Il Corsaro (10/14/15), Otello (10/1/15)
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Il Corsaro (10/14/15), Otello (10/1/15)

PARMA
Teatro Regio

PARMA STILL OFFERS EXCELLENT CONDITIONS FOR OPERATIC PERFORMANCE: in acoustical terms, the Teatro Regio is a finely tuned musical instrument and the theater’s chorus, trained by Martino Faggiani, has few rivals in the Italian repertoire.  But the Verdi Festival (organized every year in the month of the composer’s birthday) has seemed rudderless of late and the casting of this year’s two major productions was so far below festival standards that the audience showed clear signs of impatience when it was informed (via loudspeaker), at the beginning of the third act of Il Corsaro,of the ailing protagonist’s entirely obvious indisposition. “Let the mayor sing!” cried one much-applauded spectator. And not unreasonably, for here it is the mayor who presides over the Foundation that runs the opera house, which is currently “managing” without an artistic director.

Even though Il Corsaro offered a somewhat bumpy ride, it was preferable overall to the sheer boredom generated by Otello, thanks to the theatrically alert leadership of Francesco Ivan Ciampa in the Corsaro pit, who injected plenty of energy into the multiple cabalettas and proved capable of accompanying the singers sympathetically in the slower movements. Under his baton the Filarmonica Arturo Toscanini was never less than responsive even when the solo voices failed to meet the challenges of the score and the choral singing was consistently exciting. The finest of the soloists was the young Sicilian soprano Jessica Nuccio, who gave much musical pleasure as the tender (yet ultimately suicidal) Medora. Her voice is both vibrant and pure and the florid measures were integrated into the line with considerable elegance. She acted moreover with unaffected simplicity and managed to convince the audience on October 14 that dying for love could be the sweetest of vocations. As the more aggressive Gulnara, Silvia Dalla Benetta stepped in with admirable professionalism as a replacement for Paoletta Marrocu. Her voice sometimes hardens or loosens slightly under pressure and her stagecraft is confident rather than memorable, but her grasp of the role and the music was undeniably secure. As the Byronic Corsair (Corrado in Piave’s libretto), the Mexican tenor Diego Torre confirmed his potential in spite of his ill-health. When functioning properly, as it did only very intermittently, his timbre is rich and his phrasing exciting. In intention at least, he is a generous performer, and for this very reason perhaps is incapable of husbanding his resources in such a way as to conceal his indisposition. Vocal difficulties emerged especially in softer passages, suggesting a limited technical command of the head register. As his Turkish enemy Seid, the bass-baritone Ivan Inverardi, who in other roles has proved a sensitive performer, bawled his way through the part without ever bringing Piave’s words to life (vowels were often distorted to augment volume). And in spite of his towering presence, he lacked real charisma onstage, for every gesture betrayed a lack of imaginative identification with the Pasha.

At the beginning of the evening, the conductor paid tribute to the late director Lamberto Puggelli, who devised this production for Busseto’s Teatro Verdi in 2008. (The staging was designed by Marco Capuana and rehearsed on this occasion by Grazia Pulvirenti Puggelli.) It proved a worthy memorial of forty years’ work in the opera house: the action was made more dynamic by being set amid the rigging of a sailing ship ready to carry Corrado from his Aegean island to the Peloponnese and back again. The costumes by Vera Marzot were a delight and the tumultuous combat between the pirates and Turkish soldiers in act two featured some dazzling swordsmanship devised by Renzo Musumeci Greco. 

Pier Luigi Pizzi’s Otello, unveiled on October 1, was not a worthy testament to the director-designer’s long-established reputation. The designer’s rigorously geometrical use of space, suggesting a Cyprus revisited by the Italian painter De Chirico, made the production seem interchangeable with tens of others devised by him over the past four decades. The opening scene was managed effectively enough—with the colorful costumes of the chorus creating at least an illusion of movement—as was Otello’s Act III monologue, where the set closed in on the Moor to claustrophobic effect, but the protagonist Rudy Park, a last minute replacement for Roberto Aronica, appeared clumsy in his billowing caftans and made the mistake of darkening his tone artificially and thereby depriving words of their vitality. He survived the evening vocally (his technique is solid enough), but never really began to delineate a character that requires long study before attempting it on stage. 

As Iago, Marco Vratogna could boast at least greater experience in the opera and an idiomatic command of Boito’s libretto. But even his portrayal was sketchy by the highest standards and while his full voice functioned well enough (although the timbre is hardly ingratiating), his insinuating half tones didn’t project adequately on this occasion. The Rumanian soprano Aurelia Florian has seemed promising in less familiar Verdi roles, but as Desdemona her expressive limitations were all too obvious. In the last act her voice sounded well-oiled and sensitive in expression, but earlier in the evening her singing lacked a solid core and the apparent evasiveness of her phrasing was increased by her tiresome fussing with the long hair which often obscured her face.         

In the pit, Daniele Callegari led a performance that was coldly proficient rather than moving and his decision to adopt the revised (Parisian) version of the great Act III ensemble was justified neither by the communicative skills of the singers nor by the positioning of the characters on stage.  —Stephen Hastings 

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