VERDI: I Masnadieri
I Masnadieri ("the bandits") was Verdi's eleventh opera, written in 1847, the same year as Macbeth. It had a highly successful premiere in 1847 at the Majestic Theatre in London, with British royalty attending, Verdi on the podium. But it soon was forgotten. The plot is one of Verdi's most convoluted. The plot involves Carlo and his younger brother Francesco. Carlo has been denounced by his father, Count Massimiliano Moor, because of his bandit activities. Carlo tires of his unlawful activities and writes a note to his father asking for forgiveness. But Francesco intercepts the letter, knowing their father probably would forgive Carlo, and Franmcesco was eager for his father to die so he would have control of his estate. Carlo, not hearing from his father, swears he will continue as leader of the bandits, although he really wanted to return to civility and his love, his cousin Amalia. Mistaken identities, fake deaths, treachery, and misunderstandings abound. At the end Carlo, in disguise, kills Amalia who wants to be with him—but he has sworn allegiance to be leader of the bandits, and runs off to meet his fate—after stabbing her (!!). Talk about improbable plots! However, there is some fine music in this opera, and an outstanding cast could bring it to life. The leading soprano role was written for Jenny Lind, a spectacular coloratura soprano of the time. This new recording features Lucrecia Garcia in the role, and although she strives valiantly, her singing is forced, and her drab costumes do not help. The important role of Carlo is sung by Aquiles Machado, severely taxed by this demanding role. Other members of the cast are much stronger, but the staging by Alessandro Camera is dreary and unimaginative, a single set, with a huge skull in the rear, props rolling on and off in the back, and costumes ranging from late 19th-century style, gangster outfits, punk rock attire, and varied wigs. Video is of highest quality, but audio is inferior—there is an odd "echo" whether listening in stereo or 5.1 sound. Masnadieri deserves better. If you can find it, check out the Philips 1974 recording with Caballé, Bergonzi, Piero Cappuccili and Ruggiero Raimondi, conducted by Lamberto Gardelli. And, if you can find it, don't miss Joan Sutherland's astounding recording of the aria Lo sguardo avea degli angeli included in her CD tribute to Jenny Lind, still available thanks to ArkivMusic.
Teatro Regio Di Parma is to be congratulated for their efforts to produce lesser-known operas of Verdi, but it is unfortunate some of them are performed in Teatro Giuseppe Verdi in the composer's home town, Busetto. This is a very small theater with only 300 seats; Verdi never attended a performance there. Singers must love this theatre, as they don't have to expend a lot of energy projecting. This production of Attila was filmed October 2010. It is not the large-scale opera one might expect considering the plot; there are no big battle scenes. However, no opera really could make much of an impression in such cramped quarters. The stage is so small it seems crowded with only a dozen people. Stage director Pierfrancesco Maestrini uses projections in an attempt to simulate space and this works reasonably well. The plot concerns Attila the Hun who with his army is celebrating their victory in the piazza of Aquileia when they encounter a group of captive women fighters headed by Odabella. She is a fierce warrior who plans to kill Atilla who thinks she loves him. However, the devious plotting Odabella, previously in love with the knight Foresto, hates Attila so much she saves him from drinking poison so she can kill him herself. In the final scene, she stabbing him with the sword he gave her in the prologue to the opera. Talk about an improbable scenario! Attila contains music that often is thrilling, and a showcase for singers. Casting in this performance is excellent throughout. Giovanni Battista Parodi, who has to wear a stupid-looking crown during his first appearance (when, for whatever reason he is lowered on a small platform from the ceiling), is a powerful leader of the hoard of huns, although he surely doesn't quite match Samuel Ramey's performance which is also available on DVD. Newcomer soprano Susanna Branchini impresses as Odabella—her future appears promising indeed both vocally and dramatically. There is a 10-minute "introduction" telling the story of the opera with scenes from the performance. Video is crystal clear, audio equally fine. How sad this production wasn't presented in another venue.
Alzira. Verdi's eighth opera, was composed in 1845, the same year as Joan of Arc. The premiere that year was not a success. and Alzira has had few performances since. Even Verdi did not think highly of it. Only a few recordings exist, mostly of live presentations. This performance is from September 2012 at the Grand hotel Centre Culturale, Dobbiaco, a concert performance with no scenery, singers seated at each side of the stage moving center stage as appropriate. Alzira takes place in 16th century Peru with an unbelievable plot involving Alzira, daughter of Ataliba, the leader of a Peruvian tribe. She is in love with Zamoro leader of another Peruvian tribe, but is lusted after by Gusmano, the governor of Peru. After the usual operatic trials and tribulations, in the final scene Alzira has agreed to marry Gusmano if he will free the captured Zamoro, but during the wedding ceremony a Spanish soldier, who turns out to be Zamoro, stabs Gusmano who, as he is dying, unbelievably forgives him. Credibility? Forget it. However, there is quite a bit of worthy music in this opera, but it demands first-class singers. Conductor Gustav Kuhn is a splendid conductor, the orchestra and chorus are excellent. The star of the cast is tenor Ferdinand von Bothmer as Zamoro—he is at the beginning of what should be a spectacular career. And he can act, which cannot be said of Thomas Gazheli's Gusmano which although admirable vocally is somewhat distressing to watch. The performance is virtually destroyed by soprano Junko Saito in the title role. making some highly inappropriate sounds. Her voice is unpleasant, shrill and uncontrolled. It seems odd such a performance would be preserved on DVD.
R.E.B. (January 2013)