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One Day more

There’s that old joke; What’s the difference between opera and sex? Punchline; you can have good sex. That hoary chuckler becomes a near-Aristotelian axiom when presented with this recent release from C Major of Giuseppe Verdi’s Un giorno di regno, the latest episode in the Teatro Regio di Parma’s systematic attempt to defile the reputation of its most revered musical son in the year of his bicentennial one mediocre production at a time.

But I come to praise Verdi, not to bury him.  

The nifty introduction to this opera that’s accessed from the DVD’s top menu tells us that Verdi’s first attempt at comedy came about because of his contractual obligation to the then impresario of La Scala who, in a moment of thrift, presented the young composer with a number of existing libretti to choose from and set to music.  Verdi is quoted as saying he tried to pick the one that was “least bad.”  We are also informed that of the Verdi canon it is the least performed save Giovanna d’Arco.

La Scala apparently cancelled the remaining performances in the initial run in September 1850 but didn’t abandon it completely since they mounted it again in 2001. The most macabre portion of the tale of its composition finds Verdi losing his entire family to illness during the course of its writing, his two young children in the two years preceding and then his wife just 11 weeks before the prima. Certainly the continuously mournful environment made it nearly impossible to nurture a charming comedy of manners.

Though filmed in January 2010, this is actually a revival of Teatro Regio’s 1997 production that was designed and directed by the venerable Pier Luigi Pizzi.  In fact, the sets could easily serve as a sort of opera house starters’ kit. These dividable staircases, loggias, decorative obelisks—all on magic casters and flying facades—could easily serve Mozart’s Da Ponte operas to say nothing of a host of 18th century works. But you’d have to throw a dash of color on them since these have all been lovingly rendered in relentless beige. So, specific or characterful this production is not, I’m afraid.  Costumes are all monochromatic which means that each character in the plot has been splashed with one color. I’m sad to report that the majority of the performances make the same impression.

The plot. Oh really, must I? Stop me if you’ve heard any of this before. The Baritone Baron of Kelbar has this cute little soprano daughter who’s betrothed to the old bass Signor La Rocca in spite of the fact that she’s really in love with his tenor nephew Edoardo. Meanwhile, the Cavaliere di Belfiore, another baritone, has abandoned his fianceé so as to impersonate the reigning monarch while he’s out of town defending his claim to the throne. The aforementioned affianced, mezzo La Marchesa di Poggio, has hastily arranged a wedding of her own to the tenor Count Ivrea in order to save her honor. Naturally, circumstance throws everyone unexpectedly under the same roof in the hopes that hilarity and mirth will ensue.

The majority of the cast can be dispatched fairly quickly. The two basses, Andrea Porta as Kelbar and Paolo Bordogna as La Rocca, serviceable voices both, play off each other in the same traditional manner that hasn’t changed since the birth of commedia dell’arte. The prosciutto is sliced thick with these two and I wish we all got more of a meal out of it.

We’re given a pair of age appropriate young lovers for a change. Soprano Alessandra Marianelli and tenor Ivan Magri brighten the proceedings when they’re not looking forlorn or sullen. Mr. Magri has a very nice ping to his tenore di grazia and he knows how to build sound without pushing. It’s not a big voice but it seems like it carries well and he exhibits a graceful and steady line. I only wished he’d have the good sense to pull his hair away from his face so we could see what he looks like. Checking up on the interwebs I see he’s represented by Ernesto Palacio (remember him?) which makes me sigh with relief that he’s in good hands.

Our callow soubrette exhibits a voice that may mature into something more wonderful than what is actually bringing us modest enjoyments now. She still seems to be finding her way a bit matching up the alternate poles of her instrument. Pizzi, and Verdi for that matter, give her a lovely entrance with the ladies of the chorus in a fetching polonaise and she builds from there.The top seems very secure but also a little manufactured rather than free spinning.and I sense that she’ll do well with a bit more seasoning and polish. Fingers crossed.

Baritone Guido Lonconsolo needs no more seasoning and is the only gentleman onstage playing with a modicum of sexual charisma.  As the titular King for a day he sings with grace and charm, after a slightly lumpy start with some smudged fioratura, moves well and generally makes the rest of his castmates look like they’re just not trying

Until, that is, the entrance of Anna Caterina Antonacci as La Marchesa when you start hoping that this poor provincial cast will actually have the fortitude to survive what’s about to happen to them. Our Italian diva in excelsis takes the stage—and doesn’t give it back. It’s as if a little spotlight has been trained on her by the theatre gods to accompany her throughout her life. Every move, every gesture, is considered and executed with taste and maximum theatrical effect. Her first cadenza, moments after her entrance, hurls down the vocal flag for Verdi and plants if firmly in her corner.

Not that it’s a perfect voice mind you, or ever was; she is, however, the absolute mistress of her instrument.  Her character has been recently widowed but, she’s Italian so, she’s already moved on to purple when we first discover her. She really appears to be the only one who gets the directors “pieces on a chessboard” staging concept and she does a delightful little striptease during her first aria while she draws her bath. If only her performance were enough to put this whole thing over!

I have no idea what is going on in the pit but the lesser members of the cast, meaning anyone who isn’t Antonacci and Lonconsolo, can’t take their eyes off the conductor Donato Renzetti.  I wish I could say this diligence helped matters. Throughout the evening Maestro Renzetti displays the deft touch of a rampaging wildebeest. If you closed your eyes and just listened without knowing the libretto you’d swear we were being steeped in tragedy.

Interesting, for a change, that the overture is actually based on the primary theme from the finale. Odder still that the most prominent instrument in said overture seems to be the triangle. Other than that the whole score sounds like Donizetti and Rossini meeting in a food processor on its highest setting.

It’s hard to say who’s at fault here: the mostly provincial cast, the hard-driving conductor or a composer still feeling his way before he understands the fabric of the orchestra.

Picture is sharp and sound is DTS excellent with subtitles in seven languages. If you’re an Antonacci completist it would be excuse enough but, honestly, I can’t see this release doing much but gathering dust on your shelf. Meanwhile, Hardy Classics has just released the prima of this production from back in 1997 with Antonacci joined by Paolo ConiCecilia Gasdia (remember her?) and conducted by Maurizio Benini. That might be worth a second hearing.

19 comments

  • ljushuvud says:

    BBC Radio 3 has a recording from La Scala 2001 available until Thursday 24th Jan here:

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b01ppxx1/Afternoon_on_3_Thursday_Opera_Matinee_Verdi_200_Un_Giorno_di_Regno/

  • Camille says:

    “Other than that the whole score sounds like Donizetti and Rossini meeting in a food processor on its highest setting.”

    Ha! The mind reels at this thought…what flavour of frothy parfait might it be?

    Perhaps of interest and to be noted is the imminent production of Un Giorno di Regno to be given by the Sarasota Opera in March, I do believe. See Sarasota Opera’s website for more detail.

    Other than that, I must state my surprise that this work and Giovanna d’Arco are the two redheaded step-children in Verdi’s opere, as somewhere in the bottom of that pickle barrel I somehow always imagined povera Alzira also languished in abandon.

    To be noted, PM—wouldn’t the date mentioned be 1840, and Signor Loconsolo’s name is without that first ‘n’ (Lonconsolo). At least, that is what the DVD package would indicate. Also, I was always informed that purple or viola was one accepted colour of mourning in Italian custom, as much as black. It is also considered very unlucky to sport this colour in the theatre, or at least at Cinecittà, it was! A native Italian person would be able to inform us correctly, not that it much matters.

    And yes, La Gasdia would most likely have been an improvement. Not certain, however.

    • oedipe says:

      Camille,

      You are correct. Violet is “the other” color for women in mourning and, more generally, for elderly women, not just in Italy but in France too.

    • Patrick Mack says:

      Grazie tanto Camille for keeping me honest.
      I prefer to think of them as typos rather than actual omissions of intelligence.
      I’m also certain mr Grandmother Valia Berardinelli would agree with you about the proper widow’s attire.

      • Camille says:

        Tut tut, PM.

        Camille is queen of typos, Herself, and always jealously guarding her tiara in that realm of activity, und so, it is incumbent upon her to make sure all others keep up to snuff!

    • Camille says:

      Here is the information page on the Sarasota Opera’s Un Giorno di Regno production this March. It is promoted as the ‘world premiere of the critical edition’, so it could thus be of great interest to Verdian scholars and/or completists, in this year of the bicentenary of his birth.

      http://www.sarasotaopera.org/tickets/production.aspx?id=5126

      A list of recommendations for recordings is given by the resident maestro, Victor de Renzi, FWIW.

  • Angelo Saccosta says:

    The opera is not nearly as bad as Patrick Mack and so many others suggest. Listen to it a couple more times and you will find the bouncy rhythms and quite pretty melodies will not leave your head. Yes it’s Rossini and Donizetti, but they are not such bad models for a neophyte composer in what was certainly a seriously depressed moment of his life. Give the guy a break. It is possible to just have fun with music, and not necessarily have it be a grandly spiritually uplifting experience.

    • redbear says:

      I was impressed with this opera when the San Diego Opera staged it back in the 70s. There is no bad Verdi, only degrees of greatness.

      • aulus agerius says:

        I saw that too, redbear. Also Nabucco the next night with Deutekom and Flagello IIRC. Came down from SF with the bf for those installments of Capobianco’s Verdi Festival.

    • semira mide says:

      Angelo is correct that this is a delightful piece. One can hear the Rossini/Donizetti heritage, but it is definitely Verdi. More than once a careful listener will be rewarded with hints of future greatness.

      After getting this DVD I realized that there was the older one with Gasdia and considered getting it as well. However when I noticed that Benini was conducting I remembered the difference between Renzetti’s L’Elisir last year and Benini’s this season.. maybe Benini is just tired?

  • willym says:

    Saw this on one my many trips to Parma and the PLP production obviously worked better on stage than on film -- it had some charming and actually funny moments. My only wish was that the rest had lived up to AnnaCat but it was an opportunity to hear an opera that I figured I’d never have another chance of seeing so…..

  • papopera says:

    Are we sure its Verdi ? Or is it a long lost opera of Rossini ? In any case, Verdi was trying hard at 27 years of age but why bother with questa merda today ??

  • adina says:

    Thank you, Patrick Mack, for this very informative and lively review. I have never seen this opera, and will definitely get the video. I’m torn between which one to get. If it’s not too much trouble, would you, or some others in the cher public, please discuss some of the pros and cons of the two available dvds. One color costumes don’t bother me that much. What I’m looking for is good singing and the quality of the sound of the video itself. Thanks.

  • grimoaldo says:

    “the latest episode in the Teatro Regio di Parma’s systematic attempt to defile the reputation of its most revered musical son in the year of his bicentennial one mediocre production at a time.”

    Umm, that seems a bit harsh to me. Of the three I have seen in this series, one was indeed mediocre (Giovanna d’Arco), one was very good (Nabucco) and one was excellent in every way (Attila).
    The more complete Verdi editions there are this year the better imo.
    I agree with the other posters who have said that Un Giorno di Regno is a delightful work.

  • grimoaldo says:

    Overture to Un Giorno di Regno:

    Bouncy rhythms, foot-tapping tunes, and LOUD, brash orchestration, thwack that bass drum, tinkle that triangle, clash that cymbal, I love it!

  • grimoaldo says:

    By the way, the libretto for Un Giorno di Regno wis by Felice Romani, generally considered one of the finest librettists of Italian opera and author of the libretti for most of Bellini’s operas including Norma, and some of Donizetti’s including Anna Bolena and L’Elisir d’Amore.
    The libretto of Un Giorno di Regno was originally set by another composer.
    This is the only opera in which Verdi uses secco recitative.
    I agree with the assessment of the work in a review of a recording on Classical Review:
    http://www.classicstoday.com/review/review-13999/
    “Un giorno di regno gets a bad rap; it’s really delightful, with abundant if not very sophisticated melodies, nice duets, at least three good arias, and an ensemble or two that the bel canto composers who came before Verdi would have been proud to pen.”

    That performance from La Scala available on BBC i player available for a few more days linked in the first comment on this thread is a real treat, I enjoyed every moment.

    One of coloraturafan’s Opera in 10 minutes youtube productions, made from another production in Parma from 1997 also with Antonacci and with Cecilia Gasdia:

    Ramey and Hampson sing the buffo duet:

    • grimoaldo says:

      Oh sorry the “opera in 10 minutes” with Antonacci and Gasdia is the *same* production as the one under review, not a previous one.