Sicilian Vespers, in Verdi, arrives at the Palau les Arts in Valencia

Sicilian Vespers

El Palau de les Doctor, has started its new season with Sicilian Vespers, one Verdi opera authentic appeal, though little known by the general public, as it is shown rarely. Only, its magnificent overture is often included as part of concert. So, for the Valencian coliseum was challenging an opera like this, especially, for their great demands on the vocal level.

After the success of the so-called "Popular Trilogy" constituted by Rigoletto de 1851, together with Il Trovatore and La Traviata both premiered in 1853, Giuseppe Verdi begins to rethink his career, with the intention of slowing down their creative endeavors that 1839 Y 1953, they had produced eighteen operas, almost all of them marked by haste, having to compose at high speed - sometimes two operas in the same year- to meet the demands of theaters.

Busetto's composer decides to offer less quantity and more quality, fruit of a more relaxed work, with the choice of attractive texts, along with more elaborate music and an orchestration of greater complexity and sophistication. This new stage will begin with the composition of Les Vêpres Siciliennes (The Sicilian Vespers) commissioned by the Paris Opera.

Verdi arrived in the French capital in the spring of 1854, beginning the search for a text that had attractive and authentic dramatic force.

But nevertheless, afraid of not hitting the tastes of the French public, did not choose the topic, instead he commissioned it to Eugene Scribe, famous librettist closely related to Parisian opera, who proposed to Verdi as an argument an event took place in Sicily, specifically in its capital Palermo, in 1282, during the French occupation of the island and in the run-up to an uprising of the Sicilian people, supported militarily and financially by Pedro III of Aragon, openly confronted the French king Carlo I of Anjou.

Verdi dedicated almost a year to the composition of his new opera, whose structure was typical of "Grand Opera" with its five acts and an attractive ballet of certain proportions called "The Four Seasons", inserted in Act III. Finally, Les Vêpres Siciliennes premiered at the Grand Opera in Paris, in a "soirée de gala" the 13 June 1855, coinciding with the celebrations of the Universal Exhibition that was taking place in the French capital. The original libretto written in French was translated into Italian by Arnaldo Fusinato, and this new version with the title I Vespri Siciliani, premiered at the Teatro alla Scala in Milan, he 4 February 1856. During later years, the opera in its Italian version had a certain tour at the international level, to fall into the most absolute of oblivion.

His recovery occurred in 1951, year of the fiftieth anniversary of Verdi's death, with a production premiered at the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino, musically directed by the great Erich Kleiber, that featured the imposing creation of Maria Callas as Duchess Elena, with another extraordinary interpreter, the bulgarian bass Boris Christoff on the role of Giovanni da Procida, the leading quartet was completed by the excellent Guido de Monforte played by the baritone Enzo Mascherini, just to the discreet rendering of the Greek tenor Giorgio Bardi Kokolios as Arrigo. The absolute success of those Florentine representations, led to the title chosen for the season opening of the Teatro alla Scala in Milan on 7 December 1951, with musical direction by Victor de Sabata, with the same interpreters of Florence and the significantly improved Arrigo of the North American tenor Eugene Conley.

In more recent times there have been important performances of this opera, like those that took place at the Teatro Comunale in Bologna, in 1986, directed by a young Riccardo Chailly and a magnificent cast that included Leo Nucci's Monforte, with the excellent tenor Veriano Luchetti as Arrigo, the very low solvent Bonaldo Giaiotti like Procida and Elena's magnificent performance, performed by the American soprano Susan Dunn.

also note, the functions that represented the inauguration of the scalígera season of 1989-1990, with the extraordinary direction of Riccardo Muti, and a very notable group of performers that featured Cheryl Studer as Elena, Giorgio Zancanaro in a brilliant interpretation of Monforte, Chris Merritt as Arrigo and Ferruccio Furlanetto in the role of Procida. Note that those Milanese performances included the beautiful ballet "The Four Seasons", which is usually omitted. There are two video shots, performed during performances at the Teatro Comunale in Bologna and at La Scala in Milan, which were later released on DVD.

