is distinctly Italian, it is also universal in its specificity. A similar story could be set in 12th century Paris, modern day Mumbai, or today in New York City. In dreaming up this operatic adaptation, we wonder about the fate of the protagonist’s son… will he grow up to take after his father? Can he free himself of the cycle of poverty? How beholden are we to the trespasses of our role models?
100 minutes, two acts with an intermission
*Antonio, mid-to-late 30s, bass-baritone
*Maria, his wife, mid-to-late 30s, lyric soprano
*Bruno, their son, pre-teen, boy soprano
*The thief, 20s, tenor
*Policeman, 40s, tenor
*The thief’s older friend, 60s, baritone
*The thief’s mother, 50s, mezzo-soprano
*Male chorus of sellers of bicycle parts and thieves: TTBB
Grand Opera with adult and children’s chorus. A bike installation will be made to be performed on by percussionists. It may be seen from the audience if desired.
At the market where the bicycle parts are sold: noisy activity, bikes being stripped.
This is juxtaposed with a modest scene in an apartment in the Val Melaina neighborhood of Rome. Our protagonist, Antonio, and his wife Maria, make love.
Antonio’s wife Maria strips the bed of its sheets, needing to sell them to make ends meet. The women in the building talk about their work and lives as they wash and extend sheets, while the kids of the apartment building play soccer. Antonio and Maria take the clean sheets to a pawn shop where they are given a modest sum of money – enough for Antonio to buy a bicycle which he needs in order to work.
At home, he shines the bike. He tells his young son Bruno that the bicycle will be their family’s salvation.
The next day, Antonio goes out putting up posters in a suburb of Rome. While he is perched atop a ladder working, a thief comes and unceremoniously steals the bicycle. Antonio sees this and runs after the thief, but he is too fast and quickly escapes. Antonio does get a good look at him, and believes that he can identify him if their paths are to cross again.
Antonio and his friends, along with Bruno, go to the market in hopes that the thief has dumped the stolen merchandise. He tries to recognize even a part of the bike, but fails to do so.
Antonio then spots the thief speaking to an older man. He runs after them, but the thief gets away. He presses the older man for information, but he feigns ignorance. Thus begins a cat- and-mouse game.
Antonio goes after the man, following him into a church, and then a brothel, having to weave around a chorus of nuns and a room full of prostitutes, but the thief eludes him. Finally, Antonio chases him down to his home…
Outside of the thief’s home, a group of neighbors come see what the commotion is all about. The thief has a seizure in the square, his friends blame Antonio’s false accusations on the thief’s physical breakdown. Antonio asks a policeman to search his home, which the thief’s family allow, but he finds nothing, the mother comes to his defense attempting to salvage her sons reputation. The policeman tells Antonio that he hasn’t a shred of proof, and his case is threadbare. Antonio and Bruno are ridiculed and sent away from the crowd.
Antonio and Bruno begin to walk home, simultaneously, in their modest flat, we see Maria profess her hope for a better life. Outside of a football stadium they find a bike unattended to. Antonio tells Bruno to get on a streetcar and take it one stop away and wait for him there. But before Bruno can get on, Antonio circles the bike and steals it, running off.
The bike’s owners yell at Antonio and a mob of people run after him, chasing him down and beating him off the bike. The owner stops his gang of friends from physically beating Antonio and lets him go, a giant moment of compassion. But Bruno has seen this all, and has experienced the great shame of his father.
Bruno and Antonio walk. Bruno grabs his dad’s hand, Antonio holds back from crying. They walk into the crowd as the chorus sings a reprise of the opening bike vendor musical material.