Friday 13 October 2017

Terrific show: Verdi's Les vêpres Siciliennes at Covent Garden

Erwin Schrott as Procida and dancers in Les Vêpres siciliennes © ROH / Bill Cooper 2013
Erwin Schrott as Procida and dancers in Les vêpres Siciliennes
© ROH / Bill Cooper 2013
Verdi Les vepres Siciliennes; Malin Bystrom, Bryan Hymel, Erwin Schrott, Michael Volle, dir: Stefan Herheim/Daniel Dooner, cond: Maurizio Benini; Royal Opera House
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Oct 12 2017 Star rating: 4.0
Strong revival full of stage spectacle and intense performances

Stefan Herheim's spectacular 2013 production of Verdi's Les vepres Siciliennes returned to the Royal Opera House (seen 12 October 2017) for a revival (revival director Daniel Dooner) with a number of the original cast. Bryan Hymel, Michael Volle and Erwin Schrott returned as Henri, Guy de Montfort and Jean Procida, with Malin Bystrom as Helene, and Maurizio Benini conducted.

I still have my doubts about Herheim's production (see my review of the original performances) but there is no doubt that he and designers Philipp Furhofer and Gesine Vollm have created a terrific show which matches the grand sweep of the opera with suitably spectacular settings and stagings. This time round, the scenery did not creak so that the scene changes mid-aria worked well. I am still not certain what Herheim is trying to say, and don't feel that he has solved the work's problems. But the whole articulates the genre of French grand opera in a way which a lot of contemporary productions fail to do.

Malin Bystrom made a strong Helene, fierce and intense in her Act Four scene with Henri when she believes him a traitor. But Bystrom also sang the more complex passages with aplomb and threw off the Act Five bolero with great charm. Bryan Hymel returned to the role of Henri in top form, giving him a strong, tightly focused sense of line and performing with great intensity. Whatever emotion Hymel's Henri expressed, he did it with force and almost excess, the result was thrilling and gripping. Erwin Schrott's Procida was gloriously dark voice and obsessive in his pursuit of vengeance against the French at whatever cost, whilst Schrott was on musical top form for his aria 'Et toi Palerme'. Michael Volle was fantastically authoritarian as Montfort, a real nasty, which made the scenes where he learned of his son all the more of a blow. The duet between Volle's Montfort and Hymel's Henri remains one of the most powerful in this production.

The smaller roles all provided strong support, with Neal Cooper, Jihoon Kim, Simon Shibambu, Jeremy White, Nico Darmanin, Michelle Daly and Samuel Sakker, though there was some rather patchy French diction to be heard.

This was a long evening (6.30pm to 10.30pm with two 25 minute intervals), and whilst Maurizio Benini did not always seem to get the strong dramatic sweep of the music, his pacing ensured that the drama never flagged and the great moments were thrilling. A fine revival, and one well worth catching.

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