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on 4 February 2013
Together with Alzira there is a tendency to regard I Masnadieri as the bottom rung of the Verdi ladder but judging by this spirited production from Naples (2012) the opera does not deserve the unwarranted oblivion to which it has been consigned since first staged in London in 1847 for the musical content is certainly superior to the enjoyable but lightweight Un Giorno di Regno or the B side effort Il Corsaro. Much of the blame for the obscurity can be laid at the door of Andrea Maffei who penned a libretto containing vicious references that eclipse even those of Don Giovanni but which totally lack any of the brillance of Da Ponte. By even the most extreme operatic standard the opera's ending can only be described as absurd.

The plotline treads much familiar Verdi ground and concerns yet another unfortunate soprano at the centre of complex family intrigues including the composer's staples of warring brothers and older man/younger woman relationships (in this case uncle/niece rather than the normal father/daughter) Briefly the favourite son (Carlo) is in exile from the family. His cousin (Amalia) (also his love interest) is coveted by his brother (Francesco) the lovers' scheming nemises. A Verdi villain, with few if any redeeming features, Francesco, played as a crippled grotesque, tries to convince Amalia that both the father/uncle (Massimiliano) and Carlo, who is now the leader of a robber gang, are both dead. Eventually the very much alive Carlo is to enjoy a brief reunion with Amalia, who, grief stricken, he comes across wandering in the woods. Sometime later he discovers that his father is also still alive. Stricken with some form of remorse Francesco kills himelf which is the precursor for yet another death inspired by an oath given by Carlo to his robber band.

Many viewers will find the opera's staging and costumes offensive. For the most part the action is set in a wood with an occasional prop (an armchair) being introduced. There is a very questionable backdrop, best described as some form of street art, containing a huge skull which does nothing to enhance staging. The all male chorus of robbers are dressed in long black leather coats and black hats but there is at least something resembling continuity and these production values should not be dismissed as an unacceptable mishmash. In an age now dedicated to opera theatre I found the staging quite acceptable and certainly a cut above some of the odd ideas offered at Zurich.

Whatever the production's shortcomings it is difficult to fault the musical delivery, under the baton of Gabriele Lavia, which is of a very high order. A great plus is the singing of the two leads. Aquiles Machando is in the best tradition of the Verdi ardent tenor and Lucrecia Garcia is blessed with the powerful voice so necessary for the accomplished Verdi soprano. Amalia, the only female voice, is a daunting role and Garcia sings it admirably. That said her acting capabilities are another matter and here a rather severe weight issue does detract from performance appreciation. As Francesco Artur Rucinski does well but in the somewhat underwritten part of the elderly Massimiliano Giacomo Prestia lacks power. As in many Verdi operas the chorus has some robust work to do and they acquit themselves well although the stage exits are not well organised.

In 1993 both the Met and Covent Garden staged very successful productions of Stiffelo, which had been forgotten for over a century and here it is a matter of conjecture if a large house would take a chance with I Masnadieri in the hope that fine musical content can triumph over nasty subject matter and poor libretto. Despite the many good moments the production under review simply does not possess the pulling power to renew interest in this neglected opera but the DVD recording is of great interest to a Verdi specialist collector. There is much to recommend the purchase for the production rises far above the limitations of just novelty interest. Perhaps a more traditional production would have better served the long term interests of the opera for it is easy to dismiss the set and costumes at Naples as far too controversial and here the large number of unoccupied seats in the stalls is evident on the recording

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on 19 April 2017
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on 11 January 2013
I Masnadieri was staged in San Carlo two years after the world premiere in London in 1849 for a run of 14 performances and never again until this production from March 2012. The opera was rarely performed until a successful concert performance by the Opera Orchestra of New York in 1975 and the issue of a Philips recording with Bergonzi, Caballé, Cappuccilli and Raimondi, conducted by Lamberto Gardelli. Bonynge conducted it at the Sydney Opera House in 1980 and recorded it for Decca in 1982 with his late wife.

According to the blu-ray's book this blu-ray was compiled from all 5 performances in the run. Nicola Luisotti was recently appointed music director of the Teatro San Carlo in Naples, and this production is the first he conducted since his appointment. Gabriele Lavia, a well-known Italian director of high repute, as well as an actor, directed it. He is considered a 'specialist' of Schiller's text "Die Räuber" on which the libretto is based - he directed it (and played the role of Carlo) in a successful 1982 production that toured several Italian towns, and has recently directed a group of young actors in another staging seen in several Italian theatres. He also recently directed this play in one of the major theatres in Rome. In 1986 he produced this opera in Pisa, Lucca and Livorno. So this production of the Teatro San Carlo has generated considerable interest and has attracted fans from all over Italy.

