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Giuseppe VERDI (1813-1901)
Il Corsaro – opera in three acts (1848) [108.00]
Bruno Ribiero (tenor) – Corrado; Andrea Papi (baritone) – Giovanni; Irina Lungu (soprano) – Medora; Silvia dalla Benetta (soprano) - Gulnara; Luca Salsi (baritone) – Seid; Gregory Bonfatti (bass) - Selimo; Angelo Villari – baritone) – Eunuco
Teatro Regio di Parma Chorus and Orchestra/Carlo Montanaro
rec. Teatro Regio di Parma, 19 and 21 October 2008
bonus: Introduction to Il corsaro
UNITEL CLASSICA 722408 [119.00]

Verdi originally intended his Byronic opera The corsair for performance in London. This was after rejecting, not for the last time, a proposal for King Lear. After beginning work on the last Act of the score in 1846 he put it on one side to prepare productions of Il masnadieri for London and Jérusalem in Paris. He returned to the earlier Acts later and left Trieste to mount the première in 1848. He seems to have fallen out of love with the subject in the meantime, remaining in Paris throughout the rehearsal period on the grounds that he had a ‘chill’ and merely sending performance instructions by letter to the soprano. He failed even to attend the first night, and in a day when composers were expected to supervise their own first performances this was not well received by either critics or public. The result was a fiasco, the opera was dropped, and Verdi never showed the slightest interest in the score again. It was not until the appearance of the Philips recording in 1976, with a stellar cast headed by José Carreras, Montserrat Caballé and Jessye Norman, that the work attracted any attention at all outside the field of Verdi specialists.
This may not be altogether fair to the score, but in truth it really is one of Verdi’s least impressive efforts. Piave’s libretto guts Byron’s 1814 verse ballad, leaving us with a series of stock situations and a heroine who doesn’t appear at all after the first Act until the final scene. The result, it is clear, hardly inspired Verdi to more than conventional responses, although there are inevitably touches which hint at something deeper. The production enshrined on this DVD does little to redress the score’s dramatic deficiencies. The set is minimal in the extreme - at one point it is reduced to a red drop curtain draped across the stage - and makes no provision for some of the most elementary points in the action. “Corrado throws himself into the sea from a high cliff”, the booklet informs us. Not here, he doesn’t; he climbs the rigging of his ship, and the lights go out. A previous DVD of the opera, also from Parma, seems to have sported more solid stage sets.
That earlier DVD also boasted Leo Nucci in the baritone role of the Sultan Seid, although the rest of the cast lacks major names. Here we have a cast entirely composed of young Italian singers, and they do a good job with the music even if they hardly seem overwhelmed by such dramatic possibilities as exist. Bruno Ribiero is a handsome and personable tenor, and pours out golden tone which bids fair to rival the young Carreras in the old Philips set. I suspect, in a world where such voices are in short supply, we will hear much more of him in future. The rest of the cast is never less than adequate, with Silvia dalla Benetta whipping up a storm in her scenes. None of the singers show much willingness to sing quietly, although there is some attempt at shading cadences which makes one wish they would do it more often. Carlo Montanaro beats his way efficiently through the score, but doesn’t do much to rescue the many conventional passages. The audience, which looks substantial during the curtain calls and cheers loudly at every possible opportunity, but they sound small in number and one suspects the presence of a claque. I noted a delightfully comic touch as Benetta and Ribiero enter simultaneously – and clearly mistakenly – to take their bows from the opposite sides of the stage. The sound is rather boxy, but then the theatre itself is small.
The bonus, a brief introduction to the opera with extracts from the performance, does little more than summarise the plot; but it is available in both Italian and English, and we are given subtitles in eight languages. Without having seen the earlier Parma 2004 DVD, I cannot say whether this performance is better than that one, although Bob Rose in Fanfare was less than complimentary about some of the singing in the earlier issue. Nevertheless this new version is quite satisfactory as a representation of a rather unsatisfactory work. As such it merits praise and will appeal to those who want to hear and see everything that Verdi wrote. Bruno Ribieri is worth hearing and seeing.
Paul Corfield Godfrey