The more I hear this opera the more convinced I am that it is far greater than it normally gets credit for. Certainly, it’s proto-verismo nonsense and its system of musical motives is simplistic to the point of crudity, but the characters do manage to create some modicum of sympathy and its melodies are simply glorious. Happily more and more people agree with me and a new production is due at the Royal Opera House in November 2010.
This effort from Turin is mostly very successful, with one major question mark. The production is broadly traditional with no gimmicks or directorial intrusions. The sets are minimalist and stylised but the rococo costumes and furniture place us securely within the realm of the French Baroque. The Act 3 ballet is too austerely classical, as well it should be, and the dancers move with grace and beauty.
The major question mark of the performance is the Adriana of Micaela Carosi. When she sings well she sings very well and she is at her best in the duets at the end of Act 2 and Act 4, spitting venom at the Princess or expiring in Maurizio’s arms. Here she produces beautiful singing, strength coupled with grace, and one could easily forgive her histrionic acting - she is, after all, playing an actress! However at other points she is insecure or downright off-key and she is plagued by pitching problems throughout Acts 1 and 3. In Io son l’umile ancella, in particular, she attacks throughout from below the note and the result is dreadful! However by the end Poveri fiori is much more successful. There are plenty of good things in her interpretation, but you need to be prepared to take the rough with the smooth.
Alfonso Antoniozzi’s Michonnet is, sadly, plagued by the same problems, the voice sounding weak and stretched in a way that goes well beyond acting the weariness of the role, making their Act 1 scene very wearing.
Happily things improve with the other principals. Alvarez is utterly at home as the swaggering Count of Saxony. The role fits his voice like a glove and he revels in its every phrase and nuance. La dolcissime effige is like balm to the ears after the trials of the opening, and his heroic tenor rings with confidence throughout, producing wonderful sounds. Marianne Cornetti is also wonderful as the Princess. She acts the character’s malevolence very well, but she never allows malice to get in the way of the music and she too sounds thrilling when inspired to give of her best in the middle acts.
The Turin orchestra play with feeling and passion, be it in the poignant Act 4 Prelude or the quick-fire scene-setting that opens Act 1. Renato Palumbo’s direction is fine, if not especially distinguished, but he provides a safe pair of hands that springs no surprises. The DVD production is serviceable, with clear Dolby 5.1 (no DTS), though there are no extras and the subtitles are not always ideally easy to follow.
Truth be told, you’ll probably get more out of this opera from Levine’s CD version, recently reissued on bargain price on Sony. If you really need a DVD then this one will do, but beware Carosi!