Un Giorno di Regno
Asociación Bilbaína de Amigos de la Ópera
Un Giorno di Regno in Bilbao, with David Soar (Signore La Rocca), Bordogna and Silvia Vásquez (Giulietta di Kelbar)
© E. Moreno Esquibel 2013
These are hard times for opera — and most everything else — in Spain, but the small, dedicated Association of Friends of Opera in the Basque city of Bilbao, a private institution that depends to a minimum extent on public money, seems to be coping better with the situation than some of the larger Spanish opera houses, where budget cuts are causing more problems. In Bilbao, each opera is organized independently, with productions contracted from medium-sized European houses and orchestral needs covered from the pool of excellent regional symphonic ensembles.
In this way, Bilbao has been able to continue as planned with the most ambitious series this country has seen in recent seasons — the Tutto Verdi project, offering the composer's complete operas (in all versions and languages) over the projected course of seventeen years. This project can produce a rather lopsided company repertoire (three of the seven operas offered in Bilbao this season are Verdi's), but the fanatic Bilbao public does not seem to care. After Verdi's Traviata, presented in a new Pier Luigi Pizzi coproduction with Madrid, and before his Due Foscari, scheduled for the spring of 2013, Bilbao heard the maestro's seldom-performed second opera.
The production of Un Giorno di Regno was also by Pizzi, a sure if rather old-fashioned hand, who was teamed with veteran conductor Alberto Zedda, a Rossini specialist, to defend this work — which certainly needs defending. Un Giorno di Regno sounds like minor, not especially inspired Donizetti. Twenty-seven at the time of the premiere, Verdi was still looking for his personal style. The opera — Verdi's only comedy until Falstaff, more than a half-century later — was written during a time of great sadness in the composer's life: the deaths of Verdi's infant daughter and son in 1838 and 1839, respectively, were followed by the death of Verdi's wife, Margherita Barezzi, in the spring of 1840, some three months before the world premiere of Un Giorno di Regno at La Scala. The opera was a complete failure with the public and with the critics.
The simple plot of Un Giorno di Regno had been a classic since commedia dell'arte days. Two young lovers — Edoardo and Giulietta, a light tenor and a high soprano — want to get married, but the girl's father (Il Barone di Kelbar, a baritone) wishes to have her united to his old friend (the court's treasurer, another baritone). In the end, the young couple marries, and the old pair of friends is ridiculed.
The story is compounded by the difficulties of another couple attempting to achieve their own happy ending: Il Cavaliere di Belfiore (a third baritone) loves the Marchesa del Poggio (the opera's soprano prima) but cannot marry her, because the King of Poland has asked him to stand in his place for some undisclosed reason. The Marchesa decides to make Belfiore jealous by announcing her marriage to Count Ivrea (a fourth baritone!). In the end, the King (who never appears) frees Belfiore from his promise, and all four lovers can get their way.
The fact that this opera is very early Verdi is made manifest by the many missed dramatic possibilities of Belfiore acting as "king for a day." The political implications of this idea surely would have sparked the imagination of the mature composer of Don Carlos and Simon Boccanegra. For Romani and the young Verdi, the accidental king's only preoccupation is that he cannot marry his girlfriend.
Pizzi (also in charge of the sets and costumes) used movable walls and stairs to create rapid changes in tune with the music, which made the action progress with elegant swiftness, but he was unable to make believable people out of Romani's cardboard characters. At the curtain call, when the four baritones came out to bow with their identical white wigs and their interchangeable embroidered coats, it was hard to remember who was who.
Zedda conducted the Orquesta Sinfónica de Navarra (an autonomous community next to the Basque Country) with the precision, brio and rhythmic thrust through which he has made such a big name for himself as a Rossini conductor. The standouts in the proficient young international cast were crisp bel canto tenor Antonino Siragusa as Edoardo and sunny, full-voiced lyric soprano Irina Lungu as the Marchesa del Poggio. The two main comic baritones, Dalibor Jenis as Belfiore and Paolo Bordogna as the treasurer Kelbart, possessed modest vocal means, but their comic routine worked fine.
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