by Giuseppe Pennisi
Maestro Gianandrea Gavazzeni used to say that there is no need for a “Verdi Festival” because almost every day a “Verdi Festival” is being held in more than one of the five continents of the world. As a matter of fact, Parma, the capital of the province where Giuseppe Verdi was born in 1813, has been organizing a top-notch Festival for several decades. It used to take place in early June—that is, strategically after the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino and before the many Summer Opera Festivals (35 in 2009) flooding Italy from late-June to mid-September.
Since 2005, Mauro Meli has been Superintendent of Parma’s Teatro Regio and of the Verdi Festival and he invited Yuri Temirkanov to be the musical director of both organizations. In 2006 a program was undertaken to make Parma “the European music capital” by activating a new auditorium (for symphony and chamber music) and the many precious small theatres in the surrounding towns and even villages (first of all the Teatro Verdi in Busseto, near Le Roncole, the hamlet of only a few homes where Verdi was actually born). International collaborations were developed through co-production and tours. Finally, the Festival was moved from early June to October, Verdi was birth-month. Every day of October in Parma Verdi has a Festival event: a fully staged opera to highlights in concert to screening of films based on Verdi’s work. The whole town has become a part of the Festival, with exhibitions, shows and performances everywhere.
All this activity requires a great deal of financing, and the money had been forthcoming for a few years from the Central and Local Governments, a major State owned company and from local enterprises. But, recently, the economic finance crisis has put a major halt on funding. This year, Meli has had to make do with a much smaller budget, resulting in a lean program (see www.teatroregioparma.org/verdifest/index.htm): only two fully staged operas, the Requiem Mass (considered by many as Verdi’s 27th opera), and concerts and highlights from all the other 25 operas.
This review focuses on the three major events: the Requiem Mass and the fully staged productions of I Due Foscari and Nabucco. The Requiem opened the at the Cathedral. It is well known that Verdi was an atheist as many Italian Risorgimento intellectuals were; their atheism stemmed largely from their opposition to the Papal Kingdom as well as from the goal of having Rome as the capital of a united Italy, not of a Pope’s State. Verdi’s letters reveal that he was a tormented atheist with many doubts about the meaning of existence and the after-life. The Requiem Mass can be considered a melodrama-style search for these deep philosophical answers. Its central part (Dies Irae) is a long operatic act with the tender Lacrimosa, a meditation on human fragility, as a conclusion. Not even the final Libera me solves these doubts. The orchestra was conducted by Lorin Maazel, who had to fly into Parma to replace a suddenly sick Yuri Temirkanov. Even though Maazel had no time for a proper rehearsal, the orchestra and the chorus (under Martino Faggiani’s direction) gave the proper dramatic colour to the score and provided the required support to the soloists. Francesco Meli has thickened his voice in the last few years, but kept a very clear timbre and a pure emission; he might become a Carlo Bergonzi of the future. Daniela Barcellona is a true force of nature; she did balance her powerful voice with an excellent fraseggio and displayed a great skill to ascend to high tonalities with ease and to descend to grave tonalities with the same ease. Alexaneder Vinogradov is a good, but not memorable, Russian bass. Svetla Vassileva seemed not quite apt for the role: in the last few years she has taken roles not fully in line with her specific vocal endowment, with evident effects now. Her volume is small and she has difficulties with the low notes and pushes excessively with the acute. Being next to Barcellona did not help as it exposed her limits.
Much beloved by Verdi’s fans, Leo Nucci (now almost 68 years old) played the protagonist of both I Due Foscari and Nabucco. The latter is a widely performed opera whereas I Due Foscari has the record of being the shortest and one of the least staged Verdi melodrama. It was revived in 1968 in a Rome Teatro dell’Opera production that travelled as far as the Metropolitan Opera in New York. It is a dark opera, based on an even darker poem by Byron, that deals with power intrigues in 15th Century Venice. Jacopo is unfairly condemned to permanent exile by the Council of Ten, the highest governing body in Venice; in spite of Lucrezia’s efforts and pleas, his father cannot overturn the decision; Jacopo commits suicide and Francesco is ousted by his rivals. There are only three characters of dramatic and vocal relevance: the old doge, Francesco Foscari (Leo Nucci), his son Jacopo (Roberto De Biaso) and his daughter-in-law Lucrezia Contarini (Tatiana Serjan). There is almost no action—but a lot of difficult singing—on the stage because nearly the entire plot develops behind the scene.
Joseph Francioni Lee (stage direction) and William Orlandi (stage set) provide an intelligent solution: the three acts are performed with only a short intermission and there is as much action as the libretto provides. The stage direction and the sets are traditional but effective. Nucci and Serjan overrode the rest of the cast in tremendously difficult roles requiring considerable vocal agility and strong volume. De Biaso was good but at the end of the performance appeared clearly tired. Fine, but not exceptional, was Donato Renzetti’s baton.
Only a few words on Nabucco. The Daniele Abbado production is nearly 10 years old and was seen last year in Reggio Emilia (only 50 miles from Parma). It is a late 20th Century blockbuster with Jews in modern attire and the Babylonians in Hollywood-style costumes. Leo Nucci’s receives the lion’s share of the applause, closely followed by Dmitra Theodossiou; they are experienced professionals and know all the tricks to please the audience, even emphasizing certain moments of Verdi’s score. The young Michele Mariotti conducts with a swift allure. This production of Nabucco will be staged in Modena in February 2010 and in Japan next Summer.
THE PLAY BILL
Messa da Requiem
Soprano SVETLA VASSILEVA
Mezzo DANIELA BARCELLONA
Tenor FRANCESCO MELI
Bass ALEXANDER VINOGRADOV
Conductor LORIN MAAZEL
Chorus Mastero MARTINO FAGGIANI
I due Foscari
Francesco Foscari LEO NUCCI,
Jacopo Foscari ROBERTO DE BIASIO
Lucrezia Contarini TATIANA SERJAN
Jacopo Loredano ROBERTO TAGLIAVINI
Barbarigo GREGORY BONFATTI
Pisana MARCELLA POLIDORI
Fante MAURO BUFFOLI
Servant pf the Doge ALESSANDRO BIANCHINI
Conductor DONATO RENZETTI
Stage direction JOSEPH FRANCONI LEE
Stage sets and costumes WILLIAM ORLANDI
Lighting VALERIO ALFIERI
Nabucodonosor LEO NUCCI, GIOVANNI MEONI (18, 24, 28)
Ismaele BRUNO RIBEIRO
Zaccaria RICCARDO ZANELLATO
Abigaille DIMITRA THEODOSSIOU
Fenena ANNA MARIA CHIURI
Il Gran Sacerdote di Belo ALESSANDRO SPINA
Abdallo MAURO BUFFOLI
Anna CRISTINA GIANNELLI
Conductor MICHELE MARIOTTI
Stage Director DANIELE ABBADO
Stage sets and cistumes LUIGI PEREGO
Lighting VALERIO ALFIERI
Chorus Mastero MARTINO FAGGIANI
Labels: Concert_Review, festival, Giuseppe Verdi, opera