In this staging the entire opera takes place in a single ugly space, possibly an abandoned contemporary theater stage with exposed lighting apparatus, projectors everywhere, or a space in an urban ghetto in Harlem or the Bronx with a broken roof, scattered debris and dead leaves . Colorful graffiti and murals ("city painting") "decorate" the brick walls; in the background is a large skull with the words "libertà o morte" spread out. The libretto needs all the help it can get but setting all the action in the same space doesn't clarify the story and is confusing. The ugly costumes are a puzzling hodgepodge. The principal characters are in late-nineteenth-century style; the all male chorus of the masnadieri is in some kind of gangsters' style with leather coats and hats in matching and mismatching styles - from cylinder to bowler hats; the guests of Francesco party in punk or in cheap party wigs and Halloween costumes. There is a jarring mismatch between the postmodern sets and costumes on the one hand, and the acting characterized by conventional melodramatic operatic poses on the other hand. It creats some risible dramatic situations. There is a pervasive poverty of ideas on how the characters should interact or how the chorus should move on stage. Relationships are not clarified. It looks like the director just threw in the towel on the stupid libretto. It is depressing to watch this unrelenting and baffling ugliness for two hours with no change of scenes (or to watch close-ups of the soprano's heavy perspiration).

The four principals and the choir respond better to the conductor than to the director. Tenor Aquiles Machado as Carlo has a true sense of the Verdi style. His delivery is incisive, involved, with emotions clearly projected and lines beautifully shaped and articulated. He is a lyric singing a dramatic role here, but everyone has been singing up a vocal fach for years now (a fach or two: I just learned that J. D. Florez is to take up Arnold in Guglielmo Tell! A tenore di grazia!). The role of Amalia was created for Jenny Lind, the Swedish dramatic coloratura soprano and was written to display her particular strengths. It therefore requires considerable coloratura agility, facility with the fioriture but also dramatic power of projection. Soprano Ana Lucrecia García has all of these in spades. She has a pretty stunning technical capability (trills are inconsistent, though) and a full, gorgeous tone. Verdi has a way of somehow "announcing" in the beginning of a singer's part the special challenge or requirement of a role. Here he put a few bars into Amalia's first appearance a quickly ascending scale that sounds completely out of context in that spot other than to immediately announce his expectations (or allow the soprano to immediately dazzle?). García executes it perfectly and effortlessly, touching each note (rather than just gliding over the notes as C. used to do...). This is a sign of things to come in the rest of García's elegant assumption of the role. She is still very young and has a way to go to acquire that artistic intelligence that goes with the individuality of expression of more experienced divas. No comments about the rest of the cast or the chorus.

This opera is like a bullet train: the score has no digressions or redundancies and the story, with its grimness and aggression once started, goes forward directly without hesitation to its absurd end. Nicola Luisotti captures this breathless pulse of the score with rhythmic vitality, dramatic vivacity, urgency of expression and superbly calculated rallentandos and rubatos in its more lyrical and introspective moments. The orchestra plays for him in a state of grace with clear sonorities and balance between various orchestral sections. Luisotti is the real star of this production.

Blu-ray technical quality is fine in terms of video quality and sound. The singers are body miked. I noticed that performances where the singers are body miked sound better on headphones. The advantage of good speakers over even the best headphones is the soundstage they provide, but body mics kill the soundstage anyway. Sound engineers deconstruct the sound to a gazillion tracks and reconstruct some artificial mix according to their skills, preferences and available time. With body mics the result is sterile. This is another example of the maxim that the more toys sound engineers have available to play with the worse the outcome. There are (for now) clips from the production on youtube. You can get a glimpse of the gorgeous interior of the recently renovated San Carlo during the credits.
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Based on a work by Friedrich Schiller and composed just after his first attempt at adapting Shakespeare to the opera stage in Macbeth, I Masnadieri was another attempt by Verdi to put some literary weight behind his work. The work failed however to live up to its source and was not a success when it was first performed in London in 1847 with Verdi himself conducting. More conventionally structured than Macbeth, I Masnadieri is not the greatest Verdi by a long stretch and hasn't enjoyed the same popularity as its predecessor, but it's still Verdi all the same and with the right kind of production, even the composer's lesser works can be highly charged and thoroughly entertaining. That's certainly the case with this 2012 production of from the Teatro San Carlo in Naples.

It's true however that the work is initially constrained by its conventional structure. Each of the principal characters are introduced in the First Act with cavatinas that express their nature and their ambitions. The stagy conventionality of this introduction is matched by the apportioning of the roles according to type - the hero inevitably is a tenor, the love interest is a soprano, the villain is a baritone and the father is a bass. No surprises there. Having introduced the characters however, Verdi launches into the highly charged drama of the situation with his usual fiery arrangements which, if it has the right kind of treatment, can nonetheless be highly effective. The secret to making such material work of course - as is the case with all Verdi's early melodramas - is in the commitment and delivery of the performances.

A production of I Masnadieri stands or falls based on the performers, more so than the staging, but thankfully, the Naples production is strong in both areas. The orchestra playing needs to be both sensitive and dramatic, and you only need to listen to the solo cello playing in the overture to see Verdi's intentions as well as gain some measure of how well that is achieved here. The singing performances are not quite perfect but impressive in the context of the live performance, which is where this kind of work comes to life. Much rests on the situation of Carlo and Amalia in this respect and both roles are well catered for by Aquiles Machado and Lucrecia Garcia, but there are no real weaknesses here either in Giacomo Prestia's Massimiliano and Artur Rucinski's Francesco.

The staging is also supportive of the tone adopted for the work. It's a non-period specific setting, but none of it changes the essential character of the work. Carlo and his bandits are dressed like "dandy highwaymen" in long black leather coats and scarves, more likely to be riding bikes than horses. Set designer Alessandro Camera's wasteland setting has the motto 'Libertà o Morte' (Freedom or Death) emblazoned with a skull as graffiti on the backing wall. Francesco's entourage look like party goths, and threats are made with drawn pistols rather than swords, but everything fits perfectly with the mood and the dark intent of the piece and its insistence on drama above all else. Performance comes together well then with the score and the setting to make this an excellent account of I Masnadieri.

The production comes across well on Blu-ray, although there appears to be some minor image flicker in places. Audio tracks are PCM Stereo and DTS HD-Master Audio 5.1 and the sound is vibrant and clear. As a part of the Tutto Verdi collection, the extra features contain the usual 10 minute Introduction places the work in the context of Verdi's career and gives an illustrated synopsis of the plot and characters. The disc is region-free, with subtitles in Italian, English, German, French, Spanish, Chinese, Korean and Japanese.
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on 21 August 2015
I have heard this opera-DVD ten times now in search for undiscovered beauties in Verdi's score, but have alas found none. You can sometimes hear reminiscences of coming operas, but in 1847 Verdi didn't have the remedies or the skills to make a masterpiece out of Schiller's messy drama about murder, suicide, deceit and incarceration within the dysfunctional Moor family. It is an experiment that fails. Maybe Queen Victoria wasn't so out if touch, when she wrote "the music is very inferior & commonplace". The excuse for taking up this work is, that it is part of a project "Tutto Verdi" a kind of semi archeological project insisting on revivals of all the composers lesser works.

The production is okay, with gangsters in long leather jackets and bowler hats terrorizing their surroundings in a concrete slum ornamented by graffiti. Together with the absurd action and the meaningless violence it gives associations to "A Clockwork Orange". The tenor Machado is quite good in both acting and in singing trying to get some meaning out of his role. The soprano Garcia has her difficulties in a plot, where she has absolutely no significant role to play since the whole drama is between the two jealous sons and their old father. Rucinski plays the other evil son with a Richard the III limp and hump, apparently a standard requisite for villains, but very tiresome to watch for over one and a half hour. I won't criticize the production any further, they were up to an impossible task. I have now placed I Masnadieri together with Alzira, Aroldo and Un Giorno di Regno in my own Verdi Canon of the masters justifiably forgotten works.
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on 24 July 2015
I won't repeat descriptions of the silly plot since other reviewers have covered that. The music itself is generally wonderful with some vintage Verdi arias and ensembles. For example, Carlo's romanza 'Di ladroni attorniato' is outstanding. Like many other Verdi operas there is a beautiful duet between the old Count and the young girl Amalia (a role written for Jenny Lind). So, for Verdi lovers this is essential listening. Only the choruses seem rather perfunctory.
The set is rather ugly and grim with little attempt at realism. It did not say much to me but it was not really a great distraction either.
The singers are body-miked (if that's the correct spelling) which looks obtrusive in the case of Carlo. However, listening on head-phones produced an excellent sound. The orchestra, conductor and main singers are all great. The camera work could have been more discreet since the excellent soprano perspires heavily. It would have been better to avoid a lot of her close-ups.
In general, I am delighted to have discovered this opera.
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on 4 November 2014
Obtained this disc for less than £10 and therefore unlike other reviews for this opera I'm a bit less critical. The presentation of the staging of the opera did not put me off; however the multi sound was all other the place (could be the sound engineer having close miked singers did not keep the full sound stage) the stereo track was better and the stage footsteps less obvious. The information in the disc introduction (please watch this before the full opera) is somewhat at odds with the information in the booklet but together gives a more rounded picture of the whole opera. I enjoyed (watching for the third time) this less familiar, to me, Verdi opera.
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on 9 March 2015
Who is going to pay nearly £30 for one dvd? What a con.
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