30 Oct 2009

Verdi's ”Trilogy“ at Parma

For Italy’s opera community, October is Verdi’s month. The composer was born near Busseto (now part of Parma Province) on October 10, 1813.

Parma devotes the months to a major Festival, with other activities in nearby towns. Parma’s Verdi Festival aims at producing, by 2013, a boxed set of Teatro Regio DVDs with all Verdi’s operas in a special edition.

In Florence, the Teatro del Maggio Musicale Fiorentino produced “the big three” — Rigoletto, Il Trovatore and La Traviata — heard together on three successive nights. These were all entirely new productions by a young team, specialists in low cost but innovative work. This festival, a co-production with the elegant, classical Teatro Romolo Valli will continue in Reggio Emilio, “Verdi country”, but will not be heard in Parma.

TROVATOREmmf05.gifScene from Il Trovatore

Prices were quite low by European standards. The house was sold out in the first week of bookings, proceeds reaching € 600.000, about two thirds of the cost. As comparison, ticket sales in Italian houses cover, on average, about 12% of production costs. Nearly 25% of the audience was made up of young people under 26. Usually, the average of the audience is around 55 in Italian opera houses. For many of them, it was the first time they’d been in an opera house so they looked enthralled.

Ripa di Meana and his team (Edoardo Sanchi, set design, Silvia Aymonimo costumes, Guido Levi lighting). Guido Levi in charge of lighting.see the three operas as a single piece of musical theatre in three parts, viz. Rigoletto as a dark introduction in various shades of black and grey, Il Trovatore as a fantastic tragedy in blue and red, and La Traviata as a flowery dream.

This Rigoletto is “noir” rather than a dark introduction to the cycle. The entire plot is played in a bleak night. Very simple elements on the huge stage of the Teatro del Maggio Musicale:a movable wall squeezing the protagonists in a deadly tie, an oversized period car (a 1940s Buick?) where the Duke consummates his orgies, a small white doll house for Gilda, and old boat on the Mincio for the final scene. It is a tragedy without any glimmer of hope, not even in Caro Nome, or in the Love Duet.

Stefano Ranzani’s baton and the Maggio Musicale Orchestra (one of the very best orchestra in Italy for both opera and symphony ) were perfectly in line with this reading of the opera. Ranzani emphasizes the C flat and the D flat so that even the orchestra emanates a bleak color and atmosphere. Alberto Gazale was an excellent Rigoletto both dramatically and vocally and had a superb partner in Desirée Rancatore as Gilda; the opening night, (October 3rd), at the audience’s request, they had to encore the final scene of the second acts (“Sè, Vendetta, Tremenda, Vendetta”). It was harder to judge Gianluca Terranova who was called at the last moment to replace James Valenti as the Duke. He is a generous tenor, with an excellent acute and a strong volume, but uncertain phrasing — probably because he had to jump in the role without any rehearsal.

The following night Il Trovatore was played to a full house. On stage, there were no castles, no cloisters, no prisons, just a large early 20th century elegant living rooms with blue walls and a shocking red pyre (when required) or arches for the second act ‘s convent. However, the Count and Manrico (and their retinues) are in Medieval armour, whilst Eleonora, Azucena and the others in modern attire. The heightens the timeless reading of a plot where only Azucena is the character with psychological development. The others are stereotypes, almost a pretext for their arias, duets and concertatos. Some of the audience did not appreciated this interpretation of Il Trovatore, but at the end the applauses submerged the boos. Massimo Zanetti offered a carefully discreet conducting — in Il Trovatore the orchestra is mostly a support to the singers.

TROVATOREmmf03.gifScene from Il Trovatore

Juan Jesùs Rodrìguez, Anna Smirnova and Stuart Neill are well known serious, experienced professionals. Stuart Neill gave a vibrant high C at the end of “Di Quella Pira” without attempting to sustain it too long. The real surprise was the young Arkansas soprano Kristin Lewis; a true soprano assoluto with a very large extension, a pure emission, an excellent coloratura and the skill to go up quite naturally to the highest tonalities and go down, equally naturally, to the lowest. She lives in Vienna and sings mostly in Europe. It is easy to foresee that she will go far.

La Traviata had a single set: a large Art Nouveau living room with camellia flowers on the wall paper as well as in many vases and pots. Lighting provides various shades of green and of white on the walls. An oversize sofa dominates Violetta’s apartment in the first and third act; furnished in turn of the century style. The dreamy atmosphere is already in the introduction when Violetta is on stage longing for a bourgeois family life. But she really lives a Baudelaire’s environment where we nearly smell opium.

Conductor Daniele Callegari slowed the tempos gently — the performance lasts slightly longer than three hours, with two intermissions — in order to gently heighten the dreamy atmosphere.

Andrea Rost proved that her vocal instrument is still perfect even though quite a few years have elapsed since the seasons when she was the major star of La Scala . Her singing was passionate; she did not circumvent any of the traditional virtuoso, added (over the centuries) to Verdi’s original writing such as the B flat at the end of “Sempre Libera”. Saimir Pirgu is young (28 years old), and athletic. His Libiamo requires acrobatic skills. He is good looking; and his voice has thickened in the last couple of years. He is now a perfect Alfredo, especially for his tender phrasing. He should resist the temptation to take on tenore spinto roles, but he would be probably excellent in many Massenet and Gounod parts. Luca Salsi is a good Giorgio Germont but maybe too young for the role. It is not clear whether Saimir Pirgu’s Germont senior is just an old-fashioned Provincial country gentlemen or a hypocrite. Nonetheless, on a Sunday matinee, the audience was enthusiastic, applauding during the performance.

Giuseppe Pennisi

Production Staff and Cast

Franco Ripa di Meana, director. Edoardo Sanchi, sets. Silvia Aymonino, costumes. Guido Levi, lighting. Orchestra e Chorus del Maggio Musicale Fiorentino. Piero Monti, chorus master.


Stefano Ranzani: conductor.

Gianluca Terranova:James Valenti; Shalva Mukeria: Il duca del Mantova; Alberto Gazale: Rigoletto; Désirée Rancatore: Gilda; Konstantin Gorny: Sparafucile; Chiara Fracasso: Maddalena; Giorgia Bertagni: Giovanna; Armando Caforio: Il Conte di Monterone; Roberto Accurso: Il Cavaliere Marullo; Luca Casalin: Matteo Borsa; Andrea Cortese: Il Conte di Ceprano; Miriam Artiaco: La Contessa di Ceprano; Vito Luciano Roberti: Usciere di corte; Elisa Luppi: Un paggio.

Il Trovatore

Massimo Zanetti: conductor.

Juan Jesús Rodríguez: Il Conte di Luna; Kristin Lewis: Leonora; Anna Smirnova: Azucena; Stuart Neill: Manrico; Rafal Siwek: Ferrando; Elena Borin: Ines; Cristiano Olivieri: Ruiz; Alessandro Luongo: Un vecchio zingaro; Fabio Bertella: Un messo.

La Traviata

Daniele Callegari: conductor.

Andrea Rost: Violetta Valéry; Milena Josipovic: Flora Bervoix; Sabrina Modena: Annina; Saimir Pirgu: Alfredo Germont; Luca Salsi: Giorgio Germont; Aldo Orsolini: Gastone; Francesco Verna: Il Barone Douphol; Gabriele Ribis: Il Marchese d’Obigny; Michele Bianchini: Il Dottor Grenvil; Leonardo Melani: Giuseppe; Salvatore Massei: Un domestico; Pietro Simone: Un commissionario.