1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Although in this production of Verdi's Sicilian Vespers the action is depicted as taking place in what appears to be something like the early Nineteenth Century, the actual historical period of the War of the Sicilian Vespers, involving the conflict between the Sicilians and their French occupiers, was between 1282 and 1302. That aside, I have to say that I find this production of the work, staged in Parma under the direction of pier Luigi Pizzi, to be of the best. In particular, Daniela Dessi is convincing in the role of the Duchess Elena. She acts as well as she sings and the orchestra rightly makes allowances for the need for her role's strength of character to be convincingly displayed. Leo Nucci is outstanding in the role of Guido di Monforte, the governor of Sicily, and all the other singer-actors are well chosen for their parts and I liked their singing very much.. .
This is the kind of work that benefits from being watched several times as well as in a variety of productions, even if it's only to compare how each copes with such things as staging, costumes, crowd scenes and character interaction. In this work the staging is simple but suggestive, as in the first scene with boats realistically positioned to suggest that they are drawn up on a beach near the sea. I always think that over-staging is never a good idea with opera. The French occupying army behaving badly is well depicted and the mounting anger of the Sicilians is palpable. The crowd scenes are realistically staged with brilliant acting on the part of all the minor characters. You kind of gets to feel that you're in amongst what is happening.
Although I Vespa Siciliani is not usually counted among the greatest of Verdi's works, this production does him justice in that it is nuanced to reveal him at his best. No production will please everybody and what pleases one may well annoy another. .Moving a work from its original historical setting into a different day and age can work, but not always. In this respect I would prefer to see this opera staged in its true historical setting. However, I feel it best not to allow ourselves to become so vexed when this kind of thing, or something else we happen not to like, happens that we allow it it to distract us from enjoying a work overall.
Unlike with quite a number of composers, there's something about Verdi that is warm and likeable. He cared passionately about a united Italy and the right of indigenous peoples to govern themselves, all of which we can see expressed in quite a number of his works, of which this is certainly one. Many top grade performances take place in the Teatro Regio di Parma and this is certainly one of them. I experience no problems with either the sound or picture quality when this work is played on my Blu-Ray player.
I like I Vespri because of the exuberance and enthusiasm of earlier Verdi operas. Lots of tuneful choruses and arias to keep the interest going even when the plot is not the best. Having said that although there is historically a weakness in the plot, it is sort of generic in its familial vs political dilemmas and it works well in the updating of the staging to the Italian liberation and reunification era. Certainly it is a much better plot than il Trovatore which is epic only because of the unforgettable deliciously melodramatic famous tunes and ensembles.
In this production the singing is mostly very good, especially from the stage veteran Leo Nucci. He does carry the show and adds gravitas to the staging. The set is simple but delightful in the small Parma theatre. The choruses are good and the orchestra is excellent. Some of the ensembles especially when the accompaniment is thin, are a bit dodgy in pitching and timing and sounds under rehearsed. Also the soundtrack balance favours the singers a bit too much, losing some of the richness of the orchestration especially in the always delightful intricate woodwind composition of Verdi's. Even the HD DTS sound leaves some of the orchestral colour "in the pit". I think balancing a bit more in favour of the orchestra might have hidden some of the very occasional pitching and timing flaws. Altogether though, an enjoyable opera Bluray package and well worth the extra spend on the Bluray as the HD video quality is superb.
14 of 20 people found the following review helpful
on 5 April 2013
This production was a big success when mounted in Parma in 2010. The blu-ray is superbly done and should disperse any doubts about this work. Stage director Pier Luigi Pizzi uses an approach he has used before but never so successfully: he updates the action to the 19th century, to the period of the battles over the unification of Italy, and uses the theater's auditorium as an extension of the stage. This idea is far from new, but I never saw it done so effectively. The "breaking of the fourth wall" enables Pizzi to achieve a miracle of sorts: a minimalist staging with some of the Grand Opera effects that Verdi had in mind when he wrote this work for what was the largest opera theatre in the world at the time.
For example, in the opening scene there are only three boats on an otherwise empty stage, and French soldiers make fun of and provoke the local Sicilians. Then Daniela Dessì (Elena) makes an electrifying grand entrance from the back of the auditorium. Clad in black and veiled she creates a charged dramatic field that spans the entire house, with one pole being the stage and the other the back of the auditorium. She glares eloquently at the unseemly pranks of the French on stage with a dignified, aristocratic disapproval and slowly approaches them, her imposing demeanor dramatizing her grief and subdued rage. The fantastic video direction by Tiziano Mancini shows us her grand entrance as perceived from the stage by the leering French; the shameful behavior of the French as perceived by the disapproving Elena, and Elena's slow, subtly menacing progress towards the stage as perceived by the audience. The combination of dynamic camera work, imaginative staging and Dessì's impressive charisma and acting skills create a thrilling theatrical effect. Add the sound engineers who created a sonic marvel that gives us a soundstage and ambiance that correspond exactly to where we see the singers/chorus in the house (with a realistic projection), and you get a gripping experience. There isn't a single moment that is less than completely riveting in this production for its entire duration.
I had my doubts when I saw the cast list (regarding the tenor and soprano), but overall they all give superlative performances. Dessì gives a commanding performance with her unique, rich timbre, a total artist, a modern Grand Tragedienne. The score has a lot of dynamic markings that call for soft singing ("mezza voce", "dolce", "dolcissimo", "p"; "pp", etc.) and she has a full command of a superb mezza voce (light singing). The forte side of the piano-forte spectrum is subdued - the Diva economizes her vocal resources, which is understandable, considering the challenges ahead. The role's more than two octave range is a walk in the park for her, as is the coloratura agility that reaches its first-half peak in the short cadenza of her act II duet with Arrigo "Presso alla tomba ch'apresi", with its long trill. Now for the nitpicking: the role's demands gradually increase in the second half. Her act IV "Arrigo! Ah parli a un core" is overall superb; she manages the first two of the cadenza's descending scales, but they are just a warm up for the third, which she glides over rather than really touch the notes (but she does the trill). Caballè (and many others) did the same thing and no one complained (but no none glides like Caballè). So how is her act V bolero? How do you think? It's no better than it was in 1996 in Rome, so it's far from perfect, but if you consult the score you see that her only difficulty is to sing long lines composed entirely of sixteenth notes figurations à-la-Rossini fast enough (no, she does not interpolate a final high E...Jeezus!). But it's a big show and her elegant style and artistry are of the highest caliber. With Pizzi's help it's also a scene of simple, aching beauty and with the sound engineers' help it's almost a miracle, the way they capture the back and forth between Elena on the stage and the chorus in the auditorium. When it ended the audience paused for three endless seconds that made my blood curdle ("are they really going to boo her?...") before a "brava" ushered in the applause.
Armiliato usually sounds like he constantly sings on all his capital and forces, probably because if he didn't we'd hear just a generic voice without a distinctive timbre. I always think he wouldn't last when I hear the pushing, but last he does and he knows exactly what he's doing. You need to forget all his previous performances, he is a huge surprise - it's the best I've ever heard him, I did not dream he has it in him. His tone is beautiful in a way I never heard before, his high Bb's and B's ring securely, he doesn't fudge a single note including rapid coloratura figurations, his phrasing is elegant and his soft singing seductive. Act V "La brezza aleggia intorno" (after the bolero) is cut, so no high D for the tenor (IIRC, some of the repetitions of the concluding act IV concertante are mercifully cut as well, and no ballet). On opening night he got into vocal problems in the second half and was announced indisposed before the second performance, from which most of the material for this blu-ray was taken. He bowed out from his last scheduled performance, so we are lucky to have this Vespri at all, because the replacement was not up to snuff. To be honest, I don't think Dessì and particularly Armiliato could have pulled it off in a bigger house, Vespri is truly scary for the tenor and soprano. It took a lot of courage for them to take on these roles.
Giacomo Prestia also offers his best performance so far in the Tutto Verdi series (he also sings in Ernani and in I Masnadieri). Nucci offers great finesse, style and power - he is a reference in many Verdi roles. I don't think there is a better Monforte on record, other than his earlier assumptions of the role. I heard him in this role at the MET when he last sang at the house in 2004. I pulled out a souvenir from that run and realized in retrospect that this may have been the greatest operatic performance I had the good fortune to attend.
The chorus is more than first rate. The musical direction of Massimo Zanetti (who also conducts Rigoletto in these series) overcomes the difficulties of singers and chorus scattered throughout the house with superb detail, precision and attentive accompaniment. The entire cast (particularly Dessì) seems giddy at the curtain calls - they overcame a supreme challenge and the audience is vocal in its gratitude (there is even a final cry for an encore!). The recording engineers deserve a standing ovation: Paolo Berti, Michele Ruggiero, Alessandro Marsico.
This is a Vespri for the ages and if you are still not convinced about the place this work deserves in the canon you are totally doomed and there is no point even talking about it.
4 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on 27 May 2013
Sorry to disagree, Dessì is unbearable. She cheats and sings on her own side, regardless where the orchestra is going. Sometimes I wandered if she and the orchestra were playing the same opera. Just kidding, of course; the orchestra simply has a very bad time trying to follow her capricious, trickery, ad-hoc singing. Very shameful to listen to, really. I simply had to skip the bolero: midway through it I was too embarassed to keep on listening. The tenor is his husband, she never sings without him...and one understands why: he simply has too little a voice (the little it has is ugly and forced, mind it) and no sense of singing whatsoever. Of course, there is Nucci, but there is a bit too much of him in this "Tutto Nucci" series; he's much luckier with his soprano and tenor in other titles (for example, the excellent "Rigoletto"). Any other version of "I vespri siciliani" is far better than this one.