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Giuseppe VERDI (1813-1901)
Il Corsaro - Tragic melodrama in three acts. (1848)
Corrado, a corsair - Bruno Ribeiro (ten); Medora, Corrado’s beloved - Irina Lungu (sop), Seid, Pasha of Coron - Luca Salsi (bar); Gulnara, favourite of Seid - Silvia Dalla Benetta (sop); Giovanni, a corsair - Andrea Papi (bass); Selimo, an Aga - Gregory Bonfatti (ten);
Orchestra and chorus of the Teatro Regio Parma/Carlo Montanaro
Stage Director, Lamberto Puggelli. Set Designer, Marco Capuano. Costume Designeer, Vera Marzot
Video Director, Tiziano Mancini
Recorded live at the Theatre Verdi, Busseto, on the 19th and 21st October 2008 during the Parma Verdi Festival
Sound Formats, DTS-HD MA 5.1. PCM Stereo. Filmed in HD 1080i. Aspect ratio 16:9
Booklet languages, English, German, French
Subtitles, Italian (original language), English, German, French, Spanish, Chinese, Korean, Japanese
C MAJOR 722504 [108:00 + 11:00 (bonus)]

Unlike its place in the sequence of the composer’s operas, this recording of Verdi’s Il Corsaro is numbered twelve in this series of recordings issued to celebrate the bicentenary of the composer’s birth. Under the title Tutto Verdi this series of recordings of twenty-six of his operas, plus The Requiem, are largely based on the Parma Verdi Festival. Each opera in the series has a ten-minute narrative introduction to the work concerned, in English, using visual snippets from the performance. Two titles of Verdi’s oeuvre are not included in the series. The first, Jérusalem (1847) comes after I Masnadieri and before Il Corsaro in sequence of titles and should really be considered number twelve in the sequence of his operatic oeuvre and which number is given to this title. It was a re-write of Verdi’s fourth opera, I Lombardi (1843), to a French libretto for the composer’s debut at the Paris Opéra. For this debut Verdi re-wrote large sections of the work and amended the orchestration more toward the French style. The second omission is Aroldo (1857). The latter was a re-write of Stiffelio (1850) to get away from the portrayal of a married Protestant Minister that offended some audience sensibilities and uses much of the original music of Stiffelio.
Francis Toye reckoned that after Alzira, the composer’s 8th title, Il Corsaro was the worst of Verdi’s compositions, describing it as merely another piece of hackwork. Certainly, Il Corsaro is second only to Alzira in its brevity. According to the bonus introduction it comes in at twenty fourth in terms of performances of Verdi’s operas and five hundredth in the totality of opera overall. 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 galley years 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 eleven years later. This number might seem insignificant compared to the twenty-seven titles Donizetti presented in the 1830s. However, that is to ignore a fundamental difference that that Verdi’s 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 during this period.
Based on Byron’s poem, 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 go of and fight 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 latter’s 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.
Despite what it says on the opening page of the booklet, this production, first seen in the Teatro Regio in 2006, was staged and filmed in the small Teatro Verdi in Busseto, the town where Verdi set up his home and bought his estate. This theatre, with its small stage seats only about two hundred and fifty for opera. Despite the small size of the stage it has been used for many successful opera productions including those by Zeffirelli and Pizzi. In the sequential list of the composer’s works so far issued in this Tutto Verdi series it has been the venue for his first opera, Oberto (see review) and Attila (see review). In recent years I have also reviewed a performance of I Vespri Siciliani, the Italian translation of Les Vêpres Siciliennes, the composer’s first Grand Opera,that he composed for the larger facilities of the Paris’s Opéra, the Grande Boutique it was known (see review). What are required are a director and stage designer of imagination. In this case the production was seen at the Teatro Regio itself in 2006 (see review). Largely based on board a ship, the sails and rigging are used with imagination, the former being unfurled, or furled, to facilitate scene changes. The staging has easily transferred to the smaller venue, despite the fighting between the Corsairs and Turks seeming a little crowded (CH.20).
As I noted in my review of Attila the smaller venue makes it difficult to assess singers. No matter if they deliver the goods at a performance, as was the case with Attila and to which I felt able to give the imprimatur of Recording of the Month. I do not go that far on this occasion. However, the singing is never less than adequate and often much better than that. In the eponymous role, Bruno Ribeiro sings with a bright forward tone. His voice has shades of a baritonal hue, which foretells of a career in larger venues I suggest. He shapes his phrases in good Verdian style and with expressiveness and just needs to modulate his tone more from time to time (CHs.3-6 and 28-33). As his beloved Medora, who he leaves behind to go and fight, I am less confident. I hear a flutter in the voice that may be a warning sign. None the less she is never less than adequate in the romanza of act one (CHs.7-8) and final scene (CHs.34-36), her only involvement. As Gulnara, the woman that Corrado rescues from the harem, and later reciprocates in respect of his imprisonment, Silvia Dalla Benetta sings with warm even tone and characterises well. Her act two cavatina is well shaped and easy on the ear (CHs.13-15) with her contribution to the finale to act two notable in both her acting and singing (CHs.20-23). In the baritone role of the harsh Seid, Luca Salsi, who has subsequently sung at some notable operatic addresses, starts of a little dryly and grows from strength to strength in vocal colour and refulgent tone whilst acting with conviction (CHs.16-26).
Carlo Montanaro on the rostrum draws shapely phases from the orchestra whilst the chorus of the Teatro Regio sing with their usual enthusiasm and vigour, vital in early Verdi. The video director realises the staging for the small screen with imagination and taste.
Verdi, unusually, did not travel to Trieste where the impresario Lucca had chosen to stage this third opera that the composer was contracted to write for him. I think this had little to do with the composer’s lack of interest in the work and more to do with his response to Lucca with whom his relationship had deteriorated. Il Corsaro may not be the best Verdi, or even early Verdi, but it has within it many gems of the composer’s genius that any lover of his music will not want to miss. It is great to have two versions, albeit of the same staging, in video format. The earlier has the histrionic strength of Renato Bruson in the role of Seid. However, as I noted in the review, in his late sixties his fine baritone has loosened. In audio alone the 1975 recording featuring the young Carreras alongside the Gulnara of Montserrat Caballé and Medora of Jesse Norman (Philips 416 398-2), is recommendable.
All the recorded versions I have mentioned allow for a more informed and favourable opinion of the work than was, I suspect, available to Francis Toye.
Robert J Farr