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Carlo’s Merry Band of Thieves

Teatro alla Scala
06/18/2019 -  & June 21, 24, 28, July 1st, 4, 7, 2019
Giuseppe Verdi: I masnadieri
Lisette Oropesa (Amalia), Michele Pertusi (Massimiliano), Fabio Sartori (Carlo), Massimo Cavalletti (Francesco), Francesco Pittari (Arminio), Alessandro Spina (Moser), Matteo Desole (Rolla)
Coro del Teatro alla Scala, Bruno Casoni (chorus master), Orchestra del Teatro alla Scala, Michele Mariotti (conductor)
David McVicar (staging). Charles Edwards (sets), Brigitte Reiffensuel (costumes), Adam Silverman (lighting), Jo Meredith (choreography)

(© Brescia/Amisano - Teatro alla Scala)

I masnadieri is one of Verdi’s weakest opera. The music is typical early Verdi with the bandmaster’s son Umpapa rhythms and ubiquitous tempo di Walzer that he mercifully managed to gradually shed to become Italy’s greatest opera composer. The libretto, based on Schiller’s play Die Räuber, is by the forgettable Andrea Maffei, a competent translator and a salon revolutionary patriot in the days of Italian Risorgimento, but far from an ingenious librettist. The work’s claim to fame was that it was Verdi’s only opera written for London. The role of Amalia, written for the coloratura Jenny Lind, known as the Swedish Nightingale, has been the reason for the occasional revival of this relatively mediocre work by late Joan Sutherland and Cristina Deutekom. Musically, it sounds like lacklustre Donizetti with the early Verdi Umpapa rhythms. Dramatically, it lacks dramatic balance between the four protagonists, the older son Carlo, his fiancée the orphaned Amalia, his father the elderly Count Massimilian Moor and the envious younger son Franscesco. The characters aren’t sufficiently developed and one has a hard time identifying with any of them.

Cuban-American soprano Lisette Oropesa was the star of the show and acquitted herself in her La Scala debut with aplomb. She sang an elegant “Tu, del mio Carlo” (the opera’s most memorable aria) with clean coloratura and brilliant high notes. However, it was unsettling to note that Oropesa has developed a rather large vibrato at her young age. Dramatically, she managed to covey Amalia’s nobility and strength of character. This role was written for a register similar to Gilda’s in Rigoletto to suit the role’s creator Jenny Lind. However, dramatically it would be more suitable for a voice similar to Elvira in Ernani. This discrepancy further weakens the opera. The role of Carlo was written for a dramatic tenor with impressive high notes. Vocally, Fabio Sartori was an ideal choice with a true dramatic tenor voice with a strong middle register and well supported high notes. Between his own gauche movements and the awkward stage setting, he was less ideal dramatically. Despite his relatively less important role as the old Count, bass Michele Pertusi was riveting especially in his third act racconto “Un ignoto, tre lune or saranno”. Least appreciated by the audience was baritone Massimo Cavalletti as the evil brother Francesco. This is perhaps unfair as the role itself is awkwardly written and the character development is weak due to Maffei’s poor libretto. His rendition of “La sua lampada vitale langue” was appropriately menacing with clear diction and emphasis on the key words “tremate”, “debole” and “carcere”. Equally contested by some in the audience was conductor Michele Mariotti, possibly for some liberties with the tempi.

La Scala’s production featured a single set for the entire opera, the two-storey interior of Count Moor’s palace, which was initially appealing. However, it was ineffective and was even risible in some later scenes, such as when Carlo finds Amalia in the woods and utters “Quì nel bosco? Solinga? Smarrita?” The leitmotif of the production is the omnipresence of a mute actor. Initially amusing, having this mute character throughout the performance became irritating. He is meant to represent the alter ego of a younger more innocent Carlo, Count Maximillian Moor’s eldest son, who has lost his way and became the leader of a band of bandits or “Masnadieri”. Having this mute actor present during the intense duets reduced their already dubious dramatic impact. At the opening of the opera, the young actor was caned in the presence of Count Moor to show the brutality endured by the young Carlo during a possible anterior military career, and thus justifying his turning bad or explaining the incoherent plot through insufficient paternal love. A further oddity was a homo-erotic shower scene with the cadets in a military regiment disrobing to quasi total nudity and horsing around. This is a strange innovation as none of this is in the libretto. Likewise, there was sexually perverse pandemonium among Francesco’s guards as they celebrated his ascent as Count and lord of the castle. La Scala’s Chorus did an admirable job both singing and acting like savages as Carlo’s Masnadieri as well as Francesco’s guards. There was a possible clin d’œil to Schiller: equating the official forces and the bandits. Both the bandits and the castle’s guards were dressed in the same uniforms and act equally dishonourably. However, this was probably confusing to most. Despite the shortcomings of McVicar’s staging, this was a vocally exciting evening and as good a presentation of this early Verdi opera as can be.

Ossama el Naggar



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