Tuesday 19 June 2018

Engaging rarity: Verdi's Un giorno di Regno from Heidenheim

Un giorno di regno - Heidenheim Opera Festival - Coviello Classics
Verdi Un giorno di regno; Heidenheim Opera Festival, cond: Marcus Bosch; Coviello Classics
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 5 June 2018 Star rating: 4.0 (★★★★)
Full of vivacity, a live recording of Verdi's second opera from the Heidenheim Opera Festival

Early Verdi is undergoing something of a rediscovery, this Summer the Buxton Festival mounts its third early Verdi production with Alzira this year, with the original Macbeth last year and Giovanna d'Arco in 2015 [see my interview with Buxton's artistic director Stephen Barlow]. Whilst this Summer in Heidenheim, Germany the Heidenheim Opera Festival reaches Verdi's I Lombardi in their chronological survey of Verdi's early operas. The linking factor between these two festivals is the willingness to take Verdi's early operas on their own terms, performing in smaller theatres with more chamber-sized forces. In other words, not projecting late, larger-scale Verdi back onto the early works and accepting them for what they are.

Heidenheim's 2016 performance of Verdi's Oberto has already been issued on disc [see my review], and now the 2017 performance of Verdi's Un giorno di regno [see my review of the original performance] has been issued on disc on the Coviello Classics label. Marcus Bosch conducts the Cappella Aquileia and Czech Philharmonic Choir, with Gocha Abuladze as Cavaliere Belfiore, Davide Fersini as Barone Kelbar, Valda Wilson as Giulietta Di Kelbar, Elisabeth Jansson as Marchesa Del Poggio, Giuseppe Talamo as Edoardo Di Sanval, David Steffens as La Rocca, Leon De La Guardia as Conte Ivrea and Daniel Dropulja as Delmonte.

It has to be emphasised that Un giorno di regno was only Verdi's second opera, created under difficult circumstances. The libretto he was offered was the best of a bad job and his wife died during the composition process. Verdi did not take the libretto lock, stock and barrel, it was adjusted to suit more modern tastes, so the recitative is cut back to a minimum and there are substantial arias which owe more to opera seria than to opera buffa. Inexperience shows in the piece, but you can sense Verdi wanting to explore character more than say Rossini in his early comedies. But it is Rossini whose influence can be felt throughout this opera, both the comedies and the more serious operas in the large-scale set pieces, there is even a double aria for the Marchesa.  Whereas in his serious opera, the young Verdi was clearly influenced by Donizetti, for comedy it was clearly Rossini (after all Donizetti's Don Pasquale was still two years away).

Marcus Bosch and his forces keep things fast, light and lively. This is a live recording full of energy without being driven, and an engaging enthusiasm comes over in every number.

The plot of the opera is set in France in the 18th century, with the exiled King of Poland, Stanislas Leszczynski. Though in fact the production in Heidenheim was set in a a 1970s pizzeria with Belfiore (Gocha Abuladze) impersonating not Stanislas Leszczynski,but a Mafia boss nicknamed the 'King of Poland'. His host, Kelbar (Davide Fersini) thus became the pizzeria proprietor with his daughter Giulietta (Valda Wilson) destined to marry his associate La Rocca (David Steffens) but she is in love with Edoardo (Giuseppe Talamo) from a rival restaurant. The extra complication is Marchesa del Poggio (Elisabeth Jansson) who recognises Belfiore and is in love with him. As the 'King of Poland' he pretends not to recognise her so she makes mad passionate love to Ivrea (Leon de la Guardia). This latter role is quite small, but in the stage version the role was expanded it by allowing Leon de la Guardia to improvise on the guitar (especially when serenading Marchesa del Poggio).

Gocha Abuladze is the would-be Mafia boss but he has the Rossini's Figaro in his repertoire and sings Belfiore with admirable fluency, a lovely dark tone and not a little wit. David Fersini is a delightful Kelbar, the proprietor of the pizzeria who finds his plans foiled, with stylish musical contributions.

Valda Wilson makes a Giulietta of real charm, the heroine for whom Belfiore is a deus ex machina. She has a rich-toned lyric voice fully equal to the role, though occasionally her passage-work is inclined to be smudged. [I understand that Valda Wilson was a very, very late substitute for a sick colleague]. Elisabeth Jansson is a stylish Marchesa del Poggio, well able to cope with her double aria, combining her rich tone with Verdi's passagework in a most appealing way.

Giuseppe Talamo as the rather drippy Edoardo, has a classic lyric tenor voice (Rodolfo, Alfredo, Duke of Mantua) and the tessitura of the role seems to lie high for him (the first Edoardo sang Rossini's Otello and Arnold in Guillaume Tell), but Talamo gave us plenty of open tone and Italianate style. David Steffens has a youthful lyric baritone which suits the music admirably, though he hardly sounds too old for Giulietta. Leon de la Guardia plays his relatively small role of Ivea to the hiltand there is strong support from Daniel Dropulja as Delmonte.

Verdi: Un giorno di regno - Heidenheim Opera Festival 2017 (Photo Oliver Vogel)
Verdi: Un giorno di regno - Heidenheim Opera Festival 2017 (Photo Oliver Vogel)
I have to confess that if you want perfect singing then Lamberto Gardelli's recording on Philips (with Jessye Norman, Fiorenza Cossotto, Jose Carrera and Ingvar Wixell) takes some beating. But this new one is lither and lighter, with an engaging vivacity. This was recorded live at staged performances, and it shows in the real vitality that cast and orchestra bring to the performance. This is an account of the opera with charms and engages, and is certainly well worth a listen.

Giuseppe Verdi (1813-1901) - Un giorno di regno
Heidenheim Opera Festival
Cappella Aquileia
Marcus Bosch (conductor)
Recorded Festspielhaus Congress Centrum, Heidenheim, 25-27 July 2017
COVIELLO CLASSICS COV91802 2CDs [60.47, 40.12]

Available from Amazon.
Elsewhere on this blog:
  • Rossini's Il barbiere di Siviglia at The Grange Festival (★★★) - Opera review
  • Seriously unusual: Stephen Barlow introduces Buxton Festival's production of Verdi's Alzira - interview
  • Second View: Mozart's Cosi fan tutte at Opera Holland Park conducted by George Jackson (★★★) - opera review
  • Sei solo: Bach's partitas and sonatas for violin alone from Thomas Bowles (★★★½) - CD review
  • Io la Musica son: Francesca Aspromonte in Prologue  (★★★★★) - CD review
  • Aldeburgh Festival: Britten and Bernstein side by side in Suffolk (★★★★★) - concert review
  • Young Artists performance of La Traviata at Opera Holland Park (★★★½) - Opera review
  • Musical beauty: new production of Lohengrin at Covent Garden  (★★★½) - Opera review
  • A little bit of magic: Miah Persson in Richard Strauss' Capriccio at Garsington Opera (★★★½) - Opera review
  • Coloured lights: Kander & Ebb's The Rink makes a triumphant return (★★★½) - musical theatre review
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