Notes and Editorial Reviews
VERDI Il Corsaro • Carlo Montanaro, cond; Bruno Ribeiro (Corrado); Irina Lungu (Medora); Luca Salsi (Seid); Silvia Dalla Benetta (Gulnara); Andrea Papi (Giovanni); Gregory Bonfatti (Selimo); Teatro Regio Parma O & Ch • C MAJOR 722504 (Blu-ray: 108:00 + 11:00 bonus) Live: Parma 2008
Introduction to Il Corsaro
Colleague Bob Rose, while reviewing the only competing video version of Verdi’s Il Corsaro (The Pirate) on the Dynamic label in Fanfare 29:6 opines that there is little probability of a competing version being released, yet here we are just seven years later with just such an animal. Not only that, but with the self-same sets cut down for the smaller house in Busetto (the Dynamic production is from Parma), and in all likelihood, the same costumes as well, although I have not seen the earlier DVD. The occasion for all of this do-over of course, is the Tutto Verdi project, spearheaded by the Teatro Regio in Parma, to record in high definition Blu-Ray video all 26 of Verdi’s operas plus the Requiem. Why they couldn’t just use their own 2004 staging in this collection I don’t know, perhaps it wasn’t filmed in the higher resolution, or perhaps there were contractual difficulties.
Il Corsaro is a bit of an odd duck as operas go. It is short, only about 90 minutes in stage time, has two soprano leads, and three out of the four principals are dead by the end of the show. Only the coloratura soprano survives; she, unlike in many Verdi operas, can find no good reason to expire. Both sopranos only appear in two of the three acts, the baritone villain dominates act II but is killed off early in act III, the hapless Corsair is done in by fate rather than the bad guy. Briefly, pirate Corrado parts reluctantly with his loving wife, Medora, to sail off to fight the forces of Pasha Seid, who are threatening his island sanctuary. Corrado is defeated and captured by Seid, but the Pasha’s slave girl, Gulnara, who hates her master, falls in love with the dashing young pirate. She kills the Pasha with a dagger and escapes with Corrado to a ship waiting offshore. There she plights her love, but our hero says sorry, I’ve got one waiting at home. When he arrives back at home base Corrado discovers to his horror the disconsolate Medora, thinking him dead, has taken poison. She dies after an extended duet, and Corrado jumps off a high promontory into the sea, only in this production it’s a rather short ladder. Medora is apparently not cut out to be the wife of a pirate king (oh wait, that’s the operetta), she sings nothing but droopy, melancholy music, and her suicide in act III seems a bit hasty, to say the least. Prisoners in the good old days were held for ransom, especially valuable prisoners, like a guy with an island full of booty. Verdi’s music is solid in this early work with some attractive arias and rousing choruses, but not superior enough to rescue the rather pedestrian plot. According to the short bonus video included on the disc, Il Corsaro is the 500th most performed opera in the world. Without one of the two Parma engendered outings it would probably drop another couple of hundred.
This Busetto staging is well conceived and probably a step up from its previous incarnation in Parma. As Rose describes, the settings are basically on shipboard (at anchor) with sails that go up and down for variety, except for two brief scenes with Medora in her rather bare tower room. Costumes are attractive and evocative of the era, although everyone seems to have their own idea as to what is fashionable pirate attire. Turkish harem, on the other hand, is quite easy and well enough done here, along with the slave girl costumes, of course. (Now, why can’t I find a job working on those?) The four young singers seen here are probably also a step up from what Rose describes in Parma. Sopranos Irina Lungu and Silvia Dalla Benetta are both excellent, although, like I said, Lungu as Medora moans around and sings verses like, “oh, why are you leaving me, I can’t stand it,” and “what am I going to do now that you are dead.” She sings it all well, but it is not Grammy-winning material. Conversely, Benetta is given a chance to shine by Verdi and she takes it, giving us a good old-fashioned showcase bel canto aria with cabaletta in act II with lots of Rossinian bells and whistles and soaring runs. Benetta loses a bit of tonal beauty at the top of her range, but knocks your socks off with the coloratura. Too bad she doesn’t get her man, who in this production is Portugese tenor Bruno Ribeiro. Good Italianate tenors these days are not a dime a dozen, and Ribeiro shows signs of becoming a very good one. His voice possesses the heroic ring of the best tenors of yore and he knows when to engage it. Every now and then Ribeiro scoops up to notes and he finds a flat pitch or two that are not of Verdi’s creation, incipient bad habits rather than bad singing. Otherwise, he turns in a very strong performance, and, unlike the others, sings in all three acts. Baritone Luca Salsi likewise sings well, although the Pasha’s musical outbursts of arrogant cruelty and raging anger are not conducive to beautiful legato singing. The small orchestral forces brought from Parma start out a bit raggedly in the Overture, but Maestro Carlo Montanaro soon has them supporting the singers seamlessly throughout the opera. Smaller roles are solidly sung as are the choral numbers, so that the sum of all the parts here makes for a quite satisfying whole, both musically and dramatically.
When you consider that most, if not all, of these singers had to learn their music specifically for this production and will probably never be asked to sing them, again, you realize we will never have a cast of superstars willing to do the same thing. This Blu-ray production is, in all probability, as good as it gets, and it is quite good, and a keeper. But Bob Rose was wrong seven years ago, so who knows? This is one of the best of the Tutto Verdi sets issued to date, so I would recommend you not wait for a better one.
FANFARE: Bill White