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Giuseppe VERDI (1813-1901)
Il Corsaro - a tragic melodrama in three acts.
Libretto by Francesco Maria Piave after Byronís poem.
First performed at the Teatro Grande, Trieste, October 25th 1848
Corrado, a corsair, Zvetan Michailov (ten); Medora, Corradoís beloved, Michela Sburlati (sop); Seid, Pasha of Coron, Renata Bruson (bar); Gulnara, favourite of Seid, Adriana Domato (sop); Giovanni, a corsair, Arturo Cauli (bass); Selimo, an Aga, Gianluca Floris (ten);
Orchestra and Chorus of the Teatro Regio Parma/Renato Palumbo
Recorded live in June 2004 during the Parma Verdi festival
Performed in the Critical Edition prepared by Elizabeth Hudson
Presented in 16:9. Colour. DTS digital surround sound. Dolby digital. PCM 2.0
Menu language English. Subtitles in Italian (original language), English, German, French, Spanish and Chinese.
Booklet essay and synopsis in Italian, English, German and French
DYNAMIC DVD VIDEO 33468 [107:00]
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Il Corsaro
is the 13th title in the Verdi oeuvre. Francis Toye reckoned that after Alzira, the composerís 8th title, it was the worst of Verdiís compositions, describing it as merely Ďanother piece of hackworkí. Certainly Il Corsaro is second only to Alzira in its brevity. However, whilst Verdi himself recognised the limitations in Alzira, he always maintained a fondness for Il Corsaro. It was a work of the period he called his Ďgalley yearsí when the pressures from impresarios and his publisher to produce one work after another meant constant travelling and composition. Verdi wrote fifteen operas between the premiere of his first staged opera, Oberto, on 17th November 1839 and Luisa Miller on 8th December 1849, eleven years later. This number might seem insignificant compared to the 27 titles Donizetti presented in the 1830s. There is a fundamental difference though in that Verdiís operas are more individually characterised and have greater complexity of orchestration than his earlier compatriot. Further, Verdi travelled more extensively. As well as presenting works in the four major centres of Italian musical life, Milan, Venice, Rome and Naples, he also composed for London and Paris.

Following a quarrel with his publisher, Ricordi, Verdi signed a contract with the rival firm of Lucca for three operas, one to be presented at Her Majestyís Theatre, London. Verdi thought a work based on Byronís poem would appeal in London and Piave, who had already provided the composer with librettos for Ernani and I Due Foscari, the latter also based on Byron, was commissioned. After the presentation of Attila, the first of the three contracted operas, Verdiís health succumbed to the pressure and broke down. On his recovery after a gap of a year, he presented Macbeth in Florence (14th March 1847) and I Masnadieri in London (22nd July 1847) instead of the intended Il Corsaro. After London, Verdi went to Paris to present Jerusalem his first French opera. Like Donizetti and Rossini before him he adapted an existing work, I Lombardi, for his debut in the French capital. Whilst in France Lucca pressed Verdi for the completion of the contract and the composer set Piaveís libretto whilst in that city.

The libretto of Il Corsaro has a simple clear story-line without complication or sub-plot. Corrado the eponymous corsair leaves his beloved mistress, Medora, to fight the Muslim Turks. Disguised as a friar he penetrates the court of Pasha Seid whilst his followers torch the town. Being a chivalrous Byronic hero he and his band end up captured whilst ensuring the safety of the women and children. Corrado is imprisoned and sentenced to death by Pasha Seid, but only after the latterís favourite, Gulnara, has fallen in love with him. She murders Pasha Seid and liberates Corrado who has to take her home with him to safeguard her after her treachery. On arrival at his home Corrado finds Medora close to death having taken poison fearing he would never return. When she dies, bereft he flings himself into the sea.

The brevity of the opera does not permit Verdi to draw convincing musical characterisations of the principals. Never the less the music has many felicitous Verdian touches including a vibrant prelude (Ch. 2) and a dramatic prison scene (Chs. 4-5). The most convincingly drawn portrayal is that of Pasha Seid. In his act 3 scena, Seid first rejoices at the downfall of Corrado and then regrets he has lost Gulnaraís heart to him (Chs. 13-14). The role of Seid requires a Verdi baritone of significant histrionic ability as well as being able to encompass the tessitura with tonal variation and strength. Renato Bruson, the Seid in this recording, has appeared with distinction on several early Verdi works on DVD, mostly recorded in the early 1990s. Here the intensity of his acted portrayal has considerable impact. The downside, and it is a considerable one, is that in his late sixties at the time of the recording, Brusonís voice has loosened. His vocal interpretation is marred by his inability to hold a legato line whilst an all too audible unsteadiness is evident when he puts pressure on the voice at both vocal climaxes or when he seeks to convey the depth of Seidís emotions. These limitations are a considerable, but not overwhelming, distraction from the enjoyment of the overall performance.

Corrado is sung by the Bulgarian tenor Zvetan Michailov. He has a true tenor voice with a variety of colour and plenty of heft. Regrettably, particularly in his first act aria Ah si ben dite, (Ch. 4) he pushes the voice too much, rather than letting the Verdian line breathe the ariasí emotions. In the prison scene, where his acting is convincing in the aria Eccomi prigioniero (Ch. 16) he lets the lyrical beauty of his tone do the work and shows that he can phrase with feeling and gentility. Less can-belto and more caressing of the phrase would induce some of the best addresses to come calling at his door. Of the two women, unusually both sopranos, the Medora of Michela Sburlati is appealingly languid of manner and pure of tone ((Chs. 5 and 19-20). Adriana Domatoís Gulnara is the vocal and histrionic strong-point of the performance. Her singing is full-toned with a wide palette of colour as well as considerable flexibility. Her act 2 cavatina Né sulla terra (Ch. 7) has the odd dry patch whilst her duets with Seid (Ch. 15) and Corrado (Chs. 15-16) are dramatic highlights. The warm applause she receives at the conclusion of the performance is fully deserved. The chorus is strong and idiomatic as only an Italian chorus can be in early Verdi. They, the soloists and Verdiís music benefit from Renato Palumboís feel for the composerís gift of melody. He gives his soloists space for phrasing whilst never letting the drama sag. He balances the more simplistic passages of the opera with those presaging the composerís more mature works to give a musically satisfying performance.

The staging, as befits the story, is straightforward. Every scene, except the final one, is set on board a ship. Even the prison scene with dangling ropes looks as if it is in the bowels of a hold. It is easy though to miss the representation of the burning town; and the fight between the Turks and the corsairs is a little stunted. The camera work is very effective, particularly the occasional use of split screen to show the reactions of one singer to another. The sound is vivid and well balanced. The booklet has a brief, but excellent essay on the background to the opera, its composition and premiere. The act by act synopsis is sparse of detail that would better explain aspects of the plot. The arias and duets of each act are not shown by their chapter numbers but in sequential number from one.

Il Corsaro may not be the best Verdi, or even early Verdi, but it has within it many gems of the composerís genius that any lover of his music will not want to miss. Although the parallel CD will not replace the 1975 audio recording featuring the young Carreras alongside the Gulnara of Montserrat Caballé and Medora of Jessye Norman (Philips), the straightforward staging on this DVD, together with the impassioned singing, allow for a more informed and favourable opinion of the work than was, I suspect, available to Francis Toye.

Recommended to lovers of Italian opera in general and Verdians in particular.

Robert J Farr



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