Fabrizio Ventura, cond; Mario Malagnini (
); Giacomo Prestia (
); Cellia Costea (
); Simone Piazzola (
); Alla Pozniak (
); Luciano Montanaro (
); O Regionale dell’Emilia-Romagna; Lirico Amadeus Ch
C MAJOR 724 704 (Blu-ray: 204:00 + 11:00) Live: Modena 2012
Perhaps it is because this comes from Modena, site of the opera’s third incarnation in 1886, but this production seems a level in quality above many of the others produced for the Tutto Verdi project. The so-called Modena version of
is the revised four-act version in Italian, first seen in 1884, with the Fontainebleau Scene restored, and that is the version performed here, making it almost as long as the French five-act original version. Perhaps taking it out of Parma, site of many of the other and mostly dreary productions in the Tutto Verdi series, has helped the quality as well. Sets are not lavish, but shrewdly functional: platforms stage left and right with ramps that frame often striking painted backdrops. Several large props are used as well: the tomb of Charles V, a statue of the Virgin in Philip’s alcove sanctuary, and a large wooden platform seen in the forest of Fontainebleau. Costumes are strictly in period and lavishly handsome, the lighting used intelligently to create additional atmosphere. Modena’s chorus is typically arrayed along the sides or back. The sound is a bit more recessed than on most of the other Tutto Verdi videos, as are the principal singers’ voices in comparison to the orchestra. I found this effect somewhat mitigated when listening in the surround format.
The singers themselves are variable in quality, but also a stronger cast than usual in this series. A cut above the other singers (or two or three cuts above) is the Elisabetta of Cellia Costea. You can tell right away she is a good one: her solid intonation, secure top, and fine ability to emotively color the text give her away. Costea also seems an excellent actress, but even she can’t rescue the poor Carlos of tenor Mario Malagnini. Malagnini looks too old and sings too poorly to be the title singer in a major production such as this, and he hasn’t got the first clue about acting or interacting with others. His most intense gesture with bosom buddy Rodrigo or beloved Elisabetta is to grasp them on the forearm, and he never looks anywhere but at the audience (or the prompter?). The King Philip of Giacomo Prestia begins with a pronounced wobble, but the voice smoothes out by the time of his big scenes in the Fourth Act, and his fine acting makes the rather unlikeable character of the king come alive as few have done in the past. Simone Piazzola sings pretty competently as Rodrigo, as does mezzo Alla Pozniak in the role of Princess Eboli, although she finds a few flat notes Verdi is not responsible for. Luciano Montanaro seems to strain to find volume as the blind Grand Inquisitor and forces his high notes, robbing the role of any real menace or authority.
Even with a mailed-in performance by the tenor, this
makes an impression. As one of the first appearances of this opera on Blu-ray, its sharp clarity and vivid colors impress, and much of the gripping drama is evoked quite effectively. Finding any little nuggets of entertaining opera among the general dross of the Tutto Verdi series has proved difficult, yet they are out there and, as this one, probably deserve some success. Hopefully, soprano Costea will be given better opportunities in the near future; Elisabetta is a near lyric role, but any new Verdian soprano on the block is a major find these days. There are, of course, several other quite good video productions of
available, but with versions in French and Italian, four-act and five-act, with and without ballet, there are hardly any two alike. This set from Modena deserves to be seen, and is recommended.