“only Verdi” !!!!!!! In four years the Verdi Festival in Parma has grown into a month long city-wide celebration; expanded from one to three (sold out) operas, lectures, fringe events, orchestral and choral concerts (this year including a Muti-conducted Requiem) and free military band concerts. And it seems that after some calendar wandering October (Verdi’s birth month) has been settled on as a good time of year to celebrate Emilio Reggio’s beloved son. Already next year’s dates, if not repertoire, have been announced.
After Opera Chic’s impassioned account of the La Traviata I had hoped to see it but in the time between checking for tickets and the train schedule (I am establishing a love-hate relationship with the TrenItalia website) the one seat left was snapped up. Fortunately I had booked the tickets for the sold-out Oberto, conte di San Bonifacio in August. Aside from the fact that it was Verdi’s first opera (1839) and very seldom performed, the big attraction was the venue: the Teatro Giuseppe Verdi in Busseto. Only six miles from where Verdi was born and lived his final years, the Teatro is a 19th century Italian opera house in miniature. Opened in 1868 it seats approximately 300 people in the standard horseshoe arrangement of poltroni or armchairs, three tiers of palci or boxes (all occupied by American and British tour groups it seems) and a gallery. I had managed to get two poltroni on the aisle half way back for the last performance. How I ended up on the aisle in the second row is a long story involving returning a ticket, the charming (okay hot-looking) young man who bought it and was separated from his charming (okay hot-looking) friend and my offer to let them sit together – such a kindly old gentleman. It may not have been the best vantage point to view the performance but it was great for watching the (highly-watchable) conductor Antonello Allemandi. He obviously loves the music and the music-making.
Oberto is a young man’s opera – imitation Donizetti in many ways – but in one or two of the duets (baritone-soprano; mezzo-soprano) and finale ensembles you can see later Verdi. And much of the music is great fun if not great music but it does put real demands on the four principals. I could have imagined the old London label recording this with Sutherland, Verrett, Bergonzi and Milnes with Solti conducting. And though Allemandi lead an exciting – if raw – performance, sadly none of the singers engaged by Parma were anywhere near that class of performer.
In the case of Irene Cerboncini (Leonora) the only reason I can think she was hired was because she expressed a willingness to learn the role. Most of the time she was flat and her ornamentation was smudge and approximated. Mariana Pentcheva (Cuniza) managed much of her music well but was done in by director-designer Pier’Alli dressing her in variations on the Queen of Hearts from Disney’s Alice in Wonderland – not the most flattering style for a woman of healthy figure. Also healthy of figure was tenor Fabio Sartori; he’s of the fire-plug school physically and the “Sing out Luigi” school musically. A big, unsubtle sound, at its best it was exciting, at its worst ear-numbing. Bass-baritone Paolo Battaglia snarled and glowered effectively as the Oberto in a generalized way. The chorus of the Teatro Regio were in great form and went through the paces set out for them by director-designer Pier’Alli’s effectively.
Though Alli’s designs – 19th rather than 13th century – were attractive and set changes swift, his direction was basically tableaux vivants for the chorus and 19th century melodrama poses for his principles. The problem with that is that you have to get from one pose to another and since none of his singers were schooled in that manner of acting it appeared disjointed and at times ludicrous. And his use of mimes to fill the lower proscenium palchi seemed a rather useless waste of seating in an already small house.
So was it worth the 4 hour train ride to Parma and the 50 kilometer taxi trip to Busseto and back (the return in dense ground fog)? Yep, sure as hell was. It may not have been a great performance but, for me at least, it was a memorable one. The chance to hear Oberto, the venue and the whole Festival atmosphere – the experience was definitely “worth the detour.”
03 novembre – Santa Silvia