Giuseppe Verdi - I Masnadieri
Teatro San Carlo, Naples, 2012
Nicola Luisotti, Gabriele Lavia, Giacomo Prestia, Aquiles Machado, Artur Rucinski, Lucrecia Garcia, Walter Omaggio, Davio Russo, Massimiliano Chiarolla
C-Major, Tutto Verdi - Blu-ray
Based on a work by Friedrich Schiller and composed just after his first attempt at adapting Shakespeare to the opera stage in Macbeth, I Masnadieri was another attempt by Verdi to put some literary weight behind his work. The work failed however to live up to its source and was not a success when it was first performed in London in 1847 with Verdi himself conducting. More conventionally structured than Macbeth, I Masnadieri is not the greatest Verdi by a long stretch and hasn't enjoyed the same popularity as its predecessor, but it's still Verdi all the same, and - as has been proven by some of the other obscure early works revived for this Tutto Verdi collection - with the right kind of production, even those lesser works can be highly charged and thoroughly entertaining. That's certainly the case with this 2012 production of from the Teatro San Carlo in Naples.
It's true however that the work is initially constrained by its conventional structure. Each of the principal characters are introduced in the First Act with cavatinas that express their nature and their ambitions - ambitions that are however to a large degree incompatible with one another. Carlo, the wayward son of Count Moor, expresses his desire to be welcomed back into the family and win back the love of his fiancee Amalia. Those hopes of reconciliation are however shattered by a letter from his father, so he throws his lot in with a gang of bandits and becomes their leader. The unfortunate letter has however been engineered by his younger brother Francesco. It's in his interest to have Carlo out of the picture - permanently if possible - even if it's only to make the old man believe he is dead.
Amalia then steps up to express her position and love for Carlo and is followed by Massimiliano, the Count, who bemoans the errant nature of his eldest son. The stagy conventionality of this introduction is matched by the apportioning of the roles according to type - the hero inevitably is a tenor, the love interest is a soprano, the villain is a baritone and the father is a bass. No surprises there. Having introduced the characters however, Verdi launches into the highly charged drama of the situation with his usual fiery treatment. Francesco's plan to have Carlo reported as dead is launched and it has a devastating effect. It might seem a bit over-the-top to have Amalia contemplate Carlo's sword with a message written in blood by Carlo even as he was dying, telling her to marry Francesco instead, but the plot has the desired impact, and more, as his father Massimiliano collapses and is believed dead.
The secret to making such material work of course - as is the case with all Verdi's early melodramas - is in the commitment and delivery of the performances. A production of I Masnadieri stands or falls based on the performers, more so than the staging, but thankfully, the Naples production is strong in both areas. The orchestra playing needs to be both sensitive and dramatic, and you only need to listen to the solo cello playing in the overture to see Verdi's intentions as well as gain some measure of how well that is achieved here. The singing performances if not quite perfect are impressive in the context of the live performance, which is where this comes to life, and are in accord with these intentions. Much rests on the situation of Carlo and Amalia in this respect and both roles are well catered for by Aquiles Machado and Lucrecia Garcia, but there are no real weaknesses here either in Giacomo Prestia's Massimiliano and Artur Rucinski's Francesco.
The staging is also supportive of the tone adopted for the work. Some might not like the idea of the non-period specific setting, but none of it changes the essential character of the work. Carlo and his bandits may be dressed like "dandy highwaymen" in long black leather coats and scarves, more likely to be riding bikes than horses in set designer Alessandro Camera's wasteland setting with the motto 'Libertà o Morte' (Freedom or Death) emblazoned with a skull as graffiti on the backing wall suits the tone well. Francesco's entourage too look like party goths, and threats are made with drawn pistols rather than swords, but everything fits perfectly with the mood and the dark intent of the piece and its insistence on drama above all else. Performance comes together well then with the score and the setting to make this an excellent account of I Masnadieri.
This 2012 production of I Masnadieri from the Teatro San Carlo in Naples is released on DVD and Blu-ray by C-Major as part of their Tutto Verdi collection. On Blu-ray the production comes across well, although there appears to be some minor image flicker in places. Audio tracks are PCM Stereo and DTS HD-Master Audio 5.1. The extra features contain the usual 10 minute Introduction, which places the work in the context of Verdi's career and gives an illustrated synopsis of the plot and characters. The disc is region-free, with subtitles in Italian, English, German, French, Spanish, Chinese, Korean and Japanese.