Top critical review
16 people found this helpful
Maestro Nicola Luisotti Saves This Sorry Production
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.