I Vespri siciliani

Verdi’s opera, conducted by Noseda, for the 150 years of the Unification of Italy
A reflection by Davide Livermore on present-day Italy

Teatro Regio, Wednesday 16 March 2011 at 8 pm
Broadcast live on Friday 18 March at 8 pm on Rai Storia and Rai-Radio3

With I Vespri siciliani by Giuseppe Verdi – on stage at the Teatro Regio from 16 to 29 March – we arrive at the height of the celebrations for the 150th anniversary of the Unification of Italy  and of the Regio season dedicated to the composer from Busseto, champion of that opera that was able to portray the Italian Risorgimento spirit better than any other art form, contributing at the same time to creating an idem sentire. The presence of President Giorgio Napolitano on 18 March, the culminating day of celebrations, highlights the importance of this choice as underlined by General Manager Walter Vergnano, «Verdi decided to be a man of the Italian Risorgimento, and we prefer to remember him for his clear historical-political will rather than for his simple personal data». I Vespri is also emblematic of the “risorgimento” of the Regio: in fact, it inaugurated in 1973, with the only stage direction of Maria Callas, the rebuilt Regio after the fire. A choice that reconfirms the guidelines pre-established in programming the season: to focus the attention on the relationship of opera and history and make a comparison, a debate, a reflexion on how stagings can translate for our contemporary eyes events and situations conceived for other periods. Vergnano adds: «...I believe that in 2011 we must all place ourselves at the service of an anniversary that concerns not only the past, but above all, the present and future. It is a way to reconsider the motives for which our country was founded, the proof that Italian thought still exists». Davide Livermore, responsible for the new staging, explains in this way his point of departure: «in I Vespri, Verdi narrates the history of Sicily in the thirteenth century, but he’s thinking about Italy in the nineteenth century, and not only!  He’s thinking about Italy tout court: in the past, the present, and perhaps even the future… I believe it’s time to take up the challenge: Verdi reflects on our country, our Unification, on the need to make Italians after making Italy. His is not a celebration, but a reflexion. Thus, it should be moved to our times, because it is to our times that he speaks».

On the podium of the Orchestra and Chorus of the Regio will be Gianandrea Noseda, Music Director of the Theatre. Four voices of strong personality star in Verdi’s opera: the duchess Elena is Sondra Radvanovsky, the Canadian soprano and Verdi interpreter of extraordinary stature. With her are three male singers of great prestige: tenor Gregory Kunde is Arrigo, Ildar Abdrazakov is Giovanni da Procida; to the beautiful timbre and expert technique of baritone Franco Vassallo is entrusted the role of Guido di Monforte. Completing the cast are Dario Russo, Riccardo Ferrari, Giovanna Lanza, Giacomo Patti, Critiano Olivieri, Seth Mease Carico, Matthias Stier. Chorus Master is Claudio Fenoglio. During the run of nine performances, alternating in the title roles will be Maria Agresta (Elena), Piero Pretti (Arrigo), Alexei Tanovitski (Procida) and Gabriele Viviani (Monforte).

Composed for the Opéra de Paris – in that period the most important theatre in Europe – where it made its debut in 1855, I Vespri siciliani undoubtedly possesses a spectacular character that lends itself well to the occasion, but the opera was chosen for other reasons as well, as maestro Noseda explains: «the length of the opera is one of the reasons why it is rarely performed, so I have decided to cut all of the dances… to try to give more conciseness to the drama...but what intrigues me most about Vespri is the absence of immediate melodic ideas, proof that Verdi was facing a turning point with this opera...a pivotal point in his career, of formal renewal, of greater care with the orchestration». «Verdi begins to think in larger scenes, to place the events in a historical setting and outline more articulated situations…to sculpt real characters and not only archetypes». Verdi adopts the narrative and expressive canons of grand opéra: above all, attention to the large historical setting, in this case the violent confrontation between two social groups, Sicilians and French, which is the reflexion of a private conflict. The Sicilian duchess Elena and the young Siciliana Arrigo are in love, and together with the rebel Giovanni da Procida, they plot against the French oppressors. Arrigo, with horror, discovers that he is the illegitimate son of the French governor Monforte. In the end, he agrees to recognise him as his father in order to save Elena and Procida from execution; it is the ringing of the bells for Elena and Arrigo’s wedding that signals the start of the revolt, allowing the Sicilians to drive out the governor and the French.

In Livermore’s interpretation, the invader who deprives a people of its unity and national identity is not the foreigner, but the system of the media and bad information; «the weapons of “mass distraction” serve to realise what Pasolini prophetically understood, long before its time: cultural fascism… the loss of identity that he feared is really happening. We are invaded by lies, manipulated by communication».

Intesa Sanpaolo – a new Founding Member of the Teatro Regio – and Compagnia di San Paolo are the important Partners in this new production. Also participating in its realisation is the Agenzia Spaziale Italiana.

The new production – in coproduction with Den Norske Opera & Ballet of Oslo, Asociación Bilbaina de Amigos de la Ópera of Bilbao and Teatro Nacional de São Carlos of Lisbona – uses sets by Santi Centineo, costumes by Giusi Giustino and lights by Andrea Anfossi.

Rai Storia e Rai-Radio3 will broadcast live, at 8 pm, the performance on 18 March.

Rai Trade will realise a dvd of this new production.

I Vespri siciliani will be presented to the public by Lorenzo Arruga in Incontro con l’Opera to take place at Piccolo Regio Puccini Wednesday 9 March at 5.30 pm.

Box Office of the Teatro Regio, piazza Castello 215 - Tel. 011.8815.241/242 - e-mail: biglietteria@teatroregio.torino.it - www.teatroregio.torino.it.

Torino, 8 February 2011

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