The Palau de les Arts has chosen for these performances of I Vespri Siciliani, a co-production made by the Teatro Reggio di Torino and the Bilbao-based ABAO-OLBE, with a staging of Davide Livermore (current artistic director of Les Arts) which was premiered at the Teatro Reggio di Torino in 2011, on the occasion of 150 anniversary of Italian unity. Livermore moves the action to the Sicily of 1992, year in which the terrible attack in which the judge was assassinated by the Mafia took place Giovanni Falcone, his wife and three of his escorts.

Falcone's funeral took place in the Cathedral of Palermo and was televised live for the whole world. In Act I, the scenery of Centineo saints reproduce aquel funeral, this time dedicated to Federico the brother of Duchess Elena, executed by the French, with the coffin carried on his shoulders and a funeral procession where Elena and other ladies appear together with ecclesiastics.

The seriousness and recollection of the event is frivolized to the maximum by the video cameras that are taking it as a true “reality show” and whose images can be seen on two large screens. Definitely, This approach confirms the power of the media to manipulate reality, always at the service of the corrupt political class, in this case dominated by the Mafia.

Much more suitable is the scenery of Act II, where it shows, in a gloomy environment, two wrecked cars, alluding to the Falcone attack and marking the return to Palermo of the patriot Giovanni da Procida, willing to prepare a popular uprising against the French occupiers.

But nevertheless, this dramatic scenery, stays -totally out of place- during the rest of the act, encompassing the dance in the form of a "tarantella" that young Sicilians dance with their partners, that are taken from them by French soldiers who abuse them, all spiced up with profuse backlighting, that gives the scene a night orgiastic atmosphere. Y, Finally, in that same scenic space, a red carpet is spread where the couples invited to the Governor Monforte party go by. listening in the background a happy "barcarola".

By contrast, the scenery in Act III, it is an elegant building with rationalist architecture, which leads to a parliamentary chamber where the "Masquerade Ball" takes place, where the conspirators intend to assassinate Governor Guido de Monforte.

Ya, at the end of the act, in the large windows of the hemicycle, images of characters from all areas that have marked the history of "Unified Italy" are projected: politicians like Cavour, De Gasperi, Aldo Moro, Giulio Andreotti, together with athletes like Fausto Coppi or actors like Marcello Mastroianni and playwrights like Darío Fo, images that end up merging with flags of Italy.

And in Act IV, the jail where Elena and Procida are, it also has the style of the building described at the beginning of the previous act, with black and symmetrical vertical and horizontal structural elements, enhanced by excellent background lighting in fading orange tones to reveal a dark and oppressive stage space, drifting towards an open and cheerful space where Elena and Arrigo can be seen on a lectern with Monforte, who announces the marriage commitment of both. At the start of Act V, the style of "reality show" is recovered, of Act I, with the party where the wedding preparations are made that of Elena and Arrigo, spiced with the interventions of dancers whose costumes and evolutions suggest a magazine show.

The tragic end of the story, with the revolt of the Sicilians against the French and the massacre where the protagonists die, is cushioned showing only their lying bodies, in the recovered stage space of the parliamentary chamber, at the bottom of which the first article of the Italian constitution appears projected "Sovereignty resides in the people, who exercises it in accordance with the form and limits established by the constitution ". The Livermore staging, results, at times, interesting and original, although excessively circumscribed to the Italian world. The Orchestra of the Valencian Community once again demonstrated its great quality, conducted in a solvent manner by Roberto Abbado, current musical director of Les Arts.

The orchestral sound was of great brilliance in the execution of the extensive overture, one of the most beautiful verdian symphonic creations, where the vibrant and repeated central theme stands out, together with another of great melodic impulse that will reappear in the great duet of Arrigo and Monforte from Act III. Excellent orchestral resolution of Act II, with pages of great dramatic intensity along with others of a folkloric nature such as "La tarantela" and "La barcarola". Magnificent performances of the orchestral introductions of the remaining acts, where the lightness of that music alternates in the form of a dance that preludes Act III, with the very bleak and gloomy that marks the beginning of Act IV, in comparison with the festive and folkloric nature introduced by Act V.

Also note that the orchestra shone brilliantly in the imposing concert that closes Act III and in the course of the last two acts, especially, in the dramatic ending of the opera. Inside the excellent performance of all orchestral sections, it should be noted that Roberto Abbado gave more preponderance to brass and percussion, enhancing the moments of greatest orchestral force, although the string had moments of extreme quality in the accompaniment of Monforte's aria from Act III. Point out the precious orchestral sound that accompanies Procida's intervention "Goodbye, my homeland " of Act IV. Abbado showed concerted ability taking maximum care of the accompaniment of the singers, especially to the soprano.

Among the solo voices it is worth highlighting Gregory customer, as Arrigo, who, shows his mastery of the Verdian singing style, with an incisive phrasing, and a brilliant high register, along with a nuanced and expressive interpretation. The recitative-aria stands out in its great scene of Act IV “The sign is from Monforte….Day of crying, of fierce pain ", followed by the long and intense duet with Elena, full of intense lyricism and dramatic accents, where it offers a whole interpretive lesson.

The North American tenor is magnificent in the heroic duets with Monforte in Acts I and III, and in his great interpretation of the triplet with Elena and Procida at the end of the opera, where his song, acquires, at times, intense dramatic tones. As opposed, Show lightness in the festive duet with Elena from Act V "The breeze hovers around to caress my face", though, emitting the conclusive D-flat over the word "Goodbye" with an ugly falsetto note.

The Uvense Baritone Juan Jesus Rodriguez performs a good interpretation of Guido de Monforte, showing the changing moods of the character and shining brilliantly in his solo intervention of Act III, with a magnificent interpretation of the aria "In the arms of the wealth", where it offers an excellent singing line in the best Verdian style.

Also note his interventions in duets with Arrigo, especially the one in Act III, with those beautiful phrases “As I contemplate that beloved face, I feel my heart leap for joy…” where one of the musical themes of the overture is taken up.

The bass Alexander Vinogradov, offered a somewhat guttural voice in the low and central registers, that when ascending towards the sharp one gains brightness and intensity.

Perform a nuanced rendition of the nostalgic Aryan "Or your Palermo, adored land " one of the most beautiful pages composed by Verdi for bass. also highlights, his interpretation of the beautiful page "Goodbye, my homeland " in the quartet with Monforte, Arrigo and Elena from Act IV. Y, has vibrant performances in the dramatic trio with Elena and Arrigo at the end of the opera.

The day of the premiere it was the turn of the young Jerez soprano Maribel Ortega, sing the very difficult role of Elena, with extreme vocal demands. Serious responsibility that the singer faced with a high degree of professionalism. His performance was not discreet, in Act I, especially in his interpretation of the cabaletta "Courage, his, courage". It was not very accurate in the "Bolero" of Act V. Improved in duets with Arrigo, especially in the long and intensely lyrical Act IV. Also in the big scene with Monforte, Arrigo and Procida that closes this act. He had his best moment in the conclusive triplet of the opera with Procida and Arrigo, where he placed a pair of towering treble. Well the rest of the interpreters, almost all from the Center for Perfection Placido Domingo.

Again, he Choir of the Generalitat, He once again demonstrated his great quality in his multiple interventions throughout the opera. His performance in the great concertante of Act III was very outstanding, in the breathtaking moment of Act IV, singing one of the psalms "Deep", follower of the concertante “Minister of death arrests!”That closes the act: a very beautiful Verdi page. Ya, at the end of the opera the choir shines in the impressive “Vendetta! Vendetta!”.
Text: Diego Manuel Pérez Mirror
pictures: Tato Baeza

Sicilian Vespers
Giuseppe Verdi (1813-1901)
Drama in five acts
Libreto by Augustin Eugène Scribe y Charles Duveyrier
D. musical: Roberto Abbado
D. scene: Davide Livermore
Scenography: Centineo saints
Locker room: Giusi Giustino
Lighting: Andrea Anfossi
Choreography: Luisa Baldinetti
Cor de la Generalitat Valenciana
Francesc Perales, director
Orchestra of Valencia
Distribution: Gregory customer, Maribel Ortega, Juan Jesus Rodriguez, Alexander Vinogradov, Andrea Pellegrini, Cristian Diaz, Nozomi Kato, Moses Marin, Andrés Sulbarán, Jorge Álvarez and Fabián Lara.