Some Fine Moments in a Generally Disappointing Revival of I Vespri Siciliani

SpainSpain Verdi, I Vespri Siciliani: Comunitat Valenciana Orchestra and Chorus / Roberto Abbado (conductor), Palau de les Arts, Valencia, 13.12.2016. (JMI)

Il Vespri Siciliano © Tato Baeza
Il Vespri Siciliani © Tato Baeza

Arrigo – Gregory Kunde
Elena – Sofia Soloviy
Monforte – Juan Jesús Rodríguez
Procida – Alexander Vinogradov
Bethune – Andrea Pellegrini
Vaudemont – Cristian Díaz
Ninetta – Nozomi Kato
Danieli – Moisés Marín
Tebaldo – Andrés Sulbarán
Roberto – Jorge Álvarez
Manfredo – Fabián Lara

Direction – Davide Livermore
Sets – Santi Centineo
Costumes – Giusi Giustino
Lighting – Andrea Anfossi

I don’t find this opera to be one of Verdi’s best, and that opinion seems fairly widespread: it is infrequently performed in either the French or the Italian version. The work does have some fine moments: the ensembles, the prison scene, Procida’s entrance, the famous bolero and Monforte’s aria, in particular. But there is also some pretty uninspired music and, more than anything, the opera runs too long. In addition, it presents some vocal difficulties, and there are simply not enough voices suited to the demands of the score. Of course, that can be said of other Verdi operas, but it doesn’t prevent them from being performed everywhere.

The production by Davide Livermore, the current general director of Palau de Les Arts, brings the action forward from centuries ago into modern times. A co-production with Turin’s Teatro Regio and Bilbao’s Abao, it premiered in Turin six years ago. At its core is a harsh criticism of the current political and economic situation; if one has seen the production previously, it does not appear to have aged well.

This is an opera where transpositions can be justified, beyond the incongruities that may arise between what is seen and what is heard. Davide Livermore focuses on the core of the plot: the confrontation between an invading power and subjugated patriots struggling for liberation. Livermore believes that the oppressive forces today are the media, politicians and the Mafia (we are geographically in Palermo), while the patriots eager to be liberated are the common people. The murders of Judges Falcone and Borsallino, committed in Sicily by the Mafia with the complicity of powerful politicians, are at the centre of this production. More than 20 years have passed since those events, but political regeneration does not seem to have taken place.

The stage is attractive in the outdoor scenes but less so for the interiors. Act I takes place at a state funeral after a terrorist attack, with politicians, police, church representatives and media all present. In the second act, the meeting between Procida and the patriots occurs on the highway where Judge Falcone was assassinated. The Act III ball takes place at the parliament, while the final act evolves on a television set where Elena’s famous Bolero is staged.

The conducting was in the hands of Roberto Abbado, music director of Les Arts, and his reading was unconvincing. Everything was under control, but it was too routine. Musically, the opera never took off: it is one of the least brilliant musical performances in the Palau de Les Arts since its inauguration in October 2006. The orchestra was not up to par, but the chorus did an excellent job.

Gregory Kunde sang the part of Arrigo, as he did at the premiere of this same production in Turin; and in Bilbao in the French version. His voice does not correspond to the characteristics of a Verdi tenor, but he sings with gusto and musicality. He was able to solve the many difficulties of the score, including the fearsome high D in the duet with Elena in the last act (although it was in falsetto). His voice is not prodigiously beautiful, but he’s an excellent singer and remarkably assured on stage.

Elena was to have been performed by Anna Pirozzi, but she had to cancel. Cancellations and consequent substitutions are always a problem, but even more so if it is an unusual opera with a character like Elena who offers so many vocal challenges. Valencia arranged for two substitutes, Maribel Ortega and Sofia Soloviy; the latter sang in this performance. Ms. Soloviy came up short: her voice is rather light in the middle and even weaker below, shining only in the high notes. She saved the show, but one cannot say much more.

Baritone Juan Jesus Rodriguez, debuting in the part of Monforte, did not measure up to expectations. His singing was monotonous and short of nuance, and he was rather tighter at the top than on other occasions.

Alexander Vinogradov was an unconvincing Procida. The character requires a true bass, and Mr. Vinogradov is a bass-baritone. As a result, his entire performance was spent in search of volume, which made for an exaggerated interpretation.

The secondary characters were well covered by students of the Centro de Perfeccionamiento Plácido Domingo.

José M. Irurzun

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