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Verdi, Il Corsaro: Orchestra andChorus Teatro Regio di Parma. Conductor: Carlo Montanaro Verdi Festival. Teatro Verdi di Busseto. 5.10.2008. (JMI)

Production Teatro Regio di Parma

Director: Lamberto Puggelli.
Sets: Marco Capuana.
Costumes: Vera Marzot.
Lighting: Andrea Borelli.


Corrado: Bruno Ribeiro.
Giulnara: Silvia Dalla Benetta.
Seid: Luca Salsi.
Medora: Irina Lungu.
Selimo: Gregory Bonfatti.
Giovanni: Andrea Papi.

After the success of  last year, once again Parma  dedicates the month of October to Giuseppe Verdi, in what it  seems to be the confirmation that this Verdi Festival  is going to be a well established event in the future. The city of Parma breathes Verdi everywhere, with cultural announcements, concerts and exhibitions around the great composer. Last year the Festival offered three operas and took place in  Parma and Busseto, but this time  there are  four Verdi operas and to the places mentioned  we have to add Reggio Emilia, where the performances of Nabucco will take place. I don’t know what  the Festival’s future will be, but I can assure readers that the  musical atmosphere in Parma in October is more intense than in any  other Summer Festival with longer traditions and greater “glamour”.

The opera performed  in this production at the Busseto theatre (a true pocket theatre) is one of the least performed Verdi operas and Il Corsaro is an  unjustly forgotten work. Not all his operas have the  quality of his  masterpieces, but in the   composer’s younger years there are some very interesting works. Il Corsaro, in spite of being based on the romantic poem by Lord Byron, and despite having a good libretto by  Piave, does not offer a plot in which personal conflicts are played out  with intensity asked for by today’s public. Nevertheless, there are musical passages of great beauty and I am sure that, offered in appropriate conditions, it could have in any decent success in any theatre. This is just what happened in Busseto.

Although the production is announced as a new one, it is more an adaptation than something truly new. Any production offered in Busseto has to be new in a sense, considering the size of the theatre, but in a larger scale version this production by Lamberto Puggelli was seen in June 2004 at the  Teatro Regio di Parma and there is  even a DVD. Puggelli has adapted the production for the Busseto stage, offering  classical sets with few fixed elements and showing the atmosphere for different scenes through  accessory elements (scales for the boat, fabrics for harem, cords for the prison…) It is a good production, especially considering the particular conditions of the stage.

The pit of the theater of Busseto is very small, but in line with the size of the house,which can only sit about 250 people, once the first rows of the stalls have been taken away to give more room to the pit. The Orchestra of Teatro Regio had less than 40 musicians, in spite of which the sound arrived as if it were amplified. There was a particularly convincing performance from Carlo Montanaro, who conducted with tension and a good Verdian feeling, controlling both  stage and pit and supporting the singers, who were always perfectly audible. Montanaro is a conductor worthy of repeated hearings.

To offer  a performance  of Il Corsaro, some  important voices are needed, voices that today are truly scarce;  a spinto tenor, a dramatic soprano and a Verdi baritone. In addition it is necessary to have a lyric soprano, who is  not in a secondary role. To offer all this  in Busseto is almost unthinkable, so the Festival bet on young voices, which represents a big risk, but the result was very satisfactory.

The protagonist Corrado, Conrad in Byron, was an unknown tenor, Bruno Ribeiro, who is an authentic discovery. He has a gorgeous and homogenous voice of lyric, almost spinto tenor quality, he phrases with taste and has a top register able to reach a high C brightly. On occasion, he does not seem  totally mature, but the surprise at hearing a well pitched and beautiful voice full of true squillo, overcomes the deficiencies. Add to all this that he looks good on stage, and it is not difficult to guess than he should have a very bright future. The million dollar question of course is: will he last?

Gulnara, the harem’s favourite, was  Silvia Dalla Benetta. She is a soprano with an important middle register and  good extension, as well as  true feeling for Verdi. She was good in her cavatina and she lived the character with much intensity. Her biggest  problem just now is that her top notes are not of the same quality as her mid-range.

The Turk Seid  was  baritone Luca Salsi, who gave a very complete performance. Despite being young, he is the most seasoned of the three, with a few years of experience already. The voice is good and he is a starry singer. In short, he is a baritone who can solve more that one of the  problems  besetting opera houses nowadays.

On  paper, the biggest attraction of the cast was  the Russian Irina Lungu as Medora. The fact is though that the character does not offer much dramatic interest, aside from the fact that she only is on stage in the first act and at  the very end of the opera. She did not disappoint, but   Medora is not a role in which she can really shine either.

Gregory Bonfatti made a good Selimo and Andrea Papi was a sonorous Giovanni. Listening to Papi though, I couldn’t stop thinking in the past career of this still young bass. “Sic transit gloria mundi…”

The theatre was full of Japanese, Americans, English, French and Spanish aficionados. According to the very warm reception given to the artists and the comments of the audience, the opera performance was a success. Many people were asking where the tenor came from.

José M Irurzun

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