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Giuseppe VERDI (1813-1901)
I Vespri Siciliani - an opera in 5 acts (1855)
Guido di Monforte - Leo Nucci (baritone); Il conte Vaudemont - Andrea Mastroni (bass); Arrigo - Fabio Armiliato (tenor); Giovanni da Procida - Giacomo Prestia (baritone); La duchessa Elena - Daniela Dessì (soprano); Ninetta - Adriana Di Paola (mezzo); Danieli - Raoul D’Eramo (bass); Il sire di Bethune - Dario Russo (bass); Tebaldo - Roberto Jachini Virgili; Roberto - Alessandro Battiato; Manfredo - Camillo Facchino
Chorus of Teatro Regio Di Parma/Martino Faggiani
Orchestra of Teatro Regio Di Parma/Massimo Zanetti.
rec. live, Teatro Regio di Parma, 13 and 17 October 2010
Pier Luigi Pizzi: stage director, set and costume designer
Vincenzo Raponi: lighting designer
Roberto Maria Pizzuto: choreographer
Picture format: NTSC 16:9
Sound format: PCM Stereo / DTS 5.1
Region code: 0 (worldwide)
Subtitles: Italian, English, German, French, Spanish, Chinese, Korean, Japanese
Bonus: Introduction to I vespri Siciliani
Also available in Blu-Ray format
C MAJOR 723808 [170:00 + 11:00]

This performance comes from the 2012 Verdi Festival in Parma to mark the Verdi bicentenary; he lived in nearby Busseto. This opera was one of two commissions from the Paris Opera and Verdi was determined to give of his best to please the French. They would expect the writing to take place within a year and in return would allow him the choice of artists and guarantee forty performances. To this end he asked Eugène Scribe to provide the book. Because Scribe missed his deadline he proposed to adapt a previous libretto based on a real historical event, Le Duc d’Albe. However he shifted the action and date to an earlier time where the French occupy Sicily. Scribe’s lyrics, “The Sicilian men are jealous and their women haughty” would not have gone down well with the Sicilian Italians. The French disliked this ugly episode in their history and were equally uncomfortable at performances. The resulting plot was to upset the French and Italians alike and the grand opera was not the hoped for success. There is certainly some good material but it is generally confined to the opera beyond Acts I and II. This Italian version came out six years after the première.
 
The singing and musicianship here is of a high standard and Zanetti conducts with verve. Sadly, I find that this quality does not easily come over to the viewer because of the distant arrangement of microphones. Yet despite the loss of detail the singing is strong throughout. Massimo Zanetti’s orchestra is excellent and in the charming and enigmatic overture/sinfonia the playing has excellent intonation. I noticed another pleasing point of detail: how the delicately modulated timpani give support to string chords without masking them. The singers are well chosen for their roles, but their characterisations are largely superficial. Regrettably the microphone placing is an obstacle to accurate commentary on vocal timbre.
 
Certain aspects of Pier Luigi Pizzi’s production are good while others are somewhat disappointing. We have to remember that this is not a large-scale travelling opera production with wide resources and the Parma Festival makes a good attempt at what it sets out to achieve. Yet even with allowances being made one has to be honest when matching up to large-scale productions. The cast rarely interact well and the static chorus lacks purpose when intended to react to a situation, a possible sign of under-rehearsal. The character portrayals tend to be shallow with little depth, the accent being given much more to the vocals than to Scribe’s characters: this may not be a bad thing. To have the women’s chorus at the rear of the auditorium may well work for a live audience, However, as Verdi’s intention was to complement the on-stage singing there seems no point at all in having camera-shots of them when existing in a different environment. Just to have heard them would have been better. Soloists also regularly use the auditorium as an extension to the stage which seems gimmicky and pointless.
 
Generally, the camera-work, both in quality and composition, is good and the technical mastering is of a high order. At times the changes of shot do not complement the action or focus of interest. This is a hazard of live editing anywhere. In festival productions, I always find it amazing that so much energy is expended on engaging good artists and musicians yet production staff dismiss the visual aspects of a stage. This one looks bleak and poor in detail. It will not do to dress a set with three rowing boats on a neatly planked floor with a plain white backcloth for Acts I and II, then have the tabs partly drawn for Act III (with a sofa and chairs placed in the background), and then add a large hanging mirror to suffice for Acts IV and V. Likewise, opportunities were missed with the lighting. It could have been imaginatively lit to enhance the bland set, but instead a mood of cold blue is retained for all acts.
 
Subtitles are generously provided in eight languages; Italian, English, French, German, Spanish, Chinese, Japanese and Korean. The notes in English are modest and provide a clearly written synopsis. A nice feature is an 11 minute Introduction that takes clips from the opera to provide a useful commentary on the plot.
 
Raymond J Walker 



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