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Un po’ di rispetto per Verdi?

Teatro Comunale
01/22/2019 -  & January 23, 24, 26, 27, 29, 2019
Giuseppe Verdi: Il Trovatore
Vasily Ladyuk/Dario Solari (Il Conte di Luna), Guanqun Yu*/Maria Torbidoni (Leonora), Nino Surguladze*/Cristina Melis (Azucena), Riccardo Massi/Diego Cavazzin (Manrico), Marco Spotti (Marco Spotti), Tonia Langella (Ines), Cristiano Oliveri (Ruiz, Un messo), Nicolò Donini (Un vecchio zingaro)
Coro del Teatro Comunale di Bologna, Alberto Malazzi (chorus master), Orchestra del Teatro Comunale di Bologna, Pinchas Steinberg (conductor)
Robert Wilson (stage director, sets & lights), Julia von Leliwa (costumes)

G. Yu (© Lucie Jansch)

Bologna has a special place in nineteenth and twentieth century Italian musical history. Known as the most Wagnerian city in Italy, and it is home to the West’s oldest university and a bastion of the intelligentsia (Bologna la dotta); an ardent leftist centre (Bologna la rossa); as well as a prosperous and epicurean city (Bologna la grassa). My first opera at Bologna’s Teatro Comunale was Tosca, over thirty years ago, where detractors of a declining though still majestic Raina Kabaivanska had come to boo the Bulgarian diva. The battle between the fans and the detractors was unforgettable.

On this winter evening, three decades later, I have witnessed the most ridiculous staging of an opera ever seen. While neutrally accepted, with no major booing, it was certainly not received warmly. Fresh from a production in Parma of Le Trouvère, Verdi’s own reworking of Il Trovatore in French, stage director Robert Wilson offered a modified version of his vacuous staging to the Bolognese public. Having seen the repertoire’s major operas perhaps too often, I am no foe of modern productions, shocking re-settings or even inventive reworkings of the plot, provided they are done by creative stage directors, and especially when well-versed in history and literature. However, deconstructing operas purely for shock value, at the expense of great composers and opera lovers, is not forgivable.

In the opening scene, as Ferrando, captain of Count di Luna’s guards recounts to his men the gruesome story of the Count’s father burning a gypsy woman at the stake and the latter’s daughter’s revenge by burning his infant offspring to death, an image of 1930s Civil War Spain was projected. In the meanwhile, Ferrando and his audience dressed in Napoleonic fashion, their heads adorned with tricorne hats. One expected a replaying the feud between di Luna and Manrico to be either a feud between Monarchists and Republicans, or Napoleonic and nationalists forces, or even a twisted combination of both. However, such mercy was not prescribed. The basic premise was a nonsensical travestimento of both sides in faux-Japanese costumes and their adoption of some Kabuki-like grand gestures. Even more disconcerting was a meaningless choreography of the ensembles, duets and trios, in which the singers move in automaton-fashion back and forth on stage in opposite directions. None of the singers, even while singing their most passionate lines, were allowed to touch or look at each other. Possibly this was to vacate all passion from of the pivotal ensembles. Likewise, the intention for the total absence of set design here was presumably to offer a hollowed out vision of the work. But to what effect?

Even more offensive were the idiotic extras appearing on stage during different scenes: three young women of markedly different heights (a possible symbol of the different stages of life), an elderly women with a baby carriage (a representation of Azucena and her baby) and most grotesque of all: a bearded old man who supposedly represented Verdi. First mistaken for either a homeless man or a derelict old gypsy, one was hoping it was a social outburst against the far right’s past and present mistreatment of Europe’s Roma (gypsy) community. Alas, it was poor old Verdi reduced to a pauper. A voice in the gallery protested “Basta tagli... Un po’ di rispetto per Verdi” (apparently against the pathetic presentation of Verdi on stage or/and the minor cuts by conductor Pinchas Steinberg in Act 2). Cuts may be justified on rare occasions, but to make things worse, they may have been made to allow for an additional music-free ten minutes pantomime of a boxing match among two teams (representing di Luna’s and Manrico’s forces) at the opening of Act 3. Apparently, this absurdity was used for the ballet, de rigueur for nineteenth century Paris, in Parma’s production of Le Trouvère and deemed too precious not to inflict on Il Trovatore’s audience, though the latter features no ballet.

Fortunately, not all was dismal on this opening night. The voices were more than adequate, and in one case, a miraculous interpretation was witnessed. Guanqun Yu’s Leonora was in a class of her own. Il Trovatore, and in particular Leonora’s music, is often thought of as Bel Canto’s last gasp. Definitely, the subsequent La Traviata and more mature Verdi works broke with that early nineteenth century tradition. The young Chinese soprano performed an impressive Leonora with a beautiful vocal line, worthy of great Bel Canto Leonoras Elisabeth Rethberg, Zinka Milanov and Joan Sutherland. Despite her voice being a bit light for the role, Yu had it all: breath control, pianissimi, phrasing and brightly firm high notes. That she managed this despite the ridiculous staging and muzzling of emotions due to the awkward inexpressive movements made her even more impressive. Her “D’amor sull’ali rosee” in the final act was a masterclass in Bel Canto. In that aria, her phrasing of “Tu vedrai che amor in terra mai del mio non fu più forte” was poignant and her final note on “scenderò” brilliant. In the act 2 final trio with Manrico and di Luna, her phrasing of “Sei tu dal ciel disceso, o in ciel son io con te?” was – in contrast to most of today’s Leonoras – both meaningful and poignant.

Nino Surguladze, a wonderful singer but not a truly Verdi mezzo, was an effective Azucena. Despite being dressed as Snow White’s evil stepmother or One Hundred and One Dalmatians’ Cruella De Vil, she was completely credible as a psychologically damaged woman who had burnt her own child by mistake and raised her persecutor’s son as her own. Her act 2 duet with Manrico was better acted than sung. She was at her best in the final act’s “Ai nostri monti”. Riccardo Massi as Manrico was underwhelming in the demanding role, but did his best under the circumstances, saving his voice in the act 3 aria “Ah sì, ben mio” to be able to handle the showpiece “Di quella pira”. Nonetheless, his final note in that aria was bungled. Vasily Ladyuk, the baritone from the second cast, replaced an ailing Dario Solari. Though possessing a pleasant voice, he’s no Verdi baritone, and most of his performance as the passionately irate Count was tepid. His act 2 “Il balen del suo sorriso” did not convey Conte di Luna’s dark character. The aria was further compromised by a mysterious swan-like figure in flight in a background video.

This was a visually hideous Trovatore one hopes to erase from memory, and it’s my personal hope this production will never again be inflicted on future audiences.

Ossama el Naggar